A Woman of the Century, Frances Minerva Nunnery (1898–1997)
Her Story in Her Own Memorable Voice as Told to Cecil Dawkins
Publication Year: 2002
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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No! Frances Martin, the name by which I knew Frances Nunnery when I lived in Taos, does not fit into the category of “They don’t make them like that any more.” They never did—not in the 2000s, the 1900s, or any other century. A lot of great women have lived in the West, and I knew personally some of those who were born here in New Mexico or came and stayed to contribute mightily. I was...
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When Frances Minerva Nunnery was born in 1898 the Wright brothers had yet to launch their first airplane, years would pass before homes had telephones and radios, and families still took their Sunday afternoon drives by horse and buggy. People were known to travel miles to see the newfangled horseless carriage that had just made its appearance. Yet Frances would live to see autos and airplanes...
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I came to know that just about everybody in Northern New Mexico knew Frances, but I only met her when, after spending the summer of 1969 in Taos and realizing how much I hated to leave, I walked into the first real estate office I came to—a store front just off Taos plaza with a few animal skulls and Indian pots in the windows. The sign over the door said Northern New Mexico Real Estate Exchange. Reared...
1: My Early Days
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I’m sitting here enjoying the fireplace. I do that every day comes the wintertime. I think it’s the most comfortable thing there is. Of course you always have to be jumping up putting wood in it. That’s part of the game. But a fire is so much company. How did I come to live in New Mexico? I came down through Trinidad in a Model T Ford Touring Car with my baby in a basket...
2: My First Paying Job
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In those days you went to work as a kid. We didn’t have any child labor laws or that kind of thing, so when I got to be about thirteen—that would be about 1911—I went to work in the Iron City Laundry, shaking out barber towels before they went in the washing machines. That was the only job I could get as I had no prior experience. The laundry was hot and steamy. It was one long room always...
3: I Head West
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But Mother had a little different plan for me. Mother said, “If you’re going to have to go out west, you can’t go out there by yourself.” That’s how she decided to get me married off to this preacher person from Colorado who had been going to school there in Pittsburgh at the Bible Institute. That’s where my mother knew him. But I didn’t know him. I’d only seen him once. We took a walk in Shenley Park, looked at the dinosaurs in the Museum. I...
4: A Runaway Wife
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It took me two days to get from Las Vegas to Taos. It was dark when I got down to the foot of US Hill. I didn’t know how far it was to Taos, so I decided to camp where I was. I pulled off beside the Little Rio Grande in the canyon above Ranchos de Taos. I must have come into Taos down the same road Blumenschein and Phillips, those earliest of the Taos painters, took back in 1898, the...
5: I Land in the Duke’s City
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When I got to Albuquerque I had thirteen dollars and a quarter and this little kid not yet a year old. I looked around and finally went to a place up on Second Street that said APARTMENT FOR RENT. The place belonged to this Italian lady, Mrs. Bachechi. The Bachechis owned a lot of stuff around Albuquerque, very rich people.Her family built the KiMo Theater. These moving picture palaces were springing...
6: Parker Kidnaps Anita [Includes Image Plates]
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Then that bastard Parker stole Anita. My mother had been in touch with him and that’s how he knew where the baby was. He was the father, so he was allowed to see her. He just went to the school and got her. I didn’t know where he had taken her. For four years I tried everything I knew to find her. I didn’t have any idea where she was or even if she was alive. But in time I found out that this Bible Institute he had been going...
7: Into the Rooming-House Business
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Back in Albuquerque I decided to get in the rooming-house business. I rented a big old empty house, but I didn’t have any money to buy furniture. So I went to a secondhand man, an old boy by the name of Logan. I never will forget him. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said, “Anybody as ambitious as you are, I’m going to help you out. Take me down to this house and show me what you need. I’ve probably got enough stuff...
8: I Marry My Second Husband
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While Rose and I were together, sometimes one of us or both of us had a date, and we’d all go out together. And I was friends with an Albuquerque couple in the sheet metal business, Louie and Helen Facaroli—they were Italians—and Louis and Helen sometimes took us out to a place called Silo’s, out there in Tijeras Canyon, the only nightclub in that area at that time. Once or twice a month a bunch...
9: I Realize My Big Ambition
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At the time of the crash in 1929 some of the Albuquerque banks went broke, and The First National was one of them. Jack Reynolds, the bank president I’d stupidly asked for a cashier’s job, was Bob’s brother-in-law. His wife Mabel and Bob’s first wife Alice were sisters. When Jack came by the house one day I thought he was looking for Bob but turned out he was looking for me. “You once told me you’d like to go into ranching,” he said. ...
10: Running Two Ranches
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Along with raising our own stock and the Borden cows, I got into raising Duroc Jersey hogs. Durocs are huge animals. One old Duroc boar, Jerry, was big enough to ride, and the sows weren’t much littler. One time by mistake Jerry got put in with the breeding sows. He was in hog heaven. We like to never got him out of there. He was pretty mean, and so big he was dangerous. For safety’s sake we finally...
11: Whiskey-Making and the Bishop’s Visit
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All of us living out in that country had a hard time buying good liquor. Traders made you buy worthless stuff before they’d sell you one bottle of good whiskey. If I wanted good liquor on hand for the cowboys and hunters and other visitors to the ranch, I had to drive down to Juarez to buy it. One fall after the kids were back in Albuquerque going to school, this guy Sam, who was digging a well for me, decided we’d...
12: Getting Along with the Neighbors
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All the ranchers around there had long since decided this woman at Centerfire was plumb nuts, raising dairy calves and hogs and chickens and goats and turkeys instead of just beef, which they considered was the business of ranchers. But gradually they began to warm to the idea of having pork on their table. They began to trade purebred Herefords for my Duroc hogs. And once...
13: Winters Alone
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After the hunters in the fall, and after the kids were back in school, I was alone on the ranches. I had to ride the trail periodically between the lower and upper ranches, about four miles, to see if the upper ranch headquarters was closed down for the winter. One late fall when we were having little skiffs of snow, and ice forming at night, I was heading up to Centerfire when my horse balked at a narrow...
14: Cowboys and Cattle Drives
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In those days there wasn’t any robbery or vandalism. We always left the ranch house open, we never locked up anything. Quite often the neighbor cowboys stopped by the house. A couple of them were really nice old guys. One, old Tough Brown, had only one hand. He’d lost the other hand to a buzz saw. Old Tough was one hell of a good cook. He made the best sourdough biscuits you ever tasted. ...
15: Single Again
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About this time I was having little arguments with Bob. I’d learned a lot about ranching, but Bob wasn’t a rancher and he didn’t understand a lot about running cows. I had arguments with him over things like having to change to a new bull every couple of years. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t make do with the bull we had. I kept telling him you need to change bulls ever so often so you...
16: Adventures Trucking
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For about two years after Bob and I divorced I was alone all the time on the ranches. Most of the herd was gone, World War II was almost over, and the kids had graduated from high school and set out on their own. Darlene was married and in Albuquerque. Dorothy was going to A&M in Cruces. Anita was working at Kirtland Field as some kind of instructor. I had time on my hands. I never in my life...
17: I Build a Roadhouse
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After selling the ranches, I bought a couple hundred acres, approximately a township, at the location of the old Navajo Lodge in Datil. The original lodge had been a ranch house up in the mountains in White House Canyon, nine miles out of Datil. About forty years before I bought the place, Ray Morley, who owned the ranch, had taken the old house apart and moved it log by log down to Highway...
18: Adventures of a Deputy Sheriff
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Meanwhile I’d been made deputy sheriff in Catron County, and now and then I had to exercise that office. Old man Redding, from over in Amarillo, had caught his wife with another guy and shot her. When he got acquitted for the killing, he moved to Catron County and bought a ranch down in Horse Springs, between Reserve and Datil. He got to be one of the regulars at the lodge. ...
19: Turkey Farming
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First, I built a big house out on the Datil ranch. I planned to raise chickens and turkeys out there.Rachel’s husband had been very sick. He’d been in the hospital in Socorro. After he died, Rachel was at loose ends, so she came in with me on the chicken and turkey business. Once we got this brood business going, we had several hundred turkeys and quite a few chickens. To heat the brooder houses we buried barrels...
20: I Try Real Estate
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One day when I stopped by the bank in Belen, Mrs. Herlihy, who worked there, said,“ Frances, why don’t you quit working so hard and do some investing with us?” I told her I didn’t have enough money to invest in anything. She said,“ Oh yes you do. In these times a lot of people come near losing their property. If you pay them for their equity, instead of getting foreclosed they get their money out of it. Once you own the...
21: In Taos with Doughbelly Price
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I’d met Doughbelly Price while I was still working Spur Ranch and Centerfire. His brother, an old cattle buyer, had a store in Apache Creek. I met Doughbelly while he was visiting this brother, and Doughbelly had come out to the ranches. He was an entertaining fellow. Earlier in his life he’d been a gambler, a bootlegger, and a bronc rider. As gambler he’d been a shill, and he was famous in his...
22: Taos People and How I Stretched the City Limits
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Doris finally retired from teaching and came out west to live with me. I was very fond of Doris. She was good company, very intelligent and entertaining, and I was glad to have her. In Taos back then everybody knew everybody. I knew Mabel Dodge and her Taos Indian husband Tony Lujan. Mabel took me around to her house several times and we got to be, if not friends, at least friendly acquaintances. And...
23: My Circle Expands
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Along in the early ’70s a singer and actress, Janice Mars, came to Taos from New York City because she liked Frank Waters’s books and set out to meet him.Well, she fell in love with Taos and decided to buy a piece of land. So Frank brought her into my office and I sold her a piece of land out on Taos Mesa. After she went back to New York, Janice kept in touch. She was fed up with life in the big city, ...
24: I Build on South Santa Fe Highway
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I had to have a place to live, so I bought a piece of property out on South Santa Fe Highway about two miles out of Taos. Except for the Ford dealership, there was nobody out there at all at that time. I built a log house to live in and a three-car garage and a log office building. Now I understand it’s a strip development out there, jam-full of motels and businesses that dwarf my little log spread. I guess I started...
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Preparing Frances Minerva Nunnery’s life story for publication, I began to detect a number of themes that ran through it like subliminal tracings. What called itself to my attention was the similarity of her story to women’s lives from as far back as pre-Revolutionary War journals and continuing through the journals of pioneer women. These tell us what ills women experienced. Perhaps...
Page Count: 165
Illustrations: 23 halftones
Publication Year: 2002