“He Had Ten Wagons When He Came To New Mexico”
by Richard Spencer
Shawn Kelley is an anthropologist and oral historian who has talked with all kinds of people throughout the Southwest. As part of the Abo Canyon Second Track Project, Shawn has interviewed over 60 people about their communities and life experiences along the Belen Cutoff.
Sawmills were some of the earliest businesses established in territorial New Mexico, particularly as mines opened or the railroad expanded into new areas. Logging operations became common but diminished in importance after the easily accessible timber was cut. In 1887, B. B. Spencer established the first sawmill in the southern Manzanos. He ran the sawmill with a steam boiler bought in Kansas, brought to Oklahoma, and then transported to White Oaks, New Mexico to cut timbers for the mines during the gold rush there. Here, Richard Spencer talks about his grandfather, the early sawmill operations, and what it must have been like to keep moving into new situations.
~ ~ ~ ~ “Hauling Water,” Unknown (Photographer)
As far as I know, he was the first Anglo that got here and he started the first mill in the area. The Kaysers, I think, were close behind him or right about that same time. He brought a boiler for the mill through Oklahoma to White Oaks. Supposedly it took eight oxen to pull it and was thirty foot long. He had ten wagons when he came to New Mexico.
The first mill originally was in Barranco Canyon south of Eastview back behind the red cliffs. They actually used the oxen then to pull the trees down to the mill and that kind of stuff. The first mill there that I know about, he did kind of a unique thing. He dammed up a canyon and created a spring. Then it was kind of a sponge and it collected water, and he had a pipe comin’ out of the bottom of that dam that he got water from, and that was where he ran his steam motor. And I would assume because the timber was easy and there was nobody up here, he started low there at the red bluffs, went on up Barranco Canyon, and then went on over to the Eastview area. The Cienegita area there, that’s in the Forest Service now, is where he had his big mill, and there was probably sixty, seventy men working there. He had a two-story commissary and that was a big mill. And then he had mills up at Chilili and clear on up at Mora, New Mexico.
I guess that was the Cienegita mill that kicked off from the railroad. He probably wasn’t the only contractor that had that contract; there was other mills up here. Before the railroad, B. B. was getting into Belen and around this area to sell most of his lumber. After the railroad he was takin’ it by wagons. He had a mule yard up there, a wagon yard, in Mountainair. B. B. provided cross-ties and bridge timbers, as far as I know, those bridge timbers that are down in Abo Canyon came from there.
B. B. had come across the Oklahoma Territory and married a lady there, and she was with him when he came up through New Mexico, through White Oaks and up to Eastview. And then something happened along the trail there, as far as their marriage was concerned. Then he got a mail order bride. She got here from Ohio and didn’t think much of the Wild West, so she went back home. Later on was my grandmother, Sarah Ellen; B. B. married her after he was up here. They needed a schoolteacher and he went to Albuquerque. She was goin’ through to California from Kansas, and she was a schoolteacher, so he talked her into comin’ back up to Eastview, which was the area up here where we lived. Two years, three years, whatever it was after that, they got married.
In 1922 he got run over by the railroad, by the train, and killed out west of Mountainair. When he did, they lost the ranch and lost all this country up here, because they owed some money on it. My father was with him. He was in the hospital for eighteen months, ended up with a stiff leg out of the deal, and my grandfather ended up dead. “The Kayser Homestead,” Unknown (Photographer)
B. B. Spencer, that you’ve got to respect him—I do—as an individual that did something a little bit different back in those days, and had to have some kind of sand, some kind of ability, and some kind of a strength as that pioneer, that I think a lot of people in New Mexico have—and the West. As progress came this way, they were out in front of it, and it wasn’t a polite society all the time. And again, gringos comin’ into a Spanish community area, those kind of things were tough. And yet there was a bonding with the Spanish culture that was here, from him, and I feel that same thing—rather than a conflict, like some folks have. My grandpa, because he had a little more means maybe, or somethin’, was put in a position to help people—pullin’ teeth, a good example. He had a set of forceps. He pulled teeth for the Spanish folks that were around, whatever, for everybody. So I feel a kinship to that, of the various cultures. I don’t have any problem goin’ to Manzano and different places. I’ve got good friends and people, our families have known each other for years, for generations. That’s a good feeling. We were never governors and senators and those kind of things, but yeah, I’m proud of our background.