Sunday, October 04, 2015

Professor pushes for preservation of Southwest’s underappreciated outhouses

Arroyo Seco, NM

by Russel Contreras

At a time when life could be harsh in the American Southwest, outhouses served more than one important role. They provided structure, protected water resources and created important social norms, a New Mexico professor says.

Many of the aging wooden structures still dot the landscape in the region and across the Great Plains. Richard Melzer, a University of New Mexico-Valencia history professor, wants to see the iconic buildings preserved before they’re gone from the memory and legacy of the Old West.

Melzer has been researching the historic lavatories and hopes his work will encourage outhouse conservation efforts, since they helped modernize areas like present-day New Mexico amid drought and limited plumbing.

“They had a tremendous cultural impact on the region,” said Melzer, who has collected hundreds of photos of old outhouses in New Mexico.

The outhouses assisted in creating social norms on sanitation and personal hygiene, he said.
In New Mexico, they served residents such as ranch hands tending to cattle and rural teachers educating the children of chile pickers. And they did so while protecting the environment and important water resources.

Stein, NM
Inside, one might find a Bible, old tools or catalogs from Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck and Co. Two seats meant a higher economic status for owners, and the walls might be plastered with wallpaper to keep away insects or unwanted audiences.

Such items can still be found in some abandoned outhouses.

“They tell the story of the past,” Melzer said.

The exact number of historic outhouses throughout the Southwest and Great Plains is unknown.

The New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, for example, says around 40 outhouses occupy historic ranches and homesteads in the state.

But Melzer says there likely are hundreds more in the Southwest, and people are beginning to collect them. One Roswell aficionado has amassed around a dozen or so, he said.

"Billy the Kid" Lincoln, NM

Have we got to the point where instead of saying, "George Washington slept here", we are saying "Billy the Kid shit here"?

It may be the official state and federal policy to "wipe" the country clean of ranchers, but by golly they're gonna save those outhouses.  You could call it the "Crush the Cowboy but Save the Shitter" campaign. 

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