Helene Haack Allen.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program. Courtesy of New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program. Courtesy of New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program.

Helene Haack Allen

Philanthropist, civic leader, businesswoman.

Helene Haack Allen.
Helene Haack Allen, philanthropist and businesswoman.
Helene Haack Allen historic marker.
Helene Haack Allen historic marker.

An active member of the Fort Sumner community, she operated businesses, opened the first Billy the Kid Museum, and purchased property, including the site of the fort overseeing the Bosque Redondo Reservation, now a moving memorial to the forced internment of Native Americans there from 1863 to 1868.

Helene Haack Allen and her family contributed in many ways to the development of Fort Sumner, including establishing and running businesses, museums, and a theater. Most notably, her gift of the family’s land provides a sobering reminder of the forced displacement and internment of more than 50 different Native American communities to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, a million-acre parcel with Fort Sumner at its center. Well into her 50s, Allen managed her family properties, including maintaining her museums and the ruins of the fort that housed the U.S. troops that oversaw the Bosque Redondo Reservation.

As a young woman, Helene Haack traveled from Wisconsin to Fort Sumner to visit her brother in 1910 and decided to stay in New Mexico, first in Belen and then Ft. Sumner, where she moved in 1912. As a result of a horse accident, she met and, in 1913 married, John Allen. The couple had three children and operated a number of businesses until John’s death in 1945. Together they opened one of Fort Sumner’s earliest drug stores, operated the village waterworks, acquired land, ran farms, had a mortuary, and operated the village’s Zia Theater. She also established the first Billy the Kid museum on property they had purchased, the site of the “Old Fort,” the housing for U.S. troops responsible for overseeing the Bosque Redondo Reservation from 1863 to 1868.

After her husband’s death in 1945, Allen maintained her Billy the Kid museum and the ruins of the Old Fort, while continuing to manage her properties and operate the Zia Theater. An active member of the Fort Sumner community, Helene Haack Allen’s most endearing–and enduring–contribution to the village of Fort Sumner was her generous donation of the land that contained her museum and the ruins of the fort.

Allen’s property was initially developed into Old Fort Park. When the village gave a portion of the land to the State of New Mexico, it became the site of a New Mexico State Monument, the Fort Sumner Historic Site, and, more recently, The Bosque Redondo Memorial Museum. The two state institutions commemorate the area’s ranching history and range wars, and serve as a fitting remembrance to the Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians who were forced to live together on a reservation at the site from 1863 to 1868.

Helene Haack Allen’s love of place and appreciation of history became the basis for Fort Sumner’s status today as an important historical destination, for its tasteful and sensitive presentation of a tragic event that is now preserved for future generations to understand and learn from.


Allen Sparks, Ft. Sumner Museum Living Water. Bob Parsons.

Bob Parson, edit., Our Mid-Pecos History: Living Water; The Families & Events – From Fort to Future. Mid-Pecos Historical Foundation, n.d., pp. 31-32.


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