The annual San Lorenzo fiesta is a major social event in the town of Bernalillo, the seat of Sandoval County. The celebration in 1950 was no exception, but early on the morning of Aug. 11, the celebration took a tragic turn.
The bars closed and the bailes ended at 2 o’clock on Friday morning. Different witnesses told different versions of the story about what happened next.
Some claimed that Bernalillo had been invaded by young men from Albuquerque who caused all the problems. One alleged observer said a bunch of men ran toward the altercation, all of them armed, and that he heard many shots fired.
One man told investigators he heard seven shots; another heard five; and yet another heard only two. District Attorney Paul Tackett, after reviewing initial investigations done by Bernalillo Town Marshal Guadalupe Quintana and Sandoval County Sheriff Emiliano Montoya, believed that a fight broke out — perhaps over a woman — after a dance ended, and Special Marshal Clemente Salazar was set upon when he attempted to break it up.
When other officers reached Salazar, they found him dead. He’d been shot twice, once in the neck just above the sternum, and once in the left side of the chest.
Both his eyes were blackened, indicating that he’d been severely beaten, and he’d been stabbed with an ice pick-like weapon. His own gun was missing and never recovered.
Witnesses reported seeing Frank Fernandez, 25, of Armijo (south of Albuquerque), with a gun in his hand. As the affray continued, Quintana soon shot Fernandez in the foot and arrested him.
Sam Baca, 18, of Bernalillo, received a bullet wound to the hip in the altercation.
Fernandez was treated at Veterans Hospital in Albuquerque, then charged with murder and placed in the Sandoval County jail. He was bound over for trial on Aug. 28, 1950, and subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 to 75 years in prison.
He appealed the conviction and was released on a $20,000 bond. While free, he was arrested several times on a variety of charges, including possession of marijuana, assault and battery, and accepting stolen property.
On Sept. 22, 1952, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence, and he was returned to prison.
Salazar, 36, was survived by his wife, Adelina, and four children: Casindo, 4, Rudy, 7, Francis, 9, and José, 11.
(Don Bullis is a Rio Rancho resident, New Mexico centennial historian and award-winning author. He was named the Best Local Author in the 2018 and ’19 Rio Rancho Observer Readers’ Choice contests, and was in the top three in the 2020 contest. “Ellos Pasaron por Aqui” is translated as “They Passed by Here.”)
Don Bullis’s latest book,
“New Mexico Historical Chronology,”
is available from riograndebooks.com.