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Historically Speaking: Ernestine Chesser Williams and her family’s goat — memories of the 1940s

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Williams girls, Lena Mae, age 8, and Koger, age 6, on Flying H Ranch with Nicky, ‘That Darn Goat!’" — date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Well it’s been a while since I’ve shared an Earnestine Chesser Williams’ story, so this week, I think it’s time one is due. Ernestine came from a big ranching family who have ranched all over these parts as did Earnestine and her husband. The Chesser family dates back for at least 100 years in these parts. There are still some of the younger generation of Chessers who are ranching.

Ernestine — besides being a rancher’s wife — was a schoolteacher, a historian, an artist, a researcher and many other things. She left numerous articles, pictures and books to our archives at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico (HSSNM). The HSSNM was blessed to have her, for the years she volunteered there. She was also a friend to my mom. With that being said, we’ll move along to this week’s fun story.

“I Could Have Killed That Darn Goat

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“By Ernestine Chesser Williams

“That darn goat! One thousand times I could have killed him gladly with my bare hands. How I wish I had let that tiny helpless animal drown that chilly April morning. I found him in the irrigation ditch. Instead, I brought him in by the fire, rubbed his long angora hair dry with a towel, and fed him a bottle of warm milk. His high shrill bleat, crying for his mother, sounded so pitiful — poor little orphan, little doggy chivo, little lost kid!

“Where had he come from? Flying H Ranch didn’t have any goats in the pasture near our camp in the late 1940s. My husband Boyd was riding herd for the Flying H Ranch, a big sheep and cattle outfit. I was teaching at the ranch school. Our little girls Lena Mae, age seven, and Kroger, age five, went with me each day across the Felix Creek to the little one room ‘dobe school house, where the children from the Flying H and nearby ranches attended.

“Early that spring morning, I had stepped outside to get a bucket of fresh water from the irrigation ditch when I was startled to hear a weak cry. It sounded like a child. I dropped my bucket and walked slowly in the direction of the sound, then stopped to listen. I heard it again! I hurried in the direction from which the sound came and found a little kid goat in the edge of the water, wet and cold, without strength to climb the ditch bank. I took him out of the mud and hurried into the house. What a mistake!

“The girls held the shivering creature in their arms and loved and petted him. He soon stopped bleating and snuggled up in the dry towel. The girls had had many pets but never something special like a little goat. They were reluctant to go to school that morning. At the first recess, and again at noon they hurried home, warmed some milk and fed their pet.

“I was already beginning to see the error of my hasty benevolence. I could see that it was going to cause an interruption in my strict classroom procedure. (That proved to be only a minor complaint.) By the end of the day the lamb had a name — Nicky! That was nearly forty years ago, (1980 is the date of this article) and to this day I can hardly say that name without pre-fixing it with a very unladylike expletive.

“Boyd was puzzled. How could a kid goat be lost near our camp? He looked for signs and found tracks indicating that a small herd of goats, belonging to the neighbor had been driven across the corner of the Flying H pasture. After talking to the neighbor, Boyd said that he didn’t want to be bothered with a lost kid and would be glad for our girls to have it. We were stuck!

“Nicky followed the girls around like a puppy. Every morning he had to be locked in a corral to keep him from going to school with us. Sometimes he would get out and to school he would come — not just into the schoolyard, but right into the classroom! This delighted the children and all classes were interrupted until the girls could take him home and lock him up again.

During the days following, it was a familiar sight to see Lena Mae and Koger riding their ponies, being followed by Nicky, the goat, and Jeepers, their little black dog.

“Nicky seemed to have an uncanny way of finding every break in the fence, when we didn’t even know there was one. Even though grass and weeds grew in abundance, he never missed a chance to get into the garden. All spring I had carefully tended tomato plants in our sunny living room window. When the ground was warm enough, I planted them in the garden. Soon Nicky found a break in the fence — just barely big enough to get his horns through. He worked at it until he could squeeze through and then ate every plant I had set out. My fury knew no bounds!

“Nicky learned to listen for Boyd’s horse and to go to the corral to meet him when Boyd came in from the pasture. He always fed his horse under the shed, and if Nicky happened to be nearby, Boyd would give him a handful of grain or an ear of corn and would playfully shake Nicky‘s horns and scratch his back while he ate his grain. It didn’t take long for the goat to become big and fat, and my family was horrified when I suggested he’d make tasty barbecue.

“Nicky would chew on any old rag but he much preferred a line of freshly washed clothes. We had to tie him up every wash day, but sometimes he’d break loose. One day I hung out only a few things — silk hose and a brightly colored rayon blouse. When I went to bring in my clothes, my hose were all gone except bits of the toes that were under the clothes pin. Nothing was left of the blouse but the front strip of buttons, and tiny scraps under the pins. No one had to tell me who the culprit had been!

“Sometimes Nicky would wander off into the pasture and wouldn’t be anywhere in sight when I started to wash but as soon as he heard the ‘putt putt putt’ of the Maytag gasoline motor, he’d come in a trot. If someone wasn’t there to tie him up, he would start with any silky fabric that was in reach. One day he ate the skirt part off my new rayon nightgown, before I knew he was around. I protested, telling Boyd I wanted to get rid of him, but he and the girls always defended him — because he was ‘so much fun!’ How I hated that goat!

“At shearing time, the girls lead Nicky down to the shearing barn where he created a sensation. He was such a big, fine, beautiful animal that all the Mexican shearers stopped to pet him and to run their fingers through his long white, angora mohair. One shearer commented that his hair had the ‘feel of silk.’ I thought to myself that he had eaten enough silk stockings and underwear; his coat had every reason to feel silky. The range boss always sacked Nicky’s mohair separately, weighed it, and gave it the girls a check for it.

“One Sunday in mid-summer, community church services were held in the schoolhouse. The preacher was one of those long winded, shouting, raving kind, that threatened us all with hell fire if we didn’t mend our sinful ways. He waved his arms, shouted, pounded the Bible stand while we squirmed in the child-sized seats and wished he’d hurry and get it all said. When he stopped to draw a breath and wipe the sweat from his forehead, I heard a trip-trap on the wooden stile. I looked at Lena Mae and Koger and they looked at me but we didn’t move. It was Nicky, of course! He came over the stile, crossed the schoolyard and up the steps he came.

By then everyone had heard Nicky except the Preacher. He continued to shout hell and damnation to all sinners. Nicky stepped inside the open door. Nobody moved. The preacher stopped right in the middle of a word and stared. Nicky hesitated only a moment then marched right down the center aisle, as if going up for repentance. Then he stopped in front of the preacher, looked up at him and said, ‘baa-aa!’ I wanted to crawl under the seat. The girls and I sheepishly walked down the aisle, collared Nicky, and dragged him out, amid snickers and giggles from the audience. I’m sure my face turned red with embarrassment — even today — when I think about it.

“In the fall we gathered our winter’s supply of Red Delicious and Rome Beauty apples from the Flying H orchards. We sorted them, boxed them, and stored them in the back bedroom of our ‘dobe house, an ideal place where they wouldn’t freeze nor get too warm.

“One afternoon, when we came in from school, we found that the pet pig (Pig-a-wee) had rooted the back door down and he and Nicky were in the bedroom helping themselves to our apples. Nicky was lying right in the middle of the girl’s bed eating an apple. I could have killed him. I’d had enough!

“One day soon after that, when the girls were riding pasture with Boyd, the range boss came by in his pick-up. This was my chance. I persuaded him to take Nicky, and when he let down the tailgate I even helped him load the rascal.

“Boyd and the girls missed Nicky but I didn’t say a word. They wondered why he didn’t come to the corral for feed. After a couple of days or more of course they became more concerned, knowing Nicky had never stayed away so long. The girls rode out the creek bed and Boyd searched for the goat in the pasture. I wondered if they had noticed that I wasn’t grieving. My conscience didn’t even bother me! Now I could hang my clothes with no worry.

“Later in the fall, Boyd was riding in the pasture ten or twelve miles from our camp when he heard a loud bleat and saw Nicky running toward him. He got off his horse and greeted his old friend — wrestled him by the horns and scratched his back. When my husband started home, Nicky followed. Boyd rode slowly, even though it was late, and let Nicky through every gate. It was long after dark when the two got home. Needless to say, I was furious!

“I tolerated the depredations of that darn goat for several years. Finally, he became so ill tempered that the girls were afraid of him. One day he jumped on Koger, struck her with his front feet and knocked her to the ground. He then tried to hook her with his horns. That was too much! Boyd sent him away on the next truck that left the Flying H Ranch. …”

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

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