by Mike Magers
The community of Monument was the first settlement to take hold in what now is Lea County. It got its start when former cowboy named James Cook built a store. Not surprisingly, the community’s first name was Cook’s Store. Cook used to drive a buggy to Carlsbad and back to deliver the mail until around 1900 when Cook applied for and received permission to establish a U. S. post office in the name of Monument. The area was fairly arid, as it is today and the village of Monument got its name from an old water source named Monument Springs which was the headquarters of one of the larger ranches in the area, the Hat Ranch.
The Hat Ranch is a familiar name to many people from New Mexico. The eastern boundaries of the very oldest part of the ranch began around Brownfield, Texas and extended to the Pecos River across the current state line, almost to Carlsbad, New Mexico. It originated when a Scotsman named Kennedy learned of the availability of some open land. R. F. Kennedy was to acquire it for the estate of the Earl of Aylesford, of the United Kingdom. The Earl had come to Texas to try and purchase ranch land and had been temporarily been residing in the Big Spring, Texas area. As agent for the Earl, Kennedy consummated the purchase from some local buffalo hunters, one of whom went by the name of “Peg Leg” Whalen, in 1885 using his own funds. However, before Kennedy could be reimbursed for the cost of the land, the Earl unexpectedly died, leaving the ownership in the name of Kennedy.
The ranch included Monument Springs, located roughly ten miles across the current New Mexico border. Monument Springs had been so named over a decade earlier when a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers of the U. S. Army out of Ft. Davis were on a scouting mission, looking for Indians who had escaped the reservation. The troops came across the natural spring some 60 miles east of the Pecos near the current location of Hobbs, New Mexico. The senior officer, Colonel William Rufus Shafter, is credited with building a monument four feet wide and seven and a half feet tall out of the native limestone based rocks to mark the area. The monument was about a mile and a half from the actual spring and could be seen from miles away. The old monument was torn down over a century ago and the materials were used to build the first stone dwellings on the ranch, although the name remains. The old spring, which Shafter reported could water hundreds of horses, still flows but its underground source has been tapped into by water wells. Now it is just enough to make a small pond, although it is still there.
The old ranch is still basically intact but has changed hands a few times. Kennedy operated the ranch as sole owner until he sold out in 1891 to two brothers, the McKenzies, in order to be able to return to the UK. The McKensies owned it outright for a number of years and gradually added to the original acreage. In 1893, as a result of them being financially overextended, the brothers sold some of their property to a Mitchell County, Texas rancher by the name of Sug Robertson who later conveyed the Monument Springs portion of the spread to Winfield Scott, the son of the well known Mexican War general of the same name. Around this time, Scott changed the brand to the more familiar “hat” brand that has since been used. Scott and Robertson continued to operate their various holdings together and the two managed amass about 1,000,000 acres of ranch land in the area, mostly in West Texas. Robertson brought his brother and nephew into the business.
The ranch remained unified until shortly after 1900 when small parcels began to be sold to the flood of settlers arriving in the area. Eventually ownership was transferred to a William Fletcher Weir in 1906, who purchased all but the brand. Winfield Scott had previously gifted the “hat” brand to an orphaned cowboy by the name of Charles B. Friscoe. Scott had told young Charlie Friscoe, “You are a Scotsman and I’m a Scotsman. I’ll give you the remnants of the cattle and the brand.” Friscoe himself was able to acquire the ranch in 1953 from Weir’s widow and owned it until 1967 until selling it to New Mexico rancher W. B. (Dub) Baum. The old spread is still in the Baum family, now being run by a daughter and son in law, the Jimmy Cooper family.
Monument had its own school district for a number of years. Its first school building was completed in 1902 and first classes were held September 15th of that year. There were 40 students.
According to basketball expert Chuck Ferris, the Monument Indians actively competed in New Mexico high school basketball from 1938 to 1951 when the Monument schools were consolidated with the Hobbs ISD. Chuck says that over the years, Monument achieved a winning record with 28 wins against 22 losses under several different coaches, including Herbert prior and T. J. Ingram. According to Steve Flores in his excellent book Ghost Town Basketball (sadly, out of print) the school buildings have all been demolished following a fire in 1970, except for the old school cafeteria.