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." Finally, 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.


Retiring Lady said...

Otis Foster was my uncle; my grandparents homesteaded in Lingo and lived there for years.

jmhouse said...

Thank you for your comment, Retiring Lady! I'm thrilled to hear from a descendant of Lingo homesteaders and a relative of a member of Lingo's last graduating class! I'm hoping yours is the first of many comments from people who have a connection to Lingo. There's not much of the town's history out there now...but that could change!

Thanks again! JM

Shannon Wallace said...

I pray you are getting over your flu and feeling much better! Thank you again for each of your posts. They are entertaining and intriguing, as I grew most affectionate of towns of past in NM while traveling through there summer of 2014.

jmhouse said...

Thanks, Shannon Wallace! I appreciate that! I am rebounding but am not quite there yet. At least I'm making progress. On the other hand, if I relapse I might get another post done. Ha!

I'm very glad you enjoy City of Dust! Thanks again for the kind words. Best, JM

Anonymous said...


Since your search engine doesn't work on my computer, I am asking this way if you have ever visited the Puertecito trading post ruin in Socorro County. It's at N34.44809 W 107.39317.

Francis Blake

jmhouse said...

Thank you very much for your comment, Francis Blake! While I know my way around the Ladron Mountains a bit and have spent a little time in Santa Rita/Riley, for some reason Puertecito and the trading post ruin have escaped my attention. This is unacceptable!

Have you been there? Are there any tricks as far as access? It looks like one would head west off County Rd 12 at some point and the ruin is right off the road. Is that right or might there be another (easier?) way from Alamo?

Thanks again! This one is getting added to the top of the to-go list! JM

Anonymous said...

Never been to Puertecito, but it's on my 'someday' to-go list. I live in southern CA, was born 1945 in Los Alamos NM, but occasionally return to visit my sister in T or C, and nephew in Socorro. My wife has an 1880's family connection to White Oaks. I'm also the 'anonymous' in the Gleeson comments. Not trying to be secretive, it's just easier for me.


PS: your search engine now works on my computer.

jmhouse said...

Well, I'll try to get to Puertecito soon and let you know what I find. Fingers crossed! I like that Passion Pie Cafe in T or C and Los Alamos has the most elaborate Smith's grocery store I've ever been in, complete with craft beer on tap. Unusual city, that. I'd really like to do a blog post on White Oaks someday. I have some decent photos from one trip, but I'd like to get some more. Plus, there's a lot to say about the place!

I definitely understand using the "Anonmyous" tag. It's easier than going through the rigamarole of setting up an account.

Anyway, thanks, Francis! And I'm glad the search engine is working! JM

Anonymous said...

My most recent visit to sis and nephew was October 2015. She got me started on Hatch green chile and now I can't get enough of it. I put it on everything, even on my pills. Ha! Ever been to Sparky's in Hatch for their green chile hamburgers? Or to the Owl Bar (and restaurant) in San Antonio? That's where A-Bomb scientists, including our father, ate when they were at Trinity in'45. Nephew took me to Pie Town for pie. Yup, well worth the drive. Also became interested in Agnes Morley Cleaveland of Datil too. On that same trip, I donated a 1884 White Oaks newspaper to the museum in the schoolhouse. Curator lives/works in Carrizozo.


jmhouse said...

Thanks for your recollections, Francis! I have been to the Owl Bar in San Antonio, but I haven't eaten at Sparky's, despite walking past it more than once.

That is pretty amazing that your father worked at the Trinity Site. I visited a couple years ago during their twice-yearly open house and I'm very glad I did. Seeing the old farmhouse where they assembled the bomb was rather surreal. I haven't posted about the Trinity Site specifically, but I did write about San Antonio and its connection to, um, Paris Hilton HERE.

I also love Pie Town, and did a City of Dust blog post on it a few years ago. You can read that HERE. I hope to get back there again soon.

If you're interested in Agnes Morley Cleaveland, then I bet you've read "No Life for a Lady." That's a true classic of New Mexico frontier history.

The schoolhouse/museum in White Oaks is impressive. I've toured it, so perhaps I saw your 1884 newspaper. That was quite generous of you to donate it!

Thanks again! JM

Unknown said...

Another highly enjoyable post, thanks from Roger in Burwell UK.

jmhouse said...

Thanks, Roger! I appreciate the kind words!

Hope all is going well in Burwell. JM

Robert Farris said...

Thank you for your posts.
The top two pictures of the general store are the place of my earliest memories. We lived at the store in 1953 and 1954. I remember a tree (I thought it was in front) that grew slanted. I tried to ride my tricycle up that trunk more than one time.
I think there was also a bee hive kiva in the backyard.
This is the place where my Grandfather passed away (June 5, 1954)
Edna Ashbrook, that you write about, was the mother of one of my close friends Neil.

jmhouse said...

Bob Farris, I always find it kind of incredible when people have strong associations with buildings I've photographed, but yours go to the top of the list! I'm amazed that you count the general store among your first memories and that your grandfather died there.

You know, I'm quite fond of the places I post about and I always try to do them justice. They're important to me and I know they're important to others. Your comment is another example of why I never forget that.

Thanks for your recollections! JM

Sandra Click Smith said...

My parents got married in the Lingo Baptist Church. We attended this church when I was a small child. I remember Fanny Brown - she was my Sunday School teacher at times.

texstud91 said...

Nice blog. Ill stick around. Rich wright seems to have led me nm stories and history.

jmhouse said...

Rich Wright may well you have led you here, texstud91! Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you found City of Dust! Now if I could just get a new post on NM written someday... JM

Cecil Deadman said...

Enjoyed the article. My wife was going through some of her grandfathers papers and found an article about the Lingo in those old documents. The article was undated but it indicated they were planning another reunion in 1965. We do know that her grandparents lived in or near Lingo. Their oldest, Benjamin Loyd Corder was born in a box house in 1916. Their house was one of about half a dozen at that time. James A. and Clara Corder settled there In 1912 shortly before New Mexico became a state. It is likely he farmed and possibly did carpentry.