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Historically Speaking: International Women’s History Month and pioneer women of southeastern New Mexico, part 2

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Amelia Bolton Church, Irish immigrant, pioneer woman, historic preservationist, horticulturist" — date and location unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

In honor of International Women’s History Month, last week you learned about the lives of local pioneer women: Barbara Jones, Sallie Chisum-Robert and Elisabeth Garrett. In the second part, I share with you an interview with Amelia (Bolton) Church, taken in part from an interview by Georgia Redfield for the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico.

“Mrs. Amelia (Bolton) Church — daughter of John Bolton, who was head of the Quartermaster Department stationed with army officers at Fort Stanton, New  Mexico, for protection of the early settlers from (American) Indians, and wife of the late J.P. Church, a pioneer builder of Roswell.

“Mrs. Church was born in Wexford, Ireland July 3, 1862. In 1871, she came from Ireland to America with her mother, Ella (Doyel) Bolton, and a brother and younger sister, who is Mrs. Ella (Bolton) Davidson. Mrs. Bolton and her children, on landing in New York, traveled by train as far as the railroad was built, and then by army ambulance and covered wagons, guarded by an army escort sent from Fort Stanton, by whom they were conducted safely through hostile Indian infested plains to what was to be their new home in the wild newly settled country of New Mexico.

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“Mr. Bolton had preceded his wife and children in coming to America. After they joined him at Fort Stanton, he built for them a new adobe home. Here Mrs. Church lived happily with her parents and brother and sister the three first of her many continuous years of residence in New Mexico.

“In 1873, John Bolton moved his family to the historic old town of Lincoln, New Mexico, where he was made postmaster. Here his daughters, Amelia and Ella grew to young girlhood, constantly surrounded by danger, not only from Indians, of whom they had lived in terror at Fort Stanton, but from the rough element of settlers of the new town, made up of cattle thieves, gamblers and murderers, and the gun battles of the two factions of the bloody feudal conflicts, known as the Lincoln County War. Mrs. Church was an eye witness.

“In 1935, Mrs. Church worked untiringly with the Chaves County Archaeological and Historical Society in the securing and restoration of El Torreon, the old round stone tower, built by Mexican settlers around 1840 or 1850, at La Placita — later named Lincoln. The tower was first built to be used as a look out and protection against Indians. It served in later years as a place of refuge from white outlaws and as a refuge during the Lincoln County war.

“‘I was interested in saving the old tower that was fast crumbling into ruins,’ said Mrs. Church, ‘because we felt safer all through those dangerous years of outlawry just knowing there was always a place of safety to be found behind its protecting walls. It helped keep us brave at times when we needed courage.’

“’My sister Ella and my mother and I spent the night crowded together in El Torreon after we had been warned to seek safety in the tower. We spent the night in fear and trembling, close by the side of our mother, but morning found us quite safe in the old tower.

“’I know now,’ said Mrs. Church, ‘that our mother who possessed a brave and dauntless spirit and never complained during those dangerous times must have often longed for the peaceful security of her old home in Ireland.’ Mrs. Church was instrumental in saving the tower.

“Mrs. Church remembered the building of the first jail in Lincoln, ‘I watched the men as they worked on the jail,’ said Mrs. Church. ‘They dug a square pit about nine feet deep, then they lowered into it, a rough closet-like cell without any doors or windows. On top of the ground, over the cell they built a two-room adobe house for the jailer. I saw them lower Billy the Kid through a trap door in the top to the cell below.

“While many harrowing experiences and murders were indelibly impressed upon the young mind of Mrs. Church, she also remembered many pleasant social occasions during the years she lived in Lincoln. There were musical parties and dancing. She knew Billy the Kid who sang well and was a good dancer. He was a welcome guest at many of the social affairs of the town.

“Mrs. Church was married July 18, 1891 to Joshua P. Church, then of Roswell, who had been a resident of Southeast New Mexico since the spring of 1880. Children born to this union were Sophia (Mrs. L.L. Ochanpaugh, Roswell), Joshua (a son, Deming, New Mexico), Aileen (Mrs. Langford Keith, Roswell) and Elinor (Mrs. Richard M. Harrison, Nogalis, Arizona).

“The first home occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Church, after their marriage, was the old Pauly Hotel which was the first real hotel built in Roswell.

“After living in the hotel four years, Mr. and Mrs. Church built a home at 210 South Kentucky Avenue, and where the death of Mr. Church occurred in 1917.

“Mrs. Church was one of the popular leaders of the social life of Roswell. She belonged to the Episcopalian Church, and was a member of the Roswell Woman’s Club, of the Southwestern History Club, and Chaves County Archaeological and Historical Society, to which she contributed much of her valuable time in the building of the Roswell Museum and the progress of its cultural development that has proved invaluable to the people of Roswell. The beautiful Pueblo style building was designed by Frank Blandhardt Roswell architect.

“’Dedicated to the Founders and Builders of Roswell’ is the culmination of the ideas of Mrs. C.D. Bonney and Mrs. Church, who first entertained the thoughts of building a suitable place to house the splendid archaeological collection owned by the society. It was completed as a W.P.A. Project.

“In the selection of Mrs. Church, by the committee of the society, as one of the four outstanding pioneer builders of Southwest New Mexico, of whom a bust was to be sculptured for the Roswell Museum, she was justly honored, above all the women contributors to the up-building and advancement of what was an undeveloped new section of the territory not so many years ago.

“The lifelike heads modeled of Mrs. Church, John Chisum, Captain Joseph C. Lea and James J. Hagerman, the work of John Raymond Tirkin, a Santa Fe sculptor, were done under the W.P.A. Her sculpture stands in memory of, not only Mrs. Church, but all the pioneer wives and mothers for whom she stands, who were contributors in the development and cultural advancement of a new civilization in the country of Southeast New Mexico.

“Mrs. Church was ever interested in the welfare of people and worked ceaselessly through the years to improve and broaden the lives of those less fortunate in educational advantages and beautiful surroundings. Gardening is her hobby. She was widely known because of her civic pride and achievements in developing beauty spots, in which trees and lovely lawns and flowers flourished, where in the early days she saw only salt grass, mesquite and weeds grow in profusion. Mrs. Church stands high in the regard of the people of Roswell.”

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

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