Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily Record
Last week I shared with you the story of the “golden egg” and how it created excitement at Seven Rivers. Today, I will continue, as promised, with more stories about the old town of Seven Rivers and people or names you may have heard of.
Seven Rivers was a bustling little Old West cowtown which, during its heyday, had a couple of saloons, a hotel, a church/school house, a couple of stores and a cemetery. The following stories were taken from the Carlsbad Current-Argus, dated June 5, 1949.
“The town got its name from small streams that originated from springs and merged into the main Seven Rivers on the bank of which is the old Seven Rivers Cemetery. The cemetery is east and a little south of the vanished town, a distance of about a half mile, the author of ‘Mean As Hell’ said.
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“James and Susan Netherlin moved to New Mexico from Texas in 1883 or 1884 and settled about two miles north of Seven Rivers. They were the grandparents of Bob Dow, former Attorney General of New Mexico and now general counselor for the Federal Land Bank and Intermediate Credit Bank in Wichita, Kansas, and Hiram Dow of Roswell, former lieutenant governor of this state.
“Dow’s parents came to Seven Rivers in 1885 from Texas, and his father, Les Dow, who became the third sheriff of Eddy County, brought cattle with him. He left his wife and son, Hiram, in Catula, Texas, for a time. Later, Mrs. Dow rode the train to Pecos, Texas, where her husband met her.
“In 1866 James and Susan Netherlin moved to a ranch in Quevo Canyon on the edge of the Sacramento Mountains. Susan Netherlin became famous as a nurse and doctor for miles on this part of the New Mexico frontier. She has two hobbies, Bob Dow said: traveling long distances to doctor the sick and holding Sunday school in a log school house and getting a minister there at least once a year to preach. One of the ministers was Brother Pope, another was Brother Gage, grandfather of Howell Gage. These two also preached in Seven Rivers, and in Badger, now the town of Hope.
“Bob Dow was brought into the world by grandmother Susan’s effort, and she was the doctor when many other old-timers were born. Persons sent 40 and 50 miles for her, and she always came to them. From Quevo Ranch, she traveled to Seven Rivers, Crow Flat and other points.
“In 1889 or 1890 there was a diphtheria epidemic among the children in Seven Rivers. Hiram Dow became ill. His father rode to Carlsbad and Dr. Whitcher drove out in a buggy. The physician said there was no hope for the child. But the parents had hope. Les Dow rode 70 miles to Quevo ranch, and brought grandmother Susan back to Seven Rivers by horse and buggy. She doctored the child and he lived. …
“Before the Netherlins moved to New Mexico, their oldest daughter was bitten by a rattlesnake three-fourths of a mile from the ranch house. She ran to the house, which was the worst thing she could have done. After the mother started treating her, she heard of a doctor 30 or 40 miles away. Mrs. Netherlin rode horseback to the doctor and brought him to the ranch. The physician wanted to amputate the daughter’s leg, but the girl preferred death to amputation. The mother went to work … and the daughter recovered.
“It was a dull afternoon when (a) young stranger rode into Seven Rivers. He had a Winchester in his saddle scabbard, but carried no revolver. Possibly (a) cowboy (mentioned as a Mr. Tom below) who wanted excitement didn’t notice the Winchester. When the stranger dismounted the cowboy told him to start dancing, and whenever the fellow stopped, he fired his six shooter. After firing six shots the cowboy went into a saloon.
“Then, as E.B. Shattuck, justice of the peace, remembers, the stranger got his Winchester. As he walked into the saloon the cowboy, who had had fun at his expense, ran out the back door and towards the river. The young fellow sat down and began firing around the fleeing prankster. ‘Whoopie, Mr. Tom,’ he yelled each time as he fired. Mr. Tom, running at great speed, reached the riverbank unharmed and dropped out of sight.
“Shattuck remembers another Seven Rivers shooting which virtually made a doctor’s reputation. Shattuck, then a boy, was sitting in a wagon, holding the horses, while his father, Captain John S. Shattuck, Queen County rancher, was getting ready to leave a store. Shattuck heard a disturbance, and saw Doc Hellyer coming out from a saloon between two men. Once on the porch, Hellyer pushed the two apart and they started firing. They were Hub Brogdon and Ed Hamby. After Hub had been shot in the stomach, he attacked Hamby with his empty gun, but Hellyer rushed in and pulled the two apart. Brogdon was taken to Lakewood and from there was brought by railroad hand car to Carlsbad where Dr. Whitcher operated on him. He recovered.
“Brogden and Hamby had been good friends before the shooting. Hamby, who was put under heavy bond, left the county but returned in time for court. The judge, however, directed the jury to reconsider the case the next morning, and Hamby was indicted. Hamby had left by the time officers started looking for him, and he never returned to the county.
“During the grand jury session, Hub and Ed were going around Carlsbad together like good friends of former days. Actually, at the shooting, Brogden had fired into the floor and ceiling of the porch. Hamby had fired the first shot which hit Brogden in the stomach.
“When Captain Shattuck started teaching the Seven Rivers school, some people told him he wouldn’t last. There were some pretty tough boys in the school, and the previous teacher had been licked and consequently was unable to remain. The test for the new teacher came on the day that one of the trouble-making boys insulted a girl.
“Captain Shattuck believed in talking to people first. He sat down on the bench with the boy and said: ‘Son, you know you haven’t done right. If that were your sister, what would you want to do to the boy?’
“‘I’d want to whip the hell out of him,’ the boy replied.
“‘Don’t you think I should do that,’ the teacher said.
“‘Yes,’ the boy answered, and took off his coat.
“Shattuck gave the boy two or three licks. He had no more trouble with him or the others.
“John Jones, one of the nine sons of Dad and Mom Jones, was among the many determined men known to early Seven Rivers. Once his horse and saddle were stolen. He trailed the thieves to the Delaware River and apparently cornered them there. Old man Bill Ware was on the opposite side of the river, and John shouted over and asked Ware if he would help him kill the thieves. Ware shouted back that the river was up and he was sick, but he would climb up on the sand dune and watch John dispose of them. John never mentioned the incident, but Ware told him about it, Sam Jones says.
“Once, when he was a small boy going to Las Vegas with his father, Sam Jones says he saw Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner. Billy the Kid wasn’t so bad, Sam Jones declares.
“Jones does not recall that the Kid was ever in any Seven Rivers shootings, although he may have passed through the town at times. … he understood that the outlaw ‘hung out’ in Seven Rivers.
“What mysteries lie hidden around the town which has returned to dust. It is speculation but this may be one:
“About 1938, W.T. Nelson of 204 S. Eighth St., found an old-time saddle, with wooden stirrups which were wider at the bottom and narrower at the top than the ones now used. The saddle was found north of the town of Seven Rivers and just east of the Seven Rivers crossing on the old Roswell Highway. Nelson said that an old man told him that a big herd of cattle came through Seven Rivers years ago, that one of the cowboys with the herd went into the town to gamble and never returned.
“The west Carlsbad man discovered the saddle in a cave, where a bluff had fallen off into a small canyon. The saddle had originally been carried back into the cave; Nelson saw the edge of the stirrup and hauled it out. In an arroyo about 15 feet east of the cave Nelson found the skeleton of a horse with a bullet hole in the skull. Nelson said that the old man speculated that saddle and horse had belonged to the missing cowboy.
“The shattered tombstone on the graves of the pioneers in Seven Rivers cemetery have outlasted the old town. Cotton grows well there, and the desert has the rest. Only the benediction of New Mexico sky and sun remain to the damaged cemetery and vanished town.
“As stated before, the graves were moved to Artesia, waters released, for the dam, and ‘what mysteries lie hidden around the town which has returned to dust,’ now lie beneath the waters of the Brantley Dam. Like another dam in this part of New Mexico, the Bonito, which also was an old west town at one time, then covered with water after the cemetery was moved. Who knows what mysteries and ghosts might lie beneath those waters? If you are camping in these areas late at night and you hear strange sounds — beware.”
There are more Seven Rivers stories to be told, but for now, they can wait for another time.
Historian Janice Dunnahoo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.