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TR News Editors:
Roger Irwin,
Tim Amsden,
Linda Pedersen

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SMALLPOX by Tim Amsden (Published in the Timberlake Times February 2000

      In 1877, before the town of Ramah existed, a group of 100 Mormons fleeing persecution in Arkansas came to the area we know as Timberlake Ranch, and established a settlement they called Savoia. Savoia was one of the first white settlements in Western New Mexico.

      Unfortunately, along the way one family took refuge from the cold in an empty adobe house, which was clearly marked with the word, "smallpox." Either because they couldn't read or because the weather gave them no choice, this house is where their twin babies were born. It is also where they took on the germs they would carry to the small settlement of Savoia.

      During the bitter cold and heavy snows of the winter of 1877-78, smallpox ravaged Savoia, taking one person after another. Mothers and babies, fathers and children, died.

      Some of the bodies may have been buried in a hand-dug well close to Timberlake - Paul Merrill is trying to verify that story. We do know that at least thirteen smallpox victims are buried in a small cemetery just below the upper ranch house. It is a well-tended area enclosed by a black wrought-iron fence, eerie with the tragedy of the deaths of young parents and children buried there, all struck down within four months by a terrible disease.

      The settlement survived for a time - in 1880k, there were ten families living in Savoia. But eventually most of the people left to form Ramah and other communities, and the area, which is now Timberlake Ranch, became the Hamblin Ranch (the Hamblins were part of the original Savoia group).

      In addition to the graves of those who died in the smallpox tragedy of 1877-78, the cemetery contains the grave of Polly Ann Hamblin, who lived from 1900 to 1918. Some people say that Polly's ghost haunts the upper ranch house; but that is another story.

      Thanks to two of our landowners, Kathryn Walling and Paul Merrill for their contribution to this article.

THE RAMAH WATER TOWER by Patti Merrill (Published in the Timberlake Times January 2002)

If you overlook Ramah from the East you will notice an old water tower, one of Ramah's first ones, just north of Belle Weight's new log home. This old tower has an interesting history, so that, even if it blocks your view of more spectacular scenery, its history may enhance your appreciation of it.

In the early 1900's, it was the water supply for a railroad stop twelve miles east of Gallup and three miles north of Fort Wingate called the Wingate Station. The trains stopped there for water and for unloading freight for the village of Fort Wingate. About 1956 after the station was closed, the obsolete tank was purchased by Paul Merrill for his new housing development at Fort Wingate. It was let down and loaded on a lowboy trailer for the three-mile move. It furnished water to tenants of 30 homes and a 70-unit trailer park near the Merrills' Trading Post.

On January 2, 1979 intoxicated uranium miner who rented from Paul climbed the tower near midnight in the bitter cold, intending to jump off in a suicide attempt. The tower is 55 feet high and has a diameter of 16 feet. Paul and a neighbor, also a uranium miner, climbed the tower and threw the drunk minder down on top of the icy sloping cover, tied him up with a rope, and let him down head first to the ground! The sheriff, who was looking on, then took him to jail. He was, by then. "sober as a judge."

Several years later Ramah needed and purchased the water tower. Paul supervised the move as it came over the mountain on a lowboy by way of Page and through Timberlake. Several trees had to be cut down because the road was not wide enough, and the move took two days.

Now you can look at the old, rusty water tank with respect and awe


A brief history of the Ramah, New Mexico area.


     Ramah was a Mormon settlement, founded in December 1876 as a missionary outpost to the Zuni and Navajo Indians. In March of that same year, two missionaries, R.H. Smith and Ammon Tenney traveled to Zuni in response to a vision. By the time they reached Fish Springs, they were starved and nearly frozen. The Zunis were very kind to the pair and soon over 100 were converted. At the time the Zunis were terrorized by grasshoppers and they were themselves threatened by starvation. Lorenzo Hatch and John Maughn replaced Smith and Tenney, and then Luther Burnham and Ernst Tietjen would replace them. The latter pair settled above the present day Ramah Lake in December 1876 and named the area Savoya (also seen spelled as Savoia), the Spanish version of the Navajo name Cloh-Chin (spelled Tloh-Chin also) , meaning 'onions'. The Navajo leader, Jose Pino had pointed out the area as favorable due to a spring which was fed from a stream coming out of the Zuni Mountains. At the time eight Navajo families lived in the area and 19 were Mormon converts.

    During the month of April 1877 a group of 140 converts to the Mormon faith left their homes in Arkansas to pioneer to the unsettled land of New Mexico and Arizona. They traveled together until they reached Trinidad, Colorado. There they split into two groups, some going on to Utah and the others to New Mexico and Arizona. As they passed by Albuquerque, New Mexico, one family learned too late that the house they had stayed in there had sheltered people with the smallpox. By the time they reached Savoya that winter many suffered from the disease and 13 of them died. (There is an old farm house and small graveyard seen in the Timberlake Ranch subdivision which is a testament to this event.) During the epidemic, kind Navajo families looked in on and fed the settlers venison, traveling through snow storms to reach the ailing people. Once healthy again, most of the Mormons moved on to Gila, Duncan and Graham, Arizona. A few families such as Talley and McGrath stayed on. It is notable that the settlement at Savoya preceded any of the white settlements in Western New Mexico like Farmington, and railroad towns, Gallup and Grants.

     In 1878, the Spanish Americans ('big sheepmen') tried to overpower the colony but again the Navajos came to their rescue. The Navajos held the Spanish captive until they changed their minds and abandoned the area. In 1880, the Apache leader, Victorio, went on the warpath so the settlers were forced to vacate the area and move to St. Johns, Arizona until the excitement was over. Only Ernst Tietjen returned to Savoya. In that same year Mormon settlers from New Mexico and Arizona built the railroad from the Continental Divide to Flagstaff.

     From Sunset, Arizona near Winslow, five Indian missionaries arrived in the town of Navajo, just west of the present day Ramah Lake in April of 1882. They were John Bloomfield, Peter Nielson, Samuel Garn, Aser Pipkin and JKP Pipkin. Samuel Lewis joined the others from Alpine as did additional settlers, H.J.Judd, J.R.McNeil, W.Johnston, J.B. and J.E.Ashcroft, W.Bond and F.Nielson. Bloomfield built the first cabin (erected on an Indian ruin at Bloomfield and McNeil streets in Ramah) and planted the huge Lombardy Poplar trees still seen today. The original trees came (to Ramah) from Joseph City, Arizona and were hauled by wagon in five-gallon cans.

     The road between Savoya and Navajo was soon well traveled by teams and wagons, buggy travelers and those on horseback. Navajo, from 1882 to 1883 grew rapidly and soon a post office was needed. Since there was already a post office called "Navajo", the name of the settlement changed to Ramah which is in the 'Book of Mormon' (the name of a hill) as well as found in 'The Old Testament'. By 1886 the post office was officially 'registered'.

    In 1889 Ramah residents received this notice: "To the people living on section 35 of TWP 11NR 16W. You are hereby notified that all settlers on section 35 are requested to vacate the land by the 15th of March 1889." Apparently, E.A.Carr, who was president of the Cebolla Cattle Co. had purchased the land from the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. Since land titles had not been strictly filed in the early years the area which included much of Ramah was bought and sold out from under the inhabitants. For more than a year those living in the area were frightened that all they had worked for would be gone if something was not done. Help came in the form of a loan from the Mormon church headquarters in Salt Lake City. $6400.00 was loaned through the Ramah Land and Irrigation Co. and the land was purchased back from the Cebolla Cattle Co.

     Ramah was soon thriving with new families arriving at regular intervals. There were numerous hardships however. Grasshoppers often ate what the frost did not get and severe winters compounded travel in the area. In the early 1890's a reservoir for irrigation was started by E.Tietjen with the aid of Navajo Indians. Over time the settlers greatly enlarged it for farming and ranching purposes. The first part of 1897 was extremely wet, and on March 28th the dam broke and flooded the Ramah valley. By the following year the dam had been replaced. Again in 1905 the dam broke which again caused tremendous hardship. For a year the water issues (there was a prospect of no water for irrigation) were a dangerous threat, and for those who had faced bitter cold winters, starvation, epidemics such as smallpox, fires and loss of life, it was a testament to their mental, physical and spiritual fortitude. The dam was again rebuilt as was the spirit of the people. The dam was crucial not only to the town but to those in Fort Wingate and Gallup who depended on the crops grown in the area.

     In the early 1900's, Bob and Giles Master came from England to start the first permanent store, the Ramah Trading Post. It was originally located west of the town of Ramah, later being moved to the stone building that is still seen just off Hwy. 53 in the center of Ramah. Other turn-of-the-century buildings include: the Ashcroft-Merrill home (on the National Historic Register), the Marius Bond home near the Post Office, the two-story Bloomfield home, and the Ramah Museum, built in 1905, also on the National Historic Register. The Masters brought in black locust trees for their home for its hard wood for wagon and farming parts (reaches, tool handles, and double-trees). These trees still line the streets of Ramah as do Chinese Elm introduced in the 1930's by the Soil Conservation Service for shade, windbreaks and erosion control.

     A Church-schoolhouse-recreation hall was built in 1883, a rock schoolhouse was added in 1919 and completed in 1922. By 1925 numerous families were laboring out in the mountains or around Gallup, New Mexico. Many lived away on ranches or homesteads, a distance of 10-20 miles away from the central town of Ramah. The Depression did not affect the inhabitants of the area greatly at first, as their personal lives were already extremely difficult, dealing with the variable environmental factors. In 1931 the worst snow storm in years stranded many people and yet, as usual, it brought the Indian and white population together, depending on each other to stay alive. Navajo pinon pickers were up in the high mesas when caught in the furry of the huge storm and most were rescued by white settlers and Zuni Indians who risked their own lives to rescue those stranded. 200 to 300 Navajos, once the enemy of all Pueblo Indians traveled some 40 to 50 miles in rags to be taken in by the Zunis who fed, clothed and nursed them back to health. It was reported that the Zuni hospitality to the storm sufferers had used up all the food stored away for the winter.

     Mud has always been an issue in and around Ramah. In January 1941 the mail was delivered to Ramah on horseback by a contracted Navajo man as the roads were so impassable that trucks were stuck for days. In the 1940's road crews (using 48 WPA workers) were busy working on the road that would stretch from the Zuni reservation to the San Rafael-El Morro roads. Part of the road was originally built by the Forest Service over one of the tracks which had been followed several hundred years before by the early Spanish conquistadors who referred to Zuni Canyon as Guadeloupe Canyon. Roads were being improved on and off the reservation.

     The Ramah area was slowly moving to stay up with the times. Kerosene lamps were replaced by gas lanterns with mantles and finally the Pace Act in 1944 was instrumental in making electricity possible in Ramah. "Rural people" were to have electricity and in 1948 Ramah received its first electricity. The minimum cost was $3.50 a month. In the 1940's many of the hand-dug wells in Ramah began to dry up. A well was dug (220.5 feet deep), pumping about 30 gallons per minute and in 1954 the first water meters were installed. The first fire department was up and running in 1983 and in 1995 the Ramah Museum was permitted in order to preserve the history of the area. The old gas pump first used in the 40's sits in the front yard, a 1800's refurbished wagon sits in the side yard and numerous items used by the early pioneer families are found inside the 100 year old stone house, converted into the museum made possible by a dream (and years of dedication and hard work) of long-time Ramah resident, Paul Merrill .

     Lastly, the first school was held in a wagon. When Samuel Garn opened his home to be the first school 'house', pupils brought their own slates and benches. Due to the isolated Ramah location, it was extremely difficult to get teachers and supplies. In the early 1900's tuition was $3.00 per student and every family in town was required to haul wood to supply fuel for the school. It was not until 1927 that classes were held up through the ninth grade. By 1949 all 12 grades were housed in the rock schoolhouse with five classrooms. There were 125 pupils in a building built to hold 60 and there were 120 Navajo children in the region who were not accommodated at all. The new school that was built by the city was done by donation of time and money, volunteers (including the students themselves who dug the foundation and drove the bulldozer), and tremendous will power. Like the pioneer spirit of those who came before them, the Ramah community banded together to take a dream and make it a reality.

     During the dust bowl years many people (from Texas in particular) came west as their crops and land withered away. They worked the land near El Morro (between 80-160 acres) growing pinto beans, perhaps owning a few cows and chickens. As Frank Lambson (a Ramah resident) states, "they did not starve, but they did not have much money either". In the 40's there were schools built to accommodate the ranching children (as well as Navajo, and Trading post children) in the El Morro area. Just west of the 'Old School Gallery' there was an old log building which was a school and community center with two rooms and a piano. "The logs in there were huge, and they not only had classes but dances, it was our community center", Lee Lambson (Frank's brother) stated. He went to the school through the 8th grade and recalls that when he first started there, the older boys told him to 'watch out for the teacher, Elsie Carter'," if you can't run really fast, she will outrun you!". It was eventually dismantled as other buildings were erected. One other El Morro area school is now called the 'Old School Gallery' located off Hwy. 53, across the street from the Ancient Way Cafe. This school was built around 1948-49 and according to Frank, there were approximately 20 children who were bused there, grades 1 through 6. "We had two outhouses, a teeter totter and the teacher called us in with an old brass bell". There were also other schools in the area, one of which is still in fairly good condition, just south of Inscription Rock, near El Morro National Monument. Eventually, in the 1950's the students at the El Morro school were bused to Ramah and the school was abandoned. Before becoming the present day, Old School Gallery and community center, the building, now owned by Billy and Lou Gross, was used to store feed and keep livestock out of the elements.

     One can understand why the area attracts people of all backgrounds and why those who live here are so accepting of others moving in. There is a pioneer spirit, a sense of tenacity, caring, and working together that calls to our souls as we adapt to the varied way of living in a rural setting. The Ramah area provides a haven for those who are not afraid of hard work, of living simply, of responding to nature's call and living in an incredibly beautiful and sometimes rugged, demanding environment.

The information above was gathered from a paper by Deward Bond "A Brief Sketch of Ramah's Early History", "History of the Ramah Trees" a paper by Paul Merrill, and a book by Gerldine Tietjen, "Ramah -A Documentary History 1930-1995". Where noted, there were accounts from local residents, verbally taken. This article was written by: Nancy Dobbs 2005

Timberlake/Ramah news: Local history

Independent news and useful information for the Timberlake Ranch - Ramah, New Mexico area