This week’s story, adapted from vol. 2 of Basques in the United States, takes us to Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1930s and the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Jean “John” Falxa.
Born in Banka, Lower Navarre, in 1858, Jean Falxa came to the US in 1882. By the turn of the century, he was working as a successful sheepman in Lower Peñasco, NM. Then one day in June 1930, the body of the by now elderly recluse was found at his home, north of Roswell, NM, by Jessie Manel who used to visit the old man on frequent occasions. Given the reclusive nature of old Falxa, rumors obviously began to circulate about his death. Yet according to the local newspaper, the body “when found was lying under a large cottonwood tree near the Falxa home, face down. Officers who investigated the case today said that without question then old man had gone to sleep in the shade under the tree and had failed to awaken.” What’s more, “the officers declared that the theory of murder in connection with this case had no foundation in fact” and “tales of chickens missing from the farm and a general untidy condition indicating a struggle” were denied (Roswell Daily Record, 6/27/1930).
Falxa certainly left a considerable fortune: $25,000 in cash, bonds, and property, the inheritance of which would ultimately take a long time to resolve. He had two nephews in town: Pierre “Pete” Louissena and Gratian Iriart, and, it would seem, two different wills. In one, dated Jan. 1, 1899, everything was left to his sister, Marie, who still lived in Banka. She was represented by Louissena (who had hired a major law firm). The second will was dated Jan. 1, 1930, and in it, excepting for a small quantity set aside for his family members, everything else was left to Jessie Manel of Rosewell, the woman who had discovered the body. The latter will arrived in the mail while the court was examining the case. It had been witnessed by two Mexican nationals, but they could not be located by the authorities. This led Judge J. Frazier Lake to declare the first covenant valid, while the one presented by Miss Manel was rejected as false.
In the meantime, newspaper reports now acknowledged that, “Falxa had been dead for several days” prior to being found and that “the house showed that it had been ransacked” so that “there were circumstances indicating foul play but nothing was ever done about the matter” (Roswell Daily Record, 2/5/1931). To complicate matters, the final decision over the will also was subject to agreements between France and the US because Jean Falxa was a French citizen when he made the 1899 will, but he had been a US citizen since 1905 and was still so when he died.
The long process was not yet over. In May 1932, the Probate Court of Chaves Co., NM ran advertisements inserted by the administrator Pete Louissena, who had asked to terminate his duties and deliver the estate to the family. In the May 1932 advertisements the county requested the attendance of any person having any alternative claim on the decision on or before July 5 that same year. This date would appear to have passed without any such counter claim being presented.
We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.
If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.