“Let’s Talk Clovis:” The Beauty and the Witcher Nola and Les Smith

By Peg Bos | Clovis Museum

The Beauty, Nola (Magnolia) Dewees Smith (1900-1990) was born in Oklahoma. She was three years old when her family (John (1875-1970) and Dora Dewees) arrived in Clovis in 1903. Nola attended Clovis Elementary and Clovis High School.

She began working at the Lewis P. Gibson Store, northwest corner of Pollasky and Fifth Streets, prior to her marriage to Les Smith in 1921. She became skilled in creating fashionable hats and later in life became an accomplished portrait artist in addition to her barns and mountain scenes.

Nola would be selected as Queen of the Clovis Festival and Horse Show in 1919. She wore a white gown, purple royal robe and a crown. A canopy protected her from the sun.  She and two young attendants rode in a truck that was decorated with white cloth and purple bows. The truck’s wooden wheels were also decorated.

During her child-rearing years, Nola joined a legion of Clovis mothers that worked in the numerous packing houses that lined Clovis Avenue. It was an excellent source of “pin” money. The Smith family would raise three children: Marilyn who married now retired Colonel Jack Weyant of the USAF; son Lt. Sidney Smith who would perish in a B-24 airplane crash in 1944 during WWII; Judy married Vern Barkman (both are active in the Clovis Rodeo Association).

Leslie Edwin Smith was born in Easton (Washington Colony) on March 9, 1893 and died on March 20, 1978. His parents, Ed and Jenny Smith, moved to Clovis in 1899. Leslie attended the two story elementary school (built in 1896) at Pollasky and Third Streets.

Education was not mandatory after the age of fourteen and Leslie began working at the L.W. Gibson Grocery Store (northwest corner Fifth and Pollasky). He would walk from house to house to take and return grocery orders to their customers.

Leslie joined the United States National Guard in 1916. He served in Arizona and helped protect the border towns from Pancho Villa raids. He remembered bootlegging escapades when a bottle of beer would cost $1. He stated: “One bottle of that stuff was so strong; it could knock over a row of peach trees.”

After his service in WWI, he worked as a clerk at the C.S. Merriman Store (formerly the Gibson Store). He opened the Smith Grocery store in the late 1920’s at 621 Fifth Street in Old Town Clovis. He closed the store in 1942 when WWII government restrictions (ration stamps) and regulations made business difficult.

He became manager of two Richmond U.S. Navy supply depots and after the war he was a maintenance foreman at Friant Dam. During that time, the Smiths purchased a 33-acre ranch and raised cattle.

Leslie began his “witching” by searching for oil in the Bakersfield and Raisin City areas. His “divining” rod was a straight piece of metal with a cartridge at the tip filled with oil and secret ingredients that he would not divulge. He recalled that a barrel of oil was selling for $2 in the 1930s and $11 in 1977.

Witchers would use witch hazel or hickory limbs, fruit tree twigs, willow limbs and grape vines but Leslie had two favorites: (1) A forked brass witching stick held with palms up and thumbs turned outward. When water was located, the fork would move toward him. (2) A metal stick with a large wooden bead at the tip end that would shake up and down when an underground stream is located.

Leslie identified an underground stream east of Academy Avenue that produced 1,000 gallons per minute. He does not know why water witching (also called dowsing or divining) works. Folklore suggests that a witch haunts our lakes, ponds and underground streams.

Leslie was a charter member of the Clovis Rodeo Association and would serve as their Grand Marshall in 1961. He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 1977. The Smith family left us a rich heritage.