ABQjournal: George McJunkin

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Sunday, September 19, 1999

The 1900s have seen New Mexico grow from an out-of-the-way U.S. territory to a state known for science, sports, literature and the arts as well as for its unique cultural mix and brand of politics.
While many people have contributed in these areas, some have had a larger-than-usual impact. Some are known far and wide: Smokey Bear, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Unser family. Others might not have as high a name recognition outside New Mexico, but leave a legacy that helped define the state.
And in most cases, their influence has been felt far beyond New Mexico's borders.
Here is one of the 20 individuals or families who helped make New Mexico what it is today.

George McJunkin -- 1851-1922
In 1908, a northeastern New Mexico cowboy named George McJunkin was riding up a dry arroyo called Dead Horse Gulch when he spotted some unusual looking, bleached bones imbedded in the bank.
McJunkin didn't know it at the time, but he had discovered the bones of an extinct, giant bison. Mingled among those bones, McJunkin found some finely crafted flint points.
Despite McJunkin's efforts to get somebody interested in the find, scientists didn't really do so until 1925 -- and then they got pretty excited.
McJunkin's discovery, now famous as the Folsom points, offered first proof that man lived and hunted in North America during the Ice Age, dating from at least 8,000 B.C.
McJunkin, a black man whose father was a slave in Texas before the Civil War, was pretty remarkable himself. He was barely out of his teens and a free man when he went to work as a horse wrangler for Thomas Owens at the Pitchfork Ranch near Folsom.
McJunkin taught himself to read and write, speak Spanish, play the fiddle and guitar and become a fair to middling amateur archaeologist and historian.
When Owens decided to fence his open range, he turned the job over to McJunkin, who became among the first men in the West to create barbed-wire-fenced pastures.


Compiled by Fritz Thompson, Leslie Linthicum, Bill Hume and Dennis Latta