Ruth McGee

Ruth McGee

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Listen to Ruth McGee

I was born in Farmington in 1917, February 19, 1917.  When I was ten days old, my mother, in a wagon, took me to Toadlena in February.  Isn't that something?

[My parents were] George and Lucy Bloomfield...  They lived at the trading post at Toadlena...  There were eight of us--one sister died when I was real young, three or four.  All raised there at Toadlena, went to school there till the eighth grade.  Then we had to be farmed out to go to high school and college.

It was a great way to live, really neat.  We had a real nice home, Daddy and Mother made a real nice home.  Daddy had nice yards and had really made a lot of beautiful rock work with gardens and lawns.  We lived right near the mountain, and that was fun, because we were just like a bunch of goats, runnin' up and down the mountain (chuckles) having fun, and growing up there with my brothers and sisters.
 
 

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I met [Roscoe McGee] on the Fourth of July 1936.  Married him on the thirtieth of August.  When I saw a good thing....  Well, in fact, he told me--I was gonna go back to school--and he said, "Either you go back to school, or we get married."  So we got married!  (laughter)....

I met him at a dance in Farmington.  My sister and my brother and I and some other young people had gone from Toadlena up to Mesa Verde and spent the Fourth of July and then came back to Farmington and went to a dance there.  And my kids sure look at me sort of askance when I tell 'em that there was also a bar there.  (laughter)

But before this, I have to tell you--and it's in Roscoe's history here, that I have.  My mother and dad were having a hard time at the trading post because Daddy had bought up a lot of sheep from all of the other Indian traders, and they trailed them to Gallup.  They didn't haul them, they had to trail them.  And when they got there--they were contracted--and when they got there, the contractor couldn't honor the contract, and so they just had the sheep and it was storming, and they just lost all the sheep.  And Dad was responsible, because he'd bought up all of the other trading posts that were close.  So he was in financial trouble, and so he went to work for the government, left the store for Vernon, my brother, to run.  What he was doing, they were using Navajo labor, and if the Navajos, they were just working, they only got $1.50 a day--but if they had a horse and a scraper, they got $3.50, I think it was.  They were building reservoirs and that kind of work, and Daddy was the supervisor over that.  And they had stopped at the Red Mesa Trading Post, because that was an area where they were working part of the time, and met my husband and Jewel, who you visited with, and they liked the young man, and Daddy told him, "Well, I've got three pretty daughters.  I would like you to meet them."  (laughter)
 
 

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Cole:  So once you married Roscoe, what trading post did you move to then?
 

To Red Mesa.  He had built one room onto the store, and also a wareroom.  He did add a wareroom, and a cellar that he built.  It was one big room.  We had kitchen, bedroom, and dining room and everything in that one room.

Iíll just read you a bit.  (quoting from Roscoe's history)  He said, "There was no foundation, [just] the rock walls of the store and lots of unwanted creatures would just come through the holes in the wall and in the floor.  My brother Joe and I did not like the sandrock floors.... with the mud in between the rocks, 'cause when you swept the floors, you soon had cracks between them, and you would have to keep filling the cracks with mud.  We decided to put a cement floor over the rock floors, and we thought it would keep out the varmints and centipedes.

"A few months after, things were going along fairly well, and we bought about 4 two-by-fours and twelves.  And we would lay one piece at a time.  Then we hauled rocks and gravel in our pickup, from the wash about ten miles from the store.  And every time we could get a few dollars ahead, we would buy a few bags of cement and move the two-by-fours over, about four feet across the width of the room, and mix the cement with a shovel in a wheelbarrow, and pour that piece.  And then after a few days, when we could get a little more money, we'd pour some more cement.  And finally, after about a year or two, we had the floors all done, except for the room we lived in."  I think he's talking about the store floors.  "We decided to put a wood floor in this room, so we put in two-by-fours over the rock floor and leveled them, and nailed the floor of grooved lumber over them.  The mud plaster walls were not straight, so in places the floor did not fit against the wall close, and we didn't worry about that much at this time.

"We always had a rifle and a shotgun loaded, leaning against the wall, because we never knew when we might need one--with the sheep and goats in our corrals, the coyotes and the lynx cats would come and kill the sheep and goats.  They would come around the store at night.  One evening we were sitting and reading and I looked over at the other side of the room and a rattlesnake had his head about six inches out of the space where the floor didn't fit against the wall, looking us over.  No big deal to us.  I just reached over, picked up the shotgun, and shot his head off.  (laughter)  The only bad thing about it, part of the top of the floor disappeared with the head.  (laughter)  This happened three or four times, so as we had not put a sub-floor in, we laid another grooved lumber floor to the wall, and then we filled the fireplace with rock and worked and plastered over them like the rest of the wall, and bought a small coal stove to use.  So with the cook stove, the room was warm.  And while we had snakes and other varmints under the floor, they couldn't come through and live with us."
 
 

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Our store then wasn't like the stores now.  We had what we called a counter, and they had the bull pen.  We always took everything off the shelf and put it on the counter that they wanted to buy.  I didn't work in the store much at first--only on the days that Roscoe would have to go to town to get merchandise, and then he'd leave me to run the store.  I remember one time, I was taking care of it, and like I said, I didn't speak Navajo as well... But I could trade.  I knew enough that I could trade.  It was all with no cash.  They sometimes would have a goat skin or a sheep skin to sell.  We'd maybe give him a dime for it, and they'd trade it right back for a bottle of pop.  So about all we had in the cash drawer was dimes and nickels, and maybe a fifty-cent piece or two.  That's the way we traded, that's all.
 

Cole:  How did the children like living at the trading post?
 

They liked it.  It was a good way to grow up, a good place to grow up.  My mother always kinda worried because we weren't exposed to all the things that the children in town and cities were exposed to, but then my Aunt said, "They're not exposed to a lot of things that wouldn't be so good for them."  And that's right, we weren't.  We had a good life at the trading posts--secure, that's a good secure [life].  And I think my children feel the same way.  When I hear them talk, they feel like it was a good, secure way to grow up.