By Darrell Todd Maurina
Julie McKinney, believed to be the region’s oldest resident, died Sunday morning at the age of 108.
McKinney, who would lay grass on soggy trails so her family’s covered wagon could travel faster, was an energetic sort. She was born before New Mexico became a state; loved to sing and dance; and in her later years would wake up her fellow nursing home residents with the sound of a rooster crow.
But she was never grouchy and always kept a positive attitude, even in her final days, family and friends said.
“She’s outlived all her friends; she was really sad for a while when she realized she was outliving all her friends,” said her daughter, Mildred Fielden of Clovis. “She was a very sweet-natured person, very helpful and kind. Everybody just loved her.”
While McKinney had lived in Clovis nearly 30 years, she was born in Pender, Neb., in 1895, and moved with her parents to Texas about 10 years later, her daughter said.
“They lived there in Texas until she was 14 and then they moved to Milnesand, New Mexico, and homesteaded there,” Fielden said. “My grandfather built a store there and they lived there for seven or eight years and that’s where mother met my father; he was a cowboy there.”
Travel in the days before automobiles usually involved railroads, but when her family moved to Milnesand there wasn’t yet a railroad line. Fielden said her mother loved to tell stories about coming to New Mexico in a covered wagon. In 1916, Julie married Charles McKinney and moved with him to Colorado to work on the railroad line. The couple later returned to Milnesand where they homesteaded until 1926, when they moved to Roswell, living there until 1973 when Charles McKinney died.
Fielden said her mother spent her life as a homemaker and helped her husband in the rental property business, which they began during World War II building and operating rental property for personnel assigned to what became Walker Air Force Base.
A longtime neighbor, Lola Finley, lived next door to McKinney for about 15 years in Clovis.
“We were neighbors and we talked over the fence; we liked to talk about everything many years ago, things that happened to her,” Finley said. “She was very interesting to talk to. She had a rather hard life, she worked very hard, as long as she could.”
“Her mind was beginning to fail when she left, and then we didn’t talk as much. I missed seeing her, and I liked to be around her,” Finley said. “A few times she came back to see me before she went into the rest home.”
Melvin Fielden said he loved to listen to his mother-in-law’s stories about homesteading in rural New Mexico before it was part of the United States.
“As a young woman, she and her husband used to get out between Tatum and Roswell to pull bear grass to pull wagons through the sand during the rainy season,” he said. “She’s seen all the covered wagons and stuff during those days.”
The son-in-law said during that era, people would mark distances by counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel on a bed sheet.
“They could determine where their plot of land started that way,” he said. “They used strings on wagon wheels and counted the turns of the wheel and had it figured out how many miles they had to go.”
Dori Turvey, a nurse at Laurel Ridge Health Care Center where McKinney spent the last 18 years of her life, said McKinney no longer could remember much about her childhood near the end of her life. Even so, McKinney was loved by residents for her positive attitude and fondness for singing, Turvey said.
“She’s been here like a houseplant in the corner; she’s been here forever,” Turvey said. “She’s the sweetest woman we ever met, never mean or ornery. Her favorite thing in the world was to sing or dance.”
Even though McKinney was a small woman — 5 feet 2 inches and about 100 pounds — Turvey said she had spunk.
“A lot of older people as they get older get grouchy; she never was grouchy, mean or went out her way to be an ugly person, but people could get on her bad side,” Turvey said. “She still had her original teeth, but one on the front was really hurting her. (The dentist) pushed on that tooth, and she flew up with her fist and hit him. The dentist just looked at me and said ‘wow.’ You could tell she still had some fire in her.”
“It’s just amazing to think that when she was a young girl they were still doing cowboys and Indians,” Turvey said. “During those years people often died at 30, but she made it through it all. She seemed to be immune to anything bad.”
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• Jertrudes Arguello, who died in Clovis in 1942 at the age of 118, was the oldest woman to have lived up until that date in America, according to the Aug. 10, 1942, edition of the Clovis News Journal.
She was raised in Santa Fe, and spent her last years with her daughter in Clovis, according to local historian Don McAlavy.