Home News Vision Historically Speaking: The beginnings of the Roswell Museum, part 1

Historically Speaking: The beginnings of the Roswell Museum, part 1

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The captions reads, "Six of the Roswell Museum founders, honored with plaque, November 1957. Pictured in the front row are C.E. Mason, Annie Laurie Snorf, Mrs. Corinne Whitney, Mrs. Cooley Urton, Mrs. W.W. Phillips and Judge C.R. Brice. Back row is Mrs. May Marley."

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” — Marcus Garvey.

Following is an article taken from the Roswell Daily Record, dated Oct. 7, 1937 and written by Maurice G. Fulton. This article describes in some detail the beginnings of our museum and preservation of our local historical artifacts, and the beginnings of the Roswell Museum. Today, we are fortunate to have not only the Roswell Museum and Art Center, but our Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Museum and Archives, located at 200 and 208 N. Lea Ave., respectively.

This will be a two-part article, as it is lengthy, but has some interesting facts that I hope everyone will enjoy.

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”Due To Active Work of The Chaves County Archaeological and Historical Society Aided By Many Other People.

“By Maurice G. Fulton

“The question, ‘how did the museum start?’ is answered in the article below, which comes from the records of Chaves County Historical and Archaeological Society. It was prepared in 1930 by Miss Annie Laurie Snorf, chairman of the publicity committee. Doubtless a museum would have come in time, for it is a logical adjunct to the work of the historical society; but, as Miss Snorf has indicated, the idea received a decided impetus through the accumulation of money sufficient to make possible a purchase of some museum display cases. In February 1931, the society gave an evening’s entertainment program called ‘Billy the Kid in Song, Story, and Dance,’ which was handsomely attended by the people of Roswell. The auditorium of the junior high school was entirely filled, and the treasury of the society became the richer by the net receipts of some $300 or more. This put the treasury in a more plethoric state than either before or since and naturally raised the question, how should the money be expended? The decision was to buy suitable places for the archaeological and historical relics that had been accumulated already and that might come later, if the society carried on the activities outlined by Miss Snorf in her review.

“The situation is best presented directly through extracts from the report:

“Activities of the Roswell Historical Society

“A visit to the public library at Roswell will convince one that the Chaves County Archeological and Historical Society has been very active since its organization a little over a year ago. One evidence of this is shown by the growth of their museum, which a couple of years ago consisted of only one small case with a few exhibits, and now has six splendid, well filled cases.

“The north end of the main reading auditorium has been converted into the museum, and along the wall stand two beautiful, electrically lighted cases containing a splendid collection of ancient and modern pottery, basket weaving, and implements of the Stone Age, arranged in date or period order. The purchase of these cases was made possible by the presentation of the play, ‘Billy the Kid, in Song and Dance,’ which was given by the society in February under the direction of Miss Elizabeth Garrett.

“We are indebted to the State Society for the contents of these cases, and we are indeed grateful to them for the splendid start. In another case along the east wall is a display consisting entirely of modern pottery and basket weaving while on the opposite side is an excellent collection of mineral specimens attractively arranged, which has been kindly loaned to us by the Chamber of Commerce. This collection was assembled by Mr. A. Lang, geologist.

“Nearby is a smaller case descriptive of Roswell‘s early history, and frames containing a very complete collection of arrowheads which were gathered around Roswell by William Wolfe. Metates, crude and simple forerunners of our immense flour mills, are there, and one marvels at the infinite patience and endless labor it must have taken to grind the corn to feed a band of hungry warriors. We are indeed proud of our museum.

“Historical Sites

“In the vicinity of Roswell there are a number of historical sites that the Society is planning to study. Among them is the location of what is supposed to be the Pitt House people on the Hondo River southwest, which has been pronounced a very promising site by Dr. Edgar L. Hewett. Many fine specimens of pottery, the metate, Indian arrowheads, have been found there.

“In the Berrendo district have been found some very interesting relics, etc., and other evidence of habitation, especially in the rocks, which have been used for grinding corn, silent witnesses of the life, which ages and ages ago was stirring on our plains.

“Another spot of interest is the buried village on the Bonnell ranch between Roswell and Ruidoso. Lying high on the mesa overlooking the valley of the Ruidoso there can be plainly seen, the surface, the outline of the pueblos, showing the divisions of the rooms, yet no active work has been done on this site, and with the exception of a few excavations which have revealed a series of rooms, a fire pit and what appears to have been an altar, no study has been made. Many pieces of pottery have been found and some skeletons.

“Millions Years Old

“San Patricio, where has been found the bones of an ancient animal which is millions of years old, and whose huge jaws measure three feet across, is another site. All of these promise much interesting work and study.

“Our society is wholeheartedly behind the movement of Dr. Hewitt and Dr. Zimmerman and others, to get a bill passed by the Legislature which will protect our priceless archaeological and historical heritage from vandalism, for it is a well-known fact that some of our best specimens are being carried away, not by incidentals but by the truck load. We are willing to divide, but let us not be robbed.

“Perhaps the most significant thing that the Society has done this year is the launching of the idea of the Quatro Centennial in New Mexico in 1940. This is a tremendous undertaking but with plenty of time ahead and with the cooperation of the state and other county societies, it can be put over and New Mexico will be brought to the notice of the whole nation. We who live in New Mexico point with pride to the fact that our state is the only one in the union that can celebrate a Quatro Centennial. It will be an excellent opportunity to bring New Mexico before the eyes of the nation and the world, and will be more of an education to our youth than any course in history that could be given them. Let us all work for it.

“Mrs. Bonney’s List

“The idea of a building to house their collections seems to have originated with Mrs. C.D. Bonney, who has served the Society ever since its beginning as treasurer. She had first simply entertained the hope of raising enough money in Roswell to build a one-room museum. It was evident that the Society had outgrown the Carnegie library, either as a meeting place or as a place for displaying its rapidly increasing collections. Mrs. Bonney discussed the matter with Mrs. J.P. Church and found that she, too, realized the need. Mrs. Church was then urging that the Society undertake the restoration of the old Torreon at Lincoln, but she gave willingly of her time and thought, to the matter of the museum.

“These two ladies sought an opportunity shortly after this to discuss the matter with the Historical Society at one of the meetings. As the government was urging, W.P.A. projects upon the community, it seemed likely that an arrangement might be made for the museum to become a W.P.A. project. Accordingly the Society appointed a committee to investigate both the W.P.A. requirements and the practicality of raising the money that the community would have to put up. The committee consisted of the following:

“Mrs. J.P. Church, Mrs. C.D. Bonney, Dr. L.J. Johnson, Mrs. Corrine Whitney, Mrs. W.W. Phillips.

“Soon after its appointment the committee asked that its membership be enlarged and the following were added: Mrs. E.A. Cahoon, Mr. M.C. Martin, Major M.G. Fulton.”

“The next step will be to interview the state W.P.A. administrator.”

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.