In April 1909, the Cimarron Valley Land Company filed a lawsuit to condemn land that was destined to lie under what is now known as Eagle Nest Lake in northern New Mexico’s Rocky Mountains. The land in question seems to have belonged entirely to widow Mary Gallagher and her eight children, the youngest of whom was 16.
Mary’s husband John had purchased the property with proceeds from his 1870’s gold mining days in the Elizabethtown area at the northern end of the valley. He was a committed farmer: he’d constructed canals from both Willow and Cieneguilla Creek to irrigate his crops.
When the Cimarron Valley Land Company in Springer requested a State permit to construct a dam at Eagle’s Nest that would back up water onto her and other landowners’ property, Mary Gallagher took action. In January 1908, she filed a formal protest against the proposal. However, the State Engineer approved the permit in early July and the Company began negotiating with the three property owners affected.
But Mary Gallagher held out. Eventually, the Cimarron Valley Land Company realized that only a condemnation suit was likely to dislodge her. So they went to court in April 1909. And that’s when the real delays began. Initially, there was no Judge in the County to take up the matter. Even when that issue was resolved, the proceedings moved at glacial speed. There were appeals, demands for a jury trial, a commission established to determine the value of the property, and so forth. In fact, the process took so long that it didn’t formally end until after Mary’s death in 1916. Work on the dam and its related reservoir began the following spring, after her children had been paid off.
Oddly enough, in April 1915 the Company had requested an extension of the State permit, citing “unprecedented financial conditions” which made the Company “unable to procure the necessary funds.” The application for extension didn’t mention the land condemnation suit. Perhaps the Cimarron Valley Land Company was a little embarrassed by the fact that a little old widow lady (Mary was about 62 at the time) was blocking their progress so effectively. It must have seemed simpler to blame the delay on the international crisis of World War I.
Sources: Sept. 1, 1909 Charles Springer letter to NM Territorial Engineer Vernon S. Sullivan; Sept. 16, 1909 Charles A. Spiess affidavit; Jan 27, 1908 letter from Mary Gallagher to NM Territorial Engineer Vernon S. Sullivan; Jan. 31, 1908 protest from Gallagher family to NM Territorial Engineer Vernon S. Sullivan; March 30, 1915 application for extension of time for construction, NM Territorial Engineer Permit # 71.