Following is the little-known story of Solon Bolen (S.B.) Owens, who after making his mark in Texas decided to buy land near Roswell and start a ranch and several businesses.
S.B. Owens was born May 28, 1852, probably near Berryville, Arkansas, which is in Carroll County. It is believed that after his mother remarried, life under his stepfather was not too compatible so he left home when he was 17 years old.
He and his older brother, “Hemp,” walked 700 miles to Texas. They wound up near Bowie, Texas, or perhaps a little further south. They worked where they could find jobs, and sometimes in exchange for room and board. Hemp, being two years older, soon grew tired of this and probably had other interests in Arkansas that proved more attractive than Texas. So he left his brother, Solon, alone in Texas and returned to Arkansas.
S.B. Bolen wandered around in Texas looking for work. At one point he got into a skirmish with the Indians, where he received a arrow shot across the abdomen. That left him with a scar for the rest of his life. Life was hard for him for quite a while until he finally settled in the north central part of Texas and got a job with a cattle outfit that led to his start in the cattle business.
He worked hard, learned the business, saved his money and got his start. A few years later he was living north of the present Wichita Falls, running cattle in partnership with his younger brother, Jim W. Owens, who he had brought out from Arkansas to help him. They operated in what was known as Whaley’s Bend in Clay County, Texas. It was here he met and married Fayetta Ophelia Mangum on Aug. 29, 1879, at Henrietta, Texas. Not having a very satisfactory family life when he was young, he loved his new wife’s family and never let them get too far away from him.
S.B. Owens worked hard, as he and Fayetta started having a family of their own. He became very successful and well-known throughout the Texas Panhandle. Everyone liked him and it seemed every business he entered prospered.
The Panhandle Stockmen’s Association listed S.B. Owens as a member of their executive committee.
The Oct. 17, 1905, edition of The Twice-a-Week-Herald of Amarillo, Texas, had a small paragraph stating, “Some weeks ago S.B. Owens bought out the Alanreed Mercantile Co., and then sold to Adolph Andrews and J. F. Sansin. S.B. Owens, and others, are going to put in a private bank here.”
S.B. Owens gained, along with respect, considerable capital that included his prize ranch in Texas, which had 50 to 60 sections of prime grazing land.
He fell in love with a beautiful piece of land near Roswell, which later became known as the Buena Suerte Ranch.
He purchased the 375 acres of prime farm land for alfalfa, with a beautiful home on it as a winter home for his family. It was irrigated with artesian wells, and was a show place, at that time, of the Pecos River Valley.
He had just started to branch out in railroads and other businesses, to include plans for Roswell, but then life took a tragic turn.
A real estate agent named of B.S. Turbeyfield claimed Owens owed him commission on the sale of a property. Owens stated the “whole scheme is a deliberate attempt by unscrupulous and irresponsible parties to extort money from me and will be opposed by me to the last defense,” and the courts would decide, he took it to court. The court decided against Turbeyfield.
Owens had just attended a cattleman’s convention in Roswell and he and his oldest son had traveled back to check on his land in Texas. While in the wagon driving to their land, they encountered Turbeyfield while he was closing a gate at a railroad crossing. Owens called out to him, asking what he was doing there.
An argument began, then Turbeyfield started shooting at them with a pistol. One of the shots hit the old buggy mare in the nose causing her to rear up in fright and pain, tipping over the buggy, spilling S.B. Owens, his son and the contents of the buggy upon the ground.
Two of the shots hit Owens — one in the wrist and one in his side — and killed him. By this time, Turbeyfield then turned his gun on Owens’ son but was out of bullets, so he turned to run to a railroad work train on a rail siding. The younger Owens had picked up his father’s gun from the wagon and shot back, hitting Turbeyfield twice and mortally wounding him.
A trial was held, and the son, Solan Owens, was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The shot that killed S.B. Owens had a greater effect than just his death. A will that was drawn up divided the estate equally between his wife and nine children. But because some of the children were grown and others still underage and at home, the property could not be sold due to there being minor heirs.
The estate was located in both Texas and New Mexico. A will could not be broken in Texas, but in New Mexico it was a different story. Fayetta had to sue her children to break the will, so she could receive the larger share of the estate.
The case was kept in Texas and New Mexico courts for 14 years before it was settled. It was settled only when there was very little left to divide. Out of a huge estate, the children got only $32,000 — $2,000 for each of the girls and $5,500 for each of the boys — the lawyers got the rest.
This was the way it was in those days with women not having any status. Had S.B. Owens continued to live, he would have most likely brought much more industry to early Roswell as well.
Janice Dunahoo is a volunteer archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico.