The Last Covered Wagon
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A Brief History of the David Pinkney Rogers Family's Migration to New Mexico
Written from Memory by the Second Son
Melvin Foy Rogers

Chapter One

The wife and family, consisting of four children, of David Pinkney Rogers, disembarked from a three car Rock Island train at San Jon, New Mexico at 4:30 PM on the third day of August, 1913, when New Mexico was a toddler of 15 months of statehood.

Our family were native Texans, except our Father who was a Mississippian. Our Mother and three of us children were born in the same house in Gibtown, Jack county, Texas. Father came to Gibtown from Mississippi, Yalobusha County, in 1891, when he was 12 years old, and ten years later he married our Mother, Mary Margaret Cox (better known as Maggie) in 1901

The family first moved to Jacksboro, the county seat of Jack county, for a few years and then began our migration west. While we lived in Jacksboro my Father was employed as a carpenter building railroad depots for the Katy Line. Our first migration took us out to Throckmorton county to the little town of Elbert Texas, where my Father and Uncle Clarence Rogers had taken on a job of overhauling a cotton gin the summer of 1909, just before I was three years old.

When cotton ginning season was over that fall they started looking for another job. This brought us into another move, to Vernon, in Wilbarger county, Texas, in the spring of 1910 where they went to work overhauling, or building, another gin, getting it ready for the ginning season of that year. My Father and Uncle worked as a team. My Father was the ginner and my Uncle Clarence Rogers was the engineer. The gins in those times were turned by a steam engine. My Father took care of the operation of the gin stands, which were equipped as a string of about ten saws in each stand that cut cotton off the seeds. There were six or eight stands. The cotton was thrown into a large air pipe which had a large fan powered off the same drive line as the gin stands. The cotton seeds dropped down in a conveyor system that carried them to the opposite end from the engine and dumped them in the seed bin. The cotton itself was blown to the bale press where it was pressed into bales and tied with heavy flat metal bands.

They worked there for three seasons, 1910 to 1912. My Father's job was to walk up and down the line of stands and make sure they did not get clogged up with cotton around the saws. He had a small stick about two feet long that he used to punch any clogging out. One day he could not find his clogging stick and decided he would just clean out the cotton that clogged up on an end saw with his finger, but he got a little careless with this maneuver and let the finger get to close to the saw and took off the first joint of the big finger on his left hand. These old guys were tough in those days, so the way Mother told it he just walked up to the engine room and told Uncle to get bandages out and tie up his finger to stop the bleeding while they sent one of the colored boys to get the doctor. The doctor came and Uncle Clarence stopped the gin long enough for the doctor to clean up the end of the stub and pull the skin over the end of it and sew it up and wrap it in some more bandage, that was just a strip of cloth torn from an old bed sheet. They all went back to work, as the yard was loaded with a dozen or so wagons loaded with cotton, that had to be ginned out that night before they could shut down, so the farmers could get back to their farms, as the field hands would all have big cotton sacks filled up with more cotton that had to be dumped the first thing in the morning, so the field hands could get back out to picking at day light.

By the time the ginning was finished in the winter my Father developed a rather bad cough and Mother was very worried that his work in the gin was causing him to develop TB. My Mother's Father, James M. Cox, and her Brother, John S. Cox, had already migrated into New Mexico, and they were writing Mother to persuade Father to give up the ginning and come to the new state of New Mexico. My new Brother, whom they named James after Grandpa Cox, was born that summer of 1911, on July 15th. My other Grandfather, David Henderson Rogers, died May 14, 1911.

We continued on in Vernon, Texas, through the 1911 and 1912 ginning season with no improvement in Father's health, so by the end of spring of 1913, Mother had convinced Father to give up ginning, which he agreed to do as quick as they had the gin overhauled that summer.

But Mama decided she could not wait for them to finish the gin, so she packed us kids up about the middle of July and we caught the F W & D C, Rock Island Rattler, out to Hedley and Clarenden, Texas, where Mother's two youngest Sisters lived with their families. We stopped and visited them for about two weeks, since we were headed for the wilderness of the new state and we had no idea when we would ever have another opportunity to visit them again. We caught the Rattler again on the morning of August third, 1913, for San Jon, New Mexico, where Grandpa had agreed to meet us with a wagon to take us out to the ranch, which was 20 miles north of San Jon.

We arrived at 4:30 and immediately transferred all our baggage to the wagon and headed for the ranch that night. We were on the road at about one o'clock AM and coming up to a ranch house, about three hundred yards from the road, when we heard some one crying and calling to us from the direction of the ranch house. Grandpa stopped the wagon to see what the trouble was and a young girl, about 12 or 13 years old, came running to us crying that her Father had died. So we pulled into the ranch and Grandpa and Grandma helped the family lay out the body and prepare it for burial the next day. Mother's Brother, Uncle Johnny Cox, had been promised we would come on to the ranch that night, so we went on about four o'clock, and got into the ranch at about eight in the morning.

The old folks were worn out from the trip but us kids had slept in the wagon most of the night so we were up and ready to play Dan'l Boone and start exploring the ranch. But that was where Grandma put her foot down. We were not to leave the yard immediately surrounding the house unless we were accompanied by a resident of the ranch. She didn't even trust Mother to keep a safe enough watch for rattle snakes. They were even found right in the yard around the house and the out buildings surrounding it. So we had to cool our heels until she was ready to escort us. We were appeased by her promise, that when she had the kitchen cleaned up she would take us out and show us her bird trap. "What kind of a bird trap Grandma?" we all wanted to know. She said "never mind, you won't know until you see it". So we had to be satisfied with a promise for the time being. So we explored around the house and got acquainted with old Bulgur, a large black English Bulldog. He was a friendly old cuss and really amused us with tricks of shaking hands with either front foot, just depending on which side of him you were standing. When he got too frisky and we told him to behave, he would just lay down and roll over. Only one bad thing about old Bulgur, was a crippled front leg. This had happened to him a long time past, so it didn't bother him, except he had a limp. We asked Grandpa how he got hurt. We were told that several years before when he was a young dog he got into a fight with a coyote and the old coyote just about chewed that leg off.

So finally about 10 O'clock Granny was ready to take us to see the bird trap. Now the ranch headquarters was just about 5 miles south of the Canadian River and the area was covered with mesquite bushes and sand dunes so we had to meander around among the bushes, with Grandma reminding us to keep a very close lookout for rattle snakes. But we were lucky, or unlucky, depending on how one looked at the situation, and never even saw the twisting crawl marks that would have been left in the sand if one had passed that way ahead of us. Finally we arrived at the bird trap.. However as we approached Granny kept cautioning us to be very quiet as there might be some birds around it. But as it so happened the trap was down and there was not any birds hanging around.

Now this trap was a large home made affair about three feet square where it rested on the ground. It was made by putting four pieces of plaster lath in a square and nailing them together at the corners. Then you placed four more on top of the first square, but made the second square about an inch smaller than the first one, and nailed it on top of the first one. You just continued adding the smaller squares until you had it built up, until the top square was about 6 inches square, and placed a solid piece of board on top and made a trap door out of it. With that arrangement if you had any birds in the trap you could very carefully reach in and catch one bird at a time and bring it out and put it in a hand cage we always carried with us when we went to check the trap. Now you see this trap never injured the birds, so we always took them out alive, and took them home and put them in a large bird house.

Now if you have never seen what is called a drop trap like this you are probably in a quandary as to how it works. You smooth out a level place in the sand, in the shade of a mesquite tree, if you can find one large enough, and set the trap up with one side on the ground, and the opposite side raised up about six inches to put the trigger under it to hold it up. Now this trigger business is a little hard to describe without a picture but I will try. You use 3 small sticks, one of which is six inches long, another about four inches long, and another one about 24 inches long. The six inch piece is sharpened at one end so that it looks somewhat like a cold chisel. The 4 inch piece of material is also sharpened like a chisel on one end, then notched at the other end about one inch from the end. The notch is made so it will fit on top of the six inch one, and the chiseled end has to be in a horizontal position. The long one has to be notched at one end, so that when it is placed flat under the trap the notch will be on the up side, and then another notch is made four inches from the end notch, but it has to be made on the side, so it will fit on side of the six inch one that was first. Then you set it up like a figure 4 that is closed at the top, and then you set this up under the side of the trap by raising that side up high to set the trigger under it. The weight of the trap holds the trigger together until a bird goes in to eat the grain that we have under the trap and the bird accidently knocks the long stick down and the figure 4 trigger collapses and lets the trap fall to the ground and all the birds inside are trapped. So when we go to check it all the live little birds are all well fed and waiting for us to come for them.

The morning of our first trip with Grandma she had several birds in the trap. The secret of catching several, nearly every time, is to scatter the food not to close to the long trigger stick so several birds will come in and start eating before one knocks the trigger down.

Our next sight seeing trip was to accompany Grandpa down to the horse corrals and look over the horses and try to choose the one we wanted to ride. But Grandpa nixed that for that day by promising us we would get to ride with him on the range in the next day or two. Then he took us over to the cow lot to see where all the fresh milk came from, but of course this was nothing new to us because we had milk cows almost every where we had lived to that time.

With the bird house well stocked with Blue Quail we had what would have been called by the English, "Breast of Quail". We had a bountiful supper that night, with all the trimmings from the garden which was full of home grown vegetables. But, believe me, we didn't believe in eating only the breast of those delicious quail, we ate every piece of delicious meat to be found on the entire bird.

So after a very busy day of exploring around the ranch, we young'uns were ready for an early bed, with great anticipation of another very busy day to come next, we were off to slumber land. The beds were much more relaxing than the night before when we were sleeping in the wagon. Of course after a good nights rest we were up at day break and raring to go to see what we could discover to fill our curiosity for a new day.

The children of our family at that time consisted of a sister named Clyda. Mother and Dad had expected the first born to be a boy, so they had promised our Uncle Clyde, Dads oldest Brother, they would name it after him. Then when Mama came up with a girl every one was in a whirl as they had not even thought about a girls name, but Mother settled that right away. She said we would just name her Clyda. The second child was a boy so they named him David Avalon. The David to be for our Father. The Avalon, we never knew where Mama came up with that name, but anyway it was decided we would call him Avalon so as to distinguish them, as they both had David as a first name. So a couple of years after Avalon, I came along, and Mother had promised her Mother, if it was a girl she would name it for her, but again they were double crossed and I came into the problem. Well since Grandma was named Melvina, they just decided they would name me Melvin. So of course I turned out to be Grandmas favorite. For which I was some unhappy when I got a few years older and Grandma insisted that I play dominoes with her when all the time I wanted to be out playing with the rest of the children. But as it turned out in later years it was good, for I became a very formidable opponent in later domino games, as some of my later in-laws could testify. So, as it turned out we had another little Brother come along, in July of 1911, and everybody had a name sake except Grandpa Cox, Mothers Father, so Grandma insisted Mama name him James after her Father. So Mother agreed on one condition that he would always be called James and never shortened to Jimmie. So it was decided and Mama called him James all the days of her life.

So the second day in New Mexico came up, but to very great disappointment it turned out to be about the same as the first day. The third day we awoke with all kinds of anticipations, and sure enough Avalon and I got a very wonderful surprise, when Grandpa and Aunt Bessie came back to the house after milking the cows, Grandpa told us we were going to accompany him on a scouting trip out on the east section of the ranch and make sure every thing was OK with the herds that were in that area. By the way I have introduced a new character in this account without explanation. Aunt Bessie was Uncle Johnnie's wife, and it turned out she was one of the sweetest of the in-laws in our entire family.

Well with that explanation put in place, we are saddling horses and getting started on our education of being cowboys. Nothing very exciting happened until we made our round of the range and decided everything was pretty much in order and started back to the ranch in the afternoon. But we did learn one thing that made a big impression on Avalon and I. We learned that cowboys, riding out from headquarters and returning at night, did not eat lunch. That we wouldn't eat until back home. But then the ride soon came up with a little excitement. As we were riding along my horse and I heard an entirely new sound to me, but very familiar to my horse and he almost unseated me right then in the middle of the prairie. The interruption was us getting to close to a rattle snake which was sleeping peacefully under a bear grass, (which is now known as a yucca) and signaled my horse that he was encroaching on his sleep and my horse decided it was time to jump to the side and put more distance between us and the rattler.

Anyway I was lucky enough that I had ridden before, back in Vernon, and did not lose my seat. But I did not really understand what had happened to cause my horse to get so excited. But Grandpa informed me very quickly that the disturbance had been caused by a rattle snake under the yucca. I very instantly suggested that we better put some distance between us and the rattler, which suggestion was very quickly vetoed by Grandfather. He informed us very quickly that you never left a rattler alive on the prairie unless he run in a hole where you could not get to him. He said we had to kill it. So he proceeded to dismount and told me to get down also, that he was going to teach me how to deal with rattle snakes. Since the bridle reins were always fastened to the bridle bits with a heavy metal snap and were about six feet long, he proceeded to show me how to disconnect one of them to use as a weapon against the rattler. He taught me to make a wrap on the loose end of the rein, around my hand, and use it to beat the rattler out from under bear grass and when it moved out to beat it to death with the snap on the end of the rein. So much for education on our third day in the wilderness of New Mexico.

We had a very enjoyable stay at the ranch for approximately a month while we waited for Dad to join us. He arrived at San Jon about the end of the first week in September. In the mean time Grandpa and Uncle Johnnie had made inquiries to find us a place near San Jon, where we could spend our time until the next January, as we were to move into the homesteads of Grandpa and Uncle which was about three and a half miles south east of town. We had to wait until that time as the homestead was rented out until January. That was the reason Granddad was looking for us a place during that time. Uncle Johnnie located an abandoned homestead about three miles north east of San Jon. Mama wrote to Dad before he left Vernon and told him of the place, so he came out and stopped at San Jon, and never went on to the ranch at that time. So everything was arranged at the ranch to meet him at San Jon.

All we had in the way of possessions was what we had brought as baggage when we came out. So Grandma and Aunt Bessie started digging out the necessities, of extra furniture, that they had stored in a shed on the ranch, that had been brought with them from their two homes in Gibtown when they shipped out the ranch animals, when they moved out in 1910. So they picked out enough of Grandma's furniture for us to set up with in San Jon. Grandpa set out two or three cows that were giving milk, and a pair of mules and a saddle horse, along with about six laying hens for eggs for us, and a large slab of sowbelly bacon to start us out with when we arrived at our destination. They also gave us old Bulgur the English Bull dog. We loaded every thing except the live stock in one of the wagons and left for San Jon the day before Dad was due to arrive there. The saddle horse was a little sorrel Indian pony about 12 hands high, that Grandmother gave us so we shouldn't be stuck down there with out a saddle horse. They said she was giving the horse (which was named Jeff) to the family but, because it was Grandma who was giving it, I figured the horse was mine, but I was smart enough not to let any one know that was what I thought about the horse.

We started out the day before Dad because it was 20 miles from the ranch to San Jon and that was to far for the milk cows to travel in one day. So we stayed all night at a ranch about ten or eleven miles out. Mama and Grandma milked the cows with Sister Clyda trying her hand at it too, as she had been practicing with Aunt Bessie at the ranch while we stayed there. We got in about an hour before Dads train arrived and Grandpa made arrangements with the wagon yard to stay the night. I forgot to mention that Grandpa had also brought his saddle horse along with us. Dad arrived on time and since the days were still pretty long, and it was a couple of hours before sun down, Dad and Grandpa decided to ride out and look over the road and the homestead where we were going to live for the next 4 months.

We were all very pleasantly surprised when we got out to the place about the middle of the next morning and went to work to set it up as home. The surprise was that the house had three rooms and a great big feed barn and stables. It was a 160 acre place and had pretty good graze for the stock. So all we had to do was buy a sack of cotton seed cake for the cows and beg a few bales of sudan grass hay from one of the neighbors for filling in the diet for the animals. We also bought a 100 pound sack of mixed grains for the chickens, and since there were only 6 hens, that was enough to last them all through the winter and spring.

We were living on the slab of sowbelly meat and dry foods that we had either brought with us, or bought in town, so everything was going fine, except we lacked any kind of fresh meat. But that was taken care of in frontier style as Grandpa had given Mother an old Winchester rifle that had been in the family for many years, and with which Mama had learned to shoot as a girl growing up back in Texas. So she got it out and soon took care of the absence in the meat problem. Since no one had lived in the house for the past year the place was run over with cotton tail rabbits. It only took her about 30 minutes to go out and come back with three nice fat young cottontails. So we feasted on rabbit that night. We also learned that we could sell the rabbits to the general store in town for a nickle a piece, so Mama soon run out of 22 ammunition for the old 22. We started to devise every method we could figure out to catch more rabbits, but by that time we had run out of the money which Dad had been able to save, out of his job at the gin at $20.00 dollars a month. What rabbits we sold, the money had to be used to buy flour and coffee and sugar and that was about all it would cover. As the old saying goes we were as poor as church mice by that time. Before the garden came out in the next spring we had gone down to where we were living on the few eggs the old hens gave, which stopped before the winter was over. We existed on biscuits and flour gravy and rabbits for several months during that time. Believe you me, we were really wishing that we had some more sowbelly, before the garden started producing in the spring.

Clyda and Avalon were in school, in the second grade, because they had started the last year we were in Vernon. But the school would not let me go that year because I lacked about two weeks to be six years old when school started. So I stayed home and helped Mama to capture rabbits. There were so many poor homesteaders there that winter that Dad could not get any work, except maybe a day or so every couple weeks, at $1.00 per day. We were really glad when January rolled around and we could move to the old homestead. Mama and Dad really caught it from the old folk, when they came down to help us move and found out how we had been living. But many old timers can remember when the pioneers of that day were so proud that they were to ashamed to ask for help as long as we could keep ourselves from starving.

Brothers and Sister as Kids

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