Historical research counts 68 cemeteries, 17,000 names

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

When we published our High Plains History Book in 1980, following the 1978 Curry County History Book, we made the effort to record as many area cemeteries as we could, listing the names and dates of 68 cemeteries that contained nearly 17,000 names.

The cemeteries we recorded covered all those in Curry County, numbering 17, and 28 in the southern half of Quay County; eight cemeteries in DeBaca County; and six in Texas in Bovina, Farwell —new and old — Oklahoma Lane, Rhea and West Camp.

At the time we didn’t know the name of the old Farwell Cemetery. It was Olivet, a couple miles south of Farwell. We recorded nine cemeteries in Roosevelt County (mainly the northern half).

By “we,” I mean the High Plains Historical Foundation (a nonprofit historical society). Actually, we started with three of the members: Harold Kilmer, Ike Stanford and myself, and spent more than six months between 1977 and 1979 recording these 68 cemeteries. Others joined in helping later.

Our interest in cemeteries, of course, was for the preservation of historical records engraved on the tombstones – the names and dates.

We also located and surveyed about 40 lone graves outside of cemeteries. Most were unmarked, and we relied on local people to tell us who was buried, if they knew.

The most famous of these lone graves was located in Roosevelt County, one mile east of Tolar on U.S. 60-84: the 1907 Loral Eugene Trotter grave alongside the highway.

In recording the names and dates we used 3-by-5-inch index cards — one tombstone, one card. It took us about five full days to completely record the 3,000-plus graves in the big Portales Cemetery.

After the first two cemeteries we recorded, we ran into a problem at the Beevers Cemetery near Forrest in Curry County. Near the Rossie Dane Terry grave, Harold ran into a rattlesnake. After that we started carrying “snake sticks” or a hoe. In that same cemetery we found one inscription on a tombstone saying “Leg of (so-and-so) buried here.” We didn’t count it as a complete burial. That same cemetery held the graves of the Silas Miller family, all drowned in 1937 off the caprock at Ragland — the parents and two children.

One tombstone in the Olivet Cemetery near Farwell covered a mass grave of the Hassell family — the mother and eight of her children, all murdered by the stepfather on Dec. 18, 1926.

The oldest cemetery in eastern New Mexico is the old military graveyard at Old Fort Sumner dating back to 1862. The next oldest was at Endee in eastern Quay County near the Texas border dating back to about 1885. You will not find the tombstones as there were wooden crosses.

The oldest graves with dates on them in our area, not counting the Fort Sumner military graves, are in the old Portales Cemetery at the east end of town. One grave was marked: “J. E. Carter, born Aug. 1823, died 1892.” It is assumed he was reburied after this cemetery was created in about 1898.

The worst tragedy is what has happened to some of our old, forgotten cemeteries that have been completely covered over by blow-sand or plowed under. I can readily give you names of four cemeteries that can be considered nearly “lost”: Blacktower Cemetery, Norton Cemetery in Quay County, one called Bethel in Roosevelt County and the Fairfield one southeast of Clovis.

Last, but not least, are the many unknown burials of babies, during homesteading times and their tragic deaths during the 1918 flu pandemic in eastern New Mexico and around the world.