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Date of visit:
April 1, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of White Oaks Mining Town ...
 

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 Off beaten track
 Nearly deserted
 Few visitors
 Properties off-limit
 View into past
 Interesting cemetery
 Unique saloon
 Unpaved side streets
 Few artisans
 Walk around town

 Kachina

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White Oaks Mining Town
The Greed
White Oaks circa 1890
White oaks circa 1890
White Oaks might not be the somnolent ghost town it now is were it not for its former residents' own greed.

In the late 1890s, both the Santa Fe and the El Paso and Northeastern railroads were planning to extend tracks toward White Oaks.

Prominent businessmen in town were so certain of a bidding war for the privilege of a railroad's being allowed to enter their town that they asked outrageous prices for the right-of-way.

The El Paso and Northeastern took its collective tracks and went home, so to speak, and bypassed the town by ten miles. From that point on, White Oaks began to decline.

The Liveliest Town
White Oaks once known as the liveliest town in the territory. The commotion began after a miner named Baxter found a gold deposit in the Jicarilla Mountains in 1879. Within a year, the town, named for the white oaks surrounding a nearby spring, was a tent community with a post office.

By 1885 the town was much more substantial, and a reporter from Denver remarked that the people there were of "intelligence and culture," and that their influence " . . . had an ennobling effect on pioneer life and aided in the molding of a frontier society into more refined, cultured and virtuous channels."

White Oaks Bank circa 1917
White Oaks Bank circa 1917
The late 1880s reflected White Oak's culture reflected in its buildings, the best of which still stand. On the main street into town, White Oaks Avenue, stands the Exchange Bank Building, also known as the Hewett Building.

It is, unfortunately, somewhat like a painting for which only a hand-carved frame remains.

The canvas long gone, for the building's owners stripped it of its stone facade for use in a private residence. North of the bank is the two-story brick schoolhouse, which, despite its considerable size, has only four classrooms - two upstairs and two down.

Beyond the school is the Gumm residence - a wooden Victorian lavishly furnished in rosewood and mahogany that was constructed by a family who owned sawmills and a woodworking factory in the area.

(See site gallery below for structures just described.)

The Hoyle Mansion
Hoyle Mansion
Hoyle Mansion - today
(on a snowy day in April)
On a hill south of the main street stands the Hoyle mansion, a dramatic brick Victorian built in 1887 by Mr. Hoyle, who made his fortune as a one-twelfth owner of the Old Abe, the most profitable gold mine near White Oaks.

A story persists that Hoyle built the house for a bride who refused him and that, as a consequence, he never lived in the house.

Long-time resident Morris Parker, however, flatly debunked the tale and claimed that Hoyle lived in the house for years. The home cost between $40,000 and $70,000, while the town's impressive schoolhouse cost only $10,000.

Two classic Victorian homes remain in White Oaks, and even though one is of brick and the other of wood, the visitor notices striking similarities between the two, and it is no wonder: the Gumms used the plans of the Hoyle house, reversed, when they built their monument to success.

Footnote 1: An e-mail received September 2004 from Mary (Watson) Bower of Cotter, Arkansas added some interesting details to this story. Another partner in the Old Abe mine was William Watson. His son, Wayne Watson (Mary's father) was born in White Oaks in June of 1920. According to Ms. Bower, the workers of Old Abe presented to the three owners of the mine 'gold handled canes'. She was told that one was stolen, one was lost in a fire and her father had the other one. She was also told that one of the canes was used as "collateral" for building the Hoyle House.
Footnote 2: Another e-mail received October 2007 from Mary (Watson) Bower: I just found your web site again and noticed that the info I gave you several years ago is incorrect. I am Mary (Watson) Bower, the great grand-daughter of William Watson. His son, Roy Watson was my dad's father and the grandson of William Watson, not William's son. My dad was born at White Oaks, June 10th, 1920 to Roy's wife, Georgia Hall Watson.
Footnote 3: January 2009 ... we received a message from a Donna Kout Ikard that requested contact information on Mary Bower (above), which we were pleased to provide. Ms. Ikard is compiling a historical perspective on White Oaks. Any visitor to this page that has any relevant facts or information re: White Oaks is invited to contact Ms. Ikard (rustedriver at yahoo dot com). Her latest message to us was:

Thank you for your notes and efforts to help reconnect lost loved ones. I would love to post my family's White Oaks history on your page. I'm still compiling it and will send you some things in the future. I will have you include my name and contact information too (see above paragraph), this may help lost Lunds and Watsons to get in touch and share history.

My grandmother and her sister have been asked by the local White Oaks historians to submit their family history for awhile. Last year I did a cook book (turned into two actually) that contained recipes and memories from our past. It was a great hit and contained some great information. This next book I'm working on is part three of that series. I'll do one more after about my Great Grandfather's side. I agree it is quite important to get this stuff together while you can.

As more information is obtained from Ms. Ikard, they will be posted here or offered as a link. Please return often for possible updates.

Feedback!

Received the following e-mail from Ms. Ikard on April 14, 2009

Hello, how are you doing? I hope that you are well.

I have some stories for you, you are welcome to use the stories and the photos on your site. These stories pertain the the old "Watson Lund" building in White Oaks. As I told you I am a descendant of both.

Originally I found you and was looking for a relative by the name of Mary Watson Bower who had posted on your site. You were kind enough to try to help me locate her, still I have not found her. I do hope that this site of yours and the new additions will help us locate her again, perhaps she will find your site and write you again, if she does, please forward my information on as she has a whole family of Lunds looking for her.

Thank you for your time and for the magazine that you previously sent me. In the stories I am sending you'll see a photo of the Watson Lund building, I took that from an online source, I do not think you'll want to use that photo but I can send you another one that you can use in the future.

I do have another couple of photos that I will be sending also, I have one of the miners, but I need permission from the historical society for you to use it on your site. I will work on that.

Here you go, enjoy and be on the look out for more stories and photos from White Oaks. I hope to see some of our goodies on your site as it is such a wonderful collection of White Oaks history.

You'll see a photo of Fletcher Lund, he also worked in the Watson Lund building, he's mentioned in the stories I'm sure.

Take Care,
Donna Kout Ikard (e-mail: rustedriver at yahoo dot com)

The story Ms. Ikard submitted is available in a PDF format.

*** Gold Boom *** ... (93Kb)

RESULTS!

Received this follow-up e-mail from Ms. Ikard on December 10, 2009

I want to tell you that I finally heard from Mary Watson Bowers who posted a note on your White Oaks site that lead me to fill in missing history. We are finally in touch thanks to you and your wonderful site. How amazing!! You do not even know what a huge thing you have done for us. We are in search of the descendants all of our Lund family members who lived in White Oaks. She was one of the last two branches that are missing. Finally we have our dear old distant cousin back in the tree. She is the direct descendant of William Watson and Alice Maude Lund Watson "Mimi" as they called her later in life. Wonderful news indeed. If not for your site I never would've known she existed or how to find that branch. GREAT!!!!!

Thank you so much for helping me and for posting both of our posts. Our entire family is very happy and thankful to you. You have helped us fill in missing history and we have been able to get that to the historians of White Oaks, Lincoln County who were also missing some important clues. Keep doing what you're doing out there with the photos and the sites. You have made a huge difference in the lives & history of many people.

Great to know you!! Eternally Grateful, Donna Kout Ikard

Donna Kout Ikard (e-mail: rustedriver at yahoo dot com)

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Hogtown
If White Oaks had the "intelligence" and "culture" that the Denver reporter noted, how did it become known as the "liveliest town in the territory"?

There was another side to White Oaks, and it was a section called Hogtown - where bars (see site gallery), casinos, dance halls, and brothels flourished. The most famous faro dealer in the casinos of White Oaks was Madame Varnish, so called because she was a "slick" dealer - no doubt many a miner was shellacked.

Billy the Kid was an occasional visitor to town, but Pat Garrett was the sheriff in the early 188os. Overall, however, Morris Parker recalled White Oaks as an essentially civilized place, with such refinements as an opera house, drama clubs, and literary societies.

The Buried Past
On your way in to White Oaks, be sure to stop at the Cedarvale Cemetery, established in 1880 by the Knights of Pythias.

Citizens important to both White Oaks and New Mexico are buried there: W C. McDonald, once a White Oaks surveyor and later the first New Mexico governor after statehood; Susan McSween Barber (her name misspelled on her gravestone), a survivor of the Lincoln County War (see Lincoln entry, p. 69) and later known as the Cattle Queen of New Mexico; John Wilson, one of the original discoverers of the gold strike; and David "Jack" Jackson and his wife Mary, the only black residents of White Oaks.

Jackson arrived in 1897 and witnessed the decline of the town from its late boom days. It was a virtual ghost town just after the turn of the century, but Jack Jackson stayed on, maintaining the graveyard voluntarily, carrying soup to sick community residents, and even oiling mining machinery in abandoned mines so that if the mines ever opened again the equipment would not be rusted. He died in 1963 and now rests in the cemetery he helped to preserve.

Site Gallery - White Oaks
 
White Oaks School House White Oaks School House (rear) The Bank Building
 Gumm Mansion  Hoyle Mansion  A Saloon
 That means you!
Yesterday's gold mining mines today's visitor.
 
 
For More Information
Ghost Towns of New Mexico

Text source partially exrtracted from:
Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, James E. Sherman, 1975
New Mexico's Best Ghost Towns, Philip Varney, 1999
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