History comes to life when you see it through the eyes of someone who experienced it. This is an oral history of Annie Lesnett, a pioneer woman who lived in Ruidoso in its early days. She was married to Frank Lesnett, who owned half interest in and operated the Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso. Here, she shares what life was like when she lived in Ruidoso.
“Before I was married, my name was Annie E. Cauanauch. I was born July 3, 1855, in Chicago. I lived in Roswell for 25 years and in Lincoln County for 36 years.
“I met my husband, Frank Lesnett, in Chicago, when I was 15 years old. He was born in Ohio and joined the regular Army in 1870. He was sent to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, to serve his enlistment fighting Indians.”
The Apache tribes were hunting-gathering people whose homelands were being taken by Spanish and later Anglo people. The Apache’s resistance and continuous pressure from migrants resulted in conflicts that lasted until 1886.
Drawn to the West
“Frank was discharged in 1875 and came back to Chicago, and we were married on July 19, 1876. We lived in Chicago for a while, but Frank was never satisfied. He loved the West and wanted to come back to Lincoln County. He left me in Chicago with my people and came back to Ruidoso, where he bought a half interest in the Dowlin’s Mill from Will and Paul Dowlin.
Then he sent for me and our baby son, Irvin. In March 1877, I came by train from Chicago to La Junta, Colorado. From there to Fort Stanton, I traveled in Numa Raymond’s stagecoach, drawn by four horses.
“Numa Raymond and his bride, who was from St. Louis, were passengers on the stage with me. We had a very pleasant trip, no scares from Indians or desperadoes, although I was very much afraid of the Indians. I remember we stopped at Jerry Hoeradle’s place on the old stage road in the Gallinas Mountains. We stayed the night and changed teams there.
“My husband met me at Fort Stanton. He was driving a Studebaker hack with two big bay horses, one named ‘Bill Johnson’ and the other ‘Bill Dowlin.’ How happy I was when he met me and we drove up the beautiful canyon toward the White Mountains [Sierra Blanca].”
Founded in 1852 in South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker manufactured wagons, buggies, and carriages. In 1902, the company introduced its first electric automobile and its first gasoline vehicle two years later. Its last car was built in 1966.
Life in Ruidoso
“When we arrived at Dowlin’s Mill, I saw some blood in the front yard. Frank told me a man named Jerry Dalton had shot and killed Paul Dowlin the day before. Dalton left the country and was never heard of again.
“My new home was a four-room log house, with a big fireplace in the front room. We used kerosene lamps and candles for lights.
“A man by the name of Johnnie Patton cooked for us. We boarded several of the men who worked in the mills and helped on the farm. We raised hogs and sold them to Fort Stanton.”
Selling food to the fort to feed the soldiers was an important income stream for those who lived in the area.
“We raised our own feed to fatten the hogs and, in the fall of the year, farm hands would butcher about a hundred hogs. Some of the neighbor women helped me render out the lard in a big iron pot in the yard.
“I was always so afraid of the wild beasts that roamed in the hills. One time, my husband and the cook had to go to Lincoln to court and left me and my three children with Mrs. Johnson, our neighbor, to stay alone at night. After we had all gone to bed, we heard something prowling around the house. We lay real still and listened, for we did not know whether it was Indians or wild beasts.
“We did not wait long to know. It was a mountain lion and, when he got real near the house, he let out a roar. We almost died of fright, afraid that he would break the windows and come in after us.
“We moved all the furniture and barricaded the doors and windows. The lion kept walking around the house and roaring.
“After a while, he went to the cow pen and killed one of our milk calves. I told my husband when he came home, I would never stay alone with just women folk again, and I never did.”
The Mescalero Apache
Indian raids were a reality in Anne Lesnett’s time, but her fear of the Mescalero were soon mitigated.
“The Mescalero from the reservation used to come to our place and trade. My husband had a small store and was postmaster at Ruidoso. Although the Indians never did bother us, I was awfully afraid of them, especially when I first came to the Ruidoso. But I was always good to them.
“I gave them doughnuts and cookies when they came to the mill, and it was not long until all the Indians were my friends. Geronimo used to come to our place quite often. Once he brought me a big wild turkey and another time he gave me a nice Indian basket.”
“Lincoln County was a wild country when I first came here and I used to get so homesick for my people in Chicago, but after I had been here a few years I liked it and never cared to go back to live.”
Annie Lesnett did visit her family in Chicago in 1879, during which she said she recalled the Great Chicago Fire. Perhaps that’s why she was anxious to return to “my western home I loved so well.”
Anne said, “I remember the Chicago fire well. It was 1871. I was 16 years old. When our mother woke us up that night, she told us to get dressed quick because our house was about to catch on fire. We gathered up the things we wanted to save. When I got outside, all I had in my hands was our bird in its cage. Our home burned that night.”
“In 1882 my husband bought out Will Dowlin’s interest in the Dowlin Mill and became sole owner. We then moved into the two-story building which still stands, with the old water wheel, about two miles from the town of Ruidoso.
“At that time, we had a grist mill and a sawmill. All the surrounding country brought their grain to our mill to be ground. We used oxen to haul our logs for the sawmill.”
Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid
“In 1887 we sold our ranch and cattle to the Crees, who owned the V V outfit. We moved to Lincoln, where we could have better schools for our children. We lived in Ruidoso all during the Lincoln County War but my husband never took sides with either faction.”
The Lincoln County War was about power and greed, not cattle. See the story about the war on this website.
“I did give Billy the Kid several meals when he would come to our place, but my husband never knew anything about it. He had warned me not to feed any of the men from either side, but I did it anyway as I felt so sorry for them when they said they were hungry.
“Five of my children were born on the Ruidoso, one in Chicago, and one in Lincoln. We lived in Lincoln until 1890 and then moved to Roswell and lived there for three years and moved back to Lincoln in 1893. I have now lived in Carrizozo for the past 10 years. Two of my children live with me. I am content and happy to spend the rest of my days here in Lincoln County.”
Annie E. Lesnett was 83 years old when she told her story to Edith L. Crawford, who recorded the oral history in 1938 for the Works Projects Administration.
Story compiled by Bud Russo
Posted by Ruidoso.com