One day in 1885, a man named Martin Nelson slaughtered seven innocent people in the town of Bonito, New Mexico. As the years passed, it became a ghost town destined to be flooded and it exists only in the depths of Bonito Lake. Like many mining town of the Southwest it has it share of ghost stories.
California's Gold Rush in the mid-19th century spurred mining fever all over the southwest whenever a hint was made known that someone had made a strike.
In 1885, The Rio Bonito Silver Mining Company was operating mines in the area.
Bonito City during those years had the usual found in these type of towns, which was general stores, a saloon, post office and a boarding house that doubled as a hotel.
According to the local newspapers of the time, Martin Nelson was like many who were lured to the area with dreams of striking it rich. The prior fall he had been elected constable of Bonito and what happened in the early morning hours of May 5, 1885 left the town stunned and in mourning.
Martin Nelson was staying at the Mayberrys, and he shared a room with Dr. R. E. Flynn, originally from Boston was also boarding at the unofficial town hotel. He had come to the southwest for health reasons.
Whether it was some dire immediately need for money, or an unknown history as a thief, Martin Nelson decided to steal a fob watch owned by Dr. Flynn.
In the middle of the robbery Dr. Flynn awoke and scuffled with Nelson. The noise roused the family who slept in rooms close by and who immediately came to his aid.
Little did they know they were running to their deaths as Martin Nelson in a blind panic shot them as they entered the small room. He had already killed Dr. Flynn.
The first to die was John Mayberry and his two sons, John Jr. and Eddie.
Mrs. Mayberry was shot but not fatally and she tried to flee with her daughter Nellie. Nelson caught up with them on the stairs and shot Mrs. Mayberry again killing her and hitting Nellie as well, however after she pleaded for her life he spared her.
In this small town, in the predawn hour all was quiet and the sound of the shots carried far and wide, and Pete Nelson a saloon owner came running to the Mayberry House, only to get himself shot and killed.
Other townspeople stood outside, mystified as to who was shooting inside the house.
It was until a little after dawn that Martin Nelson tried to escape the town only to encounter the grocer Herman Beck who he promptly shot.
Martin Nelson got as far as the street when Col. D. C. Taylor, a Justice of the Peace, shot and killed the thief.
According to The Lincoln County Leader in May 1885, Nellie Mayberry the only survivor of the Bonito tragedy stopped in the town as her way to join a childless uncle who lived in Iowa.
Nelson's body was unceremoniously dumped in a plain wooden coffin, and in a common practice of the day his body was interred outside the cemetery grounds.
The Mayberry family was buried on a small hill, within the bounds of the small graveyard.
Within a few years of this tragedy as the mines shut down, more people left Bonito and eventually it became a ghost town.
Eventually plans were made to build a dam, and the town ended up at the bottom of Bonito lake.
In 1933 prior to the lake swallowing up the town, the bodies of the family and the killer were disinterred and moved to another cemetery in Angus, not far from Bonito.
Eerie sounds and lights have been reported around Bonito Lake. Rife with abandoned mines and an entire ghost town beneath the lake, the haunting is sometimes attributed to Nelson Martin and his victims, but no doubt many unsavory things happened that were never documented in the newspapers. Such was the nature of frontier mining towns.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer