Photograph by Kate Nelson.
JOE MASTERS REMEMBERS PIE SUPPERS, circuit-riding preachers, and his grandma playing hymns on the baby grand. Aside from a few town reunions, the 1908 Taiban Presbyterian Church fell silent well before its 1960 sale and eventual ownership by members of Masters’s family. By then, this hamlet, founded in 1906 by homesteaders and railroad workers, had failed, kidney-punched by drought, the Depression, and the decline of the railway. For a while, bootlegging drew wealthy men from dry counties in West Texas and Oklahoma. They flew in to load up on liquor, right in front of the church. Then the bars burned down. Folks had short-lived ideas for taking the church apart and rebuilding it as an exhibit. Its bell moved to the Billy the Kid Museum, in Fort Sumner. Vandals broke its windows, sprayed graffiti, and let the elements pummel the structure, one of the most photographed landmarks in eastern New Mexico. Masters, now 80, still has the piano in his Tyler, Texas, living room. He’d donate it to a restored church, he says, but figures its time has passed. “It was a good place to live,” he says. “I enjoyed my youth.”
The Taiban church sits 14 miles east of Fort Sumner on US 60/84. Admire it, take pictures, but don’t enter or harm the property.