Outlaws and Mysterious Graves
Outlaws, Lightning, Mysterious Headstone, Unknown Graves; what do these have in common? I’ve wondered about these mysteries for forty years. This is their story; the sheriff, the outlaws, and the tall tale.
Oscuro, Lincoln County, New Mexico, and the mystery grave. I passed by this grave several times as a boy. It was about a 1.1 miles north of Oscuro on Highway 54. The fenced grave lay just outside the highway right-of-way. Someone tended that grave. My sisters said it was a baby’s grave. Years later, the fence vanished and the prairie reclaimed the grave.
Oscuro was once a way-station on a dirt road that crossed the Mal Pais in Lincoln County. In the early part of 1900, this area was a safe haven for outlaws such as the Greer Gang and the outlaw Bill Mitchell, aka Baldy Russell. It was also a water station for the railroad until mid century. Then it was a military check point when the Nike Missile was developed at Red Canyon. In the 1960’s, the junction had one bar. The Holliday baby buried at Oscuro, was said to have been born and died in the early 1900's, probably around 1910. Some maps show one burial there.
The parents of Baby Holliday were George and Alice Anna Holliday. The baby's grave was located in almost the exact location of the alleged Shorty Lee grave, a cowboy, who was killed by lightning. He allegedly was buried on a ranch at Oscuro at the spot where he fell. However, there is a Highway Marker on the right of way about a 1.1 miles north of Oscuro promoting the Lee burial.
Shorty Lee worked for the J Cross H ranch owned by Mr. Gallacher. The highway Department placed a sign beside the road supposedly where Shorty Lee died. The spot has a few stones recently tossed around and a wood post stuck in the ground. I cannot remember seeing that grave site as a boy. I’m skeptical that a cowboy is buried there. To this genealogist, this grave looks staged.
A report stated that the Holliday Baby was removed to La Luz Cemetery and interred next to her mother a half century later. The remains were buried beside her mother in either Tularosa or La Luz. That would explain the vanishing fence.
Further investigations have revealed that George H. Holliday is buried in the Cemeterio Catolico De Nuestra Senora Le La Luz, La Luz, in Otero County, New Mexico. California death records state that George Holliday was born 7/23/1876 and died 2/23/1963 in Los Angeles. His mother's maiden name was Beckett. Obviously, if his remains were moved to La Luz from California in 1963, he had living relatives at that time who may know all the facts about this Holliday Baby.
George Holliday was mentioned in a book titled Outlaw Baldy Russell (aka Bill Mitchell) by C. L. Sonnichsen. The book told about the Holliday family and outlaws about Oscuro, but it did not mention Alice Holliday or her baby. Alice Holliday was apparently buried in one of the cemeteries in La Luz, perhaps in an unmarked grave. Her death certificate states she was buried in Tularosa.
The 1910 Census for Otero County, La Luz New Mexico, listed George Holliday, age 66, divorced, born in Texas, occupation clerk in Post office. This was George Holliday Sr., not his son who was married to Alice.
The 1900 Census in Socorro County, La Mesa, listed Holiday (Holliday) Belle (Isabelle) aged 20, female, and born in Arkansas. She was listed as a step daughter of Henry Russell, born April 1852, aged 68, married 18 years, born in Arkansas, occupation Day Laborer. His wife was Mary Russell, Born in Oct. 1854 in Arkansas. A daughter in the house was Maud Russell, born Aug 1886 in Arkansas.
Henry Russell was wanted for murder in Texas and was using an alias. His real name was Bill Mitchell. He also used Baldy Russell and John Davis.
The 1880 Census for Precinct 3, Kinney, Texas shows:
Geo. Holliday, Head, 31 Farmer MS MS MS
Mary Holliday, Wife, 26 Housekeeper TX MS MS
John Holliday, Son, aged 6 TX MS TX
George Holliday, Son, aged 4 TX MS TX
Isaah Holliday, Son, aged 8mo. TX MS TX
Following is a brief account of this story extracted from the book "Outlaw" by C. L. Sonnichsen; 1965.
On 3/23/1907, Sheriff H. M. Denny and Deputy Ben Wooten from Alamogordo headed for Estery City, NM. They arrested a person going by the name of Henry Russell, who was actually Bill Mitchell. He had murdered James Truitt in a family feud. The Sheriff took Henry Russell to Carrizozo and put on a train to return him to Texas after his being on the run for thirty years.
The families in Oscuro (east of Estery City) at that time who associated with Russell were Cox, Henderson, Greer and Gililland. (The large Gililland Ranch at Oscuro was where the Baby Holliday was buried.) After Alice died, her husband George Holliday, Jr. lived in Pearce, AZ working for for Noel Whitmire.
As for Bill Mitchell, he escaped from jail in Texas in 7/14/1914 and returned to New Mexico, then went to Arizona. He died of a heart attack in Douglas in April of 1928. Bill had married Mary Jane (Beckett) Holliday in Seven Rivers, NM on 4/28/1884. Several Holliday relatives lived in Seven Rivers. Mary Jane was previously married to George Holliday Sr. on 4/28/1870 in Texas, but she divorced him on 3/21/1884 for cruelty.
Isabelle Holliday married Frank Kraft in Estery City in 1902 and moved to Engle, then to San Bernardino, CA. She divorced Frank and was never seen again. Maude Russell married Riley Caldwell in 1905.
John Holliday drifted to Silver City and raised a family. He changed his name to Carter. George Holliday Jr. also changed his name to Carter for a few years.
The Death certificate for Alice A. Holliday revealed:
Alice A. Holliday, her husband was George Holliday.
She was born 4/8/1890, age 34 years, 10 months, Housewife. She was born in Texas.
Father's name: T. R. Cox, born in Texas.
Mother's name: Wealthy J. Trent, born in Iowa.
Informant: Mrs. Millie Green of Arizona.
Date of death was 2/8/1924, cause was appendicitis. An operation was performed by F. H. Johnson, in Carrizozo, New Mexico. The body was buried in Tularosa, New Mexico. The undertaker was T. E. Kelley of Carrizozo.
The death certificate for Mary Russell reads as follows:
Died 7/10/1945 at 7:45 A.M.
Cause of death Chronic heart trouble and Senility.
Doctor was J.P. Turner, of Carrizozo, New Mexico.
Widowed; Place of death, Oscuro, Lincoln County. She lived in Lincoln Co. for 13 years. She was born in Fannin County, Texas. She was born 12/16/1853. Her father was Cal Beckett, who was born in Missouri. Her Mother was Jane Mackintyre, place of birth was not stated.
Informant: Sam Dillard, Oscuro, New Mexico. She was buried on 7/11/1941 in La Luz, New Mexico. The Funeral Director was from Alamogordo, New Mexico.
We are still left with a mystery, several in fact. Janet Wasson reported these findings:
The 1920 census for Oscuro, New Mexico shows George Holiday(Holliday),
aged 43, was born in TX, his father was born in the USA, his mother was born in TX.
His wife was Alice, aged 32; born in TX, parents born in IA.
A daughter was Ola, aged 12, born in NM.
A daughter was Vernice aged 9, born in TX
It’s not likely Alice had her first baby when she was twelve years old. The mysterious Holliday Baby was probably born and died before the child named Ola, ca. 1907. Ola is in several family trees as "Mary Ola" who married Enoch Dillard. She had three children, (one of whom is still living, and he has six kids.) Enoch died in CA, Mary died in Nogal, NM in 1974. SSA Death records show: Mary Dillard was born 5/18/1907 and died in Aug 1974, in Nogal, Lincoln, NM. Enoch Dillard was born 6/07/1897 and died in Dec 1979 at Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, CA.
George Hiram Holliday was born on 7/23/1876. He worked in San Marcial, Socorro County on the Brown ranch in 1918. His nearest relative was his wife, Alice A. Holliday of Oscuro. He was tall, skinny, with light blue eyes and light brown hair, (from military registration).
The Holliday baby buried at Oscuro, was said to have been born and died in the early 1900's, probably around 1910 who mother was Alice Holliday. This is supported by a note dated 3/26/2004 from Mary Bemieche of Alamogordo. She stated that the the parents of the child buried at Oscuro were George Hiram and Alice Anna (Cox) Holliday. George was born in Kinney County, Texas on 7/23/1876 and died 2/23/1963 in Los Angeles. Alice was born 12/7/1888 in Texas and died 2/8/1924 in New Mexico. They are buried in La Luz beside another child. They had two daughters, Ola was born 5/18/1907 in Socorro and Bernie was born about 1911. They moved to and died in California. A grandson named Frank lives in Paso Robles in California. She noted that Alice Anna either is not the Mother of the Holliday child or the infant was born later than 1900. She asked one intriguing question: “I wonder if anyone else is buried there.” This suggests she was unaware of the alleged grave of Cowboy Lee who allegedly was buried near the Holliday child. That letter was dated 3/6/2004. Was R. L. Lee really buried near the highway?
Cowboys vs. lightning.
Research found Outlaw Mitchell died of a heart attack in Douglas, Arizona. No burial site for him was found in Arizona. An Arizona Death Certificate showed that a John Davis died in Cochise County, town of Douglas on 6/26/1928. He was a resident of San Simon, AZ. He was married, aged 76 years, a self employed miner. He was born in Texas. The informant was N. B. Whitmire. (William Mitchell worked for Noel Whitmire at Dragoon, AZ.) It further stated that he died of chronic heart disease. His body was moved to Steins Pass, NM. He was buried on 6/29/1928. Steins Pass (Steins) is seventeen miles west of Lordsburg.
Marcena Thompson surveyed Steins Cemetery in 2006. She recorded this from a headstone:
William N. “Bill” Mitchell
April 16, 1852
June 26, 1928
Alias John W. King, Henry “Baldy” “Bally” Russell
Husband of Mary Jane Beckett
Father of Maude Jane Dillard
Loyal son of
Nelson and Nancy (Pond) Mitchell
of Hood County, Texas
Brother, Husband, father, Grandfather, Defender.
New Mexico Pioneer legend
Erected by the Mitchell Family
March 9, 2001
Marcena Thompson’s cemetery survey was crucial to solving the Mitchell mystery that spanned several New Mexico counties.
Back in Oscuro, another tale grew. The New Mexico Highway Department of Transportation responded to a letter regarding the alleged grave of R. L. “Shorty” Lee on Highway property. A letter dated 4/30/ 2004 to Mr. Walt Birdsong stated in part:
The district would be willing to have manufactured and installed a sign that reads:
R. L. “Shorty” Lee
Cowboy killed by
That is the new sign that I saw in 2006. This proves that no sign or official marker existed earlier. That could explain why I never saw such a marker or grave as a boy. That letter was in response to Mr. Birdsong’s request via letter dated 4/8/04. He said he heard Highway 54 was being expanded to four lanes and that he needed permission to place a sign at the grave which once was marked but but a truck ran off the highway and destroyed it. That sounds reasonable, but is it factual? What kind of marker was it? Was it a Highway Department approved marker? Who placed it there?
If they plan to expand the highway to four lanes in the future, the Highway Department unwittingly boxed itself in. Without any proof, they have established that a grave exists next to the blacktop. They will have legal difficulty expanding Highway 54. The only way to solve this problem is to exhume that alleged grave area, or use ground penetrating radar. Dolly Onsurd, the longest living resident of Oscuro, remembers the stories but could not add details. Some facts are available.
A letter in the Highway Department archives dated 6/4/1975 by Mr. Abercrombie, Resources Conservationist for SCMRA to the Cultural Properties Review Committee, State Planning Office in Santa Fe, stated:
“In reply to your letter of May 13, 1975 concerning a grave marker for R. L. Shorty Lee, I submit the following information.
1. Mr. Lee was killed by Lightning in 1907 on a cattle round-up. He was about 20 year old. And had no known relatives. One other man, two horses, and seven cows were also killed.
2. He was buried on the spot.
3. Today it is in Highway 54 right-of-way. It attracts much interest by tourists because there is no marker but just an old grave beside the road.
4. Mr. Gallacher is the only known person living who knows the details of this man’s life. …
5. Colt Industries has a personnel relations section that prints plaques. They have printed a nice bronze one and have agreed to send their Vice-President down to present it with national TV coverage.
We need permission from the Highway Department to put up a decent fence, a large rock to hold the plaque and maybe a historical sign. …” (end of quote)
In another letter, dated 3/25/1975 from Bill Gage to Mr. Dunaway , Administrator V, NM State Highway Department, stated that Mr. Lee was killed at 2:00 in the afternoon, and another man, two horses and seven head of cattle. It stated the grave was fifteen miles south of Carrizozo on the west side of the highway (two miles north of Oscura[sic]). It stated Mr. W.W. Gallacher, Sr., of Carrizozo is one of two people living that knew the details. Both CBS and NBC TV have promised national television coverage.
Are these facts, fantasy or a publicity stunt? We now have two cowboys killed. What was the other man’s name? Is it possible for one bolt of lightning to kill so many people and animals? Mike Alger, Chief Meteorologist of a major weather service said, “While I can’t attest to the specific case you mentioned, it is certainly plausible that it could have happened. There have been several instances in which multiple deaths have occurred from one bolt of lightning. If your cited case did happen, it was probably because they were all huddled underneath a single tree trying to get out of the storm.”
April Holladay, a well-known Science writer (not related to the Holliday family of this story), said it was unlikely, but possible if they were close together.
If the location above is correct, then the sign is misplaced. I marked off 1.1 miles from Oscuro to the sign. Exactly where was that grave located? Is it two miles north of Oscuro? Is it fifteen miles south of Carrizozo?
I’m bothered that no written statement was obtained from Mr. William W. Gallacher. William Gallacher was born in Apr of 1887 and died in Dec of 1985. In 1975 he would have been ninety-eight years old. I do not know the condition of his memory at that age. Regardless, he was not asked to verify the story by the department.
The Lee story is based on hearsay. I’m concerned that no documents have been presented to verify the story. A newspaper would have covered such a cataclysmic occurrence of seven cattle, two horses and two men killed by lightning.
I’m also bothered that both the grave of the Holliday Baby and the grave of Shorty Lee are at about the same spot. To my memory, the sign is at the exact spot of the Holliday burial. I do not remember the Lee grave as a boy. I suspect that the Lee gravesite is no grave. It has a few stones cast about and a post in the ground. I’m also concerned that a water line to supply Alamogordo was laid along that road 50 years ago. It was replaced several years later. Did they install the pipe over the alleged grave? I’m concerned that Highway 54 did not exist in its present state in 1907. Substantial construction has occurred using bulldozers and earth moving equipment.
Mr. Birdsong wrote a letter to the Traffic engineer on 4/8/2004. He stated that the Lee grave was marked about 30 years ago. That would have been 1974, not 1907. Birdsong composed a poem and one stanza read:
“At the little old cross that marks his last home
just a simple wood cross, not even a stone.”
The alleged grave I saw in 2006 had stones brought in from somewhere. The cross could have marked anything, if it really existed. Crosses appear along most roads in New Mexico to mark traffic facilities and graves. The grave marked by a cross at Oscuro was probably for the Holliday Baby grave.
The date of the lightning strike is suspect. Two boys named Robert Lee lived in Lincoln County in 1900. One was the son of Edward Lee at the age of 3. The other was the son of George Lee with the name of Robert D. Lee at age 11. Since the subject of our story was R. L. Lee we can eliminate Robert D. Lee. If our Robert Lee was about age 20 when killed by lightning as stated, then the year would have been ca. 1917, not 1907. This story has no documentation, and it contains too many questions. One Lincoln County citizen told me that Lee was not buried on the road but on the ranch. The grave was marked with a piece of metal that rusted away. The sign on Highway 54 is a historical reference.
We must not manufacture history. I’m convinced that the Lee grave location has been confused for the Holliday Baby’s grave. As for the grave attracting considerable tourist’s attention prior to 1975, it was the Holliday Baby’s grave that attracted attention. Each time we passed that fenced grave, we wondered who took care of it. What was the baby’s name? How old was the baby? The lone grave on that prairie was sad. Passersby had to feel the emotion we felt. The highway sign should be replaced with one referencing the Holliday Baby.
copyright January 2009
Writer’s update: Two crosses have mysteriously appeared at that site in January of 2009. The Highway Department had no information about the crosses. They did not give permission to anyone use the right-of-way to display crosses.
1860 Texas Census Earth County, De Faro PO
Mitchell Nelson 61 NC 1799
Mitchell Nancy 43 VA 1817
Mitchell Elizabeth 18 TN 1842 (Might be twins but birth places are different.)
Mitchell Isabella 18 AR 1842 (Might be twins but birth places are different.)
Mitchell Henrietta 15 AR 1845
Mitchell George A. W. 14 AR 1844
ARAMINTA 11 AR 1849
Serena 9 AR 1851
William N. 7 AR 1853
Thomas J. 4 TX 1854
Daniel P. 9 months TX
1870 Texas Census Kinney County Moalde PO
Holliday George C. 24 born in Mexico
Mary Jane 17 Born in Texas Married in April 28, 1870
1880 Texas Census Kinney 3 Pct
Holliday George 31 Mississippi
Mary 26 Texas (born ca. 1854)
John 6 Texas (born ca. 1874) son
George 4 Texas (born ca. 1876) son
Isaah 8 months Texas (born ca. 1879) son
Note: The census clearly says Isaah was born in TX. The date of that cense was 24 June 1880. Therefore, Isaah would have been born ca. November 1879. The 1880 Census does not list an Isabelle Holliday because she was born in August 1880--or only 10 months after Isaah was born. The name Isaah Holliday does not occur on any census after 1880. Mary Holliday divorced her husband on March 21, 1884 in Texas and married Bill Mitchell in Seven Rivers New Mexico on April 28, 1884. Is it possible the Holliday child buried at Oscuro was Isaah Holliday?
1900 Census Socorro NM La Mesa
Russell Henry April 1852 48 Arkansas married 18 years
Russell Mary October 1854 45 married 18 mother of 1 child w living (by Russell)
Russell Maud August 1886 13 Arkansas
Holiday (sic) Belle Step-daughter August 1880 19
Henry Russell was also listed in the 1900 census of NM in Socorro PCT 15 Oscuro.
Russell Henry 58 Married once married 26 years Texas
Russell Mary 55 married twice, married 26 years Texas four children and four children living. (But she had five children, John, George, Isaah, Isabelle and Maud. The census does not fit the facts. Perhaps she said four children because Isaah was dead.)
The 1910 Census Otero La Luz NM PCT 2
Holliday George 66 Divorced Texas Father born Kentucky Mother born Missouri.
I do not know if this is a coincidence of names or if the census is in error fro the place of birth.