Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
Although they were always on our minds, we put the unsettling spirit visits behind us and got on with our lives. I spent as much time as I could in the RV cave melting gold, but it was only a couple of hours most days, and the small mountain of gold seemed to defy my attempts to reduce its size.
Giuseppe returned from his short trip to the base of the Doña Ana Mountains late Wednesday afternoon in a jubilant mood. Over supper, he informed us that he’d found the rock we needed to build the roads. The source was indeed at the base of the East side of the Doña Ana Mountains. He thought a wagon could make the trip, but we’d need to make a trail and smooth out the bumps and holes that would otherwise eventually tear up a wagon. Tom agreed to go with him to do a few test blasts, so he could get a better understanding of the extent of the rock.
It took them a couple of days of experimenting, but they finally settled on the best way to get the gravel they needed. With approval to start blasting, Giuseppe went into high gear. He spent the rest of the month out surveying the new portion of the Camino Real and the wagon trail to the gravel quarry. He left every morning right after Tai Chi, grabbing a quick breakfast sandwich to eat in the saddle, along with a lunch in his saddlebag. We wouldn’t see him again until supper.
I started to worry about his health when he started missing Tai Chi. Just after my birthday, I finally had to sit him down and find out why he was pushing so hard.
Giuseppe gave a heavy sigh at my question. “Paul, Sofia is going to have the baby soon, and I need to get this done before then so I can spend some time with her.”
“Giuseppe, when the time comes for the baby you can have all the time you and Sofia need, but you aren’t going to be much help to her if you’re exhausted or, even worse, sick. Yes, the roads are a priority, but nothing ranks higher than your health. Slow down a little. Work a normal day, not the extended days you’ve been working the last three or four weeks.”
In the end, it took a combination of me, Tom, Anna, and Yolanda harassing and nagging him to get him to slow down. He finished surveying the new Camino Real road and was about three-quarters of the way done with the wagon trail when the rains started. Now that we had the bridge in place, even the rains didn’t hold him up much. He finished the quarry wagon trail well before the end of August.
Meanwhile, everything else continued along at a steady pace on the rest of the Estancia. Martin Amador finished the Apache Training course, and told me, before he left, that now that it was over, he was thankful for what he’d learned. I gave him one of my sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns with a sling after teaching him how to use and maintain it. I suggested he make sure he had one hundred of the brass shotgun shells with him on every trip, as well as two or three good muzzleloaders for longer distance shooting. I had hopes and plans for Martin and wanted to make sure he stayed alive to achieve what I saw as his destiny as a major business and civic leader in Las Cruces.
Every week saw another one to two hundred yards of fields cleared and prepared, even though fewer teams were working on them. We started harvesting the Hacienda vegetable gardens the third week in July and continued through the end of September. Everyone on the Estancia spent at least a few hours in the garden during that time, and there were happy faces everywhere. Tomas was careful to pull one-third of the harvest as seed stock for the following year, while the other two-thirds were distributed fresh or canned according to plan.
Near the end of the first week in August, George rode in for an extended visit. I’m not sure if he was visiting Celia or us but it didn’t really matter as we were all happy to see him. He brought news of the fort, Mesilla, and the country outside New Mexico, which was always welcome.
The news from the fort was of immediate interest, if for no other reason than the apparent tie-in between the commander and the Comancheros. George gleefully told us that Colonel Watson had been recalled to Fort Bliss the last week in July, and Major Long had assumed temporary command until a replacement was assigned.
Major Long had written a long report about the meeting Tom, Juan, and I had with Colonel Watson, recounting everything that was said. He went further though and, in a thoroughly unmilitary move questioned the suitability of Colonel Watson to command, given his failure to patrol the areas under attack by Comancheros, failure to give patrols sufficient recovery time between patrols, and his blatant attempts to cancel both construction and cattle contracts. He’d also included a copy of Juan and Jorge’s adobe construction and maintenance manual.
As it turned out, Major Long was nobody’s fool. He’d sent a copy through the military courier system, and a second copy through the US Mail from Mesilla. The District Commander received the report through the US Mail but never received the copy sent through the courier system. After Major Long had assumed temporary command of Fort Fillmore, he found the unopened copy he’d sent through the courier system shoved in the back of Colonel Watson’s desk drawer.
On reaching Fort Bliss, Colonel Watson had been told he had two options: accept reassignment to Kansas or resign. He immediately resigned. Although no one had seen him, it was thought he was still in Doña Ana County somewhere.
On the Mesilla front, everything remained quiet. There were no sightings of the Comanchero leader, Fulgencio Madrid, or any of the suspected Comancheros who rode with him. Likewise, there were no new reports of raids anywhere in the county.
Major Long had ridden into Mesilla two days earlier with George and had met with Esteban and Ed telling them that after the men and horses had been rested and equipment repaired he would start patrolling any areas that were raided, regardless of whether it was thought to be the work of Indian raiding parties or Comancheros. Esteban had thanked the Major and agreed to work closely with him, keeping him advised of their investigations.
I surely welcomed this particular bit of news and worried much less about Esteban and Ed as a result.
With regard to the country outside New Mexico, the news was mostly about Kansas, and the two Territorial Legislatures currently in existence, one pro-slavery and the other anti-slavery. The rumors were that President Pierce would step in with Federal troops and recognize the pro-slavery group.
I knew that was exactly what would happen and that it would set Kansas up as a powder keg for pre-Civil War violence. As much as I’d have liked to stop all this from happening, there was nothing I could do.
We celebrated Anna’s twentieth birthday the third week in August. The lower plateau had been set up just as it had when Tom and Yolanda were married, with almost everyone on the Estancia participating in one way or another.
It was a happy, song filled occasion, made even more joyous by Anna and Yolanda’s announcement that they were both pregnant. Luckily, the rain that threatened all day moved east of us and about half the village ended up camped out overnight on the lower plateau. Anna and I were both surprised to find over two hundred men and women on the upper plateau the next morning to join us for Tai Chi and katas.
The next three weeks were filled with afternoons sitting on the terrace, or in the study, talking with George. He was full of questions about what I made of the activities in what was already becoming known as Bleeding Kansas and what they meant for the future. I talked in generalities about the coming Civil War while I focused on specifics for what the war would mean to New Mexico.
I knew that if I was going to be successful in keeping George out of the war, I had to paint a picture where he could see himself as a New Mexican, and not a Virginian. We talked about the probability of Texas sending forces to try and take New Mexico Territory for the Southern states. The loss of regular troops as they were pulled east, and their replacement by, at best, half-trained militia from California or other states.
He did not question my assertion that the Indian population would all think they had driven the white men back east when the soldiers left, and what that would mean to the citizens of the territory for many years after the war was over. We spent almost an hour a day talking about the economics of warfare, and why it meant that the South would eventually lose the war even if they won most of the battles.
When George left the Estancia in the middle of September, his heart was filled with love and his head was filled with the potential for life outside the Army as a New Mexican. It was apparent to any who saw them together that George and Celia were deeply in love.
The question in my mind was not whether he and Celia would get married, but whether he would stay in the army and take Celia with him to his next assignment or leave the army and stay here. I was no closer to determining that than I had been before his visit. I could only hope for the best.
Two days after George returned to Fort Fillmore, we had two reasons to celebrate. First, just after breakfast, Donatello Gambino came into the world kicking and screaming. Mother and son, while noisy, were doing well. Second, we were alerted by the Northern scout/sniper team that a large family group of Apache’s were traveling south down the Camino Real towards us. Apaches actually using the road was unusual in itself, especially a large family group. We were even more surprised to find it was Cousin Alvaro’s family group coming over the bridge.
I sent Tom to the upper plateau to send a signal to Miguel that Alvaro’s group was at the Hacienda and asked him to come for supper. Anna, Yolanda, and I walked down and waited for the group to arrive at the base of the slope. Tom arrived, after getting an acknowledgment signal from Miguel, leading all the kids who’d decided to join us in welcoming the group.
As they got close enough to make out individuals, we were dismayed to find no sign of Alvaro. Instead, they were being led by a man I vaguely recognized as one of Alvaro’s immediate circle of advisors. Anna’s frown turned to a smile and she took a couple of steps forward as the group stopped in front of us.
Anna formally welcomed the visitors to the Estancia before giving a big smile to the leader saying, “Welcome home, Tio Nantan, we’ve been expecting you.”
Nantan looked startled at Anna’s statement but just nodded his head before saying, “We thank you for your welcome, and will obey the rule of no raiding while we are here. Much has changed in the last year. We need to talk, but first, we need to set up a camp. Where would you like us to set up?”
Anna waved her arm around her while saying, “The entire Estancia, with a few exceptions, is available to you. Set up wherever you like, for as long as you want. You can set up right over there for now, until you find something more to your liking. That will also allow us to talk more conveniently.”
Nantan turned to the families, pointed off to the side, and told them to set up camp. I invited him, and any of the warriors he wanted to bring, up to the Hacienda for refreshments and talk. Apparently, he was a man of few words. He simply nodded again, called out three names, and turned back to us.
While that was going on Anna asked Yolanda, Beth, and Izabella to find out if any of the families needed any supplies. They walked over to where the camp was already being set up and began talking to the ladies as they worked. Alejandro joined them, followed by the rest of the Hacienda kids. Alejandro made sure to introduce everyone he talked to. As Anna, Tom, and I led Nantan and his three companions up the slope, the kids were already off to the side of the camp playing and talking.
Once inside the courtyard, Tom and I led the guests up the outside stairs to the terrace while Anna continued inside to arrange for refreshments. Once on the terrace, our visitors went to the railing to look East out over the Estancia, towards the Doña Ana Mountains.
They stood silently for a few minutes only breaking their reverie when Anna arrived with Cristina, both carrying a coffee service and a platter of biscochitos. The combined smell of fresh coffee, mixed with the cinnamon and anise of the freshly made biscochitos, worked its magic. We could visibly see our guests relax for the first time since they’d arrived. We sat silently for several minutes in no great hurry as they savored the refreshments.
With a final sip of coffee, Nantan began talking. “Alvaro went to the Land of Ever Summer almost three months ago. He was an old man but in good health, or so we all thought. He died peacefully in his sleep one night after telling us he was feeling his age for the first time. I am now the leader of the Northern Garcia families.”
He stopped for a sip of fresh coffee Anna had poured for him before continuing. “We were all saddened when I felt your Grandfather Jaime’s spirit join those in the Land of Ever Summer. These are trying times for the Apache, and his counsel will be greatly missed.”
Anna thanked him for the condolences and congratulated him on being named the new leader. He accepted the congratulations with equanimity, which was shattered into surprise at her next words. “Grandfather Jaime told me you would come after he died. He also told me he is my spirit protector, and that you would teach me how to make that bond stronger.”
Nantan sat staring at Anna with mouth agape for a few moments, before recovering enough to close his mouth and look at her closely. “With him as your spirit protector, you will be a powerful shaman. I will be proud to teach you everything a Shaman needs to know.”
Anna was shaking her head with a frown when Nantan finished talking. “Tio, I am no shaman. Grandfather made this very clear to me. I need to learn how to strengthen the tie between me and him, and no more. I will never be able to use the spirit magic of healing or have visions of my own. Even if I did have the ability to be a shaman, I would still have to turn you down. I have too much to do here with the five children we’ve adopted, and one of my own on the way, not to mention looking after the Hacienda and supporting Pablo as he builds the Estancia.”
Anna’s statement appeared to unsettle Nantan. He picked up his coffee taking another couple of sips before nodding his head. “I don’t agree with you, but it will be as you and your grandfather wish it. Your training will start after we have settled on where we will be living.”
Anna gave him a gentle smile. “It doesn’t matter where the families live. If they stay on the Estancia you will be living here in the Hacienda. In a few weeks, I won’t be traveling until after the baby is born. If the families don’t stay on the Estancia, then grandfather was wrong about you, and I will find someone else to teach me what I need to know.”
Throughout this exchange Tom and I had been silent observers, biting our cheeks to keep from laughing, as it was clear that Nantan was not used to being thwarted, and by a young lady at that.
The three warriors Nantan had brought were not as circumspect and were grinning broadly throughout the exchange. At Anna’s last comment one of them snickered, and another gave Nantan the equivalent Apache gesture for, ‘I guess she told you!’
For the next several minutes the three warriors kidded Nantan, who took it stoically while quietly drinking his coffee and eating biscochitos. The warriors finally had their fill of the fun, and Nantan resumed talking.
“Please tell me more about the Estancia and its limits. When we were here over a year ago Alvaro met with Miguel for a few hours. When he came back, he told us we would rest for a couple of weeks, but we weren’t staying. We stayed separate from the other cousins and didn’t really venture out of the camp except to cross the river and hunt, up in the mountains. We don’t know much about the Estancia.”
This was news to Anna and me, and I could tell it was news to Tom. I put my questions aside for now and answered Nantan.
“The Estancia runs four miles in each direction along the river. Where the levee stops at the north and south ends of the river is where the Estancia ends. Going east and west it runs from the other side of the Robledo Mountains behind us, to the other side of the Doña Ana Mountains. You are all welcome to stay anywhere within those boundaries you like except for the quarry areas, the farmland along the river which we are clearing for planting, and along the Camino Real, which we are moving and widening.”
Nantan thought for a few moments before saying, “That’s a lot of land but it seems too small to support so many Apache families.”
My reply startled him a little, but he listened without interrupting.
“You’re right, it is too small to support all the Garcia families if they are living in the traditional way. However, a little over half the Garcia families already here have decided to live in the village and work full time for the Estancia. The remainder seems happy with what they have available and most of them also work for the Estancia. Where you and those with you choose to live is up to you, but you will be welcome here whether you work for the Estancia or not. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
“What ‘jobs’ do the Apache do here?” he asked. Showing a little emotion for the first time he continued. “Farming? Ranching? These are jobs for white men! Apache are warriors!”
“Farming, ranching, and warrior are all jobs that are and will be, needed on the Estancia. You are wrong about the Apache, though. They are warriors when they need to be, but they are farmers, ranchers, and hunters when they aren’t being threatened. You know this. Most of the people here are the same in that regard. They are all warriors when threatened.
“The difference is, they are not warriors on the attack unless they are chasing someone who has threatened them. I don’t offer you any jobs you don’t generally already know how to do. If some of your people want to be farmers, then the jobs are available to them. The same holds true for any that want to be ranchers or hunters. For those that want to be full-time warriors, I offer that as well.