Dramatic reading brings history to life

By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer

Margaret Waters doesn’t just read history. She re-enacts it and brings it alive, as she did on Thursday at the Portales Public Library when she presented her one-woman impersonation of “Ma’am Jones of the Pecos.”

Barbara Culp Jones, better known as Ma’am Jones, was a pioneer woman from the mid- and late 1800s who epitomizes the diverse and demanding roles played by all pioneer woman of the time. She experienced, first-hand, the Lincoln County War, cattle rustling and other dangers on the open ranges of eastern New Mexico.

“Ma’am Jones was quite a gal. She was good with healing medicines and so I could really relate to her,” said Waters, as she explained why she chose to take on the role of Ma’am Jones in a historic program which she presents around the state for the New Mexico Humanities Council.

Waters performed her dramatic presentation and reading on Thursday as a part of the library’s Women’s History Program. Among those in attendance was Geni Flores, a professor of bilingual education, curriculum and instruction at Eastern New Mexico University, and a direct descendant of Ma’am Jones.

Waters and her husband, Hal, spent eight years traveling full-time in their motor home, and it was during this time that they trained and began working as “first-person” interpreters of historic characters in Scotty’s Castle, located in Death Valley National Park. Since then, they have performed at many national parks.

“Several people mentioned the story of Ma’am Jones to me and then I found a book on her,” Waters further explained. “My grandmothers were both pioneer women and so there were a lot of things in Ma’am Jones’ story that I could relate to. She was quite a pioneer lady.”

According to a biography of Ma’am Jones, she had nine boys and one daughter and lived to the age of 67. During her dramatic interpretation of Jones, Waters, as she sat in an old fashioned rocking chair and was dressed in a period pioneer woman’s dress, talked about how the pioneer woman helped grow crops to support her family, talking about warm relationships with Native Americans and Mexicans, about Dutch ancestry and life on the homestead, which included churning butter, spinning, serving food to Apaches, their meal preparations, church revivals and family gatherings. Waters also brought along an old-fashioned cradle board used by Native Americans and pioneer women to carry babies.

Danielle Swopes, the assistant librarian at Portales Public Library, said the Friends of the Library group helped sponsor Waters’ presentation and noted that it was the eighth year the library has hosted a Women’s History Program.

As for Flores, she explained to the audience that she only recently discovered from an uncle about her relationship to Jones. “My great-grandfather, Sam Jones, was a son of Ma’am Jones. His daughter, Essie Jones, was my grandmother,” Flores said.