The area around the settlement that would eventually become Waterflow, about 15 miles from Farmington in northern New Mexico – had long been familiar to local Navajo tribes. Many of the early white settlers were Catholic, but at least one of the original families belonged to the Mormon faith, and settlers from both religions continued to occupy the area even up to modern times.
One of the oldest accounts of life in Waterflow – then known as “Kentucky Mesa” – come from the recollection of a man named Joe Werthington, as written by his sister, Mary Frances. The Werthingtons were one of the first families to settle in the village now known as Waterflow.
“All aboard!” The little coal burning train with its tiny caboose lumbering at its very end, slowly pulled out of the train station at Durango, Colorado. As it wobbled from side to side, like a fat goose walking down a steep incline; I watched with interest the kaleidoscope of scenery which flashed before my eyes. Coming from Kentucky, a land of never-ending greenery, the flat brown ground with its assortments of rocks and weeds and low squatty bushes and trees and hills that pointed up to the sky like exclamation marks nearly befuddled my mind; never before had I seen anything like it. Suddenly a river caught my eye as we rambled slowly over the steel ribbons of tracks. A gentleman sitting beside me informed me that this river had the singing name, the Animas.
After what seemed like hundreds of miles, the train reached its destination and coughed to a stop. Looking out the window I could see a rough hand-made sign which spelled out the word “Farmington.” But this wasn’t to be the last leg of our journey. We were to travel fifteen miles further on down the road to another settlement where we would put down our roots for the next four years in this wild, somewhat frightening land of the West.
Stepping down onto the platform of the train depot, a wind wafted the smell of manure to my nostrils. I could see a stockyard between the Y where the little train turned around to make its return trip back to Durango; and then, my eye was caught by the appearance of three strange vehicles coming down the road. In the lead was a “chicks and ducks and geese better scurry…” surrey with a fringe on the top. Following closely behind it was a replica of Doc’s (Gunsmoke) rubber-tires buggy; and last but not least, a wooden-spoked tireless-wheeled wagon brought up the rear. Lottie Stallings, Fred, Emmanuel and Wilbur Wethington had come to meet us and take us to our new home.
After everyone had greeted each other, (we were kissing cousins in those days), our belongings were placed in the wagon. My Dad, Gonzaga, and my mother, Mayme, with my oldest sister, Mary Lily, and my baby sister, Bess, were given the privilege of riding in the surrey. I was sandwiched in between Fred and Lottie in the buggy but this felt good since the crisp March air had an icy sting in its caress.
As we were leaving the Main Street of Farmington, I turned to look back over my shoulder. The buildings which dotted each side of the dusty street could be counted on one hand, plus one. Allen’s Hotel, half a block north of Main Street, where a weary traveler could get a good home cooked meal and a solid night’s sleep was there for the asking. And then if his horse had thrown a shoe, he could go down half a block on main street to Allen’s Livery Stable; thereby getting his transportation into tip top shape. Perhaps he was in need of a new pair of boots, or even an outfit to replace his old worn out coveralls. Why then, Hunter’s Mercantile was just the place to go. In the back, a goodly supply of chewing tobacco, or a sack of flour was easily accessible if he were in need of groceries. And then again, if he found prices too high here, perhaps Hubbard’s Market on down the street had a few bargains on sale. By now, he may feel the need for a drink. All he had to do was step across the street to Mr. and Mrs. Taft’s Drugs Store for a tall cool glass of lemonade. Then to get down to the really serious business of his trip: that of transporting his butter and eggs money into one of the vaults of Ma Sammons (as she was affectionally called) First National Bank. It was directly across from Taft’s Drug Store. I really didn’t know too much about these houses of business until we moved to to Farmington in 1919.
Leaving Farmington behind I snuggled closer to Lottie and Fred for warmth. The rhythm of the wheels of the buggy on the dirt-filled road soon lulled me into a sound sleep. Hitting a deep rut in the road finally awakened me. As we came up over the rise of a hill I saw a huge rock etched against the skies blueness. Its magnificence made me gape with wonderment. I thought of a big ship at sea. And then I saw the mesa where Joseph and Lorenzo Stallings and David Watson first set foot on its virgin land in 1909. Others were to follow in 1919 and 1915 – Edger Warren and his wife, Loretta Stallings-Warren, Ben Warren and his wife, Ursula Clark-Warren, Mrs. Lucy Coomes Stallings, mother of Joe and Lorenzo, with her son, Walter and daughter, Lottie, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Wethington, with their daughter, Bertha and sons Fred, Wilbur and Emmanuel arrived on Christmas Eve, 1914. “Cousin Math,” as we called him, and my Dad were second cousins. Their other son, Bernard, with his wife
Melvina came later. Shortly thereafter, others left the rolling hills of Kentucky and came too. Mr. and Mrs. Lucius Clements; Mr. and Mrs. Goebel Thompson; and Mr. and Mrs. Marion Warren.
Little was here before the first settlers came. The ground lay dressed in sagebrush, tumbleweeds, swamp grass, boulders – truly a mecca for the prairie dogs that sat on their hills and shouted “ink, ink” at any (if any) passers that might wander by; but with the muscle and sweat of so many hardworking Kentuckians this little valley was turned into a paradise. Truly, it warranted the beautiful nickname, “Kentucky Mesa.”
I remember many frightening things that happened in this strange land, but one event still stands out vividly in my mind. My mother and I were in the kitchen. Mama was preparing supper, and I was at the table pretending to be writing on a piece of brown wrapping paper which she had provided for me. Suddenly I sensed something. I looked up and there saw two male Indians with their noses pressed against the window pane, looking in at us. I suppose to see what these strange “bellagonas” were about. I didn’t know that they were friendly Indians, and curious. It took me all summer not to quiver at the sight of an approaching Indian; however, the beginning of school, my first year, took my mind from such erroneous fears.
In a small, wooden framed building, Lottie Stallings set up a house of learning, there to enlighten the minds of her ten young pupils. At the end of two years, wedding bells rang for her and Fred Wethington, and thus the little schoolhouse was closed. Jewett Valley, a settlement only a few miles from Kentucky Mesa, was given the task of teaching the youngsters in this area. But before the doors of the little Kentucky Mesa schoolhouse was closed for good, I must relate one incident which still brings a chuckle to my lips. For their lunch, brothers Pratt and Leland Nelson nearly always brought two scrambled egg sandwiches and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. To this day I don’t know how Pratt usually always managed to get the scrambled egg sandwiches, but by hook or crook, indeed he did!
There are other tales I could tell, but then again, you might become too bored so I will close with this interesting bit of information. Came the day when it was decided that the little community “Kentucky Mesa” was to come into its own, and since the waters of the La Plate and the San Juan and the Animas River flowed down into its valley, what better name could it be given than Waterflow?
An account of the first Catholic Church in Waterflow, and the 50 years after its dedication, comes from a 5oth anniversary book written by the parishioners of the church, Sacred Heart.
“In the year of 1900 Farmington, New Mexico received its first pastor in the person of the Rev. J. M. Garnier, who made Blanco his headquarters and visited Farmington on occasion to minister to the Catholics there and to say Mass in the homes of people. In 1901 and 1902 Father Anselm Weber, O.F.M., traveling by horseback from St. Michaels, Arizona penetrated along the San Juan River to Fruitland and noted the need to establish missions and churches for this area. At that same time a Mr. Charles Blanchard, who lived in near Hogback, an area approximately four miles from Waterflow, contacted the Franciscans among the Navajos and talked with them about starting a mission in Waterflow. In 1909 David Watson, Joseph and Lorenzo Stallings arrived in Waterflow from Kentucky and established a temporary home for themselves in a dugout on a barren bluff. These three, Catholics all, suffered many deprivations including the means and ability to practice their faith. in 1910 the parish in Farmington was assigned to the Franciscan Fathers and Father Albert Daeger and Father Finton Zumbahlen came to work in this parish.
During the next two years the three men in their dugout periodically talked with Father Fintan about their desire to have a church and regular Mass in Waterflow and they moved a few steps toward their goal and toward the fulfillment of Mr. Blanchard’s dream, when on February 22, 1912 Father Fintan celebrated the first Mass in Waterflow inside the dugout. Between that memorable date and another one, June 12, 1914, Mass was occasionally offered in the dugout and conversations and planning for a permanent church continued. In June, 1914 all three Franciscans from Farmington came to Waterflow, stayed overnight, and the next morning offered three Masses in a frame building named “Bachelor’s Hall”. After the Masses all the people and the priests toured the Waterflow area to select possible sites for the erection of a permanent church structure. Through correspondence the men in Waterflow knew that within the next two years they were to be joined by thirty or more other Catholic settlers and they realized it was now urgent to build a church.
The Franciscan Fathers appealed to, the Catholic Church Extension Society and a Rev. P. Blake of Helena, California who generously contributed to making adobe bricks. This they did all through 1915 and then during the following year they worked together to build their church.
Their great moment of truth and joy came on May 16, 1917 when the very Rev. Rudolp Bonner, O.F.M., Franciscan Provincial dedicated Sacred Heart Church in Waterflow as the delegate of the Archbishop of Santa Fe. Seven other priests attended the dedication and the church was filled to overflowing.
For many years Sacred Heart Church in Waterflow was a mission station of the Farmington parish and the pastors there were also the pastors in Waterflow. The first of these was Father Fintan Zumbahlen who served in this capacity for many years, from 1917 until 1933, during which time he earned the love and loyalty of all the people.
In 1933 Father Camillus Fangmann came to Farmington from Santa Fe and stayed for two years when his health demanded a transfer to the hospital in Gallup. Father Roger Hengehold succeeded him and served the people of Farmington and Waterflow until 1942. In that year Father Edward Leary came from Michigan and stayed here until 1944 when he was succeeded by Father Anthony Kroger. Three years later in 1947 Father Theodosius Meyer came from Pena Blanca to be the pastor and he stayed until 1949 when he was replaced by Father Theophil Meyer. During the early part of that same year Waterflow received its first permanent, resident priest, Father Alexius Wecker. He was an assistant to the parish in Farmington, but took up residence in Waterflow. Until his arrival Holy Mass was offered in Sacred Heart Church in Waterflow only on Sundays and Tuesdays and occasionally during the week by visiting priests. But from 1949 on the people in Waterflow had their own priest and Father Alexius worked with them and with the Sisters at the Sacred Heart Academy for the next ten years, until 1959. In the meantime Father Theophil was replaced in Farmington by Father Kenneth Robertson in 1957 and in 1959 Father Edward Overberg came to Waterflow as resident there. He stayed for one year and was succeeded in 1960 by Father Leon Korty. Three years later, in 1963, Father Burcard Fisher came to Waterflow and in 1964 Father Gerard Geier replaced Father Kenneth in Farmington. Father Gerard was the last non-resident pastor of Waterflow. Shortly after he became pastor at Farmington the Ursuline Sisters closed Sacred Heart Academy in Waterflow, a school they had built and operated continuously since 1919. When this happened a time of indecision came to Sacred Heart Parish in Waterflow, settled only in 1965 with the arrival of Father Clem Wottle. At that time it was determined to set up an independent parish in Waterflow, with no more dependence on Farmington and with an outlying mission of its own in the Fruitland area. And so fifty years after its humble beginnings Sacred Heart Church in Waterflow finds itself established as a self subsisting parish with a resident pastor and a mission of its own to support and to build up. Without the help and devotion of the Ursuline Sisters who spent forty-five years in Waterflow lighting the way with their religious and secular instructions the parish would never have flourished or weathered these first fifty years. To all the Ursuline Sisters, to the many Franciscan Priests who served here, to the old-timers who nourished the parish through its childhood and youth, and to the later and more recent parishioners…to all of these and to the many unknowns who assisted as they passed along the way, belong the glory and the joy of this Golden Jubilee Day.”
The aforementioned school, Sacred Heart Academy, operated at its height with 12 full grades, and over the course of its life saw 188 students graduate. One Sister wrote of her time teaching there:
The almost daily sandstorms that came in certain seasons, and the constantly howling winds were not so pleasant, but after all there was a certain attraction too, especially in the sandstorms. If one drew on her imagination just a little, one might picture herself in the vast Sahara, rather than the good old U.S.A.
By the early 1960s many families found themselves unable to pay tuition and the building itself was deemed unsafe, so the decision was made to close the school.
Care of the church at Waterflow was eventually given back to the Diocese by the Franciscans, and today Sacred Heart is overseen along with one of the newest churches in the Diocese – the San Juan Catholic Center at Kirtland.
Anniversary Mass Photos originally by Jack Grimes Photography, Farmington NM.