(written and submitted by David L. Minton)
26 June 1870 - 12 March 1944
The northern Lea County town of Tatum has been around since 1909, according to the daughter of the founder, its birthday is August 9th, 1909. This year marks Tatum’s centennial and Tatum is celebrating. You can thank a man by the name of James Green Tatum for its start as well as its name. Tatum is a crossroads town, sitting at the intersection of State Road 206 and U.S. Highway 380. To the north is Crossroads, to the east, Gladiola, the south road leads to Hilburn City and the road west to Roswell takes you through Polecat Canyon.
James was born June 26th, 1870 at Wentzville, Missouri to James and Amanda (Franklin) Tatum.
James Tatum, along with wife Mattie Goodwin Rife Tatum and their one year old daughter Martha James “Jamie” Tatum, came to the Plains area of Chaves County in July of 1909. Six years after the arrival of the Tatum family another daughter was born, a firecracker baby born on July 4th, 1915, her name was Miriam Rife Tatum. Upon arrival in what is now the town of Tatum, James G. Tatum found himself a piece of prairie that suited him and filed on a half section located in the north half of Section twenty-nine of Township twelve and Range thirty-six. No sooner did he file on the homestead, James started construction on a home for his family and the first general store for the area. With the completion of these structures, it was no problem for him to get his patent on January 7th, 1913. His store sat on the southwest corner of what is now Broadway and Main streets.
The location of his original homestead is now bordered on the north by Broadway, on the east by Main Street (State Road 206), on the south by Seventh Street and the west by James Road. James Tatum’s property acquisition was not limited to his homestead however; in the years to come, he would accumulate property all around the town of Tatum as well as thousands of acres of ranch land and oil and gas leases in the north end of Lea County.
Mattie G. Tatum was raised at Meridian, Mississippi, being born there on November 1st, 1880. Mattie was a hard worker too, when Tatum was granted a Post Office in December 1909, she was appointed Tatum’s first Postmaster. The brand new Post Office was located in the Tatum General Store which Mattie also ran. Unfortunately, that position would be a short one to last only about four years. After fighting ill health for nearly a year, Mattie died at home on February 8th, 1924 after being stricken and apparently going into a diabetic coma. Apparently there was some question as to the exact cause of death and Dr. J.M. Rumph had called in Dr. A.A. Dearduff for consultation and that was the conclusion they came to. In addition to James, Mattie left behind two daughters, Miriam Rife age eight and Martha James, age fifteen. Mattie Tatum’s remains were shipped back to Noxubee County, Mississippi for burial in Rife family plot in the Deerbrook cemetery on Mississippi State Highway 388.
James and Mattie’s daughter Martha “Jamie” graduated from Tatum High School in 1925, she wrote years later that the town of Tatum’s birthday was August 9, 1909.
James Tatum was quite the entrepreneur, it appears that he was always buying and selling property and really didn’t live in Tatum all that long. In February of 1918 James sold out his merchandise to a Mr. Kelly who moved to Tatum from Lovington March 5th, 1918 to operate the store formerly run by James Tatum. James moved to his property out in the Warren area (later became Gladiola) east of Tatum some seven or eight miles, give or take. He remained there another fourteen years until June of 1932 when he and daughter Miriam moved to Lubbock, Texas.
Now, I really can’t finish this story without mentioning that Mattie was James’ second wife of three. His first marriage began in 1895 when he married Neva Taylor in Gibson County, Tennessee. This marriage produced two sons, John and Thomas, but it was a short lived marriage being over sometime around the turn of the century, it ended in divorce. I don’t know what happened to John, but Thomas came west for his health, being ill with tuberculosis. He lived with his father James in Tatum, but was a patient at St. Mary’s hospital in Roswell when he died on August 13th, 1917 of the disease he had tried to conquer with the help of the arid climate of New Mexico. Thomas T. Tatum is buried in South Park Cemetery at Roswell in what was until just recently an unmarked grave, but that has been remedied. His is the only Tatum grave in this area with a tie to the founder of Tatum New Mexico.
Then there was the third wife, Grace Cook Tatum who was right at thirty years James’ junior. This marriage also produced a child, Patricia Ann Tatum born about 1927. Grace C. Tatum died in Los Angeles, California on February 9th, 1976. This marriage, like the first ended on not so friendly terms.
James Green Tatum, founder of Tatum, New Mexico, died at the Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo, Texas on March 12th, 1944, a victim of cancer. He is buried beside his second wife, Mattie in the Deerbrook Cemetery, Deerbrook, Mississippi.