Friday, April 30, 2010

Life As A Homesteader Suited Evelyn Fite Just Fine

The following is Part 4 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.


“Well, Magdalena was a mining town and a ranch town and a frontier town - end of the railroad. They used to bring cattle in from all over. See, that was the closest shipping point. Holbrook was the next one - Arizona. So you had to take the cattle either from The Divide this way, or even beyond the Divide you had to bring ‘em to Magdalena or take ‘em to Holbrook. ‘Cause there were no trucks hauling in those days, so they drove the cattle to the railroad point. And Magdalena was real exciting during shipping season, there’d be big herds of cattle out there, out on the hillsides, waiting their turn to get in the corrals and get on the train and get shipped. And there were bars - more bars than grocery stores, and four hotels. And Kelly was wide open - they were shipping ore out of there, and the mines closed down and the shipping started dwindling. When trucks came into being people quit, you know, driving cattle that far.”


“Well, I’ll tell ya, I met my husband at a dance hall. They had an old dance hall, dairy, up by this side by Magdalena, and they would clear the barn out and have dances on Saturday nights, so we’d come from Rosedale. That’s the only place we could come to dance, and people from all around, and that’s where I met my first cowboys. And I met Dean there, and we called it the Cow Chip Ballroom. It’s all just ruins (now). Oh it was wild. This one lady had a whorehouse out on the hillside and the cowboys would go out there, and Dean’s dad was - it would make him so mad when the cowboys would go out there, he just thought that was terrible. He was kind of a - he was pretty straight laced. I never even really knew where it was. It wasn’t my time.”

Evelyn: “There were a lot of homesteaders lived there, between here and Magdalena. People homesteaded that country in the ‘30s. And they homesteaded that country around Bingham at the same time. They came west where they drouthed out and everything - starved out. Moved, came there and tried to make it--there was no water you know. The story of those homesteaders is pretty grim. Lola McWhorter can tell you, she’s still here. She can tell you - her parents homesteaded in Pie Town. She can sure tell you about it ‘cause they - it was about as tough as it can get.”


“Well Bingham - it was just a filling station on the highway between Carrizozo and San Antonio. The old highway (380), was not where it is now. And Harold Dean had a filling station there, and a few little groceries. And they had a schoolhouse. A few of those homesteaders were still there and they had kids, so they had two teachers. And they had two or three little rooms that. Dean’s cousin taught school there and two of her nephews went to school there, and she’d take ‘em up there and they’d stay during the week and come home on weekends. The rest of ‘em came every day because they lived closer. That’s where we had our dances, at the schoolhouse. We’d fire up that gas lantern and get the food and the fiddle and the guitar and away we’d go! Oh, about once every two or three months. But those dances, I had never been to a cowboy dance, so I had a fine time. The ladies would all pack lunches, bake cakes you know, and make sandwiches. And then they’d go - they had a little place where they fed the kids, and we had coffee. And we’d break dancing around twelve, one o’clock, and go eat cake and sandwiches, and everybody brought the kids too you know. Some of ‘em stood out by the cars and drank, and got in fights and things, oh yes. And then we’d dance ‘til daylight. Oh man. You’d be so pooped out it would take you three days to get over it.”

Evelyn: “I guess Wrye, that boy, it’s the son, how old is he? They were homesteaders that came in there and bought some land and stayed. The ones that stayed, they got enough land together to have a ranch. They had one boy, and he was Willie Wrye and I’ve forgotten what her name was. And that’s probably the boy, and he’d be, oh, in his late sixties…”
According to Bill Wrye, the old 380 Highway, was built by the WPA and went from Old Bingham west to the current Mark McKinley’s place, and then it tied in to modern 380. It went east from Bingham through Hoot Owl Canyon and across Iron Mine Ridge.

Evelyn: “Yeah, it went a little different route. When you leave San Antonio, after about six miles it left and then went up and went around through those hills. That’s where it was when I went to the ranch. You can see signs of it. Where you turn in to the Fite Ranch, if you’ll look off to the left, up a little canyon there, there used to be a quarry there, they quarried up that stone. See, the CCC camp came in 1938.”

The CCC, Neighbors and Land Deals

“Nineteen thirty eight, they had a CCC camp at Tokay. Oh yeah. Naturally, they had that terrible water. There was a halfway decent well there, but they needed a well. So they had this man drilling this well, and Dean had worked for a well driller so he was helping him drill this well. It’s just east of the house. And they got some water. And they looked down, and they had a mirror, and they looked down and they saw this water coming out, so they put a cable and a stick of dynamite on it, blew it out, got a good stream of water. So then they went ahead and developed that water, for the CCC camp. And boy, that’s why I wanted to buy Tokay. They (the CCC) did a lot of things. There’s still evidence of what they did. They did a lot of erosion work out in those hills. Have you been through that road from where Tokay goes through and catches the road to Stallion? You go across the house and you can come out, you hit the paved road that goes to Stallion. Well see, I lived above on that road, in a little adobe house we bought from a man. Piece of ranch country, so we joined - our fence was right down there. And when Dean developed that well, it was wonderful. And it’s up on a ridge, you would not think there’d be - you know there’s a great big canyon not far from there, and you’d think if that big stream of water was there it’d be in that canyon.”

Evelyn talks about the CCC camps in next week’s Mountain Mail.

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