Thursday, May 6, 2010

Last Chapter: Fite Recalls Life On The Homestead

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.
The following is the 5th and final part of an Oral History interview with homesteader Evelyn Fite. The interview was conducted by Bureau of Land Management Archaeologist Brenda Wilkinson in 2009.

“The wind would blow, oohhh. We had a screened – two adobe rooms, and Mr. Fernandez built it. He was an old Spaniard, and he worked in the coal mines, and he saved his money and he homesteaded that place. And he bought a cow, and then he’d save his money and he had a partner, Mr. Olguin. So they went partners and bought a little piece of land there, and they accumulated some cattle. And he was a fine old gentleman, and Dean and I used to go see him. Spoke Castilian Spanish, had blue eyes. And he was such a gentleman, and he lived in those two adobe rooms and, well, we’d have to go by there with cattle when we’d bring ‘em to town and finally he wanted to sell out. So Dean could buy him out, but he couldn’t get his partner. He had to buy his partner out too. And I think he wanted twenty five hundred dollars.
Now that doesn’t seem like much now, but back then land wasn’t worth a lot of money, and see, mostly it’s BLM land, all you’re buying is that little piece of patented land that they’re on.
So Dean went to Albuquerque and got some - two thousand, five hundred dollars in five dollar bills and one dollar bills - a whole bag full of bills. And I figured, at that time he went up there and he bought a car. And he sent me home in that car and he was following me and I had that bag of money and I was so worried about it. I’d had to learn to drive when I went to the ranch, I hadn’t driven a car.
Anyhow, he took that little bag of money and he went down to this little adobe house on the river there at San Antonio and this old couple lived there. And, well they weren’t old, but they’d - you know - worked hard all their life. And he had that money out on the floor, and they finally agreed they’d take that. He took that money, built the bar down here. It was off-limits to the CCC boys because they had - they had women in the back and everything. He made more money on that bar than we ever made on that ranch. Trust me. Every time we’d drive by there Dean said ‘look at that.’
You know where the railroad track is? It was just across the track on the right. Yeah, I think they called it the 85. Not many people went in there, it was a little rowdy. Then later on it got so’s it was OK.
But they wouldn’t let the CCC boys go there. Anyhow, they had 300 boys from Brooklyn and put ‘em in that CCC camp. And they had never been off of pavement in their life. And they’d talk ‘dese’ and ‘dem’ and ‘doze’ and they were terrified. They just knew there were snakes gonna get ‘em and coyotes were gonna get ‘em. They were an absolute delight, ‘cause they were totally different than anybody I’d ever been around. But they had instructors. They were our friends. They had an educational advisor, Mr. Bulger was his name. He’d try to teach ‘em how to type. CCC camps were wonderful. Saved so many boys lives, taught ‘em how to use their hands, and, a whole different world to them. And taught ‘em how to write, and how to, you know, kind of like army life. And they learned to type, and they had three square meals a day.
And they’d send $22 home to their families, which saved their families’ lives. I’m talkin’ ‘bout $22. Doesn’t seem like much now - people go down and sit in a restaurant now and spend $22 without battin’ an eyelash, but that was a lot of money then. And it would BUY something.
Anyhow, they had hired men who badly needed jobs, to take care of these guys. To cook for ‘em and teach ‘em and take ‘em out in the field to teach ‘em how to work. So they had a whole crew hired, like Obama would imagine he’d like to do now you know, but we don’t have that same kind of situation. And they’d stay, how long was it, two years? I’ve forgotten, but there were CCC camps all over the country. Oh, they built sidewalks and had a fountain, and they had a recreation room, and they had a pool hall. Three hundred of ‘em. And Mr. Bulger, he educated ‘em. He was telling me the story, he was teaching ‘em about you didn’t steal and you know, some moral things in life.”

Government Programs


“Well, to old timers and people that were raised in open country, they resented all that. But I’ve always recognized what land management means to this country, ‘cause they were ruining it. They - just destroyin’ it. That area where we bought that ranch had been sheeped out and stuff, and I lived there. It was 50 years before that sand hill got enough grass, bushes on it and brush - 50 years - to make a showing. ‘Cause that used to be a really bare sand hill. But gradually over the years, with land management….It’s a fragile country. You cannot do that. I’m a land management fan. Some of it I think was kind of poorly handled, but it still was the right idea. Generally speaking it was a fine idea.”
Evelyn: “Before that time, any time a calf or a cow got an open wound or something, the flies would lay eggs in there and there’d be worms in there, screw worms. Yeah, so you couldn’t brand or dehorn. You branded early, or you waited until after it frosted, because if you didn’t , well then they’d get screw worms. And on that river they could get screw worms, if they’d get scratched you know, and get a bloody place, and you had to ride all the time you know and watch for it. ‘Cause it would kill cattle. They’d just eat the - see in the Civil War they used screw worms to clean out wounds. They’d have these flies to lay eggs on these wounds and they’d clean all the dead flesh out of it and they’d take the flies out and that wound would heal.
But if you have it on an animal and they run out of dead flesh they keep on eating. So they developed this sterile fly program, which was WONDERFUL. See, you had screw worms all the way in Florida, all the way through the south, and Texas, and all the way to South America, and Mexico. Lost lots of cattle to screw worms. Couldn’t have Hereford cattle at all. ‘Cause they were too fragile. And they started dropping those sterile flies, pretty soon we had no more screw worms. Oh, it was a wonderful program. And uh, particularly for people who live in the south. And on that river, deer would get ‘em and, anything that had a bloody spot would get screw worms and it would kill it.
It took a few years. And every time after that, gradually, if you’d find an animal with screw worms, they’d give you a little bottle with an address on it, and you’d mail it in, and the location, and they’d come drop a few more of those sterile flies. And I haven’t heard of screw worms in a long time.
And SCS - we built dirt tanks, and did erosion work, and Dean bought a Caterpillar and helped some people, get rid of the cedar trees, you know. I didn’t care for that program (chaining).”

Picture: Evelyn: “That looks like Dean. He’s showing off. He always acted silly when you were trying to take a picture. That was a long time ago. I look pretty young there.”

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Fite

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