Family members say Clarence Fought was a cowboy at heart. And he took the cowboy code to heart.
Out of respect for that code, his family decided they would pay him one final tribute.
“He was an old cowboy and old cowboys buried each other,” said son Dale Fought of Buckeye, Ariz.
His father never said he wanted them to hand dig his grave, Dale said.
“He never would have asked us, but we knew that’s what he wanted. We did that on our own.”
Two of Clarence’s sons, a son-in-law and five grandsons armed themselves with pick-axes and shovels Friday to dig a grave in the San Jon Cemetery.
The eight gathered from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to honor Clarence, the youngest of seven children, and the first born in a house rather than a dugout.
“He was born in Porter on April 3, 1928,” Dale said. While his father had lived in Payson, Ariz., when he died, San Jon was important to him, Dale said.
“This is where he started and this is where he wanted to end up.”
Once they received a permit to transport a body across state lines, Dale and his 16-year-old son drove all night from Arizona in a pickup with Clarence’s casket in the back.
Dunn Funeral Home in Tucumcari held the body until this morning’s graveside service in San Jon.
Dale said he got the idea to hand dig the grave from his cousin, Tucumcari resident Steve Fought.
“It’s a tradition or an honor, I guess,” Steve said. “But it’s not disrespectful to use a backhoe.”
Steve said the graves he had helped dig were either before backhoes were common or because cemetery caretakers didn’t want a backhoe in the cemetery.
“The holes are eight feet by three feet by six feet — that’s a lot of dirt,” he said.
Most graves take two days to dig by hand, but the eight-person crew managed to complete Clarence’s in a day.
“It’s nice when you have more hands than room,” said Clovis resident Harold Noack, Clarence’s son-in-law.
They began about 8:30 a.m. By 10 a.m., they were about half finished.
“It’ll be a long process,” Dale said. “It gets harder as it goes — kind of like life.”
One, occasionally two men pick-axed the hard red dirt, then two or three more would shovel to loosened dirt into a waiting Bobcat.
The others watched and rested, swapping encouragement and stories with the rest.
“We laughed a lot,” Dale said. “It was good to be around each other.”
At the beginning of the day, Dale said they would do as much as they could, then use machines so that San Jon village employees could leave by 4 p.m.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
It took the rest of the day to dig the final three feet down. Dale said they finally finished about 5:30 p.m.
“We did it all by hand,” he said proudly. While they never hit the solid layer of caliche village crews warned them about, “There was a little bit of hard digging. … The last foot or so was pretty tough.”