Refuge (Robledo Mountain #2)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
We slept in a little later than usual the next morning. While late, we could have joined everyone for breakfast, but Anna had other ideas. She remembered my warning that we’d be missing both soft beds and hot water for the next month or longer.
Rolling over on top of me, she said she wanted one more memory of a nice soft bed before we showered. Eventually we made it to the shower and enjoyed the hot water.
After a good breakfast, we loaded up the horses and mules, and double checked our weapons. Mounting up, we rode down the slope, waving as we passed the mason’s camp. We broke into a canter as we crossed the Rio Grande, and turned north on the Camino Real, eager to begin the trip.
Riding side by side, we rode up the Camino Real for three miles before leaving the road for the countryside, keeping a wary eye on our surroundings as we rode. We had talked about the road being like a magnet, drawing Indian raids and bandits. Anna knew that this was an accurate description based on her grandfather’s and uncle’s freighting experience, our El Paso trip, as well the other incidents we had described to her over the years. She also knew the desert held its own dangers, which we had to be watchful for.
We finally reached my little bowl of grass in the Caballo Mountains, near Union Gulch, late the afternoon of the third day. We set up a long-term camp, complete with a canvas fly at my normal spot next to the boulders, before taking the animals up to the tanks for watering. Anna was enchanted with the watering holes and wondered if there were any more nearby. I hadn’t explored that much beyond this spot and couldn’t answer her question, so we decided to take one morning or afternoon a week, and just explore the surrounding area to see what we found.
The next morning, we followed our normal routine of Tai Chi, katas, and breakfast. After taking care of the mules, we loaded up the horses with the metal detector, two shovels, and a couple of burlap bags and mounted up for the short ride.
Riding into Union Gulch a short time later, we dismounted, and I showed Anna where I’d started digging the gold, and how far I had gotten.
“As best as I can tell, there’s enough gold here to buy three estancias the size of ours. But I can’t be completely certain,” I replied to Anna’s question about how much gold was here.
Going back to the horses, I took the metal detector from behind my saddle and showed her how to use it, letting her get a feel for it. Anna heard the first real beeps from the machine as she swept it over the edge of the field. Her eyes were twinkling, and a broad smile lit her face as she listened to the almost steady tone while walking the width of the gulch and back.
She stopped next to me, took off the earphones, and said in wonderment, “It’s almost one long continuous beep.”
“Yep. And it continues that way, as far down the gulch as I’ve gone,” I replied with a smile of my own.
Putting the detector down, she asked, “What happens now?”
Taking one of the shovels, I unfolded it halfway out before tightening the locking nut and handing it to her. “Now,” I said with a grin, “The hard work starts.”
Taking out the other shovel, I unfolded and locked it before walking out into the gulch. Bending over, I gave it a good swing into the sand to loosen it up. As I worked, I explained what I was doing. When I had a rough four-foot rectangle of loose sand and gravel, I lifted a shovel full of sand and gravel and slowly sifted it with a gentle back and forth tipping action until it was all off the shovel. Bending down I picked up five large nuggets and a handful of smaller nuggets from the shovel and showed them to Anna.
Taking the nuggets, she looked at them, and then looked up at me. “That doesn’t seem too hard.”
With a laugh I said, “I’ll remind you of that tonight, and we can reexamine that thought over supper.”
We spent the rest of the day digging and gathering nuggets. By the time we were riding back to camp with our haul, Anna was ready to admit it was more work than she’d thought.
“Our workday isn’t done yet, my love,” I said giving her a grin. “We still have a few hours of work to do after we eat.
Barely an hour later, done with our meal, I said, “And now my love, the fun starts.”
I got everything we’d need out of the panniers before filling the molds with nuggets and showing her, step by step, how to melt and scrape the impurities off of the gold. When the first batch was done, I sat back and said, “We need to wait a few minutes for the gold to cool and then we’ll have our first twelve bars.” After a moment’s pause, I gave her an evil grin. “We only have another five thousand one hundred and eight more bars to go, before we head to Santa Fe.”
Her jaw dropped open at that. She groaned, finally realizing what had taken so much of my time over the last three years.
I laughed at her antics. “It’s not that bad. We’re together, after all, and that will make it much easier and much more fun than when I was doing this by myself.”
Our routine for the next three and a half weeks was pretty much the same. We never were able to melt everything we mined in a day during our nightly melting party, so the sacks of nuggets continued to grow at a slightly greater pace every day.
Every third day we’d spend a few hours hunting. I took that opportunity to have Anna practice long shots with her A700. She would never be as good as Yolanda or me, but by the time we left for Santa Fe she was doing well on anything out to 800 yards.
The evening I tied off the sixty-third bag of eighty gold bars, I said, “Anna we can leave any time from tomorrow on. We have sixty-three bags of eighty bars and over one hundred and fifty pounds of nuggets that still need to be melted, so anything else we mine is well over what we planned.”
She thought for a minute before replying. “I’d like to spend two more mornings mining and then relax during the afternoons. I like our little camp, and I’m not looking forward to almost three weeks in the saddle before getting to Santa Fe.”
She beamed one of her smiles, and told me that while we were here, she had some more possibilities she wanted to explore. What could I say? That damn smile of hers took all thoughts other than pleasing her, straight out of my head.
Late in the morning before we planned on leaving, Anna found a nice pocket of nuggets that had washed up against something. They had piled up into a lode of nuggets seven inches deep, two feet wide, and six feet long. We spent more than the morning we’d originally given ourselves and, skipping lunch, finally cleared out the pocket by midafternoon. We returned to camp with roughly one hundred and fifty pounds of gold nuggets over the plan we’d made.
After a short talk, we decided to spend the next three days doing nothing but melting nuggets. When we were done, we had a total 1,750 pounds of gold in 70 bags weighing 25 pounds each.
I handed one of the extra bars we had to Anna. “Hold on to that. When we get to El Paso, we’ll have Mr. Greenburg make you a nice gold necklace with matching earrings. Something special to remember your first visit to the gold fields.”
Bam! One huge super megawatt Anna smile! That quickly led to exploring some more possibilities.
We set out for Santa Fe mid-morning the next day, well exercised after exploring even more possibilities that Anna had come up with. Yet we both felt well rested. The mules were loaded a little heavier than I’d wanted, but not excessively so. We rode about a mile off to one side of the road every day, keeping out of sight and to ourselves. We both hoped to get to Santa Fe without incident and carefully watched for any indications of raiding parties or bandits as we rode.
Our luck held for the first eight days, and we thoroughly enjoyed the time together. Mid-morning of the ninth day Murphy struck with a vengeance.
We were riding side by side talking in low voices, so they wouldn’t carry when we heard faint shots coming from the west near the road. Anna looked at me with concern in her eyes and I could tell there was no way she was just going to ignore it. Turning, we rode toward the sound of the gunfire.
When we got close, I found a nice hill and we both dismounted leaving all the animals at the bottom of the hill. Scrambling up the side of the hill with our rifles, we lay down near the crest. Roughly three hundred yards away was a wagon train of fifteen wagons in a partial defensive circle. The last two wagons hadn’t been able to close the circle and had been left about twenty yards short of the others.
A raiding party of close to fifty warriors was circling the wagons focusing on the opening where three soldiers were trying to keep the gap filled with gun fire. One of the soldiers was standing calmly in the middle of the gap, methodically aiming and firing his revolver. Scattered inside the circle, we could see five of the defenders were down and not moving.
I asked Anna to go back and get my A700 and three magazines, while I tried to find the raid leaders. She scuttled backward a few feet and quickly disappeared as I took out my monocular and scanned the area around the wagons, looking for the raid chiefs. I finally found them on a small rise on the other side of the wagons, sitting on their horses next to a large mesquite.
I was just beginning to wonder what was keeping Anna when Dream Laura’s voice called out, “Anna’s in trouble, Paul. She needs your help!”
Looking over my shoulder, I saw Anna struggling with a Navajo warrior while a second Navajo was running up the hill toward me. My two immediate thoughts as I pulled my pistol and killed the warrior coming up the hill were, first, where the hell did they come from; and, second, why didn’t Dream Laura give me a little more warning?
I was trying to line up a shot on the warrior still grappling with Anna when she unexpectedly got the position she wanted. She dropped to her back and threw him over her head with her legs. No sooner had she let go of the warrior than she drew her pistol, rolled over onto her stomach, and shot him in the back of head just as he landed. Damn she was quick!
Running down the hill and over to her, I bent to lift her up, when I saw the blood on her left arm and on her side, near her waist. I’d never felt fear like the fear that gripped me at that moment. Going to my knees beside her I asked her how bad she was hurt. She looked up at me with a question in her eyes and it was clear she hadn’t felt the wounds yet.
Finding a slit in her clothes near her ribs I ripped it open to see how deep the wound was. Thankfully it was only about a quarter inch deep but on someone of Anna’s size that was pretty deep. I could tell it was from a knife cut, not a stab, so that helped alleviate my fear somewhat.
Turning to her arm, I ripped her sleeve off to find another knife cut. This one wasn’t as deep or as wide. “Well, you’re going to have a couple of nice scars. I guess that suits a hellcat like you, my love, but please try to be more careful.”
“Quit babying me, and go help the people in the wagon train,” she said with a grimace as she held her side.
Smiling gently at her, I said, “You are now, and will always be, my first concern.” Through the pain she was just beginning to feel, she smiled back at me with that twinkle in her eyes that told she was going to be alright.
Getting my medical kit, I gave Anna a couple of Ibuprofen, and quickly bandaged the two wounds, telling her we’d have to clean and stitch them up later.
The scene from the crest of the hill hadn’t changed much since we’d last seen it. The raid leaders were still on a small rise 200 hundred yards on the other side of the wagon train. A few more horses and warriors were down, as well as two of the three soldiers who’d been filling the gap.
The last soldier, in the middle, was still calmly standing in the open gap, methodically firing at any warrior foolish enough to come within revolver range. That was either one brave man, or an idiot. I couldn’t decide which and I had other things to concern myself with.
With a quick reminder to Anna to shoot the horses instead of the warriors, I settled into a better position, found the raid leaders in the scope, and fired at the one holding a lance. I found him in the scope again just as he started to slide off his horse, and then sighted in and fired on the second leader.
With both leader’s dead, I shifted my gaze back to the wagons and saw the last soldier changing the cylinder on his weapon by feel, as he calmly watched four warriors racing at him on horseback.
I took two quick shots, aiming at the horses of the two lead raiders and was rewarded with both horses collapsing almost immediately, throwing the warriors riding them over their heads. I had the scope on the third horse when I heard Anna’s rifle go off and the warrior, I’d been aiming at, dropped off the side of his saddle. Before I could say anything to Anna she fired again, and the fourth warrior fairly flew off the side of his horse.
The soldier had finished reloading and was bringing his pistol up but there were no targets at the moment. He looked around to find out who he had to thank and didn’t see anyone looking at him. The direction the horses and warriors had fallen must have finally clicked, as he suddenly looked in our direction.
Anna had returned to firing at the ends of the circle, and I started firing at targets farther away making sure the wagons weren’t in the line of fire. A few moments later the remaining warriors finally realized they were taking heavy casualties, and then noticed that their leaders weren’t sitting on their horses. As they raced over to where the leaders were, I took the opportunity to kill the two in the lead as they pulled up where the leaders had fallen. That did the trick! The rest of the warriors just kept going as they passed the bodies.
Looking over at Anna, I couldn’t tell if she was so pale from the wounds or all the deaths, she’d had a hand in causing.
“How are you doing, my love?” I asked gently.
“Feeling a little weak, but otherwise alright,” she replied with a quick glance over at me.
“Good. Stay down just a little longer while I get the attention of the wagon train. Hopefully, they won’t start shooting before figuring out we’re friendly.”
Standing up slowly, I waved my hat over my head hoping these people weren’t like the last group of idiots I’d helped. The soldier was looking back in our direction, saw me, and immediately waved back to me.
Reaching down, I helped Anna up, and we walked back down to our animals, where we put our rifles and my medical kit away, before mounting up and riding around the hill to the wagon train.
The soldier was waiting for us just outside the circle of wagons. As we got closer, I could see he sported a mustache and goatee that seemed to be popular among military officers. When we pulled up in front of him, he bowed, gallantly sweeping his hat in front of him while introducing himself.
“Lieutenant George Pickett at your service, sir. I am most thankful for your timely and fortuitous intervention on my behalf in an unfortunate time of difficulty,” he said in a soft southern drawl.
“Well met, Lieutenant Pickett. I am Paul McAllister and this lovely young lady is my wife, Anna McAllister,” I replied. I couldn’t help myself and smiling, said, “It was Anna’s shooting on your behalf that was fortuitous.”
His jaw about dropped, before he quickly recovered and bowed to her with a second sweep of his hat.
Anna gave a little giggle and said, “I was glad to be of assistance in your time of need, Lieutenant. However,” pointing to me, “he was the one making the long shots which ended your difficulty much earlier than rightfully could have been expected.”
With a puzzled look, he asked, “What do you mean by long shots?”
“If you walk over to a small rise about 200 yards, on the other side of the wagons, you’ll see what I meant,” was Anna’s somber reply.
Turning to me in confusion, he asked, “I mean no disrespect, sir, but what were you shooting at that distance that was so important?”
With a snort, Anna interjected. “The raid leaders were watching the battle from there. With them dead the rest of the warriors stop a fight to elect a new leader. To stop them from reforming for another attack he not only killed the two leaders, but a few more when they rode up to the bodies. The ones that were left decided it was better to fight somewhere else.”
I interrupted whatever the Lieutenant was going to say. “Sir, is there somewhere I can attend my wife’s wounds? She’s really beginning to look pale, and I’m starting to get a little worried.” As I was asking this I dismounted and helped Anna down. Then I retrieved my medical kit.
“Certainly, please come with me,” he said, leading us over to a wagon. “You’re welcome to stay here for as long as we’re here.”
He pulled a mattress from the wagon for Anna to sit on and rummaged around for some rope and a horse blanket to rig up a privacy line. I started looking closer at Anna’s wounds. I gave Anna a Vicodin, telling her it would make her sleepy, but she really didn’t want to be awake for this part anyway. Once the privacy line was up, I thanked the Lieutenant for his courtesy and assistance. He then left to help with cleaning up the dead bodies and horses.
I cleaned both wounds out with alcohol making sure all the sand and grit was out of them before sewing them closed. Anna was out of it long before I finished. When I was finally done, I covered Anna up with a blanket giving her a kiss on the forehead.
I went over to where we’d left the horses and mules and led them off to one side, where I picketed them and relieved them of their loads of saddles, panniers, and frames. Digging around I finally found the bag with her clean cammies and added her hairbrush and a washcloth to the bag before taking it over to where she was sleeping.
When I stood up, I found one of the ladies from the wagon train had come over and handed me a cup of coffee. Smiling, I thanked her and took a sip. She pointed her chin at Anna and asked if she was going to be okay.
“She should be fine in a day or two. I gave her something to make her sleep, and with luck she’ll sleep through the night and wake up in the morning starved for meat.”
“Well, it certainly looks like you know what you’re doing so I’ll get back to getting things straightened up,” she said as she turned away. “There’s coffee at the central fire all night. If you need more, just help yourself,” she said over her shoulder.
Eventually George came over. “Well, we finally finished burying our dead and pulling the dead horses and Indians further away from camp. How’s she doing?”
“She should be fine. The wounds aren’t major, but she’s lost a lot of blood and needs the rest.”
“That’s good to hear. If you feel comfortable enough to be away from her for a little while, you’re welcome at the central fire for supper.”
I rapidly accepted the invitation, suddenly realizing how hungry I was. One of the ladies handed us each a plate of food and, finding seats near the fire, we ate without conversation.
Over coffee, the Lieutenant asked what all the others were clearly thinking. “How did Anna come to be hurt, Paul?”
“It was our own damn fault. We were so focused on what was going on down here that we forgot to pay attention to what was happening around us. We both know better. We got jumped by two Navajo warriors,” I said disgustedly.
That startled those around the fire, and one said he thought they were fighting Apaches. With a laugh, Lieutenant Pickett corrected him. “No, the ones we were fighting were most definitely Comanche! I spent a few years down in Texas fighting them so there’s no doubt in my mind about what tribe they were from.”
I nodded in agreement. “Yep, it was definitely Comanches that attacked you all. The Navajos that attacked Anna and me just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, to see us as targets of opportunity.”
One of the men snorted and asked me in a belligerent tone what a wet behind the ears youngster like me would know about Indians.
Glaring at the stranger, I responded with a hard edge to my voice. “Mister, I may be young, but I was adopted by the Apache when I was eight, after my parents were killed. The Apache have been fighting the Navajo and Comanches since the dawn of time. So yes, I know what I’m talking about. Just as importantly Anna’s grandfather is the shaman for a family group of Apaches, so she knows Apaches, Navajos, and Comanches as well.”
George picked that moment to try and diffuse the situation. “Say, Paul, is there any chance you’re related to the Connecticut McAllisters?”
Smiling now, I said, “I’m the last of that line as far as I can tell. Ever since you introduced yourself, cousin, I’ve been wondering if your family ever let out the deep dark secret that one of your aunts married a Yankee.”
He let out a deep rumbling laugh. “Well, I certainly didn’t expect to meet kin out here, that’s for sure. In answer to your question, that’s always a subject of conversations at family gatherings. What do you know?”
I shrugged. “We have a great great grandmother in common who had twin daughters named Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth, the smart one, married a McAllister while Mary chose to marry a Pickett.”
He laughed and said that was the same thing he was always told. As I knew it would, that led to him asking how I ended up out here. I sighed to myself hoping this was the last time I would have to tell the story but knowing deep down that it probably wasn’t. I told them the story, or as much as I felt they needed to know. When I was done, I asked George how he came to be here.
“I’ve been stationed at Fort Fillmore for the last eight months. A couple of months ago a sergeant and I were sent up to Santa Fe to pick up a replacement platoon. Two of the replacements were too sick to travel so I sent the sergeant ahead with the rest of the platoon. I hung around Santa Fe for a couple of weeks and when the two soldiers were well enough to travel, we fell in with this wagon train.” He gave a shake of his head. “It’s a damn shame to go through all that, only to die fighting a raiding party when they were less than a week from the fort.”
He’d been in Mesilla for eight months? I wasn’t expecting him to even arrive for another four or five months. Had I done something that resulted in his early arrival? Well, other than my even being here. I’d expected in the long run that the longer I was in this timeline the less things that I remembered as history would apply simply because I was here. I also expected anything I did would hasten the speed of change; but other than just being here, I hadn’t really done anything affecting any piece of historical importance yet. I made a mental note to talk this over with Dream Laura the next time she visited.
I told him Anna and I had a place just north of Las Cruces on the Rio Grande. When we got back from Santa Fe, we’d invite him over for a week or two. He liked that idea saying he looked forward to it. We drank coffee and talked for another forty-five minutes before calling it a night.
I was up early the next morning, checking Anna’s wounds in the half light of dawn, and a newly blazing fire. Both looked fine and, while a little angry looking around the cuts themselves, there was no fever, additional bleeding, or puss.
I set to making a beef broth, using a large handful of beef jerky and water in a small pot. Then I made a venison and potato stew with what remained of a deer we’d killed two days earlier. I was still sitting there holding Anna’s hand an hour and half later, drinking coffee one of the ladies had brought me, when Anna opened her eyes.
“Good morning, my love. How are you feeling?” I asked with concern.
She tried to stretch but made a little grimace when she felt the stitches in her side start to pull.
“I feel like I slept too long,” she replied looking over at me.
“If you feel okay, let’s get you up and cleaned off a little,” I said as I gently helped her stand. “Use the blanket to cover yourself up and I’ll follow you over to the other side of the wagon with clean clothes, your hairbrush, and some soap and water.
She gingerly walked outside the wagon circle to a clump of mesquite with me following along behind. When she’d cleaned up as best she could, and rinsed off, I handed her a clean sports bra, tee shirt, and shirt. When she had everything on and situated the way she wanted, she looked down at her waist and held out her hand for her pistol belt.
Smiling, I handed it to her, watching as she put it on and moved the holster to the position she preferred. She spent a few minutes taking her hair down, brushing it out, and piling it back up on her head in a knot. I told her I’d do my best to braid it for her later. She flashed me a smile and a look that told me she thought I meant well, but it wasn’t going to happen. I wrapped her in a big hug and felt her snuggle into me and relax.
We stayed that way for a couple of minutes until she leaned back in my arms, pulled my head down to her, gave me a tender kiss and said, “I’m hungry.”
Laughing, I walked her back inside the wagon circle and had her sit down at our little fire where I handed her a cup of broth from where it had been simmering at the edge of the fire.
“If you can keep that down, there’s some venison stew I started earlier that should be ready,” I replied to her request for more.
Checking the stew, I turned back around to find Anna sitting on a large stone by the fire, drinking coffee, looking for all the world like nothing had happened to her. Perhaps I was babying her too much? She nodded at a young teenage girl who came over handing her more coffee, before sitting down, and braiding Anna’s hair into a nice tight braid.
When the girl was done, Anna thanked her for the coffee and for braiding her hair. The girl smiled shyly and told Anna she was welcome before going to help with the cleanup. I poured Anna a cup of stew and handed her the cup. I sipped my coffee watching her sip from the cup and slowly chew the venison, potatoes, and barley.
She smiled when she was done. “That was good, Pablo. With a little more salt, it would be perfect. It’s a shame you can’t make coffee this good.”
“Everyone’s a critic,” I said as I passed her another cup of stew with a little more salt added.
A few minutes later we were finishing off the stew and she asked, “What are the plans for today? Did I miss anything last night?”
“I don’t think you need to be spending all day on a horse with those fresh stitches, so I think we’ll spend the rest of the day right here. You can probably ride a short distance if you’re careful getting on and off your horse, but I wouldn’t push it. Regardless, you’re going to be feeling both those wounds for the next week or so.”
“I’m fine with staying right here today, Pablo. It’s not so much that there’s any real pain but both of them are surely uncomfortable. Just trying to stretch this morning proved that.”
“Good. Like I said don’t push too much today. While you’re lazing around today, I thought I’d take Cousin George out to do a little hunting. We could use some fresh meat.” Anna responded with a puzzled look. “Oh! Last night the good Lieutenant and I figured out we were cousins. Our great grandmothers were sisters.” Taking a quick look around to make sure no one was within hearing distance I lowered my voice. “You remember me telling you that I had a distant relative in the Army who would be important in the future?”
Anna gave me a brief frustrated nod; she was getting impatient to learn the rest.
“George is that relative. I knew it as soon as he introduced himself yesterday, but with your wounds I was more worried about you than him at the time. He was the one who actually brought it up over supper last night. Turns out he’s been at Fort Fillmore for eight months.”