Milford Lee Nichols 1877-1923 and May Retta Lester 1881-1969

With help from, Paul Hill, Marty Hill, Georgia Belle Nichols,

Dale Nichols, Billie Nichols-Bennett



Milford Lee, May Retta and three of their children, Lorena,

Georgia Belle and Herbert

Milford Lee Nichols was born on October 5, 1877 in Guadalupe, Seguin Co., Texas. His parents were Milford Riley Nichols (who was born in February 9, 1851, died on April 14, 1897 and is buried in the cemetery outside of Post, Texas), and Isabel Sowell (who was born February 9, 1859. She died November 24, 1949 in Post (Verbena) and is buried in the Terrace Cemetery, Post, Garza Co., TX.) They married on November 14, 1876. These were old Texas families who had come there to settle in the early 19th century. The origins back into the 18th century are recounted on the page devoted to the Nichols Family Genealogy. This is a picture of Milford Riley Nichols. There are stories of Isabel in the pages of the journal kept by her daughter Georgia Belle Nichols. She was still living in the 1920s.

Milford Lee Nichols had nine brothers and sisters, seven of whom survived. The names I have are: Pleamon Y.; Ethel; Norman Rae; John S.; Iona; Claire; Mabel; Henrietta; Claud. There is more about this family on the Nichols genealogy page.

Milford Lee Nichols married May Retta Lester in about 1900. She was born on November 7, 1881 in West Plains, Howell Co., Missouri. Her father was James R. B. Lester and her mother Maretta Georgiana Mitchell. The Lesters were from Kentucky and before that Virginia. May Retta's ancestry has been traced by Marty back to the 18th century. He did all the lines!

According to Billie Nichols-Bennett, after the death of Milford Riley Nichols, his family moved to a place near Weatherford, TX. Pleamon went to that country about 1898 and worked for the XIT Ranch and the Spur Ranch. In 1901, Isabel Graham Sowell-Nichols and her sister, Iona, and a brother Claud and daughter Henrietta went by train to Colorado City. Henrietta stated that she did not remember the trip, only getting off the train onto a platform, and a house with nothing but a floor made a deep impression on her. Milford Lee Nichols had married and had one son, and Ethel had married at Weatherford, TX. They with John and Rae, had driven a few cattle and went through in a wagon, taking a month to make the trip. In the Spring of 1902, Milford (Mittie Lee) taught school in a dugout at South Camp, a camp of the Spur Ranch, where the Smithers family lived (Isabel's sister). He taught three Smithers children, two Stagner children, and Rae, John and Iona. Milford had attended a regular school in Parker County.

For the most complete story of Milford's and Mayretta's family life see their daughter Georgia Belle's account of her youth.

According to Dale Nichols: Milford Lee Nichols took a forest job and moved with his family to Metcalf, Arizona in the early part of the century. Metcalf is now under tons of mine tailings. It was located at the foot of the mountain outside of Clifton, Arizona. Milford was the Ranger and the law. Lola Mae Jenkins, Georgia Belle's daughter, comments that Milford worked in Clifton, Arizona for a mining company from 1903-1905 --then moved to Coronado (1906) and was in charge of the company store.

Rae and his sister Ethel followed Milford to Arizona. Norman Rae spoke Spanish and was the foreman at the Mine and was deputized by Milford to uphold the law. Now Norman Rae Nichols married, a sister of May Retta Lester and Ethel Nichols married Ruben Lyn Lester, a brother of May Retta. So we have three Nichols siblings married to three Lester siblings. Ethel Nichols Lester died at Metcalf on February 12, 1912. Most of the Nichols and Lesters were Southern Baptist.

Ethel Lester and Norman Rae Nichol's daughter Edith was born and died at Metcalf 1910 - 1912. Other children were Clemens, Norman, Anabelle, Lorae and Peter Henry Lowell Nichols (he legally changed his name from Henry to Peter), born February 18, 1925; Dale, born June 9, 1927; and John born August 29, 1925.

The Prescott City Directory shows M L Nichols, U S Forest Supervisor, Ranger, living at 429 S. Montezuma St.

Milford Lee Nichols died of pneumonia in Flagstaff, Cococino Co., Arizona on September 19, 1923, just about exactly when his daughter Lorena married. Milford Lee Nichols is buried in Citizen's Cemetery.

According to his death certificate, he was a Ranger for the U. S. Forest Service who had resided at the Knob Hill Ranger Station in Flagstaff, where he had resided for either 2 years (hard to read). He died of lobar pneumonia on September 19, 1923 at 11:45 pm. The physician who signed the death certificate attended him from the 12th to the 19th of September. He was male, white, married to Maretta Nichols and born on October 5, 1878 in Seguin, Texas to Milford R. Nichols born in Texas and Isabel Sowel born in Texas. The informant was Mrs. M. L. Nichols. He was buried in Flagstaff on September 21, 1923.

May Retta died on October 17, 1969 in Albuquerque, Bernalillo Co., New Mexico. She was buried on October 20, 1969.

May Retta's and Milford Lee Nichols' children were:

Roland Leon, born November 11, 1900 in Weatherford, Parker Co., Texas. He married Mary Comstock in Los Angeles, California and died September 27, 1968 in North Hollywood, California.Their children: Carol Rae Nichols Cox and Gary Nichols, who died in the 70s in the Sylmar Tunnel disaster. Gary was working with a crew drilling and whatever they do to cut a tunnel through the mountains above Los Angeles. His crew was deep inside the tunnel when they hit a methane (natural gas) pocket, which exploded and killed several workers and Gary was one of them. There were several write ups in the Los Angeles area newspapers. The accident occurred June 24, 1971.

Lorena Geneva, born March 16, 1902 in Snyder, Curry Co. Texas. However her Bible says she was born in Verbena, Garza County. She married Herbert Bradford Hill on September 23, 1923. In June 1943, she married Gail Berrif in Alamogordo. On March 17, 1950, she married Clifford Milton Miller, who was born on November 16, 1893 and died in Truth or Consequences on February 24, 1972. She married Lawrence Tidwell in 1977. She died on July 10, 1982, in Truth or Consequences, Sierra Co. NM and Lawrence Tidwell died three months later. Her story is documented on the page devoted to her and Herbert.

Georgia Belle, born February 27, 1905, Rodney, Van Zandt Co., Texas. We always called her Aunt Doddie. She married Jack Johnson and died on August 27, 1992 in Arizona. He died in January 1966. Their child was Lola Mae Jenkins, to whom I am now grateful to for help with facts and pictures. The pages from Georgia Belle's journal on the page devoted to her tell about her childhood, parents and brothers and sisters.

Milford Lester, born March 17, 1907, died December 16, 1988 in Greenlee, Clifton, Arizona (according to a card from the Arizona State Archives), married Estlea Windham, born April 25, 1912, died February 19, 1972. Their children are Billie Nichols-Andress and Leslie Nichols McBride. He is buried in Terrace Cemetery, Post, Garza County, Texas.

Pleanian Riley, born April 4, 1908, Metcalf, Graham Co., Arizona (according to his birth certificate from the Arizona State Archives). Nickname Pleamon. He died as an infant between 1908 and 1910 in Arizona, most likely Green Lee, Graham Co. The Arizona State Archives does not find a death certificate for him.

Herbert Lee, born July 6, 1910, Metcalf, Graham Co., Arizona. According to his birth certificate his father was 32 years old, born in Texas and a grocery clerk. His mother was 28, born in Texas and a Housewife. He was the 6th child of his parents, of which 5 were living.

The 1930 census for Los Angeles lists him as a 19 year old lodger/guest in the home of Roland Nichols.

 According to my mother, Herbert made a move while playing poker and the man he was playing thought he was reaching for a gunso he shot first and killed Herbert. However, witnesses at the trial said that both had been drinking when the man, Leo Rogers, called Herbert an 'ugly name.' When Herbert later asked Rogers whether he meant, Roger shot him in the heart.

According to his death certificate he died on July 22, 1940 at 9 p.m.of a gunshot wound inflicted by Leo Rogers. He was 30 years and 12 days old.  He was a victim of homicide. This occurred in a public place, at the Skyland Bar in Cloudcroft, Otero County, but he was not at work. The means of injury was a pistol bullet. There was an inquest. He was born on July 10, 1910 in Clifton Arizona to M. L. Nichols, born in Seguin, Texas and to Mayretta Lester, born in West Plains, Mo. Herbert was single and was a restaurant worker in a restaurant. He had lived in Otero county for 12 years. He was buried on July 25, 1940 in Alamogordo.The informant was Mrs. Retta Nichols of Alamogordo. His social security number was 525-14-0688

News of the shooting and the murder trial made the Albuquerque Journal, the Alamogordo Daily News, the Gallup Independent and the The Santa Fe New Mexican.

On January 16, 1941, the New Mexican reported that the first group of a battery of 18 witnesses at the trial said that Leo Rogers had called Nichols 'an ugly name' after both had been drinking. They said that an hour later Nichols went to Rogers demanding if he meant it. The witnesses said that Rogers affirmed the expression and a moment later shot Nichols through the heart.

On January 19, 1941, the New Mexican reported that a second degree murder verdict had been returned in the trial of Leo Rogers charged with the fatal shooting of Herbert "Tex" Nichols in a Cloudcroft café in July. He had not yet been sentenced but punishment for the crime could range up to life imprison

According to the Alamogordo Daily News of November 9, 1959, Funeral services were held for Loeo Rogers, 77 years, resident of Sheramento (probably Sacramento), employee of Prestridge logging camp there. There is a gravestone for Leo Rogers 1882-1959 in the springs Cemetery in Cloudcroft.

On Thursday July 26, 1940 (if I can read the day right) the Alamogordo weekly newspaper reported on the front page (note that this newspaper account seems to have him buried before he was shot):

Funeral Services For Herbert Nichols

Funeral services for Herbert Lee (Tex) Nichols, 30, who was fatally shot at Cloudcroft Monday night were held at 10 a. m. Monday at the Baptist church here, in charge of Rev. Earl R. Keating. He was a member of the Baptist Church. The deceased, a resident of Alamogordo for the past several years, was born in Metcalf, Arizona July 6, 1910. He was an ardent baseball fan, and was prominent in the Alamogordo softball league. He was generally liked by all who knew him, and while trained in no particular trade, worked industriously at odd jobs. Surviving relatives include his mother, Mrs. M. L. Nichols of Alamogordo; two sisters Mrs. Lorena G. Hill of Alamogordo, and Mrs. J. G. Johnson of Albuquerque; and two brothers R. I. Nichols, of Los Angeles and Lester Nichols of Post, Texas. An aunt, Mrs. Henrietta Nichols, arrived for the funeral.

This story found on the website of the Cloudcroft Hotel sounds as if Mr. Jenkins was actually Herbert Nichols: "This stone building (built in the 1930's) has survived a myriad of tenants, one murder, and a gut ripping fire. Originally the building served as a railroad commissary and boarding house for the rail workers. In the 1950's the Skyland Bar and Cafe called the building its home and one of the cooks is rumored to haunt the downstairs. A man by the name of Mr. Jenkins was involved in a dispute with a patron who shot Mr. Jenkins in the chest and he is reported to have died right there on the floor of the cafe.(Gary's sister Susan and his mother, Kathy, have seen his ghost in the early morning hours.) In fact, a local resident was in the Skyland Bar the morning of the shooting and withnessed the entire event."

In June 2014, Gene Hill, Herbert's great nephew, visited the Cloudcroft hotel and talked to the folks in the Gift Shop.  They said that Herbert, whom they call Jenkins, was indeed still misbehaving, that he even moves the pinball machine while they're playing it.  A 10 year old boy actually told him this.  The Skyland bar no longer exists, however, there's one next door and Gene met a guy there that knew a witness that had described the story vividly.  The witness was named Earl and he was in Alamogordo but they didn't know if he was still alive. He did suggest that Herbert was a card cheat and that, per old western justice, he probably deserved what he got.  Gene did not like hearing this. There was another gentleman who runs a bookstore in the town and this on the local museum board that sounded interested and wants to research the matter further but Gene has not heard back from him.

Herbert Nichols' nephew Milford Lee Hill remembered him in a more profound way in a term paper that dated written when he was a 19 year old college student:

People Who Have Influenced My Thinking

by Milford L. Hill, English IAJ, Term Paper, October 5, 1944

It has been said that only one person in ten thousand ever gives birth to an original thought. Assuming this to be true, it is obvious that the thoughts of all of us are almost entirely products of the influence of others. Original thinkers are as rare as platinum; the greatest part of those who are called philosophers have adopted the opinions of some who have gone before them. But, because one's happiness, for the most part, depends on the quality of one's thinking, it is necessary to extract whatever thoughts we can from our reading and our contacts with acquaintances. Thought procreates thought.

I. There are several manners in which one's thinking may be influenced by others.

A. One's acquaintances and one's reading are equally important in forming a philosophy of life.

B. Emotions, as well as thoughts, are influenced by others.

C. A man, by exposing himself to the thoughts of others, himself learns to think.

II. With a galaxy to choose from, I have chosen two men, one an acquaintance, the other a philosopher, who have influenced my thinking.

A. These are chosen because their influence began during my early childhood.

B. Herbert Nichols understood life and through his thoughts and actions has given me the beginning of an understanding.

1. He was a man of unusual character.

2. He was a man with unusual view toward life.

3. He taught me to dare to think even when I did not dare to speak or act.

Emotional trends, because they can never be separated from thought, are also influenced by others. Thought is steeped in an atmosphere of emotion. And emotion gives thought its tone and potency. All that a man does outwardly is but the expression and completion of his inward combination of thought and emotion. Upon examining the mechanism of thought, we see that the automatic, unconscious action of emotion enters largely into all its processes.

It would be well if emotions could be preserved as adequately as can thoughts. Many of the finest and most interesting emotions disappear forever; and even when they are retained they are almost always too complex for expression. While emotions perish, thought blended in writing is immortal. Emotion, because it usually is not recorded, asserts its influence through associates rather than books.

By exposing ourselves to the thoughts of others, we ourselves learn to think. Do not take this to mean that we should become slaves to the thinker, adopting their ideas entirely. However, we should pay tribute to them, and within ourselves, if not openly express a bit of gratitude to those who help us to form our routines of thinking. Every man has some peculiar habit of thought all his own which is derived from a mixture of influences. This trend, whether it consists of detrimental or beneficial traits, to a great degree, molds the man.

With a galaxy from which to choose, I have selected two men, one an acquaintance, the other a famed philosopher, who have influenced my thinking: the first, my uncle Herbert "Tex" Nichols; the second a profound thinker that I have been reading and re-reading since childhood, Francis Marie Arouet de Voltaire

The fundamental reason for my choices is that I was acquainted with both these early in childhood, my acquaintance beginning at an age when I was likely to be influenced. Herbert became a member of my family's household when I was approximately seven years of age. By the time I was nine, I had developed an intrinsic interest in Voltaire, for I had read all the stories of Zadig, the Babylonian, his Sherlock Holmes-like detective creation. Shortly after than I embarked upon Candide, and then into Voltaire's essays.

I often wonder in what way my life today would be different had I not voluntarily subjected myself to the tutelage of these two. A child, like a dog, has a sharp and fine scent and hunts out everything --but more often than not the bad is found before the rest. I extracted the bad points from each of these men more frequently and with greater interest than I did their merits. My mother endeavored to breed in me, as a child, the love of virtue, and that holy plain way of it in which she had lived, that the world in no part should get into my family. She loved sweetness mixed with gravity, and cheerfulness tempered with sobriety. Her desires were refuted by the influence of Herbert and Voltaire from whom I acquired cynical views and to a certain extent became anti-religious. As a result of the views created by these two men my childhood suffered an early death. A premature disillusionment developed. I became enveloped in an unknown world, shuddering with fear. An uncommon seriousness came into being with each bit of cynicism. A nervous breakdown followed. After that I became a child once more --first only in actions, and then in thought also. Using Herbert as an example of a wise man, I decided that wise men spend their time in mirth; that it is only fools who are serious. My morality was broken by Voltaire who never made a distinction between "good and evil", who persisted in saying that evil is necessary to the existence of the universe, and that particular "evils" form the general "good". How different my life and philosophy might have been then and now had I not included these two men as major components of my environment.

Herbert Nichols, my mother's brother, understood life. By exposing myself to his thoughts and actions, I have acquired the beginning of an understanding. I say that he understood life because I think that he himself believed that he understood his own life. He lived in the principles he adopted for himself. He lived and moved about in them not caring what the world might think. Herbert was by nature weak, but he cultivated his weaknesses, making powers of them. This was an accomplishment to be admired, I think. Oh, if I could only adopt his methods without the effort that is required to exercise them. That experience is not transmissible is one of the sad conditions of life. No man can learn from the suffering of another; he must suffer for himself. For that reason perhaps I am going too far in saying that my thoughts and actions are definitely brought about by these men. Perhaps their influence is not so strong and I am giving them credit for.

Herbert was a man of unusual character and unusual attitudes. Perhaps his character could best be delineated by an example of his lack of ambition. In his early twenties he was a source man for George Schubert, Los Angeles' Winchell-like broadcaster of the late twenties. Schubert went out of business. Herbert or "Tex", as he was called for some reason even he didn't know, turned down jobs offered him in other fields of journalism, and for some inexplicable reason returned to New Mexico and spent what money he had saved for a long vacation or temporary retirement, if you like. When the money ran out, instead of returning to the coast he "slung hash" for a dollar a day and meals. Laziness? Probably. But there can also be a philosophy in this form of laziness. During this period of what would be assumed to be indolence, he taught himself French and Latin, he studied art, composed music.

I have spoken of Herbert in the past tense throughout this composition because he is no longer living; he was murdered --shot by an insane man. At thirty-two years of age Tex died. I wonder what he might have done for the world had he lived.

However, he left me some things which are hard to explain. From him I learned to dare to think even when I dared not speak or act. After all, freedom in thinking is what really exemplifies real freedom. It is the ferment of all freedom. The only Freedom worth possessing is that which gives enlargement to a people's energy, intellect and virtues.

Herbert believed that the best thought was independent or action. To turn thought entirely to practical uses, I have come to believe also, is to waste thought. The men of action serve only as instruments to the men of thought. The best thoughts are also independent of language, the dignity of composition, or even informal expression.