One of the great things about a small, hometown newspaper like El Defensor Chieftain is the ability to highlight what makes the town special. You don’t see articles about individuals in, say the Albuquerque Journal, unless it’s an obituary of someone important.
Over the years, EDC has printed hundreds of local people’s stories, many of them public figures but also a variety of individuals with no particular public image who are colorful personalities.
The city of Socorro derives its name from the early Spanish settlers led by Juan de Oñate. Most of you know the story: How coming through the Jornada del Muerte, the group depleted their wares of food and water and the local inhabitants provided them with much needed supplies. And so the area was dubbed Socorro, meaning to help or to succor.
Of course, over the years, some people have joked that it is rather “Help! I’m stuck in Socorro” with accompanying sayings like “If you wear out a pair of shoes, you’re stuck” or “Don’t drink the water…”
But in many people’s mind, Socorro has indeed been a place of help. And many would agree that the people here are quite tolerant of others.
Now, about those newspaper interviews and stories of people: There have been some very colorful people, indeed quite quixotic personalities in this town. But only one, that I am aware of, ever got their stories printed. I know of it because I wrote it and will always remember the interview and what happened to her.
Her real name was Monica Forrest and she had been an actress in the silent movies. Everyone knew her as The Cat Lady because she had about a gazillion cats—or at least 26 in her little trailer. When I interviewed her, I took her to a local establishment and bought her ice cream. I forget just about everything she said, but I will never forget seeing a cockroach crawl out from under her blouse and proceed up her shoulder.
Poor thing, the state stepped in and committed her to Las Vegas. And when they released her into a strange town, she got confused and I believe got run over on the street.
There have been others, including the one everyone knew as Dirty Sallie because of her tendency to walk down the street cussing at the top of her lungs. I think her name was actually Dorothy Darling. She scared me and I would stay as far away from her as possible. But my nephew actually engaged her in a conversation and found her quite intelligent and interesting.
Then there was the Cat Man who would walk around pulling his little red wagon behind him. In that wagon was a briefcase or suitcase, inside of which was a cat or kitten. He was a tall, Black man and made quite a striking figure walking around.
And then there was a young woman whom I would see standing on street corners. Just standing there trembling as if she were trying to cross the road but couldn’t get up the gumption. I felt so sorry for her.
There have been others, and we probably will always have some eccentric people within these boundaries. In fact, I can think of others right now, but I can’t write about them because they may read the newspaper. I mean, we’re tolerant but not stupid, right?