Friday, November 18, 2011

The Notable Sheriff Pablo Gallegos

My Great-Grandfather was described as “the notable Sheriff Pablo Gallegos” in an interesting book called Memories of Cibola by Abe Pea. Pena shares several interesting stories about what is now Cibola County. But back in 1931-32, the area that included Grants was part of a much larger Valencia County. And Pablo Gallegos, who was my Grandma Lola’s father, was the elected sheriff.

I can’t say for sure why Pena referred to my great-grandfather as a “notable sheriff.” He mentions Sheriff Gallegos as being one of several “important and colorful characters” at the various dance halls in Grants and surrounding villages who served as “colectores, bastoneros, or chotas,” during Saturday night dances. They would collect 10 cents from each couple at mid-dance that would be used to pay for the musicians, the colector, the bastonero and other expenses of the dance hall. 

It’s safe to assume that if Pablo Gallegos wasn’t already notable before 1931, he earned some notoriety during the first months as sheriff. In February 1931, Sheriff Gallegos led a posse that included McKinley County Sheriff A.J. Crocket and other law enforcement in a deadly shoot-out with six, masked bandits that an Albuquerque newspaper called a “hold-up mob.” The headline the next day read: “Hope for Life of Wounded Bandit Slim.”

According to the newspaper account, Sheriff Gallegos got a tip about a planned hold-up at the Bond-Sargent Company store in Grants. The sheriff’s posse waited for two days at the store before the bandits finally arrived. Sheriff Gallegos summed up the encounter as follows: “Rucker pointed a rifle at the clerks in the store as he entered. ‘Hands up everybody!’ he said. I shouted ‘hands up yourself. We are officers.’ As I did so Rucker leveled his rifle at me ready to fire. I had my shot-gun on him and dropped him just as the hammer of his gun clicked. Instantly Mares, just behind him, drew a six-shooter and pointed it at me. He was hit in the arm and his gun dropped.”

Sheriff Gallegos said two of the bandits tried to escape, but were met by more officers outside the store. One of the bandits was shot and the other surrendered. The get-away driver was also wounded during the gun-fight. A sixth bandit was later found in another car three miles west of Grants.

In all, 20 shots were fired. Sheriff Gallegos killed the leader of the group, Juan Valdez, alias “Silver” Rucker, with a shot to the head. Gallegos said Rucker had rope in his pocket to tie up the store clerks. A second man was critically injured and wasn’t expected to survive his wounds. One of the wounded men apparently told Sheriff Gallegos at the hospital that he was a “lucky sheriff.” The man said Rucker had a reputation of being an expert marksman and even being a trick shot with a revolver.

Sheriff Gallegos apparently had plenty of police work to do during his two-year term. He investigated at least three murders in Belen in 1931. Gallegos once arrested a man on the road between Belen and Los Lunas after the man fatally stabbed another man in his car. The two had been drinking at a dance in Belen. They left together and one of the men threatened and then stabbed the other because he was singing in the car.

Unfortunately, I never got to know my mom’s Grandpa Pablo. She barely knew him, herself, as he died in Albuquerque in 1953 when my mom, Beatrice, was just seven years old. He was born Jose Pablo Gallegos in 1883 in San Rafael, a village near Grants. Pablo’s parents were Merced Gallegos and Rafaela Marino. He married my great-grandmother, Maria de Atocha Arellanes, in 1904 at the Gallup Cathedral. While Pablo earned his notoriety as a sheriff, he spent much of his life as a cattleman and farmer.

My Grandma Lola was one of eight children born (1921) to Pablo and Maria. Pablo served as sheriff during the depression. Sometime after losing a re-election bid, Pablo and Maria moved to California, along with many other New Mexicans looking for work. They eventually moved to Albuquerque, where they resided for 10 years before Pablo died at the age of 69. Maria moved back to Grants for a while, but lived her final years in the same house where I was raised, in Albuquerque’s North Valley. She shared a bedroom with my mother, who thought the world of her. Maria died in 1964 and is buried next to Pablo at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque.

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