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Historically Speaking: A New Mexico Cinderella story

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Roswell Main Street, 1920."

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily


This week, I would like to share a Cinderella story of the Old West. This story is about a little girl by the name of Edwina Pru, who grew up spending a part of her time on ranches close to Hope, New Mexico and Roswell, between 1910-1920. Edwina grew up to become Baroness D’Erlanger of the Ennejma Ezzahra Palace in Sidi Bou Said.

Edwina Brown was born around 1908 in Texas to Edwin and Jessie Brown. She had a younger sister by the name of Mary Whelan Brown, born around 1910.

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Edwina’s mother left her father a year or two after Mary was born and took her girls to Texas, then New Mexico, to be closer to her brother. This is where her mother met Frank Pru, who had immigrated to New Mexico from France to engage in ranching. They were married a short time later.

Frank Pru was successful in ranching, acquiring quite a bit of land in New Mexico. He formally adopted his stepdaughters giving them his last name of Pru. He also paid for boarding schools, dance lessons, many trips and travel for the little girls and their mother, and winter houses for them in Roswell.

Edwina, her mother, and little sister made many trips to Roswell, spending time with friends, attending parties, and social events.

In researching Roswell Daily Record articles, I found many newspaper accounts of their time spent here in town. All articles unless otherwise noted, are from the Roswell Daily Record. Following are a few:

November 21, 1917

“Matinee Party for ‘The Spy’

“Little Miss Edwina Pru will be hostess on Saturday afternoon at the Liberty Theater at a matinee party to see ‘The Spy.’”

June 11, 1917

“Leave for California

“Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pru have gone to points in California on an extended vacation. Frank Pru is one of the prominent stockmen of this area.”

June 14, 1917

“To Make Roswell Their Home

“Mrs. Frank Pru of near Hope, has returned from Dallas where she went to get her little daughters who have attended school this year. The Pru family will leave shortly for California to spend the summer, but will return this fall to make Roswell their home. Mrs. Pru, who is an exceedingly charming woman, will be quite an addition to Roswell’s social life.”

Sept. 8, 1917

“Mrs. Frank Pru and children are at the Hotel Gilder. Next week the family will take Mrs. L.K. McGaffey’s home for the winter.”

Sept. 12, 1917

“To Winter in Roswell

“Mrs. Frank Pru and two daughters and little son are in Roswell for the winter so that the children may be in school. They will be located at Mrs. L. K. McGaffey’s home after the fifteenth. Mrs. McGaffey will be in California for the winter.”

December 4, 1917

“Frank Pru in town

“Frank Prunier of Pru Brothers Sheep Ranches near Carrizozo is in Roswell for a few days visiting his family.

The Pru’s had a baby boy, a little brother to Edwina and Mary, but sadly lost him in January of 1918. Following are a couple of articles about his sickness and his obituary, which was featured in the Roswell Daily Record:

January 21, 1918

“Mrs. Pru is home.

“Mrs. Frank Pru was able to leave Saint Mary’s Hospital yesterday after a week spent there following an operation. Little ‘Poncho’ Pru is quite ill with cold and grip. Like all the children in town ‘Poncho’ has had the measles.”

January 25, 1918

“Sad Death of a Child

“Jacques Francois, only son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pru, 710 N. Kentucky, died last night just before midnight, following an acute attack of pneumonia. ‘Poncho’ Pru, as he was affectionately called, would have been four years old had he lived until March 5. He was an unusually bright and attractive boy, full of the free dash and impulsiveness of the French people — his father was born and reared in southern France, coming to this country when he was twenty four. Poncho was quick to wrath but quicker to make amends. Never was there a more lovable child than dear little ‘Poncho’ and his ‘going out of the home that idolized him,’ seemed more than can be borne with fortitude. The grief-stricken father and mother and sisters have the tenderest sympathy of a wide circle of friends in their overwhelming bereavement.”

January 26, 1918

“Mass At St. Peter’s

“At 9 o’clock this morning, Saint Peters Catholic Church Mass was said for little Jacques Francois Pru, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pru who died Thursday night of pneumonia.

“The beautiful requiem service was attended by a large number of sympathizing friends and members of Saint Peter’s parish.

“As the solemn comforting rights of the church were performed in all their beauty and impressiveness, to the accompaniment of sweet music of choir and organ, the thought came, that nothing in this world when death calls our loved ones, is as satisfying and sustaining but one’s religion which gives one the faith and hope that some great day we shall meet again when we too have ‘crossed the bar.’

Needless to say, this was a very sad time for all the family and one that Edwina reflected back on many times throughout her life.

It was after this, it seems, the heartbreak may have been too much for the family, so they moved closer to Albuquerque for the girls to go to boarding school and to try to escape their heartbreak.

February 22, 1918

“Pru Buys Bivens Grant

“The Pru brothers have just purchased the Bivins grant between Belen and Albuquerque. This grant is one of the largest in New Mexico and contains many thousand acres. The Pru brothers are prominent sheepmen in the Southwest.”

November 22, 1918

“Frank Pru came in last night from his Bivens Grand Ranch near Albuquerque, coming over in his Ford. Mrs. Pru arrived today on the train. After a few days in Roswell on business, they will motor back to Albuquerque in their big Franklin car. Mr. and Mrs. Pru expect to reside in Albuquerque this winter as the little girls, Edwina and Mary are in school there and Albuquerque is nearer the big ranch than Roswell.”

Albuquerque Herald, June 9, 1919

“Mrs. Ynez Westlake left last night for Santa Fe where she will make a special study of Indian designs to be used in the decorations of the new home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pru for which she has been given the commission. The Pru home, which is being built on their ranch south of Albuquerque, will be constructed in an authentic Pueblo Indian style. The plans have been drawn by Pablo Abeyta of Isleta under the supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Pru, with regard to convenience and modernity of the interior. The fireplace will be designed in Santa Fe and will be decorated in stencils by Mrs. Westlake, to accord with the hangings and complete the decorative scheme. This will be one of the very few homes in this state to be built accurately following the pueblo style of architecture and in the carrying out of Indian designs in the decoration and in the use of Indian rugs, a harmonious and attractive adaptation of Indian art may be expected which should inaugurate a style as pure, genuine, and inoffensive to all canons of taste that evolved in the Spanish missions.”

Albuquerque Herald, Oct. 13, 1919

“Mrs. Frank Pru, who left Albuquerque for Los Angeles a few weeks ago, has placed her little girls in Saint Catherines school, and will spend some time in California herself. Should Mr. Pru be able to join her there, they will take a trip to Honolulu; otherwise Mrs. Pru will return to New Mexico in November.”

February 9, 1922

“Spending Winter In El Paso

“Mr. and Mrs. C. M. Farnsworth entertained last night at dinner Frank Pru, who is in Roswell for a few days. Mrs. Pru and the girls, Edwina and Mary, are in El Paso where the Prus will spend the winter.”

There are many more news clippings and daily reports on the Pru family, but moving forward, the girls went to school in Albuquerque. Their mother, Jessie, left Frank Pru and married again, then moved her girls to northern New Mexico and then on to New York City. It was here Edwina started down the path of fame and fortune.

Penasco Valley Press, Dec. 19, 1924

“Hope, Eddy County, New Mexico

“Hope — Now popular young actress in the Ziegfield Follies, New York City, has become well-known among the theatrical world for her beauty and was chosen one of six American girls to go to Paris for the beauty and youth of all nations (and) will model for one of the renowned customers of the French capitol during the international fashion show to be held there.”

Jan. 22, 1925

“Edwina Pru In Vogue

“The February number of Vogue carries an exquisitely beautiful picture of Edwina Pru, who was chosen by Jean Patou as one of the six beautiful mannequins (models) which he took back to Paris with him. The contest at which Miss Pru was selected was held in the Ritz ballroom. Edwina Pru spent a number of years of her child life in Roswell with her mother, Mrs. Frank Pru and is well known here. Her many friends are interested in the distinction which has come to her.”

Jan. 10, 1930

“Former Roswell Girl Married to English Banker

“Santa Fe, Jan 10 — (AP) Mrs. John Pryddech Williams of Santa Fe today announced the marriage of her daughter Edwina Louise Pru of New York to Leo D’Erlanger of London, head of the D’Erlanger banking firm of England. The marriage was in New York yesterday at Saint Pauls chapel and the couple sails today on the steamship Bremen for Europe. Mr. and Mrs. Leo D’Erlanger will be at home at the Grosvenor House, Park Ln., London.

“Mr. D’Erlanger is the son of Baron and Baroness Rudolph D’Erlanger of London, England.

“Note – the Prus formerly lived in Roswell, where the daughters, including Edwina Louise Pru were raised.”

Aug. 22, 1931

“Roswell Girl International Beauty

“In another sphere of achievement of a famous world beauty and prominent in smart international nobility society, a former well-known Roswell girl has made for herself a name.

“Mrs. Leo D’Erlanger feted beauty of London and Paris, was fourteen years ago little Edwina Pru, elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pru of Hope and Roswell. Edwina and Mary Whelan Pru, her younger sister, were just average looking children, nothing unusual about them, when they were neighborhood playmates of Clara and John Allen Phinizy, Eleanor and Josephine Bedell, Mabel Cahoon, Andrew, Ruth, and Virginia Hervey, Francis and Robert Bear. In 1919, the Pru family moved to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. A few years later, Roswell friends heard of Edwina Pru as the beauty of the George White Scandals of Broadway and the star of the great New York success, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.’ Later, Edwina Pru was married to the dashing and handsome Leo D’Erlanger of London, one of the richest men of that country.

“Mary Whelan Pru is the wife of young Dick Courier of New York and Florence, Italy where she is now spending the summer at the Currier Villa. She also married great wealth and position.

“Vogue of the August 15 (pages 44 through 46) is devoted to pictures and a story of a house party at which the Leo D’Erlangers were hosts in their magnificent and beautiful white marble palace, which is built on the rocky hillside above Tunis. The description of the members of the house party, imposing castle, and the stately gardens and terraces of the lavish entertainment and the picturesque Arab servants, is too thrilling for words. Really, to appreciate the story one must read the Vogue. Just to think that Tunisia, the name of the place, is only one of the several castles that Edwina Pru calls home. Letters from both girls concerning the recent death of their adopted father Frank Pru demonstrates how deeply they loved him and appreciated the many sacrifices which he made to rear and educate them.”

My thanks goes to Winkie Williamson from Wales, United Kingdom, who is a volunteer researcher at the Ennejma Ezzahra Palace in Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia. She recently contacted me asking for help in researching the life of Edwina Pru D’Erlanger. Williamson gives talks at the Ennejma Ezzahra Palace, and will soon be writing a book on the life of Edwina Pru D’Erlanger.

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.