Settling on the Ponil
In 1867, Manly and Theresa Chase arrived in the Ponil Country with a milk cow, two saddles horses and a wagon loaded down with all of their worldly possessions. The previous year, Lucien Maxwell had invited them to come see his Grant in the Cimarron country, promising “I’ll make you a deal”. They instantly took a liking to both the Poñil and Vermejo canyons. At first they lived on the Vermejo, partnering with John Dawson… but they couldn’t get those Poñil canyons out of their mind. In 1869, Manly struck a deal with Maxwell purchasing the Poñil River bottom for $2.50 an acre. Cash was tight so Maxwell offered to give Manly four acres for every wild horse he caught and broke. The Chase Ranch had begun, and soon it would grow to over 1,900 acres.
The couple would work hard their entire lives; raising cattle, sheep, and horses; growing fruit, vegetables and grain; operating a dairy, an orchard and even a coal mine. In the beginning they had to deal with Native Americans (sometimes friendly, sometimes aggressive), violence from the Colfax County War, cattle rustlers, disease and political corruption. Manly worked endlessly, creating numerous cattle and sheep companies, drawing in investors such as Frank Springer, H. M. Porter and John Dawson. By 1887 he was managing sheep and cattle herds on over one million acres. Often Manly found himself ‘on the road’, managing his companies, lobbing politicians and selling livestock. During these times Theresa oversaw the home ranch, including the bookkeeping, the gardening, the dairy, the orchards, entertaining guests, dozens of workers and of course… raising their six children!
A True Citizen of the Ponil
Born May 17, 1879 on the upper Vermejo River to Zenas and Mary Curtis, Henrietta Clay Curtis spent her childhood learning the skills of ranching. Her parents worked for both John Dawson and Manly M. Chase, and so early on she became schooled in the sheep and cattle business of the New Mexico frontier… and the hardships of such life.
In 1893, while riding on a wagon, Nettie was struck by lightning. It left her bedridden for weeks and physically scarred for life. Two years later, at the age of 16, she married Mason Chase, an experienced man of 25 years. The newlyweds moved to the Dorsey Range, east of Grenville, where they set up the headquarters for the Chase family sheep operations. By now Nettie was a skilled outdoors women and valuable ranch hand. But after five years of arduous conditions and isolation, Nettie was called back to the Ponil country and the Chase Ranch. Once there she cared for Mason’s father Manly, who had been recently widowed. Quickly she learned to manage the ranch, bookkeeping and even started The Ponil Poultry Plant. By 1911 she would be selling more than a thousand turkeys, ducks and chickens a year.
By 1906, Mason had returned to The Chase Ranch to help with the farming, orchards and coal business. Then in 1917, Mason’s younger brother Stanley, freshly educated, returned to the ranch. Mason and Nettie decided move up by Ponil Park where they leased both Ring Place and the XA Ranch (known today as the Ponil Ranch). Up here the cattle business proved to be difficult, markets fluctuated wildly and by 1926 Mason and Nettie left the high country. Nettie passed away the following year, due to heart trouble. She was 47.
The Last Generation: Gretchen Sammis
Gretchen Sammis was the last member of the Chase family to farm, ranch, manage and live on the historic Chase Ranch. Born in the master bedroom of the Chase House to Fred Sammis and Margaret Lee Chase Sammis, Gretchen carried on the legacy and heritage of the Chase family. Eighty six years later, she passed away in the very same bed in which she had taken her first breath.
Gretchen was raised by her grandparents Zeta & Stanley Chase, whom she loving called “Moremom & Moredad”. They taught her the traditional ways of the Chase Ranch, including how to ride, hunt and work cattle. As a young girl, Gretchen wanted little to do with anything except for the ranch. After graduating from high school, her Aunt decide to send her off to college (despite Gretchen’s desire to just work on the ranch) Over the next few years she earned an associate, a bachelors and a masters degree. Upon returning to the Chase Ranch, she began teaching in Cimarron. Like her grandparents, and great grandparents before them, Gretchen was an active part of the community. By 1964 she was working as a teacher, bus driver, student counselor, caretaker for her “Moremom”, and running the entire ranch!
It proved to be just a little too much, so she hired Ruby Gobble to help with the ranching chores. The result was a 45 year partner- ship and the continued success of the Chase Ranch.
Gretchen retired from teaching in 1972 to focus on the ranch and her cattle. The herd of Hereford cattle had originally been started by her great– grandfather, Manly Chase in 1867. High quality livestock had always been his goal, and Gretchen continued down that path, consistently improving the bloodline of her already top quality Herefords.
And the herd wasn’t the only thing she worked to improve. Community service, education and conservation were top priorities. Gretchen was dedicated to soil and water conservation, and even held leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. She also served on the local school board for 18 years, was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1996, and awarded Cattleman of the Year in 2008.