Founded in 1818 in a private residence near the Mississippi River at the request of the Rev. Louis William DuBourg, Catholic Bishop of Louisiana, Saint Louis University was the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River. In 1843, it established the first law school in the United States west of the Mississippi River.
My grandfather, Jake V. Gallegos, attended law school at Saint Louis University in 1928-30 (also found him in the university yearbooks all of those years, see images). He also had a nephew, Isidore F. Gallegos (son of Nazario V. Gallegos, Jake’s older brother), who attended the law school at the same time and they were both class officers in their 1930 graduating class (image: 1930 Graduating Yearbook). In my grandfather’s memoirs, he mentions his father had also attended a school (unnamed) in St. Louis years before. Saint Louis, Missouri was a long way to go to school from New Mexico but it seems several family members made the trip at some point or another.
My grandfather attended law school at an especially interesting time in our country’s history, just before and during the Great Depression. Upon arriving in St. Louis, my grandfather started working for American Express to pay for college. After reading his story, I looked into Amex history a little more. I didn’t realize that back in1850, American Express started out as a freight and valuables delivery service. Apparently even during the 1920s in St. Louis, Amex was hauling merchandise and that was the job that paid for my grandfather to get through law school.
—This is my grandfather’s story of attending law school in St. Louis.—
My father engaged in politics and public affairs, so my interest had been aroused early in my life for a profession in public service.
In the 1920s, I had been working in the wheat fields in Oklahoma from sun up to sun down, making $5 a day, I had saved about $1,200 and that was money for law school!
New Mexico didn’t have a law school at the time, so I attended St. Louis University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It was run by the Jesuits, who were considered excellent educators. I attended law school for three years (and had one year of pre-law at Normal University in Las Vegas, New Mexico).
When I arrived in St. Louis, a city of a million people, I was tanned almost black from the hot sun beating down on me while I pitched wheat working in the wheat fields of Oklahoma. I rode street cars or walked for two weeks until I found a job at American Express in St. Louis.
American Express hauled merchandise by truck or wagon to the freight depot. Their freight was mostly shoes. Thousands of shoes were made in St. Louis at the time. There was a platform outside the building and we would check the bills of lading in freezing cold! Many students worked there making anywhere from $90 to $100 a month. I paid my tuition, food and rent from the money I earned working there. Once in a while, I was even able to treat myself to a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee for 15¢! I also worked in the summers in St. Louis to earn money for tuition.
Although this was a Catholic university, religion was never an issue nor was it ever mentioned. There were students of many different faiths there. There were students from at least eight foreign countries and most of the states were represented at the university.
One day in my mathematics class, our professor, Father Schulty, had important news for us. Charles Lindbergh, in the Spirit of St. Louis, The Lone Eagle, as Lindbergh was known, had taken off! His flight was the first solo transatlantic flight in the history of aviation.
I was in St. Louis, attending law school during the depression. The stock market crashed in 1929 and Herbert Hoover was president. The richest nation in the world could not feed its people. There were no jobs and no money for the working people.The wealthy, such as the Mellons, Rockefellers, Guggenheims hogged the money and refused to employ people. From my second floor window in my apartment, I saw young men walk the alleys, go through the trash looking for food. They were not bums or lazy, they just had no jobs and no money. My mother and father had been strong republicans but Herbert Hoover made me a democrat. I thank him for making so many other democrats.
I went to one formal dance during the four years I was in St. Louis, but I had already met a young woman whom I felt I could be interested in. When I did return to Tucumcari, I made it a point to look up Mary Letcher. We had several dates before I had to return to school and we agreed to correspond. For the next two years we did write and my courtship began.