New Mexico Archive
Manuscripts, Photos & Map: Frontier Life at Fort Bascom—Comanche Depredations-Comancheros-Rustling-Charles Goodnight
439. [NEW MEXICO]. STAPP, William B. Collection of twelve account and letter books documenting the activities of William B. Stapp as Fort Bascom’s sutler and later as a merchant and cattle rancher at Las Vegas, New Mexico. Generally in average condition, as detailed below. In most cases, the books are not entirely filled up. All are standard nineteenth-century account books on lined paper and descend from Stapp’s family. With the collection are four photographs, a map, and various research material.
William B. Stapp (1834-1896) was an important merchant and stockman in the Las Vegas, New Mexico, area. He arrived in New Mexico in 1858 from Decatur, Illinois, while on his way to California. Instead of continuing, however, he went to work for Moore & Mitchell, sutlers at Fort Union. In partnership with Charles S. Hopkins, he went to Fort Bascom in the early 1860s and became the fort’s sutler around 1865, a position he held until the fort closed in 1870. Apparently around 1874, he moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he was involved in running a general store and various ranching activities. He knew Kit Carson, many of the Comancheros and other traders, and Charles Goodnight, the latter of whom he helped collect a sizeable settlement for Native American depredations. His record books document the needs and activities of many of the area’s early settlers and ranchers.
Fort Bascom was founded by James H. Carleton in 1863 to police Comanche activities and protect settlers, traders, and others from Comanche raids. Although home to some legendary men, such as Kit Carson, and successful in its mission, the fort closed in 1870. Fort Bascom, though one of the short-lived forts in the area, was crucial to the protection of the Texas Panhandle. It was manned by the 3rd Cavalry.
Fort Bascom Account Books
“CO. ‘D.’ 3RD. U.S.C. CAPTAIN F.H. WILSON” [label on upper cover]. Account book (37.5 x 15.5 cm). Contemporary three-quarter leather over marbled boards. 312 numbered and ruled pages, of which approximately 170 are written on in ink and pencil in several different hands. Most pages are less than half full and some have only a name at the very top. Fort Bascom, New Mexico, 1868-1869. Binding moderately worn and scuffed but otherwise sound. Contents excellent and legible. A listing by individual names of purchases, payments, and other activities of the commercial establishment at Fort Bascom, New Mexico, of W.B. Stapp, who was the sutler. Also included are his accounts, records of his cattle, and what are apparently records for hired hands. Given the large variety of articles listed in the accounts, Stapp clearly had a well-stocked store that could supply most frontier needs.
“STAPP & HOPKINS POST TRADERS” and “Stapp & Hopkins Day Book Fort Bascom N.M. January 27th 1868” (titles from front pastedown and flyleaf). Day book (30.5 x 19.5 cm). Contemporary three-quarter leather over marbled boards. 215 numbered and ruled pages, all of which are completely filled up by accounts in various hands. Fort Bascom, New Mexico, January 27, 1868-September 26, 1874. Binding worn, lower spine snagged, front hinge perished, a few leaves loose. Otherwise, contents are excellent and highly legible. A detailed daily accounting and listing of what the store sold the fort’s soldiers. In September 1870, however, the accounts switch to include those that document Stapp’s business as a rancher and cattle merchant while continuing to document his sales as a merchant. Numbers attached to each name are keyed to the account book listed in the immediately following account book.
“LEDGER” (SPINE TITLE). Account book (35.5 x 23.5 cm). Contemporary reverse calf with leather spine label, raised bands, and leather corners, blind and gilt rolled. 288 ruled and numbered pages, of which approximately 170 are written on in ink in various hands, not counting unnumbered index pages and a few inserted leaves. Most pages are fairly full. Fort Bascom, New Mexico, 1864-1872. Binding moderately worn and scuffed. Interior fine and highly legible. A general daily accounting of amounts debited and credited to various individual accounts, usually with the listing “To Mdse” for purchases, which are detailed in the day book immediately above. Accounts with official army entities at the fort include “Fort Treasurer,” “Hospital Fund,” “Henry Sorenson, Hospital Steward,” and “Quartermasters Department.” One brief account lists expenses for a “Comanche Expedition” (p. 218). After the fort closes, the accounts list dealings with private individuals (pp. 224-230).
DAY BOOK (30.5 x 19.5 cm) Contemporary three-quarter red sheep over marbled boards. 100 numbered and ruled pages, all of which are written on in ink and pencil in several different hands. Most pages are full. Fort Bascom, New Mexico, 1 September 1879-July 6, 1881, and Las Vegas, New Mexico, March 8, 1882 (1 page). Binding moderately worn and scuffed but otherwise sound. Contents excellent and legible. Daily accounting of transactions with individuals of a general merchandise store selling consumer goods. Payment is sometimes made in livestock rather than cash or notes on other accounts.
Las Vegas, New Mexico, Account Books
“WM. B. STAPP CATTLE RANCH & GENERAL ACCOUNT” (title from front flyleaf). Day book (30.5 x 14 cm). Full contemporary, decorated gray cloth. Approximately 120 numbered and ruled pages, most of which are written in ink and pencil in various hands. Pages are full. Las Vegas, New Mexico, January 1, 1884-December 15, 1887, and February 4, 1895 (1 page). Binding worn, stained, slightly gnawed at spine. Contents very good. Signed in ink by Stapp on front pastedown. Daily record of various transactions with individual customers of a general store, including charges and credits. In this book, the full extent of the barter system is in much evidence. Page 123 is a copy of Stapp’s wholesale order, complete with prices, for food and merchandise from Montgomery Ward in Chicago.
“BOOK APS W.B. STAPP CATTLE & C & C” (title on front pastedown). Day book and letter book (31.5 x 19.5 cm). Contemporary three-quarter red sheep over red and blue marbled boards. Approximately 85 numbered and ruled pages, most of which are written in ink and pencil in various hands. Pages are generally full. Las Vegas, New Mexico, July 30, 1880-1884. Binding worn, spine perished, lower board detached, and some leaves loose. Although this book includes some individual accounts, it also includes detailed records of expenses for Stapp’s cattle operations (pp. 190-192), including salaries paid to ranch hands, some of whom are also covered in the individual accounts.
LEDGER BOOK (30.5 x 19 cm). Full contemporary, decorated gray cloth. Approximately 30 numbered and ruled pages, written on in ink and pencil in a single hand. (This 250-page ledger is mostly empty.) Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1884-1887. Binding worn, lightly stained, and separated from text block. Interior is very good. Signed in pencil W.B. Stapp, Las Vegas, New Mexico, February 12, 1886 (on rear fly leaf). A listing of individual accounts on a daily basis, including one with Stapp himself, showing items bought and amounts spent. Some of the customers are Mexican Americans (e.g., Roman Appoducco, José González, et al.).
LEDGER BOOK (30.5 x 19 cm). Three-quarter red sheep over red and blue marbled boards. Approximately 180 numbered and ruled pages, written on in ink in various hands. Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1878-1880. Binding moderately worn and rubbed, hinges starting. Interior very good and legible. A listing of individual accounts at Stapp’s store and some operating expenses, including those of his ranch and the cost of ranch hands for it. In some cases, the listings are generic (e.g., “To Mdse”) but in others they are more detailed (e.g., cartridges, candy, blankets, gloves, overalls). Stapp’s own 1879 “Expenses of Herd” are listed on pp. 240-244. In this case the expenses are actually for his outfit, and include such items as expenditures for matches, corn, rope, mule shoes, bridles, coffee, bacon, and “salaries” ($565 on April 15).
LEDGER BOOK (32.5 x 20.5 cm). Three-quarter red sheep over blue and red marbled boards. Approximately 120 numbered and ruled pages, written in ink in various hands. Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1870-1883 (bulk 1870-1871). Binding moderately worn and rubbed, upper spine defective, hinges starting, some pages slightly damaged at lower corners and torn. Contents generally very good. A listing of individual accounts with information on specific merchandise purchased and payments. Winters in Las Vegas must have been cold and lonely for Joseph W. Stinson (see Miguel Antonio Otero, My Life on the Frontier 1882-1897, pp. 149-150), who in 1870 on December 22 bought 2.5 gallons of whiskey, 2 on the 25th, 3 on the 26th, and brought in the New Year by purchasing 3 gallons on January 1, 3 on the 3rd, 3 on the 15th, 3 on the 17th, 3 on the 20th, and 3 on the 26th, for a total expense for whiskey alone of $114.75. He had, however, dialed back his consumption somewhat. In August, he was buying “best whiskey” for $5.00 a gallon; his later expenditures were only $4.50 a gallon (p. 39). His somewhat less riotous neighbors, such as Clark Hendershot, contented themselves with articles such as beans, syrup, lard, pepper, socks, and cheese (p. 53).
“LEDGER” (spine title). Account book (32.5 x 21.5 cm). Contemporary reverse calf with leather spine label, raised bands, blind and gilt rolled. Approximately eighteen ruled and numbered pages written on in ink and only partially full. (The majority of the ledger’s 332 pages are blank.) [N.p., early twentieth century.] Binding moderately rubbed and shelf worn, hinges starting. Contents fine. This is apparently a book Stapp acquired but never used himself. Brief personal accounts of a person who had cabinet-maker/carpenter and dog breeding interests. A few pencil drawings of doors are also present.
“CASH BOOK” [cover title]. Account and letter book (31 x 19 cm). Contemporary three-quarter red sheep over blue and red marbled boards. Approximately 14 pages of accounts and 80 pages of copies of letters written in ink on numbered, ruled paper in several hands. Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1887-1890 (accounts) & 1891-1896 (letters). Binding worn and rubbed, upper cover detached. Contents very good. The accounts are fairly brief but do include a copy of the July 18, 1890, contract forming Stapp & Henderson as a general merchandise business (p. 17). Pages 19-103 are filled with letters sent to various parties in Washington, D.C., concerning claims for Native-American depredations, filed by powers of attorney to the firm of Stapp & Robledo. Some of the letters, most of which are in Stapp’s hand, contain quite detailed lists of losses, many of them inflicted on Mexican-Americans. Antonio Romero, for example, lost eighteen horses worth $2,250 on October 9, 1859; Antonia Salazar de González, widow of Pedro González, filed for $4,249 resulting from losses in November 1865, for cattle, mules, and “property destroyed.” The letters also demonstrate the complexities and problems involved in submitting and substantiating such claims. Many of the letters are, therefore, filled with various explanations of problems, delays, lack of evidence, absence of witnesses, and other such problems of both form and law. The Washington correspondents are Solomon Newton Pettis, J.B. Agnew, and Eads, Burnett & Bullock, all of whom were apparently facilitating the claims sent to them. The letters offer fascinating and detailed insights into not only frontier losses but also the legal issues surrounding reimbursements.
Comanche Depredations, Rustling, Charles Goodnight
“MEMORANDA AND EVIDENCE INDIAN DEPREDATION CLAIMS of Chas. Goodnight & others” [cover title]. Account and letter/memorandum book (31 x 19.5 cm). Contemporary three-quarter red sheep over blue and red marbled boards. Approximately 7 pages of accounts and 12 pages of copies of letters written in ink and pencil on numbered, ruled paper in several hands, although the letters appear to be in Stapp’s. With two loose sheets concerning claims laid in. Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1881-1892. Binding worn and warped, spine damaged, both hinges cracked. Contents very good.
With the record books and ledgers are the four photographs listed below, all of which are sepia-toned gelatin silver prints of scenes presumably in rural New Mexico in the 1870s or 1880s, developed and printed ca. 1900 (the embossed white card mount of one of them is indicative of a date of 1895-1905). All four images are mounted on heavy card stock (three are 20.2 x 25 cm, and the one on embossed card mount is 17.7 x 22.8 cm; photo sizes vary, see individual entries). All mounts are soiled. These images are descended from the Stapp family and probably represent scenes in Northern New Mexico around Fort Bascom or Las Vegas. They are labelled “Stapp Family Photos” in a modern hand. (See also Item 462 herein.)
RUSTIC LOG CABIN in front of which sits a solitary man and dog surrounded by various objects, either on the ground or hung on the walls, including saddles, harnesses, lanterns, and big rolls of barbed wire. Image area: 11.2 x 16.5 cm. Very fine. Interesting early Western image.
VIEW OF TWO MEN mounted on horses playfully pointing revolver and rifle at each other outside a log cabin against the wall of which are found farming implements, barbed wire, buckets, lanterns, and other materials. 11.5 x 16.5 cm. Left one-quarter of image faded and washed out.
VIEW OF TWO MEN, similar to preceding, showing the same two men in slightly different poses of mock gun play. 11.6 x 16.6 cm. Slightly faded.
VIEW OF A BURRO-DRAWN WAGON loaded with wood before which stands a man and his dog; behind him is a small row of primitive buildings with mountains in the distance. 11.8 x 16.8 cm. Spotted and faded, mount soiled.
MAP. Township No 16 North Range No 22 East of the New Mexico Principal Meridian. Fourth Correction Line North. N.p., n.d. [early twentieth century]. Manuscript map in ink with some notes and lines in red, on coated cartographical paper, sheet size: 35.1 x 31.8 cm. Creased at folds, a few minor voids. Includes Canyon Largo.
MISCELLANEOUS. Various other miscellaneous items are with the archive, including 46 pages of photocopied material collected by William J. Parish, a business professor at the University of New Mexico in the 1950s, as part of his research for his book, The Charles Ilfeld Company: A Study of the Rise and Decline of Mercantile Capitalism in New Mexico (Harvard University Press, 1961). The research material includes correspondence from Parish to William H. Stapp (son of W.B. Stapp), letters from Stapp to Parish, interviews with Stapp, and personal reminiscences by Stapp (copied from the holdings of the Center for Southwestern Research at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque). The file is rich in Stapp’s own memories and experiences, as well as being filled with stories about his father. Stapp was with his father at Fort Bascom but states that he was too young to remember anything about living there.
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