by Kendyl K. Monroe
Settlement of the Dry Cimarron Valley
The settlement of the Dry Cimarron River Valley initially proceeded from west to east(1). Madison Emery, who led several families from the Cimarron-Maxwell area to the mouth of Toll Gate Canyon, approximately 44 miles west of the future site of Goodson Memorial School, established the earliest settlement in 1865. There Emery developed an eastern and less difficult alternative to the Raton Pass and thereby opened trade and settlement of the region. His settlement became known as Madison, and by 1874 supported a post office. The settlement prospered until the Denver, Texas & Fort Worth Railroad (D.T.& F.W) bypassed the community in 1888 and established a stop in Folsom, eight miles away.
In 1871, the Hall brothers, James, Nathan, and William, drove 2,500 longhorn cattle from Richard Springs, in south Texas, to the Cross L Ranch, which they established approximately 31 miles west of the school. There they began acquiring vast acreage along the river, which they sold in 1881 to the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited, an Edinburgh-based cattle company that amassed several million acres of open range in New Mexico, Colorado, and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. Other large ranches in the western Oklahoma Panhandle, then known as the Cimarron Territory or No Man's Land, influenced commerce and population of the Dry Cimarron River Valley. Kenton, Oklahoma, settled in 1866 and located seven miles east of the Goodson Memorial School site, became the banking point and agricultural market center for the region.
The survey of the area of northeast Union County in 1875, then part of Colfax County, opened the area to an influx of homesteaders. One of the first communities to serve the homesteader and rancher was Valley, about 17 miles west of the school. Settled in 1879, a post office operated under the name of Exeter or Exter from 1890-1903, and then Valley from 1903-1926. A school, perhaps the first in the region, eventually opened about a mile from the post office.
The vast cattle region of the Dry Cimarron Valley had few settlements of any size and consisted mostly of remote ranches and open range. Schools were typically located on ranches and were primitive one-room shelters with few amenities. One of these, the Wagner School, was located on Wagner Ranch approximately 1.5 miles east of Goodson Memorial School. Started by Robert Winfield Scott and Eleas Robinson Wagner in ca. 1906, Wagner School provided education for children from this ranch and those in the surrounding region. The New Mexico School, located about four miles east of the present-day school, was another remote ranch school of the era.(2)
By 1920 the area surrounding the future site of Goodson Memorial School claimed a population of 93 families working 24 farm/ranches. According to the 1920 census, Anglo-Americans of southern origin predominated, although large concentrations of families with Spanish surnames and a few of German or English ancestry operated ranches or worked in the agricultural trades.(3) Although irrigated farming developed and flourished for a period, the availability of water from the river proved unreliable. The principal crops for either ranch use or sale were alfalfa and hay for livestock, as they are today. As such, ranching and stock-raising became the main occupation of homesteaders in the region.
The small 160-, 320-, or 640-acre homestead claims proved to be too meager and led eventually to the consolidation of the claims into large ranches of many thousands of acres. The population of the area, most likely like that of Union County, peaked after the 1920 census and declined rapidly in succeeding waves after the 1929 stock market crash, the early 1930s drought, and the 1933-1935 dust storms. Most of the small ranchers did not survive the drought and sold out to large, privately owned ranch operations, or in some cases to the U.S. government, which purchased sub-marginal land that couldn't otherwise be sold, which are now part of the U.S. Grasslands management area. With this came the exodus of small farmers and homesteaders, taking with them many children of school age.
New Schools and the New Deal
Goodson Memorial School represents one of many federal relief efforts to lift devastated areas of Union County out of the effects of the Dust Bowl and Depression. Located in the northeast corner of New Mexico, Union County was situated near the heart of the Dust Bowl of the southern High Plains, with its small ranching and farming and homestead communities, devastated by successive waves of drought years. Along with federal aid given locally to farmers and ranchers to keep them out of foreclosure, the Works Progress Administration worked actively to build infrastructure in small communities throughout Union County by constructing public buildings, roads, and drainage improvements.
A critical need of the county during the Depression was that of the repair and improvement of its rural public schools. Between 1935 and 1940, the WPA worked on approximately 60 new construction, repair or school improvement projects in Union County.(4) School projects became a major focus of Governor Tingley’s effort to bring federal funds into the state during the Depression. For not only did the projects provide relief to unemployment, but also as Tingley described in a letter to President Roosevelt, addressed the “deplorable conditions…of the rural schools of this state.”(5)
On September 13, 1935, then superintendent of county schools, Marion Thomason, wrote Governor Clyde Tingley a letter requesting the approval of 13 projects to build or repair public schools in Union County. In the letter Thomason describes the projects as “badly needed” to “provide better housing for children” and “to give employment to people living in districts” that had suffered crop failure for several years.(6) Approved on September 25, 1935, the unnamed school cost an estimated $6,000 to construct and was described in a newspaper article as a four-room building and auditorium with steam heat and its own water and sewer systems.(7) Many of the new schools, such as Goodson, worked to consolidate the remaining students from far-flung former homestead and ranching communities that had been affected by the economic downturn. Accordingly Goodson School consolidated the pupils of the earlier New Mexico, Wagner, and Valley schools under its roof.
Goodson Memorial School
The new school was named in memorial to Felix Emmett Goodson, a local rancher and politician, by whose efforts as county commissioner, the school was constructed. Born in 1892 in Anniston, Alabama, Goodson married Stella Ellis of Yell County, Arkansas in 1919, and settled on a homestead in southeastern Colorado. In 1925 Goodson and his family moved to Roberts Ranch, just northeast of the school site, to become its manager. Stella Goodson and another area resident taught at the Wagner and the New Mexico schools, as enrollment shifted from one school to the other. Felix served as a Union County Commissioner in 1933, and in 1936 was elected Chairman of the Commissioners. In the spring of 1935, the Goodson family moved to a new house they built on a ranch purchased just south of the school site. Felix died unexpectedly on April 17, 1936, at the age of 44, and the new school, adjacent to his ranch, was named in his honor. The school opened seven months later in November and described by a local newspaper account as “the last word in rural schools in the county.”(8)
After its completion in 1936, the community surrounding the school became known as Goodson, as the school became the center of activity for the area, including the site of community dances, political gatherings, box suppers, and Christmas programs. The school supported a small population of students derived from the scattered ranches in the region until the feasibility of busing students to Clayton resulted in closing the school in the early 1960s. Barbara Monroe, a student who attended the school between 1947 and 1951, recalled that the school sustained a population of 50 to 60 students who were educated from first to tenth grade. The students at that time were predominantly Anglo and commuted to school from nearby ranches. Classes were taught by two married couples who lived in the Teacherage and entertained themselves in the off hours with board games and outdoor activities. Some pupils pursued after school activities and played baseball against another school team from Kenton. The building was last used as a polling place in 1962, and has not been used since then. Despite the current appearance, the building is revered by the residents of the Valley as a landmark and a potential site of interest to visitors seeking to understand the history of the region.
In 1986 Goodson Memorial School was surveyed and determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.(9) In the survey it was identified as one of a few extant rural WPA schools in the northeast section of the state. A subsequent 2001 county-initiated project to map schools in Union County came to the same conclusion. The school’s significance for providing shelter and education to the children of the Dry Cimarron Valley and its role in local efforts to bring the New Deal to Union County warrants listing the Goodson Memorial School to the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance.
(1) The Dry Cimarron Valley denotes the area paralleling the Dry Cimarron River in Colfax and Union counties, beginning at the east base of Johnson Mesa and flowing east across the north portion of Union County into Oklahoma and then into Kansas to eventually join the Arkansas River near Tulsa, Oklahoma. The term Dry Cimarron Valley is applied only in New Mexico to distinguish it from the Cimarron River, which joins the Canadian River east of Springer. Robert Julyan. The Place Names of New Mexico. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996) 114.
(2) No published information about the settlement or development of the area around the New Mexico School is known to exist.
(3) U.S. Department of Commerce- Bureau of Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920- Population, Union County, Enumeration District No. 234, Precinct 2 (Cimarron).
(4) David Kammer “The Historic and Architectural Resources of the New Deal in New Mexico.” (Prepared for the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Division, 1994): B-82-B-84.
(5) Clyde K Tingley. Letter to Honorable Franklin D. Roosevelt. 29 Jan. 1936. Governor Clyde K. Tingley Papers, 1935-1938. Box 11, Folder 335-337, Works Progress Administration, Correspondence. 1936.
(6) Marion Thomason. Letter to Honorable Clyde Tingley. 13 Sept. 1935. Governor Clyde K. Tingley Papers, 1935-1938. Box 11, Folder 335-337, Works Progress Administration, Correspondence. 1935. New Mexico State Archives.
(7) There is no surface evidence of the auditorium.
(8) “Goodson Memorial School Built in Cimarron Valley With WPA Material, Labor.”
The Clayton News
. 28 April 1937: 6.
(9) Boyd C. Pratt with Jerry L. Williams. Gone But Not Forgotten, Volume II: History of Northeastern New Mexico. Prepared For the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, 1986: pp. 221-222.
Essay taken from "Goodson Memoral School", National Register of Historic Places, December 2001.
Goodson Memorial School, PDF
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