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

By David Stevens

Anybody else hear canteens rattling?


October 29, 2017

Today, it’s best described as a ghost settlement without anyone or anything to haunt for thousands of acres around.

Located 20-something miles southwest of Tucumcari, between the ghost towns of Ima and Jordan (pronounced Jerdon), the Cuneva Spring was once a popular stop for cattle herders and soldiers traveling between regional forts.

It’s mostly interesting today because it was haunted a century ago.

The basin “is possibly the source of a phenomenon known as ‘sheepherders’ lights’ that appear in the area every night,” Lynn Moncus wrote in her book, “Quay County New Mexico 1903-2003.”

“Methane gas escapes from a fault in the earth, thus causing the wandering lights.”

But that’s not the only unusual thing that’s happened there over the decades.

The stories go back to 1885, at least, when a stagecoach loaded with gold intended to pay soldiers was supposedly stolen from a military guard in the vicinity. At least that’s what the guards said. Legend, supplied by a known desperado on his death bed, claims the gold was hidden somewhere near the basin, never recovered.

Soon after that, the Clovis News-Journal reported in 1938, “many smart men believed there were ghosts there — one told of hearing the stampede of burros, the rattle of canteens, the jingle of spurs.”

Jack Potter, a retired military colonel, was a frequent visitor to the spring as a trail driver in the early 20th Century.

He perpetuated the ghost stories, even providing a first-hand account of his own.

He was with other cowboys driving cattle from Clayton to Fort Sumner when they reached Cuneva Spring about dark. They “unpacked, fried a little sow belly and drank a cup of black coffee and turned in for the night,” Potter told CN-J in 1938.

A storm approached during the night, so Potter said he dragged his gear into an unoccupied dugout nearby and went back to sleep.

“In the wee small hours of the morning, a man tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Get over and make room,’” the newspaper reported.

“Potter rose suddenly ... saying, ‘You can have the whole damn bed,’” and got up to look for more coffee.

“It is just as plain to me today as sitting here talking (about the incident),” Potter told the reporter.

“I am certain it was a dream, nightmare or something, for I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Most of us don’t believe in ghosts ... of course most of us have never spent a night at the Cuneva Spring with canteens rattling and burrows stampeding somewhere beyond those weird sheepherder lights.

David Stevens is editor for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:


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