School names: Tucumcari

by Mike Magers

Tucumcari is the county seat of Quay County.  The landscape is dominated by Tucumcari Mountain, a natural feature on the east side of the town.  One might have assumed that the county name had an origin more related to the culture of the residents, but instead the county was named for a Pennsylvania senator by the name of Matthew Quay who supported statehood for New Mexico.  Because of the county’s odd layout, it borders seven other New Mexico counties in addition to Oldham County on the Texas border.

There are several explanations given for the naming of Tucumcari, New Mexico.  The first is as follows.  Two Apache warriors fought on the nearby mountain to succeed their Chief Wautanomah, who was dying.  The winner would not only become the tribal chief, but would marry the chief’s daughter, Kari.  Tocom, the brave loved by Kari, was slain in the fight.  Upon seeing her beloved’s death, Kari seized a knife, slew the rival warrior Tonopah before taking her own life.  The dying and grief stricken Chief could only repeat “Tocom-Kari, Tocom-Kari.”  As compelling as this story may be, it is most likely fiction and the creation of a Methodist minister around 1907, embellished by others as the years went by.

Yet another legend says that the name comes from burial records as a variation on the name of the place where a Comanche woman and her child were captured before they were brought to the Tucumcari area to live out the remainder of their days.  Most likely, the name probably arose either from a word used for a previous Native American tribe to describe their tactic of lying in wait on the landmark mountain or a tribal name for “those who wait for buffalo.”

Regardless of which story is true, before Anglo settlers came to the area, it was long inhabited by the Apache, Comanche and likely other tribes.  The current town was founded around 1901, when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad reached the area.  Later the town benefited from sitting squarely on the route of historic old Route 66, and now Interstate 40.

In popular culture, according to the website, several episodes of the western television series Rawhide were filmed there.  In addition, it was the filming location for several documentaries and feature films including Two Lane Blacktop (1971).  A number of the TLB scenes were filmed in Tucumcari.  Believe it or not after 26 years, a remake of Two Lane Blacktop is reportedly on the books, scheduled to start production in 2017.


Tucumcari’s mascot is the Rattlers, one of the most recognizable logos in the state.  The original mascot name was the Rattlesnakes, and was later shortened to just the Rattlers.  The first school opened after 1910 and the first graduating class was in 1913, consisting of six girls and two boys.

One of the Rattlers’ most successful boys basketball coaches was Warren “Lucky” Carter  who spent about 10 seasons in Tucumcari, winning 141 against 109 losses, per Chuck Ferris’ website.  Coach Carter amassed 225 wins in his career during his years at Grady, San Jon and Tucumcari.  Carter’s Tucumcari teams would reach the playoffs in five of the ten seasons he served as head coach.  Looking back at the Rattlers’ appearances in boys basketball, they lost the 2016 AAA championship game to Texico, they lost the 2011 AA championship to Mesilla Valley, the AAA championship game to Lovington in 1983, the 1982 AAA championship game to St. Pius with their sole win thus far coming in 1950.

The Rattlers last competed in the state football championship game in 2005 when they lost the AA championship to Hatch.  Both teams entered the game at 10-2.  Three seasons earlier in 2002, the Rattlers had defeated Santa Rosa in the AA title game.  In 2000 they lost the AA championship game to Eunice.  Their final appearance was back in 1959 when they won the A title over Aztec.

The current lineup of head coaches is as follows: Wayne Ferguson – football, Gary Hittson – girls basketball, John Span – boys basketball, Tony Alarcon – baseball, Lawrence Sena – volleyball.

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