CORDELIA LEWIS - A PENASCO PIONEER
When settlers began moving into the Sacramento Mountains, the George W. Lewis family settled on Lewis Canyon a few miles South of Weed, and the Jeffers family settled on Jim Lewis Canyon, near the head of Agua Chiquita Canyon. These two families raised several children. In fact, there were so many marriages between the Jeffers family and the Lewis family that even these two families arenít sure who is related to whom.
Harve Lewis married Lettia Jeffers, and that is where Cordeliaís story begins. She was their first child, born on February 27, 1899, in the log house that George Lewis built in 1884. This house is still standing in Lewis Canyon. A couple of years later, their only other child, Eldo Wafer Lewis, was born in the same house.
Harve Lewis worked for the CA-Cattle Company until the Lincoln National Forest was established and free range was eliminated. This also eliminated many jobs for cowboys, so Harve and Lettia loaded their meager belongings and two children on the running gears of a wagon and moved to Crow-flat with the Jeffers family. Lettia drove the wagon and Harve drove the cattle.
The only important thing Cordelia remembers about the move is that her grandmother was making a new dress for her sixth birthday to take place in February of 1905.
They settled in a dugout, near a shallow water well. As time passed and the ranch progressed, they built an adobe house; John Gage and Harve Lewis drilled a 300 foot well using horses to drill the well, and Kathryn Burt Brownfield was hired to teach school for the several children in the area.
Cordelia loved ranch work and was a big help to her father. She and Eldo broke the broncos with Eldo riding them first and Cordelia finishing the job. After one big roundup, Cordelia fondly remembers the praise the cowboys gave her when she and her horse were in the right place at the right time to prevent a stampede.
Cordelia says that ranching is a long battle with a short stick. This was never truer than when the drought, around the 1920s, forced the ranchers to find range land elsewhere. Many ranchers, including the Lewis family, moved their cattle to Mexico and at the age of 19 in 1918, Cordelia had no ranch job. She moved to El Paso, Texas, and lived with her Jeffers grandparents who owned a house on Trowbridge Street. This house is still in the family. Cordelia got a job bunching vegetables, working 60 hours a week for $12.00.
Being adventurous and feeling that she could better herself, she wrote a letter to the Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, California, about job opportunities there. The reply that she could perhaps make $16.00 a week was so encouraging that she and Vera Coffelt moved to California in 1923 when she was 22. Cordelia said that many unexpected adventures awaited the two country girls in the big city.
Not knowing what an earthquake was, Cordelia thought the first one was just the wind, and she said to Vera, "Goll durn, the wind blows here just like it does in El Paso!" Both were shocked to learn that they had been through an earthquake.
Cordelia worked during the day and attended Cosmetology School at night. After finishing school, she had the good fortune of getting a "high paying" job in a resort area frequented by an affluent clientele. Then came the Depression of the 1930s and business was so bad she had to find another job. She became a manicurist with the University Menís Social Club and worked there until she had enough money saved to buy a Bar and Grocery near Yuma, Arizona. The Post Office was housed in the same building so she was also the Postmaster. Things were going well when misfortune struck. The business burned down to the ground, and with no funds to rebuild, she returned to the ranch at Crowflat.
This was a good year for ranchers ... lots of moisture, green grass and fat animals so her family was happy to have another ranch hand. After the spring work was over, she moved to El Paso, got a job at Fort Bliss and bought a home. When the family brought the cattle to El Paso to be sold that fall, Cordelia was so impressed with the high price cattle were bringing that she quit her job, rented out her house and returned to the ranch at Crowflat.
During World War II, she got an offer of a job from a friend who owned a beauty shop, so again she left the ranch and moved to a town near Tinker Field, Oklahoma.
During this time, the Army had leased a large part of Southern New Mexico for military use, and as the Lewis Ranch was included, Cordeliaís family moved to her house in El Paso. Shortly thereafter, Lettia Lewis suffered a stroke and Cordelia returned to El Paso to help care for her mother.
In 1947, when Cordelia was 48, she bought the Blue Moon Bar and Grocery in Weed, but she changed the name to the Cash Bar and Grocery and again was happy to have a business of her own, despite the fact that water had to be drawn from a cistern and the restrooms were outhouses out back. She worked extremely long hours to get the business on a paying basis and kept the dance hall open, but ruled it with an iron fist.
In 1969, when she was 70, Cordelia sold her liquor license to the Mescalero Apache Indians and retired from business. Having had a well drilled and indoor plumbing installed, she converted the business establishment into a comfortable residence which is large enough to accommodate the many friends and relatives who visit her frequently. She also owns a home in La Luz, New Mexico. Even though she has worked for wages, owned her own businesses, bought and sold land and cattle, her first and foremost interest is being a rancher.
Cordelia says that 95 years is a mightly long time to be around, but this hasnít slowed her down as she has traveled all over the United States and Europe. She prefers to have someone travel with her, but last year she wanted to attend a family reunion in Arizona. No one was available, so she got in her new car and drove to Arizona alone.
She was particularly pleased when she renewed her driverís license last winter. Ruth Ann Carner issued the license to her at Cloudcroft. Ruth Ann is the granddaughter of the Cox family who lived near the Lewis family in Crowflat in the early 1900s.
Cordelia is a legend in her own time, and has served her community in many capacities. In the 1940s, she helped get the Rural Electric Association into the Weed and Pinon area. She served on the Road Planning Committee for Secondary Roads in Otero County and she was especially pleased when in 1993, at the age of 94, she was given an award for serving on the Selective Service System Board during the 1940s.
This interview was conducted by Gilbert L. Neal and Marie Wuersching on May 7, 1994.
In another interview done for the Museum in 1985, Cordelia said - "Iíll have to see if I can live to the year 2000, Iíll live three centuries! That would cover three centuries, from 1899. If I could come into 2000, everybody said that would be something, I never would die."
Cordelia made it into 2000. She passed away September 14th at the age of 101. She was cremated and didnít have a service, she didnít want a service. Cordelia couldnít stand the thought of all those people being there and her not able to visit with them!