Pioneer Story of Mary Burleson

Edith L. Crawford of Carrizozo interviewed Mrs. Mary Burleson on March 7, 1937, to obtain her oral history or "pioneer story". Mrs. Crawford was working as an author for the Federal WPA Writers' Project. This manuscript is now archived at the Library of Congress.

THE PIONEER STORY of Mrs. Mary Burleson, of Carrizozo, who was 78 years old in 1937, as told to Ms. Edith L. Crawford in 1937.

Our family left West Port, Missouri, which is now Kansas City, in April, 1865, and arrived in Mora, New Mexico, in September, 1865. We came over the Santa Fe Trail in a prairie schooner drawn by six oxen and our milk cow for this was the only way we had of bringing our milk cow with us. We were in a Government Train guarded by soldiers, as the Indians were on the warpath at that time and were always on the look out for settlers moving out to the west.

Mr. Boggs, the Foreman of the Government Train, told us that there was a band of Indians just ahead of us and that they had attacked a wagon train, killed all the people, stole the horses and food and burned the wagons. The Government Train that we were with was hauling supplies to Fort Union and Fort Craig. In those days the Indians used to hold up the stage coaches, kill the drivers and all the people and take the horses. Sometimes they would burn the coaches and mail and then again they would leave everything and just take the horses.

We came by way of the Raton Pass and left the Government Train there. Mr. Tipton and some friends met us there and escorted us to Mora, New Mexico, for the Indians were bad in New Mexico in those days. We saw many large herds of buffalo on our trip. It rained a lot that summer and we had no hardships as to feed and water. It took us from April to September.

I remember the great event in our home was the arrival of the St. Louis Globe Democrat and when it came all the neighbors would come to our house and my father would read the paper to them by candle light. We made all our own candles in those days. Sometimes it happened that we would not get the paper on time and then we would hear that the Indians had held up a stage coach and burned the mail. How we would miss the paper. My father took this same paper for 50 years.

There were no schools much in those days. Sometimes a teacher was hired by private subscription and all the children in a neighborhood would go to school and often the children would know as much as the teacher. I remember once I had to take some money to my Uncle Shafer, who lived on a ranch about thirty miles from Cimarron, New Mexico. My brother who was younger than I, and my girl chum Annie Crocker, went with me. In those days we rode side saddles. We stayed all night at my Uncle's ranch. The next morning when we were getting ready to leave we found my brother's horse was lame and he couldn't go back with us. So my girl chum and I started out alone for home.

When we got on top of Riado hill we looked back and saw Indians riding fast towards us, and it scared us nearly to death. So we started out to gallop our horses, and the Indian would ride faster. So we ran our horses just an fast as they could go the rest of the way home.

Mother came to the door when we arrived, and said "girls, what on earth is the matter, just look at your horses?" The horses were covered with sweat and lather from riding them so hard. But we out rode the Indian.

When my mother helped me down from my horse, I could not stand on my right leg. I had gripped the horn of my side saddle so hard in my ride for my life, so I thought at the time, that in some way I injured my leg and have been a cripple since that day. I had to give up dancing and I did love to dance.

I was married to Mr. Pete Burleson July 21, 1878. My husband was sheriff in Colfax County for four years. He hanged the first man by law in New Mexico in the year of 1878, at Cimarron, Colfax County. He had the chaplain come from Fort Union and offer a prayer for the prisoner. He was a negro and was sentenced to be hung for killing a white man and his 12-year-old son.

We came to Lincoln County in 1890. We lived at the V Ranch where Mr. Burleson was foreman for several years. Then we moved to Lincoln, where my husband was deputy sheriff for years.

He drove the second spike on the Santa Fe Railroad when it crossed the line from Colorado into New Mexico. The Government Train we came to New Mexico in had about one hundred prairie schooners in it. Of this number four belonged to my family—my grandfather and grandmother Searcy, with six girls and one boy, and my father, O. K. Chittenden, with my mother, brother Tom and myself. I was five years old and my brother was about one year old. My grandfather and my father sold their farms in West Fort, Missouri.

We brought all our supplies along with us. We had our flour in barrels, our own meat, lard and sugar. We were not allowed to stop and hunt buffalo on the way out here on account of the Indians.

The women made the bread out of sour dough and used soda. There was no such thing as baking powder in those days. The men baked the bread in dutch ovens over the camp fires.

When we stopped at night the schooners with families were put into a circle and the Government schooners would form a circle around the family wagons. In between the two circles they put the oxen and horses, to keep the Indians from getting them. Every night the men took turns standing guard. All the soldiers rode horses.

Every few days the Train would stop and everybody would get rested. The feet of the oxen would get so sore that they could not go without resting them every few days. When the Train stopped it was nearly always at water and the women would do their washing. The Train used cow and buffalo chips and anything they could find to burn. The men did all this as the women and children were never allowed far from the schooners on account of Indians.

We did not milk our cow as she had to be worked along with the oxen. Our schooners had cow hides fastened underneath and our cooking utensils were packed in them. Our drinking water was carried in barrels tied to the sides of the schooners.

Enoch Tipton who was a relative of my grandmother, and who had persuaded my grandfather and father to come out to this country, met us on Raton Pass. We stopped at his place at Tiptonville, New Mexico. Enoch Tipton had come out here sometime before from West Port, Missouri. I do not remember just when he came or how he happened to settle here. Tiptonville is the same place as Mora is now.

My father and grandfather farmed a year at Tiptonville. When we found our new home had hard dirt floors and a dirt roof, my mother was so very homesick to go back to Missouri where we had a nice farm home. My mother had brought her spinning wheel with her. She spun all the yarn for our clothes and knitted all our socks and stockings. My father and grandfather made a loom for her and she made us two carpets for our floors to keep the baby from getting so awful dirty on the floor. We had brought some seed cane with us and my father and grandfather made a homemade syrup mill and made syrup, the first ever made in that country. The mill was a crude affair made of logs and drawn by a horse. The juice was pressed out with the logs and put in a vat and cooked into syrup. People came from miles around to see this mill.

We always saved all our beef and mutton tallow to make our candles. We brought our molds from Missouri with us. We made our wicks out of cotton strings. We tied a large knot in the end of the wick, slipped the mold over the wick and poured the hot tallow into the mold. When the tallow got cold we cut the knot off and slip the candle out of the mold. Our candle molds were the first ones brought into that part of the country, and all the neighbors borrowed them to mold their candles.

My father moved to Ute Creek, New Mexico, in 1867, when they struck placer gold there, and he put in a country store to supply the needs of the miners and the people who were rushing to the gold strike.

A man by the name of Stevens, I can't remember any other name as everyone called him "Steve", wheeled a wheelbarrow all the way from the State of Maine to Colorado. In this wheelbarrow he had his bed, his clothes and his provisions. He did not stay long in Colorado. He came on to Tiptonville and put in a toll road to Ute Creek and my father took care of the toll gate for him. They charged $1.00 for a wagon, 50 cents for a horse and rider and 25 cents for a person on foot. Mr. Stevens made a lot of money as there were lots of miners rushing to Ute Creek looking for gold.

When my brother and I were old enough to go to school we had to walk three miles. My mother was always so afraid of wild animals and Indians. We had a big bull dog who used to go with us to school. When he got tired waiting for us he would go home and when it was time for us to get home he would come to meet us. We lived down in a valley and had to go over a big hill and he would wait for us on top of this hill. We went to school at Ute Creek.

The Indians were not so hostile as when we first came to New Mexico. It was the Apache and Ute Indians who gave so much trouble and sometimes the Kiowas and Cheyennes would slip in and make raids on the settlers.

My father was from Connecticut originally and came to West Port, Missouri, and married my mother there. She was Elizabeth Searcy. I am the last one left of the Searcy and Chittenden families. My brother, Jap, who was born after we came to New Mexico, died in Gallup in 1926.


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