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An Autobiography of
Andrew J. Gordon
Term Paper, Texas Tech University, 1931

 
     
 

On a cold, windy day in March, 1901, there was considerable hushed excitement about a little half dug-out which was located more than thirty miles from the nearest habitation on the wind swept prairies of western Oklahoma Indian Nation.  A very anxious man, dressed as the average cow puncher of that time, stood in front of the dug-out scanning the horizon for sign of a coming horseman.  On the inside of the dugout, an expectant mother was lying on a bed, attended by two Indian women of the Caddo Tribe.

 

Finally dust rose in the distance, and in a few moments, two horsemen could be distinguished.  One was a lean, wiry man riding a big red-roan horse white with lather from traveling more than fifty miles in less than four hours.  The other horseman was an Indian who had been sent post haste several hours before to Fort Sill, for the only physician in the area.  Pulling his horse to a sliding halt, the doctor dropped his reins and hastened into the dugout.  In a short time, I was ushered into this world with lusty cries.

 

My parents were very proud of their first-born son, and I was christened after my father, Andrew Jackson Gordon, Sr. My mother was the former Blanche Thomas.     My father and mother were of pioneer stock, which had originally immigrated to America from England, Scotland and Ireland.  My mother was born in Texas and had been reared in a mission school near Anadarko, Oklahoma Indian Nation.  The school had been established by the Presbyterian Missionary Society for Indian and white children whose parents found it necessary to place them there for education.  My father was reared in Texas, and like most young men without education of that time, had followed the only vocation open to him ----- range riding.  At the time of my birth he was managing his ranch, the Diamond A.  He was also Deputy United States Marshall in the Kiowa-Comanche territory that was to be opened to settlement by the whites in August 1901.

 

In 1907, the railroad built west to Mountain View where we lived at that time.  I well remember the prevailing conditions.  Trail herds of cattle comprising from small groups to ten and often twenty thousand head would wind their way through to our town and the end of the railroad, to be shipped to northern markets.  After these herds arrived, the town would be filled with noisy cowboys, and I remember many instances of "shooting up the town" by rowdy punchers who had imbibed a few drinks too many.  It was my father's responsibility to uphold law and order in town, as he was at that date the only commissioned peace officer in western Oklahoma.

 

During the first ten years of my life, one brother and three sisters had arrived to fill places in our family.  The days of my childhood passed happily.  Each succeeding year found me attending school during the winter months, while each summer vacation brought the jolliest rounds of duties and pleasures.  I was allowed a pony when I attained my eighth birthday, and each summer we moved out to the ranch, where we children would "work off" some of our surplus energy doing many helpful little tasks.

 

The beginning of the World War I found me able to ride range for my father, and to help farm the feed crops he raised each year.  I would have graduated from high school in May 1918, but the patriotic spirit got the best of me and I enlisted in the United States Navy on April 17, 1918.  Later, I was given an honorary diploma from the Mountain View High School.

 

I found life in the Navy thrilling.  I had enlisted as a ship's cook because I had experience cooking in cow camps and there was a shortage of cooks in the Navy.  I had been in the Naval Training Station at Algiers, Louisiana, only two weeks when I was ordered to report for duty aboard the gunboat "Comanche" which had come up the Mississippi for part of a new crew.  In less than three weeks we had made port at Bordeaux, France.  Before the end of the war, I had glimpses of Cuba, Mexico, Central America and France.

 

I will never forget November 11, 1918.  Our ship had docked at La Havre, France.  I heard a sailor yelling at the top of his voice, "It's all over!"  I stepped out of the galley and asked him what the **##??? was all over, and to my surprise, he told me to listen to the Frenchmen celebrating the close of the war.  Our ship returned to the United States on December 24, and I was released from active duty February 14, 1919.

 

After being discharged from the Navy, I went home.  I had expected to work for my father, but found that he had sold the old ranch place as farms, and farmers who had gone crazy over high prices of wheat had rapidly plowed it.  I had no special training for earning a livelihood, so I had to do the only work that I knew.  I did range work, broke horses and competed in rodeo contests for almost three years.

 

In the fall of 1921, I contracted with Carr and Driggers of Chichasha, Oklahoma, to break their broncs on their 71 Ranch in the Wichita Mountains, near Saddle Mountain. 

 

 

I had never been much of a ladies' man, but the local schoolteacher, Miss Dewey Lee Stewart, soon had me terribly "wrought up" and trying to compose poetry.  We gradually became better acquainted, and one day shortly after I had acquired a badly broken leg caused by a horse falling on me, I got around to the subject that was uppermost in my mind. I told Miss Stewart how badly I wanted to marry her.  To this she replied that she liked me, but would not consider marrying me, as I was not earning enough to support a wife.  I began thinking seriously of how little I was earning and later, after talking the situation over with Miss Stewart, she consented to marry me some day, provided I quit breaking horses and returned to school.

 

The following fall, when the long term opened at Oklahoma University, I enrolled in the regular freshman course.

 

College life was almost grievous.  I had become so accustomed to living and working outdoors that the four walls of a classroom seemed to stifle me.  My skull was non-absorbent, and my brain resembled a sieve.  I suffered such throes of love sickness that my temperature seemed to increase.

 

When the Christmas holidays rolled around, I hastily dropped books, inkhorn, etc., and rushed madly away to Dundee, Oklahoma where "she" was teaching in the largest rural consolidated school in Oklahoma.  We entered the Holy bonds of matrimony on Christmas Day, 1922.  Mrs. Gordon resigned her position in the Dundee school and returned with me to the university city of Norman.  At the opening of the spring term, we both enrolled in the University and continued our studies there until the end of the summer term.

 

We then located a school at Arlington, Colorado.  The school was in need of a Superintendent and intermediate grade teacher.  Upon applying for the positions, we received contracts to sign.  The total salaries were $2,385.00.  With my wife's advice and coaching, I made a wonderful success of my work as a teacher, much to the surprise of friends who thought a cowpuncher was unable to do anything but ride a horse until becoming so bowlegged that he could not catch a grown hog between his knees. 

 

In May 1924, we returned to Oklahoma and purchased the old MK ranch in Comanche County, with a small down payment and the balance to be paid in yearly installments.  Our ranch included 1,280 acres of grass and farmland, and we were allowed a grazing permit on the Wichita National Forest adjoining our land.  I also became a Ranger for the Forest Service, and in that capacity worked for the Government and also managed our ranch.  Payments were met promptly and the deal went smoothly for two years.

 

In the spring of the second year of our residence on the ranch, a tiny son, "Laddie Boy", was born to us on March 9, 1925.  I spent several hours each day trying to teach him a few cowboy yells.  He was a smiling toddler when financial reverses overtook us.  I had dealt for three hundred head of Mexico cattle.  Deflation of cattle and land prices sunk us.  We lost the cattle and our equity in the ranch.

 

Life assumed a gloomy aspect for a time.  But on October 16, 1926, our second son, Larry, arrived to cheer us.  He was in possession of a goodly number of cowboy yells, ---- inherited, no doubt.   

 

The beginning of a new year found us living near McGaffey, New Mexico, where Mrs. Gordon and I taught at the Page School.  We lived in the teacherage a short distance from the two-room school.  Additionally, I worked as a Brand Inspector for the New Mexico State Brand Association.

 

 

 
 

Later in life, Andrew wrote:

 

I learned how to use water witching techniques, called by some dowsing, at age 6 or 7, from an old man whose name was Tom Jordan.  He was better known as Slough Foot Jordan.  I well recall when the Kiowa-Comanche part of Oklahoma was just beginning to settle with homesteaders, when one day a wagon, pulled by two sore-necked horses, pulled into Mountain View.  It was summer time and I, as a kid, had to take notice of the newcomers.  Particular interest was noted of the wagon sheet over the wagon bows on which was painted "Water witching, $5.00". In this wagon, beside the bewhiskered man wearing brogan shoes, patched homespun, tight-legged breeches held up by one gallus, was a fairly nice looking plump woman whose face peered from under a calico sunbonnet.  There was one boy, heavy set and ornery looking, and his sister 2 or 3 years senior to the boy.

 

The man asked of the local hanger around kids where the Marshall's office was.  Feeling important, I replied that the U.S. Marshall was my papa, and pointed to a small office down the street.  The sign and the office said "A.J. Gordon, Marshall, Ice and Dray."  I tagged along just wondering how soon the newcomer would be locked up.  Well, he wasn't immediately locked up.  He informed my dad that he was from Tennessee and that he had driven all the way to file on a homestead.  My dad told him that homesteading was no good and that if he wanted to stay he had better camp at a wagon yard and look for local work.  My dad saw the witching sign on the wagon and stated he didn't believe in such damned idiocy.

 

This was at the time when Mountain View was planning a water system and had drilled several dry holes in the heavy red hardpan with little success, using horse power to turn the well rig.

 

School soon started and I had already matched several nose flatteners with the Jordan boy, but one day he told me that his paw, old Slough Foot, was going to witch a well and guarantee plenty of water for the town that afternoon.  This I had to see!  Well, a lot of others had to see too, so we went to the wagon yard where old Slough Foot was sitting on the wagon tongue trimming on a hackberry forked limb about 2 feet long.  He finally stated he was ready, so the crowd followed, some with doubts, others with apprehension.  He sent north, past the dry holes, studyin the lay of the land, finally mumbled that here was a likely looking place.  He struck the ground three times with the forked limb.  Why, I couldn't discern.  He then lovingly placed the forked limb, one fork in each hand, raised it high and a peculiar light shone in old Slough Foot's eyes.  He lowered the stick to waist level and held it in front of his gaunt body.  He couldn't hold that fork!  It kept bouncing.  He tried to hold it still to no avail.  Believe it or not, the skin from the old man's hands was pulled loose (This was to happen to me many times in the years to come).  Well, anyway, he said "Drill right here", and placed a pile of cow chips to mark the right spot.  It did develop that the town fathers did drill the well, found plenty of water, and paid Slough Foot $25.00.  They erected the first water tower, and I decided to be famous as a water witch.  The forked stick would, and did, work for me too.

 

That Jordan boy and I had lots of fist fights, mainly because he would kick at my pet coyote.  Slough Foot witched or hung paper in houses and was often put in jail for rustling --- usually a calf or pig to feed his hungry family. 

 

But I owe debt of gratitude to Slough Foot, as I became a full-fledged witch.

 

In the summer of '71, Dewey Lee and I stopped in Mountain View to visit boy-hood brothers named Kalb who owned the First National Bank, which their dad started in 1902.  We had quite a reminiscing of days gone by.  One of them referred to the Jordan boy with whom I had so many fights.  He said that in 1926, the poor devil had been working in the oil fields in Texas, finally came back leading a mule.  It developed that the mule had a Texas owner and the Jordan boy was taken back to Texas and jailed for mule theft.  Old Slough Foot just stole for food, but the boy didn't eat the mule.

 

As I continued to grow up, there were more people moving to the new country and, as a result, there was a corresponding need for farm and ranch water.  I often rode horseback to witch a well for some fellow who had spent his last dollar on a dry hole.  Before I went to the Navy in War I, I had become a pretty good cowpuncher and bronc rider and, often on weekends or after school, I would be called upon to locate an underground stream of water for someone.   Often I would locate several locations for wells on one trip.  Seldom was I paid but, at least, I made a lot of acquaintances.

 

After we moved to New Mexico in 1928 to teach school, I continued weekend excursions as a witch, and my reputation as a witch grew.  I had studied enough geology in school that I knew where underground water should be, so that I saved a lot of time bypassing non-productive spots.  I continued this while I was a Forest Ranger and a U.S Conservationist, during which time I probably witched 1,000 wells in New Mexico and Arizona, as I worked primarily with ranchers.  I resigned in 1945; we began the New Mexico Boy's Ranch and later developed our land at La Joya.  There I witched our two excellent irrigation wells and, as a result, I was frequently called upon to locate irrigation wells for others.  Later, I joined the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and then transferred to the Bureau of Land Management, and later to the Corps of Engineers.  I continued to enjoy locating water throughout the southwest.

 

 

 
 

In 1945, Dad's supervisor with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service wrote:

 

            He is a hard worker, conscientious and dependable, and exhibits and carries over to others his enthusiasm for any job he tackles.  Mr. Gordon has always been eminently successful in his contacts with farmers and ranchers of all types, and he is able to secure their interest and cooperation in large measure because of his ability to understand their problems...

 

 
 

On October 25, 1992, following Dad's death, his cousin Mary Coker Daly wrote, in part:

 

            The first time I remember seeing your Andrew, I was a very small child when a handsome young man rode to our place on a beautiful horse.  My mother was so excited to see her nephew and she told me, ‘This is your cousin Andrew’.

 

Another cousin, Zuleika Coker Cullers, wrote:

 

            Andrew came to see us once on the farm when I was a little girl and I remember what a handsome young man he was.  He looked so much like his father, Andrew.  You have certainly had a family to be proud of.

 

Stanley Fish, Andrew’s friend and long-time associate wrote:

 

            Andy and I became friends somewhere around 1935.  He was my supervisor in the Soil Conservation Service in Las Cruces from 1937-39.  We had many good times together, and he encouraged me on many occasions.  You and Ladd were fortunate to have had such good parents, and they were always proud (rightfully so) of both of you.

 

Andrew’s cousin Homer Halverson wrote:

 

            Andrew certainly never let moss grow under his feet.  Just recently, he remarked to me about what a wonderful life he had had.

 

Sarah Kotchian, a friend of Larry’s, wrote:

 

            He was a very special and original person from all you have told me about him, one of the last of the early pioneers in the state - I have mental pictures of him tromping over miles of forest and range land teaching you things, and of your parents teaching in the out of the way places.  They gave you so many things - values, ethics, good genes, independence, perseverance - what a legacy to the family and the state.  As you say, we celebrate 91 years of life and love of the natural world.

 

 

 
 

Andrew J Gordon lived an interesting life as a cowboy, Navy veteran of World War I, rancher, farmer, school teacher and principal, brand inspector, forest ranger, conservationist with several federal agencies, New Mexico Boys Ranch Father and Ranch Manager (his wife, Dewey Lee, was Ranch Mother), farmer and rancher, and property owner and manager.  His avocations included trick roping, fly fishing; hunting; and, most interestingly for him, water witching --- the art of rhabdomancy.  He successfully located hundreds of water wells for farmers and ranchers throughout the arid southwest, often after geologists and others had failed.  In his later years, he didn't bother to accept payments for his efforts.  He enjoyed the hobby!

 

Many scientists commonly deride Water witching, also known as water dowsing or the art of rhabdomancy.  However, in 1995, a German physicist confirmed that water witching works!  Reporting on a 10-year German government study of dowsing in arid regions, Hans-Deiter Betz of the University of Munich wrote, "it works, but we have no idea of how or why."

Larry Gordon, 1995