An infamous day at Ricardo post office

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

The community of Ricardo, now lost to just memory, was 13 miles southwest of Fort Sumner. The Santa Fe Railroad put in a depot and a water station there when the Belen Cutoff was built. By 1908, a small town had sprung up and many wannabe settlers came to find their Utopia. (My Dad homestead 10 miles south of Ricardo in 1921.)
Since 1956, nothing remains of Ricardo, except the cemetery.
In February of this year, a request came to Clovis’ historical society from Timothy Lakin in New York. He asked about a relative being gunned down in Ricardo in 1912.
“He was a young 26-year-old lawyer named Frank Brusnahan who lived in that area since 1908, coming down from Indiana,” said Lakin. “His family does not have an account of what happened from a New Mexico source. Help!”
Nearly three months later, the historical society learned the tragic story, through the words of Mary L. Brusnahan Richardson. Here’s what she had to say:
“My brother Frank filed a claim at Ricardo, built a small shack and soon made many friends. A Mr. Zimmerman, who owned the claim next to Frank, had an attractive daughter, Okie. They soon became friends.
“The Santa Fe Railroad had built a beautiful depot with an apartment over it. At that time a family named Carley lived there. They had several small children and a cow. One Sunday morning, my brother Frank and Okie Zimmerman who was postmistress there, saw Mrs. Carley’s cow in Okie’s little corn patch. They decided to take their rifles to shoot chipmunks (probably meaning prairie dogs), and go down and drive the cow back to Mrs. Carley. Mrs. Carley met them as they drove the cow back to town. She derided them angrily, said they were trying to shoot the cow.
“The next day Frank went to the post office. Mrs. Carley must have been watching for him. She took the gun that was kept in the depot office, hid it under her apron and walked to the post office. As she entered, Frank was standing at the stamp window, posting stamps on the letters he had come to mail. She pointed the gun at him and fired. The first shot shattered his wrist.
“Okie opened the office door and screamed for him to come back there (behind the stamp window). Mrs. Carley walked to the open stamp window and continued firing at them both, until her gun was empty. Then she hid it under her apron again, and walked calmly back to the depot. There she put the gun back in its accustomed place as if nothing happened.
“The Santa Fe ran a hospital train with doctors and nurses to Ricardo. Mrs. Carley was placed under arrest. A trial found her insane and she was later sent to a mental institution.
“At first it was thought that Okie’s wounds were most serious; they were about her head. Frank insisted that she be taken care of first. Frank’s wounds, beside his broken wrist, were abdominal, and very bad. He dictated a telegram, which I received: “Have received probably fatal gunshot wounds, come down at once.”
“Frank died on Sept. 23, 1912. His mother and other family members came to Ricardo for a short time. Frank had made a request that he be buried in the new little cemetery southeast of Ricardo. So they buried him there.”
In the late 1970s there were 16 burials in that little cemetery.

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