She was an icon in Pryor.
First woman mayor. On every committee or board in the county at one time or another. Still on several at age 90.
All that public service was wonderful and a great legacy — but that’s not what Lucy Belle Schultz and I had in common. We were kindred spirits.
She was born and raised in New Mexico, which to me is truly the land of enchantment. She was from the wide open earth-toned landscape full of the whisper of cowboys and Indians.
She was raised in the back yard of the Lincoln County range wars, in the place where Billy the Kid is a hero.
That’s not all. She was raised horseback with a bunch of famous ropers. Bob Crosby stayed at her house often. She sold tickets for years at one of the biggest steer ropings of the time in Portales.
When she discovered I go to ranch rodeos in her old home country, we had serious things to talk about. She made sure we went to the bar in Portales - which used to be the post office.
Her husband was a broker of Indian jewelry. Not a bunch of junk made in a factory and stamped with a tribe’s name. Real one-of-a-kind pieces fashioned in a dwelling made of adobe bricks with a dirt floor. She’d come see me and be wearing 10 pounds of the most ornate pieces — we’d discuss each one.
Before Lucy Belle and Gene ended up in Pryor, they did a stint in the Deep South. She told how she got there wearing britches, 'cause she’d worn them all her life, and immediately became someone standing on the outside. Not because she dressed differently, but because she wanted to work. “No self-respecting woman worked,” she told me. “They drank sweet tea and played cards. The help waited on them.”
In Pryor, she and Gene eventually owned the Sherwin-Williams store, but she was a telephone operator. “That was back when we asked for ‘number please’ and connected you,” she said. Calls were routed through other exchanges and one of the favorite jokes among operators was if a person wanted to call the town of Maud. The call had to be routed through the town of Bowlegs - so of course they said “to get to Maud you have to go through Bowlegs.”
She had the most beautiful sparkling eyes and her hair had turned that particular silvery gray so many try to achieve with artificial color. I could see the trim ranch girl she had been, who loved to dance and knew who the bootleggers were.
She’d ask me about my horses and tell stories about the kind of situations you get into when you ride as a kid. Horses that run off and horses you make run off. Rides to school in the heat remembered. Horseback was the way newspapers were delivered when she was a girl in New Mexico.
We always had something to say. She was truly interested in my rodeo travels and I was enthralled with the stories of her life.
Oh, we could talk politics and she told me lots of great stories from that realm - but that’s not really what we had to talk about. What we had to talk about was the West. The land of her birth. Where she came from and how she got here.
I like to think of her now, out there riding a good horse across Lincoln County. Where the land is enchanted.