Local authors team up for book on San Juan County's 'Iron Ladies'

Mike Easterling The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Marilu Waybourn and Catherine Davis have developed a highly efficient partnership when it comes to putting out books.

"She's a great researcher," Waybourn said. "And I love to do the writing. It works out pretty good."

The latest effort by Waybourn and Davis, "Iron Ladies of San Juan County, New Mexico," relates the stories of many of the women who played prominent roles in the early days of the county, with all but one of them having been born in the 1800s. In many cases, the women featured in the book were trailblazers, taking on jobs or racking up accomplishments that were highly unusual for women of that era. The list includes Harriet Belle Sammons, a bank president; cannery founder and manager Mrs. E.Y. McAlpine; teacher Mary Jane Masters; Mary Hudson Brothers, the daughter of a man who served in the posse of Sheriff Pat Garrett, who shot Billy the Kid; Lorena Mahany, who organized Farmington's first library; and Francis David, who was known as the "grand old lady of Blanco."

The book is the 16th installment in a series published under the auspices of the San Juan County Historical Society. Waybourn said the idea of doing a book about notable women from the county's early history is one that had been floating around for quite some time, and she and Davis decided this was the year to do it.

The concept was a straightforward one, she said.

"We wanted to feature women who had done something above and beyond what was expected at the time," she said.

But once they started compiling a list, Waybourn and Davis realized whittling that list down to a manageable number was going to be anything but easy, given the number of women from San Juan County's past who deserved recognition.

And even when they came up with a final list and Waybourn began writing, she said Davis was so good at digging up additional information, they had a difficult time deciding what to use and what to leave out.

Still, Waybourn said, it was a project she very much enjoyed. It was almost as much fun, she said, as one of her earlier efforts, a book about abandoned cemeteries in the county.

One of the reasons she enjoyed "Iron Ladies" so much, Waybourn said, was that she knew many of the women who are featured in the book, most notably Masters.

"She was my history teacher (at Farmington High School) and a family friend," Waybourn said. "She made it so interesting. A lot of kids though it was dull, but she made it so interesting."

Waybourn said that personal connection made her job as an author easier.

"I think it helps a lot because it gives you kind of a different perspective," she said.

Of all the women featured in the book, Waybourn said she was perhaps most impressed with McAlpine, who built and operated a fruit cannery — an endeavor that seemed well beyond the reach of most women of that time. Waybourn was disappointed to note that, despite the authors' best efforts, the entry on McAlpine may seem a little incomplete because she and Davis were unable to find out where McAlpine died or was buried before the book went to press, Shortly afterward, of course, they were contacted by a relative of the woman, who managed to fill them in.

"It seems like it always happens that way when you're going to print," she said. "It's one of those little pebbles of truth you wish you'd had."

Waybourn is well acquainted with such situations, as she said she's written 15 or 16 books, while Davis has authored four, and the two have worked together often in the past. Waybourn said she plans to take a break in the wake of the publication of "Iron Ladies," but she already has two or three other ideas she'd like to pursue, and she expects it won't be long before she and Davis are back at it.

"When we're not working on something, we go out to breakfast and talk about it," she said.

"Iron Ladies" is available at area museums and at the San Juan County Historical Society office at 201 N. Main Ave. in Aztec. Call 505-334-7136 for more information.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and measterling@daily-times.com. Follow him@measterlingfdt on Twitter.