Otis Staggs showing the photographer her
quilt made from recycled tobacco sacks, Pie Town,
Catron County, New Mexico
Russell Lee, working for the W.P.A.'s photography project in 1940, took hundreds of photos of the people of Pie Town, all of which are online at the Library of Congress. He and wife Jean came from Texas and stayed quite a while among these dust bowl refugees.
Otis Staggs had several quilts to show.
Her photos are labeled Mrs. Bill Stagg. The census shows her as Otis Staggs.
She is 44 in 1940, having been born in 1896
Husband Bill was also 44, a native Texan
as were many of the 300 people in Pie Town.
It looks like a tough life to us 80 years later but what a beautiful place to live!
Otis's quilts are quite mainstream, pretty and popular patterns of the time.
The Staggs had lived in Texas and Oklahoma before
homesteading land in New Mexico during the Great Depression.
She probably stored her quilts in a trunk by the
bed inside her log house.
Otis seems proud to show off her dinnerware and meal for the
They had no running water but drew it from a well on a porch.
It's always good to look at the context of a quilt. Seeing
Otis Staggs's home in such detail helps us understand a little about
their meaning and use.
Other women in Pie Town had quilts.
Mrs. George Hutton's guest room.
An extra bedroom (a bedroom even!) was a luxury to many of the
George & Bessie Hutton, 1940
The extra room belonged to Bessie
Hutton born in Kansas in 1882. Her son was George
who lived with her according to the 1930 census. She & husband
George had lived in Pie Town long enough to improve their house.
She kept a photo of her pretty former home in Oklahoma on the wall.
Beatrice Moler Whinery was an 18-year-old mother in 1940, born in
Texas. Husband Jack was from Texas and baby Robert was born in New Mexico.
Jack's family nickname was Snook.
Beatrice, Jack and Robert with four children who are probably
Beatrice's relatives. The captions tell us they are 18-year-old Beatrice
and 25 year-old John's children, but the census indicates only the youngest
The Whinery's log dugout.
Bessie Holley holding Geraldine. Bessie, 31, was born in Texas and
had lived in Arizona and California. A fashionable Rolling Star quilt
on the bed.
The size of the typical room in these homesteads is shown in a series of photos taken at a domino
party, probably at the Caudill dugout. Bessie and Geraldine are playing on a table pulled up to a bed in
the cabin social area.
Josie Caudill, about 5.
Classic wedding ring on the bed.
Doris Caudill ironing. She was 25 in 1940, born in Texas.
She made quilts by hand she told her biographer Joan Myers as she
did not have a sewing machine.
The Caudills did have a radio, making their home a center for community get togethers.
The calendars indicate it was May, 1940.
Faro and Doris Caudill's dugout. When the Lees were in town to photograph they
were working on improving it. They lived 10 miles from Pie Town.
Kids and coats on the spare bed while the adults square danced.
Lee also photographed a square dance, perhaps at the newly wallpapered
Hutton house with its large rooms.
Notice the quilting frame pulled up to the ceiling. Quilting parties must
have been another social event in Pie Town.
See a 2005 article about Pie Town in the Smithsonian magazine here:
"Savoring Pie Town" by Paul Hendrickson:
Read a preview of Pie Town Woman, by Joan Myers who interviewed Doris Caudill years later.
They tell me you should stop by Pie Town for the pie. (And the view)