Christmas Movies

I watch the classics this time of year. My top two balance the light and dark of everything for me.

The first is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Anyone who has ever chuckled at Chevy Chase or the jokes in a John Hughes movie likes this one. 

The other one has no connection to traditional Christmas except for snow. Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller is purposefully dark and uncheery.  The town is a central character. It’s being built with the story, evolving and changing. The place is called "Presbyterian Church" with a brothel at its heart.

The film set location is lost somewhere today in the curvy single-family cul-de-sacs of West Vancouver. Somehow that fits the grim narrative about progress.

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Coyote Rodeo

He jumped the fence at the regular place and worriedly looked behind him. If cows jump over the moon, why not this fence?

The bull stopped short and snorted. Call me Ferdinand again, I dare you.

Heifer who likes her head scratched and plays with the water hose had noticed him first. More greeter than aggressor, she trotted right up to him and was a little hurt when he shied away. That caught the attention of the other two.
Little bull has strengthened his self esteem by pushing fallen tree trunks and a big telephone pole around the pasture and corral. He enjoys intimidating geese and joggers along the fence line, charging at them with his head down, snorting. His head and neck are growing as thick as those old trees.

He dreams of having a nice set of horns. But everyone who knows him is very thankful he does not.

Coyote circled and dodged. He seemed a little upset. He avoided the corner where the three cows seemed to be herding him. Sure, this is all fun and games until someone gets stomped to death.

The heifers had to stop - winded from laughing so hard.  The bull's gratefully short attention span seldom extends beyond the heifers' butts so he stopped too. It was over before anyone got a camera out.

Coyote regained his composure but won't be back until that bull is gone. Now the chickens and guineas are getting a little too noisy and full of themselves.

Father Troy

Father Ferdinand Troy arrived in New Mexico Territory the same year as the railroad. During his tenure here as a Jesuit priest he traveled on the back of a burro and in an airplane. Had he lived a few more years he might have flown to Rome again in a jet. But he left Old Albuquerque's San Felipe de Neri the last time in his life one morning by motorbus and was killed that night by a car in front of the Alameda church - the church he and parishioners had built over twenty years before.


It was the eve of Christmas Eve and he had worked for hours with the women of the altar guild on decorations in the sacristy and parish hall. The sun had turned the Sandias bright pink and the white spires of the massive church glowed against this mountain backdrop. He scanned the scene with deep satisfaction and crossed the street to the bus stop.*

Fourth Street was busy Route 66 and the road curved there then just as it does today. A car suddenly appeared around that curve going very fast. Accounts differ about who killed Father Troy. One said it was a hit and run and another that it was a drunk driver. Accounts do agree that his long tenure spanned an era of great controversy and change in New Mexico and the church.

He is buried with the other Jesuits in Mount Calvary.   
Troy grave
 *Indeed, there was bus service to Alameda in 1936.

Bronson's Niece Iris

Bronson Cutting had a niece named Iris.* She visited New Mexico occasionally while the Cutting siblings were in Santa Fe between 1910 and Bronson's death in 1935.  She became a respected author. Origo_war_val_dorecia

In classic Downton-esque - Age of Innocence style her parents, Bronson's older brother Bayard and Lady Sybil Cuffe, paired money and royalty with their marriage in 1901. They had traveled the world seeking treatment for Bayard's tuberculosis when he died in Egypt on a Nile houseboat in 1910. Lady Sybil and Iris moved to Italy.

Bronson and his sister Justine had visited Santa Fe on their return from an extended California vacation and made the choice to live here that same year. Like his brother, Bronson suffered from TB and the high desert climate figured largely in their choice. They were hugely wealthy and could have lived nearly anywhere. It is a strong testament to the place's appeal that they chose Santa Fe.

Sister-in-law, Lady Sybil, daughter of an Irish peer, purchased and renovated Villa Medici in Fiesole near Florence. In between their continued world travels, this is where Iris grew up. At 22 she married the son of a Marchese and together they bought and restored another large Italian estate called La Foce. A summer music festival is held there to this day in her honor.

In 1924 the property was bought by Antonio Origo and his Anglo-American wife Iris, the daughter of Lady Sybil Cutting, the owner of Villa Medici at Fiesole where Iris Origo spent much or her early life. They dedicated their lives to bringing prosperity and cultural and social changes to this formerly poverty-stricken area of the Val d'Orcia. Years of work were devoted to preparing the difficult terrain for modern agriculture. The gardens and estate of La Foce constitute one of the most important and best kept early twentieth-century gardens in Italy. ..

*Her grandparents suggested 'Iris' sounded too botanical - thus her middle name.

Who Owns the Game

Torcthegame-300x192Without mentioning the unsolved Cricket Coogler murder, William Keleher decribes the scene in New Mexico around 1949 in his memoirs.* Pressure had come to bear on Governor Mabry about "wide-open" illegal gambling in several  New Mexico counties, including Dona Ana County at Anapra and Sierra County, at Hot Springs.

Keleher says a witness testified before a Sierra County grand jury investigation about the slot machine pay-off scale.

Forty percent went to the owner of the location in which the machine was installed, forty percent to the owner of the machine, and twenty percent to the politicians.

On the eve of the big parade celebrating the name change of Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences, Judge James B. McGhee, accompanied by a bodyguard and contingent of the State police, ended gambling in the downtown bars.









*William A. Keleher, Memoirs: 1892-1969 A New Mexico Item. The Rydal Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1969.

Mr. McMillen's Alameda

The communal grazing lands of Alameda heirs and settlers morphed into modern day Rio Rancho primarily through the self-interested efforts of one prominent New Mexican lawyer named Alonzo B. McMillen.

Alonzo's grave
The story is detailed in a juicy 2008 paper in the Natural Resources Journal with the fabulous title: The Blighted History of the Alameda Land Grant: Montoya v. Unknown Heirs of Vigil (pdf).  The author, Kristopher N. Houghton, writes a thorough history with the major portion of the story devoted to legal shenanigans and unethical behavior that was not unusual or even considered unethical at the time.

Continue reading "Mr. McMillen's Alameda" »

The Alameda Floods

Floods were expected. Dams and levees had been built and rebuilt at the mouth of arroyos and along the Rio since Pueblo times. The 1885 levee was built after a huge flood in 1884 and had already been breached twice before a night in September 1903 when a 19,000 cfs flow broke through a dike and wiped out the modest town of Alameda.

Map bitThe water wasn't just from the river. Extensive grazing of the lands on the mesa east of the valley contributed to increasing sediment loss. Waters swept up hunks of dirt and trees along the banks in thick powerful rushing mud that spilled into the valley.

Any hope that nature wouldn't repeat the insult before the levee was rebuilt again was dashed the following year when another flood, almost as large, overwhelmed the valley again. After this one nearly all the structures, including two parish churches and three villages, had been destroyed.  Many residents moved to higher land along the valley edges. Or moved to California.

Into this scene of community disorder quietly stepped a prominent attorney named Alonzo B. McMillen. And while remaining residents of the Alameda grant were rebuilding their lives, acequias, homes and churches, McMillen filed for court partition of the Alameda grant on behalf of one Vincenta Montoya, heir of Vigil, late of California. Within five years, McMillen owned  45% of the grant. And by 1920 his San Mateo Land Company owned an estimated 75,000 acres of the former 89,000 acre Alameda Land Grant. This is where Rio Rancho is today.



Coyotes and the Calf

Tercio morning4
Tercio's fourth morning

The driveway alarm went off about 4:45am. This is unpleasant. In my head, I form a dark vision of predators. In my bed, I'm stiff with fear and barely breathing. The dog is barking his coyote bark.

Concern bolsters courage. Coat over nightgown. Boots on bare feet. Into the dark brandishing a flashlight, I jump the gate.

A cows snorts. The new bull calf is standing between the other cows who all face outward in defensive formation. Old Red is watching me. Her eyes gleam back framed by huge horns.

Scanning round us into the black, the light barely piercing darkness. Then reflected bright pairs of coyote eyes dart away. I turn in a circle. Another pair of eyes, and another!

But when I repeat the circle, they're gone. I notice the cold. My adrenaline has fallen and I head inside. Old Red moos softly at her calf, and maybe at me.