Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Chapter 2

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

We were up early, and after breakfast, we rounded up the deputy and the stagecoach manager before walking over to the bank.

The four of us walked into the banker’s office over his objections. I closed the door and told him to shut up and listen, as Anna looked away to hide her smile. I asked the banker if the ‘Mayor’ had been up to date on his rental payments for the stable and house.

When he said that he was current, I turned to the Deputy. “I want a complete inventory of the stables to include the horses, tack, and feed. Once that’s done, you’re to sell them to whoever wants them for a minimum price of,” I stopped there and turned to Anna with a raised eyebrow.

She smiled at me and gave me a number that seemed a little high, but I didn’t question it. I turned back to the Deputy, “It’s helpful to marry a girl who grew up in her grandfather’s stables. Now, that’s the minimum price you will accept. If you can’t get that price, then you’ll put up the horses and store the tack and feed, at the city’s expense, until one of my Deputies comes through to take everything off your hands.”

None of them liked that very much as it stopped them from buying everything for a song and forced the city to pay for the upkeep and storage. I looked at all three of them with a hard glare.

“As far as I’m concerned, you earned this for failing to notice the timing and amounts of the deposits compared against the date of the robberies, the overnight absence of both the ‘Mayor’ and ‘Marshal’ on the dates of the robberies, and the size of the deposits, for a business with absolutely no clients. You had to have known something was wrong but turned a blind eye to it through sheer laziness.”

By the time I was done they all had sheepish looks on their faces.

Turning to the banker I asked, “Do you know how to get into the cold room at the house?” At his nod, I continued, “There are two sets of black clothes with bandanas, as well as all five strong boxes from the robberies in the cold room. I recommend you have them removed before renting it out again.”

We left the three of them in the banker’s office and went to buy more supplies for the long ten-day trek to Colorado City, currently the largest of the three towns in the area that would one day be known as Yuma, Arizona.

Leaving early the next morning, we were relaxed and focused as we traveled. It felt good to travel again like we had on our honeymoon. All the major tension I’d been feeling and transmitting to Anna had been overcome by our discovery in Tucson that the ‘Mayor’ and ‘Marshal’ had, in fact, been wanted fugitives; not to mention being responsible for the latest rash of stagecoach robberies in the area. The short time we’d spent in Tucson more than justified our entire trip.

We arrived in Colorado City in the fading twilight ten days after leaving Tucson. We were both ready for a few days of good meals, soft beds, and most importantly, a hot bath. The accommodations were much better than Tucson, but again, there was only one tub, so I resorted to the barbershop bathhouse while Anna used the tub in our room.

We spent the next two days doing our meet and greet sessions with the various ‘powers that be’ in town. Our reception was much better than we’d received in Tucson, and we ended up having supper with the Mayor, Marshal, and Commander of Fort Yuma, along with their wives our last night in town.

The conversation at supper was lively with Anna regaling our table mates with stories about my exploits taking on the Stevens Gang, the Comancheros, and the Red River Gang. By the time she was done, even I was impressed with her version of me, and I knew better!

Riding north, we left Yuma the next morning following the Colorado River for the first day before moving a half-mile east to parallel the river still traveling north. When we stopped for lunch on the third day, I got out the compass and map while Anna made a lunch of rabbit stew.

I shot azimuths on the two tallest peaks and marked them on the map. I grinned when I discovered we were less than a mile from Arroyo La Paz. If mining there didn’t pan out, Goodman Arroyo was only a little further north, and we’d check that next.

I returned to where Anna was cooking and told her the good news. She beamed me a smile and I just had to give her a big hug and kiss when she tried to hand me a bowl of stew. She gave me a small giggle along with a light arm slap when I let her go, and she sat down next to me to eat her stew.

We rode into Arroyo La Paz less than an hour after lunch and turned to follow the arroyo in a generally northeast direction. We explored the arroyo and its branches for an hour before coming on the perfect camping spot in a side arroyo, that ended in a large bowl less than a hundred yards from the main arroyo.

One side of the bowl had caved in, leaving a gentle ramp up out of the arroyo. When we rode up the ramp, we discovered a nice grass-covered area surrounded by an irregular circle of hills literally covered in dense thickets of mesquite.

We set up our camp at the base of the hills nearest the ramp and let the horses and mules graze without hobbles or pickets for the time being. With camp set up, we took the metal detector and two shovels and walked back down the ramp to the arroyo.

At the bottom of the ramp, Anna put the headset on and turned on the metal detector to test it. She gave a small shriek and pulled off the headset rubbing her ears. I asked what was wrong and she said she didn’t know but the metal detector had begun a loud screeching in her ears as soon as she turned it on.

I took it from her, turned the squelch all the way down, put on the headset, and turned it on. She was right. Even with the squelch turned all the way down, the screech in my ears was loud. I swept it from side to side, getting a continuous screech, instead of the pings we were used to.

I walked all the way down to the main arroyo and back, continuing the sweep. The screech never stopped. I checked the battery and it showed it was half-charged so I checked all the connections, and everything looked good with those as well. I walked up the ramp, and the screech died out to be replaced with the intermittent pings we were used to.

Turning around, the screech returned as soon as I was in the arroyo again. The only thing I could come up with was that we were standing on some kind of mineral deposit that was so big it was setting off the screech. I couldn’t think of any minerals that I’d ever read about in this area, in high enough concentrations, to do that.

Taking the headphones off, I dug down into the sand, pulling up a shovel full of sand and started gently sifting it off shaking the shovel side to side. I stopped after the second shake, staring in dumbfounded amazement, as the falling sand glittered gold in the bright sunlight.

It reminded me of the fairy dust Tinkerbell threw on the Darling children in the animated Peter Pan cartoon. Looking over, I saw Anna staring in bright-eyed wonder, as the slowly falling sand continued to glitter.

Coming out of my stupor, I sifted a little more aggressively until most of the sand had fallen off. I looked at the shovel full of gold nuggets of varying sizes in wonder. Pouring the nuggets in a small pile behind me, I dug another shovel full of sand out of the ground repeating the shaking action and again watched the gold dust float down, leaving the shovel blade covered in nuggets.

Waving out over the arroyo floor, I looked at Anna. “If the whole area is like this, our panniers will be full in a couple of weeks or less instead of the seven weeks we planned.”

She beamed me one of her rare huge super megawatt smiles, and I decided she was pleased with the news.

I tested eight spots between the ramp and the main arroyo before finally telling Anna we didn’t need the metal detector. She picked up her shovel and a burlap bag, before walking down to the main arroyo and started digging. I followed behind her and moved off to one side to start digging myself. By the time we quit a couple of hours later we had three bags of nuggets between us.

The next morning, while Anna continued digging and sifting, I walked almost three miles down our back trail to where we’d left a stretch of hardpan. I used every trick Miguel and the instructors had taught us during Scout/Sniper training to hide the trail we’d made from the hardpan all the way back to where we were digging. If someone found us, it would be by luck and expertise, not because they followed our tracks. When I walked back into camp, Anna was just finishing making lunch, and we both ate with healthy appetites. Mine from the long walk and Anna’s from all the digging.

Over supper, we talked about the plan for the next couple of weeks. We calculated that we could collect, on average, 260 pounds of gold per day, with one of us digging and collecting full time during the day, and the other only digging and collecting a half day.

Whoever was digging and collecting a half-day, would spend the other half of the day melting nuggets. We’d both melt nuggets for a couple of hours every night after supper. If we could manage to pour 700 bars every day, we would be caught up roughly two days after we finished collecting the nuggets. This all rested on the premise that the goldfield was as big as the metal detector indicated, but it was a plan we could work with until something changed.

Work the plan was exactly what we did, for the next eight days. By the end of the eighth day, we had collected more than 2,000 pounds of gold to go along with the 400 pounds we collected the first day and a half. We had 5,600 bars already to go, leaving us to pour another 1,750 bars at a minimum. We spent two days melting the remaining nuggets and ended up with a total of 7,700 bars or just over the 2,400 pounds we originally planned.

We spent our final day at Arroyo La Paz rearranging and repacking the panniers with the bags of gold bars at the bottom of the panniers and the supplies and clothes on top. When that chore was done, we lazed around and talked.

We had both reached the decision that we’d need to hunt on the long 500-mile ride to Santa Fe, as we’d used more of the supplies than we’d anticipated. We were a little short on meat. Hunting wasn’t a problem, but I was still terrible at skinning and butchering, so Anna would do that part of the job with whatever help I could provide.

We also decided we would travel north along the Colorado River skirting the mountains for a few days, before turning east and working our way to Santa Fe.

Things went well for the first two weeks of the trip. We rode north as planned, skirting the base of the mountains along the Colorado River, and then turned east. Anna and I enjoyed our alone time in this rugged and desolate land.

We hunted as we’d planned, and Anna began teaching me how to butcher our kills. Like my stovetop coffee, I’m afraid it was a lost cause, but I did try.

On our fifteenth day of travel, we stopped at the base of a hill to fix lunch and rest for an hour before moving on. I was cleaning up after lunch and repacking what we’d used, while Anna had climbed the hill to scout out the rest of the days ride with her monocular.

I’d just finished tying the cover down on the last pannier when I looked up and saw Anna halfway down the hill waving me to her frantically. I climbed up to her as fast as I could and, while I caught my breath, she told me she’d seen what looked like a raiding party with captives moving north. They were about two miles south of us and another two or three miles east.

We climbed the rest of the hill and laid down, so we could see over the top. Anna searched for a couple of minutes with her monocular, before finding the group again. I found them quickly after Anna pointed me in the right direction.

The distance was a little long for the monocular, so I couldn’t get any detail, but the general impression was as Anna had said. A group of six or seven warriors traveling north with a group of four or five captives. We couldn’t tell for sure, but we both agreed that we thought the captives were children and a young woman who may have been carrying a baby or toddler.

Damn Murphy and all his laws! So much for a nice peaceful trip to Santa Fe.

I judged their line of travel the best I could and started scanning with the monocular looking for someplace suitable to free the captives. I thought I saw a cut in a long rocky ridge that might work about two miles north of us. I couldn’t make out enough detail to be sure though.

Anna and I talked about it for a few minutes and decided to see if we could work our way around the ridge to the other side. We rode north as fast as we could without raising a dust trail behind us. When we’d traveled what I judged to be two miles, we stopped at the base of another hill and climbed up to check our position and the location of the ridge.

From this position, we could see the cut was really the end of a large miles-long arroyo, which would indeed make a good spot for an ambush. We remounted and rode a little further north before turning east and riding to within two hundred yards of the arroyo.

We tied up the animals to a large mesquite bush and hobbled them. While Anna took our rifles out of their scabbards, I dug out my ghillie suit from the pannier I’d packed it in. Anna handed me my rifle and we went scouting for a good ambush spot.

We’d seen that there was no way out of the arroyo for at least the first mile, so I was hoping to find a fifty to one-hundred-yard stretch that was almost perfectly straight. As it turned out the perfect spot was four hundred yards from the entrance.

I positioned Anna near the northern end of the straight stretch behind some creosote where she could look down into the arroyo.

“Stay out of sight until you hear me start firing. As soon as I start firing kill any of the warriors between you and the captives,” I said in a low voice.

Getting her nod of understanding, I walked south towards the entrance. I soon found a nice open spot in some creosote looking directly down into the arroyo, fifty yards from Anna’s perch. Digging a little depression as close to the arroyo’s bank as I could, I lay down, arranged the ghillie suit over and around me, settled in, and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

I’d just about decided that the arroyo wasn’t where the warriors were aiming for, when I faintly heard a young voice asking for water in Spanish, followed by the crack of a hand hitting skin and a cry of pain. The silence that followed was unnerving.

Less than five minutes later I heard adult voices talking a language similar to Apache, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. A calm settled over me as I waited for the group to come into sight. When they finally rounded the small bend in the arroyo, there were four Navajo warriors in the lead, then came the captives in a tight group ten yards behind them, followed by two more Navajo ten yards behind the captives.

The lead warriors were bunched up, talking quietly as they walked, not really paying much attention to their surroundings. The captives were all naked, walking gingerly on sore bare feet over the hot arroyo sand. The two trailing warriors were more concerned with keeping the captives moving than they were with what was around them.

The captives were being led by a young Anglo woman in her mid to late teens. She was carrying a baby while talking encouragingly to what looked like a Hispano brother and sister about ten years old, and an Anglo boy about eight.

I waited for the trailing warriors to get ten yards past me and opened fire at point-blank range. Two shots and I was moving to stand up, so I could get a better angle on the leading warriors over the captive’s heads. By the time I’d stood up and had the rifle to my shoulder, it was over.

Anna had taken out all four leading warriors with single shots to each. The kids were crying in terror, and the young woman was looking at me like I was a monster. I told them in English and Spanish to stay there, and we’d get them some water in just a minute.

It took a couple of minutes for me to get out of the ghillie suit. When I finally had it off, I looked down and saw that Anna had already thrown them a camel pack and was showing them how to drink from the suction tube.

While she was talking to them and calming them down, I went back and got the horses and mules leading them back to where Anna was standing near the edge of the arroyo.

I took the coil of rope off my saddle horn and tied a bowline in one end. While I was working on the rope, Anna went over to the mules and pulled out my medical kit bringing it back with her. She opened up the medical kit, took out a sling, tied it around her neck, and told me she was ready.

The little minx laughed when I tried to hand her the rope, and instead leaned over grabbing the base of a mesquite bush growing on the edge of the arroyo. With a firm hold on the mesquite, she walked backward down the arroyo wall until she was dangling four feet from the bottom of the arroyo and let go. She landed lightly on both feet, and with a short laugh dressed the kids as best as she could using a combination of her spare travel clothes and what she could cut down from what the Navajos had been wearing. When she’d done what she could she told me to throw down the rope. I shook my head at her antics as I threw her the rope, but realized she was trying to calm the kids down even more.

Anna calmed the kids, got them into the rope, and I hauled them up one after the other. As I got them up to the top of the arroyo, I carried them to the shade of the mesquite where the horses were tied. Sitting them down, I gave them more water and a handful of beef jerky to gnaw on, while they waited for the others.

Anna was the last one up, carrying the baby in the sling while holding onto the rope with one hand and fighting off the wall with the other. As I pulled Anna up into my arms and wrapped her in a hug, she whispered that none of the kids had eaten anything but jerky. Looking into her eyes I saw both concern and determination.

In short order she was fixing the biggest pot of stew she could using what was left of the antelope we’d killed yesterday along with some potatoes and carrots. Her plan was simple, she’d feed the baby the stew broth using one of the camel packs and then spoon feed the potatoes after mashing them well.

While she was doing that I went over the kids with my medical kit. Besides all of them having bruises on their face, arms, and backs, the only complaint they had, other than being hungry, was their feet, which were in pretty bad shape. Of course, none of the warrior’s moccasins would fit any of the kid’s feet, not even the teenage girls.

With a silent sigh, I told them exactly what I was going to do to their feet, and that it might hurt, but I would be as gentle as I could be. I started with the youngest boy first.

I washed the sole of each foot as gently as I could, removing all the sand, thorns, and slivers that I could find. I coated the soles in an antibiotic and analgesic cream, before wrapping both feet lightly with cotton cloth. I did the same for each of the rest, talking to them as I worked to learn what I could.

Most of the information I got was from the young woman, Elizabeth Saunders, who was fifteen. All of them had been with their parents in a small wagon train of six wagons that had formed in El Paso to travel to California together.

They’d been on the trip for almost two months when they were attacked by a large raiding party just after sunup four days ago. When the attack started, she’d been put in charge of the kids, bundled into the back of a wagon with them, told to stay quiet, and not to come out until an adult came to get them. As far as she could tell, they were the only ones left alive from the wagon train when the fighting was over.

The Navajo had found them hiding in the back of the wagon. An argument broke out among two of the warriors shortly after they were found. Six disgruntled warriors left the group leading the kids north while the others stayed and looted the wagons. The last glimpse she had of the wagons was the other warriors moving south.

Mike Adams, a six-year-old, was the youngest of the group other than the baby. Sierra and Manuel Barela were eleven-year-old twins and the baby was 9-month-old Rose McClure. Elizabeth, or Beth as she preferred, was an only child and was certain she had no living relatives.

Sierra did all the talking for the twins. Neither had ever heard their parents talk about any living relatives. Young Mike just shook his head when I asked him if he had kin anywhere, and Beth said she’d never heard his parents talk about relatives during the trip.

By the time I was done fixing up their feet and talking to them, Anna had the stew going and had fixed each of them some willow bark tea. As they sipped the tea, I told Anna we’d let them eat lunch here before loading up and leaving to get as far away as possible before we lost daylight.

She asked about the kids and I gave her what history I’d learned. I told her when we left, I would be walking, Beth would ride my horse carrying the baby, while the other three rode the mules. She started to say she would carry the baby.

I stopped her, reminding her she needed to be unencumbered as she would be the only fighter and would need both hands to handle the horse and whatever weapon she was using. She thought for a moment and then nodded her understanding of what I was telling her.

Two hours later, with everyone fed and everything packed back in the panniers, we were on our way. Anna led the way on her horse at a fast walk, followed closely by the kids. I followed well behind them on foot.

We managed to get back down around the ridge and headed east without any difficulty and when we were on hardpan about a mile from the cut I told Anna to keep going and I would catch up with her after I did what I could to mask the trail we were leaving. As they rode off, I cut a mesquite branch and started using it to sweep out any tracks we were leaving. The tracks got a little more difficult to hide once the hardpan gave out to sand.

The tricky part was where Anna and the kids had crossed the tracks of the warriors as they headed into the cut. Luckily Anna had been paying attention and had tried to stick to the hardpan or caliche as much as she could in that area. My efforts weren’t going to fool a good tracker for very long, but it would buy us some time if the bodies were found in the next day or two.

A mile beyond the cut, I threw the worn branch aside and broke into a trot following Anna’s tracks. I caught up with them two hours later when they stopped for the night. The camp was set up, the kids were all seated near a fire waiting for supper, which Anna was cooking over a small fire. She gave me a tired smile and handed me a cup of coffee telling me supper would be ready in a few minutes.

Exhausted from their ordeal and their bellies full for the first time in days, the kids were asleep soon after they were done eating. The baby fussed for a little longer but soon followed the others into the land of nod.

Anna and I put out the fire and drank the last of the coffee as we talked quietly. We both agreed that we would adopt the kids and raise them at the Hacienda. We’d ask them if that was okay in a few days, but the only one that was really old enough to object was Beth, and we’d work with her if she wanted to go it alone.

Over the next week, we made our way - though a little slower than planned - towards Santa Fe. I ranged on foot all around them, doing the best I could to scout the trail ahead and look for pursuit from behind.

While I was running around, Anna was telling the kids stories about the Estancia, the Hacienda, and all the people that lived and worked there. She tried to keep it focused on the kids already living in the Hacienda and the ones she knew in the village; but she was always answering questions about the village, the vaqueros, and the farmers.

Their feet were healing well and without problems, but without shoes, they limited their walking to only what was necessary around camp.

I had left the decision on when to tell the kids about our adoption plans, and how to tell them, up to Anna. She decided that she would tell Beth first. The two of them talked late into the evening after the others had fallen asleep. Every once in a while, during the talk, Beth would glance over at me looking for confirmation on something Anna had to say, and I would nod in agreement.

Beth was in high spirits the following day and that was noticed by the others. Anna broke the news to them during the day’s ride, while I continued my running back and forth. When we finally made camp that night, the kids were all in much better spirits and were helpful around the camp as they had regained a sense of belonging and a certainty of their future.

After another long week of travel, we hit the Camino Real ten miles south of Santa Fe. Following our usual practice, we skirted around Santa Fe ending up at our old camp five miles north of town. After making camp, I changed clothes and hurriedly rode into Santa Fe to arrange a late-night meeting with Hiram. I did remember to check what day of the week it was with Anna. Anna laughed and told me it was Tuesday.

Hiram was happy to see me, and even happier when I told him we had a large deposit to make just after sundown. With the arrangements made, I rode back to the camp in a good mood. Anna had cleaned up the kids the best she could, wrapping their feet in fresh cotton cloth and canvas to make walking a little easier for them.

Following an early supper, we repacked the mules, while telling them all we were going into town and would be sleeping in soft beds with clean sheets for the next few days. They really became excited when Anna told them we would all get hot baths and new clothes, including shoes tomorrow, after breakfast.

If it had been daylight, we’d have been a sight riding down the street. As it was, it was an hour after dark when we rode into Santa Fe and headed to the hotel where Anna tied up her horse, while I helped the others and Beth with the baby down from the mule she’d been riding from the camp.

I left them there as Anna gathered them all up, to troop inside and get a three-room suite for a week, with stabling for the animals. I led the mules around to the alley and was met by Hiram and a guard. Hiram and I hauled all ninety-seven burlap bags of gold bars inside the bank.

After our last trip, we started opening the bags and stacking the bars on the table with the scales. Hiram’s eyes got wider and wider as I emptied the bags, and the stacks of bars grew and grew. When I was done, he told me to wait just a minute and disappeared out the door.

He quickly returned with two large glasses of scotch. Handing me one, he took a large sip while eying the stacks of gold bars. He shook his head and sat down at the table to start weighing.

When he was finally done, he looked up and told me the weight came in at 38,400 ounces which I confirmed. The price this trip was the same as the last, so I had him deposit $462,000 in our personal account and told him I needed to get back to the hotel to help Anna with the kids.

He raised an eyebrow at that, so before leaving we both drank a second, much smaller, glass of scotch, in his office, as I told him the story of rescuing the kids and adopting them.

I stabled the animals and lugged my saddlebags, scabbards and four burlap bags of clothes into the hotel stopping at the desk to get the room number before walking upstairs. I walked up to our suite, and into the middle of an argument.

Anna had separated the kids with Beth, Sierra, and Rose in one room, and Manuel and Mike in another. Sierra and Manuel were completely against this, as they didn’t want to be separated.

I looked at everyone in the room including Anna. “Sierra and Manuel aren’t being separated, they’re just sleeping in different beds, in different rooms.”

That made no sense whatsoever to them, and it took them a minute to puzzle out what I had said.

When they started to argue again, I held up a hand stopping them. “You are in the same hotel suite, in the same hotel, in the same city so you aren’t being separated. You can get up all night long and check on each other if you want to, but you’ll be sleeping in different rooms. You need to get used to sleeping in different rooms, as you’ll each have a separate room at the Hacienda.”

That stopped the argument. They all started asking about their rooms in the Hacienda, which I left for Anna to answer. The kids slept well in their assigned rooms without problems that night, although Anna and I did spend some time ‘exploring possibilities’ for the first time in two weeks, so we may have missed them getting up to check on each other.

The next morning, while Anna led the kids into the restaurant, I stopped at the desk and arranged for three hot baths to be ready in the room when we’d finished breakfast. I walked into the restaurant to rejoin everyone and found them all sitting at a large table with Hiram and Helen.

Beth and Sierra were in a very animated discussion with Helen and Anna, while Manuel and Mike were talking much more sedately with Hiram. I greeted Hiram with a handshake, gave a nod to Helen, and sat down next to Anna.

Discovering the ladies were talking about clothes shopping after breakfast, I looked at Hiram and shivered, receiving an arm slap from Anna. Hiram laughed and shook his head telling me I needed to learn to be much subtler if I wanted to get away with things like that.

The kids wolfed down their breakfast, anxious to get their clothes and shoes. They waited quietly and impatiently for the adults to finish their last cup of coffee. Helen joined Anna in taking the girls upstairs for their baths, while I gathered Manuel and Mike for our trip to the barbershop bathhouse.

Hiram left us as we walked out of the restaurant heading for his office, as we turned to walk down the street. At the bathhouse behind the barbershop, the boys watched with interest as the tubs were filled up and then with trepidation as I made them get undressed and into the tubs full of warm water.

They were decidedly unhappy with me, as I made sure they were well scrubbed and dry before letting them get dressed. We trooped into the barbershop where we all got a haircut, and I got my thin scraggly beard shaved off. We walked back to the hotel and found the ladies waiting for us. Both of the younger ladies were rather impatient to begin, and I had to force back a laugh at their attitude.

Anna and Helen took charge of all the kids and set out to turn the merchants of Santa Fe inside out, in their search for clothes and accessories. I set out on my own to report to the Judge and then see Tom Stevenson.

The Judge was happy to see me, praised my efforts, and the results; although he did ask me to try and bring a few fugitives back alive, every once in a while. When we were done talking about official business, he agreed to meet me at the club for an early lunch. I left the Judge’s office and walked down the street to Tom Stevenson’s office where I was greeted warmly. He quickly agreed to join the Judge and me for an early lunch as well.

I went over to the club, found the manager, and paid for a week of visitor’s membership before arranging for a private dining room for lunch. I checked the game room on my way out and found Lucien Maxwell sitting at his usual table playing solitaire. He looked up as I walked in and greeted me like a long-lost friend.

He pushed out a chair with his foot, so I sat down for a few minutes to talk, telling each other what had happened in our lives since last year. I was getting ready to leave when I mentioned that I had to go look for some suitable horses and tack for the kids to use on the rest of the trip home.

Lucien thought for a moment then stood up. “I know just the place. Come on, I’ll take you there.”

He led me out of the club and down the street two blocks, before turning left and going another six blocks and stopping at a small stable yard with a large corral behind the stables. We walked into the stable just as an older man came out of one of the stalls.

Lucien greeted him loudly, whispering to me the man was a little deaf. Lucien introduced us, and we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before Lucien pointed at me telling the man I needed four horses, for kids between the ages of six and fifteen.

The owner looked me over for a few seconds. “I have a few horses suitable for kids, but I’ll need to know more about each child before I can make any recommendations.”

We talked for a few minutes about the kids, how the horses would be used, and what little I knew of their riding abilities. We agreed that I’d bring the kids with me tomorrow morning and have them ride a few horses to get a better understanding of how they sat a horse, before making any decisions.

Lucien and I were walking back to the club when he said, “Paul, trust the owner’s decisions on horses for the kids. That old man was my head wrangler for many years and selected which horses my kids and the kids of others rode. He has a lot of experience and a reputation for honesty second to none.”

I thanked Lucien for his help as we entered the club, and invited him to lunch with me, the Judge, and Tom which he accepted with alacrity.

The Judge was waiting for us in the private dining room and Tom followed us in a couple of minutes later. We all ordered, and while we were waiting for our food, I told them I had a long-term problem I was hoping they could give me not only advice on, but also some assistance if they felt that was appropriate. They asked for particulars, and I was about to start explaining when the food arrived. I gave a nod towards the food and told them we’d discuss it after lunch was over.

The lunch conversation turned to other mundane matters regarding Santa Fe, the law, and Lucien’s vast land holdings. We turned back to the subject of my problem over our after-lunch coffee. Lucien, of course, had his after-lunch whiskey.

I explained the issue the best I could. “Gentlemen, there is a section of land in Texas about one hundred miles east of El Paso known as the Salt Flats. This land has an almost unlimited supply of salt and has been used for hundreds of years by anyone who wanted to brave the trip to harvest salt for both human and animal needs.

“The Spanish held it as common use land, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo guaranteed continuance of this practice. The new Texas Constitution allows the land to be bought but prevents anyone from buying mineral rights for that land and other common use land. As you know, I went into cattle ranching in a big way this year.

“When I left the Estancia a few months ago I had somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 head of cattle along with roughly 500 horses and mules. All those animals need salt to survive the desert environment. I also have roughly 1200 people living on the Estancia counting on me to provide access to the basic necessities of life to include salt. The way things stand at the moment there is no problem getting the salt I need other than the dangers inherent in any long trip through that area.”

I stopped for a moment to make sure they were all following so far, and to take a sip of coffee. From the looks on their faces, I could see they all understood the current situation and were beginning to wonder what the issue was.

I swallowed my coffee and started talking again. “You’ve all heard my thoughts on what I believe to be a coming war pitting the North against the South. The war will start over economic legislation in Congress favoring import taxes over export taxes. This will hit the South much harder than the North as the North is the nation’s primary importer while the South is the nation’s primary exporter.

“To add fuel to the fire the recent spate of civil violence in the border states will worsen and spill over into the states further east. Texas, as a southern state, will join the other southern states in the rebellion and most likely will withdraw from the United States. A state of insurrection will be declared and whoever the president is at the time will be forced to send troops to the South to try and force reunification.

“The South will lose the war gentlemen. They will win most of the battles because they will be fighting for the homes, on their land, against what they consider invaders. They will, however, lose the war because the North will be able to provide an unending stream of men and supplies whereas the South has, by far, fewer men and their supplies will be exhausted in a few years.

“When the South does lose, the North will treat the South as a conquered people and make harsh economic and political demands. One of those demands will most assuredly be new State Constitutions, removing slavery - among other things. Men being men, I fully expect an individual or group of individuals to use that opportunity to remove the prohibitions of buying mineral rights to any land sold. It’s at this point that I foresee major problems for the El Paso area, to include the Mesilla Valley.”

I stopped again to evaluate the reactions and have another sip of coffee. I could see, from the thoughtful looks on their faces, that they had decided what I’d presented was at least a plausible scenario even if they didn’t agree with the likelihood of it happening as I’d outlined.

I took another sip of coffee before continuing. “Eventually, one of the individuals or groups who will be moving west will settle in the El Paso area, learn about the salt flats, and buy them as a business enterprise. When that happens everyone within three hundred miles will be embroiled in more civil unrest.

“The Hispano community of San Elizario will be the focus of the unrest, as the entire area relies on the money they earn for hauling and selling the salt. They will be reinforced by other Hispanos from both sides of the border that rely on access to the salt to meet their needs.

“If I need to make it clearer, think Acting Governor Bent and the Taos Revolt. This would be much worse than that little episode, as many more people will be affected. Relations between Anglos and Hispanos will be stressed beyond the breaking point, taking untold generations to erase the ill will generated by such a move. Additionally, the ranching communities as far as the Mesilla Valley would be significantly impacted by the increased cost of salt.”

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