Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Remembering the early days

 

April 17, 2019

Ron Warnick

Greg Young feeds a fire inside an horno adobe oven at the Tucumcari Historical Museum during "The Early Days" special event Saturday. Young later cooked cornbread inside the horno.

Cold wind and spitting rain lessened turnout Saturday for the first of four special events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tucumcari Historical Museum. But the old-time atmosphere and storytelling remained thick among the hardy history buffs that participated.

Saturday's event was called "The Early Days," with emphasis on the prehistory and early history of Quay County with Native Americans and Spanish colonials. Other special days are "Western Days" on June 1 (the actual 50th anniversary date), "Neon and Travelers Day" on July 20 and "Honoring Military History" on Aug. 10.

The day began when Jessa Paddock, a Mesalands Community College student, sang the national anthem in her native Navajo language in front of a Knights of Columbus color guard carrying the United States and New Mexico flags. The contrast of Paddock's ancient tongue and the more modern symbols proved inescapable.

In the museum's basement, Randall Rush of Forrest oversaw hundreds of rocks, Native American pottery shards and fossils donated to the facility over the decades, including a few haphazardly stuffed into desk drawers.

"We're working on getting this place sorted out so it's more presentable," said Rush, who described himself as the unofficial curator of that collection. "People have been bringing these rocks for decades. I keep finding new things every time I'm here."

He said the region's most common fossil is an oyster shell called the Texigryphaea pitcheri, about 100 million years old. Rush said such specimens once were called a Gryphaea tucumcari until researchers determined they were more widespread than the Quay Valley.

One usual fossil Rush pointed out was a dinosaur leg bone with a predator's teeth marks in it. But he said the most intriguing was a fossil of a small fish. It resembles the famous fish fossils from Wyoming's Green River, but he said the color is wrong - leaving him to believe it was found locally.

"There's a chance this could be scientifically relevant," he said.

In one of the outbuildings, rural Tucumcari resident Danny Young showed about 100 Native American arrowhead blades and scrapers he'd found since the 1960s.

He said he credited his father for him becoming a history buff.

"My dad would go into old country stores and tell me, 'Pay attention, because these won't be here anymore,'" he said. Young said he was further fascinated by several framed artifacts on display at the now-closed Cedar Hill Station on old Route 66 between San Jon and Tucumcari.

Young's collection ranged from Clovis-style arrowhead points at least 13,500 years old to more recent "trade" metal points. He said most artifacts found locally came from Ute, Comanche, Apache or Pueblo tribes.

He spread out other artifacts on a table, allowing visitors to take one home but urging them to "make a donation to the museum" if they did so.

Nearby, Reyes Gonzales and his 12-year-old son Antonio demonstrated Native American archery and the atlatl, a hand-held spear-throwing device.

Gonzales, now a Tucumcari police officer, explained he learned a lot about such weaponry when once he was a librarian.

"While the ladies were driving the bookmobile, I was reading how-to books, history books, books about real people," he said.

To extend the lifespan of their 6-foot-long spears, Native Americans made 6-inch points to affix to the end. After spearing a target, the animal would run away and the long shaft would fall off, allowing the hunter to pick it up and use it again.

"They were pretty smart, weren't they?" he said.

Young's brother, Greg Young, was busy burning wood in an horno adobe outdoor oven so they could bake cornbread later that day. He said it takes about four hours of wood fire to heat the inside of the old-style horno. After that, the coals and ash are removed, and the remaining heat inside will bake a pan of cornbread in 20 to 30 minutes.

Conversation turned to using wood for smoking meat and cheeses.

"I used to smoke with mesquite, then I tried pecan," he said. "I don't think I'll ever use mesquite again. Pecan's got a really pleasant flavor."

Later that morning, visitors clearly appreciated the free pinto beans and the fresh, horno-baked cornbread, steam rising as volunteers cut into it.

The annex building also proved to be a popular for visitors to get out of the cold. It also was where local musicians Arthur Ellis and Rudy Pacheco played classic country songs (such as Porter Wagoner) and Mexican folk tunes.

Among the young visitors Saturday were Lily and Heidi Macfarlane, 12, and Eoghan Knight, 13, all of Melrose. They were there to volunteer there but said they enjoyed visiting it, as well.

"I like how old and far back the wagons and everything is," Eoghan said, referring to the museum's extensive collection of pioneer items.

"For me, it's re-creating the past and visiting it," Lily said.

 
 

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