Delivered August 18th, 2018
War Eagles Museum, Santa Teresa NM
Myles C. Culbertson
Charles Leroy Crowder was born in Omaha Nebraska on April 25, 1932, and passed away August 7, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. He is preceded in death by his son, Charles. He is survived by his former wife Phyllis Crowder, his son Philip Crowder, and his grandchildren Emma Lorraine Crowder, 20; Joseph Alan Crowder, 24; and Lorne Crowder, 26.
Charlie’s life began in an era of crushing economic conditions in our country’s history. Knowing his family was from Missouri, I asked once how he came to be born in Omaha. He simply said that was where his father could find work. Soon, however, they were back, farming in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, Missouri. He was fond, and kind of proud, of claiming his heritage as an Ozark Hillbilly.
The youngest of 10 siblings, Charlie left home at age 13 to go west. He told me once he was headed for California to pick apples, but found work in Colorado with the Forest Service, building trails and fighting forest fires. He graduated from horses and burros to heavy dirt-moving equipment and began his career as a cat-skinner, clearing land and trails for farmers and ranchers as well as the government.
He was drafted into the United States Army, eventually stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Recognizing Charlie’s outstanding qualities, the Commander recommended his transfer to the Army’s prestigious 3rdUS Infantry in Washington DC, known as the “Old Guard.” Of course, according to Charlie, the Commander had actually jumped at an opportunity to get this rascal out of his own command. While in the Third, he served on President Eisenhower’s Honor Guard.
There was some college experience, a short stint as a private investigator, and even a regular salaried job for a while, but eventually Charlie and his brother Stanley were in the business of clearing cedars and building dirt structures in New Mexico when he helped solve a land trade issue between the federal government and a private rancher. This began a legendary career of massive land exchanges, consolidating deeded ranches for private owners and blocking up federal holdings. He became well known for accomplishing many seemingly impossible large complex transactions for ranchers throughout the western states, and effected exchanges involving more than a million acres during his career. He was always highly respected by rancher and bureaucrat alike for his rare talent and especially for keeping his word.
Charlie’s attention ultimately turned toward the US/Mexico border. He had spent a lot of time in the 1960s with President Lopez Mateos, and shared the same vision of a bi-national economic complex spanning the border between our two neighboring countries; one with enough space and resources to be pre-planned; one that respects the culture of traditional family and community while offering economic liberty; one that would preserve and protect necessary resources and infrastructure; in other words, for the first time, do it right.
To achieve this, Charlie Crowder consolidated control of some 50,000 acres spanning the US/Mexico border and launched a project that included a long term strategy for a major bi-national industrial complex, with planned infrastructure and a source of abundant water that could be a solution for the entire region. He worked with both nations toward a new major international port of entry, and with the cattlemen of Chihuahua to establish the largest livestock crossing on the US/Mexico border.
Charlie Crowder thought big thoughts and painted big visions on a big canvas, not just because of what he wanted, but because of what could be, unrestrained by the conventional or the status quo. A friend of his once described him by declaring, “In a world of six-shooters, Charlie would choose to be a seven-shooter.”
He was on the move, all the time, both physically and mentally, always knowing his next several moves, as if engaged in three dimensional chess. He could combine multiple transactions and add columns of numbers in his head. One friend recently said “Charlie had algorithms in his head for strategy that were simply different from those of anyone else.”
He gathered good people around him, extraordinary people who were not simply working for a person or a company, but rather found themselves joined in an adventure of sometimes astonishing scope and scale, always fast moving and always dynamic. They were a crew, in for the long play, people like Stanley Crowder, Jimmy Bason, Johnny & Louie Erramouspie, Toby Alvarado, Charlie Trujillo, Jan Nielsen, Dante Gonzales, the folks at the club, and so many more. They were his posse, one and all, and to the cowboys, dirt movers, engineers, builders, secretaries, cooks and waiters, Charlie accorded no less regard and respect than he did to the senators, presidents, and captains of industry.
Frank Papen and I were with Charlie when his road crew and their heavy equipment broke through the sand dunes to the Cases Grandes Highway in Mexico. That was the day, more than any other, that turned the prospect of an international port of entry into reality, because there had to be a road in Mexico to the border where none had ever existed. Most of us know that Charlie built that road, but few are aware that he did not seek permission to build it, knowing that the process would have been destined for burial in a political morass. Instead, on Charlie’s signal, Stanley and crew commenced grading southward in a daring project that no rational person would have attempted, except for one.
At that newly opened juncture in Mexico, I peered across the landscape of crawlers, scrapers, trucks, and men, and pondered the confidence they must have had in their boss to, as the old cowboy axiom declares, “ride the river with him.”
He was creative and resourceful, able to adjust, improvise, and redirect his strategy in the face of ever changing challenges. There was always another way to achieve an objective, large or small. Over the decades he maneuvered his vision here at Santa Teresa over and around daunting obstacles, and the result today is a secure promising business landscape for the long haul.
His creativity was spontaneous, even in the little things. I recall the time a cattle buyer flew in to El Paso so we could go look at a big bunch of yearling cattle in Mexico. The buyer had never been south of the border so I cautioned him to bring a voter registration or birth certificate so we could get the necessary visas to travel. He showed up with nothing, and after hours of futile efforts to beg a visa from the Mexican authorities I gave up and called Charlie to see if he had any advice. He told me “I don’t know, but come on up to the office.” After the normal chat about everything from old stories to politics he finally said “lets try this.” He called his long time secretary Jan into the office and dictated a “to whom it may concern” letter extolling the boundless virtues, long acquaintance – and the birthplace – of my cattle buyer friend. He then instructed Jan to type under the signature line: “Judge Charles L Crowder.” Then he told her to get a gold corporate seal and some ribbons out of the desk drawer and press them into the bottom of the letter. He signed it, handed it to us, and said “I have no idea if this will work, but give it a try.” Long story short it did work, expediting the visa with no delays, completing Charlie’s auspicious – and short - career on the bench.
Charlie was a rancher, owning several at different times over the years. He greatly enjoyed that world and the people who operated in the ranching culture. He loved good cattle and good horses, and admired good cattlemen and good cowboys. With characteristic self-deprecating humor, he had many stories, like the time he told me about Louie Erramouspie repeatedly calling him to see if he was going to come help brand the calves that spring, and repeatedly Charlie replied “I don’t know, that’s a ways off yet and I don’t know what my schedule will be.” After three or four calls, Charlie asked, with some irritation, “Louie why is it so important that you know whether I’m coming to the branding?” - to which Louie replied, “Because if you are not coming I’ll need about 10 men, but if you are coming I’m going to need about 14.”
They say pioneers blaze the trails that lesser men follow. However true that may be, Charlie did not regard people, whether they came before or after, as lesser. His admonition was that the leader in great events, the trailblazer, must consider himself last.
He saw the world and his role in it in philosophical terms. He believed there were principles higher than the simple financial tactics taught at Harvard or Wharton. Business was instinctive, man-to-man, and relied on character. Deals worth many millions of dollars were struck on a single page of a tablet or on a bar napkin, and sealed with a handshake. To him, business skill was a matter of knowing right principles and doing the right thing. He also believed, in his own words, “Good manners is good business.” Some thought him to be secretive, but he simply kept his own counsel. He once told me that he would often try to look at himself as if from thirty feet above to determine whether he could be satisfied with what he saw.
I spent a lot of time with him over the years, and I know that, most important of all, Charlie knew his Maker. The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God set the baseline for the race he ran in this world. It was a relationship that was as real as it was intensely personal. Once, in a long conversation with my wife Georgia and me he told of the faith of his mother and grandmother and how they influenced his life. He told of their generosity toward the unfortunates of the Great Depression and how they never turned away the “hobos” and the poor people just needing a meal and some assurance that things will finally be all right. Theirs was that sacrificial kind of love for the ones Jesus referred to as “the least of these,” and they imprinted that quality on Charlie’s character.
I have no idea how many people he gave a helping hand to or guided through difficulties, or in how many ways he helped them out, or lifted them up, directly or indirectly, deserving or not. Nor can I count how many injustices he forgave. He didn’t bother to talk much about them. But I know he did all these things abundantly.
Charlie’s personal walk is well expressed in a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
Charlie shared some of the occasional humor of his religious upbringing, telling stories about the little country church they attended in Blue Eye Missouri that was too poor to hire a pastor, so people would take turn-about with the service each Sunday. He said the sermons could sometimes be a little wild and little hard to confirm in scripture. He told about one particular Sunday service where two men got into an argument about whose hunting dog was the best, and ended up in a fist fight right there, with everybody else in the room gleefully joining in.
There was purpose in the things Charlie envisioned, purpose that reached back to his roots of compassion for the “least of these.” The Crowder master plan for Santa Teresa/San Jeronimo was predicated on offering an environment different and better than anything that had ever been accomplished, taking into account gainful employment without abandoning the noble principles of family, community, culture and quality of life. His vision offered long term solutions for the entire three-state two-nation region in terms of prosperity, infrastructure and vital natural resources.
If Charlie could be here today to advise us – first he’d have something humorous to say about the opportunity to speak at his own memorial, but then I believe he would tell us, in regard to the Santa Teresa project, that as long as workers are boarding buses before daylight for a long ride to work, your job is not finished, and if the plan for this region does not take into account the noble purposes, you will, at the end of the day, be little more than profitable failures at what you were called to do. He would probably also encourage everyone here with what he ended almost every phone call between the two of us: “Keep Drilling!”
My friend, business partner, and mentor, Charlie Crowder was a man as comfortable with presidents as he was with cowboys and cat-skinners. … One-of-a-kind, called by many a legend and an unheralded giant, but most importantly always, to his last day, a man larger than any success or any adversity he ever faced.
In these few minutes of remembrance the surface cannot even be scratched, but perhaps the appropriate description of Charlie Crowder is found in something penned over 120 years ago by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!