Tatum — on the way to . . .

Tatum’s "First Street". Photo by Phyllis Eileen Banks

When a town is small with no visible attractions on the main highway, reasons to cause people to stop for a while, it becomes a place on the way to . . . . Tatum is 21 miles to Lovington to the south on New Mexico Road 206 or 73 miles west to Roswell or 15 miles east to Texas on U. S. Highway 380.

Tatum, population 768, elevation 3,986, was founded in 1909 by James G. Tatum when he filed on a homestead of 320 acres and opened a general store. There was no post office, so as a service to his customers he brought mail three times a week from Scott, another settlement, no longer in existence. Eventually Tatum was granted a post office, and Mattie G. Tatum was the first postmistress.

A school was financed with box socials and neighborhood dances. Eventually the Lea County oil boom reached the town in the 1940s and brought some prosperity. Agriculture is still the town’s mainstay, although some active oil wells still exist in the area surrounding the town. Travelers sometimes stop when passing through, but the description of a sleepy little town in the West does fit Tatum.

Rodeos are popular entertainment, and there are two parks, a community building, and a library. The Senior Citizen Center provides a meeting place for the town residents. A local ironworker makes silhouetted scenes in black wrought-iron for street signs, businesses and mailboxes. They are attention-getting because of their individuality.

For those who like the slow-paced living of a small town, where getting together with neighbors for potlucks or coffee is a favorite pastime, Tatum bears investigating.

Obviously Crossroads would or should be at a crossroads. It is - at the intersection of NM Highways 206 and 508, 18 miles north of Tatum. There are conflicting reports as to the date the post office was established. One source indicates it was 1923, and the other 1925. It is a ranching community, and a widow, Lora Miller, homesteaded in this area. She applied for a post office under the name of Cross Roads, reportedly in 1925. Evidently the postal service did not like two-word names so Crossroads was the name assigned to it. In 1980, a couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Wolf, started the Wolf Wagon Works. They built or restored horse-drawn carriages, wagons and even stagecoaches. A small white church is on the south side of the crossroads across from a service station, the center of the settlement.

About Phyllis Eileen Banks