THE COMMUNITY OF FRESNAL from the Museum
West to the Sacramentos is a monthly feature article on the families that settled in the Sacramento Mountains. The stories are taken from transcripts that can be found in the Sacramento Mountains Museum archives. This month the featured story is about the community of Fresnal that was written by J.M. Walker in March of 1964. Here is the story -
The name Fresnal is the name of a hardwood tree that grew in the Box Canyon. The name of the creek in this community is Fresnal. There is the North Fresnal Creek, the South Fresnal Creek and the Middle Creek; the latter often being called Haynes Canyon after the original settler at the head of the creek, Jim Haynes. The South Creek is formed by Nelson Canyon and Karr Canyon, named after Button Nelson and Bill Karr, the original settlers in these canyons.
In the early part of 1884, a Mr. McNew and his family, with three son-in-laws and their families who then lived down in southeast Texas, loaded up their camping equipment and families in covered wagons, and driving their cattle and horses boldly set out west, not knowing just where they were going - other than WEST. This was typical of the spirit of their time, one of seeking adventure and fortune, and this is the way much of the west was settled.
These people slowly made their way across Texas and crossed the Pecos River at the Horsehead Crossing some distance below Pecos City, then up the Pecos River passing by what is now Carlsbad, and on up to where Artesia is now. They then West again up the Penasco River. The travelers passed a few settlers along the Penasco, especially at Mayhill, and late that same year they came to where Cloudcroft now is. This was the end of the trail. They could not take their wagons any farther. They called it the "Jumping Off Place." The old man, McNew, stopped right there - this was THE WEST for him and Mrs. McNew. They built a home there and their farm was where the school building and the playgrounds are now.
The three sons-in-laws, with their families, chopped out a road down Fresnal Creek and as Mr. Nelson said, "Rolled the first wagon off on the west side of the mountains." Mr. Nelson first settled on what is now the Braunstein Place. He lived there a few years when he sold it to Mr. George Wofford and moved to the headwaters of South Fresnal Creek, and the canyon he settled in was, and is still, known as Nelson Canyon. Bill Karr settled on and at the mouth of what is known as Karr Canyon, while Jack Tucker settled the next place lower down the creek and at the mouth of what is known as Tucker Canyon. All of their lands joined. These three canyons form the South Fresnal Creek. The South Creek and the Middle Creek unite about a mile above High Rolls and continue as the South Creek to High Rolls where they unite with the North Creek and form the Fresnal Creek that passes through Box Canyon and on to the junction with La Luz Canyon.
Imagine, if you can, the condition of these people in this new country. They had no conveniences, no roads, no schools, no churches, no doctors, no friends other than themselves, no mail, no way of communicating with the outside world, no stores to go to for their supplies. They did, however, have plenty of hardships and troubles ahead. They also had lots of courage and plenty of that pioneer spirit and determination. And they had plenty of faith in themselves and in their God. They lived close together, they worked together, hunted together, and made the best of the situation. Mr. Nelson used to tell me of their hardships and then would add, "If I knew of another country like this one was when we came here, I would to go it if I did not have four bits in my pocket when I got there."
There was fine grass here and the cattle increased in numbers rapidly, they soon had good herds, and just enough horses for use. People rode horseback nearly everywhere they went. There were lots and lots of deer and turkeys here at that time. Mr. Nelson often told me they could ride around a bunch of deer, pick out a fat one, and shoot it down. The deer did not know to be afraid of people, but they soon learned better. There was, also, lots of wild and destructive animals such as bear, panthers, mountain lions, and wolves. Soon after these people settled here, they worked out roads down the Fresnal Creek, the Salado and La Luz Creeks, and on to the village of La Luz. This gave them an outlet to the WEST. They would then go, with covered wagons drawn by ox teams, to La Luz, on by the tips of the White Sands, on by Cox Wells, and into El Paso. During the winters, when it was cold enough to keep the meat frozen, they would load their wagons with freshly-killed deer and turkeys and take them to El Paso to sell. They would then buy their groceries and supplies and return home. Their ox teams were slow and they had to give them time to eat. They had long drives between water, and it took them as much as a week each way. These things illustrate, to some extent, the hardships and the difficulties the early settlers underwent to settle and to conquer the WEST.
During all this time other people were coming in and settling on the other two creeks, the Middle Creek and the North Creek. In a few years there was enough people here to have a school and a church.
The Fresnal Baptist Church was organized in 1894 by the Rev. R.P. Pope with his wife and Mr. S.Y. Jackson from Weed, along with the families of Nelson, Karr, Tucker, Gilliland, Johnson, Wofford and others as charter members.
The three McNew sisters raised big families and all without a doctor, helping each other and making the best they could of their situation. They had troubles and hardships untold. The children were handicapped by lack of schools, their menfolk had troubles of their own, yet all of them lived to be a fairly good old age for that time.
There was another family that contributed a great deal to the early settlement of this community, the Gilliland family. They settled on lands adjoining the Tucker lands. Billy McNew, the brother of the three McNew sisters, and the Gilliland brothers were close friends. The men grew up together, worked and hunted together, and formed a loyal friendship that lasted till death.
Another three sisters that contributed a great deal to the development of this settlement were Mrs. Ida Wofford, Mrs. Ben Wooten, and Mrs. Dr. Burt. They brought with them, and always exercised, a spiritual influence for the good. This community is indebted to them for the good examples and guidance they set. Mrs. Wofford is the only one of the real old settlers still living. She now lives in Alamogordo with one of her daughters, Mrs. Jim Shults. Mrs. Wofford is now nearly a hundred years old and still goes to church and Sunday School. Mrs. Wooten lived at her home, a mile above what is now Mountain Park, for many years and the two of them have long since passed on. Mrs. Dr. Burt and her family moved to the Pinon country many years ago and homesteaded land there. She and her husband also have long since passed on. She does have some children left in the county, one being Mrs. Kate Brownfield at Dell City.
Other children of the early settlers are Mrs. C.C. Braunstein (Christine) who, with her husband Chris, live in the rebuilt Wofford home just south from High Rolls; also Walter Harris, son of Britt Harris and his wife, the daughter of Mr. McCleskey, live on Salado Canyon some three miles northwest of High Rolls. They have an orchard down there, a good home, and they are happy together. Cecil Nelson, the son of Uncle Button Nelson, lived in the community, and around and about, till when not long ago he became too poorly to care for himself and he is now with his sister Betty, Mrs. Will Waldrip, near Artesia. With the exception of these named, so far as I can recall at this time, all of the real early settlers and their children are gone from this community. The old people have passed on, while the younger ones are scattered all over. While they were here they helped to develop this country from a wilderness into a thriving and prosperous community. Someone, or ones, had to do this if it was ever gonna get done - and they did their part well.
SOME MORE ABOUT THE AREA
The American Indians roamed over and occupied New Mexico, and especially the Sacramento Mountains, many centuries before the advent of the white men. These mountains seem to have been a favored spot for the Apaches and the Mescaleros. Here they found timber for shade and protection, small timber for their tepees and camps, plenty of game for food - and meat was their principal food. They could have venison and turkey every day, they had plenty of good grasses for their ponies, plenty of water, and it seems these mountains afforded them an ideal place. Their camp sites were always on high ground and near permanent waters. On my land, there are signs of the location of as many as three camp sites. These were never right at the waters where a white man would want to camp, but on higher ground where they could see out and where they were not so likely to be trapped by an enemy tribe. We have a few of their metates and pessels, used to grind their corn for bread, found at these camp sites. Many arrowheads have been found here, too.
Then, after settlements were made at La Luz, some of the Mexicans would come up Fresnal Canyon by means of pack horses and camp here during the summers, graze their livestock till fall, then gather up everything and return to La Luz for the winters. When the early settlers I have referred to came here in the eighties, they found these Mexicans here claiming the lands and waters. They bought and traded for the claims of these Mexicans and got possession of the lands of the Fresnal Creeks. Then, in the 1880ís began the early settlement of the Fresnals by people from the nearby states of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and others.
The Indians had regular places for cooking the Mescal. Now, the Mescal is found on the west side of the Sacramentos, in rough, rocky places, sometimes scattered, sometimes in fields with literally thousands of plants in a favored location, so thick that a horse had difficulty walking through them. They have a thick head near the ground, with short, stubby leaves and serrated edges, and a needle-like short point. When they are ready to bloom, they send up a stiff, round, pole-like stem about six feet high and a beautiful bloom forms on the top of this stem. They are said to bloom the tenth year, make seed and die. In a mescal field one will find plants of all ages up to ten years, and all sizes. The Indians cut the large plants down at ground level, trim the heads down, taking off all the rough leaves and, when ready for cooking, the heads look somewhat like a large cabbage head. They carry these heads to their cooking place, gathering and bringing up a good quantity of dry wood. The cooking plant, or Mescal Pit (all I have known it to be called), is a hole in ground some six-feet deep and about six-feet across. When everything is ready they fill this hole half or more full of good wood, place large rocks on the wood and fire the wood. They add more wood and continue the heating process till these rocks and the entire pit is very hot. Then they place the mescal heads on these heated rocks in the pit and finally cover it all over with sand, rock , and dirt till it is completely sealed. They leave it there a few days to cook. The Indians use these old Mescal Pits over and over every spring, along about April or May. I have seen them doing this, have visited with them while they do it, and have eaten the mescal with them.
Written by J.M. Walker in March of 1964. Manuscript courtesy of the Sacramento Mountains Museum archives.