of My Mother, Dewey Lee Gordon
My mother, the former Dewey Lee Stewart, was born September 5, 1901 in Oklahoma Indian Nation. Her name was a contraction of those of Admiral Dewey and General Lee. Her parents, the former Birdie Little and Thomas Bailey Stewart, were Oklahoma farmers. Like the Gordons, the Stewarts were primarily of English and Scottish ancestry, and were born in Texas. All of Mother and Dad’s ancestors were “Founding Citizens” who had been in America prior to the Revolution. Three were members of the Jamestown Colony, the oldest continuous English colony in America; five were on the Mayflower and were residents of the Plymouth Colony.
Mother’s father, T.B. Stewart had managed to obtain an education through some two years of college, which was unusual for that time and place.
The Stewarts and their three daughters Adelia, Dewey Lee and Grace moved by covered wagon to New Mexico Territory in 1908, and homesteaded near San Jon in eastern New Mexico. Finding it impossible to survive on the arid prairie homestead, they soon returned to Oklahoma.
In 1990, my Aunt Adelia Stewart wrote:
Dewey had first been
taken to New Mexico as a 2-month old baby in 1901. Grandma
Stewart leased land about one mile east of what is now a town (Portales),
but was then a very small trading post on a railroad. Grandfather
had a lot of cattle. He and Papa (Dewey's father) drove the
cattle through and built a two-story house. When things were
ready, Grandmother Stewart, Mama (Adelia's mother) and I and baby
Dewey went there on the train. I have forgotten about train connections,
but for some reason we had to spend a night in a hotel near the
train station. The room partitions were made of 1 X 12"
boards and the occupants of one room could see the happenings of
those in the adjoining room. Every room had a pot-bellied
stove for heating. In the adjoining room to us were 2 men
and 2 women and several other men. The men were gambling and
drinking. Just as we were about to go to sleep, the law officers
broke into the other room to arrest the men. The men resisted,
the officers beat them with Billy Clubs, the two women cried, "Oh,
please stop, you are killing them." In the melee the
stove was tipped over and hot coals spilled onto the floor of that
room. The officers handcuffed the men, set the stove up right,
put the coals back in the stove and left with the men. But
Mama and grandmother had re-dressed all of us and were ready to
take flight when the hotel manager came in and assured all of us
that all would be well. So we managed to get some sleep before
we boarded a train to finish the journey.
Mother was an excellent student, but frequently had to miss school in order to perform necessary farm work, including chopping and picking cotton. She did not graduate from high school, but took college entrance exams and passed with flying colors so that she could enter Oklahoma State Teachers College with advanced standing.
Mother's childhood work and deprivations shaped her character and life. She thirsted for knowledge, was inordinately ambitious and imbued with the zeal to work hard and succeed even if it required self-deprivation. Mother literally "pulled herself up by her own bootstraps" throughout her life, and believed that adversity created strength of character. Throughout her life, her efforts and interests were focused on the well being of her family. She firmly believed that no one with any of her genes could be a failure!
Mother attended Oklahoma Central State College, the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and the University of New Mexico, as well as taking numerous correspondence courses. She taught school in various locations in Oklahoma and Colorado, and in New Mexico at Page, Coolidge, La Joya, Riley and Mountainair. During the formative school years of my brother Ladd and I, she either taught where we attended school or did not teach so as to be home when we arrived home eager to discuss our new knowledge, experiences, and ask questions.
Mother enjoyed music, and loved to sing. She insured that my brother and I learned to play several musical instruments, and she always had a piano in our home.
Mother was unusually beautiful. As a nineteen year old, she was chosen Queen of the 1919 Cotton Festival for the southwest area of Oklahoma where the Stewart family farmed.
Mother worked side by side with my father when it came to painting, carpentering, roofing, farming or plumbing. She was obsessed with achieving and providing a sizeable estate for her sons and grandchildren. The numerous homes and buildings that my parents personally constructed at Coolidge, Las Cruces, Roswell, Safford, Albuquerque, the New Mexico Boys Ranch, and La Joya attest to their hard work and constructive lives.
Mother was unparalleled in her business affairs. Starting with very little capital from my father's salary, she invested wisely in real estate over a period of some thirty-five years and developed sizable property holdings. She did not believe in investments that she could not see and touch. She accomplished this with a keen business acumen, self-discipline, hard work and consistent self-denial. In her mind, the self-denial counted toward a larger estate for her children and grandchildren. She said she wanted to travel, but would never bring herself to spending the necessary time and money. Mother was the driving force and decision maker in all my parent's business affairs.
My mother could do anything, whether it was building a house, knitting, sewing, crocheting, plumbing, riding a horse, using a gun, or being shrewd and successful in business matters. All of this while being a devoted, full-time parent.
Mother "slipped the surly bonds of earth --- and touched the face of God" on February 1, 1990.
One prominent community leader simply said,
A lady whom Mother had taught as a first grade teacher in Oklahoma in 1919 wrote:
I want to express my deep feeling of gratitude I have to that dear teacher I had in the first grade. She not only taught me to read, she instilled in me the desire to do a lot of it. She went out of her way to give a little girl a feeling of warmth and value. She would write letters to me during the summer while she was in school, and I learned to write letters at that early age. I have her to thank for that and also the ability to write legibly, for she did stress penmanship. I've tried to pattern some of my teaching after the things I remember from my first grade teacher. I'm sorry I wasn't able to tell her just how much she meant to me and the influence she had on my life.
My friend Sarah Kotchian wrote:
She was a wonderful pioneer woman who left many gift to New Mexico and the other places she taught, and a great history of strength and pride to you, your children and grandchildren. They are all fortunate to have had her in their lives for so long.
Mother's friends Ruth and Stanley Fish wrote:
You and your families meant much to her and she was very proud of each of you and you accomplishments.
Albuquerque Mayor Louis Saavedra wrote:
It was inspiring to read of her pioneer life and her exemplary work.
Among mother's treasures, as she called them, we found the following which were read at her memorial services:
Dear loves, dear hearts, when
time is fled
Oh I have slipped the surly bonds
Another instructive item which Mother had copied in her handwriting:
He has achieved success
who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained
the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left
the world better than when he found it, whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation
of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked
for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was
an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.
Bessie Anderson, 1904
Without attribution, Mother's personal belongings also included the following in her handwriting, well worn and stained:
There are nice young men who
are nice pro tem,