Mighty man mighty carver of stone

By Don McAlavy, Local Columnist

An artist in stone was J. M. H. Dwight. The stones he carved on were tombstones. There is not a lot of history on Dwight, but we do know that he was born Dec. 24, 1851, probably in Oklahoma, and he died in Clovis Sept. 6, 1929, still practicing his artistic and unique technique of carving stone.

“Mr. Dwight homesteaded near House, in 1908, and his daughter, Lona May Dwight, arrived a short time later from Oklahoma,” said Edith McWherter, widow of Glen McWherter of House and J. M. H. Dwight’s granddaughter.

In late 1970, three of us from our historical society, Ike Stanford, Harold Kilmer and myself, and others surveyed all the cemeteries in Curry County (later including many cemeteries outside of Curry County). When we came to the House cemetery a little west of House, we were amazed by the carvings on many of the tombstones. Edith McWherter said Dwight carved the tombstones with hand tools. Today the names, dates and etching are done by sandblasting with power tools. In other cemeteries around House, we found other tombstones he had carved. It was thought that Dwight started carving on tombstones shortly after he came to House.

Dwight’s first wife was Parlee (her first name), who was born in 1857 and died in 1915. I have never found which of the two mothers of his 15 children had the most kids. Was it his first wife, buried in the Browning Cemetery northeast of McAlister in 1915, or the second wife, buried near the father in the Mission Garden of Memories in Clovis? Could it have been Dov Dwight, who died April 24, 1928? They were both buried in the Lobban Square. It is a mystery.

Lona May Dwight, born in 1888, married Frank Kirchmeier of House in 1909 and both were buried in the Browning Cemetery. Frank died in 1946 and Lona May died in 1969.

Lona May had nine children — one girl, Edith Kirchmeier McWherter, and eight boys. All of Lona May’s children’s names started with an E.: Elmer, Everett, Ervin, Earl, Edgar, Ernest and Elton. Eldon was killed in a truck accident in 1956, said Edith McWherter whose name also started with a E.

Edith McWherter said that Dwight had moved to Clovis where he had a monument shop on West Grand Avenue, but didn’t say when. I found the following article:

The Clovis News, on Thursday, May 15, 1924, had this item published: “J. Dwight, 73 years of age, who conducts the Clovis Marble Works on 209 West Grand Ave., is the father of 15 children, the youngest, a baby boy, being born to Mr. and Mrs. Dwight on Monday of this week. Mr. Dwight had been married twice and has eight living children, the oldest being 49 years of age.”

I found that Dwight’s old Clovis Marble Works at 209 West Grand Ave. in 1941 was named Clovis Monument Company and was owned and managed by Jack Leslie.

I’ve always wanted to know how Dwight became an artistic carver of tombstones. Perhaps a descendent of his will clarify this history of a mighty man.

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