Ranch life was hard work

By Ruth White Burns: FNM correspondent

Editor’s Note: This is another in a continuing series about the H-Bar Ranch and the hardships of life on the plains before 1900.

When my grandparents, Ora and R.L. “Bob” Wood arrived at their new home at the H-Bar Ranch on the plains of Eastern New Mexico in 1897, they were pleasantly surprised at the spaciousness of the four-room adobe house and the garden behind it.

Bob had been appointed foreman of the H-Bar Ranch by his cousin, Jim Newman, and brought with him his new bride and her two sons, Eddie and Bill.

There were fireplaces in each of the four rooms and a pump in the kitchen to bring fresh water directly into the house. However, all this luxury did not make for an easy life for a woman in 1890s.

Ora’s days were filled with household tasks — cooking, washing, ironing, sewing, mending — not to mention tending the chickens, pigs, and the garden; tasks considered beneath the dignity of the cowboys.

Then there was jerky to make, fruit to preserve, soap to make, and the never-ending chore of gathering cowchips for fuel. There was no wood to be had, but mesquite roots were often dug to give a longer lasting blaze.

Besides Ora’s family, there were four or five cowboys to cook for, to say nothing of passing ranchers who ate and slept at any nearby place as a matter of course.

“Many times I had gotten up in the night and cooked a meal for people I didn’t even know,” said Mrs. Wood.

There was never any pay offered for these accommodations nor would it have been accepted if it had. The payment took the form of news and gossip, which was better than money to lonely people on the plains.

Mrs. Wood, at age 76, looked back on those days with a smile.

“Sure we had hard times, harder than modern people will ever know. But we had good times, too. When the railroad came in 1897, we soon had neighbors pretty close, and so we weren’t so lonely. Then there were picnics and parties, and we all got together and had a good time.”