Compiled by Ben Moffett
Editorï¿½s note: Oran T. Caton of Bosque Farms was born on Aug. 24, 1916. He is a lifelong educator and coach, and the last surviving member of Forrest High Schoolï¿½s state champion basketball team of 1933.
Caton and his teammates, including his older brother, Pearl, won the tournament in Albuquerque by defeating Raton, 23-18. The tiny school in Quay County advanced to the state meet seven straight years (1928-1934), also winning it in 1931.
This interview is a part of an initiative to create an archive of information related to basketball and sports in New Mexico and the borderlands area as part of the University of New Mexico Regional Studies Centerï¿½s inquiry into 19th and 20th century social history.
It is focused on the life and times of a pioneering family that homesteaded in Plain, Quay County, when basketball was in its infancy.
The interview took place on Dec. 28, 2006.
This is the first part of a three-part series. The second part will appear in Wednesdayï¿½s issue.
Question: Thank you for participating, Mr. Caton. When did your family arrive in New Mexico and what later became the town of Plain in Quay County and what brought your parents and your older siblings here?
Oran Caton: My dad, Lemuel, or N.L., as he was called, along with my mother came to homestead and they did ï¿½ two miles west of what became Plain. They came in 1907 from the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. My dad was born in Otterville, Mo., a little north of Sedalia. My mother, Consuelo Gilmore, was born in Gainesville, Texas. (Gainesville is in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma state line).
My dad came out with the family by covered wagon and followed the railroad more or less to Texico and he started working for the railroad in Texico. They wanted him to take a crew of five or six men to Vaughn and he turned them down. He said he came this far to get a piece of land.
So instead of staying with the railroad, he homesteaded. He rode 52 miles on horseback across the Caprock from Texico to find a homestead and there was nothing between the homestead and Texico except one drift fence for cattle control over by Frio Draw. Then he went back to Texico to get my mother and six kids and one foster daughter.
Q: Is homesteading, and by extension the Homestead Act of 1862, the reason why there were so many small towns in Quay County and all along the New Mexico-Texas border?
Caton: Yes. The best I can remember there were a lot of homesteaders that came out all about the same time because of the railroad, and a lot of them knew each other.
Q: Where exactly is your homestead?
Caton: Our homestead was a mile west of where the Plain cemetery is today. This past summer (in 2006) we found a piece of granite four inches thick and five feet high and took it to Clovis, and carved in ï¿½Caton Homesteadï¿½ and set it up in the corner of the homestead. Itï¿½s a great big marker.
Q: How did they figure out where to put the towns and the stores with every homestead being a quarter section, or 160 acres, and the population so equally dispersed across a broad, heretofore virtually uninhabited area?
Caton: Iï¿½m not real sure. I believe one of the homesteaders may have donated some land for the Forrest school. We had a lot of little towns. More people lived in Plain than lived in Forrest. Plain had two stores and a doctor moved in there, plus there was a drugstore-like place, a post office, a church with a Masonic Lodge above it. I donï¿½t know if the church or the lodge owned the building. Some of the little towns like Norton never had a store, but they had a school. Wheatland had a high school and a store.
Q: Did you know people from the other towns?
Caton: Yes, we knew about one another and got to know each other better through sports. We knew people as far away as Logan, and got to be good friends through our basketball, track and what have you.
Q: Tell me about your family, your life in Quay County and when and where you were born.
Caton: I was born at the homestead in a sod or adobe dugout, with dirt walls and a dirt floor, in 1916. It was dug into four feet of dirt. It had a roof but no ceiling. You could see the rafters in the roof, and the studs in the wall. The windows had four panes in them and went from ground level to the roof. The house was built from sod cut out of the ground or from framed adobes.
Q: Was it dug out to save construction cost or for insulation?
Caton: It was cheaper to build it underground and it might have been a little warmer in winter and certainly cooler in the summer, but I suspect the initial reason was that it didnï¿½t cost anything to take a pick and shovel and dig it out.
Q: What about your schooling?
Caton: I started to school in about 1922. My first old school (in Plain) was just three rooms and it went through the eighth grade. I walked two miles to school in Plain and two miles home. The (local grade) schools consolidated when I was in the fourth grade and we all went to Forrest. That included Norton, Plain, Frio, Murdock, and Stockton.
After consolidation we were five miles from school, rode the bus and, in high school, in the fall when I was trying to get in condition for football, that sort of thing, instead of riding the bus, Iï¿½d jog, provided we didnï¿½t have to shock feed. If we had to shock feed, weï¿½d ride home. We grew wheat, cane, corn, higear and kiffer corn.
Q: Iï¿½m told this was ï¿½drylandï¿½ farming. You depended on rain in the absence of irrigation.
Caton: Yes, it was marginal. Maybe they should not have put a plow to it. We lived in an area that was borderline. You could go to Amarillo and the wheat crops were better than ours. Ours was not a good wheat crop area, 15 to 18 bushels per acre on average over a 10-year period. Sometimes you got nothing.
Q: What did you do for drinking water and water for the house?
Caton: We had a well that would pump two or three gallons of water a minute. We would store the water in a cistern by the house and take it out with a bucket and pulley.
Q: Homesteading was obviously not easy. It was a hardscrabble life. But did you ever go hungry?
Caton: We always had plenty to eat. Pork and beef and chicken and turkeys. We always had a pen full of pigs, and butchered a calf ever so often. Weï¿½d grind up sausage and wrap it in sheets and hang it in the smoke house. We had a tin-lined box to store hams and bacon. My dad could fix those old hams! Weï¿½d store turnips and potatoes in a dirt pile for the winter.
The people you have to admire in those old homesteads were the women, little old babies in dirty diapers, and washing diapers all the time…we never had running water or electricity or anything.
Q: Tell me about your sports career. When did you see your first basketball? Not basketball game, but the basketball itself?
Caton: I canï¿½t remember when I didnï¿½t have a basketball or a rubber ball of some kind to shoot baskets. We built a basket on the garage. We used a barrel hoop if I remember correctly, bent down so it wasnï¿½t quite as big, and fastened it up on the garage.
Q: No running water but you had a garage … and a car?
Caton: Dad got a Model T truck in about 1924, Iï¿½d say, with solid rubber tires on the rear. We didnï¿½t have any flats on the back tires. The front tires were high pressure tires, not much bigger than a bicycle tire, and the wheels had wood spokes. But we had cars before that, and a garage made out of sod. But of course it got filled up with everything else.
Q: And you played basketball against the garage?
Caton: Yes, we played a lot of basketball. It was my main sport. For the older boys, Lewis on up, they were more on the baseball side. Barnie and Julian played basketball and baseball for Grady. Barnie and Julian and Herman Walker, Clyde Miller and Charlie Miller, five of them, batched over in Grady in a rental.
Q: I take it there wasnï¿½t a strict age limit for high school sports?
Caton: I donï¿½t know what it was, but higher than it is today, I believe.