Recipient of Clovis’ first burial up for debate

By Don McAlavy

Five single brothers were the first settlers in what is now Clovis.

Alfred Liebelt, the oldest brother of the Liebelt brothers, came from Bunzlau, Germany, to America at the turn of the 20th century and went to San Francisco in 1902. Alfred was sent by a doctor to Las Vegas, N.M., for his health. There he met a man named Tom Staats who convinced him to file on land in eastern New Mexico. Perhaps Staats knew that a railroad was to be built?

Alfred filed on a quarter-section of land in 1903. That property is now where the Curry County Courthouse is located. Fritz Liebelt came to the area 1904. In 1905, the other brothers — Arthur, Otto and Curt — joined them.

Alfred Liebelt’s health deteriorated and he died on Jan. 19, 1906, before there was any thought of Clovis. Alfred’s brothers buried him on his quarter-section of land. His grave was in the block that later was donated by his brothers to the Sacred Heart Church at Ninth and Merriwether.

Then, when Charles V. Steed started his funeral home in Clovis in 1907, Steed bought a piece of his brother Claud’s homestead west of Clovis and established a cemetery on West Seventh Street. That was sometime in 1908.

The Liebelt brothers removed Alfred from his piece of land to Steed’s cemetery sometime in 1908. (This cemetery was simply called the Clovis Cemetery until Aug. 22, 1932, when it was renamed Mission Garden of Memories.)

So is Alfred Liebelt’s grave the oldest in Clovis?

Nobody knows for sure.

In 1906, the Francis A. Nichols family moved to a quarter-section homestead on what is now the Pleasant Hill Highway northeast of Clovis. My wife and I had a home on a piece of this land for 12 years.

Francis Nichols’ granddaughter, Geraldine Wilson of Pleasant Hill, gave me a copy of Nichols’ homestead document.

Geraldine was the first to tell that her grandfather was the first to be buried in the Clovis Cemetery on West Seventh Street.

When Francis A. Nichols died on Oct. 26, 1908, his funeral was in his home and his burial was on his homestead.

Later, after the Clovis Cemetery was started, the family had his remains removed to the Seventh Street cemetery.

When Nichols’ wife died in 1931, her published obituary read as follows: “In 1906 with her husband and children she moved on a homestead near Clovis. There they suffered much of the hardships of pioneer life.”

I have never seen the exact day and month of Steed establishing the cemetery on West Seventh. But Steed’s first burial seems to have been on Feb. 7, 1908, according to Book 1 at the Steed funeral home. Steed’s first burial was W. B. Brantley, but he was buried in the Blacktower Cemetery.

Steed’s Book 1 of burials is dated from Feb. 7, 1908, to Feb. 9, 1910.

So now who was the first to be buried in the Clovis Cemetery? Liebelt’s burial date is not listed. Nichols died on Oct. 26, 1908.

Further research of Steed’s records indicate that a 1-year-old boy, Len Hugh Wallace who died June 25, 1908, was probably the first burial in the Clovis Cemetery. But it’s not for certain and may never be.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s
historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com