Part 11 of a Series
Letters to Myscie, A Western Love Story is also a story of the love of the west. Not all of us are from this area. My great grandparents certainly weren’t. They were Yankees; “Northerners” unaccustomed to the ways of the west, and specifically the southwest. Love brought them here, and kept them here.
It was quite a few years ago that I started this project. I have had several kind and intelligent persons read it over. It has been reviewed and edited, marked up, and changes suggested, until I almost felt defeated by my own creation. However, for the last decade, I have been living in the home of my great grandparents, and I feel that I have genuiely become a part of their past lives, as they have my present. I thank the Mountain Mail for providing me the opportunity to share this fun story with you. Letters to Myscie, A Western Love Story is a “saga”, actually mostly written by Joseph Edward Smith.
Suzanne E. Smith
April 22nd '83
My dear loving Myscie,
I have just mailed to you in an other envelope four letters, two from Jim, one from my mother, and one from Miss Dillingham, the one I spoke of in the letter I wrote you Friday.
Those letters of Jims are quite old but they may amuse you and be interesting to you. They make me laugh. I wrote to him and asked him if I might send it. The one that tells about the fight at the Kelly mine, did he write to you about it? The letter from mother I send because you can see for your self the feeling that exists there toward you. Though I have told them nothing about you as yet, only sent your picture-told them you were mine and how dearly I loved you. I also hinted that perhaps you might come to Boston next fall to study music. That will explain where she speaks of you coming then when you come to Boston. Myscie my dear, just how much I wish you could go East next fall and study piano and voice. You could have your piano there, go into school every morning and out every night as I ust to do when I was at home and went to school. You could come back to Darlington after the spring term and spend the summer at home and return in the fall and finish up your second year and graduate.
All this time I will be at work for ends I have in view out here and then at the end of those two years my dear girl how happy we shall be. How much I have thought about this dear Myscie. You must go; if you don't wish to go there go to Chicago or Cincinnata. It will do you so much good in a thousand ways, Myscie. I am going to write to your Mother soon Myscie and tell her all about my love for you and our engagement and sometime this spring
I shall write her a long letter on this subject of her sending you away somewhere to finish your music. I know she will agree with me after she understands me and I have said all I want to. Oh could I but step in and talk instead of having to write it all it would be so much better and we should understand each other so much better too.
Dear Myscie you have been very kind to me in your correspondence for the last two or three weeks, writing me so regular and all the while not hearing from me. I appreciate it very very much and you must forgive me won't you for being so silent because I did have good reasons, and if you could have seen me so completely played out as I was, you would have said so too. What do you suppose I weigh now? I was weighed last Wednesday the day before I quit work. My weight when I left Darlington was 138 lbs and last Wed. I tipped 127 lbs. How is that? If I keep on I will not be any heavier than you Myscie. I think by Wednesday I will be able to go to work again the easiest and then after this rest I will be good for a long siege. My back is getting strong fast with the good attention I am giving it.
I am quite anxious to be at work for I left a place that was turning me $100.00 a month and I want to save up all I can to invest in sheep next fall. Mr. Bass, Mr. Hoyt and myself have just bought a "ranch" out here S.W. of us about 60 miles and next fall we are going to stock it with sheep. Mr. Bass will sell his ranch up in Kansas and put all his sheep down here on ours so we will have quite a large flock. I hope by an other year 3,000 or 4,000 head perhaps.
I will send you a picture of the mill where I have been at work when I send this letter, also that picture of Miss Bangs and father's and mother's too if you want them. They are quite soiled and dirty from carrying about with me so much, but I want you to have them if you want them. About those pictures of mine, you may give them to whom you like. Myscie, I will leave it with you in fact I give them to you and you may give them to just who you want to have them. You can give my love and best wishes to Will & Jule and the remainder of the family and tell them I am all OK and that they shall hear from me sometime in the future not far away.
I wrote a letter to Jim this afternoon I have not written to him before for some time. You asked me in one of your letters if Mr. Bass sang tenor; he does; this is the part he sings and I will send you a card picture of him just as he sang in costume, (Scotch) here at the concert at the same time I send the other pictures. He says (Mr. B) thank Myscie, and tell her how we shall be pleased to learn to sing that piece (No Hope Byron) when she sends it, and will think of her while singing it always, and so we will.
Myscie my dear girl I am so sorry you have been so sick. I wish I could have been with you to have read and talked to you and to have waited on you. I am a real good nurse when any one is sick and I know I should have had you well soon. Myscie you are having lots of sick spells since I came away-does your mother know-are you real careful of your self? My dear girl, I want you to be; do please. You can't be too careful of yourself and while you are cleaning house you must not lift and work as you have written me you have been doing. You are a good girl to be willing but remember there is a proper extent to go to.
Annie N. was real good to give me that clever little scolding the other day in your letter. Tell her it did me lots of good. Thank her for me and give her my best regards. I tore off that part of the letter and sent it up to Jim in my letter to him. Tell Annie I want her to take the best of care of you and not let you get sick any more.
Just one week ago to night, the girls started on their way home. They were to go as far as Springer, N.M. about one day's ride on the cars, and then stop a week with Bell's sister Agnes who is married and who's husband owns a large ranch about 20 miles from the station. They have a splendid home out there. Bell says she is to remain with her sister untill fall. Geo & Ed have had letters from the girls and they are having a splendid visit. Agnes, Bell's sister where they are stopping, is just my age, she is an old schoolmate of mine. We boys are all going up there sometime this summer and stop a day or two with them.
Mr. Brey starts for home again tonight. He had only been out here about three weeks, not quite that either. He has a fine opening to go into business down home in Ill., so he has settled up affairs here and goes back tonight. He will meet the girls at Springer to morrow and they take the same train East with him. It makes it very pleasant for them all, as they will be to gether until they reach Burlington about three days travel. Mr. Bass has written you a little note I guess at least he said he had a letter from you which he was going to answer and he has just asked me about your address, so I guess he has finished it.
Mr. Bass was out in the mountains most all last week; he went out to look after his mine and to see the ranch which we have bought. It is a "dandy" I tell you; we have been offered three times what we paid for it all ready, but we don't want to sell.
Ed saw Jim at the Magdalenas; he stoped[sic] there one night; he is well and likes it. Myscie dear I am your same true and loving Joe of old; don't doubt please. I have not tried to answer those doubting letters you wrote some time ago, but this will show there is no change. Good night with a kiss.
Your true and loving
The years 1882-1883 were a lawless period in New Mexico history, at least in the southern portion of the territory. Cattle rustlers, “banditos”, and renegade Indians were becoming a menace to society, often threatening the lives and certainly the property of the citizens of Socorro, Dona Ana and Lincoln counties. Due to the large numbers of men riding in these thieving gangs, traditional judicial authority was unable to cope with the situation. In the book entitled The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Twithcell gives a colorful acount. He wrote: “These stock thieves had become very daring. Lives of the best citizens were being constantly threatened. On this account it was deemed best to use the militia forces of the territory to suppress the evil. A petition signed by over a hundred of the leading citizens of the counties named was sent to Governor Sheldon, who called out a battalion of the militia, commanded by Major Albert J. Fountain. The commanding officer acted with great vigor, resulting in the killing of Doroteo Sainz, the chief lieutenant of John Kinney, leader of the ‘Kinney Gang,’ which was broken up, most of the rustlers being captured and several of the leaders afterwards tried and sent to the penitentiary. On April 16, 1883, a special court of inquiry was ordered to meet at Lake Valley for the purpose of investigating the conduct of Major Fountain, in connection with the killing of the three men named in his report, but the order was revoked upon learning that the grand jury of Dona Ana county had fully investigated all the circumstances and found no cause for accusing Fountain or any one connected with the affair.”
The public and the media supported Major Fountain as described in Chloride’s Black Range, March 30th issue. It stated, “Major A.J. Fountain has the right idea of the way to dispose of rustlers. His command of militia sent out lately by the governor to hunt cattle thieves, captured John Watts and Bice Bush, two notorious rascals. The prisoners attempted to escape and were riddled with bullets. Thus were the ends of justice accomplished without expense to the territory”.
Although this action curtailed crimes of this type and was a deterrent for those who considered cattle rustling as a line of work, life on the open range was perilous, lonesome, and financially risky. Just one week after the trial of Major Fountain Joe and his “chum” Ed Bass ignored the risks and began a ranching endeavor together. They had big plans, and it is easy to understand how one intent on making it big would have taken this approach. Some of the most prestigious financial reporting in the the eastern media represented cattle and sheep ranching in New Mexico as one of the most profitable industries of the western country. Following extension of the railroad to the open range, it was predicted that New Mexico would be ranked foremost among the pastoral and wool producing states and territories of the Union.
As we see by his writing, J.E. was infatuated with that way of life and the possibility of being a cowboy. Being a former big city dweller, it is likely that he knew the ins and outs of wagon and buggy travel, but he didn’t master riding and roping as ranch boys do soon after they learn to walk. Could he shoot? It is never mentioned, although he probably was familiar with it as a sport. It is doubtful, that he ever slept on the ground, or experienced anything more dangerous than a school yard brawl until he came to New Mexico. His confidence was amazing.
"Milk Ranch" New Mexico
April 26, '83
My dear dear Myscie
You will be somewhat surprised when you receive and read this letter to learn that I have left Socorro. I left this noon with a Mr. Coles for the "Ranch". We shall be gone about two months, perhaps more. I wrote you in my last about a ranch which Mr. Bass, Mr. Hoyt and myself had bought. It was a fine "snap" and it lies between two other fine ranches which belongs to the man I am with now, Mr. Coles. He was East when we bought it and has just returned only a few days ago. He wants to buy it so as to join his all in one and is willing to give us four times what we paid for it. I guess we will sell to him. I am going out with him to look after the ranch and to stop with him a little while. I have given up my chance at the mill, for I think I am on to something that will turn me something fine if I stick by it. You see if I stayed at the mill and worked this spring and summer I might save quite a little ready cash by fall, while on the other hand I might work myself all out so I would not be good for anything by fall if I did so. Now if I go out on the Ranch this spring and summer I will not earn any money, but I have a scheme in view which if it comes out all straight will turn me a grand thing in about 12 months. Anyway I am going to run the risk. I can't write you all about it just at present, but will tell you all about it just as soon as it shows signs that I am going to succeed in my plans.
This trip of mine was quite suddenly decided upon and quite unexpected. I had not thought of it three days ago. It will take you aback to get them. We have a heavy dray loaded with provisions; bedding, cooking utensils, et. etc. drawn by two horses. We reached here about (Milk Ranch) six o'ck and shall stop all night to-morrow night. I guess we will be at what is called "Snake Ranch". I will write you all about my trip etc when we get out to our ranch. I must close now and to bed for we must be up by 4 o'ck in the morning to start off again. We sleep to-night on the hard floor with nothing but blankets under & over us. I tried to find time to write you before I left Socorro dear Myscie, but I was so hurried getting ready to leave. I did not, so borrowed this off one of the stores as we came [the paper] through town to write on tonight;for I knew I would have a chance to send it back to Socorro sometime tomorrow for we will meet some one going to S. Good night dear Myscie. Don't worry about me dear for I am all right.
Your loving Joe
The ranches Joe Smith wrote about were located in the San Mateo Mountains southwest of Socorro, and south of Magdalena. The area I have been told was called Snake Ranch Flats is between Highway 60 and the Socorro Mountains near Strawberry Peak. The absence of a direct route forced a choice of crossing of the Socorro Mountains or going so far south along the river that several days would be added to the trip. Although these mountain ranges are not terribly high, they are rough and rocky, and covered with brush. At the time, the lands had not been surveyed by the U.S. Government and were therefore not open for homestead entry, but as an alternative, a person could post a notification of intent to patent the land, with “prescriptive rights” to the property. It is interesting now to find that the Cowles ranches were patented by other individuals with Cowles appearing only as a witness.. J.E. Smith’s claim was patented by himself; but this part of the story is yet to unfold. I have enjoyed going back to those camps which are now part of a ranch owned by the Wilsons of Magdalena. The terrain is very rough, and the canyons are almost straight up and down. It was generally true of private land in the west that people settled near water.. The original spring improvements can still be found, and J.E. Smith’s little cabin, no larger than about 10 feet square has been reduced to a height of two logs.We have found that one of the ranches which was purchased from one of Joe’s neighbors, Frank Pierce, was patened by E.A. Clemmons. Well preserved ruins on that ranch show the hard work done by the pioneers. Among them are elaborate spring developments, corrals, and remnants of the old cabins.
My dear true Myscie
We; Mr. Cowles and myself arrived in town last night about 11.30 after two days drive from our ranches. After stabling our horses, we rounded George (Mr. Hoyt) up as he was the nearest of the boys. He was glad to see us of course even at that late hour. Found Ed had gone out into the Indian Country to be gone the month long and baggaged with his photographic aperatus to make views of the country, the Indians etc, characteristic views of the modes of living etc., he had been gone about a week.
One of the first things George said to me after we came was "Joe I guess I have some bad news for you" It startled me I tell you and my first thoughts were of you my dear girl, though I could not think in what shape it possibly could be. He handed me your postal and your letter of the 2nd but a few words it told me all. My dear dear Myscie I am so very very sorry about this sudden and so unexpected trouble and it comes as near home to me as though it was my own father and sad news from my own dear home. I have been thinking about you all this whole day about your dear good mother too. I know just how hard she will take it, how it must completely unnerve her with all her former care and I wish I might see her and say a comforting and cheering word to her for I love your mother Myscie as my own.
Don't worry dear girl or get nervous nor think too much over this for if you do you will surely get yourself down sick and you are needed now more than ever to comfort and do need to bear up. You were a dear good girl to think of me and send me the postal even in the midst of all the trouble and excitement and I hope to hear from you tomorrow by letter with all particulars in the most favorable light possible. Bear up dear girl and every thing will come out all right in the end I know though everthing may seem so gloomy so discouraging and black at present, we all have troubles and some it would seem sometimes have more than their share. Think about them as little as you can dear Myscie and rather encourage those about you and it will make you strong. I know you will be all this my dear girl for I know my dear Myscie better than she does herself and what true noble womanly girl she is and can be.
Myscie you have been so good to write to me so often this past month while you were hearing nothing from me all the while I never read one of your dear good letters Myscie but I want another right away and wish the days away so I can hear from you again.
Do you want me to tell you about my two weeks experience in the mountains? I don't believe I can make it very interesting for you, though I have enjoyed it so much in every detail from the start, for I am so encouraged as to my final success in this enterprise which I am now just starting in on; and though it may be quite a long and perhaps hard and rough road I am quite sure of it bringing that which will help at least to make us a happy home.
First I must tell you in regard to this Mr. Cowles for he figures quite prominently in this matter. He is a young man about 30 or 31 and an old friend of Ed's & George's and has known them ever since they have been down here in fact it is he, Geo and Ed who own the "claim" which I have spoken of before and which they have been working to some extent the past month out here in the Magdalenas. This will somewhat explain how it happens that we are all in to-gether on this ranching scheme which I am about to tell you about. Well Mr. Cowles or "Clate" as we all call him for the past two years has had charge of a large number of ranches which are claimed but not actually owned by a man, a banker here in Socorro by the name of Terry. This Mr. Terry is looked upon by all about here as a "sharper" and one who will beat anyone he can, even his best friends when he gets a chance and there is scarce anyone in this city who would speak the good word for him or but would clap their hands to see him "euchred" out of his whole lump, in fact there was a vigilance committee wasted on him about a year and a half ago and threatened to rope him about something. I don't know just what so you may judge of the man; but back to my little story. This Mr. T has for the past year been working to beat Clate who was somewhat interested himself in these ranches, and has really succeeded in getting the better of him for about $2,000. The result is Clate has left his employ and swears vengence by all that is good & great that he will make him (Mr. T.) a pauper inside of three years and beat him in a fair game too.
It was for this purpose that he has just made a trip back East about two months ago and from which he had just returned only a few days before I wrote you the last letter. He has interested several capitalists and now has "large money" to back him in forming a large stock company in the ranching business. His move is to buy up and secure by claims all the ranches in this section so that they can have full sway of a large tract and then when this is done to stock with a large herd of cattle. Now a large number of these ranches belong to Mr. T. or at least are those which he lays claim to, which in fact he has no lawful right to any of them for several reasons. He simply holds them because they never have been claimed by any one else and the impression is he owns them. Now in the first place these lands have never been surveyed by the government and therefore have never been recorded. (I don't know whether I will make this plain to you or not Myscie, but I will try to best I can) Clate has during his trip East, made arrangements with the government to have these lands surveyed so that when he gets everything all ready these ranches can be recorded before any one can make previous claims.
No one can hold in the same state or territory more than one claim under the preemption law, so here Mr. T. would be bared from holding but one ranch even if he had made a preemption claim, which as yet he never has. Now the idea is this; Mr. Cowles gets a number of friends whom he can depend upon to each preempt one of these ranches in their own name then after the survey has been made have them recorded, then these ranches will by right and law belong to the parties who have made the preemption claim on them. Now you may ask how is Mr. Cowles to get all these ranches into his hands if they are all lawfully owned by perhaps a dozzen[sic] different parties? Well it is like this; he comes to me for instance and says here I know of a certain ranch I will give you so much if you will preempt that ranch in your name and then "deed" the same over to me. In other words; sell him my right for preemption. Now it is no object for me to say no with the hopes of getting the ranch myself for perhaps I might hunt a month out there in the mountains and not find it, but he knows where all of them are and he gives me a chance to locate one if I will agree to sell it to him when I become the lawful owner so he can get a clear and full title to it. Do you see? Well, he goes to George and makes the same arrangements, he goes to Ed and does the same, and to several others, we all preempt and sell to him then he gets control of all these ranches by lawful right which have been used and claimed unlawfully by Mr. T. and then he turns around to Mr. T. and says "Mr. T. where are you going to put all these cattle of yours? These ranches all belong to me for which I have papers to show. Please move out off of my land" and he has to move. This will leave him in very bad shape for he has a very large herd and as he will have no place to put them, will of course have to sell them perhaps at quite a sacrifice. Besides this there are several other ranches which will fall into Mr. C's hands before the year is out, which Mr. T. has paid big money for, but as he only holds at present what is called "Quit deeds" he can not hold them lawfully and will have to lose them too. This as you can see is a big scheme and will take good judgement & perseverence and lots of money to carry through. Mr. C is good for it and confident of accomplishing the ends he is working for. Now this may seem a little hard, but it is business Myscie from the word go and there is no crookedness about it but straight fair dealing all the way through, or I would not think of entering into and rendering
what assistance I can to carry it through.
These other ranches which are owned by other parties out in this section he will buy up as fast as he can untill he has control of this whole section . And now what am I to get out of it? In the first place I own 1/3 (Geo & Ed owning the other 2/3) of a ranch which we will sell Mr. C. for about 4 times what we paid for it. Then I have taken up one ranch under the "preemption law" which I shall sell him (160 acres) and also one other (640 acres) under the "Desert Claim Act". These last two cost me nothing but my time but I shall get in return for them good money. Then this summer some time Geo, Ed, Clate and myself are all going into the Sierra Montoya Mountains and locate a ranch each under the "homestead act". These we shall keep and stock ourselves as fast as we are able and perhaps join ourselves together into a stock company and make one large ranch.
These ideas as yet are all "air castles" yet with such good foundation they can't but help to turn into true realities
These plans cannot be perfected in one nor two years but in three, we shall have ranches which will be worth big money to us. There is no business in the world that is safer or surer in the end than ranching, though to start with nothing as it were, is slow and hard work. But I am sure to win dear Myscie if I stick and persevere which I shall do.
Dear Myscie I like to write you all about this though perhaps it does not interest you at all. You must tell me if it doesn't but you are mine my dear girl, and I know you are interested in everything I am in this way at least. You are the only one I have or at least care to go to and talk with about my future plans as a general thing. I never have liked to have any one know or even question me about my affairs not even my father and mother but some how dear Myscie I want to tell and have you know everything.
Your true and loving Joe
When two people are falling in love they always present the best side of things. Their good nature, their good looks, their fairer qualities, and their behavior. The west was full of temptation for Joe Smith, and although it is doubtful that he was unfaithful to Myscie, he probably had lots of opportunity to enjoy himself; to drink and smoke and raise hell. Although he was not a big man, he was very handsome, and as shown in this letter had a certain flair and gift of gab. He was probably very charming with the ladies, and his intelligence was respected by his gentleman acquaintances. One can only imagine how many details of his life in the west, he didn’t divulge to his love, in an attempt to protect her, and to keep her from worrying about him.
All photographs©J.E. Smith
Letters to Myscie, a Western Love Story written by Suzanne E. Smith, All rights reserved.