The Criswell Range and Bell Mountain as seen in winter (mirrored). © 2007 - 2012
© 2007 - 2012
© 2007 - 2012
© copyright 2007 - 2012

Pie Town, NM

A Brief (and Mostly Accurate) History

US Mail Car loaded to the gills at the Pie Town Post Office in 1936.
US Post Office Mail Car in PieTown - 1936

Amusing sign at the Daily Pie Restaurant in Pie TownIn 1922, Clyde Norman, hoping to hit it big, filed a mining claim in the middle of the unimproved road that served as a stock-drive route in Catron County. Norman dug a water well, built a log house and then a gas station with a hand-siphon. He planned to use profits from gas until mining paid off. Ranchers, miners, homesteaders and others stopped by to chat, to sample homemade pies Norman baked and to drink from his well. "Norman's Place" soon became famous for good food.

Cowboy Harmon L. Craig joined Clyde in 1923 and added chile and bread to Clyde’s pie offerings. In 1924, Clyde sold out to Craig, whose wife and daughters both operated the restaurant and baked the pies. As this Russell Lee photo shows, roads in PieTown have never been great. Here, a team of horses works to pull a car out of a mud hole.When townspeople applied for a post office in 1927, the postal inspector refused to accept the name "Norman's Place" so Craig suggested "PieTown". Craig is reported to have told the postal inspector, "It'll either be Pie Town or you can take your post office and go to hell!"

Russell Lee, Photographer who made Pie Town famous - circa 1940.In 1934 – during the dustbowl era – the area around PieTown was opened to homesteaders. For $3, a farmer could file on a quarter section of 160 acres. As you might expect, those were busy and rapid growth years for PieTown as many farmers from the dust bowl states settled in the area. To "prove up" their land claims, many farmers in the area specialized in growing pinto beans.

As this Russell Lee photo shows, even in the poverty-ridden days of the 1930's kids still sang in the Pie Town school.Noted documentary photogra-pher, Russell Lee, on assign-ment for the Farm Security Administration, visited PieTown in 1940. Russell was an extraordinarily gifted photographer and as a result, PieTown homesteaders gained immortality through the photographs Lee took. Little did the PieTown residents of the day realize that they were about to become the poster children for Roosevelt’s New Deal anti-poverty programs. Born in 1903, Russell Lee, photographed PieTown for the Farm Security Administration. A few of his PieTown photos are displayed on this page. His photographs demonstrate the many photo opportunities there once were, and still are, in the PieTown area.

Wife of Jim Norris (homesteader) with her canned goods, Pie Town, New Mexico - 1940. Photo by Russell Lee.The amazing thing about those 1940 photos is not just that they were good enough to become an excellent historical documentary depicting images of life in PieTown in the homesteading era; but that they were also shot on color transparencies! Today those remarkable images – which now reside in the permanent archives of the Library of Congress – probably comprise one of the best collections of color photographs taken of PieTown or any other New Mexico town during the years of the Great Depression.

Les Thomas, homesteader, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. Photo by Russell LeeWe have included a sampling of Lee’s 1940 photos here on this page. The full collection of his PieTown photos (and many more) of historical interest are archived at the Library of Congress. To view them online, follow the link below:

When you arrive at the destination page, choose "Search", then type:

fsa/owi new_mexico russell lee

A few years after Lee visited PieTown and took his now-famous photos, the same homesteaders who had settled there to escape from the Texas and Oklahoma dustbowl were once again faced with a prolonged drought in the PieTown area. Soon their crops were drying up again. As a result, over the next few years, many PieTown homesteaders left the area in search of economic opportunities in other states.

Jim Norris, homesteader, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. Photo by Russell Lee.After Lee’s historic visit to PieTown in 1940, over 60 years would pass before this community would enjoy another moment in the national spotlight. In the years between it seems to have been the fame of the local pie chefs that kept PieTown on the map for Highway 60 travelers.

The year was 2005. The publicity came in the form of an article researched and written by Paul Hendrickson (an admitted Russell Lee admirer). Hendrickson’s story eventually appeared in the February 2005 issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Interested visitors can read Paul Hendrickson’s Smithsonian article here.

This 1930's photo shows many buildings in Pie Town were once painted red, white and blue using paint left behind by Standard Oil after they painted their local gas station.That’s enough about PieTown for now. Who knows? Perhaps future PieTown historians will look back to the day Criswell Owners Group opened its office there as one that was somehow important in the history of this long-suffering and hard working community that first became famous for its delicious homemade pies.

Only time will tell…

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© 2007 - 2012

© 2007 - 2012

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© 2007 - 2012