There was no one for miles around when a 16-year-old Joe Monroe got stranded by a snowstorm – and gained a lifelong love of mules.
“God saved my life with a mule,” said Monroe, now 84, who lives with his wife Betty on their ranch on Monroe Highway in northeastern Hood County near the Parker County line.
Monroe was with a cattle rancher he was working for at the time, along with two other people, when the heavy snowfall stopped everything in the northwest part of New Mexico. Monroe left the others temporarily safe in an abandoned home, where they started a fire to keep from freezing.
“The temperature was way below zero,” Monroe said. “We had to have some way to get help. That was way before cell phones, and no traffic was moving.”
Monroe began walking, then spotted a nearby horse and a mule. The horse was too wild to catch, Monroe said, but he put his saddle on the mule and rode him until about 1 a.m., when he found another abandoned house. He started his own fire in a cook stove to stay there until daylight. The next day, he made it to the main ranch house to summon help for the others.
Monroe said he found out later that the temperature had dipped to 20 degrees below zero that night.
“Nobody lived within miles. I always thought God put that mule there for us,” said Monroe, who said he now has about 40 head of beef cattle, including 16 calves. “I don’t know what we would have done if that mule hadn’t come along.”
With National Ag Day right around the corner, on Tuesday, the Monroes represent a great example of how family farms have survived.
Monroe grew up on a ranch owned by his father, Earl Monroe, on nearby Highway 167 – land his grandfather used to own in the early 1900s.
“We farmed with mules when I was a kid,” Monroe said.
Monroe and his wife bought 23 acres from W.L. Denc in 1960, and later purchased more land from him just before starting a dairy farm with Holstein cows. Denc gave Monroe a good deal, $60 an acre.
“(Mr. Denc) made the statement that if Joe wants to raise his boys in the country, I’ll see to it he can,” Betty said.
Monroe also grew hay and did custom hay hauling for other people. In his busiest summer, he and a couple of hired hands at the time hauled 45,000 bales.
“He is the hardest-working man I’ve ever known,” said Betty, who will turn 83 on April 30. “He’s never been without a job, and most of the time he’s had two.”
Joe commented, “God gave me a strong body, and I figured I ought to use it. I still do quite a bit of work.”
Joe eventually got out of the dairy cow business, and now has about 105 acres, plus some leased land where the beef cattle are kept.
Naturally, beef cattle prices have grown over the years. Monroe said people could sell calves for about 30 cents a pound in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Now, some of them bring as much as $2 a pound,” said Monroe, who met Betty when he was working around her hometown of Bowie during his first career – 31 years working for the Santa Fe and Fort Worth & Denver railroads.
The Monroes have four children – Steve Monroe, 61, Tim Monroe, 59, Joanna Monroe, 48, and Becky Edwards, 51. Tim and his wife do their own ranch work on land next to Joe and Betty’s property.
Monroe Highway was named for Joe and Betty when a formal name was required for FM 3450 during the startup of Hood County’s 911 service in about 1991.
On the hearth in their living room, the Monroes have a couple of plastic miniature figurines that have special meaning for their farm family. One is a trailer being loaded with hay by farm workers. The other is a white mule – not that Joe really needs a reminder of his snowy brush with death almost 70 years ago.
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