Bernard Shandon Rodey, Frontier Justice in New Mexico, Helen Rodey Stamm, History of Albuquerque, History of New Mexico, Jenne' Rodey Andrews, Minerva Coddington, New Mexico Territory, Stuart Coddington Andrews
Whose imagination doesn’t cast a wide net over a presumed happy past, before the memories of the all too real claim a story?
That territory fever was my inheritance as a Rodey, will be clear.
But before I speak of my Albuquerque girlhood, my ghosts are clamoring on the night’s arising north wind….how long will it be before like the weight a jar of fireflies, one’s mind yields to the gravity of the years, to claim that many things are too hard to tell, their burden a true affliction—
I am the one who opened the jar to imagine the bright lives that danced on the Territory’s past before they came to be brass plates with inscriptions on them, visited only by the wind and sand and sun. Perhaps, mon lecteur, I have opened the graves themselves, so distressed that I should find them as I did.
My great grandparents should forgive me for imagining their very wedding night, how they shed their Victorian decorum in rapture and became one, conceiving my grandmother, Helen Rodey, born in the 14th street house.
What must birth have been like for my great grandmother, petite and fine-boned; it must have nearly broken her to bear a child. And yet a child would have been her fondest dream, the fulfillment of her womanhood, when she was able to sit up and have her tiny daughter swaddled in a cashmere blanket, in her arms.
My great grandmother’s upper lip was beaded with sweat. An aged Maria stood behind her, plumping up the pillows at her back.
“I can’t. I just can’t,” Minnie moaned, her head with its crown of auburn hair falling back against the pillows.
“You must, darling,” My great great grandmother said, knotting her handkerchief. “Can’t stop now.”
Downstairs my great grandfather Rodey, now City Attorney of Albuquerque, paced back and forth.
His father in law A.M. boomed from the sideboard, Drink, Bernard?
“Yes. God help us all. Maria! You’d better know what you’re doing up there.”
Wrenching labor cries echoed down the stairs. One of Maria’s daughters came down the stairs with a pot, trading it out for another one of hot water.
The grandfather clock in the parlor tolled ominously, the midnight hour rolling over to morning.
He could stand it no longer. He shouted up the stairs.
Someone. What in the world.
Another long and wrenching cry from upstairs and a pause, and then, at long last, the high thin wail of a tiny voice, bird-like, as if from far away.
Rodey turned away, overcome.
The men could hear the excited rising and falling of the voices in the bedroom.
All he wanted to know was that she had pulled through.
Finally Maria came, bearing the tiniest of burdens, wrapped in a blanket.
Rodey took a cursory peak at his new daughter and then took the stairs two at a time.
He rushed to his bride’s bedside, who had fallen back again in deepest exhaustion, with a beatific smile on her face.
She nodded, as he caressed her hand where it lay on the rumpled sheets.
“I’ll make you a boy next time,” she smiled.
The minute creature brought back into the bedroom by Maria, carefully lain in her father’s arms, was my grandmother, Helen Rodey.
He gingerly moved the blanket away from her tiny face.
“Oh God. Look, darling, what we have made, what our love has made.”
“Shhhhh.” She laughed again.
Maria left the new family alone, whereupon, crooning to her new daughter, Minnie put Helen’s tiny mouth to one swollen breast while Rodey held her tiny finger.
Hannah, prim to the core, could scarcely believe the scene, a joy more explicit than anything she had ever seen or even known, such a creature of tempes et mores, in her stiff black taffeta dress, was she.
Minnie was beside herself. She had dressed baby Helen in a batiste gown and bonnet; the carriage was ready, Jose the groom chewing on a twig, holding the reins.
Now, the day had gone up in smoke; all she could do was wait, get out her sheet music and calm herself at the piano.
She had planned to meet friends at the fiesta in Old Town, when Rodey had rushed in, ashen-faced.
“Oh God,” was all he said, as he strode between the foyer and the kitchen, grabbing a glass and gulping down water. Then he had gone to sideboard in the dining room, and even though it was early afternoon, had two quick shots of dessert brandy.
“Darling. Stop. Just stop.”
She gave Helen, who was writhing in her arms, to Maria.
Would you tell me what it is.
Rodey turned, with a dark look on his face she had never seen.
He cleared his throat.
“Someone was hung near Old Town, right from an old elm near San Felipe.”
“Who? Can’t they cut him down. Oh good Lord, in front of all the children…” her voice diminished.
“It’s Carlos, who shoes the horses. He shoes everyone’s horses. Did. Not anymore.”
His voice broke. Minnie ran to him and they embraced.
Rodey opened the sideboard drawer and took out his gun belt and strapped it on.
“Darling. It’s such a beautiful afternoon; there will be music in the evening. Can we not wait….”
His face said everything. He went outside and saddled up his horse with no idea of where he was going. Common sense niggled him and said he ought to go to Sheriff Blake and organize a posse. The Sheriff was in the pipeline and would know who had a bone to pick with Carlos.
But he himself knew, with a well-primed intuition. There had been a series of shootings of the Mexicans living along the river in their squat adobes, plying little trades and crafts, content to be part of the Territorial scene. He speculated. He had played poker at the Montezuma Gentleman’s Club near Old Town with the Sheriff and his hot headed sons.
They had all mused that some of the cattlemen were determined to stop the rustling by Mexicans across the sketchy border, hard-riding rustlers that could eat ground at a dead gallop in the depths of the night to pick off choice steers that got grained once a day and sold for top dollar at the auction held monthly near Old Town.
They had even wondered if somebody would be a scapegoat, an example strung up to make a point when heads and pairs of horns were counted and a prize bull had gone missing.
It bothered him no end, this lawlessness and frontier justice he had seen first hand on trips with his boss, Judge Adams, when he was called to Raton and Socorro, even as far as the Mescalero to preside over a hearing, only to arrive to see what no man should see: someone with a darkened face and a thick tongue, dead, from waist-down coated in his own excrement, swinging from a makeshift wooden gallows in the middle of town.
Rodey had studied the Constitution and thought it was a masterpiece, the document underpinning the nation from which all laws so beautifully ensued.
These hangings more than stuck in his craw. The grief of people’s families, the pale faces of children, whose fathers had been convicted on a whim. No law and no order in some of the outlying towns and now, in his own backyard, a stark reminder of this time of man in America—people still taking matters into their own hands.
He rode along the river and saw a campfire. He dismounted and Starbright, so laughingly renamed by Minnie, stood stock still with his reins dropped, as he had taught him.
Rodey slipped between cottonwood saplings in the spongy loam of the bosque; at his right shoulder the Rio Grande flowed on quietly, beneath a thin, high moon.
He dropped to his knees and listened. Fragments of conversation floated back to him on the quiet air. There were voices he recognized.
He heard laughter and the unmistakable voice of one of the ill-kempt card sharps that sometimes wandered into the Montezuma, whereupon he would be quietly asked to take his business elsewhere, to one of the saloons on the edge of ABQ.
“Well we did it, boys. Up he went, twitching like a diamond-back on a spike.”
The others laughed.
Rodey swore under his breath.
The men’s horses smelled him, and lifted their heads, nickering.
Rodey stepped into the small clearing where the vigilantes sat, pan frying trout from a nearby tributary one of them had caught.
“Well if it isn’t B.S. Rodey,” one of them laughed. “Right arm of the law, friend of judges and sheriffs.”
“Get up. Saddle up.”
The barrel of Rodey’s Colt glinted in the firelight.
“You boys get up. Right now. Six in the chamber.”
He stood back, adrenaline coursing through his system, his mouth in a grim line under his mustache, his hat low over his eyes.
“You vermin. You did it, didn’t you. strung up an innocent man.”
He weren’t innocent. He was a- stealin’ the bosses’ cattle.
“How much did they pay you to do this.”
He herded the men at gunpoint to their horses. He was onto their tricks, how quickly one of them could turn around and head right for him, or take off at a dead run through the woods.
He was right.
His chief culprit turned on him, pulling a knife from his belt, holding it high over his head.
Rodey fired; his would be assailant clutched his heart and fell.
The men mounted and Rodey kept his gun on them, swinging up on Starbright.
He moved them out at a canter toward town, half a mile away.
He never told Minnie about such things; he hadn’t told her he had been deputized, that he had slipped his badge out of the drawer from its hiding place under the linen.
He kept his anxieties to himself, that beset him night and day, over the welfare of his wife and baby daughter Helen, how outlaws and the errant hardened gunfighter could find them, fueled by whisky and revenge, although the railroad and better governance had seen the wildest times on the frontier diminish.
There were unsettled disputes besides the matter of stolen cattle. There were issues over where “gringo” land began and ended, where on verdant plateaus the early days of the BLM had begun to designate as open to all comers, the people of the reservations, especially the Navajo, were beginning to be pushed back, boundaries moved in inches by conflict that sometimes resulted in death.
The Dineh kept to themselves but on occasion their young men would lie in wait for ranchers. Things were far from settled, he knew.
At least these three murderers would get the trial they were entitled to, Rodey hoped, although his hands ached to kill them himself.
He kept them at gunpoint as they neared the jail. Another deputy stepped outside and took the men into custody.
Rodey stopped off at the Montezuma, wanly flashing his Irish grin at the men he knew well, sitting back in the shadows with willowy partners who cut their cards for them and plied them with whiskey.
His County Mayo boyhood was never far from his mind, how his father had come home to a burning house all had thought to be set by separatists and thugs, his mother lying in the living room, the house collapsing and the neighbors grabbing them all at the last minute.
He saw his grandfather, frying up sea bass in his thatched cottage, where they had spent hours together, where he studied and dreamed of America. He thought again of his beautiful bride.
He fought back sorrow and depression, and brought himself back to the present, his wife, their daughter and the children to come.
The frontier was alive and well, its spirit pervading the Territory. When it came to land and cattle and boundaries, disputes would be settled in the most primitive of ways for some time to come.
Back at the 14th Street house, Minnie asked Maria to prepare a leg of lamb with all the trimmings for her husband. She sent word to a family they had gotten to know, of a spontaneous gathering and invitation to dinner.
The table was laid with the best china, the gleaming silver; the decanters of brandy refilled from the best imported stock.
Crystal goblets glowed under the chandelier.
She ran upstairs to bathe and brush her hair and dress again , her body returning to its slender shape but with the fullness of a woman who was now a mother.
One of Maria’s daughters saw to baby Helen; Minnie held and kissed her and quickly sang her to a drowse, where she cooed and babbled in her bassinet.
When he came in, she wouldn’t ask him what had happened. His demeanor would tell her what she needed to know.
Her distractions would work, as would, that night, her lovemaking, the sliver of moon in the dormer window, from which, through the cottonwoods, Old Town slumbered, as if nothing had happened.
For earlier chapters, scroll down~! Stay tuned for more of the story of my pioneers…xj
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews 2019