Interview of Mrs. N. Franklin (Sarah) Davidson by her son Chandler Davidson Professor of Sociology at Rice University Houston Texas July 16 1988 at Mrs. Davidsons home in Houston Texas.
This interview is about the life of Mrs. Sarah Davidson as the wife of N. Franklin Davidson especially during his years in the U.S. Immigration Service.
Mr. Davidson entered the U.S. Border Patrol in October 1942 as a member of the 19th session at El Paso Texas.
CD: Where and when did dad first join the Service? And what were the events leading up to that?
SD: He joined the Service in St. Louis. He took the exam for Border Patrolman when he was working for the Department of Agriculture as a Meat Inspector. That was so definitely a step up that he was delighted to get the opportunity to take the test. He had wanted to be in the Border Patrol for a long time and hadnt had the opportunity to take the examination so when he saw an ad in a post office saying they were giving the test at a certain place at a certain time he made arrangements to be there. When he took the test he thought he has surely failed because he didnt even answer two thirds of the questions but it turned out –
CD: Why did he not answer two-thirds of the questions?
SD: He ran out of time. He was violently ill and had to leave the room to be ill because he was so excited about getting to take the test. And when he got back and was preparing to go ahead with answering the questions the person in charge said Thats all. He said that he couldnt possibly have passed. Actually the very opposite happened; he made something in the 90s – 96 I think. Undoubtedly they graded it on the curve and he didnt have to count those that he didnt even answer. But he made an extremely good grade and that was just the beginning of it though of course. It had to go through channels and get him from St. Louis to El Paso which took almost a whole year. CD: When did he get to El Paso? SD: In October of 42.
CD: What did he do when he was in El Paso?
SD: He went to the first Border Patrol School after his entry there. I think the date of his entry was October 12th. I cant remember whether the next school was before Christmas or shortly thereafter but he went to the first school after that and was registered with the Patrol there in El Paso all this time. After he had finished the school and been in El Paso a few months he was transferred to Lordsburg New Mexico where he stayed for the next ten years almost.
CD: I see. Wasnt there a period where he went into the Marines after he had joined the Immigration Service?
SD: Yes there surely was. After he had been in Lordsburg several months he received notice that he had been drafted. When he went to present himself the Marines chose him so he was a Marine for a little over a year. Never did he go overseas but he was always in school in the Marines and was finally discharged with bad legs.
CD: And then he came back to Lordsburg?
SD: Came back to Lordsburg and resumed his job there where we stayed as I said for a good many years.
CD: and then from Lordsburg he went to –
SD: He went to Ysleta and were there a few years during which time he taught sometimes at the Border Patrol Academy sometimes Spanish and sometimes Law. After that we were in Fort Hancock for the two years that you were duty bound to go to a hardship station which that was because they had bad water you had to haul in water. He was Senior over there though and we had a very happy time in Fort Hancock.
CD: And then where did you go?
SD: He was transferred back to El Paso so we have always been in the Southwest. After he had been there several years he had two heart attacks and that was the cause of his early retirement. He had been in 25 years.
CD: So he retired what year do you remember?
SD: It was 67 on his birthday November 23rd.
CD: And from there where did you go?
SD: That was the end of his Border Patrol career which is of interest.
CD: And after that?
SD: After that we went to the Hill Country and bought ourselves the most beautiful little home and had the most fun on the lakes. We were there for almost 20 years and he died there in 85 after many happy years there. We had a good life.
CD: Well let me talk a little bit about your life as the wife of a Border Patrolman and lets begin by going back to those early days. Your first duty station was Lordsburg. Tell me a little about your family and about your experiences there in Lordsburg.
SD: We had two boys when we went to Lordsburg three when we left
and the two boys were Chandler and Phillip. Chandler was in – I guess the first grade but school was almost out that first year. And of course Phil was just a little toddler. We enjoyed being out in that kind of station because thats the kind of life I had always led a country girl.
CD: Where did you originally grow up?
SD: Oh I grew up in Mitchell County near Colorado City Texas which is really prime West Texas territory.
CD: So it wasnt all that much different in terms of climate.
SD: No even the climate absolutely. It was very similar to what I had been accustomed to all my life.
CD: So tell us a little about the climate out there the weather and the kinds of situations that you found yourself in.
SD: Alright I loved the desert. It was dry of course a lot of the time but we did have an occasional rain and sometimes gully washers but I liked it all. The temperature was nice because in the evenings it would always get cool in the summer. The altitude was high.
CD: How about the dust storms?
SD: Oh we had those too and I had been used to them in Texas so I knew where they came from and where they were going. But they were bad. It was cold in the winter in Lordsburg but not terribly cold because it is southern New Mexico of course. There was snow sometimes most every year it snowed somewhere around there.
CD: Who were some of the people in Dads duty station there and their wives? Who were your early friends there in Lordsburg?
SD: Oh yes. The first person in Lordsburg that we came to know was E. Keith McDonald the Senior the Station Senior as they called him. But he was soon replaced by Eldon Taylor who was the Station Senior almost all the time we were there. And there were the Marbrys – Lucille and Paul; and Mike Maffeo and of course Eldon and Sally Taylor the ones in charge. And then different people came and went. There were the Wolstenholmes and thats all I recall right at this minute although I know there were two or three more.
CD: Were the people in the Border Patrol a fairly close-knit group of people?
SD: Yes they were and they were accepted very readily even though the farmers sometimes were at odds with the Patrolmen. But everyone just accepted us girls just as though we were topgrade stuff and we were in the Border Patrol because our husbands were smarter than average we thought.
CD: What were the usual duty routines of the husbands and how did that affect your life?
SD: They were usually on eight-hour shifts but sometimes they had to be on call for any time during the twenty-four hours if they were needed and they were supposed to be ready to go. Many times they were called up at night but not often. They inspected the trains as they came through for alien riders. Then they would ride out in the Patrol cars in the day time and try to apprehend aliens who were working in the countryside on ranches or farms or whatever and of course the hunting of aliens was so good in those days that hardly a day passed that they did not go into El Paso to transport aliens to Headquarters. For several years they were going into El Paso all the time to take aliens. They sure had a lot to contend with.
CD: How far was that trip from Lordsburg to El Paso?
SD: It seems to me that it was about 165 miles. I may be wrong but it was a long way.
CD: That was highway 80 back in those days wasnt it? A two-lane highway?
SD: Yes and there were more accidents on that straight uncluttered road than you ever saw. But the boys never were involved that I know of in anything serious anyway. But how did it affect us? Why we accepted it as part of life and that was just all there was to it. There was nothing to worry about and lots of times it was interesting and exciting you know. But they never did tell us very much about their business. They knew better I guess.
CD: Well did they consider it to be a dangerous occupation?
SD: If they did it didnt seem to matter in any way except jumping around on the trains that was the worst thing. There was an accident or two I dont believe any Border Patrolman but a railroad detective or someone had an accident either falling from a train or a train hitting him and so they had to be very careful of that. I think that did give them a little bit of worry. But no nobody was very much worried about the law part of it the part in which guns were shot and people were killed I dont think that ever happened in our area.
CD: How was life for you and the children so far as this small town life and the kinds of things that went on back in those days?
SD: It was interesting. It was nice because I had grown up in the
church and I immediately began going to church and taking the little boys. We just fitted right in wherever we went. The kids were popular in school and smart and did everything that was expected of them. But of course Dad would always be sent out of town on a detail just when they were getting ready to participate in a band concert or a track meet or something so he hardly ever got to be there.
CD: What did these details involve?
SD: They were more or less I think sweeps where they would go to maybe the lower Rio Grande Valley and every available Patrolman would get out and scour the countryside and try to apprehend the aliens. And they were very successful. And once Frank had to go to California and I am not sure but I think he almost missed our oldest sons graduation. Now this was after we moved but something always happened. Do you remember if Dad did get special dispensation to go to your graduation?
CD: No I dont remember.
SD: Well I think he did get to attend but he had to have a special permit because then he went and joined the detail that was involved in swinging around and sweeping up aliens.
CD: Didnt he at one time also take part in the Japanese relocation camps?
SD: Yes that was a part of his duty in I believe that was 46.
CD: After the war?
SD: Yes. There were several Border Patrolmen assigned to the Tule Lake camp for those Japanese citizens. Actually they were citizens of the United States but they were under surveillance all this time. He had a pretty good time up there. They were nice to him and I dont think they were cruel to the prisoners but they were prisoners which wasnt really right I dont think.
CD: And so how long was he up there?
SD: Oh I dont know just a matter of weeks or months. I cant even guess but it wasnt very long not anything like a year or six months.
CD: So it was expected that every once in a while he would have to be gone from home a few weeks and the wife would be
SD: Yes she would be on her own and invariably one of the kids would have a sickness of some kind that Mama was pretty apprehensive about but nothing too serious ever happened. I guess if anything very serious had happened we could have called him back. We were used to that; it was something that we accepted kids as well as I.
CD: And you say that the wives were fairly close. They socialized with each other and helped each other out?
SD: Yes we all visited compared notes and enjoyed each others presence. They were all pretty similar in their upbringing because one requirement for the Border Patrol in those days was that you had been involved in something that kept you outdoors for the past two years or I dont know for what period of time. But people who worked outside were going to be Border Patrolmen. Of course Frank was a rancher his father was a rancher and thats what he was putting as his background because he had been a cowboy for a good many years on his fathers ranch. So they all were outdoors men and many of them had been in I suppose police departments some sort of law enforcement so we all had a fairly common background.
CD: How did the Border Patrol get along with the other law enforcement agencies in the little towns where they worked?
SD: Just fine in both the places that I was very familiar with. In Lordsburg they were just buddy-buddy with the Highway Patrol the New Mexico Highway Patrol and –
CD: Who was that do you remember who that was the Patrolman who was there when you were there?
SD: Yes everybody knew Johnny Bradford and he was later to become head man of that organization.
CD: The Chief of Police of the State of New Mexico?
SD: Yes absolutely and we were all good friend with him and his wife Margaret.
CD: You mentioned Eldon Taylors name a few minutes ago. What was his wifes name?
SD: Sally and Sally is still one of my good friends. Incidentally shes working here for the Museum.
CD: And who are some of the other wives that you knew back in those days?
SD: I failed to mention the Steeles a while ago – Margaret and Chuck Steele and Pat Wolstenholme and –
CD: How about the Wischkaempers?
SD: I forgot to mention the Wischkaempers because for about a year
they were out of Lordsburg and I guess I was trying to remember who was there at that time. But yes Tony Wischkaemper and Wisch Richard were very good friends of ours. The whole business we were just as friendly as could be.
CD: What were Dads duties when you were transferred to El Paso in 1952?
SD: Well he was still just apprehending aliens. He was a Border Patrolman. But sometime I dont know when it would have been he was involved with the Border Patrol Academy as I said in different capacities. This was in the late 50s or early 60s.
CD: You had said that he had taught Spanish there and that he had also taught Law there. How did he learn Spanish and Law?
SD: He had to learn those two subjects and take a test on them before he ever got into the Border Patrol. That was his probationary year he had a year to learn Border Patrol Law and also Spanish. Of course I was a pretty good Spanish speaker myself and I helped him.
CD: You already spoke Spanish?
SD: Well not fluently but I had had three years in high school and one in college so I knew a little bit about basic grammar.
CD: So the two of you worked together at home?
SD: Yes and he also had help from his Border Patrol friends some of whom had lived in Mexico. The first man who was his senior there Keith McDonald (they were Mormons and they had lived in Mexico) spoke Spanish wonderfully well. So I dont know whether Keith helped Dad much or not because I dont believe no that was before he got in but there were a lot of Border Patrolmen who knew Spanish from their childhood.
CD: And how about Law?
SD: Law was hard.
CD: Did you help him with that too?
SD: Well I read out the questions and listened to his answers and looked them up. But yes I helped him in a way I suppose. But he had also attended lectures on it.
CD: Who were some of the people then that you were friendly with in El Paso?
SD: I am trying to think. Some of the ones I remember lived near us and those were named: Skid and Penny Rogers and Dale Morris and
his wife. I cant remember very many people because in a big station like El Paso you do not get to know intimately so many of your husbands associates wives as you did in a small place like Lordsburg. So I never did know too many people with whom he worked in El Paso. But after all we were there I guess ten years so I should have known more than I did perhaps.
CD: You knew the Turners didnt you?
SD: Oh Bill and Sue Turner our very best friends of course. And I can find in my mind a lot of names if I were prepared.
CD: What were some of the duties there in El Paso were they
pretty much the same as in Lordsburg – just on a larger scale?
SD: Yes they would inspect busses to find where the aliens were coming in or if they were coming in. Also they rode around out in the hinterlands and apprehended aliens who were working illegally. Just the same duties as anywhere except the milieu was a little bit different. Also there were specialized duties as I said about the school. You could sometimes get just a short shift of teaching out there which Dad did two or three times.
CD: You said you lived where when you were in El Paso?
SD: We lived down in Millers Lakeside which was right on the river and boy that was a place where the men had to patrol because the river was so accessible. They could just walk across it in many places or they might have to wade across it but it was easy to get in down there so there was always somebody on the border there.
CD: And you had had a third son while you were in Lordsburg.
SD: Yes we surely had. He was born in 1949 and I dont suppose he remembers much about New Mexico not nearly as much as he does El Paso.
CD: This is Tony?
SD: Thats Tony our youngest and he was the last one of the family to graduate from Ysleta High School. All three boys graduated there.
CD: At some point you said you had gone to Fort Hancock. When was that?
SD: That was after well lets see it was about 1958 or 1959 I guess 1958.
CD: How long did you live there?
SD: Two years.
CD: How was living in Fort Hancock?
SD: It was nice. We had a nice house to live in and a pretty desert-like area. But the water was bad and it had to be hauled in to drink and we also had to do our laundry somewhere else because the water wasnt any good to do even your clothes in. But we enjoyed it there. That was Franks first and only station where he was the Senior so he enjoyed it too. And there were I believe five people among whom were the Adamzcks and the Reeves Harold Reeves and his wife Phyllis. Off hand I cant just say who the other three were but Ill think of them. Penter Nat and Lois.
CD: After your two years there you moved back to El Paso?
SD: Yes he was transferred back to El Paso and did essentially the same work as before. Of course this all entailed making detailed records of everybody you apprehended and the paper work was rather cumbersome or troublesome but that is some part of police work that always bugs people who participate in it.
CD: Well looking back on your life as a Border Patrolmans wife would you recommend it to other wives whose husbands are thinking about going into the Service?
SD: It would be very hard for me to make any kind of a statement as to that because things have changed so much in the Patrol. At least this is what I understand. I thought that everything was great then and I dont think that everything is quite so great now as far as the duties of the men and their abilities and so forth. So I wouldnt make much judgment. Although I think any wife would be happy to go wherever her husband had work. Now thats another thing – it might be a lot easier to find work like this than it was back in the days when I was a Border Patrol wife because you were really among the few.
CD: That was just shortly after the depression when you all went into it.
SD: Yes absolutely we had hardly gotten out of the depression. I believe that Dads first salary for the whole year was $2000 when we went in.
CD: And that was considered a princely sum wasnt it?
SD: Oh my we had been living on $1625 so it was fine.
CD: And one other thing I wanted you to talk a little about – when you were in Lordsburg you also did some work of your own didnt you?
SD: Yes I taught school as a substitute for a couple of years before our last child was born. And also I was elected to the School Board. And Dad was selected as a member of the Draft Board so the ones that we didnt get in school we got in the draft. No Im joking there was nothing personal about it. But it was an interesting life.
CD: Well thank you very much.
SD: Ive enjoyed it.
Transcribed by Bernice Maggio and edited by Terrie Cornell May 1990 Re-edited by Mrs. Davidson and T. Cornell July 1990.