Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
I was two days out from Trujillo Gulch and had just saddled up for the days ride, when the faint sounds of gun shots came from the east. Without thinking, I mounted up and rode towards the sound of the gunfire. I was two miles west of the Camino Real, and figured that was where the gun fire was coming from.
As I rode, I realized what I’d done, and debated with myself whether this was really the smartest course of action. I may be a defender, but was I to be everyone’s defender? The thought of more killing didn’t sit well. Letting out a sigh, I realized that I just couldn’t stand by and let people die because of the greed or hate of others.
The sounds of sporadic gunfire continued throughout the time it took me to reach a small hill hiding the road from sight. Dismounting, I ran up the hill. I stopped just before reaching the top and crawled the rest of the way. Below me on the road, seventy-five yards away, were five freight wagons. The drivers and guards were all under the wagons with muzzle loaders, firing at a group of about twenty Indians spread out in the brush on my side of the road. The Indians horses were being held by a young brave, about a hundred yards north of the ambush. Nine of the Indians had rifles while the rest were armed with bows, arrows, and lances. I could see two drivers in their boxes atop the wagons, dead from arrows. The battle had devolved into a sniper action, with neither side hitting much after the initial surprise volley from what I could see.
With another sigh, and bile rising in my throat, I extended the stock of my rifle and settled in for a little action of my own. I didn’t have a clear shot at more than four Indians because of all the mesquite and creosote between us. I started on the Indian closest to me that I could see clearly, and centered my sights on his back. After a few more moments of internal debate, I fired, hitting him. The shot from behind them startled the Indians, and as they turned around to look for me. I started firing at any of them I could see. With five of them down, they decided the odds were against them. They ran to their horses, and headed north at a gallop.
Feeling sick at what I’d just done, and not wanting to have to try and explain my weapons or answer a bunch of questions, I edged back down the hill. I went to my horse and mule, slung my rifle, and headed west back to my last camp before turning south again.
I did pay careful attention the rest of the day and into the next, figuring the Indians were going to be tracking me, but I never saw any signs of pursuit. Two nights later I was camped in the little bowl of grass near Trujillo Gulch cold, wet, and miserable. The wind that had started the previous day was blocked by the little sand hills and boulders, so it wasn’t too bad, but combined with the rain that had started earlier in the day, it made for a miserable little camp. I had one of the MREs for dinner, so I could have hot food even in a cold camp. I settled to sleep for the night in my blankets underneath a canvas fly.
As usual by now, I was awake at first light, finding myself well pleased that both the wind and rain had stopped sometime during the night. After the standard workout of Tai Chi and katas, I had a morning drink of water and brushed my teeth, before walking over to Trujillo Gulch to begin the search for more gold.
At noon, I quit in disgust. The rain had returned, I was soaked, and the Gulch was a torrent of water that looked like it would keep running until well after nightfall. I hadn’t found more than a couple pounds of gold all morning. I figured I’d wait for the rain to end, and then spend the rest of the day hunting for rabbit or grouse, and shift my digging to Apache Canyon tomorrow morning.
The rain finally let up to a drizzle, and I was almost back to the camp in the bowl when it completely stopped. With the noise from the rain gone, I could hear again. I had only taken a couple of steps when I heard a large group of horses coming my way from downslope. Quickly ducking into the bowl, I moved up to the small sand hills to look down the slope. There were twelve Apaches riding towards me.
I heard one of them ask how long they were going to chase the crazy white man who’d attacked them three days ago.
This time my almost automatic response came without hesitation. Not because killing was getting any easier, but because they were specifically looking for me. They’d had been tracking me for three days, wanting nothing more than revenge.
I answered the young warriors question, “Not much longer, you’ve found him.”
I opened up with the rifle, picking off seven of them before they realized I was there. The remaining five rushed me. I had to admire them, they didn’t give up. I got two more before the last three leapt from their horses about twenty feet out, and charged me on foot. I killed one more but the other two were coming in fast, bound and determined to kill me.
Out of ammo, I dropped the rifle and pulled the pistol. I fired and hit one of the warriors with two quick shots. The last warrior was too close, so I dropped the pistol and grappled with him. His upper body strength was amazing, and we wrestled for a few moments. I finally threw him, and resettled myself into a balanced Krav Maga stance. Scrambling to his feet, he saw me waiting for him, pulled his knife, and ran towards me in a classic bull rush. Stepping inside of his right-handed knife swing, I swung a knife ridge hand to his temple. His momentum kept his feet going but his head snapped to the side and his feet ran out from under him as he fell to the side with a crushed temple.
I sat down hard on my ass, as the adrenaline rush of close combat left my body. Finally, I stood up, found my pistol and holstered it, before walking over to where I’d dropped the rifle. I picked it up and swapped the empty magazine for a full one from my cargo pocket.
Slowly moving from warrior to warrior, I made sure each one was dead before moving on to the next. I rounded up ten of the twelve horses, removing the saddle blankets and hackamores before setting them free as I didn’t have the resources to take care of them. I went back and used the mules to drag the bodies to a deep arroyo, three hundred yards further down the mountain. There I dumped the bodies, and caved in the sides to bury them. I kept one of the muzzle loaders in a nice fringed leather sheath I could use for civil camouflage. I also kept one of the bows and a quiver of arrows, all nicely made, as future decorations for my ranch and to remind myself that being a defender could have deadly consequences, and sometimes it was kill or be killed.
By the time I was done, it was evening. I ate an MRE and went to bed, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day all the way around.
The next morning, I saddled the horse, gathered up my normal tools, and rode over to Apache Canyon.
Apache Canyon turned out to have at least eight times as much gold as Trujillo Gulch. I spent about an hour walking along, sweeping the metal detector to find the boundaries of the gold field. The field was a little over one mile long and the width of the Canyon: about two hundred yards. As best as I could tell, the entire floor of the canyon within these boundaries was full of gold. I spent the day at the farthest end of the field digging up gold nuggets until both burlap sacks I’d brought with me, and my backpack, were full.
As I rode back to the camp I was able to flush and kill two rabbits that I field dressed for dinner. Back at the camp I fried up the rabbit and a piece of sausage in a skillet with some diced potatoes, and made some coffee for a change. Then I crawled into my bedroll before falling asleep for the night.
I worked the Apache Canyon field until I had enough that I was getting worried about the mules being able to carry it all. The panniers barely held everything, and I was forced to pack some of the food on my horse.
It was a long three-and-a-half-day trip back to the cave, as I traveled slowly for fear of wearing out the mules. They seemed fine when I stopped outside the cave entrance, and unloaded both them and the horse.
I opened the RV, turned on the generator. I powered up the internal electrical system to get the hot water, fridge, freezer, and heater working. Using the flatbed dolly from the trailer to carry two large empty plastic bins, I emptied the panniers into them and unloaded the supplies before calling it a day. I made a quick dinner of macaroni & cheese with a bowl of beef barley soup and a Diet Coke. After more than six weeks of cold sponge baths, the hot shower was almost as amazing as feeling clean and sleeping in a real bed with clean sheets!
The next morning, I pulled out my inventory list, and immediately slapped my forehead. It suddenly hit me that I had a couple of water wheel generators that could each generate more than enough power to continuously recharge the batteries running the RV electrical system, for as long as the batteries held up, which should be a few more years. After that I could directly connect the water wheels to the RV electrical panel and still have more than enough power to run everything in the RV.
It took a week of back breaking work to get it set up and tested. Hauling one of the water wheels to the back cavern with the dolly was a simple matter, as was leveling an area next to the stream and bedding the wheel down. The tough part of the job was chipping a two-inch-deep channel out of the rock floor with the limited tools I had available. While a good idea, it turned out that was tedious, back breaking, and time-consuming work. Eventually though, I had the channel from the water wheel, up the tunnel, along the back wall of the front cavern to the RV completed. Laying the Romex, connecting both the water wheel and the battery charger was easy. Crossing my fingers, I turned off the generator. The power indicator and recharging lights on the battery charger continued to glow. With the feeling of elation I always get with success, I spent the rest of the afternoon filling in the channel to the water wheel with rock chips and sand. I still needed to come up with a way of getting fresh water into the RV, and the waste out of the RV without having to haul buckets back and forth, but without good hoses or pipes I was stuck for the time being.
With my power assured for the foreseeable future, I spent the next few weeks turning gold nuggets into bars, experimenting with making sun tea, and hunting. I got lucky one day and killed a deer in one of the canyons. When I got it back near the plateau, I made a mess of skinning and butchering it. I had no real experience doing either one on anything larger than a rabbit and decided to be satisfied with just carving all the meat I could get from the bones. I filled thirty of the one-gallon freezer bags I had, and put all but one in the freezer. The freezer was now full of venison and rabbit, should I need it. I feasted that night on fresh venison and fried potatoes, with a bottle of cabernet.
I’d been wearing my “city clothes” every day since I got back from Apache Canyon, since I needed them to look well-worn on my next trip into Las Cruces. I’d change into my desert camouflage in the evenings to get comfortable, and toss the city clothes into the washer/dryer so they’d be clean the next day, as well as getting some extra wear.
I’d also spent some time working on the old muzzle loader I’d taken from the warrior. It wasn’t only old, but was also extremely dirty. Once I got the barrel cleaned out I could see that the barrel was pitted and the rifling was almost worn out. It wouldn’t be very accurate past about 50 feet so, again, it would just end up being camouflage and eventually decoration. The leather case, with its fringe and bead, while well used, was a work of art.
A few days after killing the deer, I decided enough was enough for the time being. I had added another 2450 bars to my existing inventory, giving me just over 4000 gold bars stacked in the trailer. There was still another 700 pounds of nuggets to melt but, for the moment, there was no hurry.
As I was changing that night, I noticed that my city clothes didn’t fit well anymore. I’d grown a couple of inches since I’d bought them. Thinking back to my youth, I remembered that my last growth spurt had occurred at about this age. I’d gone from 5’9” to 6’3” in my junior year of high school. If this time line ran true to form, I still had two more inches to grow before I was done. With clothes that didn’t fit and running low on basic supplies, I decided a trip into town was in order. Besides, I could use some human interaction as well as a haircut!
I’d finished everything on my shortlist of things to do, so the next morning I packed up one of the mules, saddled up the horse, and headed into Las Cruces. I pulled up at Mr. Mendoza’s Livery Stable shortly after noon, and climbed down from the horse just as he walked out.
With a smile he said, “Hello, my friend.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mendoza. I hope life has been treating you well. If you have room I need to put up my critters and store my gear for a couple of days. I need supplies, clothes, a haircut, and a few meals cooked by someone else for a change.”
Laughing he said, “I’ve been doing well. I let others make the freight runs now, though. Bring the animals inside and we’ll get them and your gear straightened out.”
After getting the animals squared away, and storing the panniers, I offered to buy him lunch at the restaurant which he accepted.
I should have figured it out on the last trip, but I was surprised when we walked into the restaurant and was greeted with, “Hello, Papa. We were wondering if you were coming in for lunch or if we were sending it out to you.”
He greeted the waitress with a hug, and she pointed us to a table at the back. He introduced her as his daughter Maria, and we exchanged pleasantries. It turned out that Mr. Mendoza’s family owned the restaurant and his wife, daughters, and grandchildren worked the place. His two sons in law were drivers for the freight operation he ran, and spent a great deal of time on the road carrying freight between El Paso and Santa Fe.
The food was served by one of his granddaughters, Anna, a very pretty young woman about my age, whom I’d noticed before. I had a hard time not letting my eyes stray to watch her every time she came out of the kitchen. The enchiladas were as good as I remembered, too. After we’d finished the meal and the table was cleared we sat drinking coffee and talked.
“So, young man, did you find what you were looking for in your travels?” Mr. Mendoza asked.
“Yes, Sir. It’s been an interesting few months to say the least. I found the land I wanted about a half days ride upriver from here, and got to Santa Fe without any problems. I registered a homestead and bought a little land around it as well. I left Santa Fe the same day and headed back down here. I had a running fight with some Apaches about half way back, but eventually killed them all. I’m sure getting tired of having to kill folks to keep what’s mine, though.”
“Unfortunately, Son, it’s just the way the world is right now. Hopefully we’ll become more civilized some day and the killing will stop, but I don’t think there will ever be a time when everyone gets along without someone being killed or taken advantage of,” he said in a voice full of regret.
I agreed with him, knowing it held true even in the 21st century.
“So, what are your plans now?” he asked in a more animated voice.
“Well, before I left Santa Fe I filed and registered a homestead claim on a section of land along both sides of the river near the Robledo Mountains. I figure to build a one room adobe house and a corral to show the improvements I’m required to make, and then I figured I’d explore a little before heading north for a few years to earn some more money. Regardless, I plan to come back and settle down on my land to give ranching and farming a try. In the short term, I need a haircut, new clothes, and some supplies. I also need to find someone who knows how to make adobe bricks, and how to build a house out of them,” I replied.
“Well, congratulations on the land, and welcome to Las Cruces! Making adobe bricks is easy, but only a few folks around here know how to make them well. Building a good solid house with them is a little trickier, but again there are a few men here who have experience doing it. I’ll check around and see who’s available and let you know later. Farming along the Rio Grande is both back breaking and heart-breaking work, which is one of the reasons there are few farms. The river floods in August and September and the crops have to be out of the ground before then. Ranching is almost as difficult with little grassland available,” he said.
I nodded in agreement with him. “Yes, Sir, I’ve figured most of that out. I have some ideas for both farming and ranching along the river that I’m pretty sure will work but first I need to build the house, explore my land; and last but not least, earn some money to buy what I need to really get started. The house I need to build now. Exploring my land and earning some money will have to wait until after. If nothing else, at least I’ll have a place to live.”
“Let me do some thinking on those things today. Why don’t you join us for dinner tonight, right here, at about eight o’clock, and we can talk more?”
“Thank you, Sir. I look forward to dinner. Now it’s time for me to go see Mrs. Amador, and then find somewhere to get a bath and a haircut.”
We said our goodbyes after he assured me that I could get both a bath and a haircut at the barbershop close to Mrs. Amador’s store.
As I walked in Mrs. Amador’s store I heard her say from behind the counter, “Well! Hello again, young Pablo. What brings you into town?”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Amador. It seems that either my clothes have shrunk or I’ve grown right out of them! I need some new clothes before I get a bath and a haircut, then I’ll be back to arrange for supplies.”
We spent the next few minutes deciding on two pairs of pants, two shirts, and a pair of boots. Taking the boots, a pair of pants, and a shirt with me, I walked down the block to the barber shop. I arranged for a hot bath out back, followed by a haircut. The barber wasn’t all that great but eventually I was satisfied with an almost 1950’s style haircut, which included a tapered block at the neck. A shave was included with the haircut so I lost the thin, scraggly, poor excuse of a beard I’d let grow out as well. The new clothes fit much better, although the pants were a little long and the shirt was a little big. But, that would allow for some new growth.
Back at Mrs. Amador’s store we figured out the bacon, beans, flour, salt, sugar, coffee, tea, and spices situation. I walked around looking at everything she had to sell. I thought about buying a hat but I’d never really liked wearing one, and the floppy camouflaged bush hat I wore in my travels was more than adequate for my needs.
I saw a huge stack of burlap bags. I thought I’d bought all she had on my last trip but it turned out that burlap bags were used by almost everyone for storing or carrying almost anything. They would be handy so I bought twenty more of them. Mrs. Amador told me she bought them in bundles of 250, and usually ordered two bundles at a time from suppliers down in El Paso. I stored that information in the back of mind for future use. I arranged to pick up the food supplies from Mrs. Amador when I was ready to leave town.
With nothing else left to do, I walked into my first saloon to catch up on gossip if nothing else. I was disappointed to see the saloon had a plain old door, and not the stereotypical batwing doors. The inside of the saloon was hot, dirty, and almost empty. After a quick look around, I turned and left, figuring I’d spend the time until dinner with Mr. Mendoza at the stables.
I found Mr. Mendoza at a table out behind the livery, under a large overhang out of the weather and sun. He was repairing harnesses. He looked over at me as I pulled up a small bench to sit on and told me that I looked much better clean and in better fitting clothes. I smiled, nodded my head, and sat down at the table. There I spent the rest of the day learning to repair harnesses, bridles, and other leatherwork.
We walked over to the restaurant at dinner time through a courtyard behind the restaurant, and entered through the back door into a world of controlled chaos. His wife, daughters, and granddaughters were all moving back and forth around the stove, and in and out of the public dining room. Mr. Mendoza and I stood quietly by the back door listening to their conversations, and watching the dance they put on in the little room.
Mr. Mendoza led me to a private dining room off the kitchen with a very large table already set. As we were sitting down, he told me that this was where he and his family ate their meals. As we sat down, Anna came in bringing us coffee to drink while we waited. We talked about the chaos in the kitchen and how he was thinking of expanding both the livery stable and restaurant, now that more people were moving into the area.