The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

County museum named for ‘Pappy’


February 21, 2009

Born in 1913 on the north side of the Running Water Draw near Pleasant Hill, Ardale “Pappy” Thornton started cowboying at age five by herding cows on horseback. When Pappy was old enough, he decided to try his hand at homesteading. Since there was no more homesteading land in Curry County, he filed on a section of land 21 miles southeast of Dunlap, south of Fort Sumner.

I believe Ardale learned, as my father, H. H. McAlavy did, that the Dunlap country wasn’t suited for homesteaders trying to make a living on 160 acres, or even 640 acres. It was too dry, and besides that, it was meant to be used as grassland for cattle. Both my father and Pappy starved out and had to move back to Curry County.

But his luck changed for the better when in 1936 Ardale married his childhood sweetheart, Johnnie B. Thomas Ardale had always claimed that he told his folks, after first seeing Johnnie when she was only 12, that he was going to marry her someday. And so he did. He had to go up north of Nashville, Tennnessee. So Ardale jumps into his Model T pickup and heads for Tennessee. That he says was quite an experience. About that time somebody wrote a song called “They Got Married in a Pickup Truck.”

Like a lot of country folks, the Thorntons eventually moved into town and Ardale kept busy running his old Wagon Wheel Trading Post, and working part time for the City of Clovis, and restoring and collecting old farm machinery and antique items for the museum in Running Water Draw. They named it for him later.

Somewhere along the way, as all good cowboys do, he learned to play the fiddle and guitar and joined in the gospel singing at his church. With a few old friends he put together a “band” that played for various functions.

Ardale was active in the local historical group started by me and helped me with some of my historical research. My folks had known the Thorntons ever since my Dad bought a farm north of Pleasant Hill in the Claud community in 1930. Ardale was a good neighbor.

When Ardale was carried off to a hospital in Lubbock in January of 1983 he looked as if he would die. The Clovis city commissioners got together, knowing Ardale was dying, and named the museum out in Running Water Draw the “Ardale “Pappy” Thornton Museum”, because he was a good man and hadworked well for the city. Well, could you believe, Ardale got out of the hospital and came home. Usually the person was dead before having a building or site named for a person. Ardale Thornton didn’t die until March 14, 1998. Pappy was quite a man!

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:


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