Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Menacing Presence at Bonito Lake

Bonito Lake (Reservoir)
“It was a robbery that went sour . . .”

Bonito Lake is located at 7300 feet in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. Beautiful scenery surrounds this man-made reservoir, near Ruidoso.

The ghost story connected to this lake has its roots in 1855.

Most people today do not realize that the remains of a ghost town lie at the bottom of Bonito Lake.

Bonito City sprang up as a mining camp during the Gold Rush. In 1882, this city was just a cluster of tents, it residents a group of starry-eyed miners from states as far away as Virginia.

At its peak, in the mid-1800s, Bonito City had a schoolhouse, three general stores, a saloon, a post office, a boarding house, one blacksmith, and one lawyer.

For a brief period, Lincoln County was able to boast that it was the most populated area in New Mexico.

Bonito City Post Office
But Bonito City was about to become the site of a gruesome mass-murder.

Martin Nelson, aged 24, with dreams of becoming rich overnight, arrived in Bonito City, claiming to be a miner. But locals noted this particular young man never seemed to do any work.

A newspaper clipping
about Murders.
Nelson boarded with a local family for several weeks and then moved to the bustling Mayberry Family boarding house that was the town’s official hotel.

There had been a string of recent robberies in town, but no one had a clue as to who was doing them.

At 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, May 5, 1885, Martin Nelson’s luck was about to run out. He entered the room of Dr. R. E. Flynn at the Mayberry. The doctor had recently arrived from Boston.

Nelson’s intent was to steal this man’s watch. But Dr. Flynn woke up and struggled with the thief. Nelson shot and killed him.

Hearing the commotion, the Mayberrys descended upon the room. Nelson, now panicked, began shooting at the Maybury family members.

John Mayberry Sr. and his two sons, John Jr., and Eddie (Robert) died instantly. Mrs. Mayberry wounded, ran down the stairs, attempting to escape, with her 14-year-old daughter, Nellie.

Nellie Mayberry after
murders was sent back
east to live with relatives.
Nelson shot Mrs. Mayberry a second time, killing her. This bullet also struck Nellie.

Nellie then pleaded for her life, and Nelson agreed not to kill her on the condition that she promised to attend his hanging. She did, and he spared her life.

Meanwhile, Pete Nelson, a neighbor (no relation to Martin), hearing the shots as he closed his saloon for the night, entered the Maybury house. Martin Nelson also shot and killed him.

By this time, a large number of people had gathered outside the boarding house. Nelson trapped, stayed hidden until 7 a.m. He then tried to escape out the back door.

The town grocer, Herman Beck, was waiting for him. Beck was killed by a single shot from Nelson’s rifle.

Nelson managed to leave town, and then a posse chased and caught up to him in Littleton Canyon and killed him.

Nelson’s victims were then buried in the town cemetery on a hilltop overlooking Bonito City. His body was placed near, but not in this cemetery.

The gold boom played out within a few short years, and eventually, Bonito City became a ghost town. The post office closed in 1911, and by 1920 all that remained was a store and eight houses.

In the late 1920s, the Southern Pacific Railroad gained permission to dam the Bonito Creek to create a reservoir that would fuel its steam engines. Workers removed what was left of the town.

By 1933 the lake was so high the water level was approaching the graves of Nelson and his victims.

Angus City Cemetery
The remains of the Mayberry family were relocated to a common grave in the Angus Cemetery—not far from the lake. Nelson’s body was reburied east of this cemetery. Today Nelson's plot is overgrown, but a gravestone still stands as a marker.

Mass grave marker for the victims.

When Nelson’s body was exhumed, it was noted he was thrown face down in a rough pine box. His green felt hat was intact, and several bullet holes were found in it.

He was buried with his body pointing west. Some feel this is why he does not rest in peace. The belief of that era was to place the dead facing up and pointing to the east. This assured the deceased could rise up to meet Christ.

People point to this fact as the reason Martin Nelson’s menacing ghost still wanders the area where he lived and died. And then there is the fact his body was disturbed.

When the Southern Pacific stopped using steam trains, they no longer needed the reservoir. Today Bonito Lake is the main water supply for several surrounding communities, including Ruidoso, New Mexico.

This is the reason swimming, wading, and boats are not allowed on the lake. The area is open for fishing but only from the shoreline.

Bonito Reservoir with the dam to the right.
Campers, mountain bikers, and rock hounds also frequent the area. Others still pan for gold along the Rio Bonito.

But some of these visitors have become so frightened they have left never to return.

It appears Nelson’s ghost has frightened many a tourist and some locals. His scary presence is felt along the shoreline. Some even say he appears to be at the bottom of the lake.

A strange circle of lights has been seen floating on the surface of the water. Eerie sounds are heard including gunshots.

Others have picked up some intriguing EVP’s at Nelson's gravesite.

Local residents warn paranormal enthusiasts that it is not a good idea to awaken this murderer, especially since his presence is felt in such a remote area.


Unknown said...

Great story! I'll be watching for Nelson.

Aakif Riaz said...

Great Story ...