Hank Williams & Ol’ Time Country

When Anthony Ray Wright and his band perform at the Lea County Museum on Friday night, July 16, at 8:00 p.m., they will be bringing a lot of country music history with them to Lovington.

 In addition, singing and playing some of the songs Hank Williams made famous in the 1940s and 1950s, ARW will be reviving a lot of personal memories for folks who lived through those years or know the musical history of that era.

Hank Williams was born in Alabama in 1923 and lived a very short life, dying on New Year’s day in 1953.

But in that brief life, Williams became a performer who may have been the most important musical artist in establishing and making popular the sound that the world associates with the dozens of different kinds of country music heard today.  

That music became known as several different types of country music, from classic country, to western swing, to roadhouse, to outlaw country, and to the island music of Kenny Chesney. 

Williams did that by recording such songs as

“Lovesick Blues,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” “Moanin’ the Blues” and “Why Don’t You Love Me.” His 1951 hits included “Hey, Good Lookin'” “Cold, Cold Heart” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You).” Hits of 1952 were “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Jambalaya,” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”

These days Anthony Ray Wright lives and works out of Austin where he and his band perform in a number of venues, such as the downtown Hole in the Wall, but he has performed solo and with his band all over Texas.  He has also performed for years in his home country of the Big Bend in far West Texas.

Anthony Ray Wright with guitary

There he is a favorite in such venues as the Starlite Saloon in Terlingua, the ghost town where he has been a featured artist in many music festivals.

Earlier this year he was performing as far away from Texas as Cincinnati, Ohio and Madison, Indiana.

In November he will be back home where he will appear at Alpine’s Art Walk annual art and music festival. 

This will be his second appearance at the Lea County Museum in Lovington.

He can be found on Facebook, Youtube, Reverb Nation and his website.

Like Hank Williams, Wright has been singing and playing music since he was a kid.

Also like Williams he is fond of traveling the back roads of America and writing songs and singing about his adventures during those travels.

His latest album is titled “The Foolish:  Anthony Ray Wright.”

Reviewers have written of him and the latest album:  

“Anthony Ray Wright is a Texas treasure.  His roots reach deep into Americana.  His songs draw from the rich experience of roving across the US. Delivering an invigorating rock n’ roll-honky tonk performance is ARW’s calling card, but The Foolish Anthony Ray Wright reveals a more pensive side.”

He will perform in the Lea County Museum Pavilion.  If there is rain or poor weather conditions, the program will take place in the LCM Town Hall just across Central Street from the county courthouse.

The Pavilion is located on the east side of the Museum’s two-story Commercial Hotel building, at 103 S. Love Street, on the southeast side of the courthouse.

All LCM programs are free.

For more information about the concert, call the LCM at 575-396-4805 or email leacomuseum@leaco.net.

2021 Virtual Run & Walk Results

The Lea County Museum hosted its annual Run & Walk, and this year, like last year, it went virtual. Despite being virtual, it’s no less exhausting, though! We’re grateful for all our participants who went out there and gave it their all.

Click here to skip down to the table of results.

Run & Walk Results

Below are this year’s Run/Walk participants with their group rankings.

Rosa Cruz1m11:001st
Mason Deen1m17:301st
Sha Marie Martinez1m31:542nd
Zach Martinez1m31:541st
Zane Martinez1m31:541st
Rey Chin1m7:561st
Grace Griffin2m25:051st
Karen Deen2m31:101st
Larry Deen2m31:101st
Anne Behl2m38:751st
Larry Ward2m41:123rd
Mary Jane Ward2m41:122nd
Janis Waechter2m29:321st
Nikki Bartlett4m45:493rd
Maria Coleman4m40:452nd
Hawk Harris4m35:001st
Leonor Harris4m35:051st
Juan Zapata4m35:051st
Fernando Hernandez4m1:19:451st
Glenn Brewster4m50:101st
Benita McKensie4m1:19:311st
David Reed4m33:421st
Jimmy Waechter4m46:021st
Alice Espinosa4m1:13:221st
Phebe Zapata4m1:13:221st
Arthur Zapata4m41:511st

Unreported Times

The following people signed up to participate but did not report their times. In addition, many unnamed family and friends joined our virtual runners and walkers this year.

Alina Anaya
Bianca BoJorquez
Tegan Bradley
Aygul Brown
Wyatt Byrd
Kyle Coleman
Stephanie Deans
Cas DiOrazoi

Dillon L Franca
Allie Frei
Cesar Guerrero
Amanda Lara
Shannon Lathrop
Robert Lathrop
Dianna Luce
Amary Lee Maldonado

Lou Maldonado
Chris Martinez
Ava Olivas
Dominic Olivas
Patty Olivas
Diana Salazar
Alex Tran
Allison Zapata
Elias Zapata

Read about 2020’s Run & Walk here.

Lea County Museum Virtual Run & Walk

The Lea County Museum is hosting a Virtual Run & Walk this summer beginning June 1 through July 4.  Registration must happen before end of day on Sunday, July 4th.  T-shirts will be provided to the first 100 registrants.

Awards and drawings will take place after July 4th.  Results will be sent through by email, phone or mail.


1st, 2nd, 3rd will be given to male and female finishers in the following age groups:

  • 10 and under
  • 11-14
  • 15-19
  • 20-29
  • 30-39
  • 40-49
  • 50-59
  • 60-69
  • 70+


Available at Lea County Museum, 103 S. Love, Lovington, 88260 or download here and return via email to leacomuseum@leaco.net or through Facebook.


Jim Harris

            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.


Jim Harris

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.”


Jim Harris

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.

            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.


Jim Harris

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.

LastFront336-Rudy Anaya

Jim Harris

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.