Penasco Pioneers - Names on a Map by Jim Mason
Just north of the old Davis Ranch house on the Sunspot highway and across the road from the spring that is the highest source of the upper Penasco River sits a little red shack at the mouth of a small dry canyon. The little shack was built by Tommy, younger brother of Bill Davis, as a place to stay in the Summers while he worked on the ranch with Bill. The little canyon in question is identified on the maps as Fenimore Canyon. In the other direction, just south of the ranch house, Atkinson Canyon cuts west and farther down the valley, after it bends east another dry canyon named Schofield cuts north and quickly plays out. Where do these names come from?
In the 1910 census of High Rolls NM (Precinct 6, Otero County) we can find the family of J.R. Fennimore in hh (household) 51. The Davis ranch of course was not even a ranch in 1910 and by the lack of entries in the census, apparently it wasn't yet a logging camp either (logging at the time had been stopped on federal lands). J.R.'s family includes his wife Fannie and seven children.
The next place after Fennimore is that of Spast Schofield, a widower of seventy-three living alone presumably in the canyon of that name. I cannot but pause at the sort of will that would enable one to live so isolated a life at that age and yet no doubt on a clear Spring night in those mountains Mr Schofield's answer would be "why not?".
The census information reveals a little of the path that brought the Fennimores to the Penasco. The oldest child listed (Nellie) was born in Texas in 1893. The next three were born in Oklahoma in 1895 (James), 1898 (Nettie) and 1899 (Thomas). Then in 1903 they were in California where a fifth child (Dora) was born. The children from 1908 on (Virginia and Dell) were born in New Mexico so the family had been here for at least two years.
It also shows that J.R., or James Roney as we happen to know he was named, was born in Nebraska in 1862-3, that Fannie was born in Louisiana in 1872-3 and that they had been married for nineteen years. This brief glimpse, a snapshot in time, is about all we can get of the family from the census but we can observe something about the neighborhood.
The list begins with William Mauldin, grandfather of the World War II cartoonist. In hh 2 is Edgar Cadwallader, long associated with High Rolls and apples; both men are in their sixties. In hh 16 was Simon Kotsky, High Rolls storekeeper. Evidently the census taker began pretty close to the village. Further down the list (or up the mountain) are John and Lola Waldrip, hh 28, newly married daughter and son-in-law of Shelby Davis over in Wills Canyon. More newlyweds, Charles and Lettie Hudman, are in hh 47, and in hh 48 is D.R. Atkinson. People moved a lot in those days but pretty close to this time Atkinson must have been in the canyon that bears his name. He was forty-three years old at the time.
From the order of names it appears the route followed by the census taker may have been up Haynes Canyon, then south along the rim to the present intersection of Upper Penasco and Sunspot highway, after which he backtracked to go down Russia and Cox canyons. The old road, I am told, went by Camp Russia, then over the ridge to Pierce and Cox canyons. The remainder of the list, Charles Bonnell, hh 56, Henry Tally, hh 63, Alice Hudman, hh 66, a widow of sixty-three (the Hudman home place was in Pierce Canyon), and J.T. Thomason, hh70, were along that route.
Charles and Gracie Bonnell had only recently (1909) come back to New Mexico (OCPFH, v.1,p.36) and it seems reasonable to place them in Russia where Gracie's recently widowed mother lived. With them were his brother Frank and sister-in-law Lulu (See OCPFH, vol 2, p 47), just married. Frank would later go to work for the Forest Service and Charles for the Myers Co in Cloudcroft. Tally and Thomason were farther down Cox Canyon. The Thomason place today belongs to Frank Bonnell's daughter Carrie (Green) who at 83 still lives on it and still ranches. About the Tallys we will say more in a minute.
SOME FENIMORE HISTORY
An old picture shows James Roney with a girl about 4, said to be Nellie, and other family members (men) in a tent house of the style used in Oro Grande. However if it is Nellie the picture would have been taken in 1897, a time when they appear to have still been in OK, and according to grandson Ray Fenimore of Alamogordo they were never in Oro Grande.
Family information relates that the family went for a time to California, a move that is confirmed by the birth there of daughter Dora in 1903. It is said they didn't remain there long but returned in a year or two. Perhaps it was from California that they came to New Mexico.
They were in New Mexico at least by 1907 for in that year they were farming south of Alamagordo when James recieved a bullet wound in the leg in a dispute over water (as I described in an earlier article).
James Roney was a man of small stature and not of gentle temperment. He had thick black hair which he is said to have cut twice a year with sheep shears. He is remembered as not fond of children although daughter Nellie (Davis) was always fond of him and he of her. His second son, Thomas, would leave home as a teen after a whipping and never came back, eventually making a career in the Navy. James was a natural peddler, always selling or buying something.
A story is told of them making a trip to Arkansas and returning in two wagons pulled by spans of mules when daughters Virginia and Nancy Dell were young teens, the two girls driving one of the wagons while their father drove the other. This had to be after 1920 and James Otto the oldest son was in Bisbee AZ working for the railroad. Ray Fenimore, James Otto's son, says his grandfather owned the place in Fenimore Canyon twice and built two houses there, living west of Alamogordo in the interim. Lora Fenimore, Ray's mother, told me that they came back in 1925 and built the house in Fenimore Canyon. Evidently this was the second following their return from Arkansas and the first was around 1910.
I had the privaledge to meet Lora Fenimore not long before she died at age 96. She was born Lora Ferris in 1903 in a railroad camp where the highway now passes the ski lodge in Snow Canyon. She said her earliest memory was about 1908 when they lived in Snow Canyon. When she was four her father had typhoid fever and was taken to the hospital in Alamogordo. He had been declared well enough to go home and the family went early in the morning to meet train in Cloudcroft but he was not on it. They later learned the bad news; he had died the night before after he was fed the wrong meal in hospital (typhoid disrupts the digestive system and requires a very special diet).
About two years later Lora's mother died and Lora and her brother were orphans. They were then raised by various family members in the area including aunt and uncle, Henry and Maggie Tally mentioned above. They hadn't seen the end of typhoid fever because in 1915 it hit the Tally family (OCPFH, v.1, p.436) and they probably lived temporarily elsewhere but it was the Tallys that she remembered raising her.
After she was grown Lora went to Bisbee Arizona to work and there met James Otto. They were married on Jan 8, 1920. The couple returned to the Penasco eight years later and bought the farm in Fenimore Canyon from his parents who then moved to Cloudcroft. There they lived until James Roney's death in 1935. In addition to farming James Otto would become the mail carrier on the Upper Penasco, using a buckboard in Summer and sleigh in Winter to make his rounds.