Santa Fe - A state historic marker commemorating the life of a New Mexico homesteader and the history of dryland farming in central New Mexico will be dedicated at a roadside event south of Moriarty on May 24, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and the Department of Transportation announced today.
The idea for the marker was born from one woman's desire to memorialize her grandmother, and the opportunity to address New Mexico's significant homesteading past, which was not previously mentioned on any of the state's approximately 600 Official Scenic Historic Markers.
"Having a grandmother in an unmarked grave has troubled me most of my life," said Mary Jean Kelso, an author and the granddaughter of homesteader Mollie Klapp. "I have been searching for a way that she could be remembered when families no longer were fluent with oral history."
The dedication begins at 11 a.m. at the intersection of N.M. Hwy. 41 and Madrid Ave., mile marker 22.5, near Moriarty.
The life of Mary Ellen "Mollie" Hall Warren Klapp was tragic, although not substantially different from many of the thousands of homesteaders who came to New Mexico to farm 160-acre allotments provided by the United States government. Born in Illinois in 1862, Mollie moved to Oklahoma where she was widowed with seven children.
After the birth of her last child in 1900 she moved to New Mexico and grew pinto beans in Estancia Valley where climate and sandy soils are suitable for dryland farming. The area became one of many "pinto bean capitals of the world," and by 1916, 2.5 million pounds of them were harvested and shipped from central New Mexico each year.
Mollie remarried, taught school to her children and others in the area, and continued to farm. But she suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized at the state hospital in Las Vegas for 20 years. She worked as a laundress while receiving treatment for the rest of her life and was buried on hospital grounds in 1933.
"Most historic marker proposals originate with the public," said Rick Hendricks State Historian and chairman of the Cultural Properties Review Committee, which approves marker texts and locations. The markers generally are built, installed and maintained by NMDOT.
"This subject allowed us to establish an historic marker that touches on the important history of dryland farming, pinto beans, and homesteading in New Mexico in the context of the life of a brave woman whose story illustrates the hardships many homesteaders experienced," said Hendricks.
The dedication will commence with a jazz trumpet solo from Mollie's second great-grandson, Kelly Kelso, who is majoring in jazz at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Additional members of the family including Mary Jean Kelso, the staff of HPD, NMDOT, and the CPRC will attend along with dignitaries representing the Moriarty Historical Society Museum. The museum and the Pinto Bean Museum at the Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood have endorsed the historic marker and are identified on the map plate on the back of the sign.
Moriarty, a Route 66 town, continues to identify itself as the Pinto Bean Capital of the World and holds an annual pinto bean fiesta.