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“A Lot Of Our Neighbors Were The Original Homesteaders In That Area”

by Dorothy Cole

Shawn Kelley is an anthropologist and oral historian who has talked with all kinds of people throughout the Southwest. As part of the Abo Canyon Second Track Project, Shawn has interviewed over 60 people about their communities and life experiences along the Belen Cutoff.

The Children of settlers near Mountainair, New Mexico“Children of settlers near Mountainair, New Mexico,” Unknown (Photographer) early twentieth century in the western United States was marked by waves of migration and increasing populations in many areas. Families moved to settlements and homesteads in the arid, upland regions of New Mexico and other states, frequently bringing farming techniques honed in environments with more rainfall. Periodic droughts limited the overall success of dry farming. Dorothy Cole’s family is typical of this pattern. They moved to Corona, New Mexico from Texas in 1935, and in 1939 moved on to the Roundtop community near Mountainair so the children could be closer to school. At Roundtop, Dorothy’s father farmed for one year and then switched to raising cows. After the bean fields failed, he bought the places that surrounded him and accumulated additional land. The Coles subsisted by ranching and cattle trading with supplemental activities like selling cream via the railroad. Below, Dorothy Cole talks about the era of pinto bean farming around Mountainair and what type of people came to the area in the early to middle twentieth century.

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A lot of our neighbors were the original homesteaders in that area. They stayed through the whole bean field thing. Bill Rogers, he and Vernie Wells, they lasted longer at dryland farming than anybody did, up until probably ’75 or ’76. After the fifties, they really weren’t making it though. It was really just a fluke; it’s hard for me to imagine now that there were dryland farms everywhere. Because this is ranch land, it really is; probably the soil should never have been turned.

Veal family dugout near Mountainair, New Mexico“Veal family dugout near Mountainair, New Mexico,” Unknown (Photographer)

Looking back over the whole thing, there were only probably not over eight or ten years, out of the whole bean field era, that was really any good. But some of ’em were really good. They made bumper crops and everybody made money. Of course they waited for the next year, and the next year there just might not be any rain at all. So it was always really uneven. But there were enough rains during that era, enough years that people really moved here, because they thought it was really a gold mine.

I don’t know, I am speculating that when the homesteaders started coming here, they really were farmers from east of here, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma—a lot of ’em from Texas. Most of them were not property owners where they were from, they had been more or less sharecroppers, so that’s what they knew how to do. And they probably got the ideas of pinto beans from the Spanish people who were here. I guess the homesteaders noticed that it was a quick crop, and one that would really do well. The railroads were right there and all they had to do, really, was get them into the depots. They had four bean elevators where they would take ’em to, to be cleaned. It’s like Bill Rogers always said, you could plant your crop and harvest it and spend the money in 90 days, or 60 days even. In fact, Mountainair sort of battled it out with Dove Creek, Colorado to see who was growing the most beans. I don’t know if someone awarded the title, or Mountainair just claimed it, but it went as “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” for several years. Dove Creek for sure has that title now.