Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fite Recalls Life On The Homestead

The following is Part 3 of an Oral History interview with homesteader Evelyn Fite. The interview was conducted by Bureau of Land Management Archaeologist Brenda Wilkinson in 2009.

As the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Homestead Act approaches, the Socorro BLM’s Cultural Resource Program is increasing emphasis on oral history collection, particularly as it relates to homesteading.

Evelyn said the Fite family came to Tularosa in the 1800s. Dean Fite’s father was Walter Lafayette Fite, and his mother was Edna Bruton. Edna was born in the New Mexcio Territory in 1911. Dean’s family moved from south Texas to the Tularosa area in the 1800s, and was originally from Tennessee.

Evelyn: “Both the Bruton family (Dean Fite’s mother’s side of the family) and the Fite side came from Texas, big families. And Jack Bruton lives out at Agustin, he’s one of the descendants, he was Dean’s cousin.”
Evelyn: “They came on horseback and with wagons, brought cattle. They pioneered this country. I think it was after the Civil War, a lot of ‘em moved out - all the turmoil. And they needed more country. And the Fites were kind of gypsies anyhow. They liked to see more country, and so did the Brutons. They were the kind of people who like to have big country, pioneers. Years later Mr. Fite worked on ranches and raised his family. He was a good cowboy. And he worked for wealthy ranchers that came in from the east and bought big ranches out here and didn’t know anything about ranching. He worked for them. And that’s where he raised his family. And the kids grew up, and he finally went over there and homesteaded the place and they had their own ranch. There was no Bureau of Land Management, and there were no fences, so it was all open range. And there were sheep ranchers, and people abusing the country, sheep would keep eating it up, and there were a lot of horses. And nobody ever sold an old cow - they just sold the calves - they weren’t worth much. Old cows were - they didn’t have anything to do with ‘em. They just let ‘em die, get old and die. But the cattle all ran together, and they’d water - if it rained you know - all go to these water holes. And then whoever had cattle had to go there when that water dried, and get their cattle and bring them home. And if you didn’t go get yours, somebody else would. So it was a real, wide open country, and a lot of rustling of cattle and, a lot of action. And a very hard living. But our first problem was - when I married Dean in 1937 and we were having land trials - establishing boundaries, and over at the county seat you went and you got land awarded to you according to water you had developed. So it was…that was how they established boundaries. And if you were a good politician you… Always was politics involved, always.”

Wilkerson asked about the Trinity Site and the atomic bomb test.

Evelyn: “I wasn’t home. I was in Nevada visiting. But my father-in-law was at the house. We lived in a little shack, that was before we bought Tokay. And he was at the house and the light woke him up, but the sound didn’t because it kind of went up and over. You know how sound goes. So where he was, he said he don’t remember the sound, but the light - that bright light woke him up. But we were in Nevada and we heard about it. But we knew something was going on over there because there’d been lots of action, and a lot of cars going. They’d go to Logan there, and evacuated a bunch of ranchers and there was a big fight over the land you know. The government just came and took it. War time.”
Evelyn: “On the news it said - well it was all real top secret. People in town didn’t really accept that, you know. We had all the big shots at Tech that worked with it, and they knew about it. They were there when it happened. But the average person didn’t know about it, they’d just know there was something - there was a lot of action out there. Dean and I unloaded a bunch of cattle. We had a bunch of cattle down at Black Lake and we brought ‘em up and we unloaded ‘em at Lava, and Lava’s just a switch down on well, it’s where the Armendaris is now. And we unloaded those cattle there and they had built a road, just bladed it, from that switch down by Black Mesa - you know that area - all the way to Trinity Site. And we didn’t know what it was, we had no idea. But we followed that bladed - they just knocked the cactus over, and the yuccas, and made it wide enough to bring that… You remember pictures of that big trailer with one tire right beside the other? And it had that big heavy iron thing in it? The tractors, they took it all the way across there to Trinity Site. And that’s where they dropped that first atomic device. And they had bunkers over there where you could - cement bunkers - where they could get in, and they had telephone lines on poles about, I guess maybe ten feet high, or eight feet. They were not very high, you couldn’t ride a horse under ‘em.”
Evelyn: “It wasn’t much of a crater. Everybody did - all the kids, all the boys around the ranch that rode horseback went over there to see what…. ‘Course we wanted to see what went on. We took those cattle across that bombing range, and it was top secret, and we crossed the highway twice and nobody saw us. And you can tell when cattle cross a road, you know they drag weeds and make tracks, and pee and potty…..they never saw us. We’d see cars coming and we’d just be still, and they never looked to the right or the left, they just looked down the road.”
Evelyn: “It (the crater) was just kind of a disturbance in the sand. It was a bunch of twisted iron, ‘cause they had a tower and it, you know, blew it to pieces. And there were chunks of iron that blew off in the distance, big, big chunks, like that one down the park? But we had a piece at the ranch that Dean brought home and those kids all gathered that green glass you know, that melted, and had it in their pockets, and took it home, put it on the mantle. Now this supposed to’ve been radioactive and kill you and make you sterile - they all managed to raise families.”
Evelyn: “We weren’t supposed to be over there. Yeah, there were pieces of it - some pieces big as this, melted, melted, sand, green. It was green. I went to Trinity site oh, about 4 or 5 years ago and, course everything’s gone, and they’ve got all that fence around there and they have all that big bruja about it. And I saw this man on his hands and knees and he had a little piece of this, Trinitite they call it, and he was telling these people how very dangerous it was, and I just leaned over and watched him tell that story and I thought, oh well, don’t believe it’s all that lethal. Anyhow, it was quite a commotion. We had no IDEA what it was the beginning of…. See they developed it at Los Alamos, and they kept saying on the radio that it was Los Alamos. Well we didn’t know where Los Alamos was - it was kind of like a hidden city up there. I went up there sometimes after that, and you know - tight security to get in there and out of there.”
Evelyn: “And anyhow, we brought our cattle and we were gonna put ‘em over there, we’d run out of a place to put cattle so there was a big dirt tank over there with water, and Dean said - he always had these good ideas - so we were taking those cattle and we’d been driving for three days, and two days without water. The third day we penned ‘em at his corral and Dean says, I’ll go see what it looks like ahead, so he rode on ahead and he came back. He said ‘We gotta go back, we can’t take ‘em up there.’ I wanted to kill him. I was so tired. We’d been sleeping on the ground, we didn’t have anything to eat because we couldn’t get to town to buy the groceries, and, UGH. So we finally got the cattle that we had, we turned ‘em, and in two days we’d taken ‘em to the old homestead - on December the 23rd. We kept ‘em there ‘til May and then we - there were too many cattle there for the area. We’d put ‘em there with Mr. Fite’s cattle. There were too many cattle so we gathered ‘em and we took ‘em to Colorado. And they did wonderful. The prices started going up, the cattle started getting more costly, and it rained in Colorado and we had these cattle.
Mostly went on trains, shipped ‘em from San Antonio. They had a shipping pen there. And then we made some money. The first money we’d ever really made, and I wanted to build a house. Dean said, ‘Well you can’t make any money with a house’, so what he did was take that money and borrow a bunch more and bought a bunch more cattle and we took ‘em back and put ‘em on winter pasture up there. Then we got in a snowstorm that got this deep, higher than the second wire on a barbed wire fence, and we had cattle all over the country - no fences to hold ‘em - going with the storm. It was a wreck. Cold, Dean had no help, it was wartime, we had no cowboys. And we made money after all that, ‘cause only way we did was the prices kept goin’ up.”

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