Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
We pulled out of the Hacienda bright and early on Thursday, the 11th of October 1855, right on schedule. By we, I mean Tom, Yolanda, Anna and I along with Raphael, who was driving the wagon we were taking with us, and a team of vaqueros who were going along for security.
The wagon Raphael was driving was one of the original wagons, with the steel box bolted behind the driver’s seat. Tom and I had loaded the box with 2000 gold bars late the night before. The Estancia was getting low on money, so we were taking advantage of the trip to sell some more gold and bring back enough money to last us another year.
The trip was almost delayed a few days, as Esperanza started having contractions Monday evening. After fifteen hours of hard labor, she gave birth to Mercedes Guadalupe Salazar, late Tuesday morning. We were all concerned as Esperanza was not recovering as quickly as the other two ladies had. Tomas assured us that this was normal for Esperanza, as she had been the same way with her previous two kids. Reluctantly, we gave in to his assurances, and set off on the trip, as planned.
Everyone rode warily, all the way to Las Cruces. Our shotguns were in hand and rifles loose in their scabbards with the scabbard tops off. We pulled into Mr. Mendoza’s stable shortly after lunch and turned all the animals over to the stable boys. The ladies walked over to the restaurant while the vaquero’s discussed whether to get rooms at the hotel or stay in the hayloft.
Tom, Raphael, and I wandered back through the stables and found Mr. Mendoza at his customary table, working on harnesses. He gave a big grin at our arrival and got up giving us big hugs and back slaps. Before we got settled in, I told him we were going over to the restaurant to get something to eat and asked him if the hayloft was still available.
He grinned and shook his finger at Tom and me, saying, “Already in trouble with your wives? What am I going to do with you two?”
We all laughed, and I told him the hayloft was for the five vaqueros we had with us. Still grinning, he nodded and told us it was available. We left for the restaurant, taking the vaqueros with us and telling them along the way that the hayloft was available if they wanted to use it.
Inside the restaurant, we were met with hugs and cheek kisses from Yolanda’s mother, Maria, and Mrs. Mendoza, who were all at our usual table against the wall talking with Anna and Yolanda.
The ladies all left to go back to the kitchen when the coffee arrived, and Tom and I sat down with our wives. Lunch was delivered a few minutes later. I couldn’t help but remark that it was almost like old times.
Anna laughed and said, “There are two major differences you must be forgetting about. First, we are now married and second, both of us are pregnant.”
She said the last in a low whisper, as she and Yolanda had told us they were going to tell the family at supper and not before.
Tom and I grinned at each other and Tom said, “Those are both really good differences.”
Tom, Raphael, and I spent the afternoon out at the table behind the stable with Mr. Mendoza, talking about all the changes happening both on the Estancia and in Las Cruces. Shortly before dark, we all followed Mr. Mendoza over to the back door of the restaurant, where we watched the kitchen dance for a few moments before going into the family dining room. I couldn’t help but glance at Jaime’s old chair and feel more than a little saddened by his death.
My mind had started working on how to get justice for Jaime and Mr. Ramirez when I heard Laura’s soft sweet whisper in my left ear. “Let it go, for now, my love. Remember it’s justice you seek not vengeance. It will happen in its own time, don’t try to force it.”
As I sat thinking about what Laura had said I looked up and found Anna sitting next to me giving me one of her sweet smiles with a look of tender love in her eyes. “Listen to her my love, now is not the time to be tilting at windmills.”
Her statement startled me and damned if I didn’t hear Laura’s soft laugh. It quickly faded away into the background noise, as I glanced around the table to make sure no one was paying us any attention before turning back to Anna.
She saw the questioning look in my eyes and simply nodded her head confirming that she had heard Laura this time. I was about to ask her what she’d heard when the ladies arrived carrying supper into the room.
The table had been cleared and everyone was sipping their after-supper coffee when Anna and Yolanda calmly dropped their bombshell about being pregnant. The room was quiet for a few seconds as everyone processed what Anna had said, before erupting into pandemonium as smiles and congratulations were given all around. Tom and I sat back in our chairs, sipping our coffee as we gave each other a grin now and then.
The after-supper coffee and conversations ran a little longer than normal, but both Anna and Yolanda were happy, so neither Tom nor I said anything about being tired or wanting to go to bed. Eventually, the ladies were all talked out and we escorted them over to our rooms in the house
Once in the room, Anna and I did talk about Laura’s spirit but only after we had explored some ‘possibilities’. Anna had heard exactly the same thing I’d heard, and we were both left wondering if Laura was going to start talking to Anna, as well as to me.
Tom and I spent the next morning catching up with Juan and Jorge, before heading over to Mesilla for a quick visit with Esteban and Ed. All was quiet in the area with no raids, either Indian or Comanchero reported anywhere near Las Cruces. There continued to be periodic rumors of raids in the Tularosa Basin, but nothing had been confirmed. We reviewed the progress on the information front they had been working. Between them, they now had eighteen people around town, including in the fort, who could be classified as at least acquaintances. I picked up a new set of warrants the Judge had sent which, interestingly enough, contained a wanted poster and warrant for our old friend, Colonel Ezra Watson.
Along with the package, there was a personal note letting me know that things continued to go well in Texas. Based on his correspondence with his friend in Austin, he expected the bill containing the mineral rights language to be presented for a vote early next year.
We spent the bulk of the afternoon at the fort, visiting cousin George who was getting ready for another patrol. George confirmed that everything had been quiet, and also told us that the patrol he was taking out in a few days was going to investigate the rumors of raids in the Tularosa Basin.
Early the next morning we left for El Paso, joined by Martin Amador who was hauling freight to El Paso that he’d picked up in Santa Fe. With the vaqueros scattered out around us as scouts throughout the trip, we had plenty of time to talk with Martin over the two-day journey without constantly worrying about ambushes or attacks.
I was interested to see that Martin had taken my suggestions on weapons to heart, as he had both, the sawed-off shotgun I’d given him, on his lap, and another, longer barreled shotgun on the floorboard of the wagon seat as well as two muzzleloading rifles. He’d also spent some money on a Colt Navy Revolver he carried in a cross-draw holster.
Martin told us about his experiences on his first solo trip to Santa Fe, making a point to thank us for the training he’d received. Because of the training, he had spotted an Indian ambush before he’d driven into it and had stopped fifty yards away to fortify his wagon and prepare. As a result, he was ready for the battle when they finally lost patience and attacked him. He lost a few hours, but between his shotguns and muzzleloaders the Indians eventually suffered too many losses and gave up.
Martin left us on the outskirts of El Paso the next afternoon, as his delivery was on the Mexican side, close to where he forded the river. We waved him off, and once we were sure he’d crossed the river without difficulty, we resumed our ride into El Paso arriving at the hotel about a half-hour later.
We ended up taking the entire top floor of the hotel, with Tom, Yolanda, Anna and I in the suite, and the vaqueros doubling up in the rest of the rooms. The vaqueros were excited to be back in a large town again, and all had lists of their own to fill for their families and friends while we were there. We released them, after reminding them we were leaving after breakfast in four days.
Raphael told us he would spend the next few days looking for his friend. He intended to stay with friends near where he used to live. We wished him good luck as he rode one of the vaquero’s horses down the street.
While the ladies settled into the suite, I went over to the bank to arrange for the deposit, while Tom drove the wagon around to the back door of the bank in the alley. Levi greeted me with a smile which only got bigger when I told him I had a deposit to make and asked if he could open the back door. Tom was just pulling the wagon up when Levi opened the door, and the three of us immediately set to, hauling the bags from the wagon to the weighing room.
In less than two hours we had the gold inside, weighed, and sold and had deposited it all into the Estancia account. I let Levi know that I wanted to withdraw $60,000 in a mix of coins when we left in four days and arranged for an early morning pickup just after breakfast.
The three of us sat in Levi’s office sipping some of the good stuff. As usual, Tom was tolerant of the scotch, while Levi and I thoroughly enjoyed every single sip.
As we were getting ready to leave, Levi asked, “Paul do you have any cattle for sale?”
Tom laughed heartily, as I told Levi, “We are always looking to sell cattle. How many head are you thinking of buying?”
This time it was Levi who laughed, “I don’t want to buy any cattle, but a rancher by the name of King from somewhere in Southeast Texas is in town looking for a cattle herd of at least 3,000 head.”
“Well, Levi, we would certainly be interested in talking to him. Can you tell us where to find him?” I asked.
“I’m having supper over at the hotel with him tonight at eight. Why don’t you join us, and I’ll introduce you?” he replied.
I looked at Tom who nodded. “We’ll be happy to join you. Anna and Yolanda are with us, so there’ll be four of us. We’ll see you then, and thanks in advance for the help.”
Levi laughed saying, “It’s all part of being a full-service banker my friend. What’s good for you, is good for the bank.”
We said our goodbyes and went back over to the hotel, letting the ladies know about supper. They had unpacked, had a bath, put on fresh clothes, and were waiting for us in the lobby. We told them about the cattle buyer and Levi’s offer of supper and introductions.
Anna looked at me with an appraising eye and said, “You and Tom look like you are ‘down on your luck’ cowboys. You both need to go get a haircut and a bath if there’s time before they close.”
Yolanda was nodding her head in agreement with Anna. I looked askance at Tom who just shrugged his shoulders. We both gave the droll, “yes, dear”, response before heading upstairs to get some clean clothes. I looked back as we climbed the steps to see Anna and Yolanda both quietly giggling to each other.
Tom and I managed to get to the barbershop thirty minutes before they closed. For an extra dime each, the barber agreed to stay open long enough for us to get a bath and haircut. Clean, shaved, and shorn, we walked back into the hotel feeling like new men.
Anna and Yolanda were waiting for us up in the room with a fresh hot coffee service. We cuddled on the couches, sipping coffee until it was time to go downstairs for supper.
Downstairs, we found Levi waiting for us, with a man not much older than we were. As we walked up, Levi turned and welcomed the ladies by name, and then introduced us all to the cattle buyer, Captain Richard King.
As Levi was making the introductions, I looked Mr. King over, liking what I saw. He was of medium height with a very full head of dark brown wavy hair and sported a chin beard, no sideburns or mustache just the chin whiskers. His dark eyes were clear and very focused on whomever he was being introduced to, although I was quite sure he didn’t miss much that went on around him either.
By common agreement we let Tom answer most of the questions Captain King asked about the cattle we had for sale, while the rest of us just listened. Tom, in his turn, asked numerous questions about the ranch Captain King was buying for and where it was located.
Early in the conversation, we learned that Captain King was, in fact, a riverboat Captain who had recently bought some land in the Nueces Strip between Brownsville and Corpus Christi and was turning it into a ranch. He had purchased an entire village’s cattle in Mexico and hired the villagers as his vaqueros last year. Now he wanted another 3,000 head of cattle if he could find them at a good price.
I fought to keep a startled look off my face, as I realized that Captain King was none other than the founder of the King Ranch, a Texas legend. The King Ranch, with the Running W brand, would become the largest ranching operation in the United States.
I decided, then and there, that Anna was going to conduct any negotiations for the cattle because I knew for a fact that King was a prototypical nineteenth-century businessman, whose primary goal was always to maximize profits, regardless of any personal feelings he might have for those he dealt with.
I leaned over and whispered as much to Anna, while Captain King’s head was turned towards Tom. She beamed me one of her smiles and I knew she understood that this was a time to maximize our own profits.
Negotiations for the cattle began in earnest, with our after-supper coffee. Captain King was more than a little surprised when it was Anna who, smiling sweetly, answered his initial question on a price for the cattle.
“Captain King, the asking price will vary, depending on whether or not you expect us to deliver the cattle to your ranch, meet us partway, or will trail the herd from the Estancia with your own resources. The lowest price will be if you trail the herd yourself. If you want us to trail it partway, the price will be higher, and if you expect us to deliver the herd all the way to your ranch, then the price will be even higher yet. So, before we can set a price, we must know your intentions in this regard.”
Captain King swallowed his surprise and looked at Anna with a little more respect before addressing her.
“Mrs. McAllister, I have fifteen vaqueros with me, and we will drive the herd ourselves.”
Anna gave him another sweet smile. “In that case, Captain King, the price is ten dollars a head, for up to five thousand head. If you want more than five thousand head, the price will come down a little.”
Tom, Yolanda, and I were all using the coffee cups to hide the smiles on our faces at Anna’s starting price. I didn’t know what figure she had decided on, so we all waited with amusement as the conversation continued on.
“Mrs. McAllister, you can’t be serious. That’s much too high a price for cattle in today’s market. I can pay much lower prices here, and even lower prices in Mexico if I should go there.”
“Captain, you are correct that you can get lower prices, both here and in Mexico, but not much lower. The price of range cattle, both here and in Mexico, is currently just over seven dollars a head, and going up after the kill off caused by the glut of the past few years.
“What you will not get, is a lower price for all the cattle you want to buy at one time and in one place. You will spend at least two months buying a hundred head here, fifty head there, and you’ll have to find somewhere to gather, hold, and feed all the individual purchases you make until you get a herd large enough to trail them home. Our price takes that into consideration, and therefore includes a premium for a single buy, from a single source.”
The negotiations took off in earnest from there, and forty-five minutes later the deal was struck for four thousand head of cattle at eight dollars and seventy-five cents a head. The Captain and his vaqueros would accompany us back to the Estancia. The rest of us could only marvel at what Anna had just accomplished.
We all toasted the completed deal with wine, scotch, - or, in Tom’s case, beer - before calling it a night.
Back up in the suite, I congratulated Anna on her masterful negotiations with a big hug and a long kiss. The four of us settled in with coffee, and I told them what I could remember of Captain King, the King Ranch, the litigation against King by his late partner’s estate, and their impact on Texas and US history.
When I was done talking, Anna got a speculative look on her face and asked, “Is that what we’re going to build? A ranch large enough to compete with the King Ranch?”
I shrugged. “Not really. Captain King will build the King Ranch into the third-largest ranch in the world. While that’s true, the others will be huge, multimillion acre spreads in the outback of Australia. But along the way, he will own and control every aspect of the delivery infrastructure. His intent was always to maximize his profits. It won’t be until after he dies, that his wife and son-in-law start looking at the bigger picture of social responsibility, but even then, it will be within the context of business profits.
“Our goals turn that around, with our businesses existing to gather the funds necessary to improve society in the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico, and the United States in that order. Of course, we’ll make money and live comfortably in the process; but that’s a byproduct, not our primary goal.
“We’ve worked on defining the goals for the last couple of years and built tentative plans. We’ll buy the Salt Flats to prevent the Salt War from happening, we’ll hopefully limit the battles in New Mexico when the Civil War starts, we’ll fight for public education, woman’s suffrage, and Statehood in the next few years all while providing a place of refuge and peace for the people of the Estancia and the Apache.
“We’ll build a university in Las Cruces, pave the roads, develop the ice and cooling industries, and encourage conservation of resources. All of these things will require money. More money than we currently have. So, we will end up buying land in the Texas panhandle, where huge petroleum and natural gas reserves are located. Eventually, in forty years or so, we will form a company to drill, produce, refine, and market gasoline and natural gas to the US and world markets. That will bring in even more money to use, as our children and grandchildren fight to make additional improvements to the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico, and the US.”
Anna beamed me one of her huge super megawatt Anna smiles.
“We’ve never talked to Tom and Yolanda about the plans we’ve made,” Anna said, “nor the reasons behind them. I wanted to make sure they understood we were different from Captain King as our goals are completely different.”
I looked over at Tom and Yolanda, who were sitting with slightly stunned expressions on their faces and realized Anna was right. We’d never followed up the initial disclosure of my secret with a discussion about our goals and plans.
“We’ll have to fix that when we get back to the Estancia. As I said, Anna and I have a list of goals with plans on how to achieve those goals. Most of the plans are tentative, but they are a start, nonetheless. It’ll take a few days of talking and explaining because I’ll have to give you some of the history behind the goals and plans but when we’re done, you’ll have a better understanding of what we’re trying to do and why.”
Yolanda gave us a saucy grin saying, “Good! I was starting to get bored anyway.”
Tom groaned before saying, “My head already hurts thinking about what you just told us. I don’t think I’ll be ready for another talk for at least two more weeks.”
We all laughed and talked for a few more minutes, as we finished our coffee. Then we headed to our separate rooms in the suite. Anna was ready to explore some more ‘possibilities’, which of course interested me, too!