Reynolds searches for grave of Ruth of Tolar

Don McAlavy

“I wanted to see Tolar again,” said Stephen Reynolds, a former game warden in eastern New Mexico. “Mainly I wanted to search for Ruth. Both the town and the child had been forsaken, but in different ways: Ruth, around 1910 when our family had to leave her grave behind, and Tolar almost 35 years later, in 1944, after the entire town had been leveled by a trainload of bombs. It was the only town extinguished by World War II bombs.

“The old town site of Tolar lays several miles east of Fort Sumner and was founded by my great-grandfather, John Wallace Coleman. He opened a store and post office not long after the turn of the century. He and my great-grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth, named it after a town in Hood County, Texas, where they wagoned from. (Oddly enough, Tolar, Texas, was also abandoned, in 1909, after an obliterating fire.)

In 1908, Tolar had a lumber yard, a hardware store, three merchandise stores, a livery stable, a saloon, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a drugstore, a coal, grain and hay house, a doctor, a weekly newspaper, several real estate firms, and a cotton gin and grist mill among other businesses. An ad in the March 6, 1908, issue of the Tolar Tribune stated: “J.W. Coleman, dealer in staple and fancy groceries, dry good, notions, shoes, flour, feed, butter, and eggs.” Now, there are but few of the old buildings left, counting sheds and chicken coops.

“My wife and I were there to locate an elusive graveyard where we suppose little Ruth is buried, the twelfth and last child of John and Nancy’s brood, and the little sister of my grandmother, Minnie. This Ruth-child has been all but forgotten, as the entire family left this country to spread out after only a few years.

“I’ve searched for many of my ancestors, some so distant you would stretch it to call them relatives. Many of those I search for might be considered unimportant, meaning there is no fame or fortune associated with it. Actually, the less important, the better I like it. A need to bring them back to life, I suppose, wanting to imagine what it was they imagined.

‘For little Ruth, there is nothing. A child from a time and place, the time, the place, the child all gone; yet, all still existing in some manner if we can find it.

‘The graveyard isn’t where it was said to be in an old registry I dug up at a library some years ago. A young couple living along the highway near Tolar remembered there was a cemetery somewhere to the south, they thought, though they had never been there.

“We went south and we believe we’ve found it, being a mile or so down the section line and another mile east. You can see the tombstones and fence of the cemetery silhouetted in the distance with the sun angling from behind us. The cemetery isn’t large, maybe forty graves, but the place has been looked after, which surprised me. The barbed wire fence is in good repair. (Johnny and Aileen Eastwood and friends were the ones that made repairs and erected a stout barbed wire fence).

“We find what we have come for. Not far from the back fence is a small, almost dainty, ornate marble headstone two and a half feet tall. Carved on the stone is RUTH S., daughter of J.W. and N.E. Coleman. Born July 3, 1906, Died Oct. 31, 1907.

“On the back of the stone, in the afternoon shade, is carved: ‘Suffer not the little children to come unto me. They wish to go to a better place.’

“In the evening it is clear and the sky is an ocean. Later, when it blackens, you can see faint distant glows on the horizon representing the towns far away in different directions, some as far as a hundred miles — seen them ‘where earth meets sky at the point of astonishment,’ as Emerson would say. The wind is warm and we sit out in the night without a fire.” (Reynolds and his wife were there in 2000.)

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