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Historically Speaking: Yesterday’s gone

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Bottomless Lakes, fisherman fishing in the lake along with his family enjoying the impressive views" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

When reading newspaper articles from the past, they create a feeling of nostalgia. They might even make you smile because of the way they are written. Sometimes, the educational aspect — or lack thereof — of how things were back then gives one pause to wonder what future generations may think when they read our stories.

Today, I share with you some of these historic stories: The first article is a description of the Bottomless Lakes State Park that was written in the year 1908 to promote Roswell. I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Santa Fe New Mexican

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Sept. 18, 1900.


“They Are Apparently Bottomless and Are Clear as Crystal.

“In Chaves County, about twelve miles east from Roswell, there are a series of lakes which are termed in that locality the Bottomless Lakes. Bottomless they must be, for every attempt to fathom them has been a failure.

“These lakes are situated at the foot of an almost perpendicular bluff, of a reddish gypsum rock, ranging from 100 to 200 foot in height. There is no better way that they can be described than to say that they are immense wells, circular in shape, and varying in diameter of the well, or lake, is hollowed out of the great rock hills, and stands at a semicircular wall, while the plain below, reaching only a few feet above the water, forms the remainder of the circular boundary. Every indication exists that the earth has fallen into a cavernous depth below, taking a half circle from the bluff and the other half from the plain, the great cavity then filling almost to the earth’s surface with water. There are 10 or 12 of these lakes and practically all of them are exactly of the same formation.

“The water is always cool and very pleasing to the taste, greatly similar to the artesian water in that district, and is cool during even the hottest season.

“In some places the ground has been dug away so that the water might flow from the lakes upon the plain. It is noticeable however, that in these provided outlets only a very small quantity flows away. The water stands at the same level constantly.

“Some of the lakes are crowded with fish and form a great resort for those who live in the vicinity as well as the ones who visit for the pleasure of angling. There are large quantities of perch, some black bass, and at times a fish without eyes is caught. The ones that have been taken were of a darkish color, with scales, and about eight or 10 inches in length.

“Those who have inhabited that portion of the country for some years claim that there exists an underground sea, thus giving cause for the formation of the lakes.

“Through a narrow range leading west and north from the lakes is what is termed the artesian belt, where many fine wells exist. This portion is limited.

“The bluff at these lakes, for some distance back from the crest, is filled with fish which seem to grow larger year-by-year. A stone dropped into some of these can be heard to rattle against the rocky sides until the sound gradually dies away within the bowels of the earth.

“Another oddity is that this high bluff becomes a plain on top and stretches toward the east until it merges into the Staked Plains.

“West from the lakes about a mile flows the Pecos River. Some 20 miles west the foothills begin, which eventually terminate in the great Rocky mountain range which traverses a part of New Mexico.

“The water is so perfectly clear in these lakes that one can see to a depth of more than 25 feet. When fishing one can see the fish floating around the hook and observe every move they make. It is difficult to catch the larger ones, but it is no trouble to secure a great number of the little perch. Horses do not seem to want to stay in the neighborhood of these lakes, taking a pronounced dislike to the surrounding through animal instinct. The lakes are a great problem for some scientists.”

The following article features Roswell in 1908. It highlights businesses, locations, assets, people, and the many reasons one would want to live or move here at that time. Due to the length I will only highlight part of it.

Albuquerque Morning Journal

Feb. 24, 1908

“ROSWELL, Queen City of the Pecos Valley

“A Model, Modern, Substantially Built City of Seventy-five Hundred Inhabitants, Enjoying the Steady Growth of the Prosperous Community Whose Foundation is Laid in the Soil. Roswell is the County Seat of Chaves County, Distributing Center and Chief Market of the Great Pecos Valley, the Garden Spot of New Mexico, a Great Alfalfa and Fruit Growing Section; Roswell Has Fine Schools, Churches, and a Business Community Kept Moving By Energetic Men.


“A population of 7,500

“Fine public schools

“New Mexico Military Institute

“Handsome churches

“Electric light plant

“Gas plant

“Ice plant

“Cold storage plant

“Wool scouring plant

“Steam laundry

“Three national banks

“Building and loan association

“Commercial club

“Women’s club

“Daily Newspaper

“Roswell, Queen City of the far-famed Pecos Valley, justly entitled to the title of the open door to New Mexico’s most fertile section, as for the foundation of this prosperity the stable basis of the largest, the richest, and the most thoroughly developed agricultural section of the great Southwest.

“Roswell is a surprise to the visitor who comes here for the first time. It is a young city yet, its streets are wide and well graded, and, what is more surprising, well shaded. Its homes are beautiful and well-kept, its business section prosperous and modern. There is nothing of the frontier about this flourishing little city: It reminds more of one of the solid wealthy cities so often found in the old, long established agricultural districts of the East. Yet when analyzed the growth into a model city of Roswell is not surprising for it is founded on the Pecos Valley and the Pecos Valley, still in the infancy of its development, is admitted to be one of the richest agricultural districts in all of the great West. It is fertile land, well watered, sure of its water supply, for there is a great area of artesian wells, the largest in the United States, the strongest in volume of pure water.

“Geologists agree that the district is fed by underground streams supplied by the melting snows and rainfall of the vast mountain draining area to the west. There is an underground water sheet under all of the valley land.

‘We have been hiding our light under a bushel for many years,’ is the way one old and observant resident put it to the writer. The truth of this statement is realized upon inquiry and investigation, for one finds hereabout, rich fertile land and a matchless climate, a combination not to be beaten. Roswell has had a little of romance and much of sheltered prosperity in her life. She was not born of religious zeal, as was Santa Fe, for whom the priestly missionaries of Spain stood sponsor; nor, like Albuquerque, intent on commercial supremacy. It was the adventurous pioneer and stockman, following the old cattle trail leading from Texas by way of Horse Head crossing to old Fort Sumner, who first saw this wide beautiful valley and recognized The fertility of its soil and its great possibilities. Some of these early pioneers are still living. They have witnessed the growth of Roswell from a small settlement clustered around the store of Capt. J.C. Lea, known as the ‘Father of Roswell,’ who owned the original townsite he laid out in 1887.

“In 1894, when the Pecos Valley and north eastern railroad extended its line to Roswell, the town had a population of about 500. The advent of the railroad marked a red letter day in the calendar of Roswell’s history. Its coming was due to the enterprise of J.J. Hagerman, the great builder, who has done more to develop the resources of the Pecos Valley than any man who has ever entered it. With the coming of the railroad and the extension of the rails to Amarillo, where it tapped Fort Worth and Denver … a noticeable increase in population came. The railroad, with characteristic enterprise, began to advertise the valley country, the home seeker in search of a new El Dorado came, saw, and was convinced upon investigation that, for climate, fertility of soil, Roswell and its tributary valley community, had all that the industrious farmer could desire.


“Many have already come and settled, but there is room in this great valley for thousands more. The country wants developers, not speculators, and to such it offers advantages unexcelled by no other section of the great Southwest.

“This is an ideal country for the small farmer, and, as a statement of fact, offers more opportunities for the employment of brawn, brain and capital, great or small, than any part of the United States. This fair land of promise, under the combined influence, of modern irrigation and railroads, it’s bound to become the land of fulfillment. Voice farmer will not locate until he has throughly investigated the Pecos Valley country.


“The population of Roswell, conservatively estimated, is close to 7,500. In 1900, the population recorded by the United States Census was 2,000. The population is almost wholly good citizens and of the better class. Roswell‘s citizenship is broad minded, enterprising, and hospitable to a marked degree, and in intelligence, culture, and refinement will compare favorably with that found anywhere in the Southwest. The people take great pride in the city and its institutions and are always found working hand-in-hand in the general upbuilding.


“No city in New Mexico has done more for the education of her youth than has Roswell and it has always been the pride of her citizens to point to her superior educational advantages in the high standard of excellence maintained. Besides the public school system, Roswell is the seat of the New Mexico Military Institute, which attracts pupils from throughout the territory and beyond its borders, owing to the excellence unexcelled instruction offered, with healthful surroundings and a moral community. Its public schools, of which there are four, employing twenty-six teachers and with an enrollment of 1,500 scholars, has taken prominent rank among similar institutions in the territory. The several school buildings are modern in construction and equipment and represent an investment of $75,000.


“The New Mexico Military Institute, which has the distinction of being the only strictly military school in the Southwest and recognized by the United States War Department as a military school of the first class, is an institution in which the citizens take great pride. It occupies a group of handsome buildings, representing an expenditure of $100,000.

“There are 145 students in attendance and as fine looking body of well drilled young soldiers as one should care to see.


“Roswell will rank favorably with any city of its size in the matter of public conveniences. The Roswell Electric Light Company furnishes light and power services, operates a modern plant and renders an excellent service. The Roswell Gas Company operates in one of the most complete and up-to-date plants to be found in the Southwest, supplying gas for lights and cooking purposes. It also manufactures pure crystal ice, the plant having a daily capacity of thirty tons.

“The Roswell Telephone and Manufacturing Company and the Chaves County Telephone Company furnish a satisfactory local and long-distance service.

“The citizens of Roswell with characteristic enterprise are arranging for the issuance of bonds to the amount of $170,000 for the purpose of installing the latest system of sewerage, up to date waterworks and a number of street improvements. The spirit of Roswell is to do things and to meet promptly the demands of a growing and prosperous community.


“The citizens of Roswell are supporters of all that tends to uplift the individual along the religious and educational lines, giving freely of their means in the building of a Christian community. It supports several churches, some having handsome edifices of their own in which to worship. Among the churches represented are the Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Catholic.

“The societies both secret and fraternal, are strongly established, all the leading ones being represented. Among these are the Masons, Oddfellows, Elks, Knights of Pythias, Woodmen of the World, Red Men, Maccabees, and Ancient Order of United Workmen. The Masons and the Elks are to build homes of their own.


“The Roswell Commercial Club, organized in 1904, is a live business organization composed of representative business and professional men and is doing effective and practical work in promoting the up-building of this city and section. It maintains handsome club rooms and has an active membership of 175. It’s president is Robert Kellahin, Roswell’s popular postmaster.


“Roswell supports three first-class national banks, institutions backed by ample capital and resources and managed by men of recognized ability and integrity. These are the First National Bank, established in 1890, the Citizens National, in 1900 and the American National, in 1906. These banks sustain close and important relations to business interests and have confidence and support of the citizens as deserved.


“The leading hotels are the Grand Central, Hotel Shelby and the Gilkeson, all of which are centrally located and deservedly popular with the traveling public and visitors to the city.


“The rich valley lands made wonderfully productive by abundance of water for irrigation purposes, derived from rivers that have their source from never failing springs and artesian wells, is the asset that backs up the city of Roswell, contributing yearly to its support and general prosperity. The country about Roswell has undergone wonderful changes since that day in 1878 that John Chisum, the pioneer and first to improve land in the Pecos Valley while searching for a place to raise cattle on a large scale, found in his search the now famous South Springs. At that time the whole country was vacant government land covered with a luxurious growth of grass. Chisum had journeyed from far off Texas. This country looked good to him and he decided to remain. He soon acquired title to 7,500 acres over which his cattle ranged. He plowed, planted and improved hundreds of acres of land and built the first irrigating ditch. He was 400 miles from a railroad, but with ox teams he hauled in young fruit trees and planted an orchard. He also brought young shade tree slips, and planted miles of them along the irrigating ditches and elsewhere. These now full grown give grateful shade. One thousand acres have been put in cultivation, largely in alfalfa.

“The Chisum Ranch, now the South Spring Ranch and the property of J.J. Hagerman, became famous all over the West because there was not then, nor is there now, its equal in New Mexico or any other part of arid America east of California. On this model ranch, which came into possession of its present owner in 1892, is one of the greatest and most productive apple orchards in the world. In this orchard of 400 acres are grown apples that are known from London to Texas, and for quality, have taken the highest honors in the great expositions. The country around and tributary to Roswell is recognized as one of the best fruit growing sections in the United States, especially adapted to the growing of the staple varieties of apples. There is about 2,500 acres in bearing apple orchard, and about 8,000 acres planted that will come into bearing within the next few years. Apple orchards have produced as high as $800 per acre.


“Carnegie Library

“Free mail delivery

“Modern hospital

“United States land office

“United States weather bureau

“United States District Court headquarters, fifth district of New Mexico

“Telephone service

“A realty board

“Fire department

“Fifty two miles of cement sidewalk

“And many other advantages sure to interest the capitalist and the home seeker.”

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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