Pioneer Story of Annie E. Lesnett
During the Great Depression from 1936 to 1940 there was a WPA Writers' Project which paid local authors to interview older local citizens and then write up a report (called a "manuscript") of each interview so that oral histories of pioneers would be collected and preserved.
Edith L. Crawford of Carrizozo worked for this Project, and on Sepember 7, 1938 she interviewed Mrs. Annie E. Lesnett of White Oaks. The manuscript she wrote after her interview is now archived at the Library of Congress. Here is her report of what Mrs. Lesnett (who was 83 years old in 1938) told her.
I have lived in New Mexico for sixty-one years. I lived in Roswell, Chaves County, for twenty-five years and in Lincoln County for thirty-six years.
I met my husband, Frank Lesnett, in Chicago, Illinois, when I was sixteen years old. He was born in the State of Ohio.
He joined the regular army at Fort Seldon in 1870, for a period of five years and was sent to Fort Stanton to serve his enlistment, fighting the Indians. He was discharged in 1875 at Fort Stanton. He came back to Chicago and we were married July 19, 1876. We lived in Chicago for a while but Frank was never satisfied, for he loved the west and wanted to come back to Lincoln County, so he left me in Chicago with my people and he came back to Ruidoso and bought a half interest in the Dowlin's Mill.
This mill was owned by Paul and Will Dowlin at the time. Frank stayed here and sent for me and our baby son. I came by train from Chicago to La Junta, Colorado, and from La Junta to Fort Stanton on Raymond's stage coach, drawn by four horses.
Raymond and his bride, who was from St. Louis, Missouri, were passengers on the stage with me. I do not remember any of the places that we stopped except Jerry Hoeradle's place, where we stayed all night and changed teams.
We had a very pleasant trip, no scares from Indians or desperadoes, although I was very much afraid of the Indians. My husband had told me so much about them and how they would go on the war path, but at that time they were supposed to stay on the Mescalero Reservation.
My husband met me at Fort Stanton. He was driving two big bay horses hitched to a Studebaker hack. The horses were named "Bill Johnson" and "Bill Dowlin".
How happy I was when my husband met me and we drove up the beautiful canyon toward the White Mountains. It was in May, 1877. We went by way of the Pat Garrett Ranch, which was located on Little Creek, and on by Alto and down Gavelan Canyon to the Ruidoso. When we arrived at Dowlin's Mill I saw some blood in the front yard. Frank told me that a man named Jerry Dalton had shot and killed Paul Dowlin the day before. Dalton left the country and was never heard of again.
My new home was a four-room log house with a big fireplace in the front room which we called the parlor. We used kerosene lamps and candles for lights. A man by the name of Johnnie Patton cooked for us. We boarded several of the men who worked in the mills and helped on the farms. We raised hogs and sold them to Fort Stanton. We raised our own feed to fatten the hogs and in the fall of the year the farm hands would butcher about a hundred hogs at a time.
I would get some of the neighbor women to come and help render out the lard. We used a big iron pot and rendered up the lard out in the yard. I raised lots of turkeys and chickens and sold them at Fort Stanton. I was always so afraid of the wild beasts that roamed around in the hills. I remember one time, my husband and the cook had to go to Lincoln to court, and left a Mrs. Johnson with me and my three children, to stay alone at night.
One night after we had all gone to bed, Mrs. Johnson and I heard something prowling around the house. We lay real still and listened, for we did not know whether it was Indians or wild beasts. We did not have to wait long to know, for it was a mountain lion and when he got up real near the house he let out a roar. We almost died of fright for we were afraid that he would break the windows and come in after us. We moved all the furniture and barricaded the doors and windows. The lion kept walking around the house and roaring. After a while he left and went down to the cow pen and killed one of our milk-pen calves. I told my husband when he came home the next day that I would never stay home with just women folks again, and I never did while we lived on the ranch.
The Mescalero Indians from the Mescalero Reservation used to come to our place end trade. My husband had a small store and was post master at Ruidoso. I saw four buck Indians have a fight in front of our store one time. They pulled each other's hair out and fought with quirts. They fought for about an hour. I was in the store and was afraid to go to our house, although the Indians never did bother us. I was awfully afraid of them, especially when I first came to the Ruidoso. I was always good to the Indians. I gave them doughnuts and cookies when they came to the Mill and it was not long until all the Indians were my friends. Geronomo used to come to our place quite often. Once he brought me a big wild turkey and another time he gave me a nice Indian basket. I gave the basket to Mrs. Hiram Dow and she still has it. There was usually a crowd of young people at the Mill and we used to ride horseback fifteen and twenty miles to a dance and never think anything of it.
In 1882 my husband bought out the interest of the Dowlin Brothers and he was sole owner of the Mill. We then moved into the two-story building which still stands, with the old water wheel, about two miles from the town of Ruidoso. At that time we had a grist mill and a saw mill. All the surrounding country brought their grain to our mill to be ground. We used oxen to haul our logs for the saw mill.
I went back to Chicago on a visit to my people in 1879, but I did not stay very long as I was anxious to get back to my western home that I loved so well. I remember the Chicago fire well. I was sixteen years old, and when our mother woke us up that night and told us to get up quick get dressed because our house was about to catch on fire. We all got dressed and were gathering up the things that we wanted to save and when I got outside all I had in my hands was the bird cage with the bird in it. Our home burned that night. That was in 1871.
In 1887 we sold our ranch and cattle on the Ruidoso to the Crees who owned the "V V" outfit. We moved to Lincoln where we could have better schools for our children. We lived on the Ruidoso all during the Lincoln County War but my husband never took sides with either faction.
I did give Billy the Kid several meals when he would come to our place, but my husband never knew anything about it, for he had warned we not to feed any of the men from either side, but I did it anyway as I felt so sorry for them when they said they were hungry.
Lincoln County was a wild country when I first came here and at first I used to get so homesick for my people in Chicago, but after I had been here a few years I liked it and never cared to go back to Chicago to live.
Five of my children were born on the Ruidoso, one in Chicago, and one in Lincoln. We lived in Lincoln until 1890 and then moved to Roswell, and lived there for three years and moved back to Lincoln in 1893.
I have lived in Carrizozo for the past ten years. Two of my children live with me. I am content and happy to spend the rest of my days here in Lincoln County.
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