Carpenter W.A. Huggins began construction on the Blue Swallow prior to the outbreak of World War II, and Ted Jones, a prominent eastern New Mexican rancher, opened the motel in 1942.
When Mr. Jones and his wife died in the 1950s, Lillian Redman and her husband bought the motel and successfully operated it. From the start, the Redmans put their customers first. When guests didn’t have enough money for a room, the Redmans accepted personal belongings in trade or provided the room for free. Ms. Redman and the Blue Swallow became icons of Route 66 folklore. She described the special and close connection she had with the Route 66 motorists who came in each night this way. “I end up traveling the highway in my heart with whoever stops here for the night."
At the end of the 1960’s, Interstate 40, a faster highway, took the place of the old Route 66. The development of this new highway drastically changed the traffic circulation of Route 66 affecting many of the businesses along the way, including the Blue Swallow Motel. Ms. Redman said of the effect of Interstate 40, which bypassed Tucumcari, “When Route 66 was closed to the majority of traffic and the other highway came in, I felt just like I had lost an old friend. But some of us stuck it out and are still here on Route 66.”
After owning the Blue Swallow for almost 50 years, Ms. Redman sold the motel in the late 1990s. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the motel continues to operate as a popular overnight destination.
T.M. Pearce, an English professor at the University of New Mexico, researched the origin of Tucumcari. He says that Elliot Canonge, an Oklahoma linguist, has the most convincing explanation. Canonge believes that the name comes from the Comanche Tukamukaru which means to lie in wait for someone or something to approach. According to Felix Kowena, Canonge’s Comanche informant, Tucumcari Mountain was frequently used as a lookout by Comanche war parties. The mountain peak was an excellent lookout point since it can be seen from the Texas Panhandle more than 50 miles away.
According to Herman Moncus, a local historian, another possible meaning for the word comes from the Jemez Indians who lived in the Rio Grande Valley, but hunted in Eastern New Mexico before 1800. Moncus believes that Tucumcari can be translated from the Jemez language to “place of the buffalo hunt.” Moncus’ research determined that the Jemez Indians probably learned the name from other tribes and he believed that it could be a name surviving from the pre-Indian or paloe-Indian periods.
On a less scholarly note, in 1907 a Methodist minister created a story about how the name evolved. The two finest warriors of an Apache tribe that made their home at the mountain met in combat to determine who would succeed their dying Chief Wautonomah. The survivor would also win the hand of the chief’s daughter, Kari. Tocom, the brave loved by Kari, was slain by Tonopah in the battle. Overcome with grief and rage, Kari seized her knife, killed Tonopah and took her own life. Heartbroken at this tragic turn of events, the old chief stabbed himself, crying out as he died, “Tocom-Kari, Tocom-Kari.” This story is what became known as “The Legend of Tucumcari.”