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Lea County

On June 30, 1922, we left Mosquero and started for Lea County where I was to report for work as County Extension Agent on July 1. We arrived at Roswell where we spent the night and a hot night it was! The next morning I looked up Edgar Puryear who had served in the State Legislature with me in 1921. He gave us directions for reaching Lovington and we started out.

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The road, after crossing the Pecos River, was just a trail across pastures. At noon we stopped at the Red Windmill, a landmark, and ate our lunch as we could get fresh cold water there. We next passed through Caprock and were on the Llano Estacado of eastern New Mexico and the air was cooler. From there on, we passed several homes of farmers and ranchers before reaching Tatum, the second town in size after Lovington.

From Tatum we drove south to Lovington, a distance of twenty miles. Everyone was tired for the road was rough and rocky with several gates to open. We stopped at the Commercial Hotel for the night. It was a nice hotel and we enjoyed a rest and a night cool enough to sleep.

The next morning I inquired of the proprietor of the hotel where I might find a house to rent. There had been quite a drought in the county and the First National Bank had gone broke and many people had left the town. The proprietor told me that there was a row of bungalows up the street with most of them vacant. He said, "Go up and pick out one and move in."

We did just that and selected a house next to where Mr. Powatan Carter lived. He was a lawyer and she a teacher and they made us welcome and became very good friends. I never met or knew who the owner of the house was and donʼt remember to whom I paid the rent. The rent was $10 a month and it was a modern, two-bedroom house.

We got settled in our new home on July 2, and I got located in the County Court House on July 3. The next day, July 4, Dow Woods, a rancher near Lovington, was having a big barbecue and everyone in town was going. We went out and met a few people before dinner was served. No one asked us to get in line for food so we drove back to Lovington for dinner. However, no places were open so we had to get by with what little we had in the house. We learned that an invitation was not necessary and when dinner was announced, everyone was supposed to get in line and load their plates. We never failed to do so after that.

On July 5, J. R. Thomas, County Agent in Chaves County, brought Gleason, the man in charge of poisoning off prairie dogs and coyotes in that area. He mixed up a batch of poison grain for poisoning prairie dogs. This was to be sold to land owners to use in poisoning off their prairie dogs. Then we drove to Monument where he hired a man, Luther Cooper, to start working at that job.

County Extension work was not popular in the County and A.L. Tarlton, the first agent in the County, was fired after a few monthsʼ work. There had been a county-wide meeting before my arrival and they voted unanimously not to have a County Extension Agent. The commissioners, contrary to this, made an appropriation for hiring an agent. I knew I would have to prove the work worthwhile before the Commissioners had to make an appropriation for the work in December.

I spent very little time in the office and started out to visit the farmers and ranchers in the County. Most of the County, above the Caprock, was underlaid with an abundance of water from thirty to one hundred feet below the surface. Most of the land had been homesteaded and settled by farmers. Most of them had orchards and gardens that they irrigated from shallow wells pumped by windmills. They grew lots of fruit and berries, grain sorghums, Sudan grass, corn, black-eyed peas and some cotton. Most of their orchards were in bad shape and I showed them how to care for their orchards and to spray for control of worms.

Most of them had poultry and I helped them cull their flocks and control diseases. Hemorrhagic septicemia was prevalent throughout the county and ranchers lost many cattle from that disease, not knowing what it was. Dr. Johnson, Extension veterinarian, came in to see them. He knew at once what the disease was and the treatment. Some of the big cattlemen raised a fuss when Dr. Johnson announced what it was. They wanted him fired and articles were carried in the papers condemning him as a quack.

However, the rancher whose cows he examined and treated came out in his defense and the fight ended. We recommended that all animals be vaccinated. Wherever this was done, the cattle stopped dying. In less than a year, stockmen lost very few head from that disease. This disease hit sheep and hogs and was controlled by the same vaccine.

One day a rancher drove a herd of cattle in from Texas and an animal died on the camp ground the first night. The owner called me and I went out and examined the dead animal and decided it was anthrax. I got a local person who did some veterinarian work and had him examine the dead animal. He pronounced it hemorrhagic septicemia. I still thought it was anthrax, so I called the federal veterinarian at Roswell. He came out and pronounced it anthrax. He quarantined the pasture and the herd of cattle. He contracted the disease in his hand and was never able to cure it. He died later on from the disease.

At this time, the County Commissioners were meeting to consider the budget for the coming year. There was some opposition but the stockmen said if I could help them in that way, they were for it and the appropriation was made to continue the work. This was the second time sick cattle put the work over, once in Wheeler County, Oregon, and now in Lea County, New Mexico.

Lea County did not have a railroad, a surfaced highway or an irrigation well to irrigate farm crops. A farmer living in the vicinity of Monument had dug a well twenty feet deep, found running water and was irrigating an orchard and large garden by pumping water with a centrifugal pump. That winter, a farmer dug a deep well in that community and built an earth tank and pumped water for a cotton crop. He had remarkable success and the cotton made more than a bale to the acre. I took a group of farmers to show what was being done. As a result, a number of irrigation wells were dug and water pumped for crops. Lea County today has hundreds of such wells and farmers are irrigating cotton, vegetables and other farm crops successfully.

Oil was discovered at Hobbs around 1925 or 1926, and there was a rush of prospectors and other people in the the county. Hobbs grew from one store and post office into a large town. Then the railroad built into the county and built their offices and warehouses there. Then the Hobbs people made a drive to secure the county court house.

We, in Lovington, fought such a movement and spent many days in getting the county organized to prevent it. We made trips to Santa Fe and worked with the State Legislature to prevent such a move. Then we extended the city limits south until Hobbs was less than twenty miles away. There was an existing law that a court house could not be moved to a place less than twenty miles from its present location. By this and other means, we kept the county court house at Lovington. I worked with the people of of northern Lea County to keep the court house; I even helped Hobbs run the city limit lines so they would be nearer than twenty miles from Lovington and helped Lovington run the lines to enlarge its city limits south.

Oil was soon found in all parts of the county and Lovington, the terminal of the railroad, became a large and prosperous city. They tore down the old court house one night and let a contract for a new building before Hobbs could file a petition to prevent it. The contractor stayed in Texas and kept them from serving papers on him to stop his proceeding with construction. Lovington now has a large, beautiful court house. [Note: the court house was torn down after I left Lea County.]

The nearest railroad was at Seagraves, Texas, 34 miles from Lovington with no highway connection. We started a drive for a railroad and soon had two railroad companies interested. I spent several days in showing railroad officials over the county, meeting them at certain cities on railroads and returning them. In our work to get a railroad, the Chamber of Commerce sent Luke Roberts, editor of the Lovington Leader, and myself to a meeting of railroad people in Wichita, Kansas.

We finally held a meeting in Lubbock, Texas, where officials from the Santa Fe and the Texas and Pacific railroads sent officials. After two days we made a deal with the Texas and Pacific to build a road into Lea County.

This was completed and enabled farmers, stockmen and merchants to market their produce and ship in supplies much cheaper. We had been working for improved highways and about the same time the railroad came in, we got an east and west highway across the county and one north and south across the county. All this work I entered into and gave quite a lot of time at it. In agriculture, I talked irrigation and dairying, sheep for small land owners, poultry and hogs. I organized Boys and Girls 4-H Clubs all over the county. Farmers bought dairy cows and I went into Texas and purchased dairy cows for some of the farmers. All of these projects were taken up and Lea County became a very successful agricultural county.

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We had lots of jack rabbits throughout the county and they did much damage to the crops. In order to control them we held rabbit drives in different communities and killed off many rabbits. We would drive through the pastures and fields and shoot the rabbits with shotguns. In one three-day drive, I killed over one hundred rabbits a day.

During the severe drought of 1934 and 1935, pastures and feed ran out and there was no market for livestock. The government made an appropriation to buy excess cattle and sheep and ship all that could walk to the railroad and kill those that could not get to the railroad. In Lea County we had three crews of men going from ranch to ranch or farm to farm, buying all the cattle and sheep there were for sale. I had to notify owners when the crews would be at their places so as to have the animals where they could be seen quickly. Then I had to route the crews so they could be there to buy the livestock. Then I had to order cars to be at shipping places to receive the livestock.

In my office we had to keep records of all this work, the number each owner had sold and the price paid. I had handled the county work without office help up to this time. Before we finished that work, I had six or seven helpers and two other rooms for them to work and for a place to keep the records. We had no filing cases and piled the records on the floor around the walls. We bought over 35,000 cattle and 15,000 sheep in Lea County. I hired Erma Mason and she worked a few months in my office. I first hired Beatrice McClaren as my first office girl. She is still head office girl in the Lea County Extension Agentʼs office, 1963.

We had a Farm Bureau organization in the county and a County Fair organization. We had a three-day fair each year and sent a county exhibit to the Roswell District Fair. Our booth won first place one year. It was always my job to gather material for the booth, take it to Roswell, set it up and stay until the Fair was over and then tear it down and return it to Lovington. Several years I helped judge the exhibits.

While living in Lea County, we bought a three-bedroom house, a pump house, a concrete reservoir for holding water for irrigating the orchard and garden, and one-half block of land, fenced with a six-foot woven wire fence around it and a nice orchard on it. We bought this place a few weeks before Mary Margaret was born on October 1, 1924, in Ethel Yadonʼs house next to where Mrs. Kindel lives. We paid $2,100 for the place. The concrete water tank was 20'x30' in dimension with a 2' wall above the water. The children liked to play around the tank, and as it was from 3' to 4' deep it was a very dangerous place. In order to keep the little children from getting near it, I put up a high woven wire fence with a high gate with a latch too high for small children to reach it and open. Mary Margaret was about two years old and the water attracted her very much. That was the most urgent reason for fencing it off from her.

One Sunday afternoon we went over to visit the Bunk Shipps and took the children with us. When we started for home, I carried Mary Margaret and went on ahead of the others. When I reached home, I decided to inspect the orchard. I took Mary Margaret with me into the orchard. Near the water tank I saw some wooley aphis on one of the treeʼs roots. I set Mary Margaret down to better inspect the insects. In a minute or two I looked up and she was gone. I rushed to the water tank first thing to see if she had fallen in. There was not a ripple on the surface and I could not see her. As I turned to look elsewhere, I saw her little hand move in the bottom of the tank.

I jumped in and picked her up and turned her over so water could run out of her lungs. Then I started for the house so as to get help. When I turned her over she laughed. She had held her breath and did not even strangle. What a relief! And was I scared! I was so scared I could hardly stand up.

We were the most thankful family in the town. When Billie saw me all wet and with all my clothes on he asked why I did not take my clothes off before getting into the water.

In 1934, I was notified by the State Office that there was an opening for a County Agent in Roosevelt County, as one of the Lea County Commissioners had killed a man and he was replaced by a man in Tatum for whom I had done quite a lot of work. I got word that he said he would get rid of me when it was time to appropriate money for the next year's work. Then a man who was mad at me because I did not send a crew to his place to buy two calves (we had never had a crew in his vicinity before but I had him listed for a later date) was elected County Commissioner, and I knew he might be against me. For that reason, I met with the commissioners in Portales and was hired as agent for Roosevelt County.

Lea County commissioners were in session soon after that and I notified them of my resigning. They asked why and I told them. The commissioner from Tatum denied saying that he intended firing me, but I could not trust him so resigned. The other two commissioners, Warren Snyder and Lee Robinson, asked me not to resign.

In 1925, I sold my place near Mosquero and bought 480 acres of land five miles northeast of Lovington and later bought eighty more. I rented the farm land and ran cows on the range land. When the drought hit, I had around fifty head of cattle. After feeding my two stacks of grain and fodder I was compelled to sell them. The government bought all but four Hereford heifers. When oil was discovered in Lea County, I leased my land for $5 per acre the first time and for $10 per acre the second time. Then I sold some of my royalty for $10 per acre. Finally, I sold the land for $15 an acre for all but eighty acres for which I got $10 an acre.

While living in Lovington, we built a house on two lots and sold it to Mr. Boggs, a school teacher. Then I sold a lot to Mr. Fisher and he built a house on it. The last year in Lea County we had the cotton, corn and hog reduction programs that were handled by the County Agent. This made a very heavy load for the County Agent and I worked about sixteen hours a day for the last three months I was in the county.

We had a Livestock Growers organization in the county for the improvement of livestock. Each year we held a county-wide meeting at some ranch where the work of improving livestock was discussed and prize animals put on display. We always had a barbecue dinner and people from other counties and Texas attended. On the A.D. Jones ranch we had over a thousand people in attendance. We barbecued a steer and five sheep. We also had a son-of-a-gun stew that is always popular at such gatherings. Mr. A. D. Jones had registered cattle and sheep and was one of the most progressive ranchers in the state. It was on his ranch that a new breed of sheep was developed, a cross between Rambouillet and Merino.

We lived nearly thirteen years in Lea County and found it one of the most progressive and pleasant places we have ever found anywhere. We were soon accepted by the people and enjoyed a very active social life there. The people were friendly and cooperative. We have many friends in the county and have a warm spot in our hearts for them.

In Lea County, contrary to government regulations, I played a lot of politics. From the start there were some people against County Extension work and never quit trying to have the work dropped. In self-protection, I opposed them politically at every election. I also induced, directly and indirectly, some friends of the work to run against them. In farm and home visits usually politics was brought up and county candidates discussed. In a casual manner I would mention the ones I favored and say some good words for them. The ones opposed to my work I usually found something to their discredit. Then I had many friends in the county that took an active stand for County Extension work and worked hard against those opposed to it. I would also stress the importance of voting and urged my friends to vote. We lost only one of our candidates in all the years I was there. And we lost because our candidate and family failed to vote and lost the election by that number of votes.

I had many good friends who gave time and money in working for continuing Extension work: Seth Alston, Mr. Wilhoit, Lem Harbison, Warren Snyder, Edd Love, Mrs. Foreman, Jim Owens and many others, to mention a few.