Home News Vision Historically Speaking: CCC Camps in Chaves, Eddy and Lincoln County, part 1

Historically Speaking: CCC Camps in Chaves, Eddy and Lincoln County, part 1

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption on the photo reads, "View of Camp, 1937, Camp SP-3-N, Bottomless Lakes State Park."

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily

Record

This week, I would like to share with you excerpts from a newly published book by my good friend, writer, geologist and researcher, Dirk Van Hart of Albuquerque. I was honored in helping him — in a small way — to do research on the Civilian Conservation Corps camps in our area. Dirk has a true passion for this time period, the “boys” at the camps, the camps themselves and the purpose they served. He states in his book, “Today, the ‘boys’ are gone. I deeply miss all of them. This book is my tribute to them.”

Dirk has given me permission to use any part of his book, “Camps and Campsites of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in New Mexico 1933-1942,” and I chose to share what he has found about Chaves, Eddy and Lincoln County, our part of the state. The work the CCC boys did for the betterment of the environment is truly amazing, as is the time Dirk put into trying to locate the “footprints” of where these camps were, so many years ago.

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“The Civilian Conservation Corps was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to give employment to millions of out of work Americans during the Great Depression. It was a part of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ programs, and considered to be very successful.

“The CCC worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior and Agriculture, National Parks, and they also provided many other services. Much of the building work they did in the 1930’s is still around today.

“They also blazed trails, planted trees, built fish and wildlife refuges and breeding facilities, built soil erosion controls, fought forest fires, built bridges and campground facilities, to name just a few of their good works.

Since the majority of the workers were back East, and the jobs were in the West, the Army provided transportation for them to get to their assigned destinations! More than 300,000 men were employed and the New Deal kept much of America from hunger and being homeless.

Bitter Lake National

Wildlife Refuge,

Chaves County

In 1940, the Biological Survey was combined with the new Fish and Wildlife Service, thus the camp’s name change. The campsite was located out on the far west edge of the refuge, and although there is a clear camp outline and a few foundations, it is off limits to the public.

Roswell, Chaves County

The location of this campsite to date remains elusive. The only information is from the CCC legacies website, which states that the camp was in Roswell, ‘#1, 1 mile W.’ This “west” bearing is presumably measured from the city’s north-to-south axis, US-285. One mile west of that point is the abandoned airport, built before December 1942 and abandoned before August 1944. No trace of a campsite is evident via ‘Google Earth’ at that location.

Bottomless Lakes State Park, Chaves County

It seemed natural to search for this campsite via ‘Google Earth’ within the Bottomless Lakes state park limits. Nothing was found. The park manager, Maxwell Michanczyk, stated that the campsite was not within the park, but rather on a broad, north-trending ridge called Comanche Ridge, north of the main highway US-380. The campsite seems to have been thoroughly razed.

Lake Arthur,

Eddy County

The description I have is, 33 miles southwest of Roswell, 14 miles west of Lake Arthur, at the Hackberry Wells. Drawing circles within those radii puts it in northwestern Eddy County. A single suspicious area seen on ‘Google Earth’ and Eddy County reveals no recognizable structures. This camp was the first portable or mobile camp. Mobile camps were cost-effective and easily towed on trailers to location by truck so it’s no mystery why little footprint was left behind. The camp was set up in either spring/summer 1935 or February 1936.

“Other camps in Eddy County which are detailed in the book are ‘Carlsbad Medical Center,’ ‘Camp Dark Canyon,’ Carlsbad, and ‘Rattlesnake Spring,’ Carlsbad.”

Moving on to Lincoln County:

Carrizozo

“The campsite lies along the north south US 40, a scant 0.4 miles north of its intersection with the West-East US-380. On the west side of the former is a Historical Road marker extolling the virtues of Carrizozo, the Lincoln County Seat, which begins just south of the intersection. Immediately east of US-54, visible from the historical marker, is the campsite, with it’s very obvious fireplace chimney and an extensive array of foundations and other structures. There is not a word on the sign about the campsite, and the omission is the exemplar of that lost history. The campsite occupies the area between the railroad tracks and the original old trace of US — 54 on the east side and the modern US — 54 on the west.

“In 1935, the city of Carrizozo donated their old city dump as a site for a CCC camp. The camp was constructed on top of the dump in July 1935. The site was studied in detail. (Bullock 1998) The report claims that detritus from the dump — broken glass, pottery and metal — constantly worked it’s way to the surface and thus impossible to bare foot around. Even after lawns were planted, there was a smell of decay. At the end of the final period, the camp was moved up north to Tokay.

“Much remains to be seen at the site, and the ‘Google Earth’ image is revealing. The brick fireplace and chimney for the recreation building still stand. Across and south from it is what is left of the camp’s masonry bulletin board, along the west-east main ‘avenue.’ Foundations are everywhere, probably from offices of some sort, as well as showers, mess facilities, etc. — things that needed a sound base. Wood frame dormitories were typically jacked up on temporary supports and were hauled away when the camps were moved, so their only trace is compacted earth. On the south edge of the site is what I once thought was a barbecue pit. I got my comeuppance when I came across a photo of a similar feature at Camp Cody, a huge WWI training facility near Deming, in which it was clearly identified as an incinerator. A large rectangular cement bin in the south east side of the campsite was not part of it. This was a railroad coal bin that was already there when the camp was built. The CCC boys used it as a swimming pool. The camp bell was hauled off and now resides in the yard of a private residence in Carrizozo. (Bullock 1998) Wondering across this campsite trying to put the pieces together, is a fascinating exercise. In short, this site is one of the very best examples of a CCC camp ‘footprint.’

Baca Campground,

Capitan, Lincoln County

“This site has a layered past. It was first established as a CCC camp in the summer of 1933 and named ‘Camp Saturnino Baca.’ Baca (1830-1925) is known as the father of Lincoln County. As a member of the Territorial Legislature (1869,) he introduced a bill to create the county. The camp operated only through the winter of 1933-34, when the Forest Service condemned it as not suitable for use again as a winter camp.

“It was then occupied starting in 1935 for one period as ‘Camp Capitan,’ a camp for unemployed girls. President Franklin Roosevelt had formed the CCC at the end of March 1933 to help unemployed young men. That program was wildly successful. FDR’s wife, Eleanor, thought that young women should have the same opportunity. She lobbied vigorously for girls camps modeled on those of the CCC. It was very much an uphill struggle, but she persevered — sort of. She got one camp at first, Camp Tera (later named Camp Jane Addams) in Bear Mountain State Park, New York, in June 1933. She wanted more than that crumb tossed her way. She continued her lobbying but passed the torch. (Adkins 2008)

“In 1935, the new federal agency was created, the National Youth Administration (NYA,) that gave needy young men manual work projects, and gave young women domestic jobs in public facilities, for a small stipend. Under the NYA the people all lived at home. Eventually a residential-camp program for women was put in place. The media derisively called this a “She She She” camp. Eventually at least eight of these were established nationwide. (Adkins2008)

“Baca Canyon was a nice place for camp, with an active spring that still flows today. Fortunately, all the camp buildings had been left behind when the CCC abandoned the site in 1934, but other supplies were scant. When the girls occupied the site in September 1935 the camp acquired a new name, ‘Camp Capitan.’ Technically it was similar to the CCC camp. In the summer of 1936 it was shut down due to budget problems. (Adkins 2008) In September 1940 the CCC boys from Fort Stanton were moved to the abandoned Camp Capitan, this time designated as SCS-31-N (McBride 2008) and stayed until May 1941.

“After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 32 Japanese immigrant railroad workers from Clovis, and their families — the entire Japanese population of Clovis — were rounded up in January 1942 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and put into detention ‘for their own protection’ at the abandoned camp that was this time renamed ‘Old Camp Raton.’ After almost a year of this, the detainees were transferred to a camp in Utah. None ever returned to Clovis.

“The large foundation dominating the site is that of the CCC mess hall, and later used for Camp Capitan. The stone fireplace and chimney west of the foundation were built by the girls.

“‘Camp Gallinas,’ Gallinas Mountains, Corona, Lincoln County

“This camp was set up in August 1935 for road construction and range improvement. Finding this campsite proved to be quite elusive. The available information indicated that it was located at the Red Cloud Campground in the Gallinas mountains, southwest of Corona. However, a thorough search of the campground revealed nothing. A local camper there reported that the present Red Cloud was a replacement campground, and that the original Red Cloud was up north and was burned out in one of the devastating forest fires during the last 20 years. A search back up to the north, on a hill on the west side of the road, revealed a chimney. I had one of those A. Newman wide-angle CCC company photographs, but could not match it up with the present terrain.

“Oddly, down the hill just a bit to the north was a mobile home covered by a shade canopy that seemed to be empty at the time. There was a sign at A023 road below it identifying it as the ‘Lee Patsy Mulkey House.’ Back up at what might be left of the campsite is a strange little burial plot with a tombstone reading ‘George B. James, January 18, 1938-April 9, 1983,’ and a little sign on the enclosure saying ‘Mulkey James Memorial Garden (There are no Actual Graves Here.’) A sad little place, holding Lee Patsy’s grim memories. All in all, it’s a strange CCC campsite, but I believe it is the location of the camp.

“Cedar Creek, Ruidoso, Lincoln County

“I had seen the name Cedar Creek mentioned in conjunction with this camp. When I first conducted my search up Cedar Creek Drive and at Cedar Creek Campground, I found nothing. The surprise came at the Lincoln National Forest’s Smokey Bear Ranger Station just west of the main highway, NM-48. When I asked about the foundations, etc., I was told, ‘Oh yeah, right across the street.’ The campsite lies directly across from the station, on the north side of Cedar Creek Drive. The outline of the camp is not recognizable but a number of large foundations remain that are easily overlooked while traveling by. This late facility was used for summers 1938 to 1940, and then summer 1941 through winter 1941-42.

To be continued.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.