Thursday, September 20, 2012

Almost Gone: Jicarilla, New Mexico

About seven miles south of Ancho, down an unexpectedly bumpy gravel county road (I’ve gotta learn to pay better attention to map symbols), is what remains of Jicarilla. Named for the surrounding Jicarilla Mountains (jicarilla is Spanish for “little basket” or “little gourd”) and, by extension, the Jicarilla Apache, gold first started being pulled out of the area prior to the 1820’s. This is when the Spanish, followed by the Mexicans, came with pans and wooden bowls called “bateas” to work the creeks. Although, truth be told, it was often Native American slaves that did the actual work. In 1864, the U.S. Army forced the local Apache onto distant reservations. By then, Texans had been drifting in and trying their luck for over 20 years. Prospectors arrived en masse in the 1880’s and by 1892 Jicarilla had a post office, which also served as an assay office and store. That's it pictured above. At this time, about 200 people lived in Jicarilla and by 1900 a saloon had opened and the town had a Justice of the Peace.

It was during the Great Depression that the population of Jicarilla peaked at around 300, when desperate people tried to support themselves by gold mining. Actually, I think that kind of thing is happening around the country again right now. Mining could bring in as much as $7 per day and there was plenty of game to provide extra food. But Jicarilla must’ve been a little too remote for most folks as nearly everyone left once the economy improved. By 1942, Jicarilla was pretty much done.

However, some mining continued until relatively recently, when the Lincoln National Forest, which borders Jicarilla, decided to crack down on miners who lived or worked on federal land. I’ve been told that this was at least partially a result of miners dumping waste in the forest. Whatever the case, the last miner in the area was a man named Jerry Fennell, who had spent 30 years working his claim, finding a little gold here and there, and living in what had been Jicarilla’s general store until one day he was required to submit an official plan of operation. Unable to pay the reclamation bond, Mr. Fennell and Dusty, his well-named burro, shut everything down in the early 2000’s, the last in a line of miners stretching back to the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apaches, who extracted turquoise from the mountains in the late 1500’s.

Almost a mile to the south is the log schoolhouse above, built in 1907. Also functioning as a church and general meeting place, it was used through the Depression. The fellow from White Oaks that I mentioned in the LAST POST recalled going to dances in the schoolhouse. He was also at Normandy and told us some harrowing tales of storming the beach. I may say more about him when I finally do a post on White Oaks.

During our visit there appeared to have been some recent activity around a more modern-looking green cabin on the east side of the road. This place is known as the "Hunt Casita," after a family that lived there in the late 1970's. But the post office, small adobe general store (not pictured), and schoolhouse are entirely quiet, as is most of the area around Jicarilla these days. Above is a photo from Philip Varney of the post office looking quite a bit better than it does now, circa maybe 1980.

I got some information for this post from Legends of America. The story of Jicarilla’s last miner (and a good chronology of area mining) can be found HERE. A relative of the Hunt's (and friend of Jerry Fennell) provided a little extra detail. Of course, I grabbed a bit of background and general inspiration from Philip Varney.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE: I received a photo circa 1902 of the Little Joe Saloon, which is almost surely the same saloon I refer to above as opening in 1900. It is a wonderful shot submitted by the great-grandson and namesake of the saloon's original owner, Joe Long, who lived with his wife Viola in Jicarilla in the early 1900's. Another relative left a comment below about Mr. Long which says that Joe "gave up" the saloon for cattle ranching when his daughter was born in 1908. Apparently Joe and Viola then went on to have 11 more children.

Many thanks to Mr. Long for passing along a fantastic piece of family history which just happens to also be ghost town history.


James Boydd said...

My great grandparents and their children worked and lived in the Jicarillas in the 1930's. They made the ancho bricks and mined for gold to make ends meet. From the late 70's to the late 90's my great aunt and uncle lived in that general store and old post office. I spent many summers and some Christmas seasons up there with them. Jerry Fennel is a family friend and has done alot to preserve the mining history of the Jicarillas including fighting for miner's rights. I now own the mineral rights on the land adjacent to these buildings (thank you Jerry for protecting and holding onto those claims after my aunt and uncle died). I was just there in July and I am suprised someone would be attempting to live in any of those structures as they now belong to the Forest Service and were Posted No Tresspassing. Let alone they are in a deplorable unsafe condition and NOT being kept up as historical buildings as they should. By the way, when I was up there in July, someone had stolen the Jicarilla sign you seen in the second picture of the old post office. It has been there for decades and now it is gone. Sad.


jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comment, JB. It's always great to hear from someone with family history in an area. It sounds like your great grandparents were amongst the folks that were in Jicarilla around the Depression, trying to make a go of it. I didn't realize the post office had been occupied into the late 1990's.

That's really too bad that the Jicarilla sign was stolen. That was a real piece of history. Without some kind of upkeep the post office, in particular, is not going to last much longer. The old schoolhouse down the road is a sturdy structure, but could use some protection, too. As for the general store, I had assumed that actually wasn't on Forest Service land. If it *is* on FS land, whoever was there probably won't be there long.

Thanks again for your comment. It's much appreciated. Let us know if you ever have more information or updates to add. Best, JM

Anonymous said...

Did you ever think of contact Jerry Fennell on his take of how he was driven off the land? Mr Fennell is still a live and lived in a small town close to White Oaks. Your story said he did have the money to file but that is not the truth. If you will check the NM BLM you will find that he still has the open claims just behind the post office. He is and always will be one of my best friends. He blessed me with the right to go panning on his land, but the Forest will not allow people to work the claims.

jmhouse said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. Did you mean to say that Jerry DID have the money for the reclamation bond? I have not been in touch with Jerry and do not know how to contact him. If he would like to leave a comment here, I'd very much encourage him to do so.

There is a comment from James Boydd, who mentions being a friend of Jerry's, and I have been in touch with him a little bit. He says that he owns some mineral rights on land adjacent to the buildings. These were held by Jerry for Mr. Boydd's family. Are these part of the open claims you're referring to?

From the perspective of ghost towns and historical buildings, I can say that the post office and other buildings around Jicarilla are not being preserved and that's a shame.

Best Regards, JM

Ian Leisy said...

My Great-Great-Grandparents Joel(Joe) and Viola Long lived in Jicarilla in the early 1900's. I have an old photograph of the inside of the saloon, the photo is labeled:
with him behind the bar serving 4 or 5 patrons.

According to my grandfather, when his mother was born in 1908 Joe "gave up" the saloon. Apparently Joe and Viola went on to have 12 children total. I also have a few other images of them on horses and branding livestock in front of a building that doesn't match any pictured here. Not sure if it was their homestead. Apparently after leaving the saloon they started ranching cattle. I'd love to take a trip out there some day and have a look around.

jmhouse said...

Ian, thanks very much for your comment! Your family history regarding Jicarilla is fascinating. The saloon I mention as opening in 1900 must be the "Little Joe." Cool.

If you are ever able to get scans made of your photos and are alright with sharing them, please let me know. I would LOVE to include them with this post. You can find my e-mail on my profile page.

I highly recommend making a trip to the old town site someday if you can swing it. Several campsites are nearby and it's beautiful country.

Thanks again! JM

Anonymous said...


Jerry Fennel is a family friend and has done alot to preserve the mining history of the Jicarillas including fighting for miner's rights. I now own the mineral rights on the land adjacent to these buildings (thank you Jerry for protecting and holding onto those claims after my aunt and uncle died).,,,,,Did you ever think of contact Jerry Fennell on his take of how he was driven off the land? Mr Fennell is still a live and lived in a small town close to White Oaks. Your story said he did have the money to file but that is not the truth ,,, There is a comment from James Boydd, who mentions being a friend of Jerry's, and I have been in touch with him a little bit. He says that he owns some mineral rights on land adjacent to the buildings. These were held by Jerry for Mr. Boydd's family. Are these part of the open claims you're referring to?

jmhouse said...

Hi Anonymous,

This is an unusual comment as it seems that some of it was cut and pasted from previous comments. Perhaps you were simply quoting earlier commentary.

In any case, to answer your question, I believe the claims are different. Mr. Fennell's claim would seem to have reverted to the Forest Service while Mr. Boydd apparently still possesses the mineral rights adjacent to the buildings. However, I can't say for 100% certainty that this is true. Perhaps someone with better knowledge than me will read this and leave a comment here.

Thanks for your message! Best, JM

Anonymous said...

I did not think anyone would reply.
It is a cut and paste but I just wanted to know more ,,, what do you mean by: Mr.. Fennell's claim would seem to have reverted to the Forest Service (and why is that?)
And who are you exactly did you know Mr. Fennell

jmhouse said...

Hi Anonymous,

Mr. Fennell's claim--and all of what was Jicarilla, actually--is now inside the Lincoln National Forest, which is managed by the USDA Forest Service. If Mr. Fennell couldn't cover the reclamation bond associated with his operation plan, I assumed those mineral rights would have reverted to (perhaps if taxes weren't paid) or been bought by the Forest Service. Or they may simply be open claims that Mr. Fennell can't afford to work. Someone above commented to that effect and it may well be the case. In addition to the reclamation bond issue, Mr. Fennell was also told that he couldn't live on the claim, as he had been doing, because it was federal land.

However, it's now over a decade ago that Mr. Fennell was attempting to re-secure his mineral rights and I don't know if anything has changed since then. I have never spoken with Mr. Fennell, but I was in touch with Mr. Boydd at one time. He definitely still owns claims in Jicarilla but I am unclear as to whether these were Mr. Fennell's or other claims belonging to Mr. Boydd's family. My interest lies in the ghost town of Jicarilla and what remains of its few historic buildings.

In an attempt to avoid spambots, I don't post my e-mail in comments. However, if you have other questions, go to "view my complete profile" above and, on the next page, click on "e-mail" under "contact me." The e-mail address you'll be shown is current.

Best, JM

jmhouse said...

Just some more info--it does seem that Mr. Fennell still owns his claims but has not worked them for many years. More HERE. JM

Anonymous said...

Thanks,,,, I know about that stuff. . who are you? your email does not work for me..

jmhouse said...

Okay, I'll "encode" my e-mail address and you can add the punctuation. That should avoid the spambots: jmhouse(at)cityofdust(dot)com.

As for me, I'm just a ghost town aficionado, photographer, and (amateur) historian and this website is my main outlet. It's probably clear that what I know about mineral rights and open claims around Jicarilla wouldn't fill a thimble. My piece wasn't meant to chiefly be about Mr. Fennell at all, but that part of the story, which I at first learned about from this article, is usually what I get comments about. Of course, if you visit ghost towns in NM you're going to encounter mining history.

If you know the area, you might be interested in my post on Ancho, as well. You can see that HERE. I hope to get back to White Oaks and do a proper piece on that town, too.

Best, JM

Mike Ward said...

My dad was born in Ancho in 1927. He was born in the old store that was I believe owned by the Straley family. His family later moved to Alamagordo. HIs little sister Joyce, who now lives in Long Island, NY, was born in Tularosa. His little brother was born in Alamagordo. Dad left school at 17, to join the navy in late 1944. He later joined the army and also fought in Korea and Veit Nam. He remembers so much of the history of the area that is mindboggling to me and my brothers and sisters. In 2012, my brother Alan, myself and my brother-in-law Carson took my dad on a bucket list trip back to the area. We drove all over Alamagordo, Carrizozo, Pinion, Ancho and more of the surrounding area. When we stopped in Ancho, we met up with a retired miltary man that had fought in Europe and was part of the D-Day invasion. He was the only one living in Ancho. My brother took him back on another trip in 2014. They went on the Jicarilla mountain road, visited family grace sites in Luna and Pinion. Visited White Oak and the lava sites (MalPais). All three of us took him on a recent trip in September 2015. Two weeks later, my brother in law and his wife (our little sister) took him again and visited Lincoln and some other areas of interst, mainly to still look again at old family sites. On all four of these trips, we visited with Karen Mills who heads up the historical history information on Lincoln County. Mike Ward

jmhouse said...

I'm very pleased to get your comment, Mike Ward! I don't hear from many people with family connections to Ancho. Have you considered documenting the regional history that your father knows? Not many people are out there with that kind of deep, first-hand knowledge of the area. I imagine you came across my post on Ancho.

Do you recall if the man you met in Ancho was Claude Hobbs? He was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, but I thought he lived in Carrizozo. I knew there was still one resident in Ancho, but that would be most interesting if it was him. Mr. Hobbs sometimes gives tours of the old school in White Oaks, which he attended in the 1920's/1930's. You can hear a fascinating interview with him HERE.

Many thanks! JM

Guest said...

I talked with my father, James E. Johnson (my step father). I asked him just a few things about his family. His grand parents, James Harvey and Lillian Mae Kimmons were married in Eldorado, Tx. in 1902. James was from San Saba,Tx,., and Lillian was from Eldorado, Tx.. They drove cattle through Ft. Stockton, Tx. to Alamagordo,NM. She handled the Wagon and he handled the cattle. They arrived in Alamagordo on Christmas day in 1902. One of the first people his grandmother met and became friends with was Susan McSween Barber. My fathers mother was born Viora Kimmons in 1906. HIs father was born Wayne Johnson in 1898. I'm not sure the date that his father and mother got married. When he was born in Ancho, NM in 1927, his father and his partner Lowell Hobbs had a service statioin/garage/mail service. My grandfather was a mechanic. They also had a bus line that ran from Ancho,NM.m to a small town south of El Paso,Tx.. My grand father and his partner took turns each week to drive the route. My dad said thaqt they moved from Ancho around 1930, to Tularosa where his sister was born. He said that around 1935, they moved to Alamagordo where his brother was born.During our last trip in Sept. 2015, we went to White Oak to meet Karen at the old school house. When we got there, we got to meet Claude Hobbs. We toured and looked around the school and got to talk with Mr. Hobbs quite a bit. While us brothers were looking and being taken aback by what we saw, my dad was talking with Claude. They apparently talked about some of the people they either knew or knew about. Claude is not the same person that we met in Ancho in 2012. This man was also in some of the same areas that Claude was in during the war. My dad had mentioned to him about the Straley family, that were apparently well known back in that earlier time. The man mentioned that he was married to a Straley daughter. My dad has family that are buried in the Luna cemetery, which is about 6 miles east of Ancho. He also has family (Kimmons), in the cemetery in Pinion,NM.. ON the September 2015 trip, we went there and cleaned up the the grave sites. When we left Pinion, we decided the take the "Owen Prather Highway" from Pinon to Highway 54, just north of Tularosa. After that, we headed to Alamagordo for the night and then back to Texas. I'm still trying to get with Karen Mills as to the name of the man she first told us about, that we met in Ancho. Mike Ward Guest

jmhouse said...

Thanks for sharing some more of your family history, Mr. Ward. Of course, right off the bat I was very interested to learn that your great-grandmother was a friend of Susan McSween Barber, Alexander McSween's widow. If only we could've listened in on some of their conversations. On the other hand, maybe folks shied away from talking about the Lincoln County War and its actors by that point.

It's also striking that two men who were on the beaches in Normandy live so close to each other in remote, rural New Mexico. I believe I'd heard that the man in Ancho is quite elderly, perhaps some years older than Claude Hobbs. That's quite a thing. If you ever learn the name of him, please do pass it along. I'd be happy to know it.

Thanks again! JM