Morgan Nelson and his daughter in the cotton fields. (Courtesy Photo)
About to celebrate his 94th birthday, Morgan Nelson retains an almost encyclopedic knowledge about Roswell, Chaves County and New Mexico. His library contains some 30 to 40 notebooks full of information that he has compiled and written about every subject, from the history of his own First Baptist Church — the good, the bad and the not-so-good — and the state utilities and water commissions on which he served. He still is a member of the Chaves County Flood Commission. On Wednesday, when the Berrendo burst its banks, flooding Main Street, cutting north from south and leaving people stranded, Nelson received updates from across the county.
He also has written books about East Grand Plains and his birthplace of Cottonwood. Born in 1919, he remembers his first trip into Roswell when he rode with an aunt and a cousin in a buggy. The Roswell of those days he recalls as being full of trees, when the rivers and creeks ran without restraint.
Nelson has not published any of his own books, but he plans to turn the text over to the Historical Society of Southeast New Mexico archives. However, he has published one book, a history of Roswell, written by Lucius Dills, who, along with J.D. Lea, founded the Roswell Record in 1891. Morgan found the manuscript in the Historical Society Archives and decided to have the text printed without corrections.
Nelson released the book as a limited edition and the proceeds went to the Historical Society. Some copies are still available at the Society for the cost of $30. Because of his continued contributions to both groups, Nelson was made an honorary member of the Historical Foundation of Southeast New Mexico in 2012.
Nelson has had two articles published, one about James Patterson, who built the first commercial building in Roswell, a commissary for cowboys; and another about Albert Fall. “I contend that Albert Fall should be honored rather than dishonored,” said Nelson.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Fall developed the Teapot Dome oilfield and became caught up in the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s. Fall also built the oil storage tanks in Hawaii. “He saved us during World War II. The tanks allowed us to fight out of Hawaii rather than having to return to San Diego to refuel,” Nelson explained.
Nelson is not alone in his assessment. Fall leased the Teapot Dome oil production rights to Larry Sinclair and Edward Doheny. Later, Fall received a no-interest loan from Doheny. The loan was construed as a bribe. A re-trial of Fall was enacted in Alamogordo in 2012 as part of the New Mexico Centennial celebration. The “jurors” found Fall not guilty.
Nelson’s father was born in Roswell in 1887. His mother and an uncle came to Roswell for health, where his parents met. The couple married in Georgia. “My dad had cattle and he lost everything when the banks closed (in the cattle crash of 1919). When they got off the train in Roswell, he found out about the bank failure. He had around $30 to $60 in his pocket.”
The couple moved to Roswell from Cottonwood in 1921 and later from Roswell to East Grand Plains in 1925. Nelson has lived in his current home since 1928. He went to high school in Roswell when it was located where the Yucca Center stands now. He went on to receive an engineering degree at New Mexico State University. He received an honorary doctorate from NMSU in 2009. He has several papers in their archives today.
For a while, the family farmed cotton, a labor intensive crop. German POWs worked the farm and helped build a pipeline from the reservoir to the property. Later, they farmed chiles, another labor intensive crop.
Nelson joined the service in 1941. He achieved the rank of major at the tender age of 23. He stayed with the military either in the reserves or in active service for 28 years, by which time, he had achieved the rank of colonel. He was returned to active service during the Korean Conflict.
He developed a love of things Egyptian when he was stationed in Egypt for a year during World War II. After the War, Nelson went on diplomatic missions to Egypt and other countries, including France, Britain, Germany and Palestine. He still has friends in Egypt and they exchange visits regularly. “Some of these families I have known for five generations,” he said, although he admitted that the latest generation were very young.
Nelson married his wife, Joyce, on Feb. 22, 1950, in Carlsbad. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2000 at the Historical Society of Southeast New Mexico Museum. She passed away in 2008. They had been married 58 years. Nelson and Joyce had two daughters, Ann and Jane.
Nelson also served as a state representative in the New Mexico State Legislature “from 1949 to 1963.” He noted: “Every bill that passed took something away from you and me. Every time the legislators vote, we lose something.”
One of Nelson’s primary concerns then and now are higher education and the governance of schools. He was instrumental in the implementation of junior colleges, which opened education up to the people who lived too far away from the nearest college to attend.
Nelson remains an ardent Democrat. He summed up the two parties when he said: “Republicans are all about the money. Democrats are all about people.”
In 1978, he carried out his philosophy of humanity first when he built the building that first housed Counseling Associates. He was on the board of Counseling Associates until 1993.
Nelson recognized his party’s shortcomings when he said they lacked organization, and he has always been willing to work where he was needed, serving as a policy analyst in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Nelson also managed Department of the Environment Special Projects. In 2008, he worked for former U.S. Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici in his Washington, D.C., office.
Five years later, he admits he is slowing down and likes staying home when he can, on a rainy day, keeping track of floods in his capacity as a member of Chaves County Flood Commission.