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Historically Speaking: Uncle Rufe recalls first ‘All American Ball’ on Christmas day in 1880

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "John Chisum’s 'Long House,' with 144-foot-long porch. This was where the Christmas feast and all night dance was held" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Last week’s article was about a Christmas dance out in New Mexico’s ranch country. In keeping with early Christmas traditions here, I thought I would share one more Christmas dance story with you before Christmas. This one is a more historically factual story that took place at the Chisum Jinglebob Ranch, as told by my husband’s great-great-grandfather, Rufus Henry Dunnahoo, who was the first blacksmith in Roswell, and a fiddle player.

The writer of this story, Jim Mullens, was Rufe Dunnahoo’s stepson, he located permanently to New Mexico in 1887. He was a writer for the Nogal Nugget, in Nogal, New Mexico, then a boom mining town. He moved to Roswell in 1888 and was employed at the Roswell Register. He taught school in Lincoln County for several years and was the first Chaves County school superintendent. A member of the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1907-1911, he served as Justice of the Peace in Roswell for eight years. He was a direct descendent of William Mullens, passenger No. 11, on the Mayflower. He was a printer, editor, writer — writing under the name of Rubio Blanco — his writing being widely copied all over the Southwest, and he was a Spanish translator. He was an uncle to Bob Chewning, Charlie Chewning and Virginia Whalen, he was also related to the DeBordes and as before mentioned, the Dunnahoos.

Back to the Christmas dance:

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This story was published in the Dec. 27, 1928 issue of the Roswell Daily Record.

“As recalled by one of the few remaining participants and told to Jim Mullens by Uncle Rufe.

“Uncle Rufe Dunnahoo and family had arrived in Roswell from Uvalde, Texas, on July 14, 1880, and started his ‘smithy’ (blacksmith shop) on the corner where Luff’s Kandy Kitchen now stands, 107 E. 7th; (1928) Captain Joseph C. Lea lived in the building known to late comers as the Clem house near the Daily Record location; Poe, Lea & Cosgrove ran a store where Claude Simpson holds forth with his Roswell Chamber of Commerce (400 N. Main); if Smith Lea was in the country he was over about White Oaks, and Phelps White, Jim Manning, Edgar Harrell and many other old-timers had not yet arrived.

“Uncle Jim Miller lived about where Oasis Ranch is and had sheep. Martin Corn was developing the present Owens farm and Aunt Sallie (Chisum) Robert and husband lived at the old Jinglebob headquarters, in a 13-room Adobe which stood across the drive from Mrs. J. J. Hagerman’s present palatial abode at South Spring, being the best known and most popular woman in the territory of New Mexico, as hostess at the biggest free hotel known to old-timers, the Jinglebob Ranch.

“The idea of the ball, as well as the title for it, was John Chisum’s. His health had been failing and he was preparing to visit health resorts in the east and wanted to give the new and old settlers a nice little time to remember by. It was one of the last glad times that the veteran cowman ever gave at his famous ranch.

“The boys soon discovered after Rufe Dunnahoo arrived that he played the fiddle, so Pitzer Chisum engaged him for the orchestra for the All-American affair. Some guy had borrowed his fiddle and he and his wife drove all the way to Seven Rivers to get it.

“They got back to the Chisum Ranch just about dark Christmas Eve and were welcomed by 30 cowboys, each with a pair of sixguns. It was snowing and 4 inches of it on the ground, but the cold was not severe. Pitzer had had a beef barbecued and it was ready to serve, and all other cheer possible in a frontier region was at hand in an abundance.

“Among those present, who will be remembered by real old-timers were: John, Jaime and Pitzer Chisum, Mr. and Mrs. Billie Robert, Walter and Will Chisum, Bennet Howell and wife, A.B. Liles and a son whose name has escaped in the years, and his two daughters, one Mrs. Kid Dalton, the other now Mrs. Dave Howell of Kenna; Martin Corn Sr., and two sons, John and Bob, both mere boys and very bashful; Jake Harris and family, they furnishing most of the lady dancers; Bob Gamble and wife, (she was later Mrs. Sam Newman;) Judge A.C. Rogers was there but had no family at that time. The snow prevented the Millers from attending and Captain Lea’s family were not much on dancing. Of those known to be alive now only Aunt Sallee Robert, Will Chisum, of Los Angeles; Bob Corn, Mrs. Dave Howell, “Wild Bill” Hudgins and Uncle Rufe remain. “Some of the thirty Jingle-Bob cowboys may still be alive but are not known.

“John Chisum never did anything in part and his All-American Ball was in keeping with his custom. There was a barrel of the best obtainable brand of Kentucky julep juice and a barrel of bottled beer and it was free, but Mr. Chisum, who despises drinking and carousing, called the male part of the crowd in and told them: ‘This is here to have a nice time on; it is free and you are welcome to it but just this one little string is tied to it — the first man who shows any signs or raises a fuss is going to be turned outside in the snow.’ That settled that part of it and there was not a tipsy man nor a cross word at the All-American Ball.

“There were six married ladies present and a number of small girls all of whom danced. The oldest single girl present was 16. But those 10- and 12-year-old girls danced down many a cowboy that night. When the ladies began to show weariness, some of the boys would tie handkerchiefs on their arms and play lady a while and dance with joy unconfined. Jake Harris, also a fiddler, would ‘spell’ the orchestra at times so he could sample some of the barbecue which was kept on tap all night.

“They had no (blues) Hesitations, black bottom (stomp), or (jitterbug) rags, such as known to sheik and sheba (referring to the blues song, “She’s My Sheba, I’m Her Sheik” by George Williams and Bessie Brown), but those old-timers had a large repertoire of dances all their own, and the musicians varied the tunes to suit the crowd. Dances were mostly of the square variety, quadrilles, polka – quadrilles, and landciers, but there was a stateliness to their military schottisches, a dreamy rhythm to their waltzes, a snap to their mazurkas and heel and toe polkas that woke up sleepy performers. Occasionally when the fiddler would cut down on ‘Jack O’ Diamonds,’ ‘Durang’s Hornpipe,’ or ‘Turkey in the Straw,’ some punchers would delay the figure long enough to display all the clog steps he had on his string, or one of the small girls be tempted to dance a jig, but it was orderly, as became the spirit of the crowd, and nothing marred the complete happiness of all.

“There was no jazz but lots of melody in the old violin and none of it went to waste that Christmas tide of 1880. The All American (Ball) opened with the grand march, led by one of the Chisums, and wound up Christmas morning with ‘Home Sweet Home,’ just as the sun broke the storm clouds in the east, and John Chisum led his guests to a bountiful rangeland breakfast in the long dining room so well remembered by callers at the Jinglebob Ranch. It was a most becoming celebration to welcome the birthday of the Prince of Peace and given by a man who loved peace, prosperity and his fellowman.

“And with this thought in mind, peace to thrashes of those who have gone; peace to the remaining years of those who remain, and may those who read this little screed have as merry a Yuletide as those old-timers had at the Jinglebob 48 years ago this week (1928).

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.

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