Mrs. Lettie Fleagle is the widow of Border Patrol Inspector Roland A. Fleagle who entered the Border Patrol as a member of the 7th Session during February and March 1941. Mr. Fleagle passed away on December 2 1985.
Mrs. Fleagle was interviewed at her home by a member of the University 0f Texas at El Paso Institute of Oral History on an unspecified date in 1987.
Her story tells of the hardships suffered by wives and children of Border Patrol Inspectors in the early years beginning in 1941.
This is Lettie Fleagle. My husband was Roland A. Fleagle and he entered the Immigration Border Patrol in November 1940. I dont remember when he took the written Civil Service examination but I am sure he took that before he got out of the Marine Corps in July 1949.
I do remember when he took his physical examination in July 1940. He had to report to the San Diego Naval Hospital to take this examination. At that time he was working for the Armored Transport in Los Angeles and making $127.50 a month. He worked 8hour days six days a week and was underweight. An exMarine buddy of his I believe his name was Don Utterback that worked for armored transport also had applied for the Immigration Border Patrol and went down ahead of Roland and took his examination. And when he came back he told Roland about the qualifications. He said you had to weigh at least 140 pounds and Roland at that time weighed barely 130. So Roland was worried about how he was going to pass his physical examination and put on 10 pounds in short order. By the way Utterback flunked the examination because he was underweight but in later years we met him and he was in the Customs Service. Anyway Roland reported to the San Diego Naval Hospital in July and he got down there the night before and got a room at the YMCA. He went out and bought himself 10 pounds of bananas and two quarts of milk and was going to try to put on 10 pounds overnight. Well he ate bananas and drank milk and the next morning he took the streetcar out to the Naval Hospital. He had eaten so much and drunk so much that he thought he was going to be sick and he got off the streetcar and walked a little ways and he got into the hospital and was standing in line. One of the Navy Corpsman I guess that was giving the examination came down the line and he looked at Roland and he said You dont look tall enough. We might as well measure you and get you out of the way. Well Roland knew that he measured 5 feet 8 1/2 and the requirements were 5 feet 8 inches. So he went over and they measured him and he was 5 feet 8 1/2 and they were surprised that he was that tall. So while he was on the scale there and they were measuring him he said You might as well weigh me. And so the guy said O.K. and they weighed him and Roland weighed in at 141 pounds. Roland asked to be excused to go to the bathroom because he was so full of liquids and food that he was miserable.
At this time in the history of the Border Patrol I think it was about the time that Roland went in they changed the requirements because I think Border Patrolmen had to be 25 years of age and had to be 5 feet 10 inches. I dont know when that was changed;
Somebody else might know. This really is a true story about how Roland put on 10 pounds so he could get into the Border Patrol. He was very anxious for a secure job and we were never sorry that he got into the Border Patrol.
In February I think it was he went to the Border Patrol School in El Paso. When Roland first got into the Border Patrol in November he didnt get a paycheck for 13 weeks and things were really rough because he was in Arizona and I was in California and 13 weeks without a paycheck and over the holidays was really very rough. We eventually had to borrow money from a bank to pay our bills and when the checks started coming in things were a lot better.
I stayed in California until after he got out of school and was assigned to his first station. His first station was Ruby Arizona and that was patrolling the border on horseback. Every morning he had to go down and get the horses and saddle them up and go out on patrol. The senior officer that was there at the same time we were was Harlan Porter. Carson Morrow was the Chief of the Border Patrol in Tucson in 1940 and Dogie Wright was the Assistant Chief and Pettingill was working there in Tucson. I dont know what his title was.
Ruby was a mining town which wasnt operating anymore and there werent too many people living out there and there were a lot of vacant houses out there. I think they used to have electricity but of course we didnt have electricity. We did have running water and Roland with some pipes and stuff from the dump around there built a fire box on the outside of the house and ran the pipes through there so that when he came in from work in the evening I would light the fire and heat the water so that he could have a warm shower. I cant describe how he built that but it was an old stove and some pipes and sort of a Rube Goldberg deal.
We bought a kerosene stove and kerosene lamp had a gasoline iron and a gasoline lamp. The hardest part about learning to cook on a kerosene stove is it is so very hot and the first few things I tried to bake in the oven ended up burnt because the oven was too hot. But I finally found out how to turn the burners on extra low and prop up the end of the stove where the oven is so that the kerosene would just barely run down there and with the thermometer I could get my oven down to 350 degrees in order to bake a cake. So I didnt do too badly.
We got our paychecks once a month. Porter and Roland went into Tucson once a month to get the paychecks. They would take the horse trailer and load it up for hay and feed and get cans of food. Though we didnt have the variety of canned meats in those days that they have now we had canned corned beef and we would use the cheese get a slab of bacon and a lot of canned goods and oleomargarine.
Roland fixed up an egg crate and covered it with burlap and then we had a pan of water on top of the egg crate that we kept filled with water and by the process of evaporation I could keep butter well oleo margarine from getting so runny and help keep cheese. But mostly we just used canned goods. I dont remember what we did about milk probably used canned milk. About once a week over in Arivaca I believe was the name of the little place they butchered over there and on Thursdays we could go over there and get some fresh meat and I think we would get a pot roast for about 15 cents a pound. But we couldnt keep meat for any length of time unless I heated it through because we had no refrigeration. And naturally we had the two-holer outdoor toilet and it was sort of an adventure living out there. We went out there in March and then we left there in May 1941.
One little incident while we lived out there: Roland and Porter had been out in the morning and they didnt come back that evening so I was alone and didnt know what to expect. Porters wife lived over on the other hill a halfhour walk away and I didnt know what to expect because he was gone all night. Towards daylight I kept hearing something or someone taking a few steps and walking around the house. Since so many houses were vacant and I had no curtains up I figured somebody was trying to break in. I had a terrier dog that was just barking his head off and I was so scared. Roland had a rifle there but I didnt have the slightest idea how to operate that. So finally I crawled down to the end of the bed and peeked out the window to see what was going on and it was some wild bulls that were grazing around the house. There was some green grass that had grown in the shade around the house and they were looking for something to eat. But I was really scared all alone out there by myself.
In May 1941 we were finally transferred to Nogales because Rolands supervisors realized that he would never be able to pass the 10 1/2 month examination with the amount of Spanish he was learning out there from his partner. So we went to Nogales. When we got to Nogales we realized that Rolands job was on the line if he didnt learn Spanish and pass that 10 1/2 month examination. That 10 1/2 month examination came up I believe in October 1941. So he had to learn equal to two years of Spanish in that short length of time. I helped him as much as possible and we went on a crash program for him to learn Spanish. The senior officers down at the office had Spanish class at the office for the probationers and besides that Roland hired a private tutor. I think that was about once a week. Then another thing he enrolled in the local high school with the young high school kids and went to school and he took first and second year Spanish at the same time. Oh then we would go to movies on Sunday which were Spanish movies completely in Spanish and once in a while he would understand one or two words but he was getting his ear attuned to it because he was raised in Maryland and he hadnt heard Spanish.
Roland continued to study Spanish as he wanted to perfect it and he was interrupted with his high school Spanish there in Nogales when the war came along because the Border Patrol were assigned to take the Japanese off the west coast. He didnt finish up Spanish at that time but in later years in 1956 57 he started going to college in Los Angeles at night and took two years of college Spanish. He continued to use his Spanish the rest of his Immigration career and got compliments on his proper use of it.
After Pearl Harbor Roland was part of the Border Patrol that took some of the Japanese off the west coast. It wasnt families that they were taking; it was mostly young men who I believe were classified as radicals. And they took the train up the west coast and over to I believe Missoula Montana. I dont remember the names of any other Border Patrolmen that were on that detail. I think there was a fellow by the name of Johnny Owens that was on that trip. I dont remember whether Roland made two trips to Missoula Montana or just the one. I know he wasnt home for Christmas and then it was in February I believe that he was assigned to guard those Japanese diplomats out at the Triangle T Ranch at Dragoon near Benson Arizona. That was a very secret thing because of the temper of the people at that time. It had to be kept very hushhush.
Roland didnt get home for Easter that time because he was coloring Easter Eggs for the Japanese children out there. The Negro cook they had out there at the time got after Roland because he was hiding the Easter Eggs in the cactus and she scolded him for that. And he said Oh its good for them will give them something to do. But then Roland stayed out there and I think it was June 1942 that the Japanese were taken by train to New York City to exchange for the Americans. The exchange was not made in New York. I think it was made at some port in North Africa or someplace. They made the exchange there and then the Americans came into New York City in August 1942. And by chance Roland had been transferred to New York at that time and he was there in New York and helped process the Americans coming back to the States.
So when Roland was transferred to New York in August 1942 that was really the end of his Border Patrol time. He was drafted during World War II in March 1945 and went into the Navy. Because of poor eyesight he was unable to get back into the Marine Corps. He went in in April 1945 and he got out in March 1946.
After that he was Hearing Examiner Special Inquiry Officer and in April 1956 he became an Investigator. Rolands time working as an Investigator in Los Angeles from April 1956 to October 1961 reminded him very much of his work in the Border Patrol because it was a similar kind of work. After that he didnt work in the field. He was strictly in the office as supervisor. He became a Supervisor Investigator and then when he retired in San Francisco January 31 1975 he was the Assistant District Director for Investigations.
After Roland retired January 1 1975 we had ten good years of traveling and seeing the sights and visiting old friends. He died November 2 1985. It has taken me quite awhile to make this tape because I made one whole side of the tape without pushing the recording button and then trying to retrace my thoughts was hard to do.
In backtracking a little bit when Roland was a probationer there in Tucson and he hadnt received any paychecks he was living in the back of the Border Patrol Headquarters for a place to stay. I think he told me he got credit at some restaurant and they gave him credit to eat until he could get a paycheck. They were really rough times.
It was during this time that Roland had the episode where he shot the lock off a locker. He and Pete Garvey were sleeping back there and they were dry snapping and aiming at locks on a locker. After they got tired of doing that both boys reloaded their guns and put the loaded guns back in their lockers and then sat down to write some letters to their wives. Rolands letters were always very short and brief and to the point so he finished writing first. When he got through he went over and got his gun out of the locker and was aiming at the lock as he had done before and he was a very surprised person when that gun went off.
The locker that he shot the lock off belonged to Carson Morrow the Chief of the Border Patrol. We carried that lock around with us for years and then finally gave it to the Border Patrol School at Port Isabel Texas. When they closed things down there I dont know how Leroy Patton got hold of it but anyway he said that as soon as he could he was going to mail it to the Border Patrol Museum because Roland saw Patton in Jackson Wyoming (at the FORBPO Convention) and he said he thought that was the place for the lock with the story behind it. If there are any more questions or if you want any more detail let me know.
Backtracking a little Roland passed his Spanish examination his 10 1/2 month examination with flying colors. His supervisors were amazed at how much he had learned. In later years as a Hearing Examiner and Special Inquiry Officer he was his own interpreter and got compliments from Spanish-speaking educated people at what excellent Spanish he spoke. After he retired the only time he ever used his Spanish was on a trip we made to Mexico in 1980. After that he was not interested.
When we were out at Ruby the way I got my washing done was usually over a scrub board and a tub. Sometimes I would take a load of washing in a little red wagon and go over to Mrs. Porters and use her washing machine. I think she had a gasoline operated washing machine; we were out there such a short time that I didnt get acquainted with everything. When we went to Nogales even though we had electricity there we decided to buy a gasoline powered washing machine and I used that in Nogales. But dont you know we were transferred to New York City and never again were we in a place where we didnt have electricity. So eventually Roland converted that washing machine to electric and it worked fine.
On the trip with the Japanese up to Montana in December 1941 the Japanese men were all young men and they traveled on the train with the shades pulled and were not allowed to look out. There was usually a guard at the end of each train and only one person at a time could go to the bathroom.
Roland told me of one incident with one of the Japanese men that had a carbuncle on the back of his hand. It was very painful and the doctor had to lance it and Roland said they got almost a cup of pus out of that carbuncle. And that Japanese held real still and never showed any emotion or pain of any kind. It was very unusual.
Another incident was that one Japanese man tried to commit suicide by chewing his tongue. But he didnt succeed at that time because the guards prevented him. We understood that later when his tongue healed he tried it again and succeeded.
Getting to the end of my tape now I think so all for now.
Transcribed by Roberta Shasteen and edited by Terrie Cornell June 1 1989