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“You Fed Them And You Fed Them Well”

by Martina Brazil Franklin

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.

Employees of the Santa Fe Railway frequently established settlements around their section housing, resulting in many small towns along the Belen Cutoff. Scholle, a small village along Abo Pass in central New Mexico, is a good example of this trend and reflects the impacts of homesteaders, ranchers, and employment with the railroad. Martina Brazil Franklin’s father was a prominent sheepman and member of the Scholle community. Below, she recalls what her father was like and how it was to grow up in Scholle.

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My father Joe Brazil came to this country from the Azore Islands when he was 16. His father had preceded him and gone to California. My father came with a sister, Maria, and two brothers and they went on to California and lived there for a long time. He had sheep and he used to herd his father’s sheep. He liked the country when he went through here on the train—well, not here, but over there near Vaughn. He came back and bought land there where he started his sheep business. I can probably say he was a very successful man once and then during the twenties there was a terrible drought. To pay all his debts, he sold everything there and moved over to Chupadero Mesa where we were reared.

Hauling Beans to Market“Hauling Beans to Market,” Unknown (Photographer)

When we moved to Scholle in 1922, I was just a baby—maybe a year or a year and a half. They built our house out of sandstone rock. It was a very nice house, had wood floors and high ceilings—you know how they built them then—the rooms were large. Of course, we didn’t have electricity and we didn’t have running water. Oh, the Santa Fe Railroad provided water for the community; they brought it from Abo, from the spring at Abo—and at no charge. Yes, I think it was a very nice area to grow up in. Most of the people in town worked for the railroad—except the ranchers’ families.

Another thing I remember distinctly when we were growing up is that my father had sheep and they used to shear—shearers would come from one ranch to another. Wherever you sheared sheep, the family was to feed you breakfast, a treat, lunch, another treat—they called it bienda—and supper. And you provided adequate place for them to sleep. They’d bring their mochilas (backpacks). You fed them, and you fed them well. They had sacks and as they sheared, somebody would put the wool in those sacks and stomp it down to get it stuffed good. They were the best shearers, never cut those sheep and they used hand shears. These men were very efficient: they did their work, ate, went back, and rested for a while. Some of them were from the river communities. When they weren’t shearing, they were farmers, or they did something else. They were Hispanos, all of them.

Yeah, my father was a sheepman. Then later in the forties as an older man he switched to cattle, because you couldn’t get sheepherders to protect them from the coyotes. We reared a lot of little orphan lambs—penquitos they called them—in the house by the kitchen stove. I guess people today would be shocked that you would have little lambs there by the kitchen wood stove. He didn’t have much schooling, formal education, but he could figure anybody. He’d sell sheep and deliver them to the river communities. He bought a brand new V-8 Ford; prettiest car, prettiest upholstery. Well, he promised my mother he would not put animals in the car. And people talked about this when they looked and there was this car going by with rams and sheep in it!

My dad would sell and buy—he was a trader. We had a general store in Scholle—Brazil Mercantile Company. You know, Scholle was also a big shipping center. We sold wood and they’d ship bagones—that’s boxcars—of sheep and cattle. When the terrible drought occurred in Kansas and Oklahoma, those folks left. They were terrible times and they came through going to California. My folks were very charitable, gave them gas and food to go on because, you know, they were destitute. When they talk now about hard times and the cost of gas, they don’t know anything about hard times. We had enough to eat, and clothes, but a lot of people coming in from over there, they were destitute.

We ate leg of lamb all the time, and cocitas—ribs. We had a lot of soups and roasts and ate well. From the river communities we traded meat for vegetables and fruit. We had goats, my mother made cheese, and you know, none of us liked it, now it’s a delicacy! My mother made bread to last all week. We had chickens and turkeys—Christmas and Thanksgiving. We canned both meats and vegetables in pressure cookers, because we didn’t have electricity. And we dried green pinto beans, blanched them, and then strung ’em up. They taste just like fresh green beans.

I went to school in a boxcar. It was converted into a schoolhouse and painted yellow, just like the depot. It was a very comfortable school room. Scholle was one of the biggest taxpaying areas, but we always got the leftovers. Mother always said the blackboards they sent us were old, the erasers, everything—we seemed to get the old, nothing new. All of us feel we got a good education in that little two-room schoolhouse. My mother was one of the teachers. Now, it didn’t happen where we lived, but I understand over there in Catron County and Socorro, if a kid spoke Spanish, they punished them. In Scholle it was too small a town; the Pohls and the Kaysers all spoke Spanish, they learned it.

Scholle had a hotel and we used to go there to dance. The people in New Mexico liked to dance, and it was very happy, except if someone wanted to create a fuss. They called it a revolote. You didn’t have to have a babysitter, you took your children with you and there were seats all around, and you put the children underneath there, and they slept while you danced. Of course, see, we didn’t have much to do with the other villages, because people didn’t travel like they do today. Yes, Scholle was a very strong community—we looked after one another. We’d see people at the velorios (wakes), at the store, and we visited each other’s houses. You could leave something on a ranch, and nobody’d take it. It was a different world. Now, Mountainair was a bigger town, and they were newer comers.

I lived in Scholle until I went away to school at the University of New Mexico. It was hard times, so I only went two years. I used to take the train from Albuquerque to Scholle. The train would stop at Scholle, although the depot wasn’t there anymore by 1939 when I went to college. The passenger train doesn’t go that way anymore—just freight. The railroad took out the section houses after I left. Before that they had all these boxcars for the crews and their families. I wanted to live in a boxcar; it looked like such a fascinating world.