A Plague Hits Close to Home

The Guess family posed for a rare photograph in front of their home in Otero County, New Mexico. L to r: John Guess, Dolce Guess, Robert Guess (standing in back), Lorry Pearl Guess, Sadie Arcane Guess and William Guess.
– All Images Courtesy True West Archives –

As the family story goes, in the summer of 1905, when my grandfather Robert Guess was a teenager, he contracted diphtheria while tending cattle at a remote waterhole and became so sick he couldn’t remount his horse. A traveling family found him and helped him onto his horse, and he rode home, only to contaminate his two sisters with the dreaded plague.

His sisters, Lorry Pearl Guess, age 10, and Sadie Arcane Guess, age 7, both died from the deadly disease (along with a brother, Ruben Levi Guess, age 3) and were buried in the Orange, New Mexico, cemetery with a temporary marker that misspelled their surname as “Guest children.” While growing up, my grandmother often told this story and hoped that some-day someone in our family would find those graves and give them a proper headstone.

The Quest
In the summer of 1991, I had a proper memorial marker created and we took off for New Mexico.
L to r: Sadie Pearl Duncan, BBB, Bobbie Guess Bell and Tommy Bell.

In 1991, I flew my mother and her older sister, Sadie Pearl (named for the two sisters), and my two kids, to El Paso, where we rented a car, bought a bag of cement, and drove out past Cornudas and Dell City, Texas, to the Orange Cemetery, where we mounted a proper headstone on their graves.

We knew the general location of the Orange Cemetery from a topo map, but luckily, a waitress in Cornudas, Texas, drew us a map of the right back roads to take to find the graves. We wouldn’t have found it without her directions.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Sadie Pearl reacted to finally being able to honor the two Guess girls she was named for.

I kept the original marker and I often look at it in my studio to remind myself of the sacrifice made by so many women in the settling of the West. I love their bravery and their tenacity, and in this issue you will meet more just like them.

bob boze bell sig true west magazine

 

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