Monthly Archives: July 2013

He left a wife and 12 children

New Mexico is one of the most likely places in the United States to die from lightning.

Statistics show there were 90 lightning fatalities in the state between 1959 and 2012 — one death for every 1.19 million people, the nation’s second-highest rate.

The danger was more than a number for the farming community of Grady in 1967.

On July 31 that year, Camilio Sandoval was weeding a corn field with four other workers when he was struck by lightning.

“The hair on his head, arms and legs was singed off as if an open flame had been held close to his body,” the Tucumcari Daily News reported.

Sandoval, 60, died 12 days later in a hospital in his hometown of Tucumcari. He left a wife and 12 children.

The tragedy was nothing new for eastern New Mexico. Sandoval’s was the fourth death caused by lightning in the Grady area in 15 years, the Clovis News-Journal reported. A local rancher said he regularly lost cattle in electrical storms as well.

Grady residents told reporters they suspected the region was susceptible to lightning strikes because of “some type of mineral deposits underground.”


“There is an argument favoring this theory,” Richard Kithil, president of the National Lightning Safety Institute, wrote in an email on Wednesday.

But it’s just speculation, he said.

NLSI reports the odds of being struck by lightning are about one in 280,000.

Building full of memories

For sale: Ninety-nine years of Clovis history.

It opened in October 1914 as the city’s first hospital. It became a church in 1949 and a private school in 1994.

Santa Fe Hospital was built for $100,000 and opened  in 1914. (Courtesy High Plains Historical Foundation)

Santa Fe Hospital was built for $100,000 and opened in 1914. (Courtesy High Plains Historical Foundation)

Soon, its 41,175 square feet will house only memories as Clovis Christian High School students move across town to CCS’ newest campus on Humphrey Road.

The original Santa Fe Hospital building has undergone multiple renovations and utility upgrades since it was built for $100,000.

It began with 40 hospital beds and an operating room “that is not surpassed by anything of the kind in New York or Chicago,” the Clovis Journal reported in 1914.

A.L. Atkinson, a railroad machinist, was among its first customers. He lost a finger while working in the shops on Oct. 14, 1914, and was “getting along as well as could be expected” following treatment, the newspaper reported.

Dr. H.A. Miller was among the more colorful characters to roam the building. Described by friends as “loud and boisterous,” the surgeon wore a Panama hat, smoked fat cigars and liked wrestling with a black bear named Julia, which he kept in a cage.

The hospital at Eighth and Hinkle streets closed in 1949, when it became home to Central Baptist Church.

Clovis Realtor Carolyn Spence said Clovis Christian officials are asking $1.1 million for the facility, which includes a gym on about 5 1/2 acres.

Memories of Dr. Miller and his bear will always be priceless.

Cool, but not a record

Weather fact: The region is set for low temperatures in the upper 50s the next few days, unseasonably cool but unlikely to challenge the coolest July on record.

Clovis dipped to 50 degrees on July 13, 1964, a mark that still stands, according to The city has seen 51 degrees four other times in July, most recently in 2005.

The other extreme — Clovis saw a July record 110 degrees on July 3, 1944, then tied it the next day.

The summers of 1943 and ’44 were two of the hottest ever in the area, still holding 18 record-high July days between them, according to

July train wreck ‘looked almost like winter’

The Rock Island freight train consisted of 41 cars that day, traveling from Amarillo to Tucumcari, carrying everything from hobos to peanuts and canned dog food to charcoal and white lime, which blanketed the countryside.

“It looked almost like winter,” one reporter’s story began, “(with) the appearance of snow fallen on the rain-soaked terrain.”

But it was no “serene winter,” he continued, “with twisted bodies of five itinerate riders killed in the wreck …”

The dead hitchhikers were all in the same open gondola car that plunged off a bridge into an arroyo about four miles east of San Jon at 7:10 a.m. on July 9, 1960.

Officials said a bridge collapsed under the weight of the train. Some speculated 8 inches of rain in the previous week may have contributed to the bridge’s failure.

The dead men were eventually identified with addresses in California, Ohio, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Other hobos and members of the train’s crew were also injured in the 17-car derailment. Engineer R.G. “Bob” Howes of Amarillo told the Tucumcari Daily News that three of the hitchhikers may have saved his life, wading and swimming through a creek to pull him from the wreckage. The engine, “stripped of its undercarriage,” seemed ready to topple down a steep bank “at any minute,” a Daily News story read.

Officials estimated damage at $250,000, including $80,000 worth of damaged or destroyed cargo. The charcoal being transported caught fire and burned for two days.

“The fire and ankle-deep mud around the scene hampered track-cleaning operations,” the Daily News reported.

132 years later, Fort Sumner still has the Kid

Questions about whether Billy the Kid was really killed in Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881, began almost immediately.

Jesus Silva, date unknown. (Photo courtesy Palace of the Governors)

Jesus Silva, date unknown. (Photo courtesy Palace of the Governors)

A San Francisco newspaper had this to say just a few days after The Associated Press sent the news around the world:

“We hope ‘Billy the Kid’ is dead as the associated press says, but we notice he was shot at half past eleven o’clock in the morning by the light of the moon. Such trifling discrepancies, however, do not count for much in telegraphic dispatches.”

Rumors that the Kid — William Bonney — was still alive were still healthy in 1938, which prompted Clovis News-Journal Editor Jack Hull to seek answers. (Read the story here: kid paper)

Hull traveled to Fort Sumner and located Jesus Silva, whom Hull declared to be “the only living man who knew Billy the Kid personally, and who saw him in death …”

Here’s what Silva, 86 at the time, told Hull for the newspaper article published on July 13, 1938:

“It had been a hot day throughout the valley and Mesa Redondo country. I had strolled over to a neighbor’s house and on my return had stopped under a cottonwood tree for a moment, when the Kid, whom I had known for some time, strolled up.

“He had just ridden into town. He was hot and tired and we … drank beer together. He told me he was hungry and that he was going to the home of Don Pedro Maxwell for a cut of fresh beef for his supper, which was being prepared at a nearby house.

“We parted there and in a few minutes there were shots. The news soon spread that (Sheriff Pat) Garrett had shot the Kid at Maxwell’s home. I ran over there and Garrett, who had run out of the house, told me to go in and see if the Kid was dead.”

He was, Silva reported. And helped bury his friend nearby the next day.

About a year later, according to the website, Silva was interviewed by Miguel Otero Jr., who wrote a book about the Kid.

Silva told Otero that Deluvina Maxwell, another friend of Bonney’s, was also in the room after the gunshots.

“There on the floor, we saw Billy stretched out, face down,” Silva said. “We turned him over, and when Deluvina realized fully it was the Kid, she began to cry bitterly, interspersing with her tears the vilest curses she could bestow on the head of Pat Garrett.”

The slaying of Dan Lyons

Clovis’ hotel business was competitive in 1910.

Newspaper archives tell us the young city created by the railroad as a place to maintain and repair steam engines had at least 16 boarding houses or hotels — though its population was just 3,200.

Photo courtesy High Plains Historical Foundation

Photo courtesy High Plains Historical Foundation

Two of the more prominent hotels were the Reidora in the 300 block of Main Street and the Antlers, just across the street at 109 W. Grand Ave.

Hotels would send employees to the train depot with horse and buggy in hopes of recruiting visitors to their rooms for the night.

“Whoever’s cab you got in, that’s the hotel where you stayed,” said Barbara Honea of Amarillo whose late husband’s ancestors operated the Antlers.

The competition led to violence in January 1910, according to The Daily Panhandle, a Texas newspaper.

Dan Lyons, a buggy driver for the Antlers, was shot to death by an employee of the Reidora “over solicitations for their respective hotels,” the newspaper reported.

Lyons’ mother, Mary Lyons, opened the Antlers in 1909 but was living in Amarillo where the family operated another hotel.

The newspaper reported family members took a train to Clovis soon after the shooting, arriving in time to find 19-year-old Dan conscious and conversing, but gravely ill.

He died at noon on Feb. 1, 1910, the paper reported.

“Dan’s brother, Jerry, literally had to be tied up to prevent him from going after the (accused shooter,)” said Honea.

The newspaper reported Lyons’ killer was arrested, but it’s not clear whether the Reidora employee was convicted or even tried in connection with the slaying.

“Dan was a pretty good little Irishman boxer,” Honea said she’s learned doing family research, and it’s likely “they had been having some fights.”

But newspaper articles written by Clovis historian Don McAlavy indicate Lyons was unarmed when he was shot at the Santa Fe train depot.

“Dan Lyons came to Clovis only a short time ago, and has amply sustained his reputation as a young man of worth and business integrity,” The Daily Panhandle reported.

Here is The Daily Panhandle article, courtesy Barbara Honea:

Did you know:

• The Antlers was open from 1909 to 1959. In its prime, it was one of Clovis’ more popular gathering places with a restaurant and bar that closed with prohibition in 1942.

• The three-story hotel opened with 30 rooms, including seven with private baths. It expanded to 47 rooms before closing, but is perhaps best remembered for its second-floor balcony, cattle buyers gathering at the domino table and its large, tile lobby that hosted community dances.

• Today, the site is home to several small businesses including a tattoo shop and adult entertainment store. It’s located south of the Bank of Clovis on the west side of Main.

• Clovis-area rancher Patrick Lyons, a New Mexico Public Regulation commissioner, is related to the Antlers’ former owners. He named a son Dan Lyons in honor of the slain buggy driver. The youngest Dan Lyons will be a sophomore at New Mexico State University in the fall.

Havener, Grier no more

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

Such was the case for W.W. White and the eastern New Mexico community he was promoting in the summer of 1910 called Havener.

The upstart railroad “cutoff” said to be looking “like a hummer” by the Rio Grande Republican newspaper had a post office and two stores with big plans for growth and partying that July 4.

“They are preparing to celebrate … with a number of prominent speakers and a general good time in racing, baseball and other sports,” the newspaper reported.

Havener was surrounded by “the richest farming country in the county,” the paper reported, but newcomers “preparing to build at once” never arrived.

By 1921 the ghost town wasn’t even called Havener anymore. New residents with similar plans for growth renamed it Grier after themselves, but that community didn’t last either.

The post office closed in 1956 and the only way to tell you’re in Grier/Havener today is with your vehicle’s odometer — the site is 11 miles west of Clovis, about halfway between St. Vrain and Cannon Air Force Base alongside U.S. 60/84.

‘Canadian Comet’ gone at 84

One of the Texas Panhandle’s all-time great football players was scheduled to be buried Monday in Amarillo’s Llano Cemetery.

From "Pride of the Plains"

From “Pride of the Plains”

Bill Cross, 84, died July 5 in Canadian, where a bronze statue stands in his honor outside Wildcat Stadium.

Cross, who graduated from Canadian High in 1947, starred for the Wildcats and West Texas State University before he was drafted as a running back by the Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League in 1951.

Some trivia:

• Cross, just 5-feet-6 inches tall and 151 pounds, played three seasons for the Cardinals. He rushed 826 yards, caught 52 passes and scored 12 touchdowns in his NFL career, according to

• Cross set the rushing record at WT, compiling 2,474 yards. The mark stood two decades before being broken by Mercury Morris.

• The book “Pride of the Plains” reports Cross was roommates with legendary NFL announcer and kicker Pat Summerall. Both played for Chicago in 1953.

• Cross was called the “Canadian Comet” throughout his career, but also teamed with running back Charles Wright at WT, where the duo was tagged “the Wright-Cross.”