Walt Birdsong's Rebuttal
Shorty Lee Grave
Oscuro, Lincoln County, New Mexico
Return to Lincoln County
Grave east of Oscuro NM ca. 1910?
Mr. Walt Birdsong provided the photo above and twenty five pages of statements and letters to prove the claim that the grave 1.1 miles east of Oscuro (toward Carrizozo) is that of Cowboy Shorty Lee. This photo is only one of two which is evidence that a grave existed in that location. The rest of the story is hearsay. I am indebted to Mr. Birdsong for the information. I am concerned however that other than the photo there is no documentation that this is the grave of Shorty Lee.
The photo above had written under it this: "Hills are east of Hyway fence in middle ground means grave was in pasture at the that time. Right of way later took in grave."
I cannot know when the photo was taken. The railroad
tracks reached the site of present day Carrizozo in August of 1899. The paved
highway was completed ca. 19--
The highway at this point runs north toward Carrizozo. Therefore, the hills in the background are to the east. If one looks closely, the highway can be seen to the right of the photo. The RR tracks can be seen as a dark horizontal image to the right of the photo above the highway. The RR runs along the bottom of the hills. The highway runs along the flats below the hills. The most important thing about this photo is the right of way fence. Looking at the left of the grave, one can see a fence post. The fence is between the highway and the grave as one would expect. This grave is where I remember it to be when I was a boy. The grave was not covered by the right-of-way. It had a picket fence. It was located outside the right-of-way fence. Notice that this picket fence covers a small area. It is the grave of a child, not an adult. The hill is called Malagro Hill. The map book, "The Roads of New Mexico", show a grave west of Malagro Hill, and west of the Highway. All of these facts are in-step where the actual grave lies, and where I used to see a child's grave enclosed by a picket fence as a boy. The photo below shows the old outpost of Oscuro looking east toward Carrizozo. The grave is on the left side 1.1 miles ahead. Malagro Hill can be seen on the right.
A photo in a newspaper shows the grave in May 18, 1978. That newspaper article, (I assume it was the Lincoln County News) shows a man standing between the grave and the highway. The partial article sent to me by by Mr. Birdsong did not identify the newspaper or the date, only the date of the photo. In another photo from the Ruidoso News, it shows a grave and twin crosses of twin boys of the Ward family ca. 1930. This is a fact verified by a Ward family member. On June 15, 2007, another newspaper article was written in the Ruidoso News. This article repeats what has become a ledged. A story with no proof, based on letters written a hundred years after the fact and quoted back an forth as proof.
In a book titled, "I Rode a Horse Wild and Free", on
page forty six, stated author Guy Crandall,
"Among them was Bill Nix. He and a companion, along with several cattle they were driving, were all done in by a bolt of lightning."
Unfortunately, the book does not state the county (or the state) in which the event occurred. Let us assume the story is true. Where were they buried? Guy Crandall lived in Lincoln County. I can accept that two cowboys were killed by lightning in Lincoln County. I have seen no proof they were buried within that picket fence.
On one of the letters and notes sent to me by Mr. Birdsong it states that R.L. Shorty Lee was killed on Aug. 7, 2PM, 1907. No source of this is given. But if it is true, a newspaper would surely have picked up such an unusual story of cattle and men being killed by lightning. I hope someone can find an article someday.
Mr. Birdsong made an interesting observation. "I believe the Holliday Baby was the child of Isabelle (Belle) Holliday of Socorro, who was twenty years old in 1900, and was one of Baldy Russell's step daughters." This could explain the Holliday child's ancestry. It is a reasonable statement. However, all we know about the Holliday child's death was in the early 1900's. It could have been 1900, 1910 or 1920. Further, was it a child or an infant? If it were a child it could have been Isaah Holliday who was on the 1880 census but nowhere on the 1900 census under any spelling. Mr. Birdsong further stated that grave area of Oscuro looked to him as a burial ground. Is is a mile north from Oscuro proper. Cemeteries were seldom created in town, but out of town.
Photo of grave dated May 18, 1978 from undated newspaper article.
An email dated January 28, 2010.
Steins Cemetery, AZ/NM Border
I appreciate your kind email. That particular cemetery is of interest to me. It required several years of research in order to unravel the truth. I found the death certificate of Mitchell on a hunch by looking at hundreds of death records in Arizona. I assumed he died under an alias and so looked at other names. I could find no grave for him in Arizona. I recalled a photo of a headstone of a William Mitchell somewhere on my web pages one day when I was thinking about the mystery. So I looked at our cemetery survey at Steins NM which is the closest cemetery to his death place in Arizona. Then, it all came together.
My interest in outlaw Bill Mitchell came from my intimate interest in the Holliday child's grave in Lincoln County New Mexico. I used to pass by that grave on a cattle ranch in Oscuro, NM when a young boy. It was a lone grave with a picket fence. That grave vanished years ago due to neglect. I was determined to find out the truth of that grave and who that child was. I was told a child was buried there by my older sisters each time we passed by. That research adventure has lead me into conflict with some in NM, the highway department, and the Alamogordo water authority.
The highway department erected a sign stating it was the grave site of a cowboy (Shorty Lee) killed by lightning. There is no documented proof of that. There is proof that it was the grave of the Holliday child. The Alamogordo water authority will not answer my queries about the pipe line they laid directly over the alleged location of that grave and upgraded the same pipe years later. If a Cowboy's grave were located there, what precautions did they take to safeguard it? If a cowboy is buried there as indicated by the highway sign, what proof did the highway department use too justify spending tax payer's money on that sign? As you may guess they have not given me an answer.
Your email has prompted me to finish that story. I have a large packet of statements and some photos sent to me from a rancher who believes that the grave is one of a cowboy, and has a 100 year old photo to prove it, a copy which in now in my hands. The photo actually proves that a picket fence existed around that grave years ago. Yes, that was the grave of the Holliday child, not one of a cowboy. It existed years before a paved highway existed. The remains were later exhumed and laid to rest beside her mother in a cemetery, relatives claim. Until the exhumation, the family tended to that grave once a year. That is why is lasted for so many years. After the exhumation, the grave site went to ruins.
Some people say that a truck ran off the road years ago at that exact spot and destroyed the grave markings and fence. That is why the latter-day rocks were stacked near the road to mark the grave next to the highway. That is difficult to believe. The grave was outside the right-of-way fence. Also, the highway is elevated at that point. Therefore, during highway construction, bulldozers pushed up a huge amounts of dirt from the sides of the road for the road bed. Any grave would have been destroyed by the bulldozers.
I'm sure a cowboy(s) did die by lightning. That is not as rare an occurrence as it might seem. I have a book which mentions a cowboy dying from lightning, but no location in NM was given.
As for the destruction at Steins, the little town was built as a RR town about 100 years ago. The buildings were made of local dirt, grass and water mixed to form adobe bricks. Those bricks will erode away fast when exposed to the wind and rain. Some damage may have been done to the cemetery graves by vandals and treasure hunters. That is a shame, of course. Even more curious is the fact that Steins was two towns. They original town was ten miles away and was a stage stop. I wonder what mysteries it holds?
Thank you for your email and interest in the cemeteries of New Mexico.
1900 Census Socorro NM La Mesa
Russell Henry April 1852 48 Arkansas married 18 years
Russell Mary October 1854 45 married 18 mother of 1 child w living (by Russell)
Russell Maud August 1886 13 Arkansas
Holiday (sic) Belle Step-daughter August 1880 19 years
Henry Russell was also listed in the 1900 census
of NM in Socorro PCT 15 Oscuro.
Russell Henry 58 Married once married 26 years Texas
Russell Mary 55 married twice, married 26 years Texas four children and four children living. (But she had five children, John, George, Isaah, Isabelle and Maud. The census does not fit the facts. Perhaps she said four children because Isaah (or Isaac) had died.)
1920 Census Lincoln County Pct 15 Oscuro
Holiday(sic) Geo. 43 Texas USA Texas [Born July 23, 1876 Kinney Co., Texas]
Holiday Alice 32 wife Texas Texas Texas [Born December 7, 1888 in Texas]
Holliday Ola 12 NM Texas Texas [Mary Ola Born May 18, 1907 in Oscuro, Lincoln Co., NM]
Holiday Vernice 9 Texas Texas Texas [Born in 1911 in Texas]
Otero County marriage records show Alice Anna Cox married George Hiram Holliday September 6, 1906. She would have been 17 years old. If the Holliday child buried at Oscuro were her child, then it could not have been born before Mary Ola's birth who was born May 18, 1907. (Mary Old was born 8 months and 12 days after the marriage.) There is a gap between Mary Ola's birth and Vernice's birth of three years. A child could have been born in this time period and may have died and been buried at Oscuro. Therefore, we have two possibilities that a Holliday child was buried at Oscuro: Isaah (or Isaac) Holliday and the unnamed baby of Alice Holliday. Both would have been possible and plausible. But a family member said the baby was the child of Alice Holliday. I see no reason to dispute that. I believe the Oscuro Baby's grave was that of Alice and George Holliday as the family tradition states. The burial would have been ca. 1909.