Early settlers pushed into New Mexico

James F. “Jim” Newman began moving his cattle to Salt Lake, now Grulla Wildlife Refuge, just across the state line in New Mexico in 1882.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three articles about two of Roosevelt County’s earliest settlers, Doak Good and Jim Newman.

One of the biggest land deals in United States history helped bring about the settlement of the barren plains of Eastern New Mexico.

In 1881 brothers Charles and John Farwell and others organized a syndicate of eastern investors and agreed to build the red granite capitol building in Austin in exchange for title to 3 million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle. This grant took in portions of 10 counties ranging from Yellow House near Lubbock in the south to the Oklahoma Panhandle in the north. The brand of this new ranch, “XIT,” was designed to foil rustlers, and XIT became the name of the ranch.

In 1882 when they began surveying and fencing this vast area, it forced the settlers who were already there to move on. Many of them moved west into New Mexico.

One of the first of these new settlers was James F. “Jim” Newman. Newman had come to Texas from Arkansas and in 1879 moved his herd from Navarro County to a ranch in Nolan and Fisher counties near Sweetwater, Texas. In 1881 he bought the water rights to George Causey’s buffalo camp at Yellow House and moved his cattle there.

Yellow House, near the present site of Lubbock, fell inside the XIT property, so in 1882, Newman began moving his cattle to Salt Lake, now Grulla Wildlife Refuge, just across the state line in New Mexico. Since his brand was “DZ,” the ranch was known by that name.

With him came several cowhands, including my step-grandfather, R. L. “Bob” Wood, who was Newman’s first cousin; Sid Boykin; Walter Fulcher; and Julius Darby, a black man. Newman had bought the rights to the water from Andy McDonald, and McDonald’s brother Will’s wife, Lizzie, became camp cook.

The men dug troughs at the northeastern end of Salt Lake to catch the spring water which flowed into the lake and built an adobe house. The logs for beams and door frames had to be hauled from Las Vegas, N.M., and Newman complained that they cost him $10 apiece.

A person could only legally own 40 acres where his water and dwelling were located. However, it was the custom for each rancher to claim the thousands of acres where he ran his cattle. According to Bob Wood, “the DZ claimed all the territory to the Canadian River on the north, to the Pecos River on the west, 40 miles south to the Four Lakes, the line of the LFD Ranch, and to the Texas line on the east.”

There were no fences except drift fences which were constructed to keep the cattle from drifting in bad weather. Half-dugout line camps were set up at various points along the perimeter of the ranch for the men keeping an eye on the cattle. They would “ride the line” between these dugouts to find and turn back any cattle that had strayed.

My grandmother, Ora Wood, has said that Jim Newman was like a character out of a Western novel. “He was part Cherokee Indian, was dark and heavyset with a black mustache. He had a quick temper and at various times, would fire all the cowboys and later hire them back when he had cooled off.”

Dan McFatter, a DZ cowboy, told of one incident when Newman was more agreeable: “Once Jim Newman took a notion he wanted a desk at the DZ to keep his papers in. We built it in the yard — was awful proud of it till we found it was too big to go through the door. When Jim come, he says, ‘Hell! I’ll use it out here!’”

Newman could be very determined. Ora Wood told this story of him:

“Once Jim found a man who was nearly dead of tuberculosis. He took the man back to the ranch with him and gave him a job as cook — we didn’t worry about germs in those days. He told the man he was going to see that he got well, and made him drink a cup of fresh cow blood every day. The man hated it; said he’d rather die than drink it; but Jim kept after him till he cured him.”

Newman was a great talker and would entertain the cowhands for hours with his tales of wild adventures. He could ride any horse on the ranch and raised champion race horses back in Sweetwater. He maintained his home in Sweetwater and was sheriff of Nolan County for many years.

Once Newman was shot in the back by an enemy and went all the way to New York City to have the bullets dug out. The story was told that Newman saved the slugs, and the cowboys swore that the same slugs were used to kill this enemy. The man was waylaid and killed at Sweetwater, but no one was ever convicted of his murder.

Newman’s trouble with Doak Good started soon after he arrived at Salt Lake. With very little water of his own, Newman’s cattle drifted over to Good’s place at Portales Springs.

Col. Jack Potter, famous cowboy, said, “When Newman was crowded out of Yellow House XIT pasture and established the ranch at Salt Lake with hardly any water, only enough for about 50 steers, he did not seem to want any stock water while his neighbors had plenty for all hands.”

This situation was bound to cause trouble and violence soon erupted between Newman and Doak Good.

Burns has taken her information from the interviews and research of her mother, Rose Powers “Mrs. Eddie” White. She may be contacted at: rwburns11@gmail.com