Finding out more about James R West, my grandfather, was one of the reasons that I started my genealogy research. James married my Cherokee grandmother, Eliza Crittenden, in 1903. I knew only broad strokes about their life together.
They married in Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1903. Sometime shortly after that they moved to Roswell, New Mexico where they lived until about 1917. I knew that James left the family in 1922 and, except for a one day visit to Tulsa in 1929, he never contacted my grandmother or his children again.
James R West
Since starting my research I have found out more about their life together, but I still have so many holes in their story.
Based on some correspondence with the Dawes Commission regarding my grandmother’s land selection, I had a feeling that James was not in the household during their last years in Roswell. In October of this year, I finally made my way to Roswell to see what I could find.
Chaves County Court House – Roswell
I started with the Historical Society and their very helpful volunteer. Janice found a newspaper article that led me to do some research in the property file archives at the Chaves County Recorders Office. I found many land transactions in which James was involved, ending with charges being filed against him regarding some of those transactions. This mirrored activity by James that I had found several years ago in Wagoner, Oklahoma. Pages of land transactions concluding with him being sanctioned by a judge.
So, I went back to the newspaper archives. I found two more interesting articles about charges being filed against James for various crimes. My next stop would have been the court house to find out more about these charges and their resolution, but sadly I had to depart Roswell and my travel plans could not be changed. The wonderful Historical Society volunteer is going to see what she can find at the court house.
This week I decided to conduct a more intensive newspaper search and was overwhelmed by what I found, coverage of multiple charges and trials involving James R West, including horse smuggling, jury tampering, and attempted murder!
Clearly, my research will continue. I know that I will find out more facts, and hopefully find the court records regarding these cases. However, will I ever know the story surrounding the facts? What led James, who appeared to have a successful livery business at the time, to his actions? How did it impact my grandma, Eliza?
James R West – second from right in black hat
Some of James’ story can be attributed to the fact that much of Oklahoma and New Mexico were still the Wild West in the early 1900s. Yet, that is not enough of an explanation for me.
I fear I will always be left wondering about so many details and nuances of my grandparents’ lives. It is the search and the uncovering of surprises that keep me going. I know that there will always be something else to find out.
This trip also reminded me that there is nothing like feet on the ground when following your family’s story in many diverse locations.
Do any of you have family that resided in New Mexico in the early 1900s? I would love to hear your stories. Who knows, maybe yours cross mine somewhere in Roswell.