Robledo Mountain
Chapter 10

Copyright© 2018 by Kraken

For the next two years and half years, I followed a routine of mining gold for two months, three weeks at the cave melting as much gold as I could get done, and one week in Las Cruces getting to know Anna better, a little bit at a time. Then I’d make a trip to Santa Fe to deposit 5000 pounds of gold.

After the trip back from Santa Fe the first time I used a wagon, I decided to upgrade to a freight wagon. The freight wagon I bought from Mr. Mendoza held all my supplies, and usually all the gold I’d mined over a two-month period, giving me more time to mine and less time traveling back and forth to the cave. I did end up using all four mules though, as I quickly discovered that two mules weren’t going to pull 5000 pounds very far or very fast. Getting used to a four in hand wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought it would be, which left me one less thing to worry about. I also started taking a horse tied to the back of the wagon making it easier to hunt and scout when I felt the need.

My next trip to Santa Fe proved to be a turning point, of sorts. I’d followed my usual routine and entered Santa Fe, going directly to the bank from the small wooded area north of town where I’d set up camp the night before. Things proceeded as usual, and the gold was weighed and deposited without incident. I left immediately after the deposit was made, and drove the wagon back to the camp site. I left the road well before reaching the wooded area, and as usual, I erased the trail from where I left the road and for another half mile into the scrub, before driving straight to the camp.

I ate a quick lunch of MRE goodness, and was enjoying a cup of instant coffee while I watched the road to see if I was being followed. My previous two trips had been uneventful. I had lulled myself into believing my coming and going had been unnoticed, when four hard looking men came down the road on horseback scanning the ground and sides of the road as they rode at a canter. Unless there was something going on that I didn’t know about, these men were looking for me. Someone at the bank had talked. As I watched the riders disappear over the next rise, it was clear to me that I needed to start changing things up.

At that point I decided I needed to change everything I could about my trips to Santa Fe. I’d enter town from different directions on each trip, and at different times of the day, taking different routes through the city. I’d never stay more than the time it took to complete the transaction, leaving immediately after the deposit had been verified, and making sure to take a different route out of town. I’d also add the panniers and lead ropes for all four mules to the load of gold and supplies as an emergency measure, should I need to abandon the wagon at some point.

Those changes would help, but I was more concerned with who at the bank was talking? Was it Hiram, or someone else? Who were they talking to? Who was behind having me followed? I thought about these questions all the way back to the RV. For the next three months, whether in the gold field or the cave, I thought about ways to answer those questions.

Based on the timing, it seemed to me that whoever in the bank was talking could only have done so after I made my deposit and left. If I had enough men I could trust, it would be simple to have someone watch the bank and follow any employees who left the bank within thirty minutes of my departure. Unfortunately for me, the only man I felt I could trust in Santa Fe was Hiram Greenburg, who I now suspected and could no longer trust.

Trying to watch the bank and follow employees myself was too risky. Finding somewhere to hide the wagon and then double back to the bank would eat up too much time and result in too big a window of time for whoever was talking to slip away unseen. It also left me vulnerable to being recognized while watching and following.

If something like this happened in the 21st Century I would go down to the local electronics store and buy the latest digital voice and image recording technology to help me find out who was doing the talking, and who they were talking to. This was the 19th Century though, and the only technology from the 21st Century I had available to me, was a voice activated digital recording app on my iPhone.

I finally decided my highest priority was determining if Hiram was involved at all. If he wasn’t then I could discuss my suspicions with him and let him worry about finding which of his employees it was. If he was involved, then I’d need to seriously reevaluate my plans. Perhaps something as simple as just holding all the gold in the cave and make one gigantic deposit in four or five years, instead of the three deposits per year I was currently making. I certainly planned on having enough wagons and employees in five years to make a wagon train of gold feasible. I just wasn’t sure I could wait that long to make more deposits. That decision could wait though, until I discovered if Hiram was the one doing the talking.

Driving into Santa Fe from the Southeast on my next trip I was as prepared as I could be given all the holes I’d punched in my rudimentary plan. Calling it a plan might be a bit much. It was more like an outline, given all the variables I couldn’t account for but it was what I had. Pulling up to the back door of the bank I took a deep breath to center myself before walking around to the street.

Hiram was at his usual place in his office and greeted me with a smile. “Welcome back Paul. Another deposit?”

“Good morning Hiram. Yep, another deposit. My wagon is in the alley by the back door so the sooner we start the better off I’ll feel.”

On the way to the back-door Hiram grabbed both guards. While one guard stood keeping a watchful eye on the wagon Hiram, the other guard, and I went through the now familiar process of unloading the burlap bags of gold from the wagon and hauling them into the weighing room. Hiram performed his usual weighing activities and I verified the amount in ounces and the resulting dollar value before the deposit was recorded.

Back in his office Hiram offered the expected drink. As his attention was diverted I activated the recording app on the fully charged iPhone and laid it in the back of the bookshelf nearest the door on top of the books. By the time Hiram turned around to hand me the drink I was innocently sitting in the chair in front of his desk. The customary drink followed by my usual quick departure was almost anticlimactic. Less than an hour after arriving at the bank I was wending my way Southeast out of town using as many alleys and side streets as possible to confuse anyone who might be following me. Finally turning south, heading out of town on the road to Lamy, I pulled into my previous night’s camp, hid my trail, and waited.

I half hoped to be proven wrong. That hope was soon disappointed. Sooner than I’d expected four men came riding down the road scanning tracks. I couldn’t tell from the distance if these were the same four men as the last time but they were definitely cut from the same cloth. With a deep sigh I settled into my camp to wait for morning.

I was hitching my horse up in front of the bank just as Hiram returned from lunch the next afternoon.

“Well, Paul, this is an unexpected surprise. Making another deposit?” He said jokingly.

“No, Hiram,” I replied with a small smile. “I lost my folding knife yesterday. It’s all I have left from my father, so I really hope it’s in the bank because I’ve looked everywhere else.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. No one has said anything to me about finding a knife, but we can always ask and then look in the weighing room and my office,” he said as we walked into the lobby.

We got the expected negative responses from all the bank employees in the lobby before walking back to the weighing room where, after a little searching, I ‘found’ my knife under one of the weighing desks.

As I’d hoped, Hiram invited me into his office for a drink which I readily accepted. While he poured our drinks I quickly retrieved and pocketed my iPhone. We toasted my success in finding the lost knife, and then I quickly took my leave.

Returning to camp by a much more direct route left me plenty of time to hide my exit from the road before settling in to see if anyone tried was searching for me after my unexpected visit. Whomever was organizing things behind the scenes was getting much better. Less than fifteen minutes after I settled in to watch the road, four men came riding out of Santa Fe scanning for tracks.

With the threat past for the time being I turned to my iPhone in the hope of determining, once and for all, if Hiram involved in the attempts to follow me. Listening to a solid hour of a creaking chair as Hiram shifted his weight as he shuffled papers, was marginally relieved by the scratch of his pen as he wrote, sanded, and blotted various papers in between business discussions with tellers and customers.

At the end of that hour I was firmly convinced that Hiram had no part in having me followed. To say I was relieved, was an understatement if there ever was one. I liked Hiram. He was personable, knowledgeable, and now, had been proven to be honorable and trustworthy. Just as importantly, he was a key piece in my plans for the future. Of course, those plans assumed I’d survive the next three years and it appeared someone in Santa Fe was actively working to thwart those plans.

On my next trip to Santa Fe, I let Hiram know I was being followed when leaving after each deposit. After much discussion, we finally decided that I’d make the deposits either before the bank opened, usually an hour before, or in the late evenings when it was just Hiram and the guards.

The new timing made it safer, and to some extent easier to get in and out of Santa Fe. Still, it got harder and harder with each trip to stay unnoticed long enough for me to disappear. Whether it was because the bank was being watched - or one, if not more, of the guards were doing the talking - we weren’t able to determine until much later.

My luck finally ran out on my last trip in 1853. In retrospect, I should have realized the only thing I wasn’t varying was the timing of my visits. Like clockwork I was making the trip every four months and that is what ended up being my Achilles’ Heel.

There are only so many ways into Santa Fe with a heavily laden wagon and I had used them all. I decided on this trip to come in from the north. In the light of false dawn four scruffy and well-armed men were waiting for me spread across the road about half way between my camp and the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Pulling up 25 yards from the men I sat thinking for a few moments before sighing and picking up the rifle from where it had been sitting on the bench next to me.

“What do you want?” I yelled at the four.

With a harsh laugh, the rider on the far left said, “We want what’s in your wagon. The boss is going to be right pleased. Now drive that rig right over here and we might let you live to walk away. If you make us come get you, I guarantee you’ll be dead when we leave.”

The anger I’d been holding in check was released at that point. With a calm coolness I’d almost forgotten I possessed, I slowly extended the stock of the M4 while yelling back at the riders. “That’s not going to happen. Enjoy your last breath, gents, because you’ll be dead before the minute hand moves again.”

Raising the rifle to my shoulder, I fired four quick shots. Just that quickly, the four would be bad men were lying dead on the road. It happened just that fast, but to me it seemed as if time had slowed to a crawl, only returning to normal when I’d put the rifle down and started the mules forward again.

I didn’t feel I could waste time burying the men, so I tied them on their horses face down across their saddles before pointing the horses north up the road. With a slap on their rumps, I watched them run up the road towards Taos, knowing full well that they would eventually return to wherever they were used to being stabled in town. Hopefully, that would be long after I’d completed my business and left.

At the bank, I told Hiram what had happened, as we carried the sacks of gold into the weighing room. When the gold had been stacked, I left Hiram telling him I would be back in a few minutes and to go ahead and weigh everything while I was gone. I quickly went out to the wagon, unhitched the mules, strapped the panniers onto them, and attached the lead ropes. I loaded up the supplies, saddled up my horse, and returned to find Hiram just finishing the last stack of 100 gold bars. He gave me the by now standard weight and dollar amount.

We completed the normal deposit verification paperwork and returned to his office. With the door closed, he poured us each a small scotch.

While he was pouring I said, “Hiram, I’m going to leave the wagon here with you. There’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of Santa Fe, much less get to my place without being followed and or killed if I try to use it. I’d appreciate it if you would arrange for its storage until I come back for it.”

Hiram handed me my scotch and said, “I’ll look after it for you, Paul. Just be careful. I’d hate to lose such a good customer.”

Knocking back the scotch in one swallow I turned to leave. “I wouldn’t like that much, either. Until the next time, stay safe.”

A few seconds later I was out the back door and in my saddle leading the mules through a twisting maze of alleys heading generally west through town. I finally made my way out of town through a lightly wooded slope, and down the other side finally stopping in a section of dense woods a quarter of a mile from the road south. I set up camp and remained there quietly for the next three days.

The morning of the fourth day, just as the first hint of dawn broke the cold frosty night, I packed the mules and left the camp, riding across the road headed due west. I finally turned south again five miles later, and started for home.

On this last trip home from Santa Fe, I pondered all the changes that had happened to my carefully laid plans as I rode.

With regard to the gold itself, I had discovered a couple of problems that I just couldn’t overcome. First, there were many times in Apache Canyon where I hit a particularly rich area of gold nuggets, and I’d have to make a trip back to the cave before the two months was up to unload all the gold, and then go back and continue digging since I didn’t want to waste digging time. That left a growing stockpile of gold nuggets near the back of the trailer.

To add insult to injury, melting the gold took a specific amount of time that I couldn’t hurry or force. Even after making two extra sets of molds, I couldn’t speed up the process because there was only one of me. Turned out I was the limiting factor when it came to melting and skimming gold by hand.

These two things combined meant that at the end of two and half years, I had roughly 20,000 pounds of gold nuggets in a large mound, almost blocking access to the RV. I could have given up my time in Las Cruces, but after almost four months alone in the desert I craved being around people in general, and one specific person in particular. I was not willing to give that up.

After my mound of gold nuggets in the cave grew large enough that I knew I could slack off on digging a little, I made the decision that I would be back from my last trip to Santa Fe every year to spend the holidays with Anna and the Mendozas. That extra two weeks in 1851 and 1852 helped us move our relationship forward, significantly.

The time I spent with Anna became more and more precious. With each visit, I learned more about her, and fell deeper and deeper in love with her. I guess maybe Laura and Mr. Mendoza were right after all. All I needed to do was open my heart, and give it a chance.

In addition to being quick with a reply, she proved to be well educated for the time having read all the books in the Mendoza library at least once and many of them more than once. The Mendoza library proved to contain a wide range of books covering subjects as diverse as the History of Spanish Royalty, numerous individual works by Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, an English translation of Arabian Nights, and Henry David Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government, not to mention Don Quixote in both Spanish and English.

Anna and I talked about the books, most of which I’d never heard of or read, and I took to reading at least one of them during each visit, and borrowing one or two more to read in the evenings while I was gone. It was our first discussion about books that made it clear that I had to be careful around Anna. She was just as sharp as her grandfather.

We’d been discussing Shakespeare’s King Lear when Anna cocked her head to one side. “Pablo, there’s something odd about you. I don’t know what it is yet but I will find out.” I was honestly confused by her statement and my face must have showed it. “Your breadth of knowledge is astounding for someone as young as you are. Add to that the fact that you lost their family at the age of eight and lived the next seven years with the Apache before coming to Las Cruces. Yet given those two things you can sit here with me and discuss nuances of both Shakespeare’s and Thoreau’s works. It just doesn’t add up.”

Thinking fast I gave her a small shrug. “I could already read and write when my parents died. I practiced reading using two books Garcia had. The first was an old very thick collection of Shakespeare, the second was an almost brand-new copy of Thoreau. Where he got them, I don’t know but they were what was available and even at that age I knew I needed to be able to read and write.”

It was mostly true. The Garcia mentioned was of course my adopted father from the reservation and he did have those two books among many others on the shelves in his office at home. It seemed to satisfy Anna for the time being and we quickly moved on to other subjects though I had a nagging feeling that I hadn’t heard the last of this.

She despised any religion that forced itself on people, and while a strong Catholic believer, she abhorred the Inquisition in general and the Dominican Order in particular for leading it. She was completely in favor of freedom of religion as set out in the constitution.

All in all, she proved to be a highly intelligent, fiercely independent, and fearless woman, with an equally strong sense of right and wrong. She knew her own mind and was determined to make things better, if not for the world or country then for her family.

She did tell me at one point that she wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. She admitted to having a temper, and a wicked tongue; something I witnessed for myself, on two occasions, over the almost three years we courted. Thankfully, on neither occasion was that temper or tongue directed at me. She also said that she had listened to the wrong people a few times, and as a result made some bad decisions. It generally took her a while to make decisions based on emotions; but once made, those decisions were just as tough to change. Decisions based on logic; on the other hand, she made easily and changed them quickly if the logic proved to be faulty.

All in all, the time spent with Anna and the Mendoza family was a bright spot in an otherwise lonely existence. By design, it also succeeded in allowing Anna and I to grow our relationship, as we got to know each much better. By the spring of 1853 we both knew we were in love, and would be getting married at some point in the future.

In July of 1853, I was relaxing in the RV sipping one of my last Diet Cokes, just moments after my latest trip to Apache Canyon. The canyon had proved to hold much more gold than I’d originally thought but it was looking more and more like the next trip would be the last, as the gold was played out. I did check out Union Gulch before starting back, and based on the initial mapping I’d done, the gold field there was at least as large as Apache Canyon, which gave me a nearby reserve if I needed it.

Sitting in the quiet as I sipped my soda, it came to me that I had turned eighteen a few days ago, and Anna would turn eighteen in just a few weeks. I was in love, and I was tired of the lonely existence I’d forced myself to endure the last few years. I’d need more money to make everything I wanted to do a reality, but I had more than enough money to start with. I’d developed a close friendship with the Mendoza family, as well as with Juan and Jorge Ortega. I knew I could rely on their help in finding the right people for what I wanted to do.

By the time I finished the can of soda, I’d made the decision that it was time to formalize my relationship with Anna, ask her to marry me, publish the banns, and get married. Before I could do that though, I needed to make a trip to El Paso to start an account with Mr. Greenburg’s brother at the 1st El Paso Bank. More importantly, I needed to find an engagement ring for Anna.

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