Jal — New Mexico’s finest corner

Jal’s Constitution Square. Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks.
Jal's Constitution Square.  Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks.

Known as the Southeastern Gateway to the Land of Enchantment, the small town of Jal offers services for tourists passing through or for anyone wanting to call it home. Located 22 miles south of Eunice on New Mexico Highway 18 at the crossroads of New Mexico Highway 128, it is less than ten miles from the Texas border to the east. Kermit, Texas is 18 miles south.

Again, Texans figure in the history of New Mexico. Four brothers named Cowden brought a herd of cattle branded JAL and established the JAL ranch in Monument Draw in 1886, six miles east of the present town. There are numerous speculations as to the origin of the name JAL. The first names of three of the brothers - James, Amos and Liddon or from a Texas cattleman named John A. Lynch are two of the possibilities.

Charles W. Justice applied for a post office in 1910 and named it for the ranch where it was located. Subsequently the post office was moved to town in 1916, taking the name JAL with it. Ranching was its primary economy until 1927 when oil was discovered. There were land feuds and those who laid out the town platted the streets so they would not meet. The El Paso Natural Gas Company is the largest employer. Jal became an incorporated town in 1928.

At an altitude of 3,115 and a current population of 2,156, Jal has some unusual characteristics. The brand of the old JAL ranch appears everywhere - at Constitution Corner and in the shape of a lake built in 1973 with a park and playground around it. New Mexico, A New Guide to the Colorful State points out the small bridge to an island inside the letter "A." It is the only bridge in Lea County because there are no streams in its 4,738 square miles.

Two early day settlers set up the Woolworth Trust that provided Jal with one of the finest libraries in the state, complete with a community center, including a small theater and meeting facilities. An intriguing part of the center is a replica of a Victorian room furnished with items from the Woolworth family. The trust also built a Senior Citizen’s Center that is frequented for meals at lunch time and at other times for recreational activities.

Jal has an element of peace and contentment that often goes with the atmosphere of a small town. Its country club is private, but it welcomes guests and green fee players, an occurrence that is infrequent in a larger community.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks