Monday, August 20, 2012

Making history come alive

While I'm the first person to build a modern-day house on this particular patch of New Mexico, others have come before me. The ruins of several homesteads can be found in the general vicinity, and I've always wondered about the people who settled this land, then left. Who were they? How did they make a living? How did they survive without the internet?

I recently happened upon a treasure trove of information that has helped me answer some of these questions. It's the website for the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office Records. Using their searchable database, I plugged in the location of my land and learned that it was homesteaded in 1929 by John and Irene Garner.

This is not them. I wasn't that lucky. These folks are actually New Mexico homesteaders Jim Norris and his wife, in 1940.
(I found the photo in the Library of Congress' photo catalog, another goldmine.) 
In my mind, John and Irene Garner look just like this couple.

Anyway, I was able to find a copy of the original land patents granted to John and Irene. 
606 acres were in Irene's name, and another 627 were in John's:

The records also led me to the 1921 survey plat of this area:

I even found the surveyor's field notes:

Lucy and I took a ride back through time over the weekend to help me connect the dots between the surveyor's field notes and the actual field. I found a bunch of the survey caps he installed back in 1921 and could match them up with his document:
For the record, the land is still rolling, the soil is still sandy loam and second rate, and there's still dense cedar, pinyon and cactus.

We also explored what I believe are the ruins of the Garner homestead. I took some video and will share that later in the week. 
Meanwhile, here's a picture of a barn at a New Mexico homestead in 1939. 
This isn't John and Irene's place, but in my mind their barn was very similar...

...complete with three donkeys who bear a very strong resemblance to the current inhabitants.


  1. This is fascinating stuff, Linda. I'm going to add this kind of research to my to-do list. Thank you for the links.

  2. This is fascinating! How did you find the survey caps which look too small to spot and also look as if they would have buried themselves after all these years.
    Your research must feel like mine when I find a link to my Swedish grandparents and my Italian great grandfather. Exciting and so thought provoking.

  3. VERY intertesting!! What would a homesteader do to survive?!? NM does not seem like a place that would grow grain or a garden.......enquiring minds wanna know eh.....;p

  4. I spy a hen!!!
    The trees look taller.
    Are those the mountains behind Alan, or is it a structure?
    What a wonderful post.

  5. How marvelous, to find all the original information, and then be able to find the survey markers. Maybe would have info about these two pioneers. Good chance that relatives still live nearby.

  6. That's pretty neat. I love researching stuff like this and learning the history of the places I live. Must have been a very hard existence back then without modern conveniences.

  7. Good sources of information. We have 11 acres in the Smoky Mountains and have found pieces parts of an old still, broken mason jars, lots of barrel hoops, charcoal rubble from the 'cooking'. It would be wonderful to know who the original settlers were. The Ledford family is the go to name in our little town of Cosby, they still own land around us. Back in the day, making 'shine' was about all the locals could do to make money.
    I feel some research coming my way!! Thanks for the wonderful photos and documents of long ago.
    Mary Anne in Cosby, TN

  8. Estella from Co.8/20/12, 7:47 AM

    WOW, how interesting, Linda, looking forward to the video. The photos are very interesting and maybe the donkeys from the pasted have come back to rest and enjoy the area again. Hugs

  9. Carol in N. Colorado8/20/12, 8:22 AM

    That is so cool. In the area where my daughter lives the original owner of the property had 35 acres carved up for what is now I-70. Back in the 1960's you could still ride a horse for miles without hitting fences. I love history and discovering wonderful information about the homesteaders.

  10. Oh my cool is this? I am enthralled by old patents and land grants and certaily look forward to your videos of your "Nancy Drew" finds. Congrats on the great detective work.
    And the picture of the barn is so amazing, particularly because of the beautious donkeys. The barn looks very much like one that was erected on my grandfathers ranch in northern NM at the "sheep camp".

  11. Linda, I've been researching my family lines this summer. Our son has uncovered a lot of info on my husband's family. 1200 acres...That's a LOT of acres! I just LOVE old photos and family stories! I can't wait for you to share the story of your ranch's lands!

  12. Very interesting. I love delving into history and currently am looking for all I can find about Tucson and the region to the southwest of it in the mountains, just above the border.

    Have you seen 'Off the Map' about modern homesteaders? It was set more to the north of you maybe out of Chama although I don't remember where it's supposed to be other than not Taos ;). About a family trying to make a life there with my favorite scenery starring-- Sam Elliot :)

  13. This is really interesting! Thanks for sharing your research.

  14. How cool is that?! We get so caught up in "ourselves" that we forget those who lived here before we came along. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  15. This is so interesting. John and Irene, 1929, 1236 acres. They must have been thrilled to be landowners but what a tough life. Wouldn't you love to read her diary. Looking forward to the video.

  16. Three donkeys??? Is that just incredible. It's like the land has DNA and donkey's are in its DNA. Three to be exact. Fascinating.

  17. Fascinating. I second the suggestion to try to see if you can locate any descendants and maybe even a photo of the real homesteaders.

    You've inspired me to work on a blog entry about the history where I live - my home is situated on an old copper smelter, where the ore was brought from nearby mountains on narrow-gauge railway tracks over 100 years ago.

  18. Terrific research ... made for interesting reading. It was a real step back in history!

  19. This is fascinating! How did you find those caps in the ground -- which I assume would be buried by now -- let alone know where to start looking? I'm looking forward to the video.

  20. I just love reading about stuff like this. I try to imagine myself working so hard just to make it to the next day, I fear I wouldn't last long. I look forward to the next installments!

  21. I love this post. I find the donkeys there then, like your beautiful friends of now, a natural to have in these lands. We live on 10 acres out of 20 left from a land grant of 300 years ago. I am looking forward to the links to used to look our land up. We find the post markers too.
    peace n abundance,
    ps for Rain,
    'Off the Map" was filmed out of Taos. the mountain peak in the backgound of their homestead is my very own Flag Mountain out of Questa, New Mexico, just north of Taos. We live under the same one only closer than out on the mesa where the film was shot. My friend is even in the movie. she is the Spanish speaking girlfriend at the end, for George.

  22. Very interesting information! I work for a civil engineering and surveying firm and find this all fascinating. To find the land markers from so long ago is really cool!