Folklore makes for the rich tapestry of any region, and commonly what makes up for most good folklore is monsters. Believe it or not, Southeastern New Mexico has its fair share of spooks, monsters, and specters, be they newspaper hoaxes, figments of people’s imaginations, or perhaps even real animals or people mistaken for something else.
A good example of a spooky place in Roswell is Bottomless Lakes, an area steeped in mystery since the days of Billy the Kid. A common rumor to this day is that the depths house gigantic catfish!
Other strange Roswell creatures were brought to light by Frank Joyce, the famous radio announcer who broke the UFO story at KGFL in 1947. Joyce tells the tale of Forbidden Cave, a mystery location west of Roswell, where as a boy he saw two alligator-like creatures sitting on a ledge in the cave. “These weren’t Gila monsters. They were much, much bigger,” he told reporter Toby Smith in the 1990s. Joyce described Forbidden Cave as an opening with sulfur fumes coming out of it that dropped down straight into the ground. Joyce says he and some boy scouts built a ladder and climbed down inside. Later, the city fathers dynamited it as a safety concern.
Even the Roswell Alien has folklore surrounding it. There is a little-known story that the alleged surviving Roswell alien held at the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) in July of 1947 escaped its containment and made its way off the main base and into an adjoining trailer park used for base housing. In the trailer park, it was said to leer through windows, terrifying the occupants, until it was finally shot and killed out front of the base gate.
Near Pecos Pueblo in Northern New Mexico there are stories of a monstrous giant snake kept in a cave by the Pecos peoples. In Native American tradition, the snake is named Avanyu, and a painting of the creature was found in the summer of 1990 in Roswell as the Relief Route was being built west of town. The painting was discovered in a Jornada Mogollon pit village where Brasher Road ends today. Among the ruins was a vibrant 15-foot-long green clay painting of a feathered serpent. The find was rather astounding because wall paintings, especially those of discernable figures, are rare in the Southwest. Though pictures were taken, the village was covered over to make way for the Relief Route.
Stories of a giant rattlesnake living in a mountain cave (which included a tribe of Indians called the Snake People) were also very prominent in the Guadalupe Mountains in Eddy County. It was there that the Mescalero Apaches told of sheep mysteriously disappearing, while other sheep found dead had so much rattlesnake venom in their systems that their insides were nearly dissolved. In his book, Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains, W.C. Jameson tells of two anthropologists investigating tales of the Snake People back in the 1940s. The duo went exploring in the cave where the mysterious tribe supposedly still practiced. They were lowered into the cave via ropes operated by several ranchers and cowhands. The men above heard a great deal of screaming coming from below, as well as loud, buzzing rattles, and tried to pull the men back up. Only one of the men was pulled back out that day. He was dead and had an extremely high amount of rattlesnake venom in his system. The story ends weeks later when the government sealed up the entrance to the cave with several tons of rock. Two weeks after that a new entrance was clearly visible, with the appearance that something pushed its way out from the cave.
In what was surely the strangest news to hit Southeastern New Mexico since the Roswell UFO Crash, the Ruidoso News reported that a giant rattlesnake had been killed near Carrizozo in July of 1960. The monster snake was killed by two Lincoln County men, Juan Baca and Mike Gonzales. The duo had taken their burros out to graze near the famous Valley of Fires lava beds when they spotted something peculiar in a dried out pond bed: the ground seemed to be moving up and down. Finally, they realized it wasn’t the ground moving but a giant rattlesnake, 18 feet long, breathing. They even had the skin of the monster to prove that not only did it exist, but that they killed it. As it turned out, the skin was really that of a python, discarded in a Ruidoso dumpster by an Albuquerque woman. The two men found it and decided to have some fun with the press.
Another Carrizozo oddity that predated the snake tale was the Goat Man. An article dated January 12, 1934 proclaims “Mysterious Goat Man of Sacramento Mtns. Reported Seen Again”. The article tells of rancher James Greer shooting a man-like creature covered in hair that ran on all fours that he first thought to be a coyote terrorizing his goats. “Greer shot at the creature which uttered a scream and vanished among the recesses of the lava beds. Running over to where the creature had disappeared Greer found a hat of coyote skins,” the article reported. This detail has led some to believe the creature was a Native American skinwalker, (essentially the southwest equivalent of a werewolf) as skinwalkers induced their transformation by dressing in animal skins. Tales of Goat Men are common among early to mid-20th century folklore, notably Prince George’s County in Maryland. It has never been outright confirmed whether the Carrizozo Goat Man was a planned hoax on the part of the writer, the witness, or perhaps, just a bona fide Goat Man running loose in the wilds of Carrizozo. While there were some actual “wild men” in the mountains during those days, surely none were hairy enough to be confused with the goat man!
And naturally, Southeast New Mexico has its fair share of spooks, such as the Lady of the Sands. The legend begins in 1540 with a member of the Francisco Coronado expedition. The conquistador’s name was Hernando de Luna, who had left behind his lovely fiancé, Manuela, in Mexico City. When Luna was killed in battle along the Jornada Del Muerto by a group of Apaches, he staggered into the nearby White Sands and died there. Manuela left Mexico City to come looking for him and disappeared herself in the White Sands, where to this day she is known as the Lady of the Sands or alternately as The Legend of Pavla Blanca. Every night she can be seen in her white wedding gown searching for her lost lover. Others say the winds and heavy breezes whip up white sand into the air over the dunes, giving the illusion of the beautiful figure in her wedding dress.
Roswell writer Will Robinson wrote of a trip to the White Sands he took with Pedro Cassini in the 1930s:
One evening old Pedro was counting his beads as the sun set in a burst of glory over the San Andreas
Mountains. “The White Lady will rise again when the moon comes over the Sacramentos,” he said. “Twice it will be for me. Once more will be the last, as it was with my father and many others who have seen her.”
The wind was coming across the plains of the Sacramentos from the southwest in long, steady flows, but not so very hard. Most likely it bounced off the prairies at times, and when it struck it moved things.
“There she is,” said one of the men pointing to the top of one of the great dunes. Here the wind seemed to be deflected, and high in the air rose a spiral of white, light enough for the mountains to be seen through it, but positive enough that there was no mistaking that the White Lady was walking again in the vast area of alabaster covering 270 square miles. Old Pedro continued to count his beads until the White Lady gathered her fleecy garments about her and vanished into the night.
I never again saw the White Lady though the years of patrol the ears were always alert to see her. It is not often that she comes, and the primitives are glad of it. She is lovely, but no man or woman can see her but three times and live.
Another famous old Roswell spook was the Headless Horsewoman of Lover’s Lane. Lover’s Lane was a shady tree-lined rural road northeast of town. It was said to have been haunted by a woman dressed in white riding atop a horse, only she had no head. The story goes that she had been the daughter of a wealthy banker set to marry a local man, until he left her for another woman. One night the woman, dressed in all white, came into her ex-fiancé’s home and killed him and his new wife with a shotgun. After it was over she turned the barrel on herself, the shotgun blast severed her head from her body and from then on her ghostly form terrorized young lovers along Lover’s Lane until one day the old bridge she liked to haunt washed away…
So, with all these unexplained spooks and monsters of Southeastern New Mexico’s past perhaps still roaming about, does the Historical Society need to start a special file cabinet in their archives marked with a big “X”?
John LeMay has written several volumes on the mysteries of New Mexico, among them Roswell, USA: Towns That Celebrate UFOs, Lake Monsters, Bigfoot and Other Weirdness; The Real Cowboys & Aliens with Noe Torres, and Hidden History of Southeast New Mexico with Donna Blake Birchell.