Herman Weisner: The Untold History of a Historian Part II

Part Two

In my last post, Herman Weisner: The Untold History of a Historian Part I, I ended with Herman moving his family to Organ, New Mexico. Much of my information came through an email interview with Weisners son, Craig Weisner, of Williamsburg, New Mexico. Craig elaborated in detail in his responses to my questions, he also threw in a few bits of information that stirred a desire to discover more about Herman Weisner, and I did!  I researched the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) newspapers, Las Cruces newspapers, census records, and Ancestry.com to find everything I could about Weisner.  One thing that will stick with me was the way Craig ended his email to me. It confirmed everything about the man I believed Herman Weisner to be. I could paraphrase Craigs email, but I would not be able to do justice to Herman Weisner and the way that he and Kay raised their family. I will share his comments at the end of this post. 

After discovering that their son was suffering from allergies and not tuberculosis, Herman and Kay chose to keep their residence in Organ, New Mexico anyway. Organ was not always the near ghost of a town that it appears to be today.  While mining had been going on for a few decades, Organ was not officially established until 1883.  The mining camp seemed to flourish in the early 1900s about the time that 32-year-old Louis Bentley arrived on the scene.  Louis Boyer Bentley was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 28, 1869. He moved from Missouri to Michigan to Chicago and Colorado. Seeking a warmer climate, Bentley headed to Prescot, the first territorial capital of Arizona. Along the way, he met with and agreed to work for C.B. Rogers, Superintendent of the Torpedo and Modoc Mines. Louis Bentley became an assayer, bookkeeper, and foreman man for Rogers. Soon after, Bentley moved his wife Harriett (Ann) and one-yearold son Charles to Organ, where he managed the commissary, boarding house and eventually served as the postmaster of Organ. With the closing of the Modoc Mine, Bentley established a general store and afterward became the deputy sheriff. Bentley had the first phone system in the area and even opened a small movie theater in one of his sheds. Louis Bentley died on August 18, 1955. His widow, Ann, rented one of the four apartments on the compound to Herman Weisner soon afterward. 

The Organ location was ideal for Herman because it was the closest populated area to his work at the White Sands Proving Ground (WSPG), later to become White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). Herman entered the Field Measurements Branch of the newly formed Flight Determination Laboratory (FDL) at an exciting time of history.  The FDL began in 1952 with scientist Gabriel Galos directing the activities. Galos was one of the first to realize the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of guided missile weapons systems to electro-magnetic radiation effects (EMRE). This technological development made WSPG the official Army test agency for EMRE investigations. The activity helped to rush the opening of the four-lane highway of the Organ Pass, and construction began the summer of 1956. An interesting sidelight to the construction was that low-grade silver ore was discovered. Supposedly, it was not worth anyones time to go prospecting along the roadbed.  

Herman immediately made friends at the FDL.  In December of 1957, the antics of he and a group of coworkers attracted the attention of the Wind & Sands newspaper. It seems that a young coworker was newly married, and Herman and his friends felt an old fashioned shivaree was in order. The group of men loaded with breakfast fixings banged some pots and serenaded the couple until they answered the door at 5:00 AM. It did not take long to realize that the young couple did not have enough dishware to feed the lot. So, Herman and his friends went to wake up the neighbors and borrow the needed dishware. Herman enjoyed fishing and arrowhead hunting as pastimes to his work. But when he discovered in Ann Bentley’s home, the blood-stained wallet of Bob Olinger, he was hooked on New Mexico history. Bob Olinger was the last known victim of Billy the Kid and participant in the Lincoln County

Leather bound ledger with Dead Beats writen on front

Dead Beats ledger found among discarded items at the Bentley home and saved by Weisner. Ms 0014 Louis B. Bentley Papers. Photo by Jennifer Olguin.

War.¬†Herman¬†also uncovered Modoc¬†Mine blueprints,¬†stock certificates, correspondences,¬†store ledgers,¬†and historic photographs taken by Mr.¬†Bentley.¬†He came across the famous¬†Dead Beat Book,”¬†a¬†chronicle¬†that many authors have¬†cited that¬†the¬†legendary¬†sheriff Pat Garrett¬†was a recognized deadbeat.¬†Herman facilitated¬†the donation of these historical¬†documents¬†to the¬†Archives and Special Collections¬†(Ms0014¬†Guide to the Louis B. Bentley papers, 1834-1958).

At some¬†point Herman’s¬†mother sent her son from another marriage to live with Herman and his family. Winston¬†Riggy¬†Robinson lived with the¬†Weisners¬†until he graduated from high school and joined the Navy.¬†

Eventually, Kay took a job at the Public Information Office at WSMR, where during her career, she earned several civilian awards. Herman advanced in his career from guard patrol to Range Control. The promotion often kept him away from home as his responsibilities included the coordination and control of missions or tests by the mission control centers. He also was engrossed in range experimentation scheduled in and outside of New Mexico. 

Around this time, Kay had inherited some money from a relative. She and Herman purchased 200 acres of land near Hangar Lake road, right off Highway 70. Today that road is known as Weisner Road. Herman, the resourceful provider that he was, quickly built a two-bedroom cinderblock home for his family to live. Kay finally had a house with electricity and indoor plumbing! Herman continued to be involved in the community of Organ; Las Cruces was just too far away. He was instrumental in establishing a post office, a volunteer fire department, and advocating for and building the Organ Community Center, where dances for area youth took place. Although now abandoned, the firm rock building constructed from rocks of the St Augustine Pass still stands today as a true testament to Hermans jackleg skills. Jackleg is a term that Herman used to describe himself to a Las Cruces SunNews reporter when asked what he would do if he could do it over again. I would be a historian and not a jackleg. Not being familiar with the term, I had to look it up. Basically, Weisner admitted to being an amateur, lacking training.  

After his retirement in¬†1966, that amateur managed to write¬†The Politics of Justice: A.B. Fall and the Teapot Dome Scandal, A New Perspective.¬†(1988).¬†In 1993,¬†Weisner¬†received the¬†Pasajero¬†del Camino Real award¬†from the Do√Īa Ana County Historical Society¬†for his¬†12-year¬†endeavor on that project.¬†(Weisner¬†also received the Hall of Fame award from the society in 1985).¬†He traveled to Washington,¬†D.C.¬†to discover formally classified documents that¬†defended¬†U.S. Senator¬†Albert B. Fall¬†of the¬†kangaroo court of allegations concerning oil reserves bribes.¬†His visits to Washington,¬†D.C.¬†allowed him¬†to connect and bond with his two brothers, Howell and Winston,¬†who both lived in the area and were avid amateur historians as well.¬†¬†

Herman wrote various articles about Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County War, and Pat Garrett. Herman made significant New Mexico historical discoveries. Among them was the handwritten court transcript of the trial of the man accused of the murder of Patrick Garrett, forgotten for more than 100 years.  

Two older men sitting in chairs. One is holding a pencil and notebook

Herman Weisner and C.L. Sonnichsen, 1978.

Herman¬†was¬†a member¬†of the¬†New Mexico Historical Society,¬†President of the Do√Īa¬†Ana¬†County¬†Historical Society (1981),¬†and¬†he¬†also¬†advised¬†filmmakers to verify historical accuracy in movie projects.¬†He was¬†a member of Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations.¬†Herman¬†still found time to¬†care and maintain the Slumbering Mountain Cemetery in Organ.¬†He recorded oral histories of New Mexico people¬†using¬†a reeltoreel tape recorder,¬†which operated on 110 volts and 12 volts with a pair of jumper cables from¬†his¬†car battery. His son,¬†Craig,¬†traveled¬†the¬†state with Herman to record the voices and stories of people who had lived the history Herman was writing.¬†Those recordings are part of the¬†Herman B.¬†Weisner¬†Papers.¬†Many of the historical facts found by Herman¬†are essential¬†to New Mexico‘s¬†history.¬†His efforts¬†to¬†open¬†history were¬†made before the internet, Google,¬†and cell phones. It was a lot of leg work, handwritten notes,¬†microfilm reading,¬†and eye strain.¬†Wellknown historians such as Leon Metz, Eve Ball,¬†C. L.¬†Sonnichsen,¬†and Robert Mullins cited the discoveries made by Herman in their books.¬†

Though he suffered from typhoid fever symptoms, flare-ups of malaria, a few heart attacks, and strokes, those who knew Herman knew him as friendly, helpful, and active. He continued his associations with WSMR even after his retirement and held some of his first speaking engagements as a historian there.

Newspaper photo of man holding a string of fish

Reprinted with Permission from The Wind and Sand . After retirement Herman Weisner continued his association with WSMR and his hobby of fishing.

 In the 1990s, Herman and Kay tried to leave New Mexico. They went first to Padre Island, Texas, then returned to Hermans birthplace of Walnut Cove, North Carolina. The Land of Enchantment lured them back. Herman died on January 13, 2003, in Williamsburg, New Mexico, after a lengthy illness. His friend, typist, and wife Kay followed him on March 25, 2010. They lay at rest in loving memory at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.  

“I am thankful I never grew up poor. I do not say that in jest. In today’s materialistic world, people tend to think of wealth as monetary and ownership. We rarely had much money or fine things. We did tend to do things as a united family. Be it special things like camping, events, zoos, museums, state and national parks, etc. or just doing everyday living. There was a unity there that made you feel like you were a major part of the whole. This is something I see that is missing in some families. My parents taught me right from wrong and honesty. How to do things for myself and not to totally depend on others. The world owes you nothing. That if you are fed, healthy, and protected from the weather, everything else is just fluff. That you do what you can honestly do for your family and for others. You are what you make yourself. All three of us¬†kids¬†college-educated, mostly done on the GI Bill. My sister in animal science, she worked for Land O Lakes and eventually Cargill, where she was the general manager and veterinary person over contract Turkey growers in Texas. My brother ended up becoming a schoolteacher. I was the supervisor over the¬†power¬†plant and¬†dam/river maintenance crews for Elephant Butte,¬†Caballo, and the Rio Grande that connects them. My life has been fully enriched by these experiences. My parents were an inspiration; I hope I have lived up to their high standards.”¬†–¬†Craig¬†Weisner¬†

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