Pioneer Woman Tells of First Days of Jal

Mrs. A. Q. Cooper First Saw Site of Jal in Eighties

Mrs. Cooper first visited Jal at the age of eleven. She came from Palo Pinto. She later went to Chattanooga, Tennessee to attend school. After marrying Mr. A. Q. Cooper in Midland, Texas she moved to Jal in 1896 to make her home.

Mrs. Cooper is a sister-in-law to Mr. W. C. Cochran, founder of Jal. It was on his Bar-Two Mule Shoe ranch that the townsite of Jal was founded.

From the Memories of a Real Old Timer

My first visit to these parts dates back to the eighties. In fact, I believe it was the year of 1889. My sister and her husband, John M. Cowden and his two older brothers, Billie and George, who were also my step brothers, had come out several years previous and brought their small bunch of cattle and established a temporary camp at the northwest edge of the White Sands. They turned the cattle loose as there was plenty for them to eat on the hard flats and they could get an abundance of water by merely trampling around on the sand and waiting for the water to rise.

They remained there only a short time while they were looking for a better place. They finally settled on the present site of upper Jal and there established their first homes. These homes were dugouts, covered with tents. It was about this time that they bought the J. A. L. brand from L. A. Lynch. From that time on that part of the draw has been known as the Jal Draw.

At this time there were still a few buffalo in the country and on one occasion when the three women and a visiting woman were at the ranch alone with us children, we spied five buffalo coming over the hill. The visiting woman took down the old buffalo gun and shot. The gun went off accidentally and hit one of them. She took aim and fired again. Two buffalo fell. There we were with two dead buffalo and just four lone women. Then as luck would have it, the boys came in unexpectedly that night in time to skin and hang the buffalo. This was my only experience in eating buffalo meat. Another amusing, but at the time tragic, incident of the time occurred when two of the milk cows licking salt from a tub near one of the tents hooked one another and one of them fell through the tent on a bed in the dugout on which lay a sleeping baby. With much bucking and plunging, which almost wrecked the domicile and with some help from us the cow finally got out.

To the best of my memory at that time there were only three or four other ranches in this vicinity. Namely, the Half Circle Two’s, owned by Fred and Dock Cowden, cousins of the aforementioned Cowden brothers. This ranch was located near Custer Mountain west of the present town site of Jal. (text missing) the present town site of Jal, (text missing) at that time being the Bar Two Mule Shoe ranch, owned and established by W. C. Cochran, who later became my brother-in-law. Other ranchers north were W. C. Divers and Bill Holloway. All of these ranchmen except Holloway came to this country from Palo Pinto.

This is a brief outline of the history of this country and its settlers preceding the time when I came here with my husband, A. Q. Cooper and two small children, to make my home at the Bar Two Mule Shoe (what is now the town called Jal) about the year of 1896. This does not purport to be authentic as to dates as I made no record of such.

The following incidents are of no importance to the history of this country, but may be interesting for you to know.

Many people have wondered about the origination of the name Son-of-a-Gun which has long been applied to a cowboy stew. I know of the origin of this name for I hear my brother tell the story and he was present at the time. My brother was working for the Hat Wagon once and the cook prepared a dish which they all called Cowboy Stew. Some visiting cattle buyers asked the name and when the cook told them, one of them said, “I don’t know any better name for it, but it’s a son-of-a-gun of a good dish.” Thus was the name originated.

One of my most impressive memories is of remarks made by the three women who pioneered this land. Mesdames Billy, George and John M. Cowden, when they admitted that their beautiful homes built in Midland, Texas years later held no thrill for them like the little one room plank houses which replaced the dugouts on the old Jal Draw.

No stretch of the imagination could have pictured to me the Jal of today from my old home site under the hackberry trees which was then the headquarters of the Mule Shoe Ranch. (Editorial note: The headquarters spoken of above were on the site of what is now Hubbs and Justice.)

[Jal Flare, Jal, NM. 20 Aug 1938.]

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