Column: Dining with the Dead introduces colorful characters

Jill McQueary
The Daily Times

A few years ago while visiting in Yuma, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend Dining With the Dead at the historical Yuma Cemetery. I thought our community would enjoy stepping back in time to the late 1800's and early 1900's to hear stories about life back then.

Farmington's version of Dining With the Dead — sponsored by Rio del Sol Kiwanis — is Saturday at Greenlawn Cemetery from 4 to 8 p.m. Visitors will enjoy a hearty BBQ dinner, served from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and then take a tour with guides who provide information about our early pioneers. Performers will entertain their audiences with interesting and humorous stories, while standing near their graves.

Here are profiles of some of the characters that have made this part of the Four Corners what it is today:

Robert Oliver Hanna portrayed by Chuck Holmes.

Robert O. Hanna was born in Pennsylvania in 1856. Just after his 15th birthday he enlisted in the Union Army.

During the Civil War, he became interested in photography and later set up shop in Silver City, N.M. His claim to fame was he had the opportunity to photograph Billy the Kid. The photograph he took appeared on many wanted posters of "The Kid" offering as much as a $5,000 reward, dead or alive.

A few years later, Robert moved to Farmington and got into the taxidermy and photography business, which was located on the corner of Orchard and Main.

William Locke portrayed by Scott Michlin.

William Clinton Locke was born in 1836 in Indiana and was one of nine children. At 21 he married his first wife and they moved out west to Colorado. They had four small children but Mary Ann died in childbirth with their fifth child.

Two years later William met and married Nettie, a wonderful 22-year-old woman who was willing to take on a 40-year-old husband with five children under the age of eight.

William heard about the fertile land in the northern New Mexico Territory. They traveled 13 days to make the 300-mile trip to Farmington. Their first home was a dugout where Farmington Fairgrounds was, and where Ricketts Park is today.

William noticed upon arriving here there weren't any fruit trees. He and Nettie eventually planted 84 acres of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. By 1892 there were over 50,000 varieties of fruit trees in the area and he became known as the "Johnny Apple Seed of San Juan County".

A.F. and Julia Miller portrayed by Dave Bregar and Glenda Fox.

Alison Fourier and Julia Ann Gould Miller were a young married couple heading for the New Mexico Territory in the late fall of 1876. They came by covered wagon over the high passes of the Rockies just as Julia was recovering from a bout of Scarlet Fever. A.F. decided they should stop and spend the winter in Animas City before making their way to Farmington where their first home was a small two-room adobe house.

They started the first Post Office, General Store and Hotel and A.F. became Farmington's first postmaster.

Sylvester R. Blake portrayed by Charley Tyler

Sylvester was born in 1836 in Ohio.

As a young man, he moved to Colorado and then to Montana where he prospered from a gold rush. Later he moved to Deadwood, S.D., and met his future wife.

In 1885, Sylvester heard about a new land opening in the northwestern New Mexico Territory. He made his way by train and covered wagon and then he rented a mule in Tierra Amarilla in order to reach the bustling settlement of Farmington.

He bought 380 acres just north of where San Juan Regional Medical Center is located today.

Blake was drilling for water when he hit natural gas instead. He wasn't too happy about the natural gas well as there no use for it. In the winter months, residents would skate on the frozen river. To keep warm, they would throw a match to ignite the gas seep.

Blake had unknowingly set the modern San Juan Basin petroleum industry in motion.

Mother Agnes O'Flynn portrayed by D'Ann Waters

Mother Agnes was a member of the Order of Ursuline Sisters who journeyed to the Territory of New Mexico from the Mount St. Joseph Convent in Kentucky. Mother Agnes and eight other sisters settled on a mesa overlooking the San Juan River 15 miles west of Farmington and built their home in the side of a bluff. Soon several other families arrived from Kentucky and the area became known as Kentucky Mesa.

The sisters were divided into three groups with her group staying in Waterflow, one group going to Blanco, and the third going to Farmington. The Farmington Sisters lived at the San Juan Community Hospital that was within walking distance of the church and school.

Today there is just one Ursuline Sister living in New Mexico. Her name is Sister Sara who works in St. Joseph Parish in Aztec.

Ike Stockton portrayed by Tony DiGiacomo

Ike and his brother Porter (Port) were born and raised in Texas. They later moved to Lincoln, N.M., and lived there during the infamous Lincoln County War. Ike probably would have known Billy the Kid, as he owned a saloon before heading to the Northwest Territory. Ike lived in the Farmington area for a short time before settling in Animas City, which later became Durango. The two brothers made their living by cattle rustling.

Ike, head of the notorious Stockton Gang, had a likeable personality. Some folks said that he was kind, gentle and generous with his friends but deadly and cruel to his enemies.

Avery Amsden portrayed by Dr. Bob Lehmer

Around 1885, Avery, while in his 20s, came to Farmington from the Midwest with the Hyde Exploration Company.

He moved to Minnesota for a short time and while there met his wife Marcella. Avery contracted tuberculosis and had to move for health reasons. After returning to Farmington he became one of the founders of the First National Bank and soon the president. It was located on the southwest corner of Main and Orchard. After retiring from the bank his sister Harriett Sammons became the first female bank president of a National Bank in the United States.

He later built a lumber company and then the Avery Hotel (where Jae Geo's is today).

Emily Jane Stockton portrayed by Rebecca Morgan

Emily Jane was born in Texas in 1852. When she was 20 years old she married her first cousin Port. He and his younger brother, Ike, followed each other on their many moves before coming to this area.

Port got a job in Animas City, Colo., as sheriff. Emily Jane thought they would settle down and stay awhile but that didn't last. Port was involved in a shooting incident with a barber after the barber nicked him so they had to leave town fast.

They moved to the little community of Flora Vista and lived in a small crude cabin there. Port was shot and killed at this cabin in January 1881 and Emily Jane was injured trying to defend him with her Winchester rifle. She died in 1893 and is buried in Animas City not far from her infamous brother-in-law, Ike.

C.C. Mumma portrayed by his grandson Tom Taylor

CC Mumma was a very civic-minded person so he and some of his friends spent their lives helping to weave the fabric of today's Farmington. He served on the Board of Education, the Town Council, the New Mexico State Finance Board, the State Highway commission, the New Mexico Penitentiary Board of Directors, the state Parks and Recreation Board and finally, beginning in 1942, two terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the Senate.

Tickets for Dining with the Dead are $25 and available at Howard's Cleaners, 1601 N. Dustin Ave. For more info, call 505-325-5931 or 505-860-5165.