What is it about young boys that makes them dig holes in the ground? Now that I’m older, I believe all boys have a gene in their DNA that is a “survival gene,” a throwback from our cavemen ancestors who took haven in caves and had to fight to defend them.
I grew up a poor farm boy in Curry County until I was 13. With my younger sister’s help, I once dug a hole for a fort. This was out on the prairie.
I knew my father would whip the tar out of me if I dug a hole on our own land, so I went across the road to a neighbor’s pasture and dug our fort.
The Pattison boys, who lived a half mile west of us, would come down to play with my older brother and me.
The two biggest boys, one a Pattison and one a McAlavy, would gang up on the little Pattison boy and myself. (We were only a few years younger; it wasn’t as if we were babies!)
It was a “clod fight!” —hunks of dirt that stayed together until they hit you.
In one encounter, us little boys were routed out of our hole and chased into the McAlavy barn where the big boys launched their heavy attack.
They had the advantage as they had the ammunition right there on the plowed ground in front of the barn. Us little boys had run out of clods, and had to throw cow chips, which weren’t very good missiles at all. We gave up once the barn was so filled with dust from the clods that we couldn’t breathe.
In a later clash, I was living in Clovis (population about 11,000) at age 13. My best buddy, a DeVoll, and I dug a hole in what was once a chicken house at our home. It had a dirt floor.
We dug an 8-foot hole. The entrance was 2-foot wide, but at the bottom the hole was about 4-foot wide. Why we dug this hole I don’t know. It must have been that survival gene kicking in.
My mother found it and told us in no uncertain terms to get rid of that hole. We did. But we moved our operations over to the DeVolls’ house at the corner of Grand and Prince where we dug another hole like the last one.
Of course over the entrance we put boards over the hole and covered them with dirt to hide it. Might have been a spy around.
Within two weeks after we dug this hole somebody reported us to DeVoll’s father. That was the last hole I ever dug for a fort.
About this time my mother would take us to see her sisters in Lubbock. One of my cousins, a boy who was a little younger, immediately took me across empty lots to show me his fort that he and his friends had built. Tunnels everywhere, some underground and in places were trenches that had boards and dirt over them. It was almost like going to heaven.
They even had a 6-by-8-foot room down there in their hole. I often wondered what the home builders who came later thought about those tunnels and holes. I believe they would have understood. It’s a male thing.
Digging holes is inherited. Once my 9-year-old son talked his two small sisters into helping him dig a hole. I had never told my kids about me digging holes.
We were living near Ranchvale when they asked their mother if they could dig a hole.
“Why yes,” she said, “that’s why we moved into the country!”
I was at work in town and didn’t learn about the hole until I got home. The kids showed me a six-foot length of wire they found in the hole. From that time until the phone company came out to repair the underground phone line to our house, we had no phone calls, nor could we make any.
The hole was covered up, and when asked we said yes they could dig a hole out in our pasture. They did and it served as a good fort until we moved back into town later.
We now have grandkids and great-grandkids. Yes, some of the boys, without being told it was their destiny to dig holes, dug better holes and forts than I ever did!
One of the granddaughters dug better than her brothers. That’s progress, I guess. Maybe it’s a female thing too.
Now some of these kids who moved off to the east coast and deserted us grandparents are digging holes in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.
Now, one of our grandsons, a U. S. Army paratrooper, will soon be overseas in the midst of a war-torn country, where there are plenty of holes in the ground. He probably won’t have to do any digging!
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: