Curry and Roosevelt counties were created in the early 1900s: Roosevelt County in 1903 from Chaves and Guadalupe counties, and Curry County in 1909 out of portions of Quay and Roosevelt counties. Roosevelt County was named after Theodore Roosevelt, who had enlisted in the New Mexico Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. The counties’ major cities, Portales and Clovis, both have rich histories.
Clovis is the county seat of Curry County. In 1906, Santa Fe Railroad engineers were tasked with locating a townsite in the newly developing ranch and farmlands of eastern New Mexico. Searching for level ground west of Texico for a terminal and shops on the Belen cutoff, they chose a spot just northwest of an existing rail switch known as Riley’s Switch. While there are competing explanations for the names of both Riley’s Switch and what is now known as Clovis, some attribute the name “Clovis” to the daughter of a railroad official, said to have been studying Clovis, the first Christian king of the Franks, who ruled Europe in the fifth century. In 1909, the city of Clovis incorporated.
While the area still thrives on the Santa Fe Railway, now part of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and agriculture, the introduction of Cannon Air Force Base in 1942 inaugurated a more diversified economy. Today the area is home to colleges, health care facilities and other modern businesses. In 2005, when Cannon was included on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s list, the community fought to save it. Clovis’ “Operation Keep Cannon” contacted political figures with hundreds of letters and phone calls. The community’s efforts and support were successful, and Cannon AFB was removed from the list in 2006.
Portales is the county seat of Roosevelt County. Its name comes from the natural formations surrounding once-gushing springs southeast of the city. Caliche cliffs that jutted out over a series of caves around the springs resembled “portales,” which is Spanish for porches.
Portales began in 1894 as a tent city, then developed into a dusty cow town. The railroad between Roswell, New Mexico, and Amarillo, Texas, was completed in 1898, to the benefit of the region’s cattlemen, and the trains also brought homesteaders who wanted to turn the valley into farmland. By 1903, the city had become the county seat.
The later part of the decade proved devastating for Portales. Fires destroyed a large portion of the downtown, and the lack of water and equipment to fight the fires highlighted the need for municipal services. By 1909, the city was incorporated.
The first half of the 20th century recorded steady growth in agriculture after irrigation techniques were perfected. Crops included peanuts, sweet potatoes, cotton, feed grains and wheat. Small dairy farms were also a mainstay through the 1960s. Today, larger dairy farms have come to the county, supporting several major dairy product industries.
In 1934, Eastern New Mexico Junior College was established. Despite early growing pains, the college, now Eastern New Mexico University, expanded steadily and is now New Mexico’s largest regional comprehensive university. Today, the area’s economy continues to benefit from ENMU, as well as from the dairy and peanut industries.