By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily Record
I thought this week, I would share some lighthearted stories just for fun. These are from “The Old Timer’s Review,” and are a collection of stories from the memories of old timers from this area.
The first is the story shared by Aaron O’Neill in The Old-Timers Review, it’s titled “Played Harmonica for Swing Games — I Was Almost Kicked Out of The Church.”
“It happened like this: when I was about fifteen years old we lived on a homestead located a few miles from Plainview, New Mexico, a little place about half way between Lovington and Tatum. (Plainview does not exist anymore.) About once a month someone in the community would give a party and everyone was invited. People would attend from miles away, coming by horseback, horse and buggy, and wagon and team (no cars, as there were very few cars then.)
“Papa and Mama would sometimes hitch the team to the wagon and take my sister Vida and me to the party, an affair where everyone had a good time.
“One of the main events at the party was called the swinging game. This was where all the boys chose a lady partner, would get in a big circle, swing their partners, and then their neighbors, and promenade. While doing this everyone would sing the song of the game, as each game had words with it, and everyone would do what the words said. Some of the games were: ‘Old Joe Clark,’ ‘Circle Four in the Middle of the Floor,’ ‘First Two Gents Across the Hall,’ and many other swing games. As long as we would all participate as the words led us, the games were considered very ‘clean.’
There was one time, however, that something happened that changed the nature of the party. Someone noticed that I had my harmonica in my pocket. I was pretty good at playing harmonica — at least I thought so. I could play all of the game songs: a lot of old fiddle tunes like ‘Arkansas Traveler,’ ‘Soldiers Joy,’ and a number of others … Well, some of the folks there suggested I play the harmonica and have someone to call out the words instead of singing them. I really liked the idea and started playing and soon got into the swing of the thing. Another fellow got up on a chair and started calling out the words. Soon everybody was ‘swinging’ and really seem to be enjoying it.
This change wasn’t really any different from what we had been doing. It was exactly the same as playing the swinging games except instead of singing we had the music. However, some of the older folks there felt differently. They called this new style of games ‘dancing,’ so before long the whole event had caused a big scandal, and I was the one who got all the blame, because I was the one who had the harmonica and made the music to ‘dance’ by.
“At that time I was a member of the Baptist church, a group who used the Prairieview schoolhouse for a meeting place, and it didn’t take long for the deacons of the church to get together and talk it over, finally threatening to throw me out of the church. However, after calling me in and giving me a real stern lecture, and making me promise never to play my harmonica at any more parties, they decided to let me keep my membership. Well, I kept my promise, and of course I was never caught there after, with my harmonica, at any more swing game parties.”
“1930’s Bring Back Memories of the Toad” by Howard Connor
“Back in the 1930s on hot summer evenings, my family would sit on the cool green grass in our front yard at our home on the Berrendo. After a hot day in the field or in the orchard, or perhaps after working for the neighbors baling hay, my older brother Glenn and I would get with the Schmid boys, or sometimes Austin and Bud Roberts, and go for a nice cool swim in the nearby Berrendo River.
“One summer evening all of my family were outside, either lying on the grass or sitting in chairs, enjoying taking it easy. Suddenly, we heard a chirping noise. It sounded at first like a small bird chirping, but upon investigating I found a little toad trying it’s best to jump up the seven steps to the porch floor, evidently trying to reach the front screen door. We had left a light on in the house, and bugs were collecting on the screen instead of working on us.
“Dad was watching the toads efforts, too. He told me to put the ambitious little rascal on the porch by the door. I did so and you should have seen that toad go to work! He would roll out his long tongue like a Blacksnake whip, blink his eyes and go up, and there went one more bug down the hatch! Of course he wouldn’t mess around with the hard shell beetles; they were left for us to get rid of in whatever way we could.
“This little episode took place every night during the summer as long as there were soft shell bugs to eat. That little toad would appear every evening and chirp for help until someone would assist him — or her — up the steps.
“When we first helped the toad to get started on his bug extermination, he was probably about 3 inches in diameter. When summer was over his size had grown to about seven or eight inches, so I reckon our bugs must have had a lot of vitamins and proteins, because that ol’ toad had sure put on a lot of weight before he finally disappeared in the fall.
“For the next eight years, we looked forward each summer to the annual visits of our oldest friend the toad, and he never let us down. He’d always show up and take care of our bugs.
“Was It Buried Treasure? — Seven Cabins Diggins Still a Mystery” By Guy Crandall
“No respectable Western periodical is complete without it’s story of buried treasure. This might bring to mind stories of caves with gold bricks, or stashed away treasure chests. This story is rather modest, based on the fact that early pioneers did not have access to banks as we do today. For safekeeping they hid their cash in the cookie jars, and buried it underneath dirt floors or out in the yard. Bank and train robbers probably hid their loot in the same manner.
“This story is in two parts, the first part taken from conversations of my uncles the McFarlands and the VanWinkles, that I overheard when I was a youngster at Spindle. The second part is what I experienced several years later.
“Travelers and visitors on horseback and in wagons used to stop at the Spindle store regularly, but they seldom came by automobile. Therefore, the two strangers who drove into Spindle in a Model T Ford one day stirred up great interest.
“The men entered the Spindle store, and after buying a few groceries carefully scrutinized a worn piece of paper. Then they asked how to get to Seven Cabins. Uncle Emmett gave directions but informed them that the road was only passable by horseback or wagon. The men ask permission to leave their auto at the store and they took off walking briskly, up the road leading to the cabins.
“About mid morning the next day these two fellers came back down and asked Uncle Emmett if they could borrow a team and wagon. Uncle Emmett agreed, figuring he would have the Model T as security. So the strangers drove the wagon alongside the Ford, loaded their bedding and other gear into it and again took off up the road to the old cabins.
“All this running back and forth got Uncle Emmett’s curiosity aroused. He knew it was very unusual for strangers in autos to have any knowledge about the ancient Seven Cabins, but Uncle Emmett felt bound to the Western code, that a man’s business was his own and it would be improper to ask questions.
“The next day, just about dusk, a wagon clattered down the road from the Seven Cabins direction and pulled up alongside the Ford. Uncle Emmett watched the two men unload their gear from the wagon back into their car. But what really got my Uncle to raisin’ his eyebrows was something underneath a big tarp in the wagon box.
“Whatever the object was, they finally managed to transfer it to the auto but made sure they kept it out of sight of Uncle Emmett’s prying eyes. One of the men then returned the team and wagon to Uncle Emmett, then turned and walked pretty fast to the warmed up auto. Uncle Emmett stared thoughtfully at the rattling car as it disappeared moments later around the bend.
“When the McFarlands got together they were quite excited, speculating on what the men had been up to. Finally they could stand it no longer, so they settled their horses and took off in a run for Seven Cabins. When they got back, they reported they had found fresh diggin’s and an iron kettle — which of course caused more excitement. The big question now was, what had the strangers dug up? Who were these men — and where did they come from? My kin couldn’t come up with any satisfactory answers, but they sure had lots to talk about. The incident mentioned above took place sometime in the early 1900s. In the late 1920s, my friend Lewis McInnes and I had grown into young men, and with a young man’s curiosity, we got into a discussion about the Seven Cabins diggin’s, so we decided to go exploring.
We followed the old wagon road up peach tree draw, winding through pine and cedar. Our horses trotted up the gradual incline to the base of the mountain where it rose steeply to the summit. The road passed by an ancient peach orchard a short distance from the cabins, and our timing was about right for the peaches to be ripe. So we rode under the trees picking choice ripe fruit and eating until we had our fill.
“Seven Cabins was located in a narrow valley with steep mountains rising abruptly on all sides, except down the arroyo to the North. The tumbled-down, rotted log frames and chimneys were still clearly evident. The cabins lay in a row from north to south, showing that the doors had opened to the west into a huge yard, where hard packed earth extended the length of the cabins. Trees and brush covered the area on the north and south. A spring bubbled out of the rocks at the base of the west mountain and made its way across the north side of the yard to join another stream of spring water coming down the arroyo east of the cabins.
“Lewis and I dismounted and stretched out on our bellies at the spring, quenching our thirst with cold water.
“We went about our search, soon finding where someone had at one time been digging in the yard. At the north and south end of the yard stood pine trees, each of them higher than the surrounding trees. At the base of each of these pine trees were more diggin’s — holes circled by mounds of earth. The pine tree at the south end had one big hole, but the tree at the north end drew our attention because this was where the kettle was supposed to have been found. At this tree were two holes that had been dug at its base. We searched the area thoroughly but could find no kettle.
“Finally we grew rather discouraged and sat on our heels, poking around in the holes. The holes were about two feet in diameter and about two feet deep. I glanced toward Lewis and saw him staring up into the trees. He finally asked, “Do you see anything unusual about the top of the tree?” I backed up a few paces to get a better view. Sure enough I could see that the top of the tree was missing; someone had cut it out.
“We didn’t find the treasure that day — we really didn’t expect to, but we did find adventure, mystery, and intrigue. After a while I thoughtfully stepped out into a clearing where I could see north to the plains way out beyond the age old hills. The ‘Big Sky Country’ was so vast that the horizon blended into the land in a blue gray haze. At my back and on either side, steep mountain slopes rose to the sky enclosing me with a feeling of lonely isolation. I remembered having asked Uncle Dan if he knew the people who had lived at Seven Cabins. He said, ‘No. The place was deserted when I came to the Capitans in the 1880s.’
“It was a rumor prevalent that Seven Cabins had been a hideout for a gang of outlaws. These thoughts gave rise to numerous questions. Who were these long ago people who had lived there? Why did they settle in such an isolated area? Were they hiding from the law? Or perhaps the place had been a refuge from marauding Indians. One thing for sure, the men who dug the holes had surely known something — something that we didn’t know and something we would really like to know.
“My wife Ruth, after reading my story about Seven Cabins and after our following discussion, it actually put us in the mood to go camping and visit the old site. Some 35 years had gone by since Lewis and I had made our trip to the cabins. So Ruth and I knew that the place would hardly be recognizable. The old wagon road had been replaced by a graded road on the adjacent ridge, and the road was badly eroded, so we parked our camper and walked the remaining mile to the old site, being somewhat breathless when we arrived.
“After looking around for a few moments we walked through the brush-choked area where I figured the cabins ought to have been. Poking around in the rubble as we walked, we saw heaps of granite stones that might have been chimneys, but we found no sign of log frames, a topped off tree or any diggings. A metal pipe now carried a small stream of water to a cement trough. The arroyo east of the cabin site was dry, our search for the peach orchard found nothing but brush-covered terrain.
“The year was 1965, which represented almost a span of a century, since the settlement had probably been inhabited. Now nature had erased all signs of occupation of those long ago residents. Seven Cabins was now only a legend — a legend of mystery and intrigue. Does anyone have the answer? Maybe only the trees will ever know the secret …”
Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.