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Historically Speaking: Old Settlers Society

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Women at an Old Settlers Society meeting at South Spring Ranch. All had been in Roswell at least 25 years, 1905."

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Forerunner to today’s Historical Society

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Many may not know that the Old Settlers Society was the antecedent to the Chaves County Historical Society, which is now the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico. The following Roswell Daily Record article is about the first meeting and forming of the Old Settlers Society.

This article is dated Sept. 8, 1905.

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Noted among the speakers was Charles Goodnight, founder of the Goodnight-Loving trail, with many more achievements, especially in the Texas Panhandle area.

On a side note, Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving blazed the Goodnight-Loving trail and they became the historical inspirations for Larry McMurtry’s Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae in his book “Lonesome Dove.”

We are grateful to these great men and women who had the foresight to save the shared history of this area from its beginnings. Without them so much would have been lost.

Roswell Daily Record

Sept. 8, 1905

“Old Timers In Reunion

“First Annual Picnic And Barbecue Held At South Spring Ranch

“EDDY COUNTY ADDED

“Name changed and committee of six men from Chaves and four from Eddy to have charge of Next Year’s Celebration-Speaking, Music, Feasting and Good Cheer.

“Nearly five hundred people attended the Old Settlers Reunion yesterday in the grove of South Springs Ranch where the first settlement was made in Chaves County. There were present 140 men over 21 years of age who have lived in New Mexico for 20 years or more, besides the families of these men and invited guests from Eddy County and other parts of the Territory, officials, and newspaper men. It is perhaps unnecessary to state how they reached this historic spot, in cattle cars, in coaches, by automobile, buggy, hack, wagon, and otherwise. But even if a few of them had walked they would have enjoyed an easier trip than the men who broke the first trail across the desert. The three cottonwoods which the Chisums planted and which for many years were known as the ‘Three Brothers,’ no longer stand alone as monuments to the men who established the first settlement. They are surrounded for miles with forests of trees, orchards and cultivated farms so that many of the old settlers were unable to point out the ‘Three Brothers,’ as distinguished from the thousands of other trees that have been planted since. So it might be in regard to many other points of historic interest in a few years after the pioneers have past over the range, had not the ‘Old Settlers Society’ been organized to hold reunions, refresh the memory of early days and put into printed and written record the history and achievements of the pioneers.

“South Springs Ranch was truly thrown open to the old settlers and their friends. Horses were tied to trees knee-deep in alfalfa, and during the earlier hours of the day, the guests wandered beneath the umbrageous roof of nature’s most noble specimens of plant growth, treading upon an emerald green carpet of the most valuable product of irrigation and cultivation. They met old friends and with quickened memories recalled incidents so written over and interlined on the palimpsest of memory that by association with the old friends alone could they be restored to legibility. For instance, Mr. Owens now Probate Clerk of Eddy County, met M.L. Pierce who was the first man to greet him in the valley after coming through with a herd of cattle in 1875. In talking of old times Owens recalled that Pierce was riding a sorrel mule when they first met at Pope’s Crossing. There were hundreds of such little incidents recounted in the greeting of old friends. Even that old sorrel mule was interesting as viewed in the light of reminiscence. The stories that were told and the happy greeting of old friends cannot be committed to paper, but they were a more important part of the reunion than all the music and oratory of the occasion.

“About eleven o’clock the meeting was called to order for the purpose of hearing the address of welcome extended by Mr. Hagerman. By request of the Old Settlers’ Committee, Dr. E.H. Skipwith, the pioneer physician of Roswell, presided over the meetings of the day. President White was too busy superintending the barbecue and other arrangements for dinner to act as a chairman. Capt. Jack Fletcher was present with the Roswell Band, and they played ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ before J.J. Hagerman was introduced by Chairman Skipwith. After this address, which was one of the most eloquent and best-constructed speeches of the day, the band played, ‘Dixie’ to still further put everybody in good humor for dinner.

“Charles Goodnight, of Goodnight, Texas, who was present by special invitation, also made a brief talk before dinner. He did not pretend to make an extended speech, but merely talked of old times and the changes to his friends in the audience. He first passed through this country in 1866, when there was not a tree on the Pecos or in any other part of the Valley. It was he who broke the old Goodnight Trail, which will be remembered and preserved in history long after he is gathered to his final home. In the old trail days, Mr. Goodnight says that they did not venture south of the river. Both in the mountains west and south of the river were Apaches, and the white man had to be careful about losing his scalp. Even in the early days, he conceived the idea that there were vast reservoirs of underground water in this valley, being led to the conclusion by the existence of the Bottomless Lakes, and he still believes that we do not realize the possibilities of further development along this line.

“Mr. Goodnight is still in the cattle business near where his ranch was located 30 years ago in the Panhandle country. He has attracted almost worldwide attention by his experiments in crossing buffaloes with ordinary cattle, and is credited with originating a new breed of animals, neither cattle or buffalo. He has a herd of thoroughbred buffalo on his ranch that are as thoroughly domesticated as any other kind of cattle. Captain John W. Poe, of Roswell, who was a law officer in the Panhandle country in ’78, says that Mr. Goodnight did more than any other cattleman in that country to assist the officers in suppressing lawlessness. If a cowboy went to town, got drunk and assisted in ‘shooting up the town,’ as was the fashion in those days, Mr. Goodnight discharged the man from his employ. He was at the head of one of the largest cattle outfits in the country, and his example had good effect.

“The Dinner

“There was so much of it and the tables were so large that probably no one person had the capacity to try the whole bill of fare, or to learn what was on any other part of the tables after he once got a taste. There were over two thousand pounds of barbecued meat, gallons and gallons of steaming coffee as good as any man has ever tasted, probably a wagon load or two of bread, cakes, and everything good man could imagine, and more was left over after the feast than was gathered up after the multitude had been fed upon the loaves and fishes. About the grounds also, the Hagermans, who had so generously tendered the privileges of their premises for the picnic, had placed many barrels of fine apples for which the ranch is famous, free to all. President J.P. White, of the Old Settlers Society, superintended the preparation and the serving of the dinner, with his chief assistants being Lib Rainbolt and Charles Fowler. The dinner was simply one of the best ever served indoors or out.

“Business Meeting

“After dinner, a business meeting of the Old Settlers Society was held, and it was decided to change the name of the organization so as to take in the old-timers of Eddy County.

“Before this, however, all the males over 21 years of age who have lived in New Mexico 20 years or more were seated together in front of the speakers stand and photographs taken. Later the ladies, the wives and daughters of the pioneers, were also photographed, in a group, and then men who had been in the territory 25 years or more were photographed. Numerous individuals were photographed separately. The business meeting was opened by the reading of the bylaws adopted by the committee that laid the preliminary plans for permanent organization and had charge of the arrangements for the first reunion. This committee was composed of J.P. White, J.F. Hinkle, W.M. Atkinson, M.L. Pearce, J.J. Rascoe, and Captain Haynes. Mr. Hinkle had acted as secretary of the committee, and stated that he had the names of about 175 old settlers who were eligible for membership, but that a great many have not yet formally registered. He also stated that the committee had been conferring with a number of old-timers from Carlsbad and Eddy County with a view to taking them into the organization, so that reunions could be held jointly, the two counties have been united in the early days and being still one in spirit.

“Upon motion of W.M. Atkinson, it was voted to change the name to the ‘Old Settlers Society for Pecos Valley.’ This enables the Eddy County men who are eligible to come in. There are no dues or assessments, and the wives and daughters of the men eligible to membership are all honorary members.

“The committee had thought that it would be the proper thing to enlarge the executive committee, giving Chaves County six members and Eddy four, and they had selected for the Chaves County members Captain J.W. Poe, E.A. Cahoon, Morris Price, G.A. Richardson, A.M. Robertson, and Thomas D. White. Upon motion of R.M. Parsons, this action of the present committee was ratified. The Eddy County representatives present selected as their members of the joint executive committee: John T. Bolton, W.R. Owens, Peter Corn and G.W. Witt.

“The time and place of holding the next reunion will be decided and all arrangements made by the new joint committee of the two counties. Chaves County was given the larger representation on the committee on account of her larger population and greater number of old settlers.

Secretary Hinkle requested all old settlers who have not yet registered as members to give him their names with a date when they first came to the Territory, where they first located, etc., so that a historical record might be made of the same.

“A vote of thanks was extended to J.J. Hagerman for the privileges and courtesies granted the society. Vote of thanks was also given to the committee that had so faithfully planned and carried out the festivities of the day, and gratitude was expressed to the speakers and the Roswell band for their services in entertaining the assemblage.

“The first speaker of the afternoon was honorable Thomas B. Catron, of Santa Fe, who has lived in the Territory for 39 years, and who is known as one of the most eloquent and successful lawyers in New Mexico. There was once a time when he was personally acquainted with nearly every man in the Territory. The Record will publish the greater part of his address later.

Judge Freeman, of Carlsbad, had been assigned the subject, ‘The Old Settler as a Citizen,’ and his talk being more localized than that of Mr. Catron, made a deep impression, especially those parts of it that were the inspiration of the moment as he beheld familiar faces in his audience. When in closing he referred to the late Captain Lea, Billy Matthews, and others who were able to be present only in spirit or by the loved ones whom they had left behind, many people could not restrain their tears.

Appropriately, the last address, by the honorable G.A. Richardson, president of the Roswell Commercial Club, was on the subject ‘Later Days.’ These are the best days, made possible by the courage, faith and endurance of the old-timers, were pictured in splendid illustration as the speaker pointed from the platform to the visible evidence of civilization and progress surrounding him and within sight and hearing of all present. The intelligent people, and the fruits of their toil, the products of their skill and handiwork were in court to speak for themselves and testimony to the transformation that has occurred in 20 years. And yet this is but another beginning, though we will never be forced to fight over the same ground that the pioneers so effectively prepared for our inheritance.

Learning that the train from Roswell was four hours late, people from the south were invited to come up to Roswell on the free special train which had been provided and here wait for the train south. In behalf of the Commercial Club, President Richardson also invited the visitors to make the club rooms headquarters while in the city.

“Among the old-timers who came from Carlsbad, some of them accompanied by their families were the following: Judge A.A. Freeman, W.R. Owens, George W. Witt, L.M. Collier, Miles Stone, B.A. Nymayor, Pete Corn, J. Bolton, Allen Hurd, Frank Downs and Tom Jones. The last one mentioned, Tom Jones, is said to have been the first white child born on the site of Roswell. He was born in 1868 on the Hondo about a half-mile from the old Captain Lea house. The people of Roswell, however, as the Old Settlers Society was first constituted (being confined to present residents of Chaves County) have claimed that Mrs. Ella Lea-Bedell was the first white child now living in the county, will at least have to divide honors, since the daughter born to Captain Lea liked the town well enough to locate permanently.

“The speeches made at the reunion were all good, and the Record will publish them later.”

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