Carrie Belle Bonnell Green from the Museum
This is an interview that was conducted with Carrie Belle Bonnell Green by Lori Hawthorne in 1992, taken from the Sacramento Mountains Museum archives. Carrie was 75 at the time of the interview.
In 1909, Lulu Hitchcock met and married Frank Bonnell and shortly thereafter moved to Russia Canyon in the Sacramento mountains of New Mexico. Frank and his brother had moved to New Mexico earlier to join in some logging enterprises. He enjoyed this area so much, he decided to bring his new wife back. In the first nine years of their lives together, Lulu and Frank had five children: Donald, Vera, James, Carrie and Ruth. Frankís mother was the midwife at all of the childrenís births. The Bonnells moved often over the next few years, first to Cloudcroft, then to Cox Canyon. Cloudcroft was a small village established by Charles Eddy in 1899 as a railroad resort for heat stricken Texans. The Forest Service was also a prominent influence in Cloudcroft, although not favored by local residents because of range management policies reducing livestock numbers.
After two additional moves, the Bonnells bought a tract of land in Pierce Canyon from a family named Green. It was on this 160 acre homestead, approximately five miles from Cloudcroft, that they continued to reside until all the children had married. The house in which the Bonnells lived was considered a "fancy house in those days." It was a yellow two story house constructed of lumber hauled from Texas. The five room house had a front porch which spanned the entire front. It didnít have modern conveniences, and drinking water was hauled from a spring near the barn, "quite a ways from the house." There was a tank for catching rain water to use for other purposes, such as washing dishes and bathing.
The family was virtually self-sufficient. Hay was grown for the livestock, and Lulu had a garden in which she raised vegetables. This produce and tomatoes bought from peddlers were canned for future use. Lulu also made bread for the family. They butchered their own cows and pigs, collected eggs from the chickens, but only rarely hunted deer and wild turkey near their mountain home. Potatoes were grown on a small plot and the surplus was taken to Cloudcroft, approximately three miles away, and traded for groceries. Frank would buy enough staples, flour, peanut butter, apples and canned goods to last about a year. Occasionally, Frank would bring home oranges, a luxury, from the store. These goods were kept in a dugout cellar near the house year round.
Lulu used a peddle sewing machine to make all of the childrenís clothing from cloth bought at the Myres Company Store in Cloudcroft. Any necessity that couldnít be found at this establishment, including shoes, was ordered from the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. The only luxuries the family owned were carbide lights and a Dodge Touring car.
The Bonnells operated a dairy on their Pierce Canyon homestead. The familyís income came from milk sales in Cloudcroft. The lack of refrigeration required two daily trips to take milk and cream to the El Paso families staying in the village, and also to the Lodge, a resort hotel operated by the railroad. The Bonnell family kept some of their cattle in a corral and fed them special feed so that the milk would be safe enough for the babies in the Cloudcroft Baby Sanitarium, a medical home for ill children. Regular milk sold for 15 cents a quart and special milk for 20 cents a quart.
The family also sold their calves twice a year to raise extra money, once in the spring and once in the fall. Cattle diseases, however, caused them to lose half their herd. The family began to raise their own calves and registered bulls to increase the numbers of the remaining herd.
The depression had very little effect on the Bonnells because they made or raised most everything they needed. The family lived so economically that they never really realized there was a depression. If the family had extra money, Frank bought more land.
Carrie Belle Bonnell was born June 16, 1917 in Pierce Canyon, shortly after her parents bought the land. She and her siblings always had jobs to keep them busy. Carrieís parents and older brothers would rise at 4am every morning in order to get the milking done in time for the morning trip to Cloudcroft. When Carrie was old enough, she would always make these daily trips with her father. Meanwhile, her older sister Vera cooked breakfast on the wood stove. Breakfast consisted of hotcakes, bacon, and eggs. Lulu would stay in the milk house where she would have an oatmeal breakfast while washing the milking equipment. Ruth and Carrie were responsible for washing the dishes and cleaning the house after the morning meal was completed.
Dinner was at 12 sharp and consisted of meat and gravy, biscuits, vegetables and fruit. Cakes and pies were also common. Any person who dropped by around that time was welcome to join the family for dinner. After dinner, the children played outside until 4pm when the cows would need to be milked again. A rare treat, when all the chores were completed early, was for Frank to take the children to the silent movies, shown in the Pavilion at the Lodge.
Supper, similar to dinner, was eaten after Carrie and her father returned from the afternoon trip to Cloudcroft. Ruth and Carrie would finish washing the dishes. By that time, everyone would be tired and retire for the night.
Common to the time period, Lulu did not work outside the home. According to Carrie, it was not accepted for women to be employed elsewhere. The older boys worked in the community cutting wood. Cooperation was important to the mountain residents. Neighbors would pitch in whenever anyone needed help with anything, like building a house or harvesting crops. Rarely did a family need to hire outside help.
When illness occurred at the Bonnellís they were taken to the doctorís office in Cloudcroft. Alcohol was not allowed in their home, not even for medicinal purposes. They had to go to Alamogordo for any serious illness, to get diphtheria and small pox vaccinations, and to get their tonsils out.
Lulu was Carrieís main influence when she was growing up, and Carrie gives her the highest praise by stating that she "has always been what I would like to be." Frank was stern, so Carrie was a little afraid of him, but he taught his children honesty and the other principles and values of life. Discipline was rare in the Bonnell family, but when necessary, it was conducted by her father. Many times her mother would just talk to the children, often making them feel worse than a spanking would have. Her parents usually discussed decisions, but her father was the one who really had the final word.
Social activities were important to the relatively isolated families in the Sacramento Mountains. When the children became teenagers, they often went to parties at friendís homes, and everyone would take cake or cookies for snacks. Picnics and dances were also favored activities for all family members. In the early 1900s, many churches did not approve of dancing, but Carrieís parents always accompanied the children to make sure there was no improper behavior. In fact, Carrieís father taught her how to dance.
Most of the nearby (within half a mile or mile) families had children with whom the Bonnell children played quite often. There was no separation of the sexes and also no evidence of social classes among families living in the Sacramentos at that time. The children especially liked to hike in the mountains, play hide and seek, baseball, marbles, spin tops, and make mud pies and stick rag dolls. Frank liked to play games also, and often played card games such as Pit and Rook with the children.
When Carrie started dating, she and her date would always take some of the other children along. They usually went to shows in Alamogordo, or parties in the mountains. The family had a piano, the first piece of furniture Frank purchased after moving to the Sacramento, and they would have community sing-a-longs in their home.
Holidays were a special time for the family, and traditions were the same as they are in families today. Christmas Eve was spent at the community Christmas program where a tree was decorated, and Santa Claus would visit. Christmas Day was spent with her fatherís relatives, either at their home or at a relativeís. The children would have stockings filled with gifts to open on Christmas morning, followed by a big dinner. On a rare occasion, the family would have fresh oyster soup for Christmas dinner. Thanksgiving and Easter were usually spent with the immediate family, with common events such as hiding dyed Easter eggs and having large dinners. July 4th was celebrated by attending parades, rodeos, and picnics in Cloudcroft.
There werenít other ethnic groups besides the Mexicans living in the Sacramentos at the time, although there were occasionally black nannies who came to Cloudcroft with the Texas families. The first Indian family Carrie ever saw nearly scared her to death when they came through asking for food. The local residents did not feel any prejudices towards the Mexicans, and there were very few problems between the two groups.
School was held in a red brick schoolhouse in Cloudcroft. Carrie began her education when she was seven. She and her siblings would ride to school in a hack, with heated bricks at their feet for warmth. During Carrieís second year in school a bus picked the children up. When the bus couldnít run because of the weather, school was canceled for that period and had to be made up later.
School began at 9am and lasted until 4pm, September through May. Reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic were the main subjects. The children also had to know the states and their capitals. The children liked school, and most parents agreed that school was very important. Therefore, playing hooky was not tolerated. During recess, the children had their chance to play and often they had track meets with other schools, such as Weed. Plays and educational programs, such as fire safety, were acted out at the school for the public. The Bonnell children rarely missed school and were never kept home to do chores on the farm as was necessary in many other families.
Carrie did not finish her final year in high school because she got married. Although at one point she felt left out because all of her siblings had graduated, Carrie never really regretted not finishing school. She felt she got what she wanted - a husband and family. At that time, that was what girls were supposed to have.
Religion was another important aspect of rural life. Carrie is an ardent Christian. She was introduced to the Baptists at a revival that was held in the school house when she was nine. She was taken to the First Baptist Church of Alamogordo to be baptized. The Cloudcroft community had trouble getting a separate church building established, so the Bonnells and other Cloudcroft families occasionally attended day-long church services either in the school house in Cloudcroft or in Cox Canyon. After the morning service, there would be a picnic and sing-a-long in the afternoon. It was not until 1951 that a church was established in Cloudcroft.
Carrie began dating Leon Green when she was 14 and he was 26. She considered herself lucky to have caught the interest of the "Bachelor of the Day," a man her parents felt better suited for her older sister. She was determined to make a good mother and a good wife, so she tried to learn everything she could before she got married. Leon had a ranch and dairy in the Sacramento Mountains at that time, but when his brother decided to visit their sisterís family in Arkansas, Leon asked Carrie to marry him and to go along. Her father said she was too young.
The following October, 1934, however, after he returned from Arkansas, Leon and Carrie were married in the preacherís home in Alamogordo with her fatherís blessing. "He was old enough to settle down and patient enough to put up with a little seventeen year old girl," Carrie remembers.
Weddings werenít common in those days, and it was typical for a couple to be married at the court house. In place of the ceremony, they would have a "shivaree," a party in which the newlyweds would commonly be forced to perform some foolish act - such as the groom pushing the bride in a wheelbarrow. Carrie and her husband bought candy to pass out and then hosted a party for all their friends and relatives.
The Greens spent their honeymoon at Leonís brotherís ranch in Carrizozo and at Elephant Butte. After a few days, however, Carrie was impatient to return to their little two room house in the Sacramentos, so they finished their honeymoon there. The couple had five children - Arnold, Frances, Norman (Shorty), Gene and Derrell.
Carrie and Leon built a house across the road from their honeymoon cabin. They bought the land for $4000 from Clay Tomason, an employee of Oliver Lee. On this parcel of land, the Greens ranched and raised vegetables. It wasnít until the 1940s that they got modern facilities, such as running water and electricity. Carrie said that it was at this time that they had the "city conveniences with the country advantage, and thatís the good life."
This is were we have to stop the story, but you donít have to stop - the Sacramento Mountains Museum is open to all, and this interview is just one of the many to be found in the archives.