by Don McAlavy and Harold Kilmer.







Over 11,000 years ago the area now known as Roosevelt County, located on the Llano Estacado also known as the High Plains, in eastern New Mexico, was the home of the Paleo-Indian Culture at Blackwater Draw. These people represent the oldest widely accepted Paleo-Indian culture located in the New World. See the history of the Blackwater Draw Museum one of the few museums dedicated to a single site.

During the past two thousand years the climate of east-central New Mexico has been getting dryer, thus the reason for being sparsely populated. The Comanche Indians were relatively late arrivals in this area of the High Plains, arriving around 1700. They used this arid High Plains, called by the first Spaniard explorers Llano Estacado, as their hunting grounds living mostly off the thousands of buffalo. The last Comanches were rounded up in 1874 and taken to a reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Comanche Indians who lived in the Palo Duro and the Tule Canyon in the Texas Panhandle were gone from the High Plains.  It was now safe for cattlemen to set up ranches in the area.

A well known watering hole in the area now known as Roosevelt County was Portales Springs. Before 1900 it flowed continuously out a series of cave openings in a caliche cliff and fed a small lake.  This watering hole was known to Indians,  Spanish and cattlemen.  The first permanent settler of the area was a cattleman by the name of Doak Good who lived near Portales Springs in the 1880s. Portales, New Mexico was named after the Portales Springs when the town was started.

Portales Springs was in the north part of what is now Roosevelt County.  In the south part of what is now Roosevelt County T. L. (George) Causey established a ranch in the 1880's.  His brothers, John and Robert L. (Bob) Causey, joined him in his ranching project.  Bob was a blacksmith and carpenter by trade. He was the first blacksmith in this area of the High Plains.   George Causey discovered good underground water which was abundant at a shallow depth.  The Causey brothers bought a well rig and became the first well drillers in what is now the southern part of Roosevelt County.

In 1898 the Pecos Valley & Northeastern Railway (the Peevine) operated the first passenger train over railroad tracks through Portales which is now served by the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railway.  Portales was founded as a cattle-shipping point in 1898 on the railroad.  Many of the towns on this High Plains were started because of a railroad building through the country.   Many other towns were founded by merchants to serve ranchers and homesteaders that came later.

Josh Morrison built a one-room building at Portales Springs about 1897 and operated a store out of this building.  Portales Springs was on the old Fort Sumner Trail and was a very good site for a store. Uncle Josh used this store site for about a year before the railroad reached the present site of Portales, New Mexico.  Uncle Josh moved this store into the new townsite and it was the first store in Portales and he became its first postmaster.

Roosevelt County, New Mexico was formed February 28, 1903.   It was named for the twenty-sixth President of the U. S., Theodore Roosevelt.  Portales is the county seat.  Secondary communities in the county are:  Elida, Floyd, Dora, Causey, Arch, Kenna, Lingo, Milnesand, Pep, and Rogers.  Roosevelt County had ranching, farming, the railroad and related businesses.   In 1902 a few homesteaders trickled in.  By 1903 the homesteaders were pouring into the area around Portales.  Settlers came to Roosevelt County for a couple of reasons.  First a railroad served the town of Portales and the other was the availability of shallow water.  A homesteader could take a pick and shovel and dig a well about 15 feet deep and would have plenty of water for domestic use.  Most other settlers outside the Portales Valley had to haul drinking water from a few wells the ranchers had put down, until they could afford to drill their own.

One colorful character who homesteaded in Roosevelt County in 1905 was King Kirk Runnels who was given the title "Sage of the Sandhills" by W. H. "Hop" Graham editor and owner of the State Line Tribune.  Mr. Runnels had been a teacher and a attorney back in Texas before moving to New Mexico. Mr. Runnels was a civic-minded gentleman and was in demand to speak at the area schools.

The most important economic force in Roosevelt County is Eastern New Mexico University.   With only one building the doors were opened on the Eastern New Mexico Junior College in 1934 to 165 students.  The school remained a Junior College until the fall term of 1940 when it became a four-year, degree-granting college.  On April 5, 1949 the Board of Regents approved the change of the name to Eastern New Mexico University and masters degrees were offered in specified departments.


High Plains History, pub. 1980

Roosevelt County History and Heritage, pub. 1975

History of The Causey, New Mexico Area and It's Pioneers, pub. 1995

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Copyright 1999 2009 by Harold Kilmer