The Dorsey Mansion – and Surrounds
(A recommended day trip)
By Joyce Wolff

In January, Bob and Ann Scott invited Walt and me to join them for a day-out excursion to explore the grasslands to the east including the Dorsey Mansion, 25 miles plus from Springer.  Bob has a ceaseless curiosity and interest in local history inspired by his growing up in Springer.  This day he used USGS 30' x 60' quad maps "Historic Trail Maps of Northeastern New Mexico" as our guide enabling us to pick out the Cimarron and Mountain routes of the Santa Fe Trail and the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail.

The weather was perfect, slightly cloudy and cool, with the clouds drifting from in front of the sun periodically.  The prairie roads were deserted as well as many of the lonely old ranch buildings scattered liberally along the way.  We found ourselves wondering what these early settlers had witnessed and endured before they gave up their dreams.  We stopped at the bottom of a graded slope that disappeared between two gentle hills – the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail.  We're sure we heard the cowboys whistling and crooning to their charges: never imagining that in so few years that same trail would be traveled by SUVs outfitted with unheard of comforts.

Perhaps you will remember from Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove, that former Texas Ranger Gus McCray, on his death, bed requests his partner, Captain W.F. Call to take his body back to Texas.  In Montana at the end of the cattle drive Gus had died after his leg was amputated.  We had been told this deathbed request was based on a similar request made by Oliver Loving of his partner Charles Goodnight.  I quickly verified the story by searching Google for the Goodnight Loving Trail.  In the book Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman J. Evetts Haley writes that Loving's arm had been amputated and he died within a short time.  Indeed he did ask his friend and partner to take his body back to Texas, which Goodnight did.

This website, www.net.westhost.com/trail17.htm, the first one listed in the Google search, is well done and I highly recommend a look.

We tried to pick out buffalo wallows like those Marian Russell described in her Land of Enchantment.  Soon we were seeing (or so Bob told us) buffalo trees, buffalo fences and buffalo cliffs.  Believe the last one for Indians used to drive the animals off the cliffs in order to harvest them.

As so frequently happens in country now becoming hilly, we entered a small rocky draw that wound past old buildings probably now used only by cowboys who come occasionally to tend the curious cattle that watched our progress.  The drainage must be a spring-fed for willow trees occupied by hundreds of robins grew down its length.  A cautious group of mule deer watched us as we passed directly beside them.

Traveling south we returned to the plains and easily found the Dorsey Mansion from the less traveled north approach.  What a marvelous oddity the place is!

Historical plaque on the Dorsey Mansion

Ann had called the caretakers, who have lived on the site for 12 years, to schedule a tour and Mrs. Romero met us at the door.

Mrs. Romero welcomes us to the Dorsey Mansion

She knows the mansion history and the current owners well and took us for an unhurried informative tour, leaving us to wander as we chose.  Incongruous telephones, clock radios and an oilcloth tablecloth indicate that the Romeros (or someone) live in the building.

The mansion was built in the 1880s by Senator Stephen Dorsey (changed from the French D'Arcy) from Arkansas.  The original two-story building was built of timbers with a stone addition added a few years later.

The Mansion is half timber and half stone

The residence was originally beautifully appointed inside and out and provided what may have been the first indoor toilet in New Mexico.  The remains of a greenhouse, a French inspired fountain and a large freeform swimming pool encircling an island are still in place.

A once lovely fountain graces the front garden of the Mansion
 
Helen and Stephen Dorsey's likenesses commissioned in stone adorn the turret

After a period of time, beset by scandal, financial ruin and the death of his wife, Dorsey's home fell into ruin and through the years everything that could be hauled off by thieves was.  Happily, a number of articles have been returned.

The current owners are in the process of restoring some of the 36 rooms to their original state and have found some lovely period furnishings and a wide assortment of artifacts from early western life.  The larger rooms for the most part seem to be giant storage areas for the present owner's collections of just about everything.  There is little order so the effect is whimsical.  Ann studied the large collection of Barbie dolls and was disappointed that they lacked the original.

The owners are collecting period pieces
 
A bit of everything

Photographs of the mansion in its prime depict gardens and trees: a once lovely oasis in the barren desert landscape.  Water from a spring on the mesa behind the buildings filled the pool, watered the greenhouse and provided for the gardens.  With little imagination one can picture the way it was.

Adding to the oddity of this interesting place the property is almost overrun by some 300 llamas the owners have as pets.

Llamas everywhere

We are eager to read the booklet we bought titled Rogue, describing Stephen and Helen Dorsey's unusual life on the eastern New Mexico plains.

Joyce, Bob, and Ann enjoy the day

We ended our leisurely day-out trip with a late lunch in Springer at Rebecca's Café, one of several small restaurants in Springer.  After green chili, fresh air, sightseeing and a grand history lesson we agreed the trip was well worth the time and we recommend it.  Should you not want to explore the back hills you can drive directly to Springer on I-25, turn east on U.S. Highway 56 to the Dorsey Mansion sign, turn north and travel 12 miles on a well kept dirt road.  A brochure gives these hours.

May through October
Monday through Saturday
9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

November through April
By appointment
Phone: 505-375-2222
www.dorseymansion.com