Byways Issue 08

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by Jan Girand

(Sunflowers along Bonny Ditch, dug approximately 1841 in NENM)
As I walked down the lonely road
of rust and ocher — colors showed
New Mexico’s tones — the strokes were bold,
from autumn’s palette, red and gold.
The scents of sage and prickly pear
rose up to greet me, filled the air
with pungent smells of dust and seed
and sunflower stalks and cabbage weed.

(Sunflower photo by Carol Bignell of Roswell)
The sunset spread its dripping hues
of rosy orange, vermillion, blues —
like crayons melting in the light
de colores ran before the night.
The glow gave light for me to see
great forests of antiquity;
the mighty oaks bowed down to nod
while begging blessings from their God.

(Deer near Timberon, photo by Carol Bignell)
I hear the cry of a mourning dove
sob of unrequited love ;
the aspens quaked in evening’s light
and pines stood brave against the night.

(What had been the home of Santiago Bonney, son of James.)
At last I found the place I sought:
a silent village long forgot
and left behind so long before —
the final close of a heavy door
on times of carts by oxen pulled
and wheel-spun threads and carded wool
and calico and tatted lace
and patch-work quilts about the place.

(Ditch dug by James Bonney, about 1841, for his ranch and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. Col Alexander W. Doniphan and his Missouri Volunteers, and Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West, spent nights along here as guests of Bonney about August 14, 1846 on their conquest trek of New Mexico and California. There is no doubt Ceran St. Vrain also visited here many times. James Bonney was killed by Indians in October, 1846)
St. Vrain and Kearney and their kin,
land grantees and mountain men,
had passed this way,
their aura spills;
their echoes call down from ancient hills.

Home of Maria Cleofas Bonney Lopez and her husband, Trinidad Lopez. Cleofas was the daughter of Englishman, James Bonney.
A timeless adobe squats in dust:
an old man telling his beads at dusk;
the faded manta falls away
to bare a face of time-worn clay —
was sculpt and smoothed so long ago
by the expert hands of El Senor.
The time has ravaged countenance,
and gentle pride has bowed its stance,
yet … adobe of those bygone days
retains its charm in other ways;
those softened lines of melted earth,
like tarnish on silver, proves its worth.

(Cactus blossoms in New Mexico’s golden tones)
An old ghost town that’s gone to seed
is wrapped up now in tangled weeds;
small children’s laughter, woman’s song
once filled the air but now are gone.
Still, signs of life, however faint …
against a wall with faded paint,
in all their glory bloom some stalks
of gold and crimson hollyhocks.
O’er there’s an orchard, mostly dead,
but on one tree are spots of red
and on another, in mid-air,
delicious apples dangle there.

(Inside, looking out, of what had been the home of Cleofas Bonney Lopez)
The well’s gone dry and stock pond too,
all roofs caved in, whole walls are few
The paneless eyes stare sightlessly
midst tumbled bricks and piled debris.
Where once were homes, there’s little left;
those dirt-tracked floors are now windswept.
Just over there a fireplace stands:
a lonely shape in a lonely land.Adobe needs life, its care a must
or effort-laid bricks return to dust;
erosion and melt of wind and rain
return it back from where it came.

The only house that remains of what had once been Bonneyville)
The warmth of sun that soon must go
still lends its light, a haloed glow,
so on I walk the winding road
over the trail that others strolled.
The camposanto’s silence keeps
its field of dreamers’ endless sleep.
The wooden crosses, daubed with white
are goss’mer figures in twilight.
Cemetery at Tinnie near Lincoln Ah … looming now a church here stands, was frost with mud by worn brown hands with loving care, yes, even today yet chunks of it have fallen away. An arched bell-tower high above is just a place for roosting doves, for long ago, the story’s told, the bell was taken for its gold.
The battered walls are two-foot thick, they’re doubled walls of mudded brick, two-centuries old and arid-cured, yet gracefully they have endured. A deep-set window, linteled doors, inside I know are tamped-dirt floors. Now walls are mauve as breast of dove, from twilit glow, like hills above. Some sparks of light reflect on walls — a myth from books, I now recall, of golden cities of long ago … small flecks of mica cause the glow! The hand-hewn vigas through walls jut above the doors that had been cut by artisanos’ loving skill so long ago, yet flawless still. A home of God, a holy place, serenity and solemn grace …
but also used for other things, like a retreat from life’s sharp stings. Those massive walls for years withstood the raging battles, fire and flood and hails of spears by Indian raids. It also saw shy blushing maids who walked along that narrow aisle, escorted by Patrone’s smile and Mama’s tears and sister’s sigh. That brass-toned bell rang joy on high up in the loft; it rang before to warn townsfolk to bar the door. That missing bell once had its day imparting news the timeless way. Rejoicing, joyous tones of cheer, or warning, calling people here, or mourning, crying tolling sad … back then that bell was all they had. Now, in the autumn twilight air I sense some things that are not there; a glimpse of people, things I feel, a paradox — unreal yet real. Imagined voice I hear within, “Forgive me Father, I have sinned …”
I slip within this hallowed place of peacefulness and holy grace. Here’s wooden seats in hollow halls,
and old retablos line the walls. Some ghosts of souls still linger here … my imagination, I’ve no fear.
Faint pinon incense greets my nose and flick’ring candles’ brilliance grows. Soft ageless voices (seems to me) sing “Gloria” in harmony. In satin gown, colores rich, the carved Maria’s in her niche; below her feet I think I see … “Mi santa Madre, plead for me …” The votive candles’ softened glow casts wisps of light; I do not know if all I see is really there … it matters not, I do not care. If spirits bide, I feel they’re kin;
old friends to me for years they’ve been. This haven of my gentle ghosts is the sanctuary I love most.
Conquistadors’ old mysteries and Sangre de Cristo majesties still lend their sense of solitude within this mountain interlude. I’ve stepped into pine-scent air and fragrant breezes chased all care. Must leave this place of brief repast, the sun is down and moon is cast against the sky of velvet drape. I hear an owl, see trees’ vague shapes. “KA BOOM!” A noise above me bursts. It frightens birds and shakes the earth! That dissonanting sound of might (a jet-fueled plane that rents the night) returns me back to where I was not
to age of moon-walk astronaut.

Yet, in New Mexico, if you look —
like in a beloved picture book —
you’ll see the remnants left behind:
a land of years (tierra de ayer) where time’s been kind.

(Sunset photo taken by JoAnn Hazel of Roswell)


Roswell does not have a monopoly on strange sightings in Chaves County. Located about 10 miles northeast of Roswell, Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge boasts it is home to all kinds of strange creatures. Bitter Lakes — with its sand dunes, brushy bottomlands, desert uplands, wetlands, sinkholes, swampy areas, stagnant salty water, playa lakes and gypsum springs fed by an underground river — is not a habitat chosen by many species including man, but it supports unusual wildlife.
The Refuge held it second annual Dragonfly Festival September 14 and 15 to celebrate the number of different kinds — 94 counted thus far — of dragonflies and damselflies found at what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife call the most diverse site in the U.S. and one of the most diverse in the world. The dragonfly congregation was undiscovered until very recently, but the Refuge has been in existence for decades.
The Refuge is described in their brochure thus: “Where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, bizarre geology is responsible for habitats supporting wildlife you’ll find nowhere else in the world.”
Photographer JoAnn Hazel captured these images, and the one above, on an ordinary, non-festival day at Bitter Lakes:

Three camera-shy, retreating coyotes



Pictured above is an old adobe Bonney abode, built in the 1800s, as it now looks at the beginning of the new millennium. It is on private property in northeastern New Mexico, and was the residence of Santiago (Hispanic for James) Bonney, the son of a blue-eyed Englishman named James Bonney. At least one historian thinks that James Bonney was a close relative of Billy “the Kid.”


Continuation of A Bonney Ballad by Jan Girand

So … who was our Henry McCarty, William H. Bonney, “The Kid?”
Where did he come from, who was his ma, why did he do what he did?
Of his latter years (alas, so few), we know his story well
for many, including Pat Garrett, his stories loved to tell.

His antics, shoot-outs, hot pursuits are documented well
in books, in movies and in songs, stretched out so they would sell.
And sell they did, even in England, for folks there love a tale —
of strife, romance and intrigue as they quaff their brew and ale.

… to be continued …

(To see earlier portions of this poem, click the Archives button and go to Byway pages of the previous issues.)



Pictured below is the Santiago Bonney Ditch as it appears today, more than 150 years after it was dug in northeast New Mexico by Englishman James Bonney in 1845 near his home and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail at a place then called La Junta, “the junction,” so-named because of the convergence of rivers.

In late summer of 1846, during their successful expedition in conquest of New Mexico and California for the U.S., Col. Stephen Watts Kearney and his Army of the West, and Col. Alexander W. Doniphan and his troops and caissons, camped at La Junta as guests of James Bonney, who supplied them his choicest beef. A few months later, Bonney was killed by Indians when he went in pursuit of them to retrieve his stolen horses. He went alone except for his young Indian guide, and took his wife’s fresh-baked tortillas for barter. That was a fatal mistake.

Santiago Bonney Ditch


The origins and genealogy of Billy “The Kid” Bonney and his early life remain a mystery. So too is the mystery of why he, in the latter portion of his short life, adopted the name Bonney. Most published historians think that: a.) He began life in New York as Henry McCarty; b.) He changed his name to William Henry Antrim to match his stepfather’s after his mother’s marriage in Santa Fe in 1873; and c.) He adopted the name William H. or Billy Bonney in the last years of his life. Historians don’t know from where he acquired or why he adopted the Bonney name. Serious historians admit that they are uncertain of his origins, but think he might have been born in a New York City Irish slum in 1859. Both the place and the date of his birth could be incorrect.

We will continue to explore the possibilities together in future issues.




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