D H Lawrence and the Kiowa Ranch

D H Lawrence spent the summers of 1924 and 1925 at the Kiowa Ranch, high up in the mountains above Taos, the raw power of the landscape re-invigorating his spirit and his work.

Mabel Luhan had offered Kiowa Ranch as a gift, but Lawrence had refused it, not prepared “to accept such a present from anybody.” But Frieda found a solution – exchanging the manuscript of Sons and Lovers for the ranch.

Lawrence later regretted the deal when he discovered the value of the manuscript far exceeded that of the ranch. 

However, located at 8,600ft on Lobo Mountain near St. Cristobal, some 20 miles from Taos, New Mexico, the ranch remained the only property the Lawrences ever owned during their life together.

Lawrence moved up to the ranch from Taos in May 1924, together with Frieda and Lady Dorothy Brett, the sole recruit to Lawrence’s vision of creating a utopian society, ‘Rananim,’ in New Mexico. 

They found the two dwellings on the ranch in a poor state of repair, but there can be no doubt Lawrence was spellbound. The vastness and untamed beauty of the landscape pulsates in his writing of this time and the two novels he worked on at the ranch, The Plumed Serpent and St Mawr:

'In an instant, her heart sprang to it. The instant the car stopped, and she saw the two cabins inside the rickety fence, the rather broken corral beyond, and behind all, tall, blue balsam pines, the round hills, the solid up-rise of the mountain flank: and getting down, she looked across the purple and gold of the clearing, downwards at the ring of pine trees standing so still, so crude and untameable, the motionless desert beyond the bristles of the pine crests, a thousand feet below: and beyond the desert, blue mountains, and far, far-off blue mountains in Arizona: “This is the place,” she said to herself.'

From St Mawr by D H Lawrence

Above: Porch of the Homesteaders Cabin at the Kiowa Ranch (image courtesy of Marty Kleva of GemFireAir Photography). 

Lawrence threw himself into putting the cabins on the ranch into some sort of order, as he recounts in a letter dated May 18 1924 to a longstanding friend, the Scottish writer Catherine Carswell:

"We have been … working like the devil, with 3 Indians and a Mexican carpenter, building up the 3‑room log cabin, which was falling down. We've done all the building, save the Chimney - and we've made the adobe bricks for that.  I hope in the coming week to finish everything, shingling the roofs of the other cabins too."

The Lawrences moved into the Homesteader’s Cabin, the larger of the two dwellings; Dorothy Brett lived in the smaller cabin. For Lawrence, as for Lou above, (in St Mawr) ‘this was the place’, the place of spiritual renewal, symbolised by the large pine tree in front of the house.

'Perhaps when I have a Weh at all, my Heimweh is for the tree in front of the house, the overshadowing tree whose green top one never looks at. But on the trunk one hangs the various odds and ends of iron things. It is so near. One goes out of the door, and the tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel. The tree-trunk, and the long work table, and the fence!'

D H Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico

The tree, beneath which Lawrence used to write, was later immortalised by artist Georgia O’Keeffe who spent several weeks at the ranch in 1929. O’Keeffe recounts:

"...There was a long weathered carpenter's bench under the tall tree in front of the little old house that Lawrence had lived in there. I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree...past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree."

The painting, The Lawrence Tree, depicts the dizzying view looking up along the trunk, into the branches and to the night sky beyond. (Currently in The Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hatford, CT)

The Lawrence Memorial

It is telling that Lawrence describes home in the sense of longing (heimweh) because, restless as ever, on September 11, 1925, Lawrence's 40th birthday, they left Taos for Italy. 

Though in a letter to Brett (who had remained at the ranch, and indeed settled permanently in Taos, eventually becoming an American citizen) in 1929 Lawrence wrote that “I really think that I shall try to come back in the spring” his health deteriorated further and he was never able to return. Lawrence died in France on March 2 1930 and his body was buried near Vence. 

However, Frieda returned to New Mexico with her lover Angelo Ravagli (who became her third husband in 1934) and built the Lawrence Memorial at the Kiowa Ranch. In 1935 she arranged for Lawrence’s remains to be exhumed and cremated, then brought to the ranch. 

Above: Interior of D H Lawrence Memorial, by Vivaverdi 2009

Ever the subject of competition between Frieda, Mabel Luhan and Lady Brett whilst he was alive, Lawrence remained so in death.

Frieda planned to place the urn (containing the ashes) on the altar within the memorial, Brett and Mabel Luhan wanted to scatter the ashes over the ranch. According to the generally accepted account Frieda, determined to brook no argument, poured the ashes into the wheelbarrow containing the cement mix, and with this built the altar.

Above: View towards D H Lawrence Memorial by Vivaverdi 2009

When she died in 1956 it was Frieda’s wish that she be buried at the ranch. Her grave is outside to the left of the entrance to the Lawrence Memorial, marked by a cross. She bequeathed the ranch to the University of New Mexico, stipulating that the ranch be used for educational, cultural and recreational purposes. 

And I should light my little stove in the bedroom, and let it roar a bit, sucking the wind. Then dark to bed, with all the ghosts of the ranch cosily round me, and sleep till the very coldness of my emerged nose wakes me. Waking, I shall look at once through the glass panels of the bedroom door, and see the trunk of the great pine tree, like a person on guard, and a low star just coming over the mountain, very brilliant, like someone swinging an electric lantern.

D H Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico

Visiting the ranch

The Ranch is currently only open by appointment. Please contact the following for an appointment, or to communicate any questions or concerns: 

Mary Vosevich, UNM Physical Plant Director, (505) 277-6644; Rick Rumanski, Planning officer/UNM Physical Plant Dept., (505) 277-1698; or Dr. Wynn Goering, UNM Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, (505) 277-7601. (Information from: http://taos.org/art/historic-landmarks?/item/322/D-H-Lawrence-Ranch)

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