By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily Record
Growing up in Roswell in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a fun and popular thing to do at that time, on a hot summer day, was to drive out to the Oasis Ranch, southeast of town. It was beautiful out there, lined with trees, beautiful peacocks were roaming free everywhere, and the canal, which flowed from the largest artesian well (according to the University of New Mexico Library) in the world, provided a cool, refreshing respite from the hot summer. You could spread a blanket, take a picnic, maybe go for a cool wade in the canal. It attracted lots of tourists in those days, many from around the country and even the world, because of Walker Air Force Base being here at the time.
My memory of it was just short of a magical place. It was like driving into a tropical forest on a hot summer day, in the middle of the desert. I cannot tell you how many peacocks roamed that area, but it made the place all the more magical for us as kids. I used to dream about living out there, and how fun it would be.
The memories of Sue Clardy Aldana — who actually did live there — are not that different from mine, but more descriptive. Following are some of her memories from a letter she sent to our archives in February 2005.
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“The Oasis Ranch … As I Knew It”
“The three main homes on the Oasis were already there when my grandparents W.T. and Ethel Clardy purchased the land during World War II. Those houses were so nice that I would like to know who built them. Having arrived in Roswell by train separately in 1906, they met in Roswell and married there in 1909. Ethel Griffith had come from the green rolling hills of Ten Mile, Tennessee with her sister Maggie Griffith, who taught school near Roswell. Our grandparents tried to keep their four children together as a part of their company, while they accumulated land around Roswell over the decades.
“W.T. had grown up on a farm in Alabama, and therefore valued the famous artesian well on the Oasis, which we called the ‘big well.’ Originally it spouted 60 feet high into the air, at 9,200 gallons per minute. Being the largest artesian well in the world, it was a tourist attraction, complete with postcards. In our time, the water was piped into a cement basin surrounded by a grove of mature trees in which many peacocks lived. It remained a pleasant place for picnics, as the well water flowed into a canal.
“Their home, near the well, was a white clapboard house with a green roof and dormers, and a cherry orchard behind it. Next to it was a similar house where uncle Earl‘s family lived until they moved to a Colorado ranch. The peacocks strutted around the house during the day and shrieked loudly from the trees at night, in between chimes from the clock on the mantle. On special occasions, they exhibited their marvelous fan of tail feathers. When the Oasis was sold, it was said there were around 80 of them.
“The 2,900-acre Oasis bordered the Pecos River, it’s beautiful salt cedars lining the bank. The opposite border was the canal. Fifteen miles southeast of Roswell, the traffic consisted mainly of long streams of Sandhill cranes flying overhead and early-morning tractors waking me, plus a few pickups followed by a cloud of dust. Clear night skies of stars from horizon to horizon rendered the radio reports of little green aliens believable.
“Aunt Frances’ family lived a block away, and we lived across the field at the other end of the complex which included the repair shop for farm equipment, the Oasis headquarters, employee housing, and the commissary.
“Our white clapboard house with a huge cottonwood tree in front had a fireplace of grey stone on the south wall, built by German POW’s from the Orchard Park prison camp during WW II. After the war, I remember dad reading a letter from some Germans asking our family to help them return.
“The gas sconces outside the house were changed over to electrical and mother grew evergreens and hollyhocks around the house. Of the three homes, only this one is left.
Ernestine Chesser Williams described the Oasis housing for migrant laborers as ‘the little mud (adobe) village, rows of tiny rooms with only two windows and a door.’ The foot-thick adobe walls of the apartments were cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than ordinary apartments. If the roof was not maintained, then the walls would deteriorate. That is, they would dissolve unless the adobes were made with a process called ‘post adobe,’ invented by a Carmel, California builder named Comstock, who did not patent it in the interest of affordable housing. “The migrant workers, (not all of them were Mexican) did have usable outdoor space which ordinary apartment buildings rarely had. I remember watching one of the women making tortillas outdoors. I also remember seeing a dead person covered with a white sheet on a table surrounded by candles in the evening outdoors. Some of the Mexican women embroidered beautiful clothes for sale, and I remember wearing some. They were so colorful and pretty! Occasionally there was festive outdoor Mexican music being played under the giant cottonwood trees. We all enjoyed it together.
“In their neighborhood was a small grocery store which sold cold grape Nehi’s, Orange Crushes, Hershey, and Snicker bars. What else it sold I do not recall, but there were glamorous pictures of Claudette Colbert and Rita Hayworth on the walls.
“Another neighborhood of individual houses was adjacent to the Oasis school where the Rodriguez family, the Morris family, and the Franco family lived, along with several other families.
“Until it burned on a memorable Fourth of July, there was an airplane hanger at the Oasis. That was the only time I ever saw my father cry. My sister Betty Joe, and my father learned to fly there. Mr. Goedeke once took me up for barrel rolls and a spiral, unknown to my mother, who was busy sewing a dress on her Singer treadle machine, where I also made my clothes.
Handpicked cotton was pulled between the rows in long white canvas bags. There was a blonde who liked to brag about how many pounds she could pick. Trailers filled with freshly picked cotton had a unique, but nice, aroma.
“According to Earl and Griffith, their mother, Ethel Clardy played an important role in developing and managing the business. Her family had been landowners in Tennessee for generations, and their 135-year-old home on 300 acres is still inhabited by the descendants.
“Purchasing cows from E.B. Evans on East Bland Street, Clardy’s Dairy was established in 1912 on the north side of East Second Street, soon moving to East Bland Street. Their home was at 500 S. Missouri. In need of more land to support the dairy, they acquired the ‘North Place,’ commonly known as ‘Trees Orchards,’ to which they moved the dairy and made their home. Then in 1937, they purchased the ‘South Place,’ commonly known as ‘Orchard Park Place,’ and finally in 1943, they purchased the 2,200-acre Oasis Ranch. The creamery was located at 202 E. 5th St. in Roswell on the corner of Fifth and Virginia, south of the courthouse.
“Our life on the Oasis ended in 1956 when Uncle Carl assumed management of the Oasis and my family moved to California. My two younger brothers arrived in California with our parents just in time for the 1960s. The North Place dairy farm was sold, and Carl’s family moved to town.
“The Oasis School
“I lived on the Oasis Ranch from my first through 12th grade attending the Oasis school from grades one through six, following the end of World War II.
“The Oasis school teacher, Miss Mattie Satcher, richly deserved credit for her excellent performance as the only teacher in a one-room school of six grades. We were a motley assortment of children, all farm kids, some did not speak English, and of course all different ages and sizes. Miss Satcher established order and discipline immediately with a well-defined routine, in a calm, low voice, which she never raised. It began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag draped over the blackboard. We took turns sitting in a row of chairs by her desk, according to our level and what she was teaching. Standing next to her desk was a large New Mexico flag, which was somewhat intimidating. So official it seemed! Who would dare step out of line? Who would dare not do their homework?
“Those at the desk were kept busy with work assignments. I cannot recall a single behavior problem in her room, even with tall Tomasa being 15 years old and starting the first grade. Mischievous Tommy Mitchell confined his antics to after-school activities. I can still see Ramona Rodriguez’ beaming sweet smile … and little Audrey Lamon, always cute. At recess, Miss Satcher was the umpire for our baseball games. The baseball diamond was the only sports facility. The school bell was her handbell. We all took turns bringing in coal for the potbellied stove in the center of the room.
“Miss Satcher was an older woman, tall and slender, always immaculate in a dress with her silver hair in a bun, and a quiet manner. Her handwriting was perfect. She lived in the little white house next to the school. Her hobby, that I know of, was handpainting delicate floral designs on white china, which surely would be collectible today if found in antique stores.
This fine adobe pueblo school, built in 1930 by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) project, should have been preserved for its architecture, as well as history. Its thick adobe walls kept the room cool on hot days, but well lighted by a north wall of large windows behind our desks. There was a vestibule, as she called it, with double doors for an entrance to the school. The front wall had a few small windows, the vestibule had two south windows, and as I recall there were no windows on the west wall. Behind the school was an adobe coal shed. Landscaped with native plants of yucca and tumbleweeds, no gardener was required.
Stuart’s portrait of George Washington hung over the door. Wooden desk-chairs, with a niche for pencils and a shelf for “Dick and Jane” books, had the brand-name Peabody embossed or stamped into the iron framework. I have watched for them in antique stores, never finding a single one. The school closed in 1951.
“My sister Louise remembers pie suppers at the school. The pies were auctioned, and then you would eat it with the person who bought your pie.”
Such were the days, and the memories of “The Oasis,” perhaps many could add to this …
Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.