The Rio Grande has played an important role in the Mesilla Valley because so many people have depended upon it for subsistence. When the settlement was
first organized, the area was a bosque or woodland. As a result of natural processes in areas of low river gradient and the lack of control, the river changed its
course a number of times, causing flooding, property destruction and loss of life. When Mesilla was founded, the Rio Grande actually flowed
between Mesilla and Las Cruces. To travel from Mesilla to Las Cruces required taking a barge, which operated like a modern-day ferry. In 1863
, a course change was initiated, leaving Mesilla as an island. Later in the 1870's, a swamp developed and with it, mosquitoes, yellow fever
and malaria. More than 50 Mesilla residents died as a result. The River again changed its course in 1885 to its present location.
Today, one of the old river banks may be viewed when driving south on Avenida de Mesilla from Interstate10, just to the north of the current Way Out West Restaurant.