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“Joe Griggs, Amateur Naturalist”

by Joe Griggs

In 1933, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President, US citizens were suffering from the bad times known as the Great Depression. Under the new president, Congress passed laws aimed at speeding up economic recovery and helping people in need. One of these acts created the Works Progress Administration, or WPA. The WPA gave people jobs building highways, streets, bridges, and parks. It also hired writers, actors, and musicians to create and perform new works. Nationwide, about 8.5 million people found jobs through the WPA.

Between 1936 and 1942, writers working with the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project, a department of the WPA, fanned out across New Mexico. They gathered information and wrote several thousand pages describing the state’s landscape and people, reporting on social and economic conditions, and recording folklore and oral histories. Many of these WPA files, including the one below, ended up at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, where anyone can go in and read them.

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“He has experienced everything except white bears.”

To the northward of the city, and to the northward of all cemeteries, cities of the dead, far out among the northern hills all alone in his cabin lives Joe Griggs, familiarly known as “Wild East Joe.”

Joe has led a hermit life in the wild spot where his cabin has stood for years. In the early days a town was laid out there by someone known as “North Virginia.” A few houses were built and some mining work erected in and about the place, which had hardly been laid out by its enthusiasts as a town before a mining slump came and laid it out as a corpse. Only Joe Griggs was left. He has continued there as sort of a watchman over the remains, and ever since has had the whole town to himself.

Mr. Griggs doesn’t very often come to town, but yesterday he did, having thawed out. He says he had a regular arctic time of it this winter. All the hills and valleys buried in snow pure white, dazzling his eyes wherever he might turn them. His place has during the winter been a regular stamping ground for all manner of wild animals.

He has experienced everything but white bears.

The beasts of prey about his cabin had carried off and devoured every living thing but himself and dog.

Mr. Griggs is a regular authority on the ways and means of all the wild animals of the hills. He says when a chicken is taken by a wildcat or a lynx, not a feather or sign of any kind is left behind. Each cat takes out one chicken at a visit, which is packed off among the rocks to be eaten at leisure.

A wildcat never wantonly kills more than he wants, unless he gets mad. Says Joe: if a wildcat gets a chicken and tries to climb out through a stovepipe hole or some such place and can’t get through and get away with his prize, he gets mad. He drops the chicken, climbs down and kills half a dozen or more chickens for spite. Then he goes away leaving all behind.

“Sometimes,” says Joe, “a pair of wildcats comes together on a raid—maybe occasionally two pairs, but if you miss more than four chickens in one night, with no signs left behind, you bet your life that a China-man has been visiting your hen houses, not a wildcat.”

“Now it is the same with a lynx as with a wildcat. But when a skunk comes you’ll know it. He is a regular slaughterer. He’ll kill half a dozen chickens and you’ll see the bodies left behind. The skunk eats nothing but the heads and necks.”

“Yes, and a weasel is just as bad as a skunk. Though he eats no part of the chicken, he’ll cut the throat and suck the blood of half a dozen chickens. All he does is suck the blood.”