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.

13 comments:

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.

JB

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:
"LITTLE JOE SALOON JICARILLA, N.M."
"JOE LONG - BARTENDER & OWNER 1902"
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...

HELP.....

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
Thanks

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