Life and Times in the Mountains featuring George Washington Barkley

As a young boy George Washington Barkley left Nottingham, Illinios (where he was born on Christmas Day, 1852) and worked his way to Texas. There he worked on farms until becoming a grown man. One day, during this time, a farmer he worked for sent him to town on a mule. As the mule passed this one house along the road he decided he just wasn’t going any farther, so he just started backing up and backed right into the door of the house. A young lady came to the door to see what all the noise was about. This young lady was Artensia Wilson, whom George later learned to love and married.

They raised a large family there in Texas. While the family was still young George became ill and they decided to go to Arizona, where they had heard the climate was good for the Tuberculosis he was supposed to have. One of Artensia Barkley’s sisters and her husband, who also had a large family, decided to come along with them as they did not want them to come alone.

Rev. Morgan baptizing in the Penasco River near Mayhill, 1909 - Museum Archives

The Barkley family and relatives left Travis County, Texas, in 1886. They rigged up several covered wagons, arranging everything conveniently so they could travel slow and make the trip "just as the days went by." There was a rack on one wagon for the hens, which was swung up underneath so that they would be in the shade. The chickens would be turned out in the evenings so they could eat some vegetation and gravel. They took their cows and would stop and milk them at night, putting the milk in buckets with lids in one wagon where the jostling during the day’s trip would churn the milk into butter. There were horses, mules, milk cows and a few goats with them when they left the farm behind. There is no recorded memory of what became of the old farm they left in Texas.

The families would travel until they found a nice watering place with plenty of grass for the stock and they would lay over for a couple of days, do up the laundry, butcher a goat for fresh meat, and be on their way again.

This routine continued for about six months until they reached a little wayside town (or village) by the name of Weed, New Mexico. It was becoming late fall and was getting so cold they decided not to travel any farther until spring came on. So they stopped there and George sold, or rather traded, all of his stock to a farmer for a small farm about seven miles below Weed. They moved onto this farm and by spring George was feeling much healthier. He was feeling so well, in fact, that with the small boys to help they were able to raise a crop and run the farm. He remained a healthy and sturdy man well into his old age.

On this little farm on the Agua Chiquita the Barkleys raised everything they possibly could for their own use - poultry, milk, butter, almost everything we needed. In the fall George would load up the wagons with produce and take it to Roswell to trade for flour, material, and things they couldn’t raise. He would take butter, eggs, fruit, pumpkins, hubbard squash, etc… The trip would take him a week, so he always made it in the fall after all the crops were harvested. He also had to have salt for the cattle, so he would go to the Great Salt Lakes at the lower end of Crow Flats in his wagons. He loaded the wagons with this wet salt and during the three days it took to get home the water would drip out, turning the salt into small dry chunks that would be then stored in large bins for the cattle.

Another trip he would have to take was to get meal for cornbread. For this George went to the Blazer Mill above Tularosa Canyon on the Indian Reservation. This would take several days, but he always seemed to have all these trips done before cold weather set in.

A BBQ at Mayhill, New Mexico on the Fourth
of July 1908 - Museum Archives

Their cattle and horses grew in number and the little farm would no longer hold them, so George sold the farm, drilled a well and moved them to what is known as Crow Flats. He stayed there for two years, keeping his two younger daughters out of school. His wife refused to stay "put" where she could send the kids to school and let him go out on the ranch alone. She always went wherever he did. After two years, he decided he must get the girls to school. He sold the ranch and bought a farm near Mayhill, New Mexico. It is on this farm that he lived most of the remaining years of his life. After moving to Mayhill, George quit working so hard and bought more of his supplies.

At one time Mayhill was known as Upper Penasco and down the river twelve miles was another village known as Lower Penasco. The John Bells came from Abilene, Texas to this part of the country and bought their farm from the Mahills (not Mayhill, that was a mix-up by the Postal system, etc.. that resulted in the post office and town being spelled that way). They decided to change the post office to Mayhill because the mail between Upper and Lower Penasco was always becoming mixed up. Mrs. Bell wrote to Washington D.C. and got permission to change and call the post office Mayhill. It has been known as Mayhill ever since.

When the Bells came to Mayhill they had two sons, Charlie and Tom. The Bells ran the store and post office until the boys were grown. Tom married Irene Whitmore and they spent a lot of time on the Oliver Lee ranch until finally going into business in El Paso. Charlie married Bertha Barkley (one of the sources for this story). They operated the store and post office in Mayhill for several years before moving to High Rolls, where they ran the store and post office for 21 years.

It was at the store in High Rolls that George Barkley spent the last years of his life as an invalid. When people would come into the store and ask him how he was, he would say "I’m just fine, just sitting here waiting for my passport to come in." That passport finally came in and he died on Halloween, in the early 1930s.


Most of this article was taken from a transcript of a tape by Bertha Barkley Bell, who passed away in 1975, and a history by Hattie Gililland Scott and Ruby Scott Hudman. Both of these documents can be found in the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum Archives.