Griffins began to migrate to America from England in 1635. By 1700 they were scattered far and wide in the American Colonies. According to war records, many Griffins served in the Continental Army, and after the Revolutionary War some of them moved from Virginia to North Carolina.
Grandad Griffin was a medical doctor. His main treatment for everything from diarrhea to typhoid fever was calomel tablets. I often wondered if he probably killed more patients than he cured.
Fred M. Griffin, born October 3, 1887, in Macon Georgia, came to New Mexico Territory, Otero County in 1906 and settled in Sixteen Springs Canyon. On January 5, 1908 he married Etta Danley whose family lived on Elk Canyon.
Dad told us that on his trip to this part of the country he met a homesteader on the way to the Guadalupe Mountains. Dad had originally come to this country for one reason — to bring his older brother, Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank had consumption (tuberculosis). The doctors didn’t really know a cure, so they told him to go to a high, dry climate where he could exercise his lungs and not live such a dissipated life. So Dad brought him to New Mexico. When they came into Melrose a man named "Uncle Bee" told them the best place to go for this health problem was the Guadalupe Mountains. So Dad and Uncle Frank headed that way. On the way they met a homesteader in a wagon. He told them to go to the Sacramento Mountains, not to the Guadalupes. He said the Guadalupes were rough and that there were better places to live in the Sacramentos. So that’s what Dad did. Uncle Frank got well, but he didn’t like it here. He went back to Atlanta and got sick again, so he came back to the Sacramentos. He was too far gone this time and they knew he was dying. Since he wanted to be buried beside his father, Uncle Frank started back to Atlanta. En route, he died in El Paso in a motel room.
Dad stayed in this part of the country because he liked it. He had inherited $600 from his dad’s estate and he spent most of it in Portales for a wagon and team. He came on to Elk and began to camp out wherever he could get work, mostly in Sixteen Springs. He met Mom, Etta Mae Danley, who lived on Elk Canyon at the time. Etta Mae, my mother, was born in San Saba County, Texas on October 2, 1890. Her family came to Cloudcroft In the winter of 1898-99. Grandpa Danley was a Blacksmith. He had his own shop, at first just a tent, and worked on equipment used in connection with the railroad transfer into Cloudcroft. Before moving to the settlement on Elk Canyon, Mom went to school in Cloudcroft.
After Mom and Dad were married in 1908, they lived in Sixteen Springs on the Steffy place. They grew corn and worked where they could. Dad worked for a survey team and then began hauling freight with his wagon and team. In the latter part of 1908, Dad and Mom homesteaded the Elk place, which is in the Northeast corner of Otero County.
On December 10, 1909, the first son was born on the Elk place. Willard Alonzo Griffin. I was born August 7, 1913, also on the Elk place. By this time, Dad was already friends with the Mescalero Apaches. Our homestead borders the Indian reservation on the south. In fact, in 1914, Dad helped bale hay with an Indian crew on the reservation. He was also hauling freight at this time.
He often told of a trip he made Christmas week in 1914. There was a big snow storm and Dad was going to Cloudcroft to pick up Christmas goods for the store at Elk. The Indians told him to go back to an old abandoned sawmill, where he would find a stove and dry wood in the bunkhouse. So he turned and headed back down the canyon, but began to get drowsy. He fell sound asleep on the spring seats and the horses stopped near a teepee. Two Apache women found him and got him into the teepee, fed him coffee and jerked beef, rolled out his bedroll, and told him to crawl in. After spending this night in Sam Chino’s camp, he went to Elk Springs where he stayed in the camp of the old Lipan Chief, Magoosh. He then went on to Cloudcroft and back to Elk via the Penasco with the Christmas goods for the Elk Store. With the help of the Indians, Santa Claus made his rounds on schedule.
Mack was born on April 20, 1915. In 1919 I started school at Elk. The following year Mack started and our teacher was Tillie Cleve. Then for my third grade year we went to school on Elk Canyon in a little school house built on Grandma and Grandpa Danley’s land. Winnie Miller was our teacher then, and she stayed with Mom and Dad. It took twelve kids to keep a school open, and when Uncle Charlie and Aunt Rose moved to Hope with their three children, the school was closed. So Mack and I were sent to school at Sixteen Springs for the remainder of the year and part of the next. The school was right below were Charles Walker’s place is now. We stayed with Uncle Homer (Mom’s brother) and his wife (Aunt Veda) while we were in school there. Then we were needed back at the Elk school in order to keep it open, and we finished school there.
Back in those days there wasn’t much to do for entertainment, so we would put on plays at the school. One of the funniest plays I can remember, in about 1925, was about a black family’s Thanksgiving dinner. We made ourselves black by mixing soot and grease and "grease painting" ourselves. Dad and Mom played the role of parents. Mack, Willard and I, some of the Hannah kids, Frank and Ballard Bantey, and Tempie Reeves were all the children. We were having possum for our Thanksgiving meal and Pa was saying the prayer. All the kids begin eating the possum meat after the prayer had gone on for a long time. As soon as Pa says "Amen", all that’s left of Thanksgiving dinner is the possum’s tail.
Along about 1926 or 1927, Mack and I got to go on our first trip to Alamogordo in the wagon. We thought we would see the WORLD leaving Elk. On the way over we were told just before we went into Dry Canyon that the water we had in the wagon was all the water we would have, so we’d tank up out of that ditch. Well, that La Luz ditch water wasn’t very good and talk about diarrhea... Anyway, we got to Alamogordo and that night we went to our very first picture show. The picture show was where the Yucca Newsstand is now, and we were camped west of the railroad tracks. When we came out of the movies there was a big long train sitting on the tracks separating us from our camp. Mom grabbed Mack and I, and Aunt Rose, who was there for some reason or another, grabbed her kids and we scurried under a freight car to get across the tracks. We didn’t go up and across between cars like we could very easily have done. We talked about that for days. "What if that train had taken off? We’d a been run over!" Of course, we didn’t know anything about trains. We didn’t know they jerk and jam before taking off, but we were just little kids learning the facts of life.
Dad was pretty good friends with a man by the name of Pat Tuton. He had a place about 8 miles from Elk, which has been known recently as Camp Geronimo. One time in about 1926 Mack and Dad hauled some beans to loggers in Silver Springs and stayed with an Indian named Solan Sombrero. The next day they got back to Pat Tuton’s place and he could tell they had the flu. There was a doctor, by the way, in Cloudcroft, that had some little pink pills that supposedly cured everything. Mack threw his away and was made to take another. But back to the story - At Pat Tuton’s, Pat asked if they would like some birds. "Birds?" Dad asked. Pat told them that he had cooked a pot of birds. "What kind of birds? Dove?" Pat told them no. "Quail?" No, once again was the answer. Pat told them he had cooked a pot of pinon birds! He had killed about 100 of them that were eating his wheat with 7 shots of a 12 gauge double barrel shot gun. He boiled the birds and wanted them to eat them while they were sick with the flu. Dad just couldn’t eat them, but he never could eat much wild game anyway. Another time Dad went up to help Pat butcher a cow. They skinned it in the dirt and ruptured several guts. Around lunch time Pat said that he sure would love to fry the heart and beef liver. So they went to the house and Pat slapped it on an old black table, seasoned it, and was ready to flop it in a pan half full of grease. Dad asked if they should wash it first. Tuton told him no, that the blood clots would make it good. He also said it was too far to water. So he fried it anyway - manure, dirt, guts, and all. Dad said he ate it anyway.
In about 1927 we also sold several things to the Indians. We used to get the apple crop from the Joy place, which now belongs to Rollah Posey. We’d get wagon loads and have apple butter, apple jelly, dried apples, and cider. We’d quarter the apples and put about 50 pounds on top of the house with a screen on top. The sun would dry the apples until they were nearly black. That way they would keep. We made cider by 55 gallon barrels. We borrowed a press and the extract was just right for cider before it turned to vinegar. We also made donuts, which we fried in hog lard. We sold the donuts for 25 cents a dozen and the cider for 50 cents a gallon to the Indians when they would come over to buy pumpkins, squash, and corn. They ate so much they vomited, but they had paid for it so we didn’t care. Then after the cider turned to vinegar, we sold it to people to make pickles. We also had a crop of cane, but it was ruined before it ripened. So we were going to see if the cane extract would turn into vinegar. Well, it finally did, but it took a long time. Before it did turn to vinegar, though, it was a pretty potent green cane syrup. Well, Mack and I sold it to the Indians for a silver dollar per half gallon. They just kept coming back for more, a little happier each time. We made a lot of money until Dad found out what we were doing. We had to stop selling it because we were in a heap of trouble - it was in the days of prohibition!
Starting in 1928, we started shipping cream. Willard went to school at Tularosa High for a year or a year and a half, and he worked at a dairy. He told us we could make money by shipping cream. So we milked two times daily. The calves would drink and nuzzle and we would milk. We’d cover it until it clabbered and the cream would come to the top. We would skim it, put it in 5 gallon cans and ship it to the El Paso Creamery Co. We’d take our cans of cream to the Elk Post Office and send them by the mail carrier, George Gilliland, to Cloudcroft, where it then went on to El Paso. We’d have a couple of cans a week. During this time the calves were stunted because we took so much milk. Poor old Dad, he had to work gathering corn for someone else and take his pay in corn to feed his calves. We had fat hogs though, because after we had taken the creams we gave the skimmed milk and clabber to the hogs. We did this for about 2 and a half years.
One day, I got to look in the Montgomery Wards "wish book" and found a 6 volt cased regular and short wave radio and we decided to buy it. Dad thought that was a foolish luxury and a waste of money. We bought this radio for $80 or $90, which really was a lot of money back then. We’d sit up until midnight lots of times to listen to KOB or listen to the ship signals just for the heck of it. Dad wouldn’t for a while, but after about 10 days he’d run everybody out at 6pm to listen to the news. He thought that was wonderful because he didn’t have to wait for 7 to 10 days to get the "Kansas City Star", which was our only source of news. We also received the local newspaper called the "Hope Booster". But anyway, Dad got to where he really enjoyed that radio.
In 1928, I leased 7 acres on the old Brazil place. I raised 800 pounds of beans and traded them to a man by the name of Dick Peterson for an old Model T Ford. When we bought the Hyatt Canyon place in 1929, Mack and Wilson Brazil would use that car to peddle vegetables and frying size chickens to Cloudcroft. Well, the old Model T didn’t last long. It would TRY to go up hills, but it just didn’t have the ummph. I guess old Henry Ford got rich, but there’s no way his soul would have landed in heaven the way people cussed him and his cars! The car broke down by the gate one day and I traded it for a .38 -.55 caliber lever action Winchester rifle that this guy had put a 30-30 barrel on. I filed and put in a new sight and tried to make that rifle better, but I’m convinced that I only made it worse.
Back to the Hyatt place, though, we bought it for $1200. Dad thought he was almost broke, and he was. He had to have $50 to pay the interest on the loan he had taken out to pay for the place. Mack and I had been working down on the creek, and between the two of us we gave Dad $49.75. Then all he had to do was come up with a quarter.
In the early part of the 1930s, I went with Oris Cleve to El Paso. I took 8 hogs to Peyton Packing Co. I had three top hogs that I sold for 16 cents a pound and the other five I only sold for 12 cents a pound. It was quite an experience for me, this being my first trip to El Paso.
In 1933 or 1934 I moved to Hope to work with a survey team. I had been helping run the center line of the highway at Elk, but then I moved to Hope along with the survey crew. I got 50 cents an hour working with the survey crew; whereas, I had been getting about $1.25 a day. I lived with Aunt Rose and Uncle Charlie Hannah who had a garage there in Hope. One Sunday morning, me and a few others got a bit tipsy on beer out behind this garage, which was about half a block (at an angle) from the church building. Well, when church let out we were caught and hauled in by the town constable, which just happened to be Uncle Charlie. The judge, a man called "Uncle Dee Swift", charged us with indecent exposure. Dad took me to get out of trouble. I was fined $5 and told not to do that anymore. I lost my job a short time later, because the highway people went on to Carlsbad.
A couple of years later I was "batching" on the Tuton place. I was helping Pat farm and Mack would come up when there was something we needed him to do. Just to tell you a bit about old Pat- He was a bachelor himself for many years. For a fire held get an old tree and stick the end in the stove. He’d stick the tree in a little farther as it burned. Smoke would come out the front of the stove and the pipe was full of soot. The cobwebs on the ceiling and in the corners would accumulate soot and get as big as your fingers. He never washed his skillet. He’d cook something on the wood stove, dump the grease in a bucket and hang it on a nail. The remaining grease would drain out of the bottom and run down the wall onto the floor. Talk about a wad of tallow built up on the floor. The dish rag hung on a nail beside the frying pan. It was so greasy and dirty that you could pick it up on one corner and it would keep its shape. On one hole of the wood cook stove he would boil potatoes in a skillet. On the other hole he would fry sow belly. He’d pour the grease from that onto the potatoes and open a can of salmon. Needless to say, I did my own cooking in my own little room.
I was living on the Tuton place when I married Corine Arnell Trotter. They had been living where Gordon Wimsatt now lives, and her father hired me to move them. That’s how I met her. We were married December 22, 1938. We stayed on the Tuton place for about 6 months. Then the summer of 1939 we moved to Bates’s, and I worked for Jim Harwell who lived across from Loren Reaves place now. At this time Arnell was pregnant with our first son, Fred Carol. After he was born on November 27, 1939, we moved to the Elk homestead with Mom and Dad for a while. During this time I worked for Culberson sawmill. Mack was working for the Indians, who had bought the Tuton place.
Shortly after that we moved to the Hyatt place, Mack went off to the war, and Willard and his family moved to Artesia. While living at Hyatt we raised hay and would drive the cows up from Elk In the summer. We’d drive our 25-30 head up Sixteen Springs, out the head of Bell Canyon, out Chimney Springs by Jergens Mills (across from Cloud Country now), and up James Canyon to Hyatt. Then in the Fall we would take them back to Elk.
Mom and Dad are both gone now. Dad passed on November 15, 1961, exactly 3 weeks after Willard died, Mom passed away January 6, 1982. We now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren of our own. In fact, after being in a generation of all boys, and having only boys of our own, we thought it was rather odd that all seven of our Grandchildren happen to be girls.
Due to space restrictions, this story was fairly heavily edited. To read the story in its unedited form, go to the Sacramento Mountains Museum in Cloudcroft and visit their archives.