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Book Review on Pie Town Woman from Cibola Beacon

By Rosanne Boyett, Beacon correspondent, Published Monday, September 14, 2009.

The Hard Life and Good Times of a New Mexico Homesteader
Author: Joan Myers, ISBN: 978-0-8263-2283-8, • $34.95 paperback, 215 pages, 84 halftones

You may not remember FSA, Farm Security Administration, under the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression. But most people know about Pie Town, south of Grants and west of Socorro. In 1922, an ex-serviceman, Clyde Norman, opened “NORMAN'S PLACE. Gas and Oil for Sale - Free water for Radiators” and he bought baked goods from Magdalena, 75 miles away, to sell at his new business. This is the origin of Pie Town, New Mexico.

Joan Myers, author and photographer, said, historically, photographers did not take pictures of women except in a studio setting. “Home was a personal space, and women's lives were seen as too ordinary to merit examination.” She refutes this concept with samples of FSA photographer Russell Lee's works based on Pie Town. Lee's photographs, 1936 through 1942, are catalogued in the Library of Congress.

But the true story of this book is the life of Doris Caudill and her family, homesteading at Divide, under the shadow of Alegres Mountain during the Great Depression. Literally on the Continental Divide, this community was so tiny that Pie Town was the nearest place for mail, groceries, supplies, and community events.

Decades later, visiting in Caudill's Oregon home, Myers said, “She is so much more than the images I know. Doris exceeds everything Russell Lee attributes to her, but I cannot yet take in all the difference.” For Doris, her homesteading experiences near Pie Town are the strongest memories of her long life. She was a young bride when she came to Pie Town and was in her eighth decade when interviewed by Myers.

Jean Lee, Russell's wife and assistant, commented, “We knew these people probably couldn't make it. That land should never have been stirred with a stick. There was no good topsoil; none at all. Actually, we really shouldn't ever have taken a photograph in Pie Town. They give a false impression. It was such a desperate period, but this was no answer. It was interesting, the way they were living in dugouts with no electricity, no telephones or running water. It appealed to people elsewhere in the country. It was a nostalgia thing even then.”

Myers offers insight into Doris Caudill as an individual, in a specific place, at a particular point in time. The book begins with 37 pages of Russell Lee's Pie Town photographs. It closes this homesteading story with the author's 19 pictures of Pie Town today. The contrasts are breathtaking