Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
Leading all five of my horses, I walked into the Las Cruces of 1850 for the first time late that afternoon about four, after a full day of walking. Mr. Mendoza’s Livery Stable and Freight Yard was easily found. The first person I saw directed me to the distinct building with the wooden second floor at the north end of town. Luckily, Mr. Mendoza was outside talking to a young boy. When he saw me, he looked surprised. He quickly dismissed the boy, telling him to muck out two specific stalls before going home, and then turned to me.
In a formal tone I said, “Good evening, Mr. Mendoza, it’s good to see you made it back safely. If you have a few minutes, I’d like to talk a little business. If not, I can come back first thing in the morning.”
“I certainly have time to talk, young man. What kind of business did you have in mind?” He asked cheerily.
“Well, Sir, I need to know the prices for a few things. First, I’d like to have these five horses shod. Second, I need a good saddle and tack. Third, I need four good mules with panniers, and lead tack. Finally, I’d like to buy a good used wagon, with harnesses and tack for both a two mule and a four mule team,” I said.
“Hmm, let’s see. Shoeing will cost you about fifteen cents at the farrier. I can let you have a good saddle and all the tack for five dollars. As a matter of fact, I think I have one that will fit you perfectly with matching tack. It’s not fancy but it’s good quality and well cared for. Four mules with panniers, and tack will run you twenty dollars each. I have a good used farm wagon that I can let you have with tack for another twenty, so the total cost will be $145.75.” He gave me a doubtful look before asking. “Do you have that kind of money?”
I gave him my best grin and replied, “No, Sir. But I do have this.” showing him a gold bar. “I think it’s about five ounces. How much will that get me?”
“I don’t know, let’s go over to the store and weigh it. Gold’s going for about seven dollars an ounce here, so that won’t be enough to cover what you want,” he said with a shrug.
I was a little surprised at the gold price he quoted, but not shocked. I knew that from 1838 until 1932 the price of gold hadn’t change by more than a few cents an ounce and that wouldn’t change until after 1932 when the gold standard was repealed. The official federal price of gold from now until 1932 would be roughly twenty dollars an ounce. However, that was the price delivered to the mint after full assay. There weren’t any mints in this part of the country yet, and as I’d discovered, moving freight of any kind was time intensive and fraught with all kinds of peril. While gold is pretty easy to verify, the purity level is not, and without a full assay every gold transaction based on weight carried an element of risk for the buyer. Still, an almost sixty percent discount seemed a little steep to me. Then again, I trusted Mr. Mendoza.
Mr. Mendoza led me down the dusty street further into town to a small store, and introduced me to the owner, Mrs. Amador, a middle-aged lady with gray just beginning to show in her hair. He showed her the gold bar, and asked her to weigh it for him. When weighed, it came out to five ounces on the nose. She was real curious by then, and asked where I got it.
I gave Mr. Mendoza a quick glance and then shrugged. “I mined it up north, Mrs. Amador. I ran into Mr. Mendoza twice out on the Camino Real a few months back, and decided to come into town and ask him if he could help me. I really like this valley, and I’ve decided to buy some land here; but I need to look around some more to see exactly where. In the meantime, I want to buy mules, a wagon, and some supplies.”
Mrs. Amador asked, “What kind of supplies are you thinking about?”
I thought for a moment. “Well, if I have enough gold, besides animals, tack, and wagon; I’ll need enough flour, bacon, beans, coffee, vegetables, and salt for three months, and a coffee pot, cup, fork and spoon, and a frying pan, at a minimum.”
Mr. Mendoza shook his head with a look of sadness on his face. “Son, I’ll give you the going price of seven dollars an ounce for the bar here, giving you a total of thirty-five dollars. But that’s a far cry from the $145.75 we talked about for the mules and equipment, much less the supplies you talked about.”
Mrs. Amador’s body language led me to believe she agreed with the price quoted.
I gave them both my most engaging grin. “It’s a good thing I brought these, then,” I said as I pulled out four more bars from the cargo pockets of my pants and placed them on the counter.
“Good Lord, Son, how many more of those do you have?” Mr. Mendoza asked in surprise.
I looked at both of them before replying, “I have enough to buy some land, once I find what I want. I don’t know what I need, just yet, so I may have to go back north and get some more.”
They both nodded at my refusal to tell them how much I had, or where I got it. Mrs. Amador weighed the other four bars of gold, and told Mr. Mendoza they all weighed the same: five ounces.
“Alright, Son, that’s a total of a hundred and seventy-five dollars for the gold. Come on back to the stable with me, and I’ll give you the money you have coming, minus the cost of the animals and equipment. That way you’ll have money for dinner and a place to stay, if you don’t want to spend the night camping out.”
With another grin, I thanked them both for their help, and let Mrs. Amador know that I’d be by in the morning to work out the supplies I wanted.
Mr. Mendoza and I walked back over to the stables, where he disappeared inside for a few minutes. When he came back out he handed me the money and said, “Son, there’s a pretty good little restaurant next door, where you can get dinner for a reasonable price. There’s a Drover’s Inn just north of here up the street where you can get a room for the night. I’ll see you in the morning and get you fixed up. It’s time for me to head home for supper.”
“Thank you, Sir, see you in the morning,” I replied happily.
I was looking forward to having a meal cooked by someone besides me, and eating in a room with someone besides myself for company. I’m a pretty good cook, but food always seems to taste better when it’s made by someone else.
The restaurant recommended by Mr. Mendoza appeared to be relatively prosperous. Like everything else in Las Cruces, it was in a fairly new adobe building and covered in fresh stucco, but unlike most of the others, there was glass in the windows and the top half of the door. There was a wood floor, instead of the packed dirt floor I’d been expecting, and a wooden counter near the front door with a doorway behind it draped in beads leading back into the interior of the building. Dinner was the best I’d ever had. It was really good, and really cheap. A big plate of enchiladas and beans left me full, and ready for a stroll around town.
It was dark by this time, and I simply wandered up and down the dusty streets trying to work off that full feeling. I ignored the saloons. The three that I saw, looked not worth the effort, since I wasn’t much of a drinker., couldn’t stand the taste of beer, and the scotch I had back at the RV was certainly going to be better than what was available in a raw 1850 frontier town.
The Drover’s Inn Mr. Mendoza had recommended was small. I was given the option of renting a single room, or renting a bed in a bunk house style building out back for a fraction of the cost of a room. I took the room. I probably should have spent the night out in the open. The bed was lumpy and uncomfortable, at best, and I didn’t even want to think about the critters that were calling the straw mattress I was sleeping on, home.
I was up the next morning, had breakfast at the restaurant, and was waiting at the stables for Mr. Mendoza when he arrived. He told me he had taken the horses over to the blacksmiths last night on his way home, and I could pick them up in a couple of hours. Walking into a tack room, he pointed to the saddle and tack he had in mind for me, and helped me haul it out into the daylight. The saddle was what I would call a typical vaquero model, with a slightly larger horn and cantle than the normal western saddle I was used to. It was nearly new, and had been used just enough to be broken in; and, as he had said, it was of high quality workmanship, and well maintained. Although it wasn’t fancy, it was definitely not nondescript. Centered on each saddlebag, were two overlapping stick figures with halos over their heads. He’d picked it up about a year ago from a stranger who’d ridden into the stable slumped in the saddle with two arrows in him. The stranger died without regaining consciousness, and since no one in town knew him or where he came from, Mr. Mendoza kept the horse and tack in return for paying the funeral expenses.
He showed me the four mules, panniers, and tack I’d bought for them. He then mentioned that these were well trained mules, and would not need lead ropes if I didn’t want to use them. He also said that each set of panniers would hold about four hundred pounds, so that was pretty much the limit he would recommend.
Thanking him for his help I let him know I had decided to stay in town for another day and paid him to stable the horses and mules overnight.
With my transportation needs taken care of, I spent the rest of the morning back at Mrs. Amador’s store, coming up with a list of what I’d need for the next three months. I ended up with the normal staples for the time: flour, bacon, salt, sugar, dried beans, potatoes, coffee beans and a bean grinder, a plate, a cup, utensils, a large two-pronged cooking fork, skillet, a coffee pot, a Dutch oven, and various spices. I’d also bought a large glass jar with screw lid, four tea balls, and a box of tea leaves. Then I bought one pair of simple canvas pants with suspenders, a linen shirt, and a coat to wear when I was in town.
All together the total cost for roughly three months of staples and the extras was just under ten dollars. I arranged to pick everything up the next morning, and went out to explore the other businesses in town.
Las Cruces of 1850 was not only new, being only two years old, but was typical of Southwestern villages and towns. The dirt roads seemed to be more dust than anything else, and walking any distance covered you in a fine layer of the stuff. In the middle of town was a plaza. There was a small single-story church without a bell tower off to one side, and businesses stretching off in both directions up and down Main Street. Most businesses and houses were flat roofed adobe, with some covered in stucco some without. There were few covered porches, even fewer sidewalks, and all the doors were raised at least 18 inches from ground level to prevent water from getting inside during the annual rainy season, when floods were likely.
I was surprised at the number and types of businesses that were already established although I probably shouldn’t have been. I found a butcher and bought twenty pounds of smoked sausage as well as what looked like porterhouse steaks. A few doors down and across the street, I found a bakery and arranged for the baker to make me a dozen small loaves of long thin bread I could pick up tomorrow morning, along with a standard round loaf of fresh bread. There were leather shops, more general stores like Mrs. Amador’s, and even a silversmith. Near Mr. Mendoza’s Livery Stable was a small wainwrights shop with its attendant wagon yard, a woodwrights shop with a few small stacks of rough cut lumber drying in the sun, and a blacksmith. I also found a house with a large walled yard containing adobe bricks, viga beams, and piles of lime, sand, and caliche.
I spent the rest of the day at the livery stable saddle breaking my horses. I saddled each one with all the tack, mounted up, and rode once around the corral. Then I removed everything, and repeated the process over and over again. When I was done, they were still skittish but tolerant nonetheless. I put them in their stalls, brushed them down making sure they had a good meal and clean water, before heading to the restaurant for dinner, followed by bed.
The next morning, after breakfast, I helped Mrs. Amador’s fourteen-year-old son Martin, who worked for Mr. Mendoza, hitch up the mules to the wagon, and tied the horses to the back of the wagon. Mr. Mendoza came out from the stables and wished me good luck in finding what I was looking for. I thanked him for all his help, and drove out of the stable yard to pick up all my supplies before heading back to the cave and the RV.
Having a wagon and mules proved to cut the time needed to travel significantly, and I pulled up outside the cave a little after two in the afternoon. I didn’t want to think about riding a horse any distance. I was sure I would be saddle sore in no time, since I hadn’t ridden a horse long distance in more than eight years. At the same time my butt was numb from all the bouncing around on the wagon’s unpadded seat.
I unloaded the wagon outside the cave before taking it back down the slope, and parking it in the canyon I’d been using for the horses. I stored everything away in the RV, or in large plastic bins under the RV as appropriate. I then took a hot shower, and relaxed with a nice cold Diet Coke. I cooked one of the porterhouse steaks with a baked potato for dinner, and then sat down with a scotch to do some more planning.
It was already early June, and I wanted to get to Santa Fe and back before the annual monsoons arrived. At twenty miles a day the six-hundred-mile round trip would put me back at the RV in roughly thirty days, plus whatever time I spent in Santa Fe itself. That was, of course, provided there were no problems along the way.
Once I’d found a bank I felt I could trust, I planned to sell the gold and visit the land office to see what land around the Robledo Mountains was available. If it was available, I intended to file a homestead with the cave entrance centered on the claim. Hopefully, the eight hundred gold bars I was taking would be enough to buy the entire Robledo Mountain area down to the river, and another three miles east to the base of the Doña Ana Mountains. This would give me four miles in every direction from the cave, or eight miles squared, totaling roughly 40,000 acres. My backup plan was to look at what was available on this side of the Organ Mountains, from Dripping Springs down to Las Cruces.
When I was done in Santa Fe I planned return to the cave, with a stopover at Trujillo Gulch for another load of gold. I’d need significant funds for building what I was envisioning, as well as buying cattle and farm tools, hiring permanent vaqueros, farm hands, and staff for the house. A grand dream for certain, but if I could stay alive, I thought I could make it an established working reality before the Civil War broke out. When the gold ran out in the Caballo Mountains, I planned on taking a trip west out to the Colorado River and work the La Paz sites.
My first priority after this trip though, was going to be taking the time to build a one room adobe house in front of the cave entrance to meet the homestead requirements, as well as to hide the cave entrance from sight.
The next morning after breakfast I set to work loading ten burlap bags I’d bought from Mrs. Amador with eighty gold bars each, spreading the total load between two sets of panniers. On top of the gold I added a layer of food, a small water barrel, the camping gear I’d bought, the metal detector, an entrenching tool, and my Scotty Vest flannel jacket with the separate overlaying windbreaker I knew I’d probably be needing before getting back from Santa Fe.
After dinner, I loaded up six more pistol and rifle magazines. I wanted something for close protection on this trip as well, so I pulled one of the Remington 12 gauge shotguns from the trailer, took out the magazine plug and loaded it up. I also pulled fifty more shells for the shotgun. All the spare loaded magazines and shotgun shells went in the saddlebags, along with the packages of beef jerky I’d bought in town.
The next morning, I loaded the panniers, tied the covers down, mounted my horse, and headed for Santa Fe. The horse was feeling put upon and let me know she didn’t like the saddle, but she settled down into her smooth mile eating walk after the first mile or so. The mules seemed fine, so I stopped and took the lead rope off, letting them follow along on their own.
I’d never worked with mules and always heard that they were stubborn and cantankerous, but on this trip I found them to be both docile and willing to do whatever I asked of them. They also proved to be the best sentries money could buy, just as Mr. Mendoza had said.
The trip north was uneventful. I rode well out of sight of the road, skirting Socorro, Belen, and Albuquerque, as well as all the even smaller settlements between the cave and Santa Fe. I used every opportunity I could to kill rabbits and grouse along the way, to vary my diet. I even resorted to MREs twice. The daily vitamin tablets had become a habit by now, and those along with beans and potatoes every two or three days sufficed.
The trip also took a little longer than it would in the future, because I was saddle sore! I rode too long the first day, and it took me two days to recover enough to climb into the saddle again. For the next five days I traveled half a day, and rested half a day, as my muscles got use to riding again.
Traveling well west of the river, I went ten miles north of Santa Fe before turning east until I hit the trail heading back south into town. The final night I camped in a stand of trees a half mile east of the trail, and three miles north of Santa Fe.
The next morning, I hid my M4 and shotgun in one of the panniers before riding into town. I’d started wearing my ‘city clothes’ eight days earlier, so they were well worn by this time.
Santa Fe was a thriving town even in 1850, with a population just under 5,000. Although there were more wooden buildings, many of which were two story, it didn’t really look all that different from Las Cruces. It was just much bigger, and was spread out over a lot more land.
I found the new looking 1st Territorial Bank on Main Street and tied up outside. A young Mexican boy agreed to watch the animals, and I walked into the bank to see how it looked. Two well-armed guards standing inside the bank gave me the once over, and then ignored me as I looked around. The manager’s office was off to the right near the back. As I walked toward it, I saw a pale skinned man in his early 30’s, of middling height, with a slight paunch, wearing glasses. I assumed he was the manager, sitting at a desk and working on ledgers. I knocked on the door and asked if I could talk with him for a minute about the bank, or if I could make an appointment to talk to him.