By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
When a 73-year-old artifact goes missing, someone usually has to take the blame.
Former City Manager Ray Mondragon learned that lesson well in 2004 after one of the Indian head artifacts atop Hotel Clovis disappeared in the summer.
“Personally, I did not feel that I was deserving (of the criticisms),” Mondragon said. “As city manager you are going to be criticized of anything that happens.”
Mondragon left in December to take a position as manager for area economic development at ENMR Plateau.
The case of the missing Indian head and its recovery in a Texas ditch tops the list for 2004’s most unusual stories, as determined by Clovis News Journal staff.
During the week of July 23, Mondragon said he had observed the Indian head — one of seven — moved from its perch on top of the vacant historic hotel. Not long afterward, the 350-pound artifact went missing in an apparent heist. Letters appearing in the CNJ blamed Mondragon for not securing the artifact after he noticed it had been moved.
“I didn’t even have the thought that anyone was thinking of stealing it,” he said, citing the head’s weight.
Two months went by without on the whereabouts of the artifact. Then in September, a weed-control team from the Texas Department of Transportation was clearing brush about 6 miles from Littlefield, Texas. The head was discovered in the overgrowth.
A brief story appeared in the Olton Enterprise newspaper of an investigation into the Indian head’s origin. Clovis resident, James Taylor, who grew up near Olton and still received the community paper, read the brief and contacted Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher. Hatcher and Mondragon went to retrieve it.
“I figured since I was criticized (for losing it), I wanted to be there to recover it,” Mondragon said.
Hatcher and Mondragon took a road trip to Olton and found the Indian head still sitting in a ditch by the side of the road, mostly intact but with some damage to the war bonnet and the base detached. With the help of a Texas DOT employee, they were able to hoist the head into Hatcher’s truck and drive it back to Clovis.
Now the Indian head is sitting in a secure city storage unit until decisions are made on its future, Mondragon said.
City officials said it could be put back atop the hotel, but would require some repair work. Another option would be to create a replica and put that on top of the hotel. Or the original could be restored and placed in a public spot where it will be safe and people can see it up close.
“Eventually the final decision would be (with) the city commission,” new City Manager Joe Thomas said.
Thomas said the restoration of the hotel would likely be a prerequisite to placing the head back on top, but no decision has been made.
Other unusual news events from 2004:
• Two state police officers injured by lightning in July have recovered from their injuries, though their close brush with death left them rattled for months.
Clint Varnell and Lance Baseman were helping two women and three children from a vehicle in a flooded ditch in July south of Portales when lightning struck water they were standing in, Varnell said. A police video taken from their patrol car showed the men were knocked to the ground and laid motionless for at least eight seconds, Varnell said.
Following the strike, Varnell said he experienced severe headaches and nausea. The officers continued working to help people from the flooded area for at least two hours after the lightning strike, at which point they were able to get out of the flooded area and drive themselves to the hospital.
• A Clovis man who collects and gives away clothes, furniture, appliances, toys and other goods from his home on Reid Street faced petty misdemeanor charges for violating the city’s public nuisance code.
Henry Parmenter, who stores these items at his house and gives them away to anyone who needs them, ran into trouble when his “free market” ministry was called a public nuisance.
Court officials said he violated city code by leaving the items in his yard and in an adjacent property, citing public health concerns and the possibility for rodent infestations and mosquitoes.
Parmenter is still paying off $500 in court costs resulting from his hearing earlier this year, he said. He has since moved all of his goods in his house and put much of it on pallets in his back yard, thereby complying with city code.