Man remembers ‘New Mexico Territory’

Don McAlavay

John Hannibal George, 92, says he’s proud to think he’s a small “dot” in the history of the great state of New Mexico. He was born 12 miles west of Clovis, but is now living in Springfield, Mo. This is his story:
“When the New Mexico territory was opened, three related families, all Missouri farmers, wanted to start a new life on this unknown land,” George said. “My dad, his brother and sister, living in Cole County, Missouri, headed West in 1908 where space was free.
“Those making the journey were my father, Jasper W. George, and his wife, Alace Musick George, and their small son, Jasper’s brother Niles and his wife, Emma Nedemeyer-George, and their two small daughters. Also Alace’s sister, Thena, and her husband Sam Norfleet with their young son and daughter.
“The whole clan boarded three Missouri Pacific Railroad cattle cars in Jefferson City, Mo. They put small stock and farm equipment in one end of a car; in the other end they hung blankets over slats behind which was food, furniture, beds and kids. It took a week to get from Jefferson City to Clovis, New Mexico Territory.”
John George chuckles when he remembers the way his folks got to New Mexico. “Now people get upset when they lose their seat on a plane,” he said.
“The families settled about 12 miles west of what is now Clovis. At that time it was a cow path of a road. My father was a strong man, a carpenter and a farmer. The other two men were also able bodied. Between them they built three-peaked roof, four-room houses with out buildings on each set. I was born in one of those houses on Sept. 12, 1911.
“In the fall of 1914 they saw a prairie fire headed their way. They placed firebreaks around the houses and for most of two days the smoke made it black as night. Most of the fire went around the breaks.
“My father had hay and fodder stored between the house and the barn and the heat’s back draft picked up dry cow chips and sticks that went into the hay and caused the loss of our barn, our house, and half of our furniture. The other two houses survived.
“After the fire, my father sold his livestock and farm equipment as well as his claim, and moved our family to the town of Edgewood, just south of San Antonio, Texas. I was 3 years old at the time of the move.
“I started to school in San Antonio in 1918 when I was 7. You had to be 7 in those days to start to school. About two years later Uncle Niles sold his New Mexico holdings, but Uncle Sam Norfleet continued to pay taxes on his land till the mid-1930s. (John’s Uncle S. D. Norfleet is listed as a land owner living west of Blacktower in 1909 in the Curry County tax assessment rolls.)
“I am the only remaining pioneer of the families who boarded that cattle car to come to New Mexico Territory so many years ago. I’m 92 now — I know where the wind pumps the water and the cows split the wood. Not many people today can say they were born and lived in ‘New Mexico Territory.’
“I contribute my longevity to eating jack rabbits, pinto beans, mashed potatoes and antelope meat … and, to being very active — I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.