Money not easy to come by for homesteaders

By Don McAlavy : Local Columnist

(Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part column.)

Last week the story was about ranchers in Roosevelt County and how they handled money. It was the same in Curry County a few years later.

“The homesteaders (nesters, the ranchers called them) encountered many difficulties,” wrote Gordon Greaves in his “By the Way” column on May 15, 1962.

“It was a grim, searing experience for many of them,” said Greaves, “in which they fought hunger and cold, drought and the frustrating absence of markets for their produce. It was one of our government’s worst blunders to entice families out on these plains and lead them to expect they could make a living on 160 acres of dry land.”

“The need for a little ready cash sent most of the men away from home for several months in the year,” said Rose White. “Many of them (went) to Texas to chop cotton, haul posts, work in wheat harvest, or work on the railroad, anything they could find to do. With the money so earned, a cow would be bought, or a few pigs, so that the family could count on milk or bacon and lard to supplement the beans and cornbread that made up the monotonous diet.

“The nester’s farms produced little or no surplus crops that could be traded for sugar, coffee or shoes and clothing. Chickens sold for 25 cents, and eggs brought 10 cents a dozen. No one had any fruit to sell, as small trees were still too young to produce. For meat, there were always plenty of cottontail rabbits. Eddie White says that the stories of how ‘Everybody ate XIT beef’ are just a fairy story. At this time, the XIT pastures were fenced, and there were no XIT cattle running loose.

“There were some noticeable good points. For one thing, there was very little sickness. The people who came west because of malaria or tuberculosis found that the dry air and the hard outdoor work quickly wrought a wonder cure. The plain food and the total absence of night life was also a great cure-all. Since there were no doctors or nurses, people helped their neighbors in cases of sickness or death. If a man was sick at harvest time, or not able to plant in the spring, the other nesters would turn in and do the work for him.

“If no crop has been made, and if the man was honest, the merchant often waited another year for his money. If a farmer did have some extra cash, he would put it in the safe at one of the stores, Blankenship & Woodcock or Donahoo Mercantile in Portales. Often one farmer who had been more fortunate, would manage to lend a little money to a friend. Again, there was no note to seal the loan and no interest charged.

“The number of our pioneer citizens (1962) who are still living in the county and who are well-to-do and greatly respected testifies to the courage and determination of the ones who were able to overcome the privations and hardships of this most difficult beginning.

“When a neighbor told Mrs. Bob Wood that they were leaving, and asked, ‘Why don’t you-all leave too?’ ‘Can’t. Wagon’s broke down.’ If she had just said ‘Can’t,’ it would have been more nearly the truth. She and the other brave souls who worked and saved and suffered through the bad years were simply not able to surrender. They scrimped and saved and ‘lived poor’ until they had won the battle for independence. Like the ranchers, they must have been optimists of the finest sort.”

(My thanks to the late historian Rose White, her late husband, Eddie White of Portales, and her daughter, Ruth Burns of Clovis, and Gordon Greaves, a homesteader who worked on the Kenna Record and moved in about 1921 and took over the Portales Valley News.)