City of Dust: Dunlap, New Mexico

Little Place on the Prairie

The Homestead Act of 1862 was an attempt by the U.S. government to entice citizens to open up the West by offering 160 surveyed acres in exchange for a five-year commitment to reside on the property. Untold numbers of people who couldn’t afford their own farms and ranches or struggled at difficult factory jobs in crowded cities thought that sounded pretty good, and they quickly hitched up their wagons or hopped on a train.

This sometimes isolated and remote land was often accepted sight-unseen by would-be homesteaders and, while many did find fields fertile for farming, others did not. Some then tried to eke out a living as best they could; others got right back on the next train heading in the direction from which they’d just come. While the history of Dunlap, New Mexico doesn’t go back quite as far as 1862, it’s in the homesteading spirit that those who settled here came to find themselves in this sparsely populated part of the eastern plains.

It was W.O. Dunlap who founded the town in De Baca County, about 35 miles southwest of Fort Sumner, and gave it its name. He scouted parcels for incoming homesteaders and a community developed. In 1907, a post office opened. However, as the years passed, many in Dunlap began to find it harder and harder to survive off this land, and most eventually left. Most that is, but not all. In fact, Dunlap persists as a small, close-knit rural community to this day.

The post office closed in 1961, possibly taking the general store with it. Now no evidence of either remains. And, really, it’s the lone building they once stood next to, the Dunlap Community Church and School, which was for many years the heart of this area. Worship, academic instruction, community discussions, and just plain-old get-togethers all happened in this little place on the prairie.

There’s little documentation of Dunlap that I can find, and perhaps the best look back has come from a couple people who grew up there and shared their memories on the City of Dust Facebook page. I hope they won’t mind my including their words here and might even approve of this brief history of a place of which they clearly remain quite fond.

“Our ranch was the closest to the school. Once one of the teachers lived in our bunkhouse. Miss McCoy, I believe. My mother played the piano for all the plays and programs! No one’s mentioned the dances! Hot times Dunlap!

“My family and our friends share a long memory of a uniquely close life in an isolated area but the memories of those times do not fade at all in my heart.” SS

“My family homesteaded and ranched in this area, and my grandmother, her brother, and my dad all attended school here. Dunlap was the hub of the ranching community. Dances and other social events were held in that building. It was a school, church, and community gathering place. There was also a post office and general store there.

“My grandmother used to ride her horse–or drive a horse and buggy–to the school. My dad, his cousins, and several friends all attended school there until they completed 8th grade, when they transferred to different high schools. My dad’s last year there was around 1955. I last attended a church service there in the early 1980’s, right before I left for college.” JDW

Some wonderful photos from 20 years ago, when the Dunlap Community Church and School was in much better condition (and still had the piano!), can be found at AT&SF in Roswell. I highly recommend taking a look. And I’m not just saying that because City of Dust gets a mention!

Thanks very much to JDW and SS for providing the kind of remembrances you can’t find through Google. If anybody else would like to leave recollections, please do so. Additional info for this post came from Robert Julyan’s trusty “The Place Names of New Mexico.” You can find a synopsis of a 1996 interview with W.O. Dunlap’s grandson, Ralph, HERE. Finally, I should mention that the land on which the Dunlap Church and School sits is privately owned. Feel free to contact me if you would like further information.

This post originally appeared on the City of Dust blog.


  1. Hello I’ve stopped there a few times over the years. My uncle told about this place and I found in in an old New Mexico map. I would like to know more. Perhaps my grandfather grew up around there, Tilman DUnlap, my name is Mickiel c DUnlap or Mike as I’m know. Thanks Mike Dunlap. I’ve also attended a Dunlap family reunion in Capitan few years ago

    1. My Grandmother was Dora Dunlap (1900-1976) sister to Woodrow, Noble, Ruth, Charlie and Virginia. I visited the old ruins 10-11 years ago including the old school where Dora taught school later in life before she moved to Albuquerque. That’s what my Father Robert Feltham who has since passed told me. We used to visit my dads uncle Woodrow and Wife Jenny I believe in the 60’s and early 70’s near Albuquerque.

  2. My name is Edna Faye and I lived at Dunlap with my mother, stepfather and two sisters. My two sisters have passes by I am still here at age 89. My Mother Jewel and Step Father, Mr. Killgo owned the store and Post Office they sold it in 1957 and moved to Roswell. I went to school at the Dunlap School from the first to the eight grade which is pictured here that was built in 1940 by the WPA. W. O. Dunlap, lived down the road a piece. He had a son who brought his children to live there for a few months with his father after his wife died. Bob Dunlap family lived about ten miles north of Dunlap close to Tatum. We all loved his wife Clemmie. Mr. Killgo bought the store at Dunlap from the Shirley family. Church was on Sunday, mail came three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In the surrounding area there were approximately 20 families that lived between Dunlap and Fort Sumner, east and west of Dunlap and South to Chaves County that recieved their mail at Dunlap or on the Rural Route.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful memories of Dunlap, Edna Faye! I didn’t even know that the school/church was of WPA construction! That got me doing a little digging, and I found a listing for the building at “The Living New Deal” website, although there is a little confusion as they state that the school and church were different places with only the church remaining now. Incidentally, Billy Key in the comments section says the building may date to 1932. Do you think that’s possible? He mentions a date stamped above the portal at one time, but that’s long, long gone.

    In fact, would you mind if I shared your comment on the City of Dust Facebook page along with a photo from Dunlap? I know many people there would love to read it! The page is here:

    Just let me know either way, and thank you again!


  4. I have some photos from the the 1920s and before of my family. Some are marked they were taken at “The ranch near Dunlap. Others are from the surround area from Portales, Melrose and Logan (where my Great Grandmother, I think, is buried). Is there anyone reading this that might help me make some family connections? Thanks, Don

  5. Donald A Cooper, thank you for your comment! I think the best way to get in touch with people that might have known your family is through the City of Dust Facebook page. This is a post on Dunlap with comments that you may find interesting:

    I would suggest responding to some of the comments from people you think might be worth getting in touch with. Also, I can post another photo of Dunlap soon that will perhaps refresh the conversation.

    On that note, I’d love to see some of those photos!!

    Thanks again, and I hope you’re doing well! John

  6. Travis, that’s really cool that your great uncle was W.O.! Do you happen to have any stories from the area? Did you ever get to visit? Sadly, the Community Church and School has finally collapsed, so all that remains are the memories and photos. If you have any of either to share I’d love to know!

    It’s great to hear from a member of the Dunlap family! Thank you for your comment (and sorry for the long delay in replying)! John

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