Continue the journey along the Dry
Cimarron Scenic Byway by return to New Mexico Highway 72 and
continuing east about five miles to the Yankee area.
When settlers first moved west along the
trails to this area, the grass was so tall and thick that at times it was
necessary to navigate with a compass. On a knoll to the south there used
to be a mansion built by Yankee entrepreneur A.D. Ensight after the turn
of the century. Before the settlement of Yankee was formed, farmers from
nearby Johnson Mesa dug coal on the slopes of the mesa for their own
personal use. In 1904, the Chicorica Coal Company, backed by a Wall Street
brokerage firm and the Santa Fe Railroad, promoted by the entrepreneur A.
D. Ensign, developed the coal beds on Johnson and Barela mesas. As the
Yankee mines continued to develop, frame houses were built and the
population grew to several thousand residents by 1907 featuring a school
and numerous businesses. The mansion that ensign built was a beautiful two
story home that featured solid mahogany, velvet furniture, oriental rugs,
and marble statues. But the Ensign estate changed hands several times and
by 1923 its treasures had been sold and the mansion fell into a state of
disrepair. All traces of Yankee have vanished and the site is now occupied
by a cattle ranch.
72 twists and turns as the road climbs up to Johnson Mesa. Along the 8
mile drive you can often see deer, turkey, and bear on this climb, as
well as gorgeous views to the lower elevations. Suddenly the road takes a turn and you will find yourself on an enormous
plain. On top of this high, grassy plateau, once sat the small
community of Bell, a progressive farming settlement, whose residents
established the first telephone connections in
Bell, built two thousand feet above the valley floor, looked out upon the
vast valley below.
the early 1880s, Marion Bell, a railroad construction worker, led a group
of fellow workers and miners to the mesa top, trying to find a safer and
more predictable occupation. Several families tried their hand at
farming while some miners tried to juggle both occupations. For those
ambitious fellows working at both farming and mining, carrier pigeons were
dispatched from Blossburg to fly up to the mesa to notify the miners that
they were needed down in the Raton Valley.
one time there was a family living on every 160 acres of land and the mesa
boasted five schools, a church and many recreational facilities for family
life. Times were often hard for the mesa people where winters were often
severe and the entire mesa was snowbound.
After World War I, people began leaving the mesa for better opportunities
and in 1933, Bell closed its post office.
Today a few families make their home on the mesa during the summer but no one lives there during the winter. Still standing is about a dozen
deserted farm buildings, the St. John Methodist Episcopal Church and the