- As a Farm Woman Thinks: Life and Land on the Texas High Plains, 1890–1960
From 1937 to 1960, Nellie Witt Spikes prepared regular weekly columns published in local newspapers on the Texas South Plains. Under the title “As a Farm Woman Thinks” she wrote about everything from her girlhood remembrances of coming to the region in 1892 to the contemporary observations of her neighbors and even their automobiles. She considered just about any topic to be legitimate. The features appeared on the pages of such papers as the Ralls Banner, the Lorenzo Tribune, the Floyd County Hesperian, and the Crosbyton Review. Living in the area where she wrote, many of the readers knew her personally.
In time Spikes’s papers, including scores of clipped columns, found their way to the Southwest Collection Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University. There they sat awaiting the attention of a serious and sensitive scholar. That person eventually came in the form of Great Plains historian Geoff Cunfer, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan. He gleaned surviving columns from Spikes’s papers and then searched microfilm copies of the newspapers to locate others. From the mass of writings, Cunfer selected several hundred to consider for inclusion in an anthology. His goal was to identify those that combined evocative writing with topics that he considered to be of special interest. He did a good job.
Editing out obvious typographical errors, Cunfer compiled selected extracts from the columns into thematic chapters. These divisions address such topics as remembrances of settling the Llano Estacado, small town life, women’s work, and the modernization of rural life. He also created chapters based on Spikes’s word portraits of people among whom she lived and on the plants and animals of the plains. The editor finally included a chapter that provides samples of Spikes’s more poetic prose. In assembling the book, he has given readers what he termed a “window into life in a place and a time that has passed.”
It is important for modern readers to recognize that Nellie Witt Spikes was very much a product of her own time. Born in 1888 and moving to the South Plains as a girl, she wrote regular weekly columns from the 1930s until 1960. She ended her journalistic career before many of the critical issues of the latter twentieth century had become obvious. Consequently she fails to recount the stories of the region with the critical perspective of later observers. Instead, she celebrates the conquest [End Page 225] of the region and its economic development. She writes about the succession of occupation by big ranchers, increased numbers of small ranch operators, dry-land farmers, and finally by farmers practicing irrigation with groundwater. Spikes fails to reconcile the destruction by these people, many of whom were her neighbors, of the very natural environment that she extols. In other blind spots, she mostly omits writing about the African Americans who each year came to the region to help pick the cotton that the white farmers raised, while similarly saying little about the Mexican Texans who always formed part of the communities where she lived. These omissions aside, Spikes provided an expressive view of rural and small-town life on the Texas High Plains. Geoff Cunfer did an admirable job of selecting the column extracts and placing them into context. The book is recommended for any readers with interests in regional history, folk culture, and agriculture.