WHITE OAKS – On a recent Thursday, Karen Haughness drove up to the No Scum Allowed Saloon just before 4 p.m., jumped out of her car, unlocked the saloon door, went inside and put the open sign in the window.
Only nine people live in White Oaks, a Lincoln County ghost town 11 miles northeast of Carrizozo, but once open the population inside the bar soon exceeds that of the town.
Besides Haughness, the Ph.D psychologist who owns the saloon, there were:
• Skye “just Skye,” 65, a spinner and a weaver.
• David Spencer, 67, a retired union carpenter.
• Ed McWilliams, 72, a diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service for 30 years but now a White Oaks volunteer fireman and the man who runs the town’s farmers market.
• Rick Virden, 66, former Lincoln County Sheriff who has a ranch between White Oaks and Carrizozo.
• Julian Smith, 61, an agronomist (plant doctor) originally from Sheffield, England.
• Bob Reynierson, 89, a painter of wildlife and Western scenes, who rolled into White Oaks 29 years ago in an old car filled with everything he owned.
• Fred Padilla, 67, a volunteer firefighter and all-around handyman in Carrizozo. And two or three others.
“I come here every day it’s open and (cool) my heels on Monday and Tuesday,” Smith said.
Reyneirson said he stops by the bar to “meet people and get all the gossip.”
“It’s the only place we have for community,” said McWilliams. “Karen cares about the locals.”
White Oaks was born when gold was found here in 1879, and by the late 1880s several thousand people were living in the town. Billy the Kid, always looking for a good time, visited White Oaks. Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett was collecting taxes here on April 28, 1881, when the Kid, awaiting hanging on a murder conviction, escaped from the Lincoln County jail.
As gold mining played out – the last mine closed in 1930 – people moved out. But today, the No Scum Allowed Saloon’s regulars tally up to about three times the town’s single-digit population.
“There are quite a few people who come here on a regular basis,” Virden said. “And some of them are from quite a ways away.”
Skye and Spencer live 2½ miles out of White Oaks with 12 alpacas, three horses, three cats and two dogs. Skye said No Scum is like Spencer’s living room.
“It’s like family,” she said. “We all have a good time.”
Jackie Keller, 56, a former State Highway Department employee, lives 4½ miles east of White Oaks. She makes a mean green chile salsa and bakes cakes for saloon birthday parties.
“You can’t beat the people here,” she said. “We help each other out. It’s desolate here.”
No Scum Allowed might be some people’s idea of the middle of nowhere, but Smith said the saloon gets “a little cosmopolitan” on weekends during the summer because of bikers and tourists who make their way to the bar, drawn in many cases, no doubt, by the saloon’s colorful name.
“There have been visitors from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia,” he said. “On one occasion I was interpreting for some French tourists.”
The old brick building that houses the saloon dates back to 1884. It was originally a lawyer’s office, then an assay office and then the print shop for a newspaper.
The late Bud Crenshaw, a somewhat legendary White Oaks resident, is said to have started the saloon in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It was during the ’80s that the custom of writing one’s name on a dollar bill and tacking it to the bar’s ceiling started.
It used to be called the White Oaks Bar, or the White Oaks Saloon, or the White Oaks Social Club and Saloon. The No Scum Allowed Saloon tag is a result of the 1990 movie “Young Guns II,” which presented White Oaks as the home “of 756 Respectable People NO SCUM ALLOWED.”
The bar has had a series of owners, some of them Texans. Haughness, who has lived in Lincoln County for 23 years and in White Oaks for 11, bought it two years ago.
“This place was for sale for three years,” she said. “I felt I needed to buy it.”
For the community’s sake.
In February Haughness started movie night at the saloon on Wednesdays. Smith is a movie night regular, attending with his lady friend Jaimee Tate, 66, owner of the Isle of Sky plant nursery near White Oaks. Films have included “The Rare Breed,” a 1967 James Stewart Western, and “A Fistful of Dollars,” the 1964 spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood.
“We see a lot of genres, but mainly Westerns,” Smith said. “In winter we have our own sound effects because the winds are howling.”
There’s live music at No Scum Allowed about once a month.
“We do a variety of music, although primarily classic rock and country and Western,” Haughness said. “But I’ve had blues in here.”
Live music gets the attention of Carrizozo’s Padilla.
“This is the only place to come to dance,” he said. “I stay out of the traffic in Ruidoso.”
Time stands still
Haughness “quit having birthdays,” so she can’t say how old she is. She is a New Mexico native, growing up in San Antonito, 10 miles north of Tijeras. Although a psychologist by training, she has done many things in her life, selling pharmaceuticals to veterinarians, working as an insurance agent and breaking colts in northeast New Mexico.
These days she is a school psychologist and will be working soon with schools in Socorro. Besides running the saloon, she also sells antiques and memorabilia in the Brown Store, located in another historic White Oaks building she owns.
The folks who walk through her saloon today amaze her.
“Look at these people,” she said. “We are different. We come from different places. We are different politically. We have extreme liberals and extreme conservatives. But we can state opinions without getting into arguments. We have dialogue.”
But civil discourse is just what you’d expect in a place where there’s No Scum Allowed.