Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Legend of R.L. "Shorty" Lee

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Doug and I have been making numerous trips to Albuquerque by way of Highway 54 from Alamogordo, New Mexico to see doctors at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center. We have often noted a sign obviously placed on the side of the highway by the New Mexico Department of Transportation, but only this very day determined to stop to take a picture and find out more about this R.L. "Shorty" Lee.

Shorty never expected to be a legend nor did he ever in his dreams think 100 years later he would still be remembered.

Legends live on only through those that care to hold on to them. The death of a cowboy over a century ago still sparks interest because someone cared to honor it.

Not much is known about Shorty except that he lies in a roadside grave on the west side of New Mexico State Highway 54 near Oscuro which is about 15 miles south of Carrizozo.

R.L. "Shorty" Lee, thought to be about 20 years old, was a Bar W Ranch cowboy working for W.C. McDonald, New Mexico's first governor.

Shorty and some other cowboys were moving cattle when a thunderstorm brought a deadly lightning strike to a single spot on a vast plain. Shorty and another cowboy, their horses and seven head of cattle were killed by the lightning.

With no known relatives, Shorty was buried near where he fell, along what was then only a trail.

When the trail became a highway, W.W. Gallacher, Sr. of the Carrizozo Gallacher Ranches, was instrumental in keeping the highway department from moving Shorty's grave. Gallacher, as a young man, had known Shorty and fought to keep his resting place honored.

In 1975, the South Central Mountain RC&D, along with Colt Industries, placed a bronze plaque at the grave site to mark it. Sometime later the marker was destroyed by vandals and never replaced.

The white picket fence around the site is long gone, worn by the wind and weather. A few strands of wire, some old posts and tumbleweeds are what remain.

The above reported in "Cowgirl Sass and Savvy" by Julie Carter, Sunday, June 17, 2007

A few years ago, at the request of White Oaks writer, storyteller and cowboy Walt Birdsong, the New Mexico Department of Transportation placed a sign at the grave site to mark it.

The sign now stands forlornly on the dry, sandy, sage-covered ground where Shorty fell.

During his quest for a new sign and his research to find out more about Shorty, as well as locate any family the cowboy might have had, Walt wrote a poem about Shorty.

Shorty Lee--A Bar W Cowboy

Here lies a cowboy named Shorty Lee
If I'd been born when I should'a, it could'a been me.
Shorty rode the range through a thunderstorm's force.
Blue lightning came down, killed him and his horse.
Now both of em's buried right here in the ground
And mighty few folks know where they can be found.
Just north of Oscuro, beside the blacktop,
Hundreds go by but damn few of 'em stop.
At the little old cross that marks his last home,
Just a simple wood cross, not even a stone.
I didn't know the cowboy name Shorty Lee
But if I'd been born when I shoulda', it could'a been me.

Walt Birdsong 9/30/2003

100 years later, because we know and because we can, we give a moment of silence to a fallen cowboy, because like Walt said, it could have been me.

Doug took this shot from the car and there are actually two American flags flanking the grave site
 I guess you might say that Doug and I are among the "damn few" who stopped to learn more about this young cowboy R.L. "Shorty" Lee. Isn't this a beautiful New Mexico scene showing the prairie grasses along with the mountains in the background? Rest in peace, Shorty Lee.

This is all I have to say for now.

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