By Don McAlavy: Local columnist
Yes, the lure of old cemeteries is no secret.
In fact, one of eastern New Mexico’s biggest tourist
attractions is the cemetery at Old Fort Sumner, resting place of Billy the Kid and another giant of New Mexico history, Lucien Maxwell.
There are dozens of old cemeteries in the area, each with a greater or lesser history lesson of its own.
And there is one that rivals Old Fort Sumner in reflecting the history of its area, even though that history is quieter and more respectable then the exploits of Billy the Kid.
Practically unknown to area resident is Olivet Cemetery, two miles south of Farwell on N.M. 348 (the state line highway).
Just outside the Olivet gate and to the right lies a group of graves with names from families like Hamlin, Overstreet, Kindred and their kind — that represent the early promise of Texico and Farwell as twin metropolises of the prairie.
Just inside the gate and to the left is more sordid story from Twin Cities history — graves of Susie Hassell and her eight children, buried by the communities on Christmas Day 1926 after they were axed to death by their husband and father, George.
These days, few people stop to ponder over the single shared grave of Susie, Alton, David, Maudie, Russell, Virgil, Johnny, Mamie and Samuel, nor does conversation often drift back to the crime of “old George Hassell.”
It’s a safe bet that few people today even recognize the names of the pioneer developers.
J.D. Hamlin, 1817-1950, according to the tombstone, was one of the instigators of the settlements on the state line. He came as a 26-year-old Kentucky aristocrat headed for the Klondike gold with friends, as he relates in his biography “The Flamboyant Judge,” when he landed in the Panhandle in 1897.
He was met in Amarillo by a longtime family friend, Capt. J.M. Kindred (1937-1922, according to his gravemarker), and immediately took a liking to the raw Panhandle, which soon was experiencing its first big wave of settlement.
J.D. Hamlin became a great man in the Farwell and Texico communities.
So Hamlin and his team moved across the state line, where an even newer and respectable town had begun to take shape. Farwell is named for a family who traded away the site of the Texas state Capitol in exchange for more than 10 million acres of “worthless” Panhandle.
Hats off to J.D. Hamlin.