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Grandma's Story by Gary De Leon

My Grandmother was Leonor Chavez, born June 19, 1885, in New Mexico. She died March 12, 1932, in Hot Springs, SD. My Grandfather was Esquipula Gallegos, born in Ruidoso, New Mexico, December 7, 1884. He died March 12, 1950, in Edgemont, SD. He was baptized on January 25, 1885, at Rio Ruidoso, and his Godparents were Ambrosio and Miquela Chavez.


My grandparents got married in New Mexico in 1905 and lived in several places in New Mexico: First, they lived in Mescalero and then Bent, New Mexico, which are both near the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. People called my grandfather Big John. He owned a farm in 1910. Esquipula went to school for three years and could read and write English. He worked in a copper mine when they lived in Mescalero in 1910 but the copper mines in the area closed. In 1916, they moved to Dona Ana, New Mexico. My grandma said they went from Bent to Las Cruces by covered wagon, and they have a picture of the family stopping by White Sands.


Escuipula worked on the reclamation project for the Rio Grande River and rented a farm. Life was hard after World War I; Spanish FInever hit and many people died. A drought hit New Mexico in 1920. Burlington Railroad workers went on strike and the company advertised for workers in the South Dakota area.


In 1921, Esquipula went to Edgemont, South Dakota to work on the railroad. He went up north working in the fields on the way up to help pay for his trip.


He saved up enough money to bring his family, and five months later in November, the rest of the family moved from New Mexico to South Dakota. It was a cold November, and Louisa Gallegos was eight years old at the time. She remembers the three long days it took to get to Edgemont by train. Her mother made burritos and prepared other food which she put in a basket for the long trip.


In Louisa's words, "We arrived in Edgemont on a very cold November day and a severe climate change from the warm climate of New Mexico where my parents were born and all five children." They lived in railroad cars provided by the railroad.


"As a little girl of eight, I can still remember how cold I was. It took a while to become acclimated to the cold weather. So here I am in the good Black Hills of our state enjoying the four seasons and the beauty of our state and the Black Hills."


My uncles and father recall their grandfather as a strict disciplinarian and noted that he never owned a car, and his main transportation was walking. Louisa stated that her mother was the midwife of Edgemont, South Dakota. Leonor’s mother lived with her and Esquipula in 1910. According to Louisa, her mother had many children and it was a happy home. Her mother was considered the “Florence Nightingale” of Edgemont. She helped deliver numerous babies and was a doctor for people. She used the knowledge her parents taught her to heal people. "One time I cut myself and my grandma took a leaf from an aloe vera plant and put the liquid on my cut. It healed quickly. I asked my grandma where she learned about the aloe vera and she told me that her mom taught her that. Her mother learned how to heal with herbs from Native Americans.


Here is grandma’s story in her words: "I can never change yesterday, but am trying very hard to influence tomorrow.”


Louisa continues, "As I sit here and reminisce, it seems like yesterday our family arrived in Edgemont, though it’s been some 75 years ago. Why Edgemont? Railroading was great then, beginning a century of the Burlington Railroad and a way of life for our family--The Gallegos family.


Where did we live when arriving in Edgemont? A box car in a section of town called “Little Mexico” because most of the residents living there were of Mexican descent. There were 36 box cars, people of different nationalities--all men, working on the railroad--some as gaudy dancers as they were known, doing maintenance and replacing rails etc. All hard labor.


My dad worked in the roundhouse as a boiler washer cleaning out the steam engines as there were no diesel engines at that time. He held that job for 30 years, working seven days a week, eight hours a day.


Yes, living in a box car was a great experience and hard work. And a bigger family we became as four more were added, making nine children. I remember on Saturdays us three older girls had to help with the washing--on the washboard at that. Pumping water from the outside pump, water coming from the railroad tanks, heating the water on a wood stove. We got our coal and wood from railroad ties from the railroad. I look back now at how hard my folks had to work without the conveniences we have now. No vacations with pay, no sick leave, no electric lights, no inside plumbing.Why do we call this way of life “The Good Old Days?”


I’ll tell you why. People were neighborly, helping one another through bad and good times, being families, and values were there. The work we had to do helping at home, as young as were, had some responsibilities.

Little Mexico was located near the Cheyenne River, and how all of us kids and grownups used to enjoy going into the river and wading. These were happy days; happy, fruitful years. The box car where we lived had five rooms. Our box car consisted of three bedrooms, big kitchen and dining room. What a hustle when getting ready to go to school about two miles away. We didn’t have to cross the tracks; a tunnel was built to go under the tracks. People living across the Cheyenne River had a swinging bridge to cross. What fun we had swinging on that bridge before we headed for home from school.

My mother also worked very hard making dinner for boarders and doing washings for them as many of the railroad workers were young men. There were always chores to be done. We raised chickens and pigs. We had our milk delivered from across the river. The Russell family had a farm and raised cows. I believe a gallon of milk was $.25. Mother used to bake a lot of bread and us kids would go out and sell it around the box cars. With all the chores we still had fun and enjoyed our growing years.


Then came our teenage years, and the neighbor people living in the box cars took advantage of an empty one. We all pitched in and decorated it with crepe paper, scrubbed the floors and began our Saturday night dances. We had our own musicians in the neighborhood; guitar, banjo and accordion players and at times a phonograph. One person would be there changing records. What a happy time that was.


My mother was the nightingale of Little Mexico, taking care of anybody getting sick. She knew how to take care of

any illness, and also serving as midwife delivering all the new babies being born there in Little Mexico. In fact, a few of the babies she delivered are still in the area. We were all considered a big, happy family, everyone getting along as brothers and sisters, growing up, beginning a life of our own, getting married, and moving away, except me; I was the oldest one left at home. Two older sisters got married and moved away.


My mother became sick, and she passed away at 45 years of age. I had to quit high school and be home as there were babies around then. I, too, got married to Jim De Leon. He was 24 and I was 17. We made our home in the same box car we danced in earlier.


Responsibilities were mine in helping dad raise the kids not yet in school; he had to work. My husband was a great help. He was there to help besides working on the railroad, the work he began in when he was only 17. He had made his own way into this country, being born in Mexico, but mostly raised by a grandmother in Texas, venturing out to Nebraska and Edgemont on railroading, where he put in 50 years working on the Burlington Railroad. So railroading was our life.


The neighborhood started thinning down. People moved away, moving into town as they wed. Four years after marriage, we bought our home and dad bought a house next to ours. Then I could take care of the two families.

Little Mexico was gone, but memories remain. The box cars were demolished and the uranium mill came to be in operation for many years. Edgemont was booming at that time, along with the big changes that came in 1942 with the building and location of the Black Hills Ammunition Depot at Igloo, which brought many changes in our life.


Excitement was also in our family as four children were added to our life. My husband was promoted to railroad foreman on maintaining the tracks. We sold our home and moved to Mystic, which is out by Hill City, as work needed to be done there on the railroad. World War II demanded a lot of maintaining the rails, as so many of the troops were going to camps and traveled by train. By that time, my brothers and sisters were growing up and dad could get along without my help. We were in Mystic for six months. Our youngest just started first grade and the oldest eighth grade. They had the experience of going to a country school of seven pupils--our four and three from another railroader.

Then we moved again to Provo, which is south of Edgemont. My husband was needed there for track maintenance during World War II with lots of repairs as Igloo was going strong and ammunition and equipment coming by train. We remained in Provo; our four kids attended school and graduated from Igloo, a great school and great people. A community all its own and everyone getting along and working for a cause; everyone looking out for the welfare of others.


It was time I started working outside my house. That’s when I began with the Postal Service part-time, eventually being appointed Postmaster in Provo in 1961. My husband retired and I received a promotion to a bigger office, which was at Fort Meade in the VA Hospital; quite a change from serving about 100 people to about 900 in Fort Meade. It was quite a challenge, an experience which I enjoyed very much working with the people and the public. I retired in 1978. My husband passed away in 1977."

Louisa moved to Rapid City, South Dakota in 1979, and lived there until 2012. She passed away at 99 years old.


Their mother’s favorite recipes:


1. Chile Con Carne (Chile with meat)

Fry one pound of steak or hamburger steak. Cut into cube-like pieces.

Add: 3 tablespoons of chili powder

½ cup stewed tomatoes

½ cup tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt to taste

Simmer on low heat for thirty minutes.

Serve with Spanish rice and fried beans.

Note: The best brand of chili powder is Mexene or Gebhart’s, as they have the true flavor and the right amount of spices.


2. Frijoles Fritos (fried beans)

Cook 2 cups pinto beans until done--about three hours. Add salt to taste; keep adding water as needed.

Fry 3 or 4 slices of bacon cut into small pieces. When it is done, add one tablespoon of flour to bacon and grease. Stir well. Empty drained beans into mixture. Keep stirring to mix well. Mash beans with potato masher while frying. Stir often until almost dry.

Delicious served with chili con carne. Also can be used for taco filling.


3. Sopa De Arroz (Spanish Rice)

Brown one cup rice in 4 tablespoons shortening and fry until fully browned.

Add: 2 tablespoons diced onion.

2 tablespoons diced green chili pepper

1 cup stewed tomatoes-mashed

Stir well while adding:

¼ teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon cumin spice

¼ teaspoon garlic salt

Salt to taste.

Add: 3 cups hot water.

Cover and boil over low heat until rice is cooked all all liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally (about one hour.) Garnish with slices of hard boiled eggs. Serves 8-10 people.


4. Biscochos (Mexican Wedding cookies)

One pound Crisco

6 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

4 cups of flour (sifted)

4 cups chopped pecan nuts

Mix all ingredients.

Roll into marble sized balls. Bake to light brown at 375 degrees about 10 to 15 minutes.

Roll in powdered sugar. Re-roll in sugar a second time within 15 minutes. Will keep for weeks.


5. Churros (a sweet bread)

¼ cup margarine 3 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla ¼ cup salt

½ cup cold water 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 ¼ cups sifted flour

Cut margarine in small pieces. Place in saucepan with cold water and salt. Heat until margarine melts and bring to boil. Add flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir until mixture leaves side of pan. Let cool slightly, add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add vanilla.

Heat cooking oil to 375 degrees. Put mixture in pastry bag with No. 9 start tube or use cookie press. Squeeze dough directly onto hot grease. Drop or snip with scissors in 2 inch lengths. Fry until golden brown (2 to 3 minutes). Drain on paper towels. With a fine sieve, sprinkle powdered sugar mixed with cinnamon over the fried bread. Makes about 30.


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