Murphy's Chapel Cemetery

Murphy's Chapel is located eleven miles east of Tatum, NM (on U.S. Hwy 380).
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Submitted by: Wes Harris
 
We got your name and address from Belva Wiggins Whitfield. We had sent her an updated list of the graves in Murphy's Chapel Cemetery here in Lea County, NM. She asked that we send it on to you. My daughter Sara did the list as a school history project. I wrote a brief history of the cemetery for our family and Belva said to send it on to you. I am unofficial caretaker of the cemetery because I own the land adjacent to it and rent the farm that the cemetery is on from my Aunt Viola Kornegay.
 
Murphy's Chapel is located eleven miles east of Tatum, NM (on U.S. Hwy 380) , four miles south on Powell road and one mile east on Murphy's Chapel road. It is on private land and is not in use except for the owner's family members.
 
MURPHY'S CHAPEL CEMETERY
 
Murphy's Chapel school and church were named after James Mathis Murphy, an early settler in the community. Mr. Murphy donated the land for the cemetery which was located just north of the school and church. Willie F. Koch and George R. Page deeded two acres of land for the school. In the spring of 1906 Harve Harris (my grandfather) hauled four wagon loads of lumber from Big Spring, TX (about 140 miles away), to build the wooden structure. The school was opened to students for the fall and spring 1907 school year. The first teacher was V.M. Chambers. There exists a picture of the first group of students and their teacher plus at least two pictures of the school itself.
 
The school and church operated until 1924 when it was merged with Highway school located four miles north and adjacent to U.S. Highway 380. The entire Murphy's Chapel building was picked up and moved to become part of the large two story Highway school. The neighboring Warren school and Harmony school buildings were also moved to create the much larger Highway school. Highway school operated until the late 1940's. Part of the Highway school building (including Murphy's Chapel building) was moved into Tatum in the 1950's were it was converted into a two story residence just one block north of the present Tatum grade school. The residence is occupied to this date. I would imagine that the present owners have no idea of the history of their home.
 
Murphy's Chapel community had a U.S. Post Office and store called Pioneer located one mile West of the school. John B. Harris (no relation) opened the store and immediately applied for a Post Office. John was appointed postmaster on February 8, 1910. Mr. Harris stated in his application for a U.S. Post Office that there were fifty families that would be served by the Post Office. According to Post Office records the Pioneer Post Office was officially discontinued on June 5, 1911. Lea County historian and author Lynn Mauldin is searching for a hand canceled letter from the Pioneer Post Office. He is not sure that any still exist. If someone reads this article and has such a letter it would be a great addition to the Lea County Museum.
 
The Pioneer Post Office closed because most people chose to go four miles Northeast to get their mail at the Bronco, TX post office with its large general store. Bronco retained its Post Office and store until about 1978.
 
Murphy's Chapel church was originally operated as a non-denominational Bible church. My great Uncle Rob Harris was one of the early preachers. Rob was a rancher and cowboy preacher who went to Bible school after he made a vow to God that if he survived a terrible bout of Tuberculosis he would serve God the rest of his life. Rob survived and kept his vow until he finally succumbed to the disease in 1920. Several denominational churches sent preachers at intervals to the Murphy's Chapel church to preach revivals and camp meetings. The Methodist church insists that Murphy's Chapel was a mission church of theirs but the truth is that the church was happy to be a Bible believing church not affiliated with any particular denomination.
 
Now I will give a bit of the history of the Murphy's Chapel community area. My grandfather Harve Harris and his family came to the Bronco, TX area (adjacent to the Murphy's Chapel community) in 1903. At that time New Mexico was a U.S. territory and almost all land in New Mexico was technically open range. In reality most land was not open but was controlled by huge ranching enterprises. The Four Lakes Ranch controlled 1.5 million acres in Northern Lea County including what later became the community of Murphy's Chapel. The Four Lakes Ranch was so large that it was able to support 45,000 cattle! This ranch was also known as the LFD (Littlefield Freight Drivers). In 1903 it was illegal to fence public domain in New Mexico Territory so there was a problem with cattle drifting away and being stolen. Not many years previous to this time the world's largest ranch called the XIT (ten counties in Texas) had been destroyed by cattle and horse thieves. The southern end of the XIT ranch had been located adjacent to the LFD ranch where they both bordered on the Texas-New Mexico state line.
 
During the heyday of Murphy's Chapel community (1910-1928) there were many years of good rainfall and people were deceived into believing that they could grow almost anything. Hollis W. Harris (1910 - 1996) informed me that there were about 320 acres of peach and fruit orchards in the community. Most orchards were only 10-15 acres but were quite productive until the drought years of the 1930's came. I remember a few peach trees were still living on our ranch in the very early years of the 1950's. People also grew grapes, wheat, sorghum, milo, vegetables and corn. Not much cotton was grown in the early years because the growing season was considered too short for cotton. Winters were much colder than they are now with snow being common during winter. 1928 was called "The year without a summer" because it snowed enough to cover the ground during the first days of June and most crops were frosted out in mid September!
 
There was a grist mill one mile southwest of Bronco for grinding wheat and corn into flour. People rarely paid cash for having their grains ground into flour, they exchanged a portion of the crop for the grinding.
 
Some of the fruit trees and shade trees that people planted were grown at a nursery owned by the Heidel family seven miles southwest of Murphy's Chapel. The Heidel nursery was irrigated by several windmills pumping into a large rock lined earth tank. When the tank filled with water a valve was opened to flood irrigate the small nursery. It seems that Mr. Heidel was the only man in the area who understood the art of budding and grafting trees. Trees were also imported into Lea County from Roswell, NM from the Deardorf nursery. I met Mr. Deardorf in the early 1970's, he was a vigorous man in his late 80's. He told me that he and his family grew large quantities of fruit trees for the huge fruit orchard business in the Pecos Valley during the 1910-1930 period.
 
Both the Pecos Valley and Murphy's Chapel community lost almost all of its fruit orchards and shade trees in a disastrous freeze in the spring of 1931. The temperature was reported to have fallen to 32 degrees below zero in the first week of March. Most cottonwood and willow trees so common around homesteads were killed by this freeze because they were prematurely leafed out. It was a final blow for the remaining homesteaders when their shade trees died. Much of Eastern New Mexico was denuded of trees and shrubs of every kind. Only late budding trees and elm trees survived that terrible freeze.
 
Back to the early history of Murphy's Chapel.
My great grandfather Henry Harris was an Indian scout before the Civil War, a Civil War veteran and finally a Texas Ranger. He had a reputation that preceded him into New Mexico. The Four Lakes Ranch group invited Henry and his family to occupy as much land as they could stock with horses and cattle in exchange for protecting their eastern border from cattle thieves coming in from Texas. The Harris clan consisted of great grandfather and grandmother, their three sons and one daughter. The Harris clan spread out on the land taking as much as possible. It wasn't long before cow thieves struck the LFD. Henry tracked them moving northeast toward the town of Levelland, TX. He came upon the thieves in their camp after they had fallen asleep (they failed to post a guard). Henry took all of them at gunpoint and had them mount their horses. He tied their feet together under their saddles and their hands together so they could not escape. Henry delivered the thieves to the authorities at Levelland and there were no further attempts to steal LFD cattle.
 
My grandfather Harve Harris related to me that the Murphy's Chapel cemetery was started before the church was built. A very young girl in the community died and was buried on land donated by Mr. Murphy. It wasn't long before others were buried in the cemetery. There was no doctor in the area and no roads so when someone became critically ill they often died before they could travel by wagon or buggy to a doctor. There was a great flu epidemic in 1918. Scarcely a family was left intact. The hardest hit were young children and the elderly. Many of the graves in the cemetery date from this flu epidemic. The people had no access to stone nor engraving tools so the graves were marked by wooden crosses or wood with nails driven in to give names and dates. Some grave sites were originally fenced with wood posts at four corners and wire strung between the posts. I can remember many of these enclosures in the early 1950's. Today all are gone, rusted and rotted away.
 
In the 1970's I took down the fence bordering the cemetery in order to remove 60 years accumulation of sand that had built up and covered the fence in places. I used a earth mover to remove the sand back to the original grade. I found to my surprise that there were recognizable grave sites everywhere, even outside the old fence boundary! The white caliche subsoil was plainly visible in rectangular patterns contrasting with the red topsoil. I stopped any further soil moving and never replaced the fence because I could not be exactly sure of the original size of the cemetery. I remembered that my grandfather had told me at one time that the cemetery was "about used up", and "only the east and south edges are unused". There are probably between 65-75 unmarked grave sites, all lost to history.
 
My grandfather told me that a second reason there are so many unmarked graves is that infant mortality was extremely high in the early years of the community. There were no doctors and no medicines. The grieving families hand dug graves for the tiny infants but did not attempt to erect any permanent marker. It was as if they chose not to remember for long how harsh and unforgiving the new land was.
 
The great drought and depression of the 1930's destroyed the rangeland, the crops, and ruined the hopes of the people. About 85% of the rural population were driven off their land. Grandfather told me that many families came to New Mexico in good wagons, with livestock and all needed equipment to farm and ranch. The free land was irresistible but due to a tragic law no family could get more than 160 acres. In a semi-desert climate this 160 acres was less than 10% of what was needed just to survive. In their desire to attract the maximum number of homesteaders New Mexico played host to a cruel disaster for thousands of poor souls. Most of these homesteader families left destitute, often walking away barefooted, with no wagon nor livestock. Grandfather helped as many of them as possible by buying them shoes so they could walk away. Many went to the new oil fields in the Permian basin around Midland and Odessa Texas. Others went as part of a great migration to California looking for work. Most never returned to again look at the land that had brought them to financial ruin. In contrast to the disaster in New Mexico, neighboring Texas gave its homesteaders 2,560 acres of land per adult family member! Very few of the Texas homesteaders went broke.
 
Murphy's Chapel community was decimated by the combination of small homesteads, drought, and the great depression. Today only a few families remain in the community. Most remaining families have irrigated farm land, oil income, or a job in neighboring towns. The cemetery remains as a visible reminder of the community and its history. The cemetery is now located on private land owned by Viola (Harris) Kornegay, daughter of Harve and Naomi Harris.
 
If anyone reading this paper has additions or corrections please contact   Wes Harris.
 
 

 

Murphy's Chapel Cemetery    Lea County, New Mexico
All grave markers numbered from south to north, all rows numbered from east to west.
I have written out all inscriptions that are on the grave stones.
 

1st row

1. Mark I. Shearer 1849 - 1917

2. Irby Harris Quimby Harris (One marker) Nov.7, 1912-June 11, 1999 - Nov. 23, 1918- (still living) Married June 3, 1940

3. William Martin (Wooden marker with a Masonic Emblem) d. Aug. 3, 1917 Age 72

4. Dolly Garner (buried near Warren School, Warren, NM, stone later moved to Murphy's Chapel) July 24, 18?? - July 30, 19??

2nd row

1 unmarked grave

3rd row

1. Harvey Sanford Hahn "Sandy" April 30, 1977 - Sept. 4, 1978

2. Hollis Ward Harris "Always loved, always loving" Dec. 23, 1910 - Dec. 4, 1996

3. Charles DeArman Harris S1 USNR World War II May 26, 1922 - June 4, 1970

4. Prentice Harvey Harris Sept. 25, 1913-Aug.21, 1972 "He was a man of integrity upon whom we knew we could thoroughly depend. He stood firm where others failed. He was a husband and father faithful and true, an advisor honest and fearless, an adversary just and chivalrous. Such a one is a fragment of the Rock of Ages".

5. Vickie Harris Maupin (memorial stone) "We love you". Dec. 19, 1945-Jan. 26, 1989 "The Lord is my light and my salvation." Psalm 27 "From those who love you. By faith we will join you in the Rapture".

6. Nancy Melissa Ramsay and Sam Houston (One marker) Jan. 32, 1863 - Dec. 17, 1932 - April 10, 1857 - Nov. 15, 1949

7. Lou Houston Kruse 1849 - 1918

8. Rube Houston Aug. 3, 1898 - Feb.13, 1916 "A loved one from us has gone, A voice we loved is stilled, A place is vacant in our home, which never can be filled. In the Resurrection, we shall rise."

4th row

1 unmarked grave

2. Mary Ellen Allen Mar. 21, 1861 - June 17, 1918

3. J.W. Wharton Father 1865 - 1934

4. Henry W. Harris Mar. 25, 1839 - Aug.24, 1908 Sleep on, dear father and take thy rest. God called thee home, He thought it best. Here lies a brave soldier 19th Texas Cavalry Company D

5. Sallie F. Harris Nov. 10, 1842 - Nov. 10, 1905 She lived a devoted life for God for half a century, And is reaping her reward in Heaven.

6. Harve and Naomi Harris (One marker) May 7, 1882 - Dec. 10, 1892 May 3, 1965 Nov. 13, 1989 In my Father's House are many mansions.

7. Pauline Harris Aug. 11, 1918 - Feb. 27, 1932 At rest

8. Robert S. Harris Apr. 25, 1877 - Feb. 15, 1920 He lived a life for God.

9. Melvin Son of Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Harris Feb. 11, 1915 - Jul. 29, 1916 Sleep on, darling, thy work is done, Jesus has come and borne thee home.

10. In memory of Mrs. S. R. Bivins Sept. 6, 1875 - Nov. 1, 1931

5th row

1. Cheryl Diana Kornegay Oct. 25, 1947 - Feb. 12, 1966

2. Kornegay Viola C. 1912 - (still living) Raymond C 1910 - 1964 (one marker)

3. Alvin Duane Kornegay 1931 - 1932 Duane and Cheryl For a brief time two angels rested here.

4. Elena Ward Harris Nov. 11, 1938 Our beloved baby

5. Ellen Iola Harris June 13, 1910 - Aug. 1, 1960 Always loving, always serving, your memory, ever blessed.

6. Henry Hollis Harris June 24, 1965 Son of Hollis and Aline

6th row

1. H.W. Allen May 15, 1854 - June 10, 1944

2. Adamson Nannie E.   Bion B. 1861 - 1914   1857 - 1933

7th row

1 unmarked grave

2. Robert Lee Harris Mar. 11, 1902-Mar. 19, 1977

3. W.T. Yopp Aug. 25, 1835 - Mar. 4, 1914

8th row

1. Leonard Odle Texas Pvt., U.S. Army Feb. 19, 1937 His life an ideal, his memory an inspiration.

2. Mary Jane Odle Nov. 28, 1855 - Dec. 15, 1931

3. Sergt. Jas. Odle Co. C 15 Ill. Cav

4. Frank Rodgers Dec. 21, 1878 - Oct. 14, 1919 Woodsmen of the World Memorial

5.Nania A. Wife of J. L. Klepper born Sept. 23, 1863 died Feb. 21, 1919

2 unmarked graves

9th row

3 unmarked graves

4. W.H.F. (wooden marker)

10th row

3 unmarked graves, each one behind the other

4. Our darling Jimmie Son of George and Ida Page May 8, 1912 - Jan. 28, 1913

5. Sarah E. Strickland b. 1831 d. 1912

2 unmarked graves
8. Dorie May Dau. of Walter S. and Laura Martin Apr. 17, 1908 - Nov. 16, 1911
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