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Historically Speaking: Midnight ghouls and raising cabbage

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Pete Maxwell's home in "Old" Fort Sumner, NM — date unknown.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

In my research, I often come across articles that I feel are too good not to share. Such is the case in the two following articles.

Doing research, we depend on a lot of these articles of the time as being fact, I do believe — even in those days — yellow journalism (sensationalized headlines and exaggeration of news events) was alive and well. You can be the judge of it in the article of The Optic and whether or not it was fact or fiction.

Las Vegas Daily Optic, Sept. 10, 1881, page 4

“The Kid Kidnapped

“Or Rather His Mortal Remains Exhumed by Midnight Ghouls

“‘Save and defend us from our ghostly enemies.’

“Scarcely has the news of the killing of William Bonney, alias McCarthy, but known the wide world over as ‘Billy the Kid,’ faded from the public mind before we are again to be startled by the second chapter in the bloody romance of his eventful life — the disposal of his body. Billy was killed on July 14th and was buried on the 16th in an almost ‘abandoned cemetery’ at Ft. Sumner — a long neglected military burying ground, we believe it was. When the rude and comely funeral ceremonies were completed and the last cold clod had been heaped up on the rough sand mound, then should have ended the thrilling romance. But it did not, as our sequel will show.

“The fifth day after burial of the notorious young desperado, a fearless skelologist of this county, whose name for substantial reasons, cannot be divulged, proceeded to Sumner and in the silent watches of the night, with the assistance of a compadre, dug up the remains of the once mighty youth and carried them off in a wagon.

“The ‘stiff’ was brought to Las Vegas, arriving here at 2 o’clock in the morning, and was slipped quietly into the private office of a practical ‘sawbones,’ who, by dent of diligent labor and careful watching to prevent detection, boiled and scraped the skin off the pate so as to secure the skull, which was seen by a reporter last evening. The body, or remains proper, was covered in the dirt in a corral, where it will remain until decomposition will have robbed the frame of its meat, when the body will be dug up again and the skeleton ‘fixed up,’ hung together by wires and varnished with shellac to make it presentable. Then the physicians will feel that their labors have been rewarded, for the skeleton of a crack frontiersman does not grow on every bush, and the ‘bones’ of such men as the Kid are hard to find. The skull is already ‘dressed,’ and is considered quite a relic in itself. The index finger of the right hand, it will be remembered, was presented to The Optic at the time exhumation was made. As this member has been sent east, the skeleton now in the process of consummation will not be complete in its fingers; but the loss is so trivial that it will hardly be noticeable.”

Roswell Daily Record, Jan. 22, 1908

“An Old Timer Tells of Pioneer Experiences

“He Raised Cabbages

“The old settler failed to dig gold from the mountains but he secured a living and health from the prolific soil of the upper valleys of the Bonito.

“Editor Roswell Daily Record —

“The writer had the pleasure of interviewing T.M. Brown, a typical type of the pioneer and rugged farmer that located in Lincoln County in the White Mountains. Mr. Brown talked entertainingly of the early days when he came with his wife from Stone County Missouri in October ‘84 via ‘Prairie Schooner’ route on his honeymoon trip, with his wife driving one team and he himself the chauffeur of the other. He was attracted to the then ‘wild and woolly’ New Mexico hoping that the climate would prove beneficial for the health of his bride and was also seized with wonderful visions of gold to be found in the bowels of the White and Capitan mountains.

“When he landed in Roswell, there were only two stores and a blacksmith shop. One store was conducted by the late Captain J.C. Lea and the other by Jaffa Prager and Company. He did not remember the name of the blacksmith. (R.J. Dunnahoo) He westward parsed his way for 85 miles and located with his bride where he now lives. His dreams of fabulous wealth in gold were never realized, but he has gained a comfortable competence in the more humble and commonplace occupation of raising cabbages. Every year since ‘87, he has marketed cabbage in this city to good advantage. On this trip he brought 6,000 pounds, which he marketed locally for three cents a pound, realizing $180.

“Since locating in Lincoln County, he has also raised an interesting family of three girls and three boys and said, since he has been a resident of the mountains, he has never experienced a day of sickness in his family and that this salubrious climate restored his wife to perfect health, and that he himself did not know what sickness or an ache or pain was like.

“Mr. Brown stated that since 1887, the land that he had planted and cabbage had averaged him $200 per acre and some seasons that he had raised as high as 25,000 pounds of cabbage to the acre, which, if he had disposed of at three cents a pound, would have brought him $750. However, in some areas, he had netted as high as $500 per acre and some of the cabbages were disposed of at the patch from one cent to one and a half cents per pound. The land is irrigated from the Bonito Creek and alfalfa, beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, oats, barley, and corn are also profitable crops. Watermelon and cantaloupe do not thrive on that soil and when a watermelon gets about the size of a ‘gallon lard can’ it draws up. Sweet and Irish potatoes are not grown and all experiments in that line have proven a failure. He was asked if the Indians had ever caused him any trouble by committing any depredations at his farm. Mr. Brown said that in the 23 years he had lived and resided there, the Indians have never caused him the least inconvenience, nor have they ever stolen anything from the premises. The Mescalero Apaches, who lived 14 miles to the north, had frequently visited them on trading expeditions and traded piñons and beaded moccasins for the cabbage and other products. He had always treated them courteously and traded with them and it seemed to be pleasing to them and kept them in a friendly humor. — R.T. McC.”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.