Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Little Piece of Quiet: Lingo, New Mexico

I might as well stop pretending that I’m going to post more regularly and admit that, modern life being what it is, time is always tight, and seemingly ever-increasingly so. However, one way to get new posts written is to take to my sick bed and thus find myself confined to the small space between the bedroom and kitchen table. As such is the case today, let us leave the hustle and bustle of modernity behind once again and step back into the past, this time to visit Lingo, New Mexico.

The little village of Lingo, which can still claim at least one family as residents, is on the eastern edge of New Mexico, just five miles from Texas. It’s a tiny dot on the map at the western extremity of the staggeringly vast Llano Estacado/Staked Plain plateau. As such, it sits among some other places we’ve visited in the region, such as Pep, Causey, House, and Highway.

Jean M. Burrough’s “Roosevelt County History and Heritage” leads off with a handwritten letter about the Bilberry family’s arrival in what was not yet Lingo. They lived in a “two-room shack, dirt floor” and Finis Bilberry farmed and raised sheep. School was first held in 1916, the schoolhouse being a one-room dug-out at a place regrettably named Nigger Hill. Also known as Dead Negro Hill, this was where, in July 1877, a group of African-American soldiers and buffalo hunters abandoned their pursuit of some Comanche who had stolen stock and killed one hunter. Desperate and dying of thirst in the summer heat, the men began to search for water, some going 86 hours without a drink. Five would die in this incident, which was sometimes remembered as the “Staked Plains Horror." In 2005, the name of the rise was officially changed to Buffalo Soldier Hill.

Speaking of place names, in “The Place Names of New Mexico,” Robert Julyan notes that Lingo was known as Need in 1916, becoming Lingo in 1918. No one knows why it was originally called Need, but in 1918 the postal authorities thought the name too close to Weed, a settlement down south in Otero County. At that point, not only did Need become Lingo, but the post office got moved three miles to the north. I don’t know why the post office also had to move. Anyway, it’s been speculated that Lingo took its name from the way the people spoke (i.e., “the jargon, slang, or argot, of a particular field, group, or individual”), but more probably it references a family, now forgotten.

Now, I often feel like City of Dust is in a race against dusty oblivion as so many of the buildings documented on this blog are disappearing fast, and those in Lingo are no different. But unlike Lucy, NM, where I got there too late to photograph the old school or the Formwalt house, in this case I arrived just in the nick of time. Shown above and at left is the post office, where around 1953 a Mrs. Balko was postmistress. Mrs. Fanny Brown took the position on April 20, 1968, staying until the post office closed in 1984 (possibly on November 2). I visited on December 12, 2015 and on Valentine's Day 2016 the old PO burned to the ground. Apparently someone was driving a pick-up with a BBQ grill in the back and hot coals became airborne. Numerous blazes were started, consuming a total of 1,083 acres in southeastern Roosevelt County, but at least no one was hurt and no other structures were damaged.

Below is the crumbling Lingo Baptist Church, reportedly also used by other denominations on occasion, possibly after a second church in town closed. The general store is shown at the top of this post. Other buildings included a café, hardware store, basketball gym, and a shop in a Quonset hut, none of which still stand.

Fish fries and dances were held at the high school, which was across the street from the post office. The dances were a big deal as such stuff was not allowed in nearby Causey. However, Causey was where you would go to get your hair styled by the much-loved Lingo resident Edna Ashbrook. Lingo’s last graduating class was in 1945 and numbered five: Meryl Terry, Pete Rogers, Billy Joe Cunningham, Otis Foster, and Gene Collins. You can still find the blacksmith shop, but it’s fallen into a jumbled heap. Things are certainly much quieter than when Lingo could boast of the Hair twins--Judson and Jettie--and the Henry triplets--Anna, Bunna, and Lanna--although, you know, sometimes quiet can be nice.

Now I must return to my Theraflu.

The only published sources of information on Lingo that I could find were Burrough’s “Roosevelt County History and Heritage” and Julyan’s “The Place Names of New Mexico.” Wikipedia has a long entry on the “Buffalo Soldier tragedy of 1877.” Everything else for this post came from the many good people that left their recollections of growing up and living in Lingo on a series of photographs on the City of Dust Facebook page. Those photos and the accompanying comments can be found HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Empty Desks: Contreras, New Mexico

In Socorro County, New Mexico, tucked off a side road that parallels I-25, not far from a muddy stretch of the Rio Grande, is the little village of Contreras. This was where a man named Matías Contreras once raised cattle and sheep and gave his name to a small community. A post office opened in 1919 but closed in 1935.

Not far south of Contreras is La Joya, the literal end of the road, and, in fact, a map from 1918 has Contreras as Los Ranchos de la Joya. La Joya’s recorded history post-European contact goes back much farther, to 1598, when Juan de Oñate's expedition found a Piro Indian pueblo there and called it Nueva Sevilleta because the setting reminded the Spanish explorers of Seville, Spain.

To me, the most striking building in Contreras is the old, long-empty school, naturally. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that students were attending classes there in the 1930’s. So perhaps it's one of the many Works Progress Administration (WPA) structures built in the area around the time of the Great Depression. Nearby Alamillo has a WPA school that became (and might still be) a residence, although it looks quite different.

There used to be a plaque to the right of the front doors (see top photo), which I somehow managed to miss. Later I was told it commemorated some local folks involved with the school, but before I could get back to look more closely it had been removed. I don’t think it was stolen though; probably it was taken off because the building is in such poor condition. Maybe whoever has it will read this and tell us what it says! I should mention that I photographed the school a few years ago and not only is it in worse shape now, it's also been fenced-off.

Otherwise, the San Jose Catholic Church, part of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, is well-maintained and hosts a fiesta in March. There are no going commercial or civic concerns, but there are some well-kept homes and, if you visit whilst under the vengeful eye of the relentless afternoon sun on a parched, triple-digit day, plenty of dust. Of course, as this is the blog for connoisseurs of dust, everything is as it should be with this trip to Contreras, New Mexico.

There’s not a lot out there on Contreras, so pretty much all the historical information for this post came from Robert Julyan’s trusty “The Place Names of New Mexico.”

I have a backlog of so many small towns and villages in New Mexico that I may well never get to them all at this rate. But I can keep trying! Next time I’ll just reach my hand into the hat and see what I pull out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Ruins by the Rails: Ricardo, New Mexico

Ricardo, New Mexico is yet another of the many towns that came to life seemingly overnight as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF RR) built the Belen Cut-off through the east-central part of the state. Located in De Baca County, a few miles south of Highway 60, the recorded history of Ricardo appears to be scant at best. The town’s name is thought to have been that of a railroad official, and Ricardo, right along the tracks, was an AT&SF RR section house and water station.

Ricardo had a post office, which operated from 1908-1956, after which point the mail went to Fort Sumner. There was also a school house, which I’ve been told was comparable in size to the First Presbyterian Church of Taiban. In the late-1950’s the school was purchased and hauled away so the lumber could be reused. A vintage photo of the train depot would seem to indicate that Ricardo at one point had the one and ONLY flower garden in De Baca County.

While none of what I’ve described still stands, one gem does persist—at least for now—and that is the Ricardo hotel. A wonderful two-story adobe structure, it’s true that it's surely near collapse.However, now a lone sentinel over this small part of the eastern plains, much of its old charm and majesty somehow remains. It’s not hard to imagine travelers newly arrived off the train making haste on a windy night or cold winter’s day to find some comfort in the hotel, or perhaps lounging on the porch of a fine spring morning, the wildflowers blooming way-off into the distance. If you’re quiet, beneath the prairie wind you can almost hear boots slowly climbing the shattered wooden stairs.

You don’t have to be quiet to hear cows though, a couple dozen of which may be quite excited to see you until they learn you have no food. Then they just seem vaguely hostile. I assume the concrete structure below was once used to water such cattle, but I’m not certain. Perhaps someone can provide some insight.

I should also mention that not only is Ricardo remote, it's on private ranchland. At one time I thought it might've been owned by the railroad, but that's not the case. So unless you have a reservation, the Ricardo hotel should remain guest-free, as it has for decades.

And that's all I know about the ghost town of Ricardo. I would love to hear more from anyone that might have something to tell, so please leave a comment if you do. For now, “The Place Names of New Mexico” has the most to say, and I picked up a bit more info from some knowledgeable viewers of the City of Dust Facebook page. I got the vintage photo from NM ghost town photographer Beata Certo, but no one knows the original source. Anyway, thanks, folks!

Next time I believe we’ll visit Contreras, down in Socorro County.