Not every town can claim a place on the map on account of a dead horse. Rolling out a pie in the kitchen of his Break 21 Cafe, Lester Jackson tells the story.
“I believe it would be 1906 when the Craigs first came to this part of the country. Now, I’m not sure of the way it happened, but this is the way it was told to me. They were on their way to California with a wagonload of dried fruit, and one of their horses died. They could get rid of the fruit and go on with one horse, but instead they decided to stay.
"Mr. Craig filed a mining claim in the dike just west of town. While he dug the claim, Mrs. Craig made fried pies from all that dried fruit and sold the pies to the cowboys and sheepherders who drove with their herds through here on their way to Magdalena, to the railroad. They were the ones who called this place Pie Town."
With a fork, Lester pokes a few holes in the top crust and the dark cherry juice begins to spill out. Since he and his wife Emily opened the cafe in 1976, they have sold more than 10,000 pies. Plenty of cowboys still come in for pie, but mostly it’s tourists and truck drivers. A dozen coffee mugs hang above the counter, each inscribed with the C.B. handle of a Break 21 regular.
If those who travel the roads have changed since Mrs. Craig was in the business, the flavor of that business has changed very little. Lester and Emily take pride in their “quarter-pie” slices, although they can be sure it’s not just quantity that keeps their customers coming back.
“You have to be a friend to the pastry dough,” they say, “and have a feeling of what to fill it with.” For years now they’ve been turning out apples and cherries and berries and custards with all the contagious good humor they know makes a great pie perfect.
Starting at the cafe, Pie Town runs east on both sides of U.S. 60 for about half a mile. A couple of grocery stores, a gas station, garage, and firehouse take care of the 88 people who live there. Cholla grows recklessly around the steps of the post office.
“There’s a Town Building, too,” says Lester with a laugh, easing a blueberry in and a Dutch apple out of the oven. “That’s where we have dances.”
And they must be a sight to see, those dances, Lester and Emily moving as effortlessly across the floor together as they do in the cafe kitchen, choreographing pies. No doubt the ghosts of the Craigs are there as well—Mr. Craig scrubbed clean after a week of work in the mine, and Mrs. Craig nodding and smiling shyly at all the unfamiliar faces in the room.
But in the waltz or the polka no one needs to be a stranger, and as the night hurries on, the people of Pie Town dance again and again with their history—with the ghosts they owe the present to.
The above article published in the April 1981 issue of New Mexico Magazine and is presented for your enjoyment.