APRIL 2000 TRIP TO NEW MEXICO
APRIL 2000 TRIP TO NEW MEXICO
We left Indianapolis on the afternoon of Thursday, April 13, 2000 to begin our long awaited trip to New Mexico. We spent Thursday night near Rolla, Missouri, Friday night at Amarillo, Texas, and arrived in Artesia, New Mexico on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday, April 16, we set out on our “sight-seeing” tour with the hopes of finding the following:
1. The James V. Walters homestead site.
2. “Cuevo”, where Frances Baca Walters died at the home of Albert and Mary Netherlin.
3. “Tularosa Canyon” where Frances’ mother and stepfather were killed by Indians.
4. The St. Francis Church at Tularosa where, according to her baptismal certificate, Basilia Walters (Aunt Bess) was baptized, and where perhaps other of the Walters children were baptized as well.
5. The Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso, where James was said to have taken timber when he was a logger.
When my sister Judy learned that we were planning a trip to New Mexico, she spent a great deal of time finding the exact location of the Walters homestead site from the Bureau of Land Management web site and various other sites. She had printed a detailed map for us to follow which showed even a number of county roads. We followed U.S. highway 82 west out of Artesia and soon found ourselves going through miles and miles of flat, barren land with only cactus, yucca plants, and perhaps some scrub oak to relieve the monotony. From time to time we would come upon a few cattle grazing and a marked ranch driveway but without signs of any structure, house, barn, etc. The map showed a town named Hope which, when we came to it, wasn’t much of a town and though the residents at one time may have had hopes of a thriving community, there were only a few occupied houses and a few abandoned buildings there.
After we had passed through Hope, I did have Ken turn around and drive back to an abandoned shell of a building which had a sign with the name “Penasco Trading Post” in front where I had him take a picture of me standing beside the sign.
On and on we drove with very few signs of life; at one point we came upon a deer standing beside the road and at another point we interrupted four vultures who were feasting on the carcass of a skunk in the middle of the road.
When the landscape began to change from flat desert to rolling hills, we were somewhat encouraged, and by the time we got nearer to the place we believed to be the Walters homestead, we were once again enjoying the drive.
From U.S. Highway 82, we turned south onto State Highway 24 or Pinion-Dunken Road, and drove about five miles. There we came to Dunken, which was on our road atlas and where we expected to find a small town. However, all we found was one house and garage. There was a sign on the garage identifying it as the “Dunken Fire Department.”
Driving another half mile or so south, we came to a gravel road which veered off to the west. This road was Cuevo Canyon Road.
Not having any information as to where the Netherlins lived “on Quavo” (sic) (Cuevo), we didn’t see any reason to follow the gravel road. I had previously corresponded with the grandson of Albert and Mary Netherlin and tried unsuccessfully to reach him by phone while we were in Artesia. Since arriving back home again, I have sent another letter to him (with questions directed more to his mother, Albert and Mary’s daughter-in-law) but have not yet received a reply. According to an affidavit signed by Albert and Mary Netherlin concerning the death of Frances Baca Walters, they lived “10 miles south of Lower Penasco”, so we are pretty sure that somewhere near “Cuevo Canyon Road” must have been the general vicinity of the Netherlin ranch where Frances Baca Walters died, according to the newspaper article announcing her death.
We then drove back to US 82 and continued west. According to the map Judy printed for us, the JV Walters homestead was located approximately four miles to the west of State Road 24 or Pinion-Dunken Road. Ken watched the odometer and told me when we had driven four miles, and we pulled to the side of the road at the 55-mile marker. Immediately to the north of US 82 there were rocks and hills and the BLM map showed the homestead as being to the south of US 82, so we walked across the road and there before us was a wide, flat valley with a backdrop of beautiful mountains.
About 30 or 40 feet off the road we encountered a barbed wire fence with a “KEEP OUT” sign prominently displayed, so we were not able to go any farther. We did take several pictures, however, and were able to see where the Rio Penasco ran through this valley. I remember seeing photos Dad took of this area during his trip in the mid 1970s, and Judy recently showed me a portion of a home movie taken on that trip as Dad and my brother David rolled their pants legs up and waded through the Penasco River. Apparently in the early days, this “river” did not flow freely through this area until each of the farmers or ranchers dug the part passing through their land in order to help connect it to their neighbor’s. We could see the gulley in which the river lay but were not close enough to see the river itself. I expect it was not much of a river, but in that barren land certainly any source of water would have been of help. I wish we had been able to lawfully explore the area on the other side of the fence and I hated to leave without actually walking on the Walters homestead, but soon we were on our way again.
There were no signs at all of Lower Penasco which was reported to have been a “thriving community of about 30 families” at one time. We next came to “Elk” which has just about gone the way of Lower Penasco. The only sign of civilization we saw there was an RV campground with a small country store which was closed and which I had my picture taken in front of.
James and Frances are reportedly buried at the Elk Cemetery but we saw no signs of that and there was no one to ask; though it would have been nice to have found this cemetery, we do have the photos Dad took when he visited it, so that was not one of my main objectives on this trip.
The next town on the map was Mayhill and compared to the other “towns” we had encountered since leaving Artesia, this small community seemed like an “oasis in the desert.” There was a church, a post office, a gas station and a café, with several houses also visible… something we had not seen for a long time. We stopped briefly to fill the gas tank and mail some postcards and then we were on our way again.
As we neared Cloudcroft, we found more and more signs of civilization – homes, RV parks, church camps, until finally we reached the Snow Canyon ski area. By that time we had reached an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet though the ascent had been so gradual and over such a distance that our ears popped on their own and it had not been very obvious that we had reached such an elevation.
A road sign said that Tularosa was 26 miles from there, and as we proceeded to Tularosa through the mountains, I was thinking of the Indian massacre. The Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation is just on the other side of the mountains to the north of where we were. At that time we were mostly going downhill and around curves, with runaway truck ramps and warning signs along the way.
We stopped at a prominent “scenic view” where, off in the distance, the White Sands could be seen with some beautiful mountains beyond that. The photos we took did not do this place justice… it was breathtakingly beautiful.
Across the road from this scenic view, on a sheer rock face, we noticed a couple of rock climbers doing their thing. We took pictures, but the climbers can only be seen on very close inspection. The rock face was so massive they look like tiny specks in our pictures.
We finally arrived in Tularosa and found it to be a nice-sized, very pretty, clean and charming small town, and we found the church with no trouble.
St. Francis de Paula Church was established in 1865, the year after James V. Walters was mustered out of the Army, and is absolutely beautiful.
The church is still active and, with services taking place at the time we were there, we just took some pictures and planned to contact them by phone the following day to see if they might have some records or further information about our Walters ancestors. We know that Aunt Bess was baptized there as we have a copy of her baptismal certificate. This makes us believe that some or all of the other Walters children may have also been baptized there. And on one of the military pension applications we have copies of, James and Frances were said to have been married by “the priest at Tularosa,” so we are in hopes that the church may have some information to provide in that regard as well. I did not make contact with the church secretary until after we returned home, but have sent her a list of names and dates, which she said she would be happy to research for us.
Our next stop was Ruidoso where I had hoped to find the Dowlin Mill. In the story “My Mother” which Aunt Bess hand wrote and Barb Santos edited and typed for the family, it states concerning James, “He was a logger at that time supplying Dowlings Milt (?) (unreadable).” When Eileen Banks was preparing to write her article about our Baca/Walters ancestors, I found a story written about the Dowlin Mill at Ruidoso. I went back to Aunt Bess’ story and came to the conclusion that Aunt Bess was making reference to the sawmill (the Dowlin Mill) at Ruidoso. Because of the article about the Dowlin Mill and Aunt Bess’ reference to it in connection with James’ work as a logger, I wanted to visit this site which I hoped still existed.
On the way to Ruidoso, we passed through the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation which we found to be a very clean and enterprising area. We saw signs of much industry by the Indians, including their tribal center, the Mescalero Elementary School, a fish hatchery, lumber industry, and upon our arrival in Ruidoso, we found that the Indians have built a casino and a race track which have greatly enhanced Ruidoso’s attraction as a tourist site.
I needn’t have been concerned about the Dowlin Mill’s existence. The town of Ruidoso is thriving and the Mill still stands where it did when James supplied timber to the sawmill. The sawmill is long gone but the granary mill remains where they still grind corn and wheat and sell the corn meal and whole wheat flour in the one remaining building which is now a souvenir shop. When we went inside, the clerk told us she was a friend of the current owner and she was very knowledgeable and helpful. We bought some flour, corn meal, post cards, a video tape, and 5 books from a set of 6 books published by the Lincoln County Historical Society which were pointed out to us by the clerk.
The titles of these five books are: (1) “Memoirs of a Country Doctor,” (2) “Fort Stanton, New Mexico: The Military Years 1855-1896,” (3) “Old Lincoln County Pioneer Stories,” (4) “Frontier Parish: Recovered Catholic History of Lincoln County, 1860-1884,” and (6) “Ramblin’ Around Lincoln County.” The #5 book was sold out, but I am in the process of attempting to obtain it directly from the Lincoln County Historical Society.
These are small paperback books from 30 to 90 pages long and made for very interesting reading as we continued on our trip. In the 6th book, “Ramblin’ Around Lincoln County,” I came across Nellie Zamora’s story, a paragraph of which follows:
While I was reading this paragraph and realized that, even though not every detail of the story is the same, Nellie Zamora was relating "our" story – the one passed on to us by our parents and grandparents… the story of our “Uncle Joe Woods” who had survived his head being bashed against the wagon wheel by the Indians… goosebumps appeared on my arms… as they are now as I relate this information.
After leaving Ruidoso, we drove across to Roswell and then down to Artesia where we were staying that night. On the map, this little drive (from Artesia, through Hope, Elk, Mayhill, Cloudcroft, Tularosa, Ruidoso, Hondo, Roswell and back to Artesia) looked like it wouldn’t take long; however, it took all day and we drove about 250 miles. I did not realize New Mexico was so large and can’t imagine how long it must have taken the Walters to get from one place to another when just looking at the distances between places, not to mention the dangers from possible Indian attacks or outlaws, snakes, and the forces of nature. Certainly, I now have a much greater admiration for the pioneers of that area.
We spent the first part of Monday morning trying to make a few phone contacts (unsuccessfully) and then drove to Roswell to visit the Chaves County Courthouse and the Historical Center of Southeast New Mexico. At the courthouse, we found and copied several records pertaining to the original homestead of James Walters in 1892 and the subsequent transfer of the deed to this land first to Frances from James in 1899 as well as a 1933 transaction between Aunt Lucy and Aunt Lizzie. At the Chaves County Courthouse, we also were able to obtain the marriage record of Mary Walters and William Roy Burck dated 23 January 1898.
After we left the courthouse, we stopped by the Historical Center of Southeast New Mexico but were unaware that in order to visit the Archives on the third floor, an appointment needed to be made ahead of time. We did obtain the name and address of the curator of those archives, however, and I have since written to him.
We then set out for a visit to the courthouse in Carrizozo, the county seat of Lincoln County. However, between Roswell and Carrizozo, we happened to drive through the town of Lincoln, New Mexico. This small town has much historical significance related to Billy the Kid, a topic which my husband is very interested in, so we stopped and spent some time here. The town has been preserved and is in much the same condition it was in during Billy the Kid’s day with most of the buildings being owned and maintained by the State of New Mexico. We visited each building and I was especially impressed with the museum there which included interesting displays including one on the Mescalero Indians and one on the prominent Baca family of that time.
Though I have no definite proof, I am fairly certain that our Frances Baca’s ancestral line extends back to Spain as stated by both Aunt Bess and Aunt Lucy. I thumbed through a large reference book at this museum, which included an entire section on this early prominent Baca family. Though Ken offered to buy the book for me, I declined as it cost nearly $50.00 and there was nothing in it that would have helped to tie our Frances to this line of Bacas. However, it did have the history of the Baca family which came to America from Spain and would be fascinating reading.
Due to this unplanned visit to Lincoln, by the time we arrived in Carrizozo, the courthouse was closed so we spent the night there. On Tuesday morning we first set out to find the Lincoln County Historical Society office which we did but it was closed and had no indication of what days or hours it might be open. Carrizozo is a much smaller town than Roswell, thus has a much smaller courthouse. The staff in the Clerk’s office were extremely friendly and helpful, and while we searched their old records, they attempted to locate someone connected to the historical society for us.
I finally spoke on the phone to a Dr. Ritchie who offered to drive 60 miles to bring a key if we could find no one in town who could open the doors to the historical society building for us. I told him that I didn’t know whether there would be any information at all inside that might be helpful to us and that I would not expect anyone to go that much out of the way just to let us in to browse around. Again, I obtained names, addresses, and phone numbers of a couple of local members, and again I was unable to contact them at that time, but have since written to them to see whether they might have information on James, Frances and their family, and to see whether they have the missing book (#5) from their series of books in which I found the reference to our ancestors’ Indian massacre story.
While at the Lincoln County Courthouse, we obtained copies of two of the Walters’ children’s marriage records, those being the 28 July 1895 marriage of Miss Nancy E. Walters to Mr. George W. Brown at Lower Penasco, and the 22 April 1885 marriage of Miss Felicita (Lizzie) Walters to Mr. William McDonald. I’m always excited to find any records, but especially this last one as it again reiterated the fact that Aunt Lizzie’s given Hispanic name was Felicita, as listed on early census records.
After talking to Dr. Ritchie for a while on the phone, he told me that we might have better luck finding actual information on our Walters ancestors at the Tularosa Basin Historical Society at Alamogordo. When we were ready to leave Carrizozo, we briefly discussed going back down to Alamogordo but decided against it as it would have been about an 80 mile drive one way.
However, if I had called my sister Judy on Monday as I had mentioned I might, we definitely would have driven back to Alamogordo to visit the Otero County Courthouse. Judy had mapped the location of John Walters’ homestead and found it to be in Otero County. And since Ken and I had looked unsuccessfully for information on John Walters and Wesley Fields at both the Chaves County and Lincoln County Courthouse, I am now sure we would have found information on both men in Otero County.
Looking on the bright side, however, this will give us more reason to return to New Mexico, which both Ken and I fell in love with. Hopefully, we can return there next year and with some of the knowledge we gained this year, we can be better prepared to dig a little deeper and perhaps find even more in the way of information to help piece together the story of our Walters ancestors.