Saturday, May 2, 2015

A boy and his dog

The story goes like this: An Albuquerque boy had gone missing while picking piñon in the mountains. Missing for eight days, someone finally spotted the boy’s dog sitting faithfully by his side. The boy lay face down in the snow, frozen to death.

The first time I heard the story, about three years ago, I was talking with a cousin from California who was giving me directions to the grave site for my great-great grandmother, Francisquita (Trujillo) Gallegos.

I was shocked and excited to finally learn more information about this particular ancestor, the mother of my great-grandfather, Luis Gallegos. I only knew of her history in the village of San Ignacio, just north of Las Vegas, which is why I had focused my search in San Miguel County. But my cousin told me she actually left San Miguel County at some point, made her way to California, and lived her final days in Albuquerque. She was buried in the old section at Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Albuquerque. As my cousin told me where to find her headstone, which he replaced several years ago with a modern headstone, he told me it was located near an odd, but large headstone in the shape of a dog; though the dog’s head was missing. He mentioned the story about the dog standing guard over the body of a missing boy who died in the Sandia Mountains.

Sure enough, I easily found Francisquita’s headstone, and I found it by located the headstone of the dog, which had the name “Fido” on it. The headstone also included details of the story about the dog and the boy on it: “Fido: For seven days and nights he guarded the frozen body of his little master in a mountain wilderness.” The insccription on the headstone is dated in the 1930s. A plaque is attached to the headstone with the name of the boy: Alfonso Sedillo, who died in 1929.

Not long after that, I was digging through archival records at the Main Library in Downtown Albuquerque, not far from the cemetery. The story about the boy and the dog had nothing to do with my family genealogy, other than I learned about it during the research of my family. But on a whim, I decided to pull the microfilm for the Albuquerque Journal to see if there was an obituary for the boy. I was a little surprised to find the banner headline on the front page of the Nov. 16, 1929 edition of the Journal: “Lost Boy Found Frozen To Death.”

It turns out the boy wasn’t in the Sandia Mountains; 16-year-old Alfonso Sedillo was picking piñon with two companions in the rugged mountains of San Miguel County in Northern New Mexico.

“With his faithful, hunger-emaciated dog standing beside him, the lifeless body of 16-year-old Alfonso Sedillo, of Albuquerque, was found face-down in the snow, twelve miles southwest of Rowe in the mountainous Upper Pecos region, and brought to Rowe late Friday.”

Judging the news coverage, the search and discovery of the boy must have been a big deal in 1929 New Mexico. A second front-page story in the Journal described the delivery of the news to the grief-stricken mother of Alfonso Sedillo, at her adobe home on Indian School Road. The story quotes the mother, Mrs. Eloisa Martinez, wearing a black shawl over her head, as saying: “It is God’s will.”

I couldn’t decide whether to write about this fascinating story. But I was convinced to do so when I read a column in today’s Journal by Joline Gutierrez Krueger about the New Mexico Tombstone Transcription Project. As usual, Joline, a former colleague from my days as a reporter with the Albuquerque Tribune, brought to life the efforts of New Mexicans who are dedicated to New Mexico’s past. As I read the column, my mind was spinning with the names of ancestors I have yet to locate.

Then, at the conclusion of the column, Joline mentioned some of the stories that have stuck with Cheryl Harris, founder of the project, who has painstakingly chronicled New Mexico cemeteries. One of the stories was about a boy and his dog, who died of hypothermia in the mountains.

I have to believe that’s the same story I came across. What are the odds I would hear about it twice in the past three years? In any case, I finally decided to write about it. We may not be connected through family history, but the fact that the boy and his dog are buried within feet of my great-great grandmother must mean something.

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