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A.O. Kime Articles:

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Naco Border Days

Doris Sturges

An account by Doris Sturges about her 1943 move to Naco, Arizona and first experiences

Naco Border Days
by Doris Sturges (1911-2002)

“Mucho tierra” are the words as the wind whips dust and sand along this border region of the United States and Mexico. The wind is a force to be reckoned with in its invasion from Mexico’s high desert country as it rattles windows and doors in fury, leaving sand along the sills and other entry ways as mementos of its passing. Breathing can become normal again.

Low gray clouds obscured the sun and the rising of the wind made this small town of Naco seem desolate, had it not been for the glitter of Christmas lights as we drove into what was to be our home for the next five years.

Crossing railroad tracks, we had our first glimpse of our little white frame house. We cradled our infant daughter in our arms as our other three children and our scant possessions were crammed into our old Ford sedan.

The kindness of our yet unseen landlords soon became apparent as we entered a warm house, heated by two wood stoves, breaking the chill of that wintry day. They knew we had a new baby and provided for our homecoming. Shelves were newly cleaned, another reminder of caring by this elderly couple, the John Towners, longtime residents (they became the first subject for a newspaper story launching my news career).

Moving became a way of life for those of us in the Border Patrol and Immigration Service and home was where the heart was. We had just come from Douglas, Arizona, to take the new post in Naco. Our new home was of the frontier era and bore numerous bullet holes from the Mexican revolution, since it was only a block away from the border. Just what held this old house together we can only speculate as it shuddered in the heavy winds, and we thought, did a little rocking too.

Life soon settled into familiar routines, that is, until that fearful May morning marked by cannon fire. We were alarmed by what we thought might be another revolution “otra la”, across the line. Since it doesn’t take much to spark either a fiesta or a revolution, we were relieved to find it to be the former, as the celebration of Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), Independence Day, was at hand.

On the lighter side, the children enjoyed the gala birthday parties which always included the piñata smashing. Blindfolded and armed with a stick, the children vied to see who could hit the piñata, which when broken would scatter candy and treats in all directions. Piñatas were elaborately decorated clay pots.

Then there were the shopping trips south of the borders, mostly to buy war rationed goods in short supply in this country, like sugar and meat. Any beef cut was twenty five cents a kilo (2.2 pounds). We also bought huaraches (leather sandals) and decorative items for the house. I remember getting a huge Mexican hat which covered most of one wall.

I vividly recall the border incident when negro soldiers from Fort Huachuca threatened to come back and wipe Naco off the map. They frequently found entertainment in the bordellos of Naco, Sonora, Mexico. Somehow in a tiff with Immigration officers at the border crossing, insults were traded and in the heat of the moment the threat was made. However, it was taken seriously and the border lawmen had machine guns placed at the ready. At that time, Fort Huachuca, Arizona was an all negro base. Meanwhile, at home, we had an antique shotgun for protection which doubtless would have fallen apart had we found the courage to pull the trigger. However, there was some comfort in having it. Thankfully we were spared the need as well as the uprising.

The twin border towns of Naco became sleepy little villages again until an event occurred which was to portend the Atomic Age. We heard a distant roar, like no other that we could identify. It turned out to be the first atom blast at White Sands, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. We were to find this out much later.

Another account by Doris on Naco:

There was upheaval in the world as WWII events swiftly unfolded and suddenly halted with the use of the ultimate instrument of terror, the atomic bomb.

We were to hear that first explosive trial roar of the bomb from White Sands to our home down on the Mexican border at Naco… although at the time we were unaware of its source or portent.

Life on the border was tranquil enough… we had been transferred to Naco from Douglas in 1943. It was just before Christmas and very cold. Susan was just 3 months old but the kindly landlord and his wife had built fires in the heating stove and kitchen range so that the house was comfortable when we arrived.

John was an immigration officer at the border crossing between the two Nacos and we soon became acquainted with other government officers and their families in the Immigration and Customs Service.

The old white house we called home had several bullet holes from the last Mexican revolution and we found cannon balls in the surrounding fields. In view of this we were startled one morning at 6 AM at the sound of cannons, thinking perhaps another uprising. It was however a Cinco de Mayo Independence Day celebration.

Dust storms were fierce sometimes in that area… “mucho tierra” the Mexicans would say. The old-old house would shudder and shake sometimes in the onslaught. One particular night it was worse than usual and we awoke with heavy red dust on our faces and hair and well as throughout the house.

Naco was then a train stop… we could see and hear the old steam engine rounding a hilly curve into town from the kitchen window, its plume of smoke signaling its arrival.

The children would catch and ride some of the burros that roamed free around the town. Sometimes the burros would eat the mash thrown out at the tequila factory in Mexico and be quite unsteady on their feet.

Dorene and Allen attended school in Naco and Joanne rode the bus to high school in Bisbee. All the others, or most, were Mexicans and she was called the “Naco kid”.

Some of our shopping was done in Mexico where during the war years we could buy gas, sugar and meat, all scarce in the states (although of inferior quality). We had our laundry done there too.

Although fiestas, dances and parties “otra la” was a constant source of delight to the children and to us… a rich heritage of our Latin neighbors.

(picture taken in the 1960s at Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim 30 miles east of Payson, Arizona)

Also see An account by Doris Sturges about her 1935 move to Arizona and first experiences
See our tribute to Doris Sturges

Last modified: 10/25/13