An Interview With Dave Gentry & Albert Lewis
On July 1, 1978, I interviewed Dave Gentry age 85, and Albert Lewis age 82, at Dave Gentry’s home in La Luz, New Mexico. The purpose of my interview was to gather information about life in the areas of Pinon and Weed at the beginning of the 20th century. Gentry and Lewis are boyhood friends and have known each other for over 70 years. Both men stand straight and tall today, proud of their accomplishments in life. I could not help but admire these men now in their eighties: and as I listened to them tell me about their lives I could visualize them as young cowboys working the range. Dave Gentry stands about six foot tall, has red hair, and gives the appearance of a turn of the century rancher. Albert Lewis is about 5’8" tall, spunky, and gives visitors the impression that he could still put in a 16 hour day on the range.
The following is the highlights of the conversation I had with these two men. The information although labeled according to who said what does not appear as direct quotes according to the wishes of the two men. The information is however correct and very interesting.
How many people lived in the Pinon-Weed area when you first arrived there?
Gentry There was only one house in Pinon. It was a one room box- house made of rough lumber. There was also 2 or 3 log cabins. (Mr. Lewis verifies this.)
What was the year and when did the community start to grow?
Gentry This was between 1900 and 1912, the real growth started about 1912. (Gentry arrived in Pinon country in 1902. Lewis agrees with this statement.)
Was there much water then?
Gentry Scarce water in Pinon, most of it came from springs. About as much as there is now.
Could you make a guess as to the number of families?
Lewis On a 40 square mile area about 40 families. They’d drift in stay 3 years and go. Improve the dry land then leave. Squatters on dry land.
Did Pinon have a general store and if so in what year?
Gentry In 1907 a man named Kronister had the first general store. Later my dad Dave Gentry Sr. operated the store.
What type of school system did the area have?
Gentry The first schools were prescription schools, the parents would take up a collection and hire a teacher to teach us children. Later the county finally furnished us with a teacher.
Was Lacy Simms the school superintendent then?
Gentry Yes, he traveled by horseback and had no hands even then. Lacy Simms is a fine man. I’ve been knowing him all this time.
Did the community have a sheriff?
Lewis No, the county had a sheriff and he came only on call. He was also the assessor and tax collector. (To which I replied, “Bet he stayed busy.”) No!! He went everywhere on horseback.
What kind of social events did you have?
Gentry We had two or three little country picnics a year. Two or three old time preachers lived there and would meet in different homes - Old man Gage’s house. Weed had a country doctor who traveled on horseback or buggy. On the 4th of July we had a picnic.
What kinds of jobs were available?
Gentry Anything! Teamwork!
Lewis Cowboys, Jack of all trades.
Gentry Shovel and pick, herding sheep, goats. (Both men seemed very proud of hard work.)
Gentry I worked for $25 a month and my board.
Lewis People would build fences, build roads, raise cattle, herd horses and farm - NOW no one would do these jobs.
Gentry George Cox had a wife and 5 kids, from a sale he got $300 and told his wife, “We got it made for a year.”
Was there lots of cattle then?
Lewis A damn sight more than there is today. My father was a cowboy, I’ve seen 1500-2000 cattle round up in a half day. Took 3 days to brand the calves.
Gentry Rough country, a lot of fussin’ and government regulations.
What about roads?
Gentry No roads in those days. Every man had to work on the roads for three days a year, state law, or pay a dollar a day on the days he was supposed to work. We went by wagon or horseback to the nearest town, Roswell or Artesia.
When did the road to Cloudcroft go in?
Gentry Box Canyon road built in 1916.
Lewis The modern highway in the fifties.
You must have seen the whole basin grow?
Gentry I’ve seen all of Alamogordo grow. 1898 when railroad came in. Cloudcroft for tourists.
Did you know Oliver Lee?
What kind of man was he?
Lewis A good man, employed many people.
Gentry He worked most of Sacramento River and Basin.
Did you ever visit the Lodge in Cloudcroft?
Lewis No, I’ve seen it.
Gentry I’ve been in it, the old Lodge was a good building.
Did the railroad bring in a lot of workers?
Lewis A man from Louisiana brought in a lot of blacks to work in the sawmill in Bailey Canyon. He used ox teams.
How were they treated?
Lewis The people didn’t put up with it, ran them out.
What about the logging communities?
Lewis Logging horses went 1400-1800 lbs.
Gentry They were shipped in special to pull the teams.
Lewis A man named Rutherford logged with oxen, cutting and hauling. Old saws, poor mills, 1 or 2 men sawing in the woods. Ox so slow men could cut for 3 teams.
Gentry No logging in Pinon, Weed had some logging, cut it out by wagon.
Lewis Two logs set up in a slide or find a bank to roll onto wagon. 26-27" cut.
Gentry Went to market by wagon, not to Alamogordo, to Artesia or Roswell.
Lewis Drove cattle there for shipping and corral. Shipped cattle to Dodge or Kansas City, no railroad in Amarillo. Clayton was just a post office then. By foot it 3 or 4 months to drive cattle there. My father took 5 herds through together, the smallest was 3200, and the largest was 3750.
Did Pinon and Weed have post offices?
Lewis The first store in Weed was named after old man Weed.
Gentry No ice box or refrig in the area back then.
Lewis If the temperature ever got over 65 degrees in Weed, it was hot. Alamogordo seldom saw over 90 degrees back then.
Gentry In those days you had to camp out everywhere you went. In wagon Pinon to Alamogordo was a two day trip, a hard ride each way. To Artesia it took 7 to 8 days. A load of freight to Artesia took 8 to 10 days.
Lewis You took your camp with you, a bed roll, frying pan, and coffee pot.
Gentry I once rode horseback to Cloudcroft to get a doctor.
Have we progressed?
Gentry People get by easier today-every convenience. Life was hard then.
Lewis A dollar was a dollar, no 17 cents. Families were closer then, people were friendlier. Cowboys from different outfits would camp together when they would meet on the trail. If you met a friend on the road you’d camp for the night together.
Would you go back to those days?Gentry No, too hard.
When did the first phone lines go in?
Gentry The first lines were tree lines hung all over the place.
Lewis No path or underbrush in those days.
Gentry 1914 the line went in. I worked for the forest service in 1916. Teddy Roosevelt signed the bill in 1907.
Was the wild game plentiful?
Gentry Yes, the people lived off of it.
This is the end of the formal interview. Afterwards, Gentry told me that the first car came to Pinon in 1916, a Model T Ford. He said that the horses had to constantly pull a stalled car from the rough terrain.
Lewis said that we need more men like John Prather and Oliver Lee. He said he saw hail in Hope in the thirties that measured 8" x 3" x 4' long. He also said that all of the dams that the government has built is changing our weather. He can remember when this area had plenty of snow and rain.
As I was getting ready to leave Lewis told me that he used to buy Levis like mine for 65 cents. I paid 13 dollars for them (discount). I took their picture at the end of the session and said good-bye to a vanishing breed of men, The old time cowboy.
This interesting interview comes from the archives of the Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum in Cloudcroft. It is just one of the many interesting things you will find in the Museum.