Jessie De Prado Macmillan
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 Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington and the time she spent homesteading these mountains. This is a long story, here is part one -
When the Lusitania set sail from Liverpool, England on a day in October 1903, she carried a passenger whose destination was Weed, high in the far-off Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. This passenger was a young single woman from Scotland and she was on her way to the United States to establish a homestead of her own.
Jessie De Prado Macmillan was born in Glasgow, Scotland about the year 1870. Her parents died when she was very young, leaving her and a brother, Eben, six years her senior. Jessie was placed in private schools, including ones in Switzerland and France. She was a lover of horses from her early childhood and became an excellent horsewoman, receiving special training in Germany.
Jessie spent considerable time with a favorite aunt in Liverpool, England. Yearning to go west, she wrote to the U.S. Consul in London about taking up a homestead in the United States. Her brother, Eben, helped her with this through a series of circumstances. Eben and his wife went to visit her grandmother in Fifeshire, Scotland, and while there the grandmother received a letter from a cousin in the U.S. whom see had never seen, but who was a great letter writer and kept in touch with relatives. This cousin, a widow, was Mary Lindsay Tod Westlake and she told in her letter how she and her sister Maggie had recently gone to the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico and bought a homestead of 160 acres. They took with them Lila May Westlake, the widow’s teenaged daughter who was far from strong and whose doctors had advised New Mexico’s high, dry climate.
Jessie contacted Mrs. Westlake and eventually she set out on her journey to the U.S. Before leaving Liverpool, she purchased a beautiful Police Colt revolver with a long barrel, an action no doubt prompted by stories of the Wild West! After several weeks she arrived in Alamogordo, New Mexico which she described as "a wee railroad town." This implied that its only excuse for existence was the round house and railroad shops. Alamogordo at that time was three years old.
Jessie stayed at a rooming house in Alamogordo run by a Mrs. Odom until a wagon finally arrived from the Agua Chiquita with a young couple, Will and Lila Buckner, as drivers. They took Jessie up steep canyons and through thick forest lands to her future home, a place two miles below "Eagle", the Westlake homestead. She purchased 160 acres from a Mr. White for $300. A log house had been started and some fencing done. She named her home "Glen Eben" after her brother in Scotland. The rest of the story is in Jessie’s own words, although edited and not presented as direct quotes, they are her words -
We started up the mountain bright and early, going through the interesting Mexican village of La Luz, here fruit and vegetables were raised by irrigation. After that, we turned up the great barren mountains, stones, dust, dust, and stones. Hour after hour, and ever and again crossing the winding and writhing logging railroad. As the afternoon wore on, the aspect of the mountains gradually changed. They began to look green, more and more trees clothed them and at last, we entered Toboggan Canyon. I began to feel assured as I got among the greenness and the trees. About half way up Toboggan, we made camp, and in just the kind of place I had imagined.
Next day, I felt "down and out" with a very bad cold. Will and Lila managed to fix up one of my cots for me in the wagon, so all that day I "lay down," and such a day "in bed" I’ve never had, before or since. Roads as we know them now, were non-existent on that trail which often wound more or less up and down dry creek beds, rocks, boulders and ruts. Towards evening, I recovered a bit, and that night we camped in Bear Canyon. On the next evening, we arrived at "Eagle," Mrs. Westlake’s log cabin on the Agua Chiquita.
The Agua Chiquita is a long canyon running and winding for miles from part of the summit down to Weed. The mountains gradually tapering down to almost smooth rolling uplands, below timber lines, and these in turn gradually running down to prairie land and the Pecos Valley, a beautiful stock country, but held back perhaps for lack of water. Between the summit and Weed, many other beautiful canyons run down from the upper ridges and open into this main canyon. Weed was our nearest "town," first described to me as "a little old wide place in the road." At that time it was composed of two general stores (one of which housed the Post Office), a saloon, "The Legal Tender," and a few smaller shanties.
When we arrived at the Westlake’s "Eagle" other guests were already there. They were two Swedish brothers, friends of Mrs. Westlakes, who had bought a "claim" from an outgoing "squatter" and were getting the cabin, etc… in shape before moving in.
For years, I guess old timers had been drifting through this country, some staying long enough to put up a log cabin and a few fences - but they had never filed on many of the places, so later comers and semi-"tenderfoots," like myself, would buy them out. They had, of course, no title to the land, just claimed the so-called improvements, though as often as not, they had not even put them up - just found them and squatted there until they could sell out or felt like moving on. Many of them being a shiftless lot that drifted in from Texas and South-Eastern states. There was always a conjecture among the bona fide homesteaders and cattlemen when a new outfit arrived, almost invariably by wagon trek, as to whether they had "come on account of their health or reputation."
I finally heard from a Mr. White about two miles lower down the Agua Chiquita, who wanted to sell out for three hundred dollars. The improvements on the property were not much, Mr. White had just squatted on an abandoned claim, but he had repaired fences and got some crops in - oats, wheat, potatoes, cabbage, etc… The old cabin was very poor, but he had walls up for a new one. As I wanted to file on the land before turning over cash, it was necessary for me to go to Alamogordo. By wagon, the usual mode of travel, the trip took the best part of 3 days. "P.J." offered to take me with him over horse "trail" which took only one day, and I was glad to accept the offer.
He had a wee Mexican Pony (only about 18.2 hands high), a hardy wee specimen. So early on July 3rd, we set out. The first half of the journey was up and down through beautifully wooded canyons, firs, aspens, pines, with cabins here and there, but getting fewer as we neared the summit. The more west we went, the more scrubby, rocky and bare it got and the last half of the journey there were no cabins at all, no springs, just getting wilder and more dreary. The last part of the trail before reaching the desert is down two narrow canyons. When we got out of Alamo Canyon, we had about three miles to go over the desert to Alamogordo. It was dark by now, the electric lights of the town were there as a beacon to head for.
When P.J. and I and the wee pony, who I will now call "Boy" (I bought him soon after this, naming him "Honey Boy," and he became the horse of my life) finally stumbled into Alamogordo, through unfenced backyards, tin cans and rubbish heaps in general, for we had long since lost whatever trail there was - we were dog tired, at least "Boy" and I were. The next day was the July 4th celebrations, where I sampled my first barbecue, and was it good!
The cattle men sent to the picnic grounds the night before whatever dressed beef, hogs, or sheep they think might be needed. As I remember, long pits are dug and across these are laid green rails that won’t burn easily, but first wood is burned in these pits until a deep bead of hot ashes is formed. On the green rails are laid quartered pieces of meat that are slowly baked all night, the appointed "chefs" standing by until noon the next day. In this case, the seasoned preparation for "basting" was contained in a lard bucket, and the acting cook had a long stick with a bunch of rags tied at one end. This he dipped in his bucket and then mopped over the meat at intervals.
The Odoms insisted on my having my meals with them for the duration of my stay in Alamogordo. One day during the noon meal, one of Otero County’s erstwhile outlaws rode by. The thought of outlaws as I’d read of them had always fascinated me, and, as Mrs. Odom had come to realize how keen I was on all Wild West topics and gossip, she had told me of some of the local stars along these lines. So on seeing the rider go by, she suddenly exclaimed, "Here comes – Oliver now!" I made a sudden dash for the door, caught a foot in a mat, and came a violent cropper on the floor - picking myself up just in time to see the back of the rider as his horse gently foxtrotted through the dust.
After concluding business at the land office and bank, P.J., Boy and I started our return trip to the Agua Chiquita at about 10am in the morning. We decided we could make the summit while it was still daylight, and once safely over the divide (to us, the highest ridge between the arid side of the mountains and the lovely green, cool, wooded hill sides and canyons of the eastern slopes), we knew we could count on a nights lodging for man and beast at some homesteader’s cabin. By dusk we hit the first log cabin. The folks, as always in those parts, made us hospitably welcome, lit their stove (their own meal was over) and cooked us coffee and fried eggs, and flap jacks, my first introduction to the latter, and were they good to such hungry and worn travelers! Spending the night, we hit the trail again the next morning at 8am and finally made it home by dark.
Well, at last I moved down to my own homestead, which with my usual weakness for naming things, I promptly christened Glen-Eben. For to me, the canyon was still a "glen" and my brother, well, he was my brother, and I wanted to keep at least his name close to me. I had about 25 acres, I think, in cultivation and fairly well fenced, a tumble down ancient log cabin and ditto barn - close to a fine spring. The fields sloped up from the creek towards the well wooded mountains behind. Beyond the creek wound the Agua Chiquita wagon road. It began at Weed, about 11 miles below Glen-Eben, and meandered up the canyon till it petered out towards the summit. Our own particular summit was a beautiful open space, as I remember it, with a wonderful view over lesser well wooded mountains and canyons, to which one could descend over an apology for a wagon road down the Scott Able Canyon and eventually out onto what we called in those days, Prather’s Flats, and on to the wagon road from Weed to El Paso.
The old cabin was one fairly long room, with the door facing towards the creek. The door was made of boards, and no one told me the correct way to fasten it, and I was too "dense" to "catch on." I had a bar made of a heavy 2 by 4 to drop into the two cleats on either side. I’m ashamed to confess that I had left my beloved mountains before I learned that the buckskin thong attached on the inside to a wooden latch and passed through a wee hole to hang on the outside of the door was the "key" to the situation. When hanging outside, all one had to do was pull it, it raised the latch and one was free to enter - and all one had to do to "lock it" when on the inside was to pull the thong back through the hole to the inside, and presto, there was nothing outside to raise the inside latch. What could be simpler? For windows, I had two smallish square openings on each side of the door, with wooden push shutters to slide along on runways. There was no glass or screen. Flies and all kinds of creatures, generally classed up there as "bugs," were free to come and go all day. At night, I closed the shutters, but what odds, so far as bugs were concerned, for many evidently flew in to stay. For furniture, I had a big barrel with some boards over it for a table, and some wee kegs and sections cut out of tree trunks for seats. I also had my wire and canvas cot, not to mention my fry pan and a few enamel dishes, as I only had a very limited number of these, it gave me a never ending feeling of satisfaction to pick them up intact, when careless enough to drop one.
I soon acquired a dog, "Sandy" I named him, he was big, though still a gangling long-legged pup. He was a mongrel shepherd, but a beauty at that. He would always lay under my cot at night and if prompted to move, used to heave me up like a young elephant rising. The place was overrun with rats, but when I tried to sic Sandy on to them, he’d just retire that much farther under the cot. I was always out and about and so busy during the daytime that the rats never bothered me until I was in bed. Then I decided to keep the wagon lantern lit, and a club by my side, so I could have a whack at them if they became to troublesome. I found this to be more a drawback than a help, the light attracted all the "bugs" that had been shut in when the door and shutters were closed. Many of them would get up into the globe of the lantern from underneath, and the sound of them, some huge moths sizzling as they burned to death was worse to me than the lively rats, so I gave up and "douced my glim’" and so goodnight.
To add to my kitchen equipment, a kindly neighbor gave me a molasses bucket to boil potatoes in. I had acquired a second-hand cook stove from some "out-going" squatter, heretofore, my cooking such as it was, was done at the open fireplace with fry pan and coffee pot.
My next advance was to have a new cabin built, and this was engineered by Mr. Bunting who ran one of the general stores in Weed. Some men that owed him quite a bit of money were roped in to do the work. They in this way paid off their indebtedness to Mr. Bunting, and I paid him (on the installment plan). He paid me one of the most valued compliments I’ve ever had. I asked him how he felt he could trust me without any references, and he said my face was as good as my bond.
And it is with the building of this cabin that we will begin next month for part 2 of the Jessie De Prado Macmillan story in the Sacramento Mountains.
The first part of this article was taken from a manuscript by Raymond C. Buckner, provided to the museum by Pat Scott. The rest was taken from actual writings by Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington that first appeared in the New Mexico Historical Review and were provided by the Sacramento Mountains Museum in Cloudcroft.
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 a continuation of a multi-part tale about Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington and the time she spent homesteading these mountains. This is a long story in pretty much her own words, here is part two -
I had a new barn put up and a fine root house, the latter was dug several feet deep in the ground then walled up several feet- but not too high, with double walls of logs. There was a two foot space between the walls that was filled with dirt, a floor on top of that and a large spreading good shingle roof - the upper part making a good store room for non-perishables.
When all was finished and the men working for me went home and reassured their "women folk" that I was O.K., their friendship came freely and generously. I was well supplied with layer cakes, home canned fruits, etc… In the winter, the men kept me more or less supplied with venison, a haunch hung in a flour sack on a tree limb would keep frozen till all "sawed up" and eaten. I had a wild turkey now and then, in season. As time went on I kept well fed, though at first it was rather lean pickings.
In a way, it was surprising how many callers materialized - considering we were all in the back of beyond, but my fame or whatever it was soon spread far and wide. Every now and then, riders from I knew not where would drop in. The first from the far place, that I remember, was Mr. Jim Lewis, a cattleman from the Flats. He struck Glen-Eben as I was in the throes of fixing my noon meal, trying to fix my would-be scone mixture in the frying pan. My ignorance was too much for him, so he initiated me into the mystery of making the so-called "starter" for sour dough biscuits. For the life of me, I can no longer recall how he did it. I an told he could not start the "starter" without yeast, yet I am convinced there was no yeast in my limited supplies - my imagination and memory runs to vinegar, flour and water. Anyhow, he started it in a glass jar I happened to be blessed with, and told me how to use it when it had fermented and how to keep it renewed.
To bake the biscuits, the skillet is set on a bed of red-hot wood coals - the lid is filled with the same - and the biscuits are left in the skillet to bake. I’ve recently been in contact with Mrs. Andrews on the Agua Chiquita and she gave me this original sour dough recipe - To luke warm water, add flour enough to make a batter a little stiffer than pancake batter. Put this in a jar and tie a cloth over it, and set in a warm place to "rise" or ferment. This starter can be kept for a considerable time, a portion of it to be used as leavening for each baking. To keep up the original supply, one returns a piece of fresh dough or adds a little fresh flour and water to starter in a glass jar. If the starter gets a little too sour, some soda may be added to biscuit dough.
Soon after my new cabin was up, I had a visit from a Shropshire friend - Marie W. I was not prepared for the winters up here. It was late in the season when Marie arrived and for a time we nearly froze. The cabin floor was raised about two feet off the ground, and as it was laid with green lumber, the latter soon shrank and the draft up between the floor cracks just about got us every morning. That is until we banked the cabin all round outside with rocks higher than the inside floor and covered the rocks with dirt. This made a tremendous difference.
I had a fireplace to take three foot logs, and later added a heater that took stove wood to the other side of the room. Also, I had the inside of the cabin lined with lumber and covered this with newspapers. Later we also cut pictures from magazines received from home and put them on the wall, too. But the "piece de resistance" was a huge bill poster of Buffalo Bill and his charger that a cowboy had brought me on his saddle all the way from El Paso.
One could never get seasoned lumber up here. As the boards that lined the cabin shrank, the paper cracked and one night at supper Marie said, "Oh, look Mac, there is a mouse up there." I went to investigate, and through one of the cracks about on level with my head I found the "mouse" to be a snake’s tail. Every good homesteader had a horse shoeing outfit, so I got out the shoeing pinchers and laid hold of the invader’s tail. I expected to pull him out and kill him, but instead of this the snake darted his head at me out of the crack farther up. I dropped the pinchers and fled. We took turns sleeping that night in case the snake returned. We were told later that there were no poisonous reptiles up here, and that we were lucky to have a snake to keep the mice down!
I’d had to do so much building, etc… that I just about was faced with a penniless Christmas. At least I’d hired a mower to get my oats cut for hay and got it safe in the barn. What was left of my fine potato crop was in the root house, along with a winter supply of cabbage and turnips, etc… I’d had a woodshed built and wood split and hauled there. We should be able to get by until I was in funds again. Neighbors often gave us butter, goat meat, venison, and a pie or cake now and then.
Marie and I usually rode to Weed once a week for our mail - twenty two miles there and back. On one of these trips, just before Christmas, we planned our Christmas dinner as we jogged along. We had some almonds and raisins and a cake of plain chocolate - the remains of a supply Marie had been provided with on her trip from the old country. Also, about two ounces of tea. The rest of our larder consisted of flour, lard, coffee, sugar and bacon.
It began to snow on our way home. However, this didn’t unsettle us enthusiasts much - we each had saddle slickers, Sou’westers, and felt boots with gum shoes for just such times. We made it a rule when going off on long rides to first lay in a supply of wood and with always a big log smoldering in the fireplace. There would also be a pile of kindling and rich pine "knots" handy. We might be "green", but we were not slouchy pioneers.
Marie decided she would help out a lady we knew in Cloudcroft that was sickly and now expecting. After several days of rain and snow, and more snow, it cleared up a bit and we set out over the mountain trails. By trail we could make it in one day, by the wagon road it would take two.
At this time of year daylight did not last long, and no one traveled at night in those parts. We had meant to start off at 4am, but did not wake until 6am by our watches. As I was anxious to reach Cloudcroft in daylight, we did not wait for breakfast. Marie made some coffee while I got the horses ready. We had a cup of hot coffee and ate dry bread as we road along. I was very concerned about the trail, as we had been advised against it by all our friends who knew of the trip – that is, all but one old man. He said he’d bet we could make it, and we did. We got to Cloudcroft at 4:30pm by our watches, but found they were an hour slow. I stayed the night in Cloudcroft and set out for home early the next morning.
On our way to Cloudcroft, Marie and I saw several batches of men near a logging camp in Cox Canyon, skidding logs down the mountain side. This was after we had left the trail and hit the main wagon road to Cloudcroft. This log skidding was something I had long wanted to see. One outfit we stopped to watch had a log stuck fast at some stumps and had to do quite a bit of maneuvering with their team to get it clear and on the skids. The log finally flew down the mountain in its head-long flight, free and clear. I let out a good mountain yell of triumph before I realized what I was doing, for after all, I was supposed to be an almost mid-Victorian lady not a Wild West tomboy. The men away high up above us, not much more than blurs on the snow, answered back. I went on feeling abashed, but consoled with the thought that they did not know me and I would not ever meet any of them, anyhow. I lived in that fool’s paradise less than 24 hours.
Next day on my return trip, I’d been asked to leave a message at one of the sawmills. As it happened, it was the mill nearest the logging episode the previous day. Here, Mr. Bonnell, the manager, and his daughter insisted on my waiting for the noonday dinner. They boarded some of their men, and among them were two of the men I’d cheered, or yelled at. I did not recognize them, but they of course spotted me and my two ponies at once and quite "kidded me some." I guess the more I blushed, the more they enjoyed it.
The weather so far had been fine overhead, but after I left the logging camp it began to break again. By that time, I had already turned off the wagon road and headed up "greasy trail." Yes, that sure enough was its name and that afternoon it certainly did live up to it. The horses could hardly keep their feet. Finally we got to Hay Canyon, and I was again in familiar country. It was dark when I got home, wet through, and once again alone. How I did miss Marie after having her six weeks or so.
On the Sunday afternoon after my return from Cloudcroft, when I got home from "Sunday School." Yes, I went to the so-called Sunday School, and while I was unsaddling Boy - usually done outside as the stable had no windows - I noticed a man a wee bit higher up the road across the creek. I thought he was doing something to his horse’s foot. When I had put Boy right for the night and tended to all my other chores, I saw he was still there. So, I went over the field to the fence and shouted across the creek to ask if he needed any help. He said his horse had got a stake in his foot, and was dead lame. He said a hammer might help (how, I couldn’t guess), but that his hands were so cold he doubted he could do much. I called to him to come over, and that I’d soon have a fire going. He came in and got thawed out. He was a stranger in these parts. His father and mother had just lately arrived from Texas and taken a place about six or eight miles down the creek. He had been out all day trying to find a wild turkey for their Christmas dinner. He never struck any turkeys at all, got lost, and his horse trod on a piece of wood that had penetrated the hoof by the "frog." He could hardly walk. Also, he and the horse had fallen off a bluff at the top of a mountain opposite my cabin and he had hurt his hand. The hand I bandaged for him. I had a fine emergency case that my old friend, Dr. Stubbs of my Shropshire days, had fitted up for me.
By this time, I was getting rather frightened. For when I saw my visitor by the light of the lamp and the big blaze from the fireplace, he appeared to me a typical Bret Harte desperado - even to being minus one eye. I knew he expected to be asked to stay the night for it was already dusk, and I did not want him to know that I was alone. One half of me wanted to feed and rest him up, and the other half want desperately to get rid of him. When he thawed out, I suggested we go and look at the horse tied down by the old cabin. I lit the lantern, got the hammer and pinchers, and out we went. He got the stake out, and then I got bold and said I was sorry I could not put him up. I told him there was a place just a little way down the creek where they’d lots of room, and would be glad to put him up. So off he went leading his horse, still lame enough.
It turned out he was a wild member of a decent family. He and a pal had been tried for murdering a sheep herder in Texas. He got off, but public opinion was strong against him, so his poor old father and mother came out to New Mexico to "live it down." A hard matter.
As Marie was still in Cloudcroft, I had postponed my Christmas celebration, and on the thirtieth of the month I again went to Cloudcroft. We came home the following day. We were dead tired and decided to stay in bed on New Years day.
I got word from Mr. Bonnell that he had a gentle team he’d let me have "on time." He was the owner or boss of the sawmill outfit where I’d had dinner once on my way home from Cloudcroft. I went to have a look at them. They were both mares and broken to saddle and work. One had a suckling colt, she was a very weedy light sorrel and did not appeal to me. We finally agreed I would buy the bay and take the sorrel for her keep till the colt was old enough to wean. We named the bay Cherokee - Cherry for short - and the sorrel Comanche, and the colt Dick.
One day on our weekly trip to Weed for mail and supplies, we were persuaded by a Mrs. Patterson -- who lived between Glen-Eben and Weed – to stop off at her place on the way home and go with her to a dance. Usually, the dances lasted from dusk to dawn and as neither Marie nor I were keen on dancing, the long hours did not appeal to us. But on the other hand, we did want to see what a real woolly Western dance was like and so we were persuaded. In the end, Mrs. Patterson reneged and only her young daughter, a Mrs. Shaker who was visiting there, their attendant swain and we two went.
When the Boys – all unmarried men, regardless of age, were classified as "Boys" – decided they must have a dance, they’d choose the location and chip in to buy a sack of flour, some shortening, coffee and sugar and deliver it to the selected home. Here the mother and daughters, or near neighbors, would get busy and make lots of fine layer cakes, etc… for the occasion. Sometimes though, they would do without any refreshments, save a bucket of spring water and a "dipper."
And it is here at the dance that we will begin next month for part 3 of the Jessie De Prado Macmillan story in the Sacramento Mountains. There will probably be one or two more parts to this story, so stay tuned!
This article was taken from the actual writings of Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington that first appeared in the New Mexico Historical Review and were provided by the Sacramento Mountains Museum in Cloudcroft. If you have any information to add about this story, please contact the paper.
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 the final act of a multi-part tale about Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington and the time she spent homesteading these mountains. This is a long story in pretty much her own words, here is the last part -
Last month we ended talking about a mountain dance Jessie and Marie were going to, and it about that dance that we will begin this month ---
No special dance invitations were given and none needed. Marie and I wondered how the grapevine system worked, for young folk from the farthest and most isolated canyons turned up just as regularly as those close by - and usually there were twice as many men as girls. One man was appointed to make a list of all the boys and each one that wanted to dance had to pay fifty cents. But he could dance only in his "turn," for there was only room for so many couples on the floor at one time. The dancing money went to pay the fiddler.
Marie and I enjoyed the dance hugely, and laughed till we ached and were all worn out. She retired to an attic and had a sleep, and I went and sat in a wee back room and listened to an enthusiast on the Angora goat business. He, too, seemed able to keep on all night with an occasional change of audience.
Apart from going to the occasional dances, the women mostly stayed at home. The men normally went to Weed to sit on boxes in or by the stores and "whittle" anything they could lay hands on.
About this time, we lent the old cabin to Mr. Ehart, his son-in-law, and our old Texan friend High-Low-Jack to camp in. They had a contract to build some fences for P.J. and his brother, whose cabin was next to ours a little farther down the creek. One day, when they were not at work, High-Low-Jack offered to take Marie and me right over the huge mountain behind Glen-Eben to see a Mr. Land, who had lately come there to take up a claim in the canyon beyond. There was no trail but High-Low-Jack said it would be easy enough, and so it would had it not been so slippery and steep. In many places the snow had melted and then frozen over into a sheet of ice over the steep mountain side. Several times we got in such tight places that even High-Low-Jack hardly knew what to do, and we would stop to discuss the matter. By this time, we were all afoot leading our horses, slipping and sliding across the icy slopes.
Near the bottom of the mountain there were no trees, but it was still steep and slippery. I unloosed one end of my horse’s reins, as to afford me a longer lead line, set me down with knees clasped tight to my chest and tobogganed down. I arrived amid shouts of laughter from the Land children grouped below. They’d all been out wondering what the commotion was on the mountain, long before they could see us. Needless to say, we returned home by the road - such as it was.
Old man Reynolds lived up almost on our summit, and this winter he was alone. His wife and boy had gone down to the plains for her health and his schooling. They had the wagon and team, so the old man had no way of getting about. There were no near neighbors, so when we could, Marie and I would go up to see him and take him his mail. He was ten or eleven mile farther up the creek than Glen-Eben, and the road was very bad with snow and ice all winter. I wish I knew how to describe the beauty of my beloved mountains in the winter; the pines and firs glistened as though clad in myriad’s of diamonds and glorious white drapes. The ground, a wonderful white carpet over seldom-trodden canyon floors and hillsides. The glorious blue sky overhead – but I give up – one must live it to realize it.
When it came time to plow, I borrowed two mules for a few days, Balaam and Balak. But they were so slow and oh so hard-mouthed! I had to loose the plow and tug at one rein with both hands to turn them at the end of each furrow. In the end, we broke my dear Wee Boy (horse) to harness, and I did my plowing with him and Cherry (other horse). In time, I bought a second-hand, very light wagon and Boy and Cherry made a dandy wee team when we needed a wagon for light hauling.
Sometimes in May, we set out for a camping trip. The party consisted of Mrs. Harry Tod (who was Mrs. Westlake’s daughter who had come from New York for her health), Lila, High-Low-Jack as guide, Marie and me. Jack had a pack horse for his own and Mrs. Todd’s outfit, and I had a pack horse for ours. I had a huge canvas sheet called a "tarp," it covered our bedding top to bottom. We laid it on the ground, then "made our bed," folding over the tarp we could hook it down on both sides if so wanted. Nights were some cool up there, and no fooling. As well as our bedding, we had to take grub for three or four days and grain for the horses. It all made some "pack," five people and seven horses.
There was not much grass about so early in the year. We were booked for an uninhabited part of the range called the Rincon, a huge basin-like place surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by a long continuous precipice that abruptly drops down to the desert. It is, or was, a great grazing bench and there were any amount of mavericks (unbranded cattle) and horses. It is very rough country in parts, and hard to gather cattle in. Except in the rainy season, water is scarce, though there were a few springs known to the initiated.
In my day, there was no known way to get a wagon down into the Rincon. I was told there was one or two goat ranches, but we did not come across them.
The first night out, we camped at "Wild Boy Spring." Tradition has it that once a wild boy was found there and captured. We just had to camp here for there was no other water within reach, and we had been without for many hours. But even in our parched condition, that water was too much for us. To begin with, it was potent with some objectionable tasting mineral and to be second with, it was rendered unfit for use by the number of cattle daily wallowing in and around it. We cheered each other with the thought of coffee, but even with boiling and the addition of coffee and sugar, we could not camouflage it to an advantage. Jack promised us better water for the next night.
Next day, we rode around a bit - we did not see any wild animals, but came across two traps probably set by some goat herder to catch lobo wolves. The goats there were mostly Angoras, kept for the clip. We also came across a piece of poisoned goat meat. After that I had no peace of mind for Peter (dog), who was with us. I had already lost Sandy that way.
That night, we camped at Cherry Springs, up on the side of a mountain. There was a wee plateau, just about big enough for us to make camp on. The water here was fine.
There was no grazing up there, and even though the horses were hobbled, next morning two were gone. Jack eventually tracked them down and got them back to camp. Then Cherry, Marie’s mare, took ill with colic (the only wonder to me is that we all weren’t ill after that awful messed up water we had used the night before). Jack said he’d soon cure Cherry and he made a fearful concoction in the frying pan - of cut up plug tobacco boiled in water. He chewed tobacco as did most the men up there. Many of the women, particularly from Texas, "dipped" snuff. To return to Cherry and her pains, the ever resourceful Jack found a bottle and drenched the pony with that abominable mixture. I thought it would surely be kill or cure, and cure it was.
Next day, we noticed High-Low-Jack every now and then ride up to a tree and pick at it. We discovered that the poor fellow had used up all his precious plug of tobacco on Cherry, and was reduced to chewing the pinon gum which oozes out of a small species of pine tree. Most of my neighbors, mothers and daughters, who did not "dip", chewed gum.
The day we came across the wolf traps, we heard some firing, but so no one. Afterwards, we learned that a neighbor, Ol’ Man Masterson, had shot a bear.
As time went on, I had more sheds, etc… put up. Also, corrals and fences to keep both poultry and stock out of patches where I was experimenting with Timothy, Bluegrass, fruit trees, etc…
During the rainy season, we often had visitors. One great pastime was rifle and revolver practice in which Marie and I joined, hitting nails on the head, driving bullets down an old cartridge hull at a given distance, and so on (or trying to).
In the spring and summer, the cattlemen whose ranches were down on the Flats, threw their herds up into the mountains for summer grazing. It was customary for we homesteaders to round-up and cut out some of the range cows to milk. We’d ride around till we saw a likely looking cow with a young calf (sometimes several), and drive them back to our corrals. Next morning, we’d turn the cows out onto the range, but keep back the calves in the corral. After a day or two the cows would go off contentedly to graze, come back night and morning when we’d let them into the corral. We’d get our milk while the calf got his.
Cowboys rode through the mountains every now and then and would look at the calves penned up. If they looked sleek and well-fed, they would ride on. If not, they would conclude that the homesteader was taking more milk from the calves than was fair and let them go. So if we homesteaders wanted to milk range cows, we had to keep them supplied with salt and not rob the calves.
In course of time, I felt I’d got to where I might make a start with a few cows of my own. But though the country was overrun with cattle, it was a hard matter to buy a cow or two. The cattlemen did not like to sell, except to be butchered, as they did not want their brands to be scattered over the country among small stock owners. However, I finally heard of Jim Gould, who was a trader as well as a cattle rancher.
I hired Burr Meeker, a half-breed to go with Marie and me on our cow buying quest. None of us knew the way, for Meeker, too, was new to these parts. To the Gould ranch, it was a two day trip by wagon road - but by the trail over the mountains, we were told we could do it in one day. We had to go five or six miles up our own creek, and then strike a trail almost due north right across the mountains. About noon we struck the Sacramento Canyon. We had passed one cabin along the way, and here they told us we were on the right track. They said we would probably find Jim Gould on the Sacramento, as he had to bring his cattle and horses up from the plains on account of water shortage.
Well, just as we got to the mouth of Carrisa Canyon, where it runs into the Sacramento, we came upon a picture such as my soul delighted in. On rounding a bend, we came upon an old tumble-down cabin. Grouped around were a bunch of men, some squatting, some holding up the door posts and some lying on the ground. All were booted and spurred, their saddle horses scattered around, and there were two huge black dogs. They were smooth-coated, enormous, handsome, and fearful looking fellows.
We rode into this picturesque group and asked if they could tell us anything of the whereabouts of Mr. Jim Gould. One man straightened himself from the door post and said "this is him," whereupon another rose from a squatting posture and came forward. He might have been fifty or thereabouts, tall, broad and massive - with a wee goatee beard. He wore heavy top boots, spurs, velvet cord trousers (most men wore overall pants), shirt, open cord waistcoat, cartridge belt and a big felt hat. He was the picture of the whole outfit, and to me, another Bret Harte type in the flesh. He said all his stock was now scattered all over the mountains and he was camping up there with his "boys," but if we would ride on eight miles down the Sacramento to Daugherty’s goat ranch - his wife was there and would put us up for the night. He said if he could run across any suitable milk cows, he’d drive them down that evening for us to look at.
Where we struck the Sacramento, it lay at a much lower altitude than our part of the Agua Chiquita. This year they’d had a drought there and on the plains, and it looked to us bare and desolate – no grass and creek almost dry, though it was called a river.
Towards evening, we hit the goat ranch and were made really welcome - despite the fact that they were already more than full up. We swelled the house party to fifteen, and on top of that, Mr. Gould and two of his punchers turned up, but without any cows. The house boasted an organ, but no musician, so Marie played for us and some sang. Then one of the "boys" played the guitar and another entertained us on the mouth organ.
For the night, I know eight men were packed into one room, all around on the floor. We women folk shared the bedrooms with no space to spare. In the morning it was a sight to see the goat herders coming past the house with the great herd of Angoras, about 2000 head. We went off with Mr. Gould, the small Buster Gould and bigger Daugherty boy. We went over a trail, right across the last ridge of mountains and down into the plains. Then we swung around and came back up the Sacramento in the hope of dropping on some likely cattle. In the end, I bought two cows with heifer calves. As soon as I could, I had High-Low-Jack, he was an erstwhile Texas cowboy, brand my cattle for me. I had already acquired a registered brand of my own, a horseshoe with the letter P in it.
We had no actual church out here, but there were plenty of neighbors of a more or less religious turn of mind. Though representing many denominations, they all banded together and reckoned to meet at the school house every Sunday. The speaker of the day would arise and begin his discourse, which according to the individual might last from one to three or four hours. One Sunday, Marie and I saw our first baptism by immersion in the creek about two miles below the school house.
Up one of the side canyons lived Old Man Masterson. He came to try and sell me a team of horse, but we did not make a deal. He told us about his daughter Nora – she was a character. At this time she was about thirty years old, claimed she was married to an English Lord when she was sixteen but he deserted her. I don’t remember all I heard, but she was credited with having killed one man and holding up two others. She got the drop on them by being the quickest to the draw, and made them put their hands up and do her bidding. At this time, she had just married again – a man much older than herself named Baldy Lane. He worked some at one of the logging camps, but they spent most of their time at the Masterson homestead.
Another neighbor, old man Hammond, was out looking for his goats on the mountain opposite Masterson’s place one day when he heard a shot. For some time he had had a suspicion that the Masterson outfit helped themselves to his or anybody else’s goats and other livestock when they wanted meat. He hurried down the mountain and out of the timber just in time to see old Masterson cutting the throat of a fine stock range bull. The bull had the "RUN" brand which belonged to Jim Jeffries, a cattle man. If it had been a young steer, it would not have been so bad, but one of his registered range bulls was the limit.
Hammond turned his horse and made off for the nearest cattlemen he knew of, Jack and Lee Green. They in turn went to Mr. Buckner, our local Justice of the Peace. He got out warrants for Masterson and Lane and rode off with some other "boys" to arrest them. Lane had skipped, but they got Masterson. On reaching the cabin, they found the beef already salted down. To prove a case they needed the branded hide, but they failed to find it that trip. When they started off with the old man, they noticed that he kept looking towards his artichokes (used as cattle feed, stalks included) patch. Next day, some of the "boys" went back to hunt for the hide again. They finally found it, under one of the shocks of artichokes they saw the grown had been disturbed, about two feet down they found the hide. They eventually tracked down Baldy Lane, and both were taken to stand trial in Alamogordo. Poor old man Hammond had to disappear after Masterson got out on bail, as he had vowed to "get him" for informing on him.
After I had been at Glen-Eben some time, a small sawmill was introduced lower down the creek. The day of the unloading of the machinery was quite an event for all who knew about it. Horsemen gathered from near and far, some to offer volunteer help, some to just loaf according to their various make-ups.
There was a dirt road down the Agua Chiquita on which each settler was supposed to do so much work each year. When my turn came, I borrowed the road scraper, a huge dust-pan or scoop shovel-like affair, with two handles at one end for the operator and double-tree and single-trees at the other end to hitch a team to. As most the roads were more or less on mountainsides, one would plow out a few furrows from the upper side and then clean that up with the scraper, dumping it on the lower side. As years went by, narrower roads would gradually widen out a bit and always be adding to the solid base.
Although there were lots of so-called "panthers" in the mountains, I never saw one alive. I did hear their weird wailing call now and then, when up side canyons. I’d get off Boy and sit quietly on a nearby log or rock till I could tell by the sound which way the beast was traveling. If it was towards my trail, I’d wait till it had crossed and was well on its way up the next mountain. Most of the trails, as far as possible, wound around in the bottom of the canyons and the panthers seemed to keep more to the upper reaches of the mountains. We had panthers, cinnamon bears, lobo wolves and wildcats.
During one of my most severe winters a Glen-Eben (they varied quite a bit), we had such a heavy fall of snow that my barn roof collapsed like a pancake. The combined weight of snow and roof packed my hay so tight that it was next to impossible for me to get hay out for the cattle and horses. I just had to pull and tug handfuls out by the doorway. I was tugging away almost in tears with exhaustion, when a voice behind me said, "Oh, Miss Mac, you go to the house and I’ll tend to that for you." It was High-Low-Jack. He’d come down the creek to see if we were all right. He managed to rustle out a scant ration for the livestock and promised to come back the next day with help to get the snow off and the roof raised again, which he did.
We had one terribly dry year while I was in the Sacramentos. The creek and springs dried up and the range cattle died like flies around drying up mud holes. The stench was terrible as one rode up and down the canyon. That year, Mr. John Prather made a trade with me that he would board me and two of my saddle horses, and have some of his cowhands come up from the ranch to take my cows and extra horses to be with his stock in some far away range he had. In return, I was to teach his wee boy during the summer. So I took Chappie and Boy and set out for the Prather ranch on the Flats. Tom was an only child, a dear wee outlaw (so far as school regime was concerned) of eight or nine years.
In 1904, two dear old friends came to visit from England. Marie and I planned to meet them in El Paso. I arranged for Hurricane Joe, one of the regular freighters, to take Marie and me down in his empty wagon and bring me back a load of freight at the regular one way rate. Our friends and us would come back through Alamogordo to Cloudcroft by rail. We would hire a "rig" there to drive us home on an easy one day trip.
Joe took a short cut down to the Flats – down an awful apology for a road, barely passable for even an empty wagon. The road went into what he called Scott Able Hole, a trail seldom used and dangerous at that time for a wagon. However, it was a cut off that saved about two days on the trip. We were thankful to arrive at the bottom right side up. Some miles down Scott Able Canyon we ran into Sacramento Canyon and traversed that for a while, we then crossed where the mountains were low into another set of canyons – Grapevine, Arkansas, Beef Camp, and so on. We finally emerged from El Paso Canyon onto the Flats and made our way towards our night’s camping ground, Prather Ranch. It was not much more than a windmill feeding some wooden troughs and a couple of old buildings. This was old man Prather’s ranch, he and his wife had a fine home in Alamogordo. The other Prather ranch I mentioned earlier was their son John’s – he and his wife had an up-to-date house on it, it was called Dagger Ranch.
The trip went on, rather uneventfully (heavy editing has left things out here), and we finally reached El Paso. We shopped El Paso out while waiting, met our friends and headed by train to Alamogordo. We spent the night, and the next morning went on by train up the wonderful mountain climb of zig-zags, curves and switchbacks. It took us through all types of scenery – from desert and barren rocky canyons, cottonwoods, yucca and mesquite to the plants of the higher country and the all green and pine clad Cloudcroft. We spent the nigh, leaving early in the morning in a hired "rig." It had a good team and we got home in record time.
Shortly after Pater and My Dear (the two friends from the old country) came to visit, Marie’s grandmother insisted on her return to England. I was so sorry to see her go, but at least I had Pater and My Dear for a while longer.
It had been hard enough to say goodbye to Marie, but when My Dear and Pater concluded their visit it just about knocked the props out from under me. But, barring my love for them, I loved my mountains and had no yearnings for the more so-called lady like life of the past. I had made my bed and was glad to lie in it, regardless of the price I had to pay.
There was a man at one of the logging camps that had lost his wife, and he was left with eleven children. To ease him up for a while, some of the kiddies went to stay with friends. I was asked to take Euel, a boy of eleven, and I was glad to. He was fine company. He had not had any schooling, so I set out to teach him the three "Rs." Euel stayed with me for a while, then one day during a snow storm he went to the barn - and didn’t come back. After a long search he was found back at the logging camp, he had been homesick for his brothers and sisters. He later wanted to come back, but I said no. I had been thinking of adopting him, but then I would not have been able to keep my promise to my brother Eben to return home within seven years.
As time moved on, I had to plan for my "proving up" on the claim, as I had promised Eben to go home and say "Hello" when I got my patent (Uncle Sam’s title deed for the homestead). I began to look around for someone to live at Glen-Eben while I was gone. In the nick of time, Mr. And Mrs. White turned up from Texas – he was the very same squatter I had bought out some years before. They were glad to take care of the place on shares and I left for Alamogordo while court was convened there.
We went the short route to Alamogordo. After crossing the divide, we made our way down the barren rocky slopes on the desert side of the mountains. I was leading Boy, as I always did up and down extra steep and rocky place, when I caught my foot under the edge of a firmly embedded stone and fell - swinging around somehow in the fall. I must have passed out for a while, but when I came to, Boy, though free, was standing with his head down by me as though nosing me. When I went to get up, I thought my left leg had fallen off at the knee. So down I flopped and turned aside the flap of my skirt to look, but no, there was my leg as usual. So I got up again and this time I was able to stand, though the pain was extreme. I was in the midst of the wildest and least traveled part of my mountains, and seriously hurt. It was now up to Boy to pack me into Alamogordo, without any relief from my weight, regardless of the going. Boy had a rough time, sliding down some of the steep spots where I would normally have walked beside him, but he got me to Alamogordo.
We made Alamogordo well after dark and went to the feed yard, where I told the yard man that I was badly hurt and would he kindly get me off the horse and into a room, and take care of Boy for me. The doctor came and did my knee and badly sprained ankle in "Denver Mud" and told me I would never walk again.
For a time, I was so swamped in pain and misery and the idea of never walking again, that I guess my memory is not clear on how I did my "proving up." I think the court came to me, anyhow, I was fixed up along those lines. In due time, Mr. White and Mrs. Tod arrived with his wagon and mule team. We headed back for Glen-Eben.
After this came a long dreary time of many months on my back mostly, then crutches. One day I thought if only I could get on Wee Boy, it would ease things up. I asked Mr. White to get Boy from the pasture and saddle him up, I’d find how I could handle myself in the saddle again. But Boy did not seem at all well. He didn’t act just like colic, more I thought like "Blind Staggers," which I had often heard of at home, but never seen. After a time, I sent up the creek for Mr. Smith - Boy was just getting worse and worse. The men tried everything they knew of, but to no avail. About 2am, we finally gave up, Honey Boy, dear wee warrior, seemed to be in such agony that we decided that the kindly thing was to let him go. I gave word for high-Low-Jack to shoot him. Mr. Smith thought that Boy had eaten wild parsnip, which he claimed was a deadly poison. At this stage, I struck out for the Old Country where my knee was to be fixed.
Jessie was back in the US a year later with her knee recovering, but this basically ends her time in the Sacramento Mountains.
This article was taken from the actual writings of Jessie De Prado Macmillan Farrington that first appeared in the New Mexico Historical Review and were provided by the Sacramento Mountains Museum in Cloudcroft. There had to be some serious editing of the original manuscript and to view the complete copy visit the Sacramento Mountains Museum or the Alamogordo Library. If you have any information to add about this story, please contact the paper.