Brice:  Riddle of the Cans


     When I first heard the story of the lost colony of Roanoke, I stayed up most of the night working out what might have happened to those poor settlers. After reading about the Oak Island "Enigma" in eighth grade, I devised a plan to get to the bottom of it, literally. (All we need is a really powerful Hoover wet-dry vacuum. Who's with me?) And I have several theories about what really happened aboard the Mary Celeste, and only one of them involves space aliens.


  • COUNTY: Otero
  • POST OFFICE:  1904-1909
  • NAME ORIGIN:  Named for a local mining company superintendent
  • RATING: Three ghostsThree ghosts
    I love a good mystery. That's why I love Brice.

    Brice is difficult to get to, and there's not much to see when you do. There's metal debris scattered around and a cross marking the site of the old cemetery (no graves are left). Some hillsides show scars from old mining activity, and I did manage to photograph a rock in the shape of New Mexico, shown below.

    But most interesting are the cans.

    Only one building remains in Brice, an roofless cement structure at the east end of the site. Inside this building are cans, thousands of them -- make that hundreds of thousands -- like the ones shown above. Stacked five or six feet high in some places, the cans appear to be pouring out the front door of the building, as if frozen in an escape attempt. Imagine Pompeii in tin, and you have the mystery of Brice.

    What were the cans used for? Why are there so many of them? What are they doing in the cement structure? Why are they stacked so high? Why does it look like they're pouring out the front door?

    I debated the question with family and friends for weeks. We talked about it when driving, when eating. We considered every possibility, but none seemed plausible enough to be the "Eureka!" I was looking for. Still, the discussions were fun, if nothing else.

    So I investigated the history of the town, thinking a solution might surface there. Brice began as a gold mining town after the discovery of gold in the Jarilla Mountains by S.M. "Ole Perk" Perkins. He sold his claim for two barrels of water. The mine became known as the Nannie Baird Mine, and the cement building itself is probably the old Nannie Baird Mine building. The townsite was abandoned by the 1920s.

    Unless "Ole Perk" was a can collector, which I doubted, I was out of luck in my search for an explanation.

    Several weeks later, I was discussing the mystery with a friend at work. She called a friend of hers, who in turn, recommended another friend, an expert in mining history and the history of the Brice area. She assured me he knew the history of the area well and could solve definitively the mystery of the Brice cans.

    I have his name and phone number in my rolodex.  Maybe I'll call him someday.


(click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture)

A view, looking north, of
the old cement building.

A cross marks the location
of the Brice cemetery.

A "New Mexico Rock".
Inside the old cement

Thousands of cans come
pouring out the front.

Another view inside the