Roots in the Rio Puerco

Roots in the Rio Puerco
by Sam Córdova

Samuel Córdova, husband of Juanita Griego and father of Alfredo, Maria, Petrita and Antonio Sam, was born in Guadalupe, New Mexico (Rio Puerco Valley) on March 17, 1895.   His brother Jesus was born five years earlier on September 13, 1890.  Samuel and Jesus were the sons of Nicolas Cordova and Maria Garcia. There was also a sister, Avelina, who came into the world somewhere between Jesus and Samuel. Maria died giving birth to Samuel and approximately two months later Nicolas was thrown by a horse and killed.  Samuel, Avelina and Jesus were raised by their maternal grandmother, Tomasa Garcia.

At a very early age, Samuel and Jesus were sent out to shepherd the family’s small flock of sheep.  Jesus hated sheepherding and would not stop crying until it was time to go home, when Samuel shouted, "Let’s get the flock out of here!"  Neither Samuel nor Jesus received any semblance of a formal education, with the result that when the two brothers (at different times) were drafted into the Army in World War I, neither one could speak a single word of English.  And in the Army that can sure ruin any chances for promotion.

The two brothers, who, until now, had been almost inseparable, were sent overseas in separate units. Samuel did not engage the enemy, but Jesus, who had arrived first in France, faced enemy fire in at least one engagement.  His company mounted an attack on the German trenches, and he was gassed and seriously wounded in the right arm.  Apparently the objective was not attained, and when the American troops advanced to their rear positions, Jesus was left behind, gassed, bleeding, racked with pain and dying of thirst.  But it was perhaps through an incidence of divine providence that Jesus survived.  He was saved by four Germans moving in the direction of the American lines under a white flag.  They found him, gave him water or maybe Schnapps, bound his wound as best they could, and in a makeshift litter they carried him back to the American lines. The story of Jesus is intimately bound to the story of Samuel because it was Jesus and his wife Perfilia who raised Petrita, the second daughter of Samuel and Juanita.

Samuel was married when he was drafted into the Army.  He and his wife Rosa Leyba had one son. It was a grief-stricken Samuel who returned home from overseas to find that his wife and son had died during the 1918 influenza epidemic.  Their sister Avelina also perished during the flu epidemic.

Samuel lived with his grandmother, biding his time until he could work up enough courage to ask for Juanita Griego’s hand in marriage.  As he continued to bide, he planted a garden.  The garden was coming along nicely when a neighbor’s prized stud bull broke out of his enclosure and trampled Samuel’s garden.  Samuel complained to the neighbor, Don Rafael Mora, who was reputed to be quite wealthy.  Don Rafael dismissed Samuel’s complaint with the terse remark that it was his own fault for not fencing his properly.  The next night the bull breached his enclosure again and trespassed on Samuel’s garden. Samuel complained a second time, but to no avail. The third time was the charm, and by now Samuel had determined that he had suffered the slings and arrows of Don Rafael and his wayward bull long enough.  Samuel sat down to plot the baneful bull’s final solution.  A night or two later, on what might have been the darkest night of the year, Samuel put his plan into action.  He loaded his 22-caliber rifle, secured a short length of rope and sneaked out of the house and into Don Rafael’s corral. He slipped a loose noose around the animal’s neck and quietly led him out into the dark night to meet his date with destiny.  Samuel and the bull walked jauntily along for most of the night.  Samuel returned home, alone and unseen, well before daybreak. Two or three days later Don Rafael paid Samuel a visit.  Samuel greeted his visitor in a manner befitting a man of substance who commands respect: “Buenos dias le de Dios Don Rafael, como le va? En que le puedo servir?” The rest of the conversation went something like  this:

Don Rafael:   Harrumph!  Samuel, me dicen que tu mataste mi toro!
Samuel:  No Don Rafael, estan equivocados. Yo no se nada de su toro.
Don Rafael:  Dicen que lo mataste alli en el Cañon de la Nieca.
Samuel:   No Don Rafael, no es verdad.

With that, Don Rafael did an about face, walked away and nothing more was ever heard about the late,  afflictive bull.  Except that Samuel added this postscript:  "Donde yo llevé ese toro, ni mi tatita Dios lo podía hallar." ("Where I took that bull, not even God could find him.")

Samuel married Juanita Griego, late of Casa Salazar, New Mexico, on January 21, 1921 in Guadalupe, New Mexico.  Juanita was the fifth of five daughters born to Antonio Maria Griego and Trinidad Gallegos. There were also two other daughters and a copious quantity of male siblings.  Juanita was born in Polvadera, New Mexico on June 9, 1906.   Antonio Maria was working in Polvadera when it came time for Trinidad to deliver, and he moved her there from Casa Salazar so they could be together when the baby arrived.  Juanita was a big, beautiful baby with a fair complexion like that of her mother.  Juanita inherited all of the attractive traits and qualities of her mother.  Throughout her life she remained sweet, even-tempered, humble, very kind, and unselfish to a fault.  That last one counts a great deal with God.  God loves unselfish people, and He reserves a special providence for them.

Juanita’s fair complexion was the direct opposite of her husband’s.  Samuel was dark complected and the melding of their opposing complexions produced offspring of a mid-level hue.  Petrita was the exception.  She is fair like her mother.  It was Juanita who supplied the family’s exceptionally good looks, although there are those who dispute the contention that good looks ever entered into the Cordova family make-up.  Be that as it may, Juanita raised a family that she was proud to claim as her own.  She had two very fine, lovely daughters that went on to raise excellent families of their own.  She had a son who also raised an exceptional family, and who distinguished himself as a combat soldier in World War II.  He faced the enemy in battle numerous times and was decorated for valor.  Then there was the spoiled younger son who just did the best he could. That was the legacy of Juanita Griego Cordova, a lady whose beauty radiated out from her heart, through a perfect smile and demeanor that permeated all around her.

Samuel and Juanita moved to Albuquerque soon after they married.  Samuel went to work for the AT&SF Railroad.  In his job he met people who took an interest in him, particularly one gentleman from Texas, who began to teach him English.  Samuel remained in that job until 1929 when he was laid off.  Perhaps the 1929 stock market crash had something to do with it, but who knows.  In any case, Samuel emerged from that job with a fair knowledge of English, and it wasn’t long before he learned to read and write in both English and Spanish.

Sam (now we call him Sam because of his superb knowledge of English) did not stay unemployed for long.  He soon went to work for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in Albuquerque.  He was transferred to the Cochiti Division of the MRGCD in Pena Blanca, New Mexico in 1932.  Sam and Juanita’s two eldest children married during the family’s nine year sojourn in Peña Blanca.  Alfredo married Lina Martinez and Maria (Marillita) married Clodoveo Hurtado.  Samuel and Juanita, with Antonio Sam in tow, returned to Albuquerque in 1941, where Sam continued his employment with the MRGCD.  His retirement came a few years after his job had been taken over by the Federal Government.  Sam retired as a federal civil service employee, together with all its connections and effects.

Sam was sixty five years old when he retired, and he lived out his remaining years enjoying the delights of domestic life and doing what he did best: telling old jokes.  Sam was possessed of a considerable degree of wit and humor, and he took great pleasure in spreading it around.  He dearly loved and enjoyed his grandchildren, and he assailed them with all manner of stories, and jokes that they never understood.  But they laughed anyway because grandpa provided them with an endless supply of beef jerky and doughnuts.  Grandma spoiled them, too.  In her eyes her grandchildren were beautiful beyond compare, and they could do no wrong.

Sam and Juanita came into this world separated by a span of eleven years, and they left it ten years apart.  Sam died on September 4, 1979, when he was eighty-four years old.  Juanita died on December 2, 1989, when she was eighty-three years old.  There shall never be duplicates or anyone even closely resembling what they represented in their brief span on this earth.  They were small in the sense that they had not acquired the success that comes with fame and great wealth.  But they were giants in the eyes of those who knew, admired and respected them for having lead honorable and principled lives in the manner that was appropriate to their station in their existence among us.

Sam Cordova is a native of Albuquerque who was raised in the South Broadway area. Catholic-educated throughout, he attended St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary’s parochial schools. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force and graduated from the College of St Joseph on the Rio Grande in 1961.  Sam retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1990 and took up carving santos and painting retablos.  He displayed his work at Spanish Market from 1993 through 2003. He now makes cross and pendant necklaces, which he donates at the VA Medical center where he volunteers part of his time.