George McJunkin – Black Cowboy & History Changing Amateur Archaeologist

Dr. Owen and the “101”

When we traveled this route last time the "Dry Cimarron" River, actually was flowing with water. By Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The Dry Cimarron River

George’s reputation grew and was asked to help with the round up at the “101” near No Mans Land where Oklahoma joined New Mexico territory down the Dry Cimarron River. After the roundup was over, Ben Smith, foreman of the 101, asked George if he would like a job working for Dr. Thomas Owen, former mayor of Trinidad and partner of the “101”. The doctor was starting a new place, Hereford Park. George didn’t hesitate, knowing the doctor raised some of the best horses in that part of the west and it was located at the headwaters of the Dry Cimarron, George’s beloved promised land.

George soon found himself with the doctor and his brother John burying the three sacks of gold from the sale of the cattle George trailed up from Texas to Herford Park. The three men were worried that the Coe Gang, who operated out of no man’s land, had heard of the sale and would surely be looking for the gold. George would watch it until the following spring when they returned to purchase more cattle.

George’s responsibilities grew as Dr. Owen spent more time away from Hereford Park. He oversaw the crew of men that built the big house and barn and would teach the Doctors sons, Tom and Ben the art of bronc riding, rewarding them with a new pair of spurs just as he did for the Roberts boys and the many others that he taught to ride over the years.

One night after dinner Dr. Owen told George that this will be the last roundup before they fenced in the open Range and he was to be the wagon boss. He was reluctant for he would be in charge of 20 cowboys, 2000 head of cattle, and 200 head of horses. But Dr. Owen reassured him he was the best cowboy in New Mexico and there wasn’t another man better suited for the job.  And it didn’t take long to earn the respect of the other Texas cowboys that resented working for a black man.

In the fall of 1889 George and 14 cowboys from the “Cross L” “Pitchfork” and the “101” were caught in a 10-day blizzard outside of Clayton. The storm was so severe it wiped out most of the 1200 head of steers and the pitchforks entire 200 head Remuda. If it wasn’t for George taking control on the third day and leading them to the Bramlett ranch the Cowboys would’ve met the same fate.

Buildings on the south side of Folsom, New Mexico, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

Buildings on the south side of Folsom, New Mexico, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

Two years after the blizzard Dr. Owen asked George to hitch up the buggy and take him into Folsom to meet the train. The doctor was old and sick now and this would be their last ride together. George helped him on the train and the doctor said: “thank you, thank you, I know you’ll take good care of things.” And with that, the train pulled out and his friend and teacher was dead before it arrived in Trinidad. George now would have a big responsibility as the father figure for Tom and Ben who were too young to run the Ranch alone.

George caught the eye of their new neighbor Bill Jack an important New Mexico cattleman who owns the XYZ, a mile north of Herford Park. It was here on the Crowfoot Ranch that George got his next opportunity.

Managing the XYZ

Mr. Jack sent George on the train to Silver City to round up his herd and bring back to the Crowfoot. George was riding into Silver City when he came across four men beating a man. He pulled out his rifle and said: “it’s an awful hot day to be doing that kind of work isn’t?” Startled, the men spun around but George’s horse spooked leaving George on the ground. The bandits escaped during the commotion, but the man George just saved was a lieutenant in the Cavalry stationed at Fort Bayard. The men that accosted the lieutenant were after the payroll and the Lieutenant was so thankful that he gave George his telescope. He would use it and the transit he got from his friend, the owner of the TO, to fence the open range.

Folsom Museum by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

Folsom Museum by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

This would not be his only encounter with outlaws. George was riding back to the crowfoot from Folsom when he came upon a camp of strange men. After visiting with them George grew suspicious. The next day his suspicion was right. A train was robbed between Folsom and Des Moines and the gang made off with a large sum of gold and silver. McJunkin took sheriff George Titsworth to the spot where he had seen the men camping. Together, he and Tittsworth found a note shredded into pieces. Titsworth took the paper back to the store in Folsom (today the Folsom Museum) where they pieced it together.

From the information on this letter, Tittsworth concluded that they were headed for Cimarron. He loaded the posse on the train and cut the outlaws off in Turkey Canyon near Cimarron. A shoot out commenced that left sheriff Ed Farr dead but two of the outlaws, Sam Ketchum, and Elza Lay were both shot. Ketchum would die in the New Mexico State penitentiary of his wounds and Elza Lay would later be apprehended near El Paso Texas. This marked the beginning of the end for the Wild Bunch and Ketchum gang whose members often rode together. Sam Ketchum’s brother, Thomas “blackjack” Ketchum would lose his head at the end of a rope attempting to rob the same train two weeks later, and Butch Cassidy and Sundance headed to Argentina.

Rewriting History

George McJunkin about 1907.

George’s greatest achievement would come after the worst catastrophe the Dry Cimarron Valley had ever seen. On August 27, 1908, a thunderstorm dropped 14 inches of rain on Johnson Mesa just above the crowfoot. The flood decimated the town of Folsom and eroded the valley. After the flood, George surveyed the damage. While riding up Wildhorse Arroyo he noticed bones protruding from the bank nearly 11 feet below the surface. He knew that the bones were too big to be modern buffalo and must be bones of an extinct species. He removed a few bones and skull and showed it to anyone that would listen for the next 14 years, including his friend Carl Shwahiem. George couldn’t talk anyone of importance into going to the site and passed away In the Folsom hotel in January 1922.

A flash flood in 1908 exposed this the archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico. The site was named for the nearby town of Folsom.

A flash flood in 1908 exposed this the archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico. The site was named for the nearby town of Folsom.

Four years later, Shwahiem showed the Colorado museum of natural history the site George had discovered. The museum, with the intentions of recovering bison-antiques for display, excavated this site in 1926 and revealed something amazing. During the dig, archaeologists found a stone projectile point lodged in the ribs of one of the extinct bison. The Bison and gone extinct during the last Ice Age. Finding a man-made point In association with the 8000-year-old skeleton turned out to be the greatest Archaeological find of the 20th-century, proving that man had inhabited the North American continent thousands of years before scholars thought.

“It’s a discovery that made him famous, but his courage, determination, and perseverance is what is remembered about the man. A true cowboy!”

Nearly 100 years after his death, George McJunkin took his place beside his fellow legends at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in April 2019.

© Matt Doherty, submitted July 2019.

Visit Folsom

National Western Heritage Museum at George’s induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Left to right: Abbie Reaves, Reagan Doherty, Matt Doherty, Jeff Cornay, Hudson Doherty

About the Author: Matt Doherty is a seventh generation rancher from the area around Folsom New Mexico. Mcjunkin worked for his Great Great Great Grandfather, Dr. Thomas Owen. Doherty’s family also owns the Doherty Mercantile building which houses the Folsom Museum, where he sits on the board directors. It is through these two sources that Doherty put together this biography. Doherty accepted McJunkins induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Editors Note –  George McJunkins birth date is listed as the year 1856 on his gravestone, however other sources place it as 1851. He died on January 21, 1922.

Also See: 

Folsom, New Mexico

Cowboys on the American Frontier

Cowboys, Trail Blazers, & Stagecoach Drivers

The Cattle Kings

Nat Love, aka: Deadwood Dick

African American History in the United States


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