Tradiciones: Raices

Pioneer girl of Class 1909

Ranchos de Taos mission school graduate Ethel Lund continues to inspire

By Donna Kout Ikard
Posted 10/1/19

Six young ladies, with hair perfectly coifed in the up-dos of their time, posed proudly side by side to commemorate the occasion of their graduation.

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Tradiciones: Raices

Pioneer girl of Class 1909

Ranchos de Taos mission school graduate Ethel Lund continues to inspire


Six young ladies, with hair perfectly coifed in the up-dos of their time, posed proudly side by side to commemorate the occasion of their graduation. Their chosen class colors were pink and green, and the class flower was the pink carnation. The all-girl class dressed in matching ethereal, white, flowing gowns — a few of them graced their gowns with fresh flower corsages.

This group was the first to graduate from the only high school in Ranchos de Taos — a Catholic mission school — on Friday, April 23, 1909. The school was ran by the nuns of San Francisco de Asís, which was still a mission back then.

The official graduation program lists the young ladies' names as:

Ethel Mildred Lund, Ruth Lee Branson, Mary Alice Branson, Cornelia Rebecca Souther, Katherine Silver Herrick and Bettina Evans Prescott, (Ruth Lee Branson absent from photo); school directors were listed as Witt, Santistevan and Romero and the principal was Mrs. J.F. Young.

My great-grandmother, Ethel Mildred Lund, kneels proudly in the front row of the black-and-white class picture taken 110 years ago. This photo has hung in our family’s homes since it was taken. To say that we are proud of her scholastic accomplishment over a century ago would be an understatement. Her education at the most famous mission in New Mexico was the first brick in a long and impressive path of careers and community involvement that still inspires us to this day. 
Little pioneer girl

Horseback riding and horse-drawn buggies were the mode of transportation in Taos at the time Ethel Lund graduated from high school. Multiple languages were spoken fluently — Spanish, English and the elusive and sacred languages of Native Americans who arrived centuries before.  The dusty dirt trails of the Old West wound through these parts and an eclectic sort of people began to gather. Ethel and her family were part of it all. It was a time of her life that she cherished deeply and never forgot. 

Though not born in New Mexico, Ethel carried a deep respect for the richness and traditions of the state where she spent the majority of her life. Arriving in New Mexico in 1900 from Minnesota by way of stagecoach and train, she was just 8 years old. She spoke of seeing Indians and great herds of buffalo along her journey. Traveling with her younger brother, Guy, and mother, Eva Lund, the family came to New Mexico to be with her father's family who was already living in White Oaks.  

The Lund family members had been miners searching for gold in Baxter Mountain since the 1880s. The family men camped in the mountains while mining, but Ethel and Guy stayed behind in town. They lived in the Ozanne Hotel with their mother who tended to the hotel's boarders; cooking their meals and cleaning their clothes on a washboard.

It was 1904 when the Lunds left White Oaks, traveling by wagon to Copper Hills, New Mexico, a tent city mining camp on the Río Grande, 12 miles from Rinconada. Since there were no schools, Ethel's mother tutored the two children at the camp for some time.

The family soon relocated to Taos so that the children could have a formal education at the mission school. New Mexico was still a territory then, and the only school available in the area was a Catholic mission school. The predominate language spoken there was Spanish. When Ethel had finished grade school, she arranged with the sisters at the mission to teach English to a small group of non-English-speaking children in exchange for the price of her tuition. Ethel’s family was unable to afford to continue to pay for her schooling and she had a strong desire to finish her education.

From the small family ranch by the Río Grande, Ethel rode her pony to school each morning to teach. She was captivated by the grandness of the ancient Indian Pueblo nearby. In the afternoon, the sisters at the mission tutored Ethel and three other young ladies. This agreement with the sisters was the only way Ethel was able to earn her high school diploma.

Branching out

Follows is an edited excerpt of Ethel’s career as written by her daughter Margaret Searle:

In 1912, Ethel married Dr. D. M. Allison and moved to Oklahoma City. In 1914, after divorce, she returned to Taos with her son, Dwight, and worked at Penny's Dry Goods Store. She also ministered to many of those who fell ill during the great flu epidemic of 1918.

After the war [World War I], Ethel moved to Albuquerque to attend business school. There she met her second husband, James Howard. They married in 1922. Howard was from a homesteading, ranching family out of Lincoln County, New Mexico.

The couple moved to Capitan, New Mexico, where they raised four children. Ethel, always active in the community, was bookkeeper for the George A. Titsworth Co. She also worked in one of the first banks in Capitan and was the first birth registrar in Lincoln County. Ethel was a substitute teacher in Capitan and in the year 1925, she taught all eight grades in the one-room school house in Alto, New Mexico.
Speaking Spanish like a native and being the people person that she was, Ethel realized that none of the Mexican people in Capitan had birth certificates.They were delivered by a midwife without the benefit of silver nitrate eye drops at birth, which caused severe eye problems and sometimes blindness. She partnered with Mrs. Chavez, the local midwife, who informed her of any pregnancies. Ethel would call on the expectant mother and get all of the family statistics. Then when the baby was born, she went back to get its name, birth date, time and approximate weight and length. Also, with some of the older people, she would get their statistics and get birth certificates for them along with the babies. She was the first official registrar in Lincoln County, and the only registrar in that part of New Mexico.

Her next crusade was to get silver nitrate ampules for the newborns in her community. No local doctor would allow her to have the ampules so after a long, hard struggle Ethel took the mail bus to Santa Fe to the State Capitol and demanded to see whoever had the authority to allow her to administer the silver nitrate. I don't know who she finally saw (probably the governor if I know Mother), but an agreement was reached. Ethel would send the names and information on expectant mothers to the local doctors (probably in Carrizozo) and they would supply her with the silver nitrate. Interesting to think about how many people owe their sight to Ethel.

Also, when an older or non-English-speaking person had tax problems, summons or other legal situations, Ethel would drive them to court in Carrizozo and interpret for them.

When we first moved to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, before Ethel became the medical secretary in the administration building, she did substitute teaching and filled in once in a while at the little post office.

Her heart stayed in Taos
Ethel may have left Taos, but Taos never left her. She lived in many cities in her lifetime, but wherever she lived she always placed her family's old stone metate from Taos out on the porch by the front door to welcome guests. Ethel and her mother used to grind corn and wheat on the metate during her childhood living in Taos.

Ethel Lund Howard passed away in Tularosa, New Mexico, in 1984, at the age of 92. 

Donna Kout Ikard, Ethel Lunds' great-granddaughter, resides in the Gulf Coast area of Texas near the southernmost point.


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