Politics prevent square deal for Curry County

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Curry County may be New Mexico’s third smallest county, but it’s never hard to find.

“You see a map of New Mexico,” said County Commissioner Frank Blackburn, “and you can spot Curry County quickly because of those stair steps.”

The “stairs” that separate Curry County, from Quay County to the north and Roosevelt County to the west, are six-mile tracks of evidence that New Mexico politics existed before New Mexico did, and the railroad was king when it came to establishing livelihoods.

At the turn of the 20th century, New Mexico was still a dozen years from statehood. And Curry County only existed as a portion of Quay and Roosevelt counties.

According to the High Plains Historical Foundation’s “Curry County” history book, published in 1978 with Don McAlavy and Harold Kilmer as co-editors, Clovis was dubbed the “Magic City” because of its quick growth along the railroad. But many Clovis leaders feared a ceiling on growth because it was in Roosevelt County, and county business was done in the county seat of Portales.

Enter Charles Scheurich. The mercantile store operator was friends with the territorial governor then, Blackburn said, and that’s what got Scheurich sent to Santa Fe to seek creation of a new county.

“It took $400 they raised from banks to send Charlie Scheurich up there,” Blackburn said.

When he was there, Scheurich made the case that citizens had a faced two-day travels to get to their county seats, whether it be Portales or Tucumcari in Quay County. The solution Schuerich presented was a square that included Cameron in the north, Texico in the east and Tolar in the west.

Quay and Roosevelt representatives were willing to give up land for this new county, but added their own terms.

Sen. Washington Lindsey of Portales didn’t want Roosevelt County locked out of the railroad, so he requested a stretch of land with the railroad.

“You’ve got to think about the importance of the railroad to settlers,” Blackburn said. “They grew most of their food. They had to have fencing, they had to have small tools. They probably had to buy a little sugar and salt. It came in through the railroad.”

That’s why different households can now call Melrose home but pay taxes in different counties based on where they live outside of Melrose.

The steps to the north? That’s a matter of politics, Blackburn said. According to the Curry County history book, Sen. Merritt Mechem spoke for Forrest, McAlister, Ragland and House.

“They didn’t like those Texas Democrats down in Clovis,” Blackburn said, and the stair steps were created to maximize Curry County’s territory while keeping out unwilling communities.

With those disagreements out of the way, other legislators had no problem approving the new county.

Any executive objections were brushed aside, as the new county was named in honor of Gov. George Curry.