Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Keith & Letta Wofford

Keith and Letta Wofford


Honored December, 1994

Keith and Letta Wofford

Looking back to the time when she was a young New York City society girl, Letta Wofford recalled that she grew up with a fantasy. “I never wanted to live in the East,” she told an interviewer in the late 1990s. “I thought that if I could do exactly what I wanted, it would be to marry a cowboy, live in the West, have four kids, and have lots of money. And to a certain extent, that’s what I did--all but the money part, of course.”

And the money part was OK, too. Letta’s was a life overflowing with richness, with the richest thing of all being the 59 years of marriage she shared with her husband, Keith Wofford. Together they enriched the lives of their children, their friends, their village, their wider community, Indian art, local history. And together, as a couple, they entered the ranks of Santa Fe Living Treasures.

The story of their union could hardly have been more unlikely, or more colorful. She was a finishing-school graduate with roots in Chicago, Boston and New York. He was a cattleman from Oklahoma. Her first visit to New Mexico came in 1929, when she was a visitor in Pecos, at rodeo promoter Tex Austin’s Forked Lightning Ranch, which later was owned by actress Greer Garson and her oilman husband Buddy Fogelson. His first visit came in 1937, when he sought relief for his rheumatism in the healing waters of the southern town named Hot Springs, later changed to Truth or Consequences.

Letta married a cattle broker named Jim Gorbet, who owned a small ranch near the village of Lamy, outside Santa Fe. They had three children. Keith came to the area and became the partner of Letta’s husband, who then died of an accident in 1940. Keith stayed on to hold the business together, and to look after Letta’s family. Ten days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Keith and Letta married. He then enlisted in the Marines, and took his family with him to his duty station in San Diego.

After World War II, the Woffords returned to New Mexico, and in 1947 bought a small ranch in the village of Agua Fria, just west of Santa Fe. Another child had come, and the family settled into home life, farming and ranching, and friends and hospitality--with the kitchen door forever open to all kinds of visitors, expected or unexpected. Many were Indians, and some were artists. The Woffords collected pieces they admired, and Letta became active in the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts, sponsor of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest event of its kind. She helped many previously unknown artists gain footholds there, and with pleasure she watched their careers bloom.

The Woffords loved to dance, and their home and the places they went often rang with music and couples. They also loved the past--their memories of Santa Fe when it had only 8,000 people or 11,000, the early Zozobra burnings, the days when everybody on the Plaza knew each other. “But they didn’t live in the past,” said one of their children.

Keith was successful as a cattleman, and Letta started a real-estate agency before most people had that idea. As age advanced, they passed their work on to others, but kept the door to their house always open. A frequent visitor wrote: “I imagine that anyone who ever sat in Letta’s kitchen felt the heart of the Wofford home. The people they welcomed were both ordinary and extraordinary. It was a place where everyone’s story mattered, where people found acceptance and appreciation for being themselves.”

In 2001, with both Letta and Keith in their 90s, they died within 19 days of each other. Together in death as in their lives, they were buried side by side.

Photo © 1994 Steve Northup