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Historically Speaking: Two historic stories of different consequence

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The photo's caption reads, "White Oaks" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Today, I would like to share two very different newspaper articles that I feel worthy to re-share. It’s news that happened 100 years ago. It is news that just grabs you, and makes you realize that even though times change, some things do not. The first story is such, and it could almost be something we might read in the news today.

The second story is a lighter, happier and even somewhat educational story, which I will leave you with. Both stories are reflections of our local history.

Story number one: Several years ago we took a Saturday afternoon trip up to White Oaks. While browsing through the old schoolhouse/museum, I ran across an old newspaper article which just grabbed my attention. It was one of those stories that was haunting, yet intriguing, and one that has come to mind for many years since. I decided it would be an interesting story to share here, but have not been able to find it until I was sharing with my friend and fellow historian, James Owens, who lives in Hobbs. He found it for me. This is not exactly the same version that I remember reading — I believe it was another newspaper — but still leaves an air of mystery, sadness and intrigue!

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The Santa Fe Daily New Mexican

April 7, 1891

“Two Rash Young Women

“Details of an Easter Sunday tragedy at White Oaks reached here yesterday, the affair being a double suicide in which two handsome young women, formerly of Liberty, Missouri, were the actors. Some two years ago, Miss Portia Hill came out from Liberty to serve as governess in the family of Mrs. Goodwin Ellis, and at the end of the year she married Howard Doyle, brother of Mrs. Ellis and a prominent young ranchman in Lincoln County. Their bridal tour took them back to Missouri for a trip, and there they met an old friend of the bride, Miss Jessie Rigley, who, upon their recommendation, was subsequently employed to succeed Mrs. Doyle as governess, yet retaining the warmest friendship for her friend Miss Rigley.

“(It seems the marriage resulted in separation, in a short while.)

“It was their custom to spend Saturday night and Sunday together. Mrs. Ellis noted the friendship and encouraged it, while at the same time urging Miss Rigley to try and affect a reconciliation between her brother and his wife, Mrs. Doyle.

“It is now thought, however that, and why is a mystery, her influence was in the opposite direction. At any rate, on Easter Sunday Mrs. Doyle came on a visit to Miss Rigley and the two were seen in long and earnest conversations at various times during the day, avoiding the other members of the family. In the afternoon they went for a walk, and in an old corral nearby their dead bodies were discovered an hour later. Over the heart of each was a bullet hole. They were clasped in each others arms and in between them was a revolver which usually had a place on the mantle in Miss Rigley’s bedroom. Their hats hung on a post near at hand. Their cloaks had been neatly folded and served as head rests, into each cloak was pinned notes to various friends of the dead. One letter expressed the desire that they be buried in the same grave. None of the letters gave reasons for their mad act, only, ‘death is sweet and we prefer it to life.’

“The young ladies were both comely and talented and their strange conduct has created a profound sensation throughout Lincoln County. Their bodies were interred in the same grave at White Oaks.”

Following is a copy of each of their notes:

White Oaks, Lincoln County New Mexico

April 18, 1891

“Suicides’ Last Letters


“In our report of the Rigley-Doyle suicide, we stated that before going to their deaths both young women wrote letters to relatives and friends. We have been provided copies of letters written by each of them to their loved and loving friend, Mrs. Lydia Goodwin-Ellis, at or near whose house they laid down with suicide intent and closed their young eyes in death.

“From Miss Rigley

“March 24, 1891

“Mrs. Lydia Goodin-Ellis:

“My friend: — By the time this is found you will desire what disposal I wish you to make of the things left on your hands.

“I desire you to bury me as inexpensively as possible, and if anything remains of the $73 or $74 which I have, send it to my brother, Charles M. Wrigley, at Las Animas, Colorado, at the same time informing him that my things here await his orders.

“Pack everything in the trunk except the things which you have given me — those I wish you to keep — and when you have heard from Charles, send the trunk to him.

“In the little book in which I have kept my account you will find two letters, one to my father, the other to Charles. Please mail them as soon as possible.

“My oldest brother, Jas B. Rigley, wrote that he intended to send me his spyglass; if you receive it after I am gone, do not send it with the other things to Charles, but send it back to Jas at his expense. Address him at Liberty, Missouri in care of W. H. Thomason.

“Burn all letters for me.

“Of the act, which I am about to commit, I need say but little. I am only sorry that it happens here, I feel that you and others will think it an awful crime, but I can say, truthfully, that I am not conscious of it being a crime. I do it with a feeling of innocence and I do not fear punishment. I feel that I shall shorten my life but little, and I am only turning from a lingering and painful death. (She had tuberculosis.)

“You will perhaps doubt my sanity. I do not know how far you will be wrong, but I am sure that I am not more insane now that I have been all my life. Compare it with others, and so judged, I have never been a rational being.

“From my youth upwards

“My spirit walked not with the souls of man

“Nor looked upon the earth with human eyes

“The things of this ambition were not mine,

“My joys, my griefs, my passions and my powers

“Made me a stranger.

“If it is a punishable crime, I, and I only, must suffer for … and I thank God that it is so.

“I thank you from my heart for all your kindness, and if there is a hereafter I should be there as I am now here.

“Yours respectfully,

“Jesse Elizabeth Rigley

“(The above was written in ink. The postscript was written with pencil.)

“P.S. It is my wish, as well as Portia’s, that we be buried together. This is my last and most earnest wish and I entreat you to carry it out to the letter.



“Lydia —Will you take the things that I mentioned here. The satin dress that you gave me, the chair tidy, bowl and pitcher, and the red gown bag, I want you to use them.

“I want Howard to take my account book and collect all that is coming to me and give it to Pa, and see that he gets the mare that Mrs. Lloyd has traded to me. I want Pa to have it.

“I want Howard to take his and my picture, for all the folks have one and he has none, and also the jewelry, the earrings and breast pin, which you will find in my trunk in the case. My account book you will find in the trunk too.

“My last and most earnest request is that I am buried with Jesse in the same coffin.

“I am very thankful to you for all you have done for me, which I have always appreciated. I think ‘all things happen for the best.’ Death is sweet.

“Goodbye forever,

“Portia H. Doyle”

Story number two: This is just a sweet, somewhat nostalgic, but also educational story that many may want to pay attention to as you are planting your spring gardens.

The Kenna Record

Kenna, New Mexico

Oct. 2, 1914

“‘Observer’ Learns A Lesson When He Visits Grandma

“By ‘Observer’

“Did you ever visit in the home of one of those motherly old souls — those grandmothers whom we call old-fashioned — those aged women whom the poets always have had in mind when they dedicate their most tender words to mother?

“It was my good fortune to spend a couple of hours in such a home near Kenna a short time ago, and, aside from the visit giving me real pleasure, it actually furnished me what I consider valuable information, and I am going to give you.

“I stopped at the house for no other reason than to get a drink of water, but the time having approached the dinner hour, I was prevailed upon to ‘stay for dinner,’ and I will admit the invitation was very agreeable to me. As is always the case with these good grandmothers, the woman at once went about getting up something extra, because she was going to have company. “Her frequent trips from the kitchen to a nearby building which she called her smokehouse, attracted my attention, and, at the risk of appearing to be nosy, I made a visit to the smokehouse myself – and only to find just what I had expected to find: the walls and ceiling hung with little paper bags, turned yellow with age; row upon row of empty fruit jars and cans, jelly glasses, etc. But the paper bags claimed all of my attention. They called up reveries of just such a smokehouse as my own grandmother used to have — and that was so long ago that its lining of yellow bags is about all that remains in my memory. From my own parents I learned the bags were filled with various kinds of seeds, leaves, herbs and roots, which grandma always kept — some for replanting the following year, some for sale to residents of the community who did not take care to take the trouble of preserving them, themselves, but most of all the bags contained roots, seeds, or leaves that the family used for medicinal purposes or for seasoning vegetables or other foods when cooking.

“I purposely brought up the subject at the dinner table, for I had decided it was sometimes a glorious thing to be a little old-fashioned, and I was going to have some paper bags hanging around my own home this fall — for the pleasure brought by the sweet memories of my youth, if for no other reason. I found the hostess to be a living encyclopedia on the subject of roots, herbs, and leaves and only too glad to give out any information asked. Having first to make my own collection, I inquired as to the proper time for gathering the articles, and here is what I was told:

Leaves — should be gathered when the plant is in blossom — spread or hang them in a current of air, that they may dry quickly and thoroughly. When dried, keep them in a glass or tin, airtight receptacle.

“Roots — gather them early in the spring before the sap rises, or in the fall after the leaves have dried. Keep them in barrels or wooden cases after they have thoroughly dried.

“Barks — gather them in early spring or late fall; remove the outer portion of the bark and keep in a shady place.

“Seeds and flowers — gather when well ripe and keep in a shady, dry place.

“Herbs — if a plant is to be used for medicinal purposes, gather while the plant is in bloom, which always will be before a frost; dry them in the shade.

“This woman also gave me a wealth of information as to what plants and vegetables are good in alleviating human ills, and I find myself just old-fashioned enough to put considerable credence in them. At some future time, perhaps, I will give this information to the readers of the Record.”

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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