Bringing the dead to life, for just a night

History and BBQ unite for annual fundraiser at Greenlawn Cemetery Sept. 9

Jill McQueary
Special to the Daily Times

D'Ann Waters points to the gravestone of Lillie Johnson during a dress rehearsal last year for Dining with the Dead event at Greenlawn Cemetery in Farmington.

The 5th annual Dining With the Dead is a historical reenactment taking place on Sept. 9 at Greenlawn Cemetery from 4 to 8 p.m. Visitors will step back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s as San Juan County pioneers are brought back to life.  They tell their fascinating stories about what brought them to the Northwest New Mexico Territory. Visitors enjoy a relaxed guided tour and delicious BBQ dinner.  Dining With the Dead is the Rio del Sol Kiwanis' signature event with proceeds benefiting future Kiwanis children’s projects and the Farmington Museum.  

Paul and Jill McQueary, coordinators, saw a similar program in Yuma, Arizona, and brought the idea to Farmington.  They felt community members would enjoy learning the history of the area.

Orval Ricketts, portrayed by Charley Tyler, came to Farmington in 1891 from St. Louis.  Orval was just a young boy but he needed to find work right away because he had to support his widowed mother and 2 sisters. He quickly found his first job chopping weeds at the D.J.Craig Ranch for $4.50 a month including meals.

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Orval only had an 8th grade education but he went on to become Farmington’s best-known newspaperman. His career started when he went to work at the old Enterprise Newspaper. Soon afterwards, he and Mr. William Butler became partners in the Hustler Press printing company. Orval published many books of poems and several of them are at the Farmington Library. Ricketts Park is named for him.

Antonia Carruth Sandoval, portrayed by her great granddaughter Suzanne Fortner, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico.  She was orphaned during the Mexican Revolution and lived with her 2 older brothers in an abandoned shack until the age of 6. For a while she was cared for by a family but after the lady’s death, Antonia was sent by train to Santa Fe.  Antonia and Bernabe Sandoval eventually had 13 children. Antonia worked very hard and owned different restaurants; the first one was in Bernalillo. In Farmington, she operated the El Contero Restaurant was on Wall St.

Antonia passed on her restaurant business talent to son Bernie, owner of Chef Bernie’s.

Barbara Hill portrays Harriett Sammons, born in 1876 in Manchester, Iowa. Harriett’s brother Avery Amsden was living in Farmington and helped establish the First National Bank.  Harriett and her husband, George, came here hoping the weather would improve George’s health. Their home was located where San Juan Abstract is today and was later moved to Animas Park.  Harriett went to work at the First National Bank and became Bank President in 1922.  She was the first woman bank president in New Mexico. Her great nephew, Dr. Bill Hall tells a story that she would look at people’s hands before loaning them money. She wanted to make sure they weren’t afraid of work. Harriett will tell how she helped Jack Drake with the founding of Navajo Missions.

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Dr. John Brown portrayed by Dr. Bob Lehmer.  Dr. Brown was born in Kentucky in 1821. He and his wife, Hattie, came out west and settled for a while in Walsenburg, CO.  Several years later they and their 5 children moved to Farmington, a small bustling community in the NW New Mexico Territory. Dr. Brown was Farmington’s first doctor. He had a small ranch where he employed Navajos, learning their tongue and becoming fluent in Navajo.  One day in 1880, a drunken cowboy shot and killed a 14-year-old Navajo boy on Main St and wounded his 2 friends. 4 days later Chief Black Horse and a large group of Indians surrounded the town and planned to massacre all the citizens.   Dr. Brown will tell how he helped solve the problem and Chief Black Horse and his tribe had their revenge.

Harriet Butler, portrayed by D’Ann Waters, was born in England in 1845. She came to America and got her education in both private and public schools. Harriet’s first husband, Evan Mecchlin, contracted “consumption”.  They moved to Pueblo in hopes the move would help cure him. But that was not to be. She later married William Butler who was an unemployed newspaperman.  William was offered a job in Farmington as publisher of the Farmington Times. There wasn’t much money to be made in the newspaper business so they learned to live on next to nothing.  Orval Ricketts worked for William before and after World War 1. Harriet served for 8 years as Farmington’s Postmaster. during the time that Woodrow Wilson was President.  Harriett owned one of the largest private libraries here.  Butler Street is named for their family.

Alexander (Alex or Alec) Bowman, portrayed by Scott Michlin, was born in New York in 1838 and was one of 10 children. By the time Alex was 21 he had traveled across the country.  The Civil War began in 1861 and he served 4 years in the California Volunteer Army.  After his brother’s wife died in childbirth, Alex joined William in Colorado.  After many years of doing business in Colorado, they moved to Farmington and opened the first drugstore. It was located in an adobe building on Main Street, just east of the Dusty Attic.  Alex became a pharmacist and William was a judge. Farmington’s first robbery was committed at the Bowman Brothers Drugstore What a colorful and humorous story that was.

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Mary Hudson Brothers, is portrayed by Rebecca Morgan. Mary was born in 1887 in southern New Mexico. Her father, Bell, was a sheepherder during the time when sheepherder’s and cattlemen were always arguing over water rights. As a teenager, Mary’s job was riding the range, checking the fence line. One day, while having a particularly difficult time mending a fence, a handsome stranger stopped and offered to help her fix it. The next day when her father rode into town everyone was abuzz about the robbery that had taken place the day before. The next time Mary saw this handsome stranger’s face was on a wanted poster.  He was none other than the famous bandit and gang leader, Black Jack Ketchum. Mary tells about her father’s relationship with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

Her great-granddaughter, Judy Castleberry, portrays Elizabeth Jane Rhoades King. She was born in Stephenville, Texas in 1856. Her father died when she was only eleven so her mother moved her family of 5 children to Colorado. She met and married Henry Clay King when she was only 14 years old. They came to Farmington in 1885 and purchased 160 acres along the San Juan River. Today their ranch is known as Westland Park and one of their sons was Troy King.

William B. Haines, portrayed by Steve Clark, came from England in 1871 and made his way to the small village of Bloomfield. William had been a lawyer but to support his family he opened the Haines Mercantile Store.  He was appointed the first postmaster, was the first Justice of the Peace and first unofficial “Mayor”. Lew Wallace, New Mexico Territorial Governor named him Captain of the San Juan Guard due to the lawlessness caused partly by the Stockton gang stealing cattle and horses. William’s story involves an incident that happened leading to the formation of San Juan County and it no longer being part of Rio Arriba County.

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Willis Martin, portrayed by Chuck Holmes, was born in Brown County, Texas in 1877. As a young man, he and his cousin got a team and wagon and headed north. He got as far as Farmington and decided he was staying. He married Miss Ella King, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth King in 1907.  Willis was an early Farmington mayor. One his proudest accomplishments were bringing electricity to Farmington. Not everyone was happy about those electric poles and he has a humorous story about it.

Mike Leonard and Tony DiGiacomo portray Port and Ike Stockton.  These two good-looking notorious cattle rustling brothers were born in Texas. They made their way to New Mexico in the 1870’s where trouble always seemed to follow them, partly due to Port being so free with his 45. Ike lived for a while in Lincoln County where he owned and operated a bar and knew Billy the Kid. Port is reported to have killed between 19 and 21 men.  

They had more newspaper stories written about them than Billy the Kid did.  They like to tell how they helped keep the range free of stray cattle.  Fort Lewis was located up the La Plata road and they purchased much of the fresh beef from the Stockton’s to feed their army. Port made his home in Flora Vista and Ike lived in Animas City.

Tickets are $25 for dinner and the tour and are available at Howard’s Cleaners.  Call 325-5931 or 860-5165 for information.

We appreciate information provided by the San Juan County Historical Society, Farmington Museum and pioneer families. This program would not be possible without all the wonderful community support.

Visitors are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a lightweight portable chair.