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A dream for true independence; State’s first African-American community thrives, but not for long

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A homestead family who had settled in Blackdom. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

It was the days of Jim Crow and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Just like their white counterparts, African-Americans were finding their way west to start a new life and homesteading their own land.

The town of Blackdom, New Mexico, became the state’s first community of African-Americans. It was established about 18 miles south of Roswell by Francis “Frank” Marion Boyer, a homesteader from Pullam, Georgia. Frank Boyer was the son of Henry Boyer who had come to New Mexico as a wagoner in Col. Alexander Doniphan’s army of Missouri volunteers. Doniphan came to New Mexico with Gen. Stephen W. Kearny for the so-called “bloodless” conquest in the summer of 1846.

Both Doniphan and Kearny are known for their significant contributions to the Mexican-American War.

Henry Boyer loved the wide open spaces of New Mexico. He went back to Georgia after the war ended there. His goal was to impress upon the minds of his family the possibilities for a future in the Territory of New Mexico. He never returned himself, but many of his descendants came here.

Frank Boyer decided to follow up on his father’s dreams about New Mexico. He left Georgia in 1896 and walked the entire distance to the New Mexico territory. After he arrived he worked on ranches until he was able to send for his wife, Ella, and their children, who arrived in 1901.

Boyer, and his wife, and her sister and family, the Dan Keyes family, homesteaded near each other a mile west of what was about to become the village of Dexter. They begin their own farm with chickens and gardens to raise produce, with the help of artesian wells.

Blackdom is incorporated

After the Civil War, many African-American families had left the Deep South to start independent communities of their own. They homesteaded in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in their search for independence.

A legal article published on Sept. 14, 1903, in the Roswell Daily Record reads:

CERTIFICATE: Territory of New Mexico, Office of the Secretary.

I, J.W. Reynolds, Secretary of the Territory of New Mexico, do hereby certify that there was filed for record in this office, at 9:00 AM, on the ninth day of September, A.D., 1903, Articles of Incorporation of Blackdom Townsite Company (No. 3519); and also that I have compared the following copy of the same, with the original thereof now on file and declare it to be a correct transcript therefrom and of the whole thereof.

In witness whereof, I have here unto set my hand and affixed my official seal this ninth day of September, A.D. 1903. (Seal) J.W. Reynolds, Secretary of New Mexico.

Articles of Incorporation of Blackdom Townsite Company.

Know all Men by These Presence That we, Francis M. Boyer, Isaac W Jones, Daniel G Keyes, Burrell Dickerson, Charles C. Childress, John T Boyer, James Jackson, Charles W Clifton, Charles Thompson, Albert Hubert, Benjamin Harrison, George White, and Joseph Cook, all citizens of the United States of America and residents of the Territory of New Mexico, have this day associated ourselves together for the purpose of forming a corporation under and by virtue of the Provisions of Chapter 1 of Title V of the Compiled Laws of the Territory of New Mexico of 1897 and we do hereby state and certify:

Article I

Incorporators:

That the full names of the persons who are to form said corporation are Francis M. Boyer, Isaac W Jones, Daniel G Keyes, Burrell Dickerson, Charles C. Childress, John T Boyer, James Jackson, Charles W Clifton, Charles Thompson, Albert Hubert, Benjamin Harrison, George White, and Joseph Cook, and such other persons as shall be hereafter by the purchase of stock become mentors thereof.

Article II

Corporate Name:

That the corporate name of this company shall be Blackdom Townsite Company.

Article III

Objects of Purposes: that the objects of this corporation are:

1. To establish a Negro colony and to found and erect the town of Blackdom, and to lay off the lands covered by said town into a town side under the laws of the Territory of New Mexico and to lay out additions thereto and to plat said townsite and additions into blocks, lots, streets, alleys, avenues, commons, parks and public grounds, and to own, hold, sell, and convey said lots and blocks and improve the same.

2. To purchase, sell, improve, cultivate and colonize lands in connection with the matter mentioned in paragraph 1 of these purposes.

3. To purchase, build, erect, construct and operate one or more irrigation plants by means of a system of artesian wells or appropriating the now unappropriated waters of any natural stream in the county of Chaves and the Territory of New Mexico, and the construction of reservoirs, canals, ditches and pipes for the purpose of irrigation and reclamation of the plans, and the sale of waters and water rights in connection therewith.

4. To maintain and establish irrigated farms and to handle, sell and dispose of the produce thereof.

5. To establish a system of education among the inhabitants of the town of Blackdom and surrounding country and to improve the health, welfare and prosperity of such inhabitants.

6. In general it is proposed to obtain control of a large body of land in the county of Chaves and Territory of New Mexico under the laws of the United States of America and there to establish and maintain a colony of negroes by means of the cultivation of crops, the growing of town and settlements and the general improvement of the inhabitants of such colony: to build, erect and equip School houses, colleges, churches and various educational and religious institutions for the improvement and upbuilding of the moral and mental condition of said colony.

Other settlers come to Blackdom

M.L. and Mary Frances Collins came to New Mexico from Mississippi in 1907. They stayed about six months with the Boyers at Dexter, who had facilities for new arrivals. During that time, Collins claimed a homestead some four miles west of the Blackdom townsite and built a house on it.

Starting about 1911, there was established a branch of sorts of the Dexter post office at Blackdom. Collins would meet the mail carrier about halfway between Blackdom and Dexter to get the Blackdom mail. He took the mail to the Blackdom store, where local people would go for it. The store where the mail was disbursed was operated by James A. Eubank.

By 1912, the town had a flourishing population of 300 with a local newspaper, a church, a store, a post office, school house, pumping plant, office building, and several residents already established. It was well on its way to becoming it’s own little zenith.

Blackdom resient Lucy Henderson wrote these words to the editor of The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, in December 1912: “Here the black man has an equal chance with the white man. Here you are reckoned at the value which you place upon yourself. Your future is in your own hands.”

She was trying to persuade others to come settle in the home she had found in Blackdom. She said, “I feel I owe it to my people to tell them of this free land out here.”

A pleasant daily life and social environment seemed to be working out fine for these hardworking and deserving people.

The ladies of Blackdom even did their part in helping the efforts of World War I. A Roswell Daily Record article dated August 31, 1917, reads as follows: ‘Yesterday the Red Cross chapter of Blackdom sent 20 more beautiful crocheted hospital mop cloths to add to their collection.

This Red Cross unit of Blackdom is doing a beautiful work of service in there humble way for God and humanity!’

The store in Blackdom was a general store, with dry goods, household necessities and the like. One thing that it did not sell was gasoline, because there were no cars in the community for some time. Coal oil was sold to supplement the local fuel resource of cow chips for Blackdom lamps and stoves.

Like most communities in those days, the Blackdom school building was also used for church services and other community gatherings, funerals, dances, dinners and holiday events.

Another time of celebration was Juneteenth, in observation of the emancipation of the Texas slaves on June 19, 1865. There would be picnics with barrels of lemonade, barbecue, and usually a baseball game with teams from other communities.

Cowboys in the vicinity sometimes visited Blackdom. When they had roundups sometimes they’d kill their meat, and they’d always give the people a quarter or half a side.

The homesteaders of Blackdom tried to farm, and in some of the early years they had enough rainfall to raise grain sorghum. The homesteads were too far west or the artesian water was too deep for pumps of the times. The county had also passed a law restricting the drilling of new wells. Some of the families had windmills and they raised gardens and fruit trees. They raised chickens and hogs for their own consumption. Most of the men, however, had to hire out to white farmers in the Dexter area in order to support their families.

The demise of Blackdom

Such were the days in Blackdom, though sadly, somewhat short lived. One by one, the discouraged families of Blackdom abandoned their homesteads and moved on to other pursuits. The exact date for the demise of Blackdom is not possible to identify, but it was virtually deserted by the mid-1920s. The Boyer family moved to Vado, which is south of Las Cruces. Vado was another African-American community.

Little is seen today that there was an evidence of a town in this area. There are a few pieces of concrete foundations, and prairie grasses blow in the wind over what was once a dream of a thriving hard working people, looking for a better life, and a life of freedom.

In closing, I found an old Roswell Daily Record article, dated April 7, 1920, that piqued my interest:

Contract for a Deep Test at Blackdom

A contract between the Blackdom Oil Company and a large mid continent drilling company was signed this morning which calls for a deep test well at Blackdom, south of the city on what is known as the Blackdom dome.

The terms of this contract provide that drilling must commence within 60 days from today and that the well must be drilled to a depth of at least 3,500 feet unless oil in paying quantities is found at a lesser depth.

This tract of 4,800 acres lies directly west and a little south of Orchard Park where the National Exploration Company is now drilling and geologists who have examined it say that the structure is there much in evidence.

The Blackdom Oil Company is composed of Negroes who blocked a large acreage early in the year. They received a bonus of $1,000 an acre and a bond of $5,000 has been deposited by the drilling company to show good faith.

The machinery for this well is already in transit and will be moved to the to the drilling site immediately upon its arrival in the city.

Officials of the National Exploration Company have announced that the long missing equipment, necessary for the starting of the Orchard Park, will be here the latter part of the week and that the big drill will begin pounding the first of next week.

Income from the oil drilling could have saved the town. But unfortunately, the equipment never arrived.

Credits to Elvis Fleming and his research, interviews, and writing of many articles on Blackdom.

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.