A shoebox full of history: American Soldiers in the Pacific, Pre-WW I.
Last week I had a brief visit with an old friend from my days at New Mexico Junior College when she brought a shoebox full of history from her home in Hobbs.
Elaine Richeson came up to the Lea County Museum with her daughter Melody to donate to the museum two World War II Navy uniforms that had belonged to her late husband Doyle.
Elaine’s father-in-law, Jack Richeson, had been a soldier in the US Army in the years before World War I, and he had served in 1914 in the several parts of the world.
Doyle had kept some memorabilia of his father, and among those belongings was a shoebox full of postcards with soldier pictures from the Philippines on the front of the cards.
A few of the postcards had handwritten notes on them, but many of them were kept just for the island images where a lot of American troops were stationed in the first decade of the 20thcentury.
To tell you the truth, I quickly got fascinated with the sharp images and wanted to learn more about the historical context for the images and how they came to be in Hobbs, then to Lovington and the museum. The first time I studied them, I could not stop looking for a couple of hours.
One other factor that caused me to dwell on the photos has to do with the fact that I have some relatives in my family who are part Filipino. My brother married the daughter of a Filipino woman, who married a WW II American soldier. So my nieces Lisa and Rachel are part-Filipino, Lisa visiting last year her elderly maternal grandmother in Australia where some of their family members moved from the Philippines after WW II.
That family connection prompted me to write a couple of essays for the Texas Folklore Society back in the 1980s about Filipino traditions brought to America in the 20thcentury.
One final footnote to this subject is the fact that over the last few decades of visiting doctors offices and hospitals in Lea County has found me encountering several nurses and medical personnel who had immigrated from the Philippines.
My wife Mary, a University of Southwest Education Professor, tells me that in addition to the many Filipinos in medicine, there are many who are quite a few who are teachers.
Perhaps that is too long of an introduction to these photos that Elaine has donated to the museum, because they are just plain fascinating images of a world a century ago so unlike our contemporary world.
Doyle Richeson passed away in Hobbs in 2012. I wish I had been able to visit with him about his and his father’s collection of postcards. Doyle served (1943-1946) in the Asiatic Pacific, spending most of his time on the island of Tulag in the Solomon Islands.
Doyle’s daughter Melody wrote to me about his communications with his family concerning his war experiences:
“We have a huge scrapbook – where his mother carefully preserved every letter or postcard he sent back home all the time he was gone. There are probably over a hundred. Maybe more.
“We read through many of them with Dad a couple of years before he died (by the way, we never even knew this scrapbook existed until then. He casually asked one evening if we would like to see some things from his time in the Navy. We said, “Sure!”
“He went and retrieved this scrapbook from a box in the garage. Our mouths
just fell open. He couldn’t believe that he wrote home that often. At least one for every week, sometimes two, beginning with Boot Camp. He said the officers must have stood over them requiring them to write home?!
“We laughed reading many of them because he used the word “swell” in every paragraph. The food was swell. The guys were swell. The officers were swell. Some town nearby was swell. The island was swell.” Elaine and Melody tell me that the box of postcards belonged to Elaine’s mother with the words “Jack’s War Pictures” written on its lid. However, mother and daughter do not think Jack served in the Pacific, but in the Siberia.
Caudill Family: Those Days in the West, Life Went Right On
When I have thought of the Caudill family in the history of Lea County, I have usually remembered the much-circulated 1909 photograph of three Caudill family members who came out west into New Mexico from Texas in the first years of the 20thcentury and helped establish the town of Lovington.
The photo is of the brothers John, James, and Emory Caudill. They are sporting western beards and mustaches, all three wearing suits that look like they could have been worn by Wyatt Earp or Doc Holiday in the years following the Civil War. They also look like the men who were my maternal ancestors who came to Texas from Tennessee at the beginning of the 1900s.
Two of the brothers, James and Emory, were owners of the most prominent building in Lovington’s first years—the Lovington Mercantile.
Their huge sign with the store’s name above the entrance was a landmark for the frontier community and suggested the brothers Caudill had a knack and flair for advertising. Several iconic photos of early Lovington feature the store with its sign you can’t miss.
Lovington was founded in 1908 with the Love family having the help of J.W. Caudill, the father of the brothers. When the Caudills opened their store, they had a built-in customer base since J.W. had 13 children. You might say the Caudills did as the Bible instructed Adam and Eve; they were fruitful and multiplied.
However, my first images of the Caudills has been permanently altered by the words I have just read written by one of the members of the family.
At the age of 83, J.P. Caudill, the oldest son of J.W., hand-wrote his remembrances of growing up in Texas and moving to New Mexico. His granddaughter, Freida Caudill Owens let me read from a copy of that memoir, in addition to showing me a large number of family photos I had not seen.
What he titled, “The Memories of J.P. Caudill,” begins this way:
“I was born in Young County on January 21, 1895, about 30 miles from Graham, Texas, on Bitter Creek. My father was J.W. Caudill, my mother Mattie Caudill. No doctor, just a midwife for help.”
No doctor, just a midwife for help?
J.P. has a way of writing a lot in a few words, and in the first three pages of his remembrance, he develops the hitch-up-your-britches theme that runs throughout his unpublished book: Good and bad things happen to all of us, but life goes on, he writes.
At the end of his third page, here are J.P.’s words on that theme:
“Those days in the west, life went right on.”
That is one essential idea that runs through the history of Lea County and the history of the American West, but it is especially significant in the story of the Caudill family. They were not only a big family, they were also a family of members who despite setbacks persevered and prospered.
The Caudills have been all over the place in Lea and New Mexico many generations after they arrived to settle on farms and ranches outside the town of Lovington.
Here is what Lea historian Gil Hinshaw wrote about J.P. in his book “Lovington: Survivor on the High Plains,” published in 2008:
“J.P. (James Pearil) Caudill followed in his father’s footsteps, turning out innovations that improved the quality of life for his neighbors. Using an old Model T, he constructed and operated Lovington School’s first school bus in the early 1920s. His freighting service that brought supplies to Lovington from Midland, Roswell, and Seagraves was something that caused his neighbors to marvel.
“In its operation, he used 101 burros and claimed that each animal had its own name. His endeavors also included collecting and operating ranches, mostly north of Lovington.
“In 1953, he purchased and presented the first of eighteen new Cadillacs to his wife Vickie—a practice that he continued every year for eighteen years.”
J.P. Caudill’s grandaughter Freida is one of the board members of the Lea County Museum, and I have wanted to write about her family since she joined the board several years ago. I am just now getting around to doing that because I have recently come in contact with so many other Caudill descendants
For instance, Vickie Caudill came down from her home in Ruidoso to visit with me last week. Vickie is the significant other of Lea County rancher Bert Madera. I learned quickly that Vickie is the aunt of Crystal Ball, whom I have known for several years and who works for the City of Lovington. Crystal’s daughter Star McKee is the manager of Lovington’s Lea Theater, and since Star has a son, that makes four or five generations of Caudill kin I visited with or learned about in a two-day period just because Crystal’s Aunt Vickie came for a visit.
So how many generations of Caudill kin have lived here in the 112 years since they moved to this corner of New Mexico?
I guess the answer to that would depend on just what branch of the family you happened to be cataloguing and how far you would take the survey into the marriages of Caudill women to other pioneer families. At the end of one story in the “Then and Now” Lea genealogy book, J.P.’s wife, Vickie, wrote that at the date, 1978, the J.P. Caudill family had 63 relatives of their immediate family still alive.
There must be dozens of Caudill stories about Caudill females marrying, including some related to members of the Harve Harris family. Norise Caudill married Prentice Harris in 1919. Descendant Wes Harris sometimes writes history for this History Notebook column.
Perhaps I have dwelled too long on the size of the Caudill family.
This History Notebook will end with a passage or two from the opening pages of J.P. Caudill’s handwritten memoir that has been an interesting read for me. There will be more stories and photos on the Caudills in future columns. Thanks to Frieda Owens for letting me borrow her copy.
One editorial note on these quotes: I have quotation marks around all of these written words to indicate they are what J.P. has written, but to avoid confusions for readers, I have changed some punctuation and spelling to make the brief passages easier to read.
“I lived in Young County until I was six years old. My father got hurt by a bale of cotton at the gin in Young County. We moved to Crosby County from Young County and I lived there until I was 10 years old and we moved to Gaines County. On the ranch there I learned to hold the plow handles.
“My older sister drove the team and we helped break out a farm to plant corn on. I lived on the farm for about 18 months and then moved to Seminole as my father had bought a section of land and had sold part of it out to help start the town of Seminole. He bought a doctor’s house, our first bathroom. Oh, what a grand sight and quite a prestige house.
“I remember we rode horses 3 miles to school from the ranch in Seminole. We walked over sand hills to school. My school friend Glen Stark’s father had the grocery store in Seminole. On weekends I helped him deliver groceries in a horse buggy for all the groceries. Glen and I could eat, which I think was good pay.”
People in Our Lives:
Homer Johnson Dies in 1957
Working at the Lea County Museum of history, art, folklore, and regional culture, I know that I am likely to have moments each day when I pause and linger over an experience among the hundreds of artifacts from earlier times.
Perhaps I am sitting beside a chair that belonged to a person who helped create the town of Lovington in 1908.
Or I am walking down a second-story hallway lined with windows and doors that were opened and closed in the 1930s.
Or I am studying the photographed face of an 18-year-old farm boy killed in Europe in World War I.
Or I am reading the words of millionaire cowman George Littlefield who established the largest ranch in the history of the county in the years following the Civil War.
Any of these can make me stop whatever I am doing and remain motionless and silent for awhile so I can absorb as much as I can of the invigorating past that surrounds me.
I call these experiences driveway moments (a term I stole from National Public Radio out of Portales), and they are moments similar to those when you pull up in front of your home at the end of the day, and a memorable song comes on the radio, a song so mesmerizing that you resist shutting down the engine or pushing the off button on the radio.
That’s the way I felt last week when I was going through materials donated to the museum by the heirs of Lovington’s Homer Johnson.
For younger readers, or readers who do not regularly peruse this History Notebook column, here is a news story I found on the front page of a Lovington Leader issue published 63 years ago, on Tuesday, June 4, 1957:
“Homer R. Johnson, 71, died Sunday, June 2, in the office of a local physician. He had been ill for several weeks, when his condition became suddenly worse. He was rushed to a doctor’s office where death came at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“Mr. Johnson was born March 25, 1886 in Mt. Airy, Tennessee. He settled in Seminole, Texas, in 1913 where he was married to Katy Mae Lister. He later came to Lovington, where he opened his business, known as the H. R. Johnson General Mercantile in 1925. He had lived in Lovington since that time.
“Funeral services were held at the Smith-Yarbro Chapel at 2 p.m. today. Burial was in the Lovington Cemetery. Rev. W.M. Beauchamp officiated.
“Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, and one daughter, Mrs. Carl King of Albuquerque; three sisters: Mrs. Edith Hixon, Alexandria, Louisiana; Miss Edith Hixon, Dunlap Tennessee; Mrs. Effie Pope, Corpus Christi, Texas; three brothers: Hoyt Johnson, Mt. Airy, Tennessee; Gerald Johnson, Los Angeles, California; and Wade Johnson, Dunlap, Tennessee.”
And the context of the Leader news story of Johnson’s death?
The publisher and editor of the Lovington-Daily Leader at that time was Agnes Kastner Head, and the bold-faced headline and story above the Johnson story reads, “Americans Warned About Socialism.”
At the time Mrs. Head was letting everyone in Lovington know that socialism was going to eliminate American democracy and capitalism; Joseph McCarthy was taking care in the early 1950s to let the American people know that communism and socialism was about to take over the entire world. After 10 years as a US Senator from Wisconsin, he died just six months before Homer.
Homer Johnson’s store, located on Central Street on the south side of the courthouse square, was a good example of how free-market capitalism was doing just fine in small town America. The Johnson Store, 117 East Central, in downtown Lovington was the place to buy a variety of goods, from groceries to hardware, and it was also a place to just “hang out,” as more than one ole timer told me when the Johnson Store building in2008became part of the Lea County Museum.
Last week I was reading the news of Homer Johnson’s death while in an adjoining building, the 1931 Lister Building, built by Homer’s father-in-law, I. W. Lister. Homer’s wife, Katy Mae, was the daughter of Mr. Lister.
In fact, Mr. Lister owned and built most of everything on the south side of the courthouse square beginning in the early 1920s. He had a car dealership, a service station, what became the Johnson Store, and the two-story Lister Building.
And Homer’s daughter, his only surviving child, was Norma. Johnson’s one son, Graydon, had died when he was six years old, and Homer and Katy Mae showered an incredible amount of attention and love on their Norma.
They took hundreds of photographs of her while she was growing up. I can tell you there are hundreds of Norma images because I counted that many in boxes that were donated to the museum several years ago. We have pictures of her as a toddler in her parents’ arms and as an adult woman managing her own family after she married Albuquerque’s Carl King in Lovington on Friday, September 12, 1947.
Thus, my second driveway moment of that one day last week at the museum came when I picked up the many photographs in one box and realized they were all of Norma–Homer, and Katy Mae’s child who grew up and was photographed all over Lovington and “half of Texas,” as my father used to say. There are pictures of her as a little girl in the alley behind the Johnson store. There are photographs of her in front of Lovington’s three-story Old Central School from which she graduated.
There are photos of her in Cisco, Texas, where Homer lived before he moved to Seminole. There are photos of her in San Antonio and in Galveston.
In some of the photographs, Norma looks like she is practicing for a career as a model, and the images of her suggest her parents spared no expense in giving their daughter as many new clothes as she wanted and as the daughter of Lovington’s most important store owner could afford.
In all their photos, Homer, Katy Mae, and Norma look prosperous, as if they were a family of privilege in Lovington from the 1920s to the 1950s when Homer passed away.
With all the plotlines revolving around Homer’s marriage to the daughter of I. W. Lister, with all of the many individuals who were part of that extended family, I would guess there could be two or three fascinating books exploring the lives of several families and resolving the psychological and physical conflicts between a number of individuals who had a hand in the cultural life of Lovington in the first fifty years of its life.
When Homer Johnson died in 1957, Lovington was just one year away from celebrating its first half-century.
In that year the town was no more a frontier and no more only a farm-and-ranch town.
With communication technologies available fifties that the first 1908 residents of Lovington could never have imagined, the town was joining the nation in fighting the Cold War with Russia.
Homer Johnson’s world was incredibly different from our world 63 years later, but at the same time, it is remarkable how little we have changed despite the amazing communications of today.
In fact, the smart phones and computers I carry with me help produce many of the driveway moments of my days at the Lea County Museum.
They also help add to the list of people who are part of our lives.
The Listers, Homer Johnson, and Norma Lister Johnson are now part of my life.
Tragedy Just North & East of Lea:
Indians, Buffalo Soldiers, Buff Hunters
Just a few miles north of present-day Lea County one hundred and forty-three years ago this summer, one of American history’s epic tragedies took place.
The participants were Native Americans, US Military forces, buffalo hunters, horses, and mules, all in a setting that also had an antagonist in a drama that was as exciting as a Shakespearian tragedy.
It is a narrative that in some ways says something about the conflicts Americans have today over such subjects as the policing of residents, particularly African-Americans in large cities.
What took place in July of 1877 on the Staked Plains of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico involved black US soldiers, called Buffalo Soldiers, pursuing, capturing, and killing Comanche and Apache Indians in some of the last battles waged to remove Native Americans from their territory on the Southern Plains, a region that had been their home for centuries.
How do the events that year relate to 2020?
The black soldiers then were fighting an ethnic people, the Indians, in an America that for the most part saw the black soldiers as inferiors who did not deserve to have the rights of white Americans and were not equal in any respects.
That was exactly the attitude of the American government toward the Indians. In many ways the Indians and the black soldiers were in the same class in a theoretically classless society.
Some readers may be aware of movie director Spike Lee’s new film entitled “Da 5 Bloods,” which is a story of contemporary black US soldiers visiting Viet Nam where they fought as a team in the American war there in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Although I have not seen the movie, I understand from a review in “The New Yorker” that Lee’s film has to do with the ex-soldiers grappling with the idea that they were pursuing mostly rural and marginalized Vietnamese people from another part of the world while at the same time they did not feel that back home they or other people of color had the same rights and opportunities America offered white people.
Who can imagine such a feeling? I can’t imagine such a feeling.
And how about the feelings of the combatants on the Llano Estacado in July of 1877?
A group of 170 Comanche warriors and their families had escaped from their Oklahoma reservation–a prison without fences–in December of 1876. They established a camp near the western caprock in New Mexico, and made raids into Texas.
Led by Captain Nicholas Nolan from Fort Concho, soldiers tracked them and were joined in the hunt by a large group of buffalo hunters who had been raided by the Comanches.
Led by the Comanche Chief Quannah Parker, a second group of Comanches were tracking the renegades in an attempt to get them to come back to the reservation.
This story is a complex and complicated narrative to relate in just a few sentences, the four groups meeting at different times, with their narratives of the encounters varying in many details.
However, the results of several days of trackings and encounters saw several soldiers and buffalo hunters dying in harrowing deaths from starvation and thirst on both sides of the New Mexico and Texas line, and some warriors and squaws being killed by those pursuing them.
But the final outcome saw most all of the Indians riding together back to their reservation in Oklahoma, and the defeated and lost soldiers struggling back to Fort Concho with the help of rescue operations sent out from the fort.
You can find many accounts of that military summer of 1877 online at web sites such as the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas History.
The best summary of the episode, in my opinion, is by the late Roswell historian Elvis Fleming in a 1973 “Southwest Heritage Magazine” published in Hobbs.
Fleming sums up the narrative by writing that the story is about “how Indians outsmarted both cavalry and buffalo hunters on the Llano Estacado of Eastern New Mexico and Northwest Texas.”
The last paragraph of Fleming’s essay reads as follows:
“The little hill (where several soldiers died) continues to stand as a monument of sorts to the ‘buffalo soldiers’ and the role they played in helping to remove the last Comanche menace to the settlement of the Staked Plains by Anglo-American ranchers and farmers.”
This western military episode was no mass slaughter, like “Little Bighorn” in 1876 in eastern Wyoming on the plains to the north several hundred miles.
What happened near Lea in Roosevelt County in July, 1877, was not like the slaughter of 200 Indians at Sand Creek some 200 miles to the north in 1864 in southeastern Colorado.
However, when Quanah Parker and led his warriors back to Fort Sill and the Comanche reservation in Oklahoma, his actions signaled the end of the war between the US Government and the Plains Indians in the south and north plains.
Quanah Parker went to his new home in Oklahoma as a triumphant leader of his bands of antelope Comanche, but he also traveled there as the symbolic leader of the defeated Native American tribes of the continent.
It was the tragic end of the first nations of North America and the most important turning point in their life ways here.
They won the battles with Captain Nolan, but they lost the war with the United States.
Rudy Anaya: New Mexico Novelist and Teacher
Correction From Last Week’s Last Frontier:
Though I have been to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument at least a dozen times, in last week’s column I wrote that it is located in eastern Wyoming. Of course, it is in eastern Montana near Crow Agency, Montana.
When I first moved to New Mexico in 1974 to teach literature and writing classes at New Mexico Junior College, I attended a gathering of writers in Albuquerque so that I could get acquainted with some of the men and women who had written books that I might be using in my literature classes, including one class in Southwest Literature I taught for many years.
The informal group of writers called themselves the Rio Grande Writers Association, and one of the first men in the RGWA I met was Rudolfo Anaya, who was teaching in the English Department at the University of New Mexico.
In 1972 Rudy had published a novel called “Bless Me, Ultima.” It was his first novel to be published, but it had become an instant success. It’s a fascinating read about a young New Mexico kid growing up on the eastern plains of the state.
The book was very popular in part because it was by a Hispanic-American at a time (the 1960s) when readers in the United States were anxious to read literary and historical works by and about minorities—Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and others.
Rudy Anaya passed away last week at his home in Albuquerque, but from the early 1970s until his death, he was one of the most popular Hispanic writers in the country, and he was one of the most beloved and honored individuals in his home state.
A few years after we met, I interviewed him in his home in Albuquerque for a series of video works I used in my classes at NMJC. In the late seventies and early eighties, I was around him several times, and in 1985 Rudy and his wife Pat met Mary and me in Galveston where we had a fine time at a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, which was having its annual gathering for the first time on the island along the Texas Coast south of Houston.
I was the President of the TFS that year, and the president got to choose the city where the society met and the speaker for the annual banquet. I asked Rudy to be the speaker, and he agreed, giving a fascinating speech about how New Mexico folklife differed from traditional life in Texas.
Of course, Rudy was incredibly qualified for the subject, having grown up near Pastura outside of Santa Rosa not too far from the Texas state line. Many literary critics have written about how folklore (Hispanic customs and practices) creates a sense of reality in his books.
But the novels, in particular, have a bit of the magical to their plots. He wrote something critics called “magical realism” in which spirits and unseen life forces seem to be directing the lives of his characters.
For instance, the elderly Ultima of his first novel was a “curandero,” a healer who practiced natural medicine and prayers to aid the rural residents of her community in getting well from a variety of illnesses.
How popular was Rudy in his home state when he passed away last week?
In Santa Rosa there is a bronze sculpture of Rudy in the city park at Santa Rosa Lake. The sculpture is by famed New Mexico sculptor Sonny Rivera, and it shows Rudy sitting with a book, one hand resting on an open page.
One final note about Rudy in Galveston. As a result of being around his wife Patricia in Galveston, I invited her to Hobbs and NMJC to give a presentation about women writers. Pat, who died in 2010, was like her husband, a writer and a teacher. She was a lovely woman and good speaker, and she and Rudy were very close in the years of their long marriage.
After teaching literature and writing classes at the University of New Mexico, and after publishing many books, Rudy became known as the “Dean of Chicano Writers.” He published books in a variety of genres–novels, short story collections, literary essays, folktales, poetry, plays, and even bilingual children’s books.
His books include Albuquerque, Curse of the ChaupaCabra, Jemez Spring, Zia Summer, Cuentos Chicanos, Heart of Aztlan, Serafina’s Stories, Tortuga, and children’s books, such asThe Santero’s Miracle andThe First Sortilla.
Rudy received numerous awards, including the Premio Quinto Sol, the national Chicano literary award, the National Medal of Arts for Literature, the PEN Center West Award for Fiction, the American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation, the Mexican Medal of Friendship from the Mexican Consulate, and the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award.
In 2017 President Barack Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal. President Obama said,
Anaya’s “fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition.”
Rudy grew up in the country west of Santa Rosa. His family members were farmers and vaqueros. When he was 14, his immediate family moved to Albuquerque where they settled into the barrio known as Barelas.
His novels and short stories are set in rural New Mexico and New Mexico cities, and many of his fictional narratives are good texts for the study of New Mexico folklore.
My favorite of his books is a collection of short stories which I used in several of my Southwest Literature classes at NMJC. The title is “Silence of the Llano,” published in 1982.
To show the range of subject matter in his books, I will end this Last Frontier by referring to a 2008 book he published at the University of New Mexico Press. The title is “Chupacabra and the Roswell UFO,” and it is a mystery novel, in the same genre as Rudy’s close friend Tony Hillerman, another favorite writer of New Mexicans.
The reading level for this book is 14 years of age and up, and it has as its protagonist Rosa Medina, a college professor. The dust jacket of the book reads as follows:
“In this fast-paced mystery, Anaya expands the Chupacabra folklore into a metaphor that deals with new powers inherent in science.”
For much of their lives, Rudy and Pat advocated for literacy among the young. They donated much to less fortunate New Mexico children.
The author of over 40 books, Rudy Anaya is a man who will be missed by fans and friends.
High, Dry, and Hot: Dreams of Fishing
When Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) chose a pilgrimage as the framework for his “Canterbury Tales,” he knew he was picking the proper literary plot, a journey, to tell what turned out to be his internationally human story.
But Chaucer also knew the religious nature of the Middle Age pilgrimage would set the right tone he wanted to appeal to his readers of the 15thcentury.
So Chaucer was in my first thoughts when I woke on Tuesday morning of last week from one of the most pleasant dreams I have ever had in all my life.
In modern English and in his preface to the “Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer writes, when April’s soothing showers pierce the drought of March, and bathe every vein with its sweet liquor, then folks long to go on pilgrimages.
Those are the words I heard just after I awoke from dreaming about a pilgrimage to fish waters on the far northern plains.
For what seemed like a feature-length, wide-screen movie, something like “Lawrence of Arabia” but with a wet setting, I dreamed of a journey 2000 miles north of my Lea County home and a number of boat excursions on the familiar waters of a place named Jan Lake in northern Saskatchewan.
How familiar to me is that lake surrounded by three adjoining ones and blanketed with hundreds of coves, bays, narrows, and streams?
If I had been able to cross the US border into Canada in May or June of 2020, this would have been my 30thyear to have fished a heavenly boreal forest created after the last ice age scooped out depressions in granite and created thousands of lakes that were later filled to the brim with walleye, northern pikes, and a variety of other fishes.
Yes, 30 years without missing a single year, a record and enough pilgrimages to create countless memorable dreams.
Therefore, the remainder of this Last Frontier will be a brief description of my resent journey-in-dream; the experiences of low, wet, and cold environments; the history one passes on such pilgrimages; a selection from a sacred fish text; and a lesson to be learned from life’s journeys and dreams.
Preparation and Drive
In preparing for the trip north, I organize such objects as rods, reels, lures, winter clothing, camping gear, and I make a list of foods, drinks, and cigars to carry me through two weeks.
By traveling up the North American Plains, I sail through sites that were jumping off locales for the settlement of the American West, from exploratory trails by Lewis and Clark, and the settlement trails to Oregon, California, and New Mexico.
I pass by historic forts, such as that near Laramie on the Platte River and Buford at the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.
I travel through regions of infamous massacres, such as a slaughter of Native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado. I travel through geographic sights as beautiful and unique as any on the earth, such as the grasslands of northwestern Nebraska and the tall mountains of western South Dakota, where for several decades sculptors have been altering the top of a mountain into a rock figure of Chief Crazy Horse.
Fish and Fishing
Each day of the eight or nine nights on the Churchill River or La Ronge Lake, Baldy Lake, or Jan Lake is like a dream, floating early in the morning around ice floes and islands, anchoring in the still waters of an isolated bay, eating fresh fried walleye on the shore at lunch, catching the fish that appears almost limitless, and motoring slowly back to the camp at sunset when the magic hour turns into four or five red skies before you fall asleep, perchance to dream of the next day.
The Fishing Text
Just a few weeks ago, heirs to the library of fisherman and novelist Ernest Hemingway released an unpublished short story that instantly joined Papa Hemingway’s canon of sacred texts on fishing.
Here is a paragraph near the end of the short story titled “Pursuit as Happiness”:
“ ‘All right,’ I said, and we fished another month. We had forty-two marlin by then and still the big ones had not come. There was a dark, heavy stream close in to the Morro—sometimes there would be acres of bait—and there were flying fish going out from under the bows and birds working all the time. But we had not raised one of the huge marlin, although we were catching, or losing, white marlin each day and on one day I caught five.”
The act of fishing and the exercise of fishing metaphors teach us much about our physical and spiritual world. Traveling each year to the Great North of Canada can be much more than a getaway from the routine world. It is more like the pilgrimage of Chaucer’s 14thcentury than it is a vacation in 2020.
Each year there is a new lesson on this spiritual trip, and for this year when the Corona virus has changed so much of our daily routines and kept me from my traditional appointment in Canada, I have been rereading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s best-known sermon-essay. It is titled “Self Reliance”, and it is filled with as many memorable sentences as Jan Lake is filled with walleye and northern pike.
As a young man, how could anyone argue the truth of Emerson’s sentence, “Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist.”
Or “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron sting.”
Or “The only person you are destined to become, is the person you decide to be.”
Or “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Or “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
If Emerson were alive today, he might think that my 30 years of pilgrimages to one place is foolish consistency, but there is much more than just relying on the self in a pilgrimage that makes us happy we are breathing, the heart pumping, and the lungs filling.
Fishing has taught me that there is also much happiness in what might be called the collective reliance of a journey with a neighbor or brother. It has to do with a sacrificing of the self for the good of group. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of the family, the community, the country, and Mother Nature, who sometimes seems bent on taking us down.
In fact, at this time in our history when so much seems broken or fragile enough to break, it’s collective reliance and even pilgrimages that make for sweet dreams and a kind of eternal journey beyond being high and dry, on beyond the heat to a place low, wet, and cool, and to a heavenly place.
A young walleye on his journey to lunch. With an open pit mine and blue haulers on the horizon behind them, buffalo take their meal on the rich, rolling plains of eastern Wyoming. Former Hobbs resident and artist Terry Bumpass looks back at water from nearby Dechambeault Lake falling into a river and bay on the western edge of Jan Lake.
Roswell Jazz Festival: Great Live
On Saturday, October 19, wife Mary and I drove two hours to Roswell for an event I had heard about for several years but never had experienced.
That Saturday was one day in the 14thAnnual Roswell Jazz Festival, a five-day celebration of a type of music I learned to appreciate when I was a high school student in Dallas.
I have heard quite a bit of live music this year, visiting in Austin several times, and at the Roswell Jazz Festival (RJF) I heard some of the best music I have heard in a long, long time, no matter what the genre.
The RJF put on a great set of concerts by a number of world-class musical artists, and Roswell isn’t that far away from anywhere in Lea County.
In addition, the admission to the programs is incredibly reasonable, many of the performances taking place conveniently in downtown at the city’s Convention Center, which is adjacent to the Roswell Art Museum, one of the fine museums in all of New Mexico. A few of the programs were free.
Often called America’s classical music, jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American community, and in particular, black communities in New Orleans. It emerged in the late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury from several other kinds of music present in America at the time. That root music included blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and ragtime.
During the last century, many different types of jazz emerged. They include hard bop, free jazz, jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, and cool jazz, all being variations on a style that included much improvisation by individual members of a band.
Some music lovers think of jazz as America’s “classical” music.
Today jazz can be found around the world, and different countries or regions have developed their own variations, such as that found in Brazil, Germany, and Cuba.
Over thirty musicians and vocalists performed at the RJF. They included Ted Rosenthal, piano; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Rande Sandke, trumpet; Ricky Malichi, drums; Scott Edmunds, clarinet; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Richard Simon, bass; and vocalist Hillary Smith.
That last name should be familiar to some folks in Lea County. Hillary went to high school in Hobbs. She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charlie Smith. Just before his death, Dr. Smith donated a number of family items to the Lea County Museum. The Smith-Watson Room is on the second floor of the 1931 Lister Building.
Below is the opening sentence of Hillary’s biography on her web site “hilljam.com”:
”With a deep soulfulness rooted in the Gospel driven churches of her youth, a classically trained vocal instrument that’s a natural wonder, and a God-given instinct for swinging a lyric, vocalist Hillary Smith has been electrifying audiences across the United States for more than 30 years.”
Her biography on that site goes on to say that she is “as comfortable with swinging jazz as she is with funky blues.”
Readers of the History Notebook may not be as familiar with the other performers at the RJF, but many of them are world-renown artists with interesting biographies. I will mention just a couple of them here.
Upright bass player Richard Simon was the featured “Guest of Honor” at this year’s Festival. He was born in Roswell in 1947 when his father was in the Air Force, but he has lived many other places and experienced many other kinds of jobs for being a jazz base player.
In fact, several years ago he was teaching college English in California when he decided to make music his career. He Has a Masters degree in English at the State University of New York/Stony Brook. He taught English in the Los Angeles Community College District.
Of his discovery of jazz, he says, “I was transfixed and transported by the lush and swinging sounds. I re-discovered my love for music—left not a few English compositions’ participles dangling unfortunately.”
The one other musician at the festival I will mention played music with Simon on the evening I was in Roswell. That is Houston Person, who plays the saxophone.
Here is a Wikipedia entry about him just to let you see the quality of the musical artists present at the RJF:
“Houston Person (born November 10, 1934) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer. Although he has performed in the hard bop and swinggenres, he is most experienced in and best known for his work in soul jazz. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.
“Person grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and first played piano before switching to tenor saxophone. He studied at South Carolina State College where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
“In the United States Air Force, he joined a service band stationed in West Germany, and played with Don Ellis, Eddie Harris, Cedar Walton, and Leo Wright. He later continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut.
“He first became known for a series of albums for Prestige in the 1960s. Contrary to popular belief, he was never married to the vocalist Etta Jones, but did spend many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring, and for much of his career this association was what he was best known for. They first met playing in organist Johnny Hammond‘s band.
“Person has been a resident of Newark, New Jersey.”
For sure, I will be back in Roswell for the 2020 RJF.
I wish we could have a music festival in Lea County that could be of the quality found in the UFO city to our west, and I can imagine the amount of work that went into putting on this year’s jazz fest.
City of Roswell residents, I’m sure, are proud of the kind of quality-of-life experiences offered withIN their city limits. The list of those offerings are extensive, including two world-class museums, the Roswell Art Museum and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.
To conclude this History Notebook, in the future I am going to be paying just as much attention to what is happening in Roswell as I am in what is going on in Lubbock.
Lea’s Image Isn’t Everything, but …
Back in the early 1990s, the Cannon camera company was running television ads with tennis star Andre Agassi hitting balls and saying, “Image is everything.”
It’s one of those annoying advertisements that just won’t leave the memory, no matter how hard you try to just forget it, although one of the reasons it stays with me is that about the same time the ads were running, wife Mary and I walked out of an elevator in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and bumped into the high-profile athlete.
Of course, Agassi was not the only person of note to be connected to the sentence. Writers have written dozens of quotable lines that say something similar, especially at the end of the last century when most countries were gearing up for the coming digital universe.
Since I moved to Hobbs in 1974, I’ve been conscious of the image of Southeast New Mexico and Lea County, as seen in other parts of New Mexico and the Southwest, partly because that image seemed in contrast to the image of the state, as touted by chambers of commerce.
After all, I had moved to the “Land of Enchantment.”
Nationally, this corner of New Mexico doesn’t really have an image, other than being the general territory where Billy the Kid roamed during his murderous and psychotic rampages just before he was killed by Sheriff Pat Garret.
In some literary and pop culture circles, Southeast New Mexico may be thought of as by the Pecos River valley where Oliver Loving roamed too far from his herd of Texas cattle and got himself ambushed by Indians just after the Civil War, injuries that led in a few weeks to his death.
Both of those western narratives took place around 150 years ago.
Although we won’t know for some decades, there is a possibility that Lea County is currently developing a newer version of another oil-boom image, that is for being part of the productive Permian Basin.
However, as a cover photo and article in an August, 1985 New Mexico Magazine makes clear, Lea County had for several decades the reputation of being a “cowboy capital” since it produced quite a few rodeo champions.
The cover photo showed Lea County rancher Fern Sawyer dressed in skin-tight cowgirl gear, including a white cowboy hat, and sitting on her white horse Sloan.
The caption for the cover reads, “Meet Fern Sawyer and Her Horse Sloan From Lea County, The Champion Cowboy Capital of the World.”
The long story inside the magazine contains three images. They are another photo of Fern, along with one each of rodeo cowboys Tuffy Cooper and Troy Fort.
All three of individuals have by now gone on to that great roundup in the sky, and in many ways the image they projected for Lea has passed on too.
This is not to say that the county does not have some great rodeo cowboys. As seen each year in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, there are still a good number of them are successful nationally. And you can see many of them roping in local arenas just about every weekend.
Here are a few passages from the 34 year old magazine article:
“The people of Lea County, for instance—down in the southeastern part o the state, where Indians are few and the natural beauties normally associated with New Mexico are almost nonexistent—aren’t going to let you forget abou their cowboys.
“Lea County is more likely to be labeled oil country than cattle country, because it seems to a traveler driving through at seesawing oil pumps far outnumber the stock. But while Lea County cowboys will admit that oil pays a lot of the county’s bills, they still maintain that this is prime cowboy country. And that’s no idle boast. They measure and back it up by the number of cowboys who have been bred here on the high plains beyond the caprick and then gone on to be world champion rodeo performers.”
The author of the Lea County story goes on to visit and quote Fern, Tuffy, and Troy about their lives in Lea. In addition, he took fine separate photos of the three of them.
Then here is the last paragraph of the story with the author sitting in the stands of the Lea County rodeo arena as the show was going on despite days of heavy rain:
“Looking down on what bore a closer resemblance to a front pond than a rodeo arena, I thought that there probably would be some grass on the high plains next year. And that maybe the cowboy had been right about the tought gittin’ goin’ when the goin’ gits tough—at least it seemed to be true down here in Lea County, the Champion Cowboy Capitol of the World.”
Part of our attraction to the cowboy image of Lea stems from the western pioneer narratives that developed when this corner of the state emerged from being one of New Mexico’s last frontiers. It was at the beginning of the 20thcentury that the first permanent settlers began to create the dozens of small towns which were forming where there had only been ranches. The ranches, of course, were the economic institutions that ended the occupation of the region by nomadic Native Americans who had passed by here for centuries, ending their forays only following the end of the Civil War and in the last years of the 19thcentury.
Thinking of the short history of Lea makes me curious about what sort of image Lea land had for the pre-digital Apache, Comanche, and other tribal peoples of what would become Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
And, of course, I am curious about the image of Lea in the future.