True Story, Issue #30

"Bought & Sold" by Renata Golden

True Story, Issue #30

A search for an inherited plot of undeveloped land in New Mexico inspires this sprawling history of lies and broken promises involving railroads and ranchers, land grants and land grabs.

From "Bought & Sold" by Renata Golden 

What a staggering change has taken place here! And in such a short space of time! Cities which now throb with growth were only dots fifteen years ago, swallowed in the vast panorama of mountain and desert. People who had only vaguely heard of such names as Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso fifteen years ago, are now living in these cities in the hundreds of thousands. 

- 1960s Deming Ranchettes sales brochure

When my father died on Christmas Day in 1989, he left his Deming Ranchettes to me in his will. Select Western Lands, Inc., a company that endures today primarily in the archived records of the lawsuits filed against it, had subdivided pristine New Mexican desert fifteen miles east of the city of Deming, population eight thousand at the time my parents bought their ranchettes, into a crazy quilt of eighty thousand half-acre lots. Infrastructure—paved roads, water, utilities—was nonexistent. I was the sudden new owner of two of those lots.

I have no good explanation for why I didn’t visit my ranchettes immediately. I was curious—just not curious enough to make the three-hundred-mile trip from Phoenix, where I was living when my father died, or the eight-hundred-fifty-mile one from Houston, where I moved ten years later for graduate school. Even when I occasionally drove back and forth between Phoenix and Houston on Interstate 10, which goes right through Deming, I couldn’t be bothered to take the exit. I glanced over my shoulder, south toward the mountains, and imagined my ranchettes somewhere in the heat shimmer emanating off the desert floor, but all I caught were glimpses of a small dusty town stuck in time. I would squint and try to visualize what my father thought he had seen out there, and I saw nothing but the mirage of possibility. And then the moment would pass and I would drive on, until one spring day in 2004 I stopped at the Luna County Courthouse and asked the friendly clerk in the assessor’s office for help.

“I’m looking for my father’s Deming Ranchettes,” I told her. “I’d like to sell them.”

“You and everyone else,” she said and handed me a new map that was identical to the old map my father had tucked into his files thirty-five years earlier.

BONUS! Listen to our "Bought and Sold" Spotify playlist while you read! Or, browse our other True Story playlists.