By Norris Chambers

             When I hear the word mesquite I think of three things, a tree, a type of grass or the town of Mesquite. Our pasture land had many mesquite trees and between the post oaks, prickly pears and bear grass  mesquite grass grew profusely. The cattle loved the grass and thrived on it. We didn’t have any contact with the town of Mesquite – we had just heard of it. 

            The mesquite trees bloomed and produced long beans every year. Many animals ate the beans as if they were delicious.  Of course Clifton and I sampled them be we didn’t care for the taste. We had heard of the dried beans being used for coffee or tea drinks but to us these delicacies didn’t seem to have a very good flavor. There were also those who said that the beans could be ground into flour and delicious and healthy bread prepared from it. We didn’t try this, but we had serious doubts about the authenticity of the claim.

            Mesquite trees made excellent fence posts. The posts were usually crooked but by rotating them there was always a straight side for the attachment of the wire. They were preferred because they would not rot and never needed replacement unless some unexpected accident broke them. Even termites recognized mesquite wood and avoided it.

            Mesquite wood was often used in the kitchen for a quick, hot fire. It was seldom used in the fireplace because it burned too fast and kept the fire attendant running to the wood pile too often!

            Ranchers and farmers who depended on grass for cattle food accused mesquites trees of robbing the range of space and moisture.  They also dropped their thorns on the ground where barefoot kids and tender footed animals could meet with traumatic disaster by stepping in the wrong spot!

            When the depression fighting tactics of the New Deal were begun in the mid thirties the mesquite tree was on the list of unwanted range clutter. The government would pay the farmer or rancher to destroy certain unwanted vegetation. This program was intended to improve the productivity of the land as well as enter more money into immediate circulation. The prime motivation was to end the depression and return the country to prosperity. Most of the land owners in our area were glad to participate in the government programs that supplemented the meager farm and ranch incomes. Clifton and I were also glad to take any temporary job that work might provide.

            One of my uncles had several hundred acres of pasture that was infected heavily with mesquite trees and prickly pears. When he signed the necessary papers to join the cleanup program he hired us to help. Several methods were approved for removing the trees. The first plan was simple. Remove the tree and stump physically. The second process required cutting around the base of the tree with an axe or hatchet and waiting for the tree to die, then removing it. The third method seemed like the easiest way. It was only necessary to spray kerosene completely around the base of the tree. This would also kill the tree. The trees and stumps were to be removed. Clifton and I wondered why it was necessary to kill the trees if they had to be removed later. But we didn’t consider ourselves important enough to argue with the government so we just did what we were told to do.

            Clearing the prickly pear patches employed a very basic process. We could use an axe, hoe, cross cut saw, sledge hammer scythe, mower or any other convenient tool for removing the pears and tossing them with a pitch fork onto a large bonfire. The roots were to be completely removed from the soil.

            Clifton and I and a few of our cousins worked at the clearing job for several days. The work wasn’t hard and although it was ‘possum hunting season we made more money than we could have made skinning ‘possums. The pear burning bonfires also felt comfortable on some of those winter days.

            Some recent advertisements offering to sell mesquite bean coffee at unbelievably high prices might make you wonder about the wisdom of eliminating the mesquite trees. Other landscapers charging an arm and a leg for decorating your yard with a rock garden might cause you to question the wisdom of destroying so many prickly pear clusters.

            But we did have a bundle of profitable fun. Perhaps you should carefully cultivate a few mesquite trees and thorny cactus and then physically remove them. This process is guaranteed to provide a lot of fun!