Last updated: September 13, 2021
Noel Kincaid is one of the quiet and unsung “heroes” behind the creation of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. But more than that, he was a product of life in the Guadalupe Mountains.
Kincaid was born in Dog Canyon near the old post office at El Paso Gap. His folks arrived in 1912 in covered wagon, travelling west from a small town north of Dallas, where his father, who was born in Tennessee, met his mother. Kincaid went to Rio Grande around 1920, and then to the area between Seminole and La Mesa in Texas. He ran out of money and ended up picking cotton until 1931. Kincaid then backtracked towards southeastern NM and got stuck in the Dog Canyon area during a snow storm and decided to stay.
Kincaid said that he thoroughly enjoyed growing up in the Mountains. He and his four brothers and three sisters went to school in a house north of Crow Flats, just above the state line. The place may have been called Cienega, but his memory was a bit cloudy on the details, as he would have been extremely young at the time. An individual by the name of Raymond Lewis taught at the school when Kincaid lived in Dog Canyon, but Kincaid recalled several other teachers that came and went. When not in school, he explored the area quite a bit. He visited the Mescalero campgrounds, which as local lore had it was a frequent destination of Mescaleros through the early 20th century. Other trails in the area kept him busy: trails to Lost Creek, Bear Springs, Pine Canyon, and even trails on the eastern side of the Mountains, down into McKittrick Canyon. He spent plenty of time hiking across “the Bowl,” as well.
With a stoicism that is common to many from his generation, Kincaid accepted the good times with the bad. The harsh weather, lack of modern conveniences, distance from medical care, and unpredictable winds were balanced out by the beauty of the scenery and the kindness of neighbors. At the schoolhouse and at various homesteads, residents had dances, parties, and celebrations for holidays. Even during the Great Depression Kincaid remembered that people did the best they could. Although he recalls “we just didn’t have much to eat,” he also added that because the lived on the farm, they had chickens, milk, beef, and numerous vegetables. Like many rural homesteads that escaped the Dust Bowl and survived bank foreclosures, the Kincaid household enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency that enabled them to endure the Depression.
After he married into the Cox family, Kincaid became especially knowledgeable about the ranches and regional economy of the Mountains. He said that there were numerous cattle brands in the mountains, especially in the Guadalupe District of the Lincoln National Forest. He recalled a rancher named Sam Hughes in Dog Canyon at the New Mexico state line, at a place called Broke Off Mountain. Hughes ran cattle and sheep throughout the region, and bought a brand from Dolph Shattuck. Another rancher named Denmond Lewis owned sections of land in New Mexico and Texas, and he branded his cattle with a DF. Of all the ranches in the region, the largest was the famous Figure 2 Ranch, going south towards Van Horn. Kincaid said that although it was by far the largest in the region, it had been divided up after the War, with some sections going to the Faith Cattle Company and the Longfellow Ranch.
Due in part to the fairly steep slope of the mountain, rocky soil, and lack of predictable water, there were very few homesteads within the boundary of the Park. Kincaid recalled when J.C. Hunter bought Frijole Ranch from J.T. Smith, who owned 4 sections. He met Old Dolph Williams, Geronimo Segura, and spent time at the Williams Ranch. Williams was pressured by the bank in the 1930s and sold his sections to a man named John Calwell. A few years later, J.C. Hunter bought the Williams land from Calwell’s widow. At about the same time—the late 1930s—Hunter bought land from Joe Plowman, sections of the Cox family properties around Cox Lake, and acreage from Ross Middleton.
With this vast experience of living in the Guadalupes, Kincaid was a perfect choice to oversee the Hunter’s Guadalupe Mountain Ranch. Kincaid and Hunter struck a good bargain, according to Kincaid, when they began working together. Hunter would pay Kincaid a small salary, but would let him take a percentage of the stock and thus the profits from running the outfit. In addition, Kincaid enjoyed near total independence in running the Ranch. Hunter brought friends and business associates to the Ranch and Kincaid would take them on hunting trips through the trails he had known since he was a boy. With his deep ties to the region, his personal connections to ranchers in the region, and his abiding love for the rural lifestyle, Kincaid was not only central to Hunter’s successful operation, he was a pivotal figure in the history of the Guadalupe Mountains.
Content adapted from Jeffrey Shepherd's 2012 NPS Historic Resource Study: "The Guadalupe Mountains and Environmental History in the West Texas Borderlands."