William Mee

William Mee

Resident of Agua Fria Village Traditional Historic Community (THC) a place of settlement since 1640, grew up by Cerrillos, N.M.  Went to SFHS, NMSU and College of Santa Fe; and later UNM.  Member of Agua Fria Village Association and Acequia Agua Fria Association.

Thursday, 10 September 2015 21:10

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and its Builders

I have a story about the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the engineers who built it John Garcia and Jim Byrd.  Very funny.

the "bridge" is that the one located past Taos.

The basis of the story is that:

Jim Byrd was the “Supervising Engineer” and John Garcia was the younger on-site Project Engineer, and quite frankly, the Supervising Engineer didn’t trust the Mexican rookie engineer---so he kept spot checking him---his log books, his measurements, his notes on the As-Built Plans, his soils testing, his take-off sheets on the materials they needed, etc.  Every phase of the project.  Just really micro-managing the project because it was a high profile project.  I think Byrd was jealous of Garcia even though he was the subordinate, because his name would be forever on the project: the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Byrd had told others in the Department that he was going to bust-in-rank this Mexican upstart (very few State Highway Department engineers were Hispanic); and this had gotten back to Garcia.

Byrd would dock people a minute of time for knocking off at 4:29 p.m.  He would drive up to the site at 7:30 a.m. to check if everyone was there (many times he came in from Santa Fe).  Byrd had little log-books in his pocket that he would ask someone their name and put demerits by it.  Workers were creeped out by these actions.

Downriver there was a cabling system to the canyon floor and Garcia brought a little personal life raft that he would use to cross the river to the far west side when Byrd came.  Byrd would use his binoculars to see to the other side and see Garcia laughing with the other workers.  Byrd would burn and think they were laughing at him (and they probably were).  Byrd would motion to workers near a pick-up to get on the radio, and get Garcia to come to the radio.  But it was always breaking up (like the way we joke about plane pilots on the intercom).  So Byrd on the east side would get so mad he would jump in his pickup and drive the 90 miles around through the Pilar Bridge crossing across the dirt roads and up the canyon, and it took well over two hours to do.  Byrd tried a megaphone but the roar of the river and wind in the canyon made it inaudible. 

Byrd ordered new Walkie-Talkies to beat the “radio problem they were having” and they worked.  But all quite innocently batteries would die, or people left them off, or once one slipped into the river causing Byrd to get fuming mad and drive around to Pilar.  Byrd started to order more Walkie-Talkie’s for every crew member to have, and some of the older Hispanic men really didn’t like to have to carry them around.  They felt they were untrusted.  Garcia and the whole crew were under a lot of stress caused by Byrd, the work was dangerous enough without worrying about a domineering boss breathing down your neck.  The crews complained to Garcia about Byrd.  So Garcia knew he had to take on Byrd without being insubordinate.  So he started doing little tricks. 

When Garcia would see the dust flying from Byrd’s truck coming through Pilar he would go down to the raft and go across.  Byrd would drive back around and Garcia said he came back over to see him as Byrd ordered but it was past 4:30 p.m. so they had to go home.  Eventually, Byrd forbid the use of the raft and had a cable hand-car installed so he could “catch Garcia in the act.”  But he was so afraid to be in it, he had to get another man to help him.  When he finally got over to the other side he would ask where Garcia was and the workers would say that he had already gone to the East side to meet with Byrd as requested on the Walkie-Talkie that everyone was a witness to; so Byrd was unable to take formal action against Garcia. 

Byrd started to review the plans Garcia was doing because he thought if he can catch him doing the technical work wrong he could hang him.  But the work was flawless and was produced faster than Byrd could effectively review it.  Garcia had enlisted older men who had been on jobs 30-40 years but had no college education to become engineers, to review the plans; so they were always perfect because it was a matter of honor to the crews.

Garcia had relatives in Taos and Byrd thought if he caught him staying at their house instead of in a motel he could catch him on Per Diem fraud.  So Garcia would see Byrd following him and Garcia would park at the motel.  His relatives would call him and say they had made his favorite dinner for him.  He told them he could not go the first night.  Later, when they called on other nights he would go out the bathroom window to visit his relatives and just leave the Television on like he was in the room.  He would come back at night and in the morning Byrd was parked in the same place.  He knew this guy really had it out for him and he was either going to drive Byrd crazy or he would be put up on some trumped-up charge.  In the end, the Governor shook Garcia’s hand and not Byrd’s on the bridge during the dedication.

Thursday, 29 January 2015 16:51

Walking Tour of Santa Fe Downtown

The former N.M. State Historian Roberto Torres in the 1990's was asked to come up with an official history for a walking tour of Santa Fe so that tours conducted by various individuals would be consistent, accurate, and enjoyable; and wild claims in such tours as: "Billy the Kid shot at Abraham Lincoln here at this spot" would be disspelled.  Often tour guides just made up stuff to have a unique tour---such disrupetableness could fall back on the hotels, resturants, conferences and tour companies which were associated with them.  The walking tour was submitted to a City Council-appointed committee for approval and additions; and the whole "script" was tested on some actual tours.

Sam Montoya use to tell me:

“Who can? Montoya can!”

When we were about to lift a big board or move a full 55 gallon drum of water to make adobes.

I would go into his house and Elvira Baca Montoya would say that Sam was sitting in the living room.  Every time I would come in to the living room, he would be singing a little corrido ( a ballad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrido)



Then he would tell me a story about the olden days and say “Son of a gun” at the end.  Almost as in disbelief of how long ago it was.


Sam was the head of the household when he was 12.  He had been at the boarding school of the N.M. Deaf and Dumb School in Santa Fe because of a hearing problem he had. He would come home from the school on vacations and would give his school-issued boots to his siblings.  Then when he got back to school, he would say he lost his boots, and would get a new pair.  When his dad died and his mother came to get him and tell him he had to quit school and be the man of the house.  His brother, seventeen-year-old Ramon had abandoned the family and taken all the family’s cows to El Rancho as a dowry to marry a girl up there. 


Sam gathered his things and came home.  The situation was bad because six of the eight mules, the finest harnesses and the best wagon that were used for hauling wood were taken by the two older half-brothers as their inheritance.


Sam helped his mom cook the meals for the other eight children who were all smaller and many almost infants and toddlers.  Then he would help feed them.  He would not eat until all the other children would fill up.  Then he and his mother ate the rest of the food.  Sam needed to eat a lot since he worked from sun up to sun down, and then helped with the family at night.  If he finished his chores on the Montoya farm, he would go to the neighbors to ask for work for cash.  He would do any kind of work: digging, chopping wood, building, or cleaning corrals.  His dad was well known as a hard worker and one of the strongest men in the village.  Sam use to tell us he was the strongest man in the village.[1]  So this made it easier to get jobs.  Then he would go to the Romero general store and buy the biggest roast he could for a dime and take it home to the family. 



Agua Frians:

La gente de Agua Fria

Todos en Agua Fria


In the 1930 and 1940’s, in Agua Fria Village, when it was hot in the houses from a long summer’s day, people would go outside to their porches and sit there to catch a breeze.  Men who had been working all day in the fields and women who had also been doing their day-full of chores would be out on the porch.  Famed wood craver (santero) Celso Gallegos would go outside to his porch and start playing his violin.  Elvira Baca Montoya and Tia Senaida Gallegos would walk up the street from their houses near the San Isidro Church and stop on the road in front of his house (there wasn’t much traffic then, especially at night; only a few cars existed in the Village), and start to dance.  He would play faster and play funny songs, and the two dancers would respond in an equally humorous fashion, and start twirling each other around and make funny faces.  Don Celso would also make some funny faces.  The children upon hearing this commotion would come off their porches and gather.  They would sit down together in between the violin and the dancers, with a great position to look at both.   I was a very small child at the time, but enjoyed it immensely.  The night would wind its self down and everyone would go home to return on another night, realizing that they would have another full day of work tomorrow.

William H. Mee, Personal Conversation with Amada “Mae” Montoya on November 30, 2012.   

[1]  Sam Montoya’s personal conversations with great nephew Dale Joseph Montoya.

Thursday, 18 December 2014 21:22

Animalitos in Agua Fria Village

From Arthur E. Montoya 4-6-2012:

He remembered going to Pueblo Quemado and right by the river was the evidence of an ancient room like the two walls leading to a corner and it that corner was a little kiva fireplace and you could see some ashes and some unburnt sticks.  Then there was a little pile of corn cobs and some of them seemed burned.  At the pueblo the dirt was very loose and good for making adobes so they would back up the pick-up truck and load the dirt.  He was kind of anxious to get home and make the adobes so he didn’t wander around the pueblo, as much as he wished he did now. 


Art would go from his house in the morning to see what his grandpa Jose Montoya (Jose Lino Montoya’s son from his first wife Magdalena) was doing, because his grandpa would always already be working.  His grandpa would save all the cornstalks and corncobs in piles for his animalitos, and then would feed them to the cows and horses during the winter.  He said when he was a small boy and he remembered the cows just picking up one old dried out piece of corncobs in their mouth, and keeping it in their mouths until it got wet.  Then they would crunch, crunch, crunch it down, while they were looking at you, look at them.  When Grandpa Jose was older he only had about four horses left.  One of them was a beautiful gray mare with a two-tone coat and in the winter she would get whiter and really pretty.  You could barely see her in the distance if she was running in snow.  This mare had a good looking colt and it was very frisky and toward the back of the property the fence was down and he got onto Cerrillos Road and was hit by a semi-truck.  Some of the nephews got the little colt and brought him down to Jose.  Jose had some herbs and dressings and wrapped the damaged hindquarters of the colt up.  The colt could not stand and his back legs were all locked up.  People told him he should shoot the colt but he said no.  After about a week and a half of wrapping and working the legs, the colt could stand.  About a month and a half later he was walking.  Within two months he was running as fast as the big horses.  You could still see a large scar and some of the meat on the hindquarters was actually missing.


His Tio Juan Gonzales y Gallegos had his corrals immediately west of Antonio Montoya down by the River.   There he kept his wagon, and stored hay in the loft.  In one covered shed he stored cornstalks for the livestock.  There is a picture of his sisters Emma and Helen in their first communion dresses against the background of the corrals.  Tio Juan was very proud of his horses and would comb them there when he would wander by.  He would say that combing them built up trust.

Monday, 25 August 2014 03:33

Agua Fria Village Stories

William H. Mee, Personal Conversation with Mae Baca Montoya on 8-24-2014:

My grandpa Jose Hilario Baca (1879-1974) would go with Don Sixto Sanchez to the Caja del Rio mesa and cut wood.  Once Don Sixto told him let’s both work together and fill my wagon first and then fill your wagon next and because we are working together as a team we can fill the wagons faster.  So they filled Don Sixto’s wagon and he said let me drive it out of the way and to the top of the hill.  So he drove it to the top of the hill and waved to him and took off home to leave Jose Hilario filling his own wagon by himself. 

So a few days later they were getting wood together again and Don Sixto said he had over loaded his wagon and if Jose Hilario could unhitch his horses and pull his wagon up the biggest hill because his horses were stronger, so Jose Hilario remembering the last wood trip figured either Sixto was up to something or this was his chance to pay him back so he unhitched the two sets of horses and switched his to Don Sixto’s wagon and took them up the hill and kept going and unloaded the bigger load at his house as pay back and then went back to Sixto’s house to switch wagons and said they were even.


William H. Mee, Personal Conversation with Arthur Eugenio Montoya on May 23, 2013:

I was reviewing some death records from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for the San Isidro Mission for the turn of the 20th century with Art Montoya and pointed out that there were four basic types of deaths: 1. children under six years of age where 3 or 4 siblings would perish from childhood diseases in a 3-6 month period; 2. elderly persons 60 to 88 years of age; 3. 25-35 year old mothers dying in childbirth and then their infants passing within the week; and 4. young men 15-20 years old passing in what were probably work-related accidents.  So Art gave me a couple of stories:

Facundo Romero and another teenager from the Village went out to the Mesa to go for Pinion and they didn’t come back and a search party went out for them and they found them frozen to death.  Facundo was Art Montoya’s grandmother’s brother.

Art Montoya’s Grandfather Jose Montoya, at the turn of the 20th century, had a lot on the Camino Real bypass up by the present day State Road 599 and County Road 62 Interchange.  In “wood cutting season” in the fall, after the crops were harvested and the rattlesnakes were hibernating, he would haul wood.  This was mainly sabina, or juniper logs, from the “Mesa”, the Caja del Rio Grant, and he would stack the wood on his lot to dry, or to be cut and split further.  He would leave his wagon there each night because no one would think of stealing it in the Village in those days.  Then he would walk home with the horses and put the bit reins in his mouth and then drape both of the reins under his arms so as to lessen the tension on the bit.  These were some very stout horses and were used for plowing in the spring and were very well mannered and trained.  After he unhitched the wagon and stored away the harness, he walked with them instead of riding one, because the horses were both tired, and it would be unfair to one horse to ride it.  It also built a sense of comradeship with the horses as he was walking with them as an equal.  It also tended to slow the horses down since they couldn’t walk faster than the man (many horses have the habit of trotting or running back to the barn), and it also let them cool off and dry up from any sweat that might have been under the harnesses which had already been removed.  This was something that his dad, Jose Lino Montoya, taught him, and that Jose Lino had learned from his dad.  As they got closer to the present day Agua Fria Street (El Camino Real), a large truck hooted his horn, apparently to warn them about coming onto the roadway in from of him.  Not having much auto traffic on the road, the horses were completely startled by this noise and ran away trapping Jose in the reins and dragging him on the ground.    He was dragged for quite a stretch until either he untangled himself or a neighbor stopped the runaway horses; Jose never really knew what had happened but was probably knocked out cold, and was pretty scratched up when he got up from the ground.   

This was the hazards of the 19th century farming life meeting the 20th century.

Monday, 17 March 2014 21:05

St. Patrick's Day Part Two

Here is Part Two of the memorials but they seemingly are the same.  Some date back to 1973 & 1977.


Monday, 17 March 2014 18:53

St. Patricks Day Memorials

My father William H. Mee, Sr., worked some 20 years at the N.M. Legislative Council Service and retired in 1985.  Each year for St. Patrick's Day he was asked to write a Legislative "Memorial" to honor the day.  Representatives Tommy Foy and Murray Ryan (both deceased) from Silver City first started the tradition.  The memorial would be read on the Senate and House floors and started a little celebration.  Here is a sample from the attached pdf from 1997:





'Twould be nice to be in Ireland now that winter's on the wane,

And tread among the shamrocks growing near each country lane,

And smell the pungent fragrance of a fire made of peat.

Of all the olden memories, there is none that is so sweet.


'Cross the mighty western ocean and through forlorn mists of time,

Comes a message to us somehow from a far and distant clime,

That on each anniversary of Saint Patrick's holy birth,

We should think once more of Erin and folks long gone from earth


So we'll take a taste of Irish, and we'll sing an Irish song,

And we'll joke and tease each other, and we'll know we each belong

To that noble line of people who comprise the Irish stock,

For Spain and France and other lands sent people to that rock.


Now then let us remember long, and when all is said and done,

Like Irish folk, we'll hide our hurts with laughter and with fun,

And now 'tis time to clasp your hand and speak of friendship's way,

For knowing each of you has blessed me this Saint Patrick's day; and

WHEREAS, at a time in history, the country of England was an

enemy common to the peoples of Ireland and Spain and was one of the causes of the wrecking of the Spanish armada on the coasts of Ireland; and

WHEREAS, between the Irish, being a hospitable people, and the Spanish, being a prolific race, there arose a common bond resulting in a subsequent similarity of family trees and names, such as: DeValera, DeValle, Valerio, and Varela, Costello and Castillo, O'Quinn and Olguin, and the use of Gallagher for Gallegos and Murmudo for Murphy; and

WHEREAS, both of these stalwart peoples came from lines of kings

and poets; and

WHEREAS, certain refinements of both peoples are similar, in that they have endured poverty, hardship and famine and have survived war, pestilence and hard liquor;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that the citizens of Irish and Spanish descent of our great state be petitioned to have compassion on the poor and downtrodden among their fellow citizens, on those who live in poverty and are without education and on those who are so unfortunate as to be without the great cultural benefits of Irish or Spanish heritage dating back to the earliest Dons and O'Donnels; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that in this particular year's celebration we include special prayers that our brothers and sisters, both Orange and Green, refrain from violence and negotiate a lasting peace with their cousins across the Irish sea.


Sunday, 10 November 2013 06:29

This is William Mee's official photo

The mood of the country, the mood of the Army, in World War Two was one of seriousness, commitment, and belief in the righteous of our cause.  Something, which has not been a part of our national psyche since this time.  These were children of the Great Depression that had lived through the seriousness of poverty and hunger, and had a belief that the government would help us through tough times.  They knew they would ultimately prevail through righteousness and hard work.


Willie Mee was a Sergeant in the war and heard the V-1 rockets screaming over London.  He said as long as they were making noise it was safe, when they became silent it meant they were dropping straight down on you (Source: William Mee, Personal Interview December, 2000) http://www.384thbg.iwarp.com/images/dBuzzBomboverLondon.JPG.  When the rocket actually hit the ground it could knock you off of your feet if you didn’t brace yourself.  When the air raid sirens sounded, civilians scattered across the street to get to the air raid shelters, the American soldiers just bravely walked to wherever they were going.  Soldiers like my dad felt that if it was their time, it would just come and there was nothing you could do to stop it.  Why waste your leave time going in and out of shelters?  This was valuable time to hit the bars or meet women.  His leave trips to London were far more dangerous than being at Grafton-Underwood Air Force Base where he was stationed.  The Germans never attacked the base by plane or rocket to his knowledge during the war.  The V-2 rocket was even more dangerous because it was bigger and more accurate.


But then danger was nothing to the men in his unit.  They all thought it was just a matter of time before they all died.  Everyone thought they were living on borrowed time.  Years later in the 1950’s, James Dean might have summed up their attitude best with his quote: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.” 


When my father got his draft notice he was really upset.  It was if he had been sentenced to death: the war had been going badly in the Philippines[i] and for the English in the Battle for Britain and North Africa.  The Germans had battled the larger U.S. equipped Russian Army to a stalemate.  All the news reports on the home front were negative and going poorly.  From this moment on, he was very emotionally tied to getting the war over as soon as possible.


But more than anything Willie Mee wanted to be a forest ranger.  He always felt that his dream of becoming a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest was dashed by World War II.  Although, ironically he made it to Washington state through the military and saw the beauty of the forests he wanted to protect first hand.  He served in the U.S. Army Air Force in the 547th Squadron of the 384th Bomber Group from 1942 until September 22, 1945 (http://www.384thbg.iwarp.com/).  He had his basic training at Fort Jay, N.Y., and then went to specialty schools in: Miami; Wichita Falls, Texas; Wendover Field in Utah; and Washington state.  He even stopped along the way on a leave in Utah to take pictures of the Grand Canyon.  Then his unit embarked across the Atlantic on the unescorted Queen Elizabeth.  He served in England, North Africa and France.  This is that tale.

[i]  Ill-prepared American National Guard units, like the 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment and the 515th Costal Artillery Regiment from New Mexico, where thrown against a seasoned Japanese Army fresh from ten years of combat in China.  These American units often had older rifles and World War One surplus.  But they fought like hell.  Often time just running out of ammunition before their units were overrun.  Many men had never fired their weapons in training because of the shortage of munitions.  Most ammo boxes were labeled with stickers that said “Do not break the seal.”  Commanders took this very seriously and would not let their troops practice their marksmanship.   


A popular poem from the time was:


“We are the battling Bastards of Bataan,

No momma, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,

and nobody gives a damn !”


This poem represents the frustration that the men overseas had.  The poem came back in letters to the states.  Many people accused MacArthur of just throwing the National Guard units at the Japanese to buy time.  He left the islands with his famous “I shall return” speech.


Finally, on April 9th, 1942, Brigadier General Edward King, on the last remaining footholds of the Bataan Peninsular, surrendered his forces to the Japanese just before they were almost forced out to sea.  They had lost hundreds of square miles of the islands and only one stronghold remained and that was the fortified storage depot on Corregidor Island.


The capture of the 78,000 Americans and native Filipino Soldiers at Bataan gave the Japanese a dilemma of how to move the prisoners.  All the trucks were being used in supplying ammunition to the new assault on Corregidor Island, the “Rock”; so there would be no wheeled transportation.  Because of the Samurai tradition they had, the Japanese could not understand why any soldiers would surrender, instead of retaining their honor by committing suicide.  Therefore, the Japanese treated their prisoners horribly-like sub-humans.  They force-marched the prisoners back to Prisoner of War camps located by the capital of Manila.  This action later became known as the Bataan Death March in 1942.  If someone fell down the Japanese bayoneted them as an example to the others not to be stragglers.  Many of the prisoners already had malaria and dysentery, for them, it was inevitable to fall down.  Thousands of men were killed.  Of the two thousand New Mexicans only 900 survived the war.  It is a very special part of New Mexico history.  Something we should never forget.


Former State Representative Murray Ryan carried his buddy from Silver City, former State Senator Tommy Foy along the trail and fed him cockroaches to keep him alive.  He even made a grasshopper soup for him and poured it down his throat as Foy got worse when they got to the camp.  Foy made a miraculous recovery, and he and Ryan worked at a Prisoner of War camp building roads for the Japanese Army.  After the war, they came back to New Mexico and served in the state legislature together (Source: William H. Mee Sr., Personal Interview December, 2000).  To this day, Foy and Ryan cannot talk to a Japanese person.  Once Foy spit on a Japanese tourist speaking Japanese on a plane.  He said he blacked out to the time when the Japanese would yell at him and then hit him in the gut for falling down in the death march.  Anytime he heard the Japanese language it would just send him off in a rage.


Meanwhile, after daily air raids and bombardment, and a final invasion on May 5th, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered the island of Corregidor on May 6th, and the 15,000 men and 6,000 civilians under his command.  About 30,000 men of the American and Filipino forces were still scattered throughout the islands and were requested to disband and fight on as guerrilla groups.  Most of these did not survive the war.


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