Historical Institute enjoys tales of growing up in eastern New Mexico

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

Craig Currell and Mike Lucero had different childhood experiences, but both have spent their whole lives in eastern New Mexico’s small towns and wide open ranges.

They shared tales of their childhood years at the Tucumcari Historical Research Institute’s annual meeting Monday night at the Tucumcari Elks Club.  They were the main part of a program that included the historical society’s brief annual business meeting and a dinner provided by the Elks Club staff and served by FCCLA students from Tucumcari Middle School.

Both shared memories of working with cowboys on ranches at a time when cowboys were their heroes, and of childhood pleasures in town and on the range.

Currell’s memories of Tucumcari include lots of bicycle riding, shows at the Princess Theater, and cashing in scrap metal and bottles to earn money for Cokes and ice cream.  He also remembers working with cowboys as a 12-year-old, and some of the pranks that cowboys pulled on each other and occasionally on him.

One cowboy, Currell said, tied Currell’s  legs together behind a calf and sent the calf running with Currell dragging along behind.  Another cowboy, however, caught Currell and untied his legs.

Then, Currell said, his rescuer untied Currell and went after the prankster with a lariat rope.

“And you know how hard a lariat rope is,” he said.

Lucero’s memories included moving around between Colonias and Santa Rosa, long school bus rides and chores that included chopping wood for the stove as soon as he got home from school at age 10.

Mostly, however, he remembers learning ranching’s three Rs: riding, roping and ‘restling cattle.

Lucero also remembers receiving a first lesson in bull-riding at age 12 from a world champion bull rider from Fort Sumner.  That first lesson, he said, was aboard a steer, not a Brahma bull.

“I stayed on for my full eight seconds,” he said of that first ride.

He learned to wrestle cattle for branding and how to ride different horses for different purposes.  In his spare time he would hike in the fields and collect arrowheads.

In school, he found time to learn to play drums and saxophone in the band and even served as drum major for one year.  As football player, he said, his seasons were often cut short, because he was needed for ranch work.  He was on the Santa Rosa High School basketball team when the squad won the state championship one year, and the next when the Lions lost the championship to a team they had beaten by 20 points earlier in the season.

Both occasionally quizzed the audience on Tucumcari’s historic geography.

For instance, the building that now houses Tucumcari’s First National Bank of New Mexico once hosted a tanning parlor.  Another building once housed Hace Motors.  That building became a Kentucky Fried Chicken store, then a doughnut shop.

Both also recalled their more recent mutual project, the construction of dinosaur sculptures from spare parts.  The sculptures now stand in front of the wall next to Mesalands Community College’s Building C.  They said they gave them names.  The tall one is Michael Jordan.  Another they have christened “Princess Di” because she wears a crown and is a dimetrodon, a finned dinosaur.

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