Tag Archives: New Mexico

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Nine~

by Pat Nolan

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“Let’s begin the proceedings. How does the defendant plead?”

Billy Brazil stared blankly at the magistrate. Then, as if startled, answered, “What’s that?”

His lawyer, Abe Falk, leaned over and whispered into his client’s ear.

“How does the defendant plead?” the judge repeated.

“Not guilty, your Honor,” Brazil replied quietly.

“Very well, Mr. Prosecutor, call your witness.

“I call Mr. Adams to the stand.”

courtroomAdams, his green bowler clutched to his chest, took his seat in the chair next to the magistrate’s table.

“Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do.”

“State your full name for the record.”

“Charles Adams.”

“To the best of your recollection, what took place on the road to Las Cruces?”

“I stopped the buggy to urinate, and while I was standing there, I heard the old man say ‘Well, damn you, if I don’t get you off one way, I will another,’ or something like that.”

“Where were these people in relation to you?”

“The old man was in the buggy and Brazil was on his horse. They were at my back.”

“So you did not see the deceased standing upright at all?”

“I think when I seen him, the first shot had been fired and he was staggering.”

“Did he fall to the side, to the front, or to the rear of the buggy?”

“About two feet to the side.”

“Where was the defendant at the time?”

“He was on horseback, about even with the buggy. He had a six-shooter in his hand.”

“Who fired the second shot?”

“My horse bolted and I had to grab the lines and wrap them around the hub of the wheel to stop him from running. Then I went over to where the old man lay.”

“What about the defendant?”

“He was still on his horse and about in the same place.”

“Did the deceased speak?”

“When I got to him he was just stretching out. He did groan a little, and he might have said something. It sounded Mexican.”

“And what was that?”

“I can’t be sure.”

“Could you venture a guess?”

“It sounded like he might have said quien es?”

“What about the defendant, what did he say after all this had transpired?”

“He did not say much. He said, ‘This is hell.’ and he handed me his six-shooter.”

“Your Honor, I have no further questions.”

“Very well, Mr. Adams, you may step down. Mr. Prosecutor, call your next witness.”

“I call the Dona Ana County medical examiner, Doctor Fields, to the stand.”

A large man with a wide intelligent brow and graying muttonchops removed himself from the chair behind the prosecuting attorney’s table and strode to the witness stand.

“Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

“I do.”

“State your full name for the record.”

“Walter Charles Fields.”

“You are the medical examiner for the County, is that correct?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Can you describe what you found when you arrived at the scene of the crime?”

“I found the deceased in a six-inch sand drift about four miles from town on the road to Las Cruces in an area known as Alameda Arroyo.”

“And what was the disposition of the body?”

“The deceased had been shot twice, once in the head and once in the body. He was lying flat on his back, one knee was drawn up. His trousers were unbuttoned and his male organ was visible which would indicate that he had been urinating at the time he was killed.”

“Was there a weapon at the scene?”

“Yes, there was. A shotgun identified as belonging to the deceased lay parallel to his body about three feet away. It lay on top of the ground without any sand kicked around it.”

“And what were the findings of your autopsy?”

“The deceased had been shot twice, one shot hitting him in the back of the head and emerging just over the right eye. The second shot was fired when the deceased was on the ground, the bullet striking the region of the stomach and ranging upward.”

“Thank you, Doctor Fields.”

“When a man is shot in the back of the head, he does one of two things with what he has in his hand. Either he clutches it convulsively tight or he throws it wide. There were no signs in the sand that the gun had been violently thrown. I would therefore conclude that this could not possibly be a case of self-defense as claimed by the defendant, but murder in the first degree.”

Abe Falk leaped to his feet. “I object! The witness offered conclusions that go beyond the scope of the original question!”

“Mr. Falk, this is not a trial, merely a hearing to determine the circumstances. . . .”

“All the same, your Honor, I respectfully request that the last comment by the witness be struck from the record.”

“Very well. Objection sustained. Doctor Fields please restrict your answers to questions asked by the prosecutor. Mr. Prosecutor, you may continue.”

“No further questions, your Honor.”

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“Quien es?”

“That’s all he said?”

“Near as I can recollect, yes.”

“Could you see his expression?”

“No, he was pretty much just a shadow.”

“So you couldn’t tell if he saw you.”

“No, I don’t think he saw me.”

“Then why did he ask, ‘Who is it?’”

“He was asking Pete who the boys on the front porch were.”

MaxwellHouseCimarron-500“And Pete was in his bed.”

“That’s right, and I was crouched down in the dark next to him.”

“How did you know it was him?”

“Pete said, ‘That’s him!’”

“Then what happened?”

“I shot him.”

“How many shots were fired?”


“He fired back then.”

“No, both shots were mine.”

“What did you do after you shot him?”

“I got the hell out of there. I didn’t know if I’d killed him or just wounded him.”

“He was armed, though.”

“I couldn’t tell at the time that I shot him. Later, after I was sure that he was dead, I saw that he had a butcher knife in his hand.”

“I find it hard to believe that a desperado of his reputation would be walking about without a firearm.”

“He did favor that self-cocking revolver.”

“He didn’t have it on him?”

“I didn’t see it if he did.”

“Did you look for it?”

“No, once he was dead, I figured that no amount of pistols were going to make him any more dangerous.”

“Pat, I’d hate to think that you shot an unarmed man.”

“I had no way of knowing if he was armed or not, Ash. I wasn’t going to take the chance that he was and ask him.”

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“You had a chance to see how cool and calculating he could be, when you were operating Beaver Smith’s saloon over in Fort Sumner, didn’t you?”

“He had come in with some of his compadres. That lot had been in there a few times before. They generally behaved, hoisted a few and played cards like most of the regulars.”

“I’ll wager he did like to belly up to the bar.”

“Can’t say that I ever saw him take a drink of liquor. He was partial to the paste boards, though.”

“Yes sir, he was adept at cards from a very early age. I should know, I boarded at his mother’s establishment in Silver City. He was quite a handful even in those days.”

“As I was saying, I was engaged in a game of chance at a nearby table and I had a good view of the goings-on.”

“Some hold that poker is more of a game of skill than chance, Pat.”

“Ash, you know as well as I do that when I play poker, it’s a game of chance. . .there’s always a chance I might win!”

poker party“Sir, your wit is like prairie lightning, bright and dry. Allow me to top your glass off with another jolt. But, please, please, continue. . .I apologize for my interjections.”

“One of their bunch, an hombre with the go-by of Grant looked to be getting pretty damn drunk pretty damn fast. He yanked a six-shooter out from an old saddle tramp’s scabbard at the bar. He waved it around, keeping it away from the old man, teasing him. He was an accident waiting to happen.”

“Certainly, that gun could have easily gone off and pelted somebody with a lead plum.”

“The boy came over to Grant, laid his hand on the pistol, said a few quiet words to him, and got Grant to let go of it.”

“That should have been the end of it.”

“Well yes, but no sooner had he gone back to his game, Grant snatched up the revolver again, walked be-hind the bar, and began breaking bottles and smashing glasses. I’d about had it with him by then.”

“I’ll say. He’d made himself pretty unwelcome.”

“But before I could get to him, little Jimmy Chisum collared Grant and was about to do my job for me.”

“Jimmy Chisum, now there’s a rooster.”

“Grant turned on him like a snake caught by the tail. He threw down on him with that old tramp’s six-shooter and cocked the hammer back.”

“That sounds like a mighty close situation.”

“Things got very quiet right about then. But as I said, the boy was a cool customer. He walked right over to Grant and said to him ‘why don’t he put that gun down and get the hell out of here before someone gets hurt.’”

“Now Grant was not a greenhorn desperado, was he?”

“That’s right, and he was on the prod!”

“But the kid was cool as the shade.”

“He didn’t take his eyes off Grant. And Grant, who had the look of a man gone too long to the bottle, was suddenly as sober as a country Baptist. What’s more, he had the drop on him. Then he said something like ‘now, you little bucktoothed sonofabitch, I got you!’ and he pulled the trigger.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing. The gun misfired.”

“You don’t say.”

“And they weren’t any further apart than you and me.”

“What did he do?”

“He blew the man’s head off. I was finding bits of brain behind the bar for weeks!”

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“Last week you talked about how you couldn’t scare up a posse to go out after him and his gang. How did you manage to secure the assistance of the Canadian River boys?”

“The Panhandle Cattlemen’s Association had charged them with locating and bringing back stock that had supposedly been rustled by the men we were after.”

“So just who were those Canadian River boys?”

“Damn it, you know as well as I do who they were, Ash!”

“Refresh my memory, Pat. For the purposes of our narrative and the eventual readers of this book, it’s important that we get the details right.”

“Let’s see. Frank Stewart, of course, Lee Halls, Jim East, Lon Chambers, a character they called ‘The Animal,’ Poker Tom, and Tenderfoot Bob. Charlie Siringo was among that bunch, but he and a couple of others declined to take up the manhunt. I didn’t blame them, they were mostly cowhands. That was not what they had hired on to do.”

“Stewart must have understood that if you captured those boys, the stock depredations would most likely stop.”

“I had developed information that the men we were after had been seen in the vicinity of Fort Sumner.”

“Yes, you might say that Sumner had a fatal attraction for him, like a moth for a flame.”

“Once there, I had the men lie low and keep their presence concealed. I took a turn around the Plaza. There I ran into old man Wilcox’s son-in-law, Juan. I had suspicions that he might have information I was after. I was right. He had been sent to town by the gang with instructions to return and report on the lay of the land.”

“All right. Hold up while I get all this down. This was in December of ’80, am I correct?”

“That’s right. The weather had been particularly bad. A blizzard had blown through just the day before. There was a foot of snow on the ground if there was an inch. ”

“Good, good, weather conditions are important. They set the scene for the events about to transpire.”

“Juan confirmed that the men I wanted were at his father-in-law’s place. I knew Wilcox was a law-abiding citizen, but had he betrayed them, they would have killed him without second thoughts.”

“They were nothing if not cold blooded and ruth-less.”

“It seems that they had planned to come into town the following day with a load of beef. They learned that I was on my way to Sumner and so Juan had been sent in to size up the number of my force.

“I asked Juan if he would work with me to set a trap. He agreed immediately. I hunted up someone I knew to be sympathetic to these men and forced him to write a note saying that my party and I had left for Roswell and there was no danger. I also wrote a note to Wilcox stating that I was in Fort Sumner with my men, that I was on the trail of the gang, and that I would not let up until I got them. I gave the two notes to Juan. I warned him not to mix them up as his father-in-law’s safety depended on it.”

“You were confident that if those boys took the bait that they would ride for Fort Sumner that night.”

“That is so. I also knew he would be leading his gang. . .”

“Consisting of. . .”

DaveRudabaugh-500“Dirty Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson. . .”

“A wanted murderer and a counterfeiter.”

“Tom Pickett, Tom Folliard, and Charlie Bowdre.”

“Guilty by association.”

“The old military hospital building was on the east side of the Plaza, the direction I expected them to come in from. Bowdre’s wife also occupied a room in that building. I figured that they would pay her a visit first. I took my posse there, placed a guard about the house, and awaited the game.”

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“The boys got the cards out and engaged in a little prairie pastime while we waited. It was getting on dark and we had secured a room in another part of the old hospital to keep out of the cold. Snow was lying on the ground increasing the light from the full moon outside.

“Around eight o’clock, one of the guards called from the door, ‘Someone is coming!’  They were two hours earlier than I had expected them. ‘Get your guns, boys,’ I said, ‘None but the men we want are riding tonight!’

“Lon Chambers and I stepped out onto the verandah. The rest of the men went round the building to intercept them should they aim to pass on into the Plaza. The gang was in full sight approaching. Folliard and Pickett rode in front. I was close against the adobe wall hidden by the harnesses hanging there. Chambers was next to me. They rode up until Folliard’s horse poked its head under the porch. I called out ‘Halt!’

“Folliard reached for his pistol. Lon and I both fired. His horse wheeled and ran. I fired at Pickett but the muzzle flash from Lon’s rifle had blinded me and so I missed him.”

“I’ll bet he was taken aback.”

“You would have thought by the way he ran and yelped that he had a dozen balls in him.”

“What about Tom?”

O_Folliard-1-1“Folliard was crying and moaning. He had received his death. He managed to wheel his horse and ride back toward me. He called out, ‘Don’t shoot me, Garrett, I’m killed!’  One of my men ran out toward him, yelling, ‘Take your medicine, old boy, take your medicine.’  I warned him off. ‘He may be killed but he’s still heeled and liable to spit lead!’ I stuck to the shadows. ‘Throw up your hands, Tom, I’m not going to give you the chance to shoot me,’ I said. His horse stopped right in front of where I was standing.”

“Did he say something like ‘I’m dying, goddamn it’?”

“He moaned some. He was doubled up in the saddle.”

“I’ll wager he said something like, ‘I can’t even lift my head!’ and ‘It hurts, it hurts.’ And finally ‘help me down, let me die as easy as possible, boys.’”

“I don’t recall his exact words if he even spoke any. He was in a world of pain.”

“What happened to the rest of the gang? How did they fare under the onslaught?”

“During the encounter with Folliard and Pickett, the party on the other side had engaged the rest of the gang, had fired on them, and killed Rudabaugh’s horse. I learned later that it ran twelve miles under him, to Wilcox’s ranch, before it died. Soon as my men fired, the remaining outlaws ran off like a bunch of wild cattle. They were completely surprised and demoralized.”

“But Tom Folliard’s luck had run out.”

“That it had. We unhorsed him and disarmed him and laid him out on a blanket on the floor of the hospital. He begged me to end his misery. ‘Kill me,’ he said, ‘if you was ever a friend of mine, Garrett, you’ll kill me and end this torture.’

“‘I have no sympathy for you, Tom,’ I replied, ‘I called for you to halt and you went for your sidearm instead. I’m no friend of a man who would shoot me simply because I was doing my duty. Besides,’ I said, ‘I would never shoot a friend as bad as you have been shot.’

“Now when one of my men came up to where we were, he changed his tune. ‘Don’t shoot anymore, for God’s sake, I’m already killed.’”

“Who would that be?”

“It was Barney Mason who, along with Tip McKinney, was part of my original posse.”

“Married to Polly’s sister.”

“That’s correct.”

“And a notorious horse thief.”

“So some claim, but he proved invaluable in tracking down these desperados.”

“What did he say to Folliard?”

“Oh, he said something like ‘take your medicine like a man, you ain’t got much of a choice.’  And Tom answered, ‘It’s the best medicine I ever took, pard, but it hurts like Hell.’  He asked, ‘Could you have McKinney write my old grandma in Fort Worth and tell her that I died, can you do that, old chum?’ Barney answered him, ‘Hell, you’d kill your old grandma if she found out that you died with your boots on, Tom, it’s best that she didn’t know.’

“At one point he exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, is it possible that I must die?’  I said to him ‘Tom, your time is short.’ and he replied, ‘the sooner the better. I will be out of pain.’  He expired soon after that.”

Next Time: The Trail To Stinking Springs

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Seven~

by Pat Nolan

new badge hd 24Fourteen years had passed since the old buzzard died. Lately his memories of Ash had been frequent.

That he had considered writing another book would have been reason enough to conjure the raucous spirit of his old friend and drinking companion. The hours they had spent, sometimes into early morning, drinking, talking, and thigh slapping he remembered with a wry fondness. Ash had always done most of the talking. And all of the writing. He had watched his friend hunched over the roll top desk by the light of a coal lamp scratching steel nibs across sheaves of paper to inscribe the words they had spoken only moments before. Ash had claimed that if they kept up the way they were going, they would have to buy their ink by the pound. He had provided much of the enthusiasm and conviviality that was needed to see their book to its completion. He missed those bright patches in an other-wise grim and hard scrabble existence, and the friend who, bedraggled and weary after their all night marathons of drinking and telling lies, sometimes looked like a hedgehog who’d just smoked an exploding cigar.

“The grand jury met on April first and returned indictments on O’Lee, Leland, and Mcann. I figured that they would expect me to move on them as soon as a decision was reached. However, the joke was on them. I went to serve the warrants the following day. Falk had already sent word to O’Lee’s ranch so he knew of the grand jury’s action and I did not expect to find him there. O’Lee’s foreman told me that his boss and Leland had gone out to round up strays but I knew better. I had them on the run. My strategy was to pick them off one by one, leaving the leader until last. If I had all three in jail, I knew that O’Lee’s influence would prevail. I was anxious to get to Leland. O’Lee had that figured which is probably why he kept him close to his side. I had to settle for Jim Mcann.

“I knew right where to find him too. At McNeil’s boarding house. The morning after the indictments I had sent word over to Alice McNeil to serve Mcann a particularly hefty breakfast. I knew that Mcann presented with the choice of a hearty spread or ramming hooks for the hills would let his stomach make the decision. I was right. I served him a warrant to go along with the flapjacks and sausage. Then I told him to wipe the syrup off his beard and accompany me over to the lock up.

Falk was as surprised as I was when the judge remanded Mcann over to jail.

“I figured if I kept him isolated in the cooler long enough that he’d come around and start letting on to what he knew. I suppose that’s what Abe Falk figured too. He went about getting the preliminary hearing scheduled within the week. Part of his strategy was to get me to divulge the extent of the evidence I had against his clients.

“My main witness was a ranch hand by the name of Welkin. He had been at O’Lee’s ranch the night of Jennings’ disappearance and testified that all three men had ridden in on frothing horses late that night. He had heard them discussing in low voices something that was obviously of great concern to them. He had heard O’Lee say something to the effect that they weren’t going to be bothered on that account any longer. He also testified that O’Lee had burned a sheaf of papers, what could have been legal documents, in the fireplace.

falk“Well, Abe Falk didn’t get to be one of the most powerful men in the Southwest by being a pussycat. He tore into Welkin like an auger into rotten wood. By the time Falk was done with him, he was lucky if he knew who he was. It even looked to me that he had made him into a witness for the defense!

“It was pretty much all downhill from there. I had physical evidence, of course, but lacking the actual murdered bodies of Jennings and his son, it was not all that weighty. Falk dismissed most of the other testimony as hearsay or merely opinion. I had a woman who was riding the Alamogordo stage that same day. She claimed that she had seen the three men race by, hell bent for leather. Falk tried to discredit her by accusing her of having an affair with the stage driver. He even accused me of promising Welkin two thousand dollars of the reward money if his testimony led to their conviction. I had done no such thing, of course.

“Welkin had approached me for a loan to buy some property and I had told him that when and if the men were convicted I would then be in a position to make him a loan. At any rate, my case was not in the best of light right then. Falk was as surprised as I was when the judge remanded Mcann over to jail.

“He was a guest of the county for over a year and he never did talk. That’s because he was too busy eating. He had a tab set up at the boarding house that was paid by O’Lee through his lawyer. Can’t say that O’Lee didn’t know the price of silence. Mcann had loaded on near two hundred pounds by the time I had to let him go. I was worried that I was going to have to widen the doorway to the jail to get him out. Finally I had to roll him out of there like a beer barrel.”

new badge hd 25“I supposed you eventually apprehended O’Lee and Leland. They did stand trial, if I recollect.”

“They did that, but I never nabbed O’Lee or Leland.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve heard of moving heaven and earth. Well, Abe Falk came close to doing that for O’Lee. He maneuvered the Territorial legislature into apportioning a new county simply to remove those boys from my jurisdiction. The next thing I knew, the crime was no longer in Dona Anna County but in a new one that Falk had materialized out of thin air. Otero County, named after the newly appointed Governor.

“How could he do something like that?”

“Falk is a powerful man and he ain’t shy about flexing his political muscle. He has got his sights set on Washington. He controls much of what passes for politics here in the Southwest. He had George Kerry appointed the Sheriff of Otero County, and George, never one to overlook a chance at advancement, was in his pocket.

“O’Lee would have to face the charges against him eventually. Falk knew this, and he figured that if his boys surrendered to an authority friendly to his cause the interrogations, if any, would be less than thorough. Leland was his wild card and he wanted to keep him close to his vest. Finally, he arranged for O’Lee and Leland to surrender to his man. I was out of the picture by that time except for the fact that they were still under indictment.

 “So you never captured O’Lee and Leland?”

“That’s right, they evaded my clutches and never had to spend a day in jail. The new County did not even have a jailhouse yet so they spent the entire time awaiting their trial at the hotel in Alamogordo with pretty much free rein of the town. On equal terms, I would have eventually brought those boys in myself, but Falk plays with a marked deck. You’ve heard the expression that some men will rob you at the point of a gun and others at the point of a pen. Well, Falk is one of those who wields a lethal pen. He was double dealing the whole time.”  That memory called for another nip. “I did put a hell of a scare into those boys at one point, though.”

“How so?”

John_Reynolds_Hughes“I knew that an arrangement had been made for O’Lee and Leland to surrender themselves to George Kerry in Las Cruces but no date had been determined. I was up in Santa Fe collecting a prisoner for extradition to Texas when an acquaintance who worked in the Governor’s office informed me that O’Lee and Leland would be boarding the train somewhere along the line between Santa Fe and Las Cruces in the custody of Kerry’s deputy. As luck would have it that was the very train I would be taking to El Paso with my prisoner. Accompanying me was John Hume, a Texas Ranger.

“If you must know, I was sore at having been outfoxed by Falk, and I relished this opportunity to confront O’Lee. I considered goading him and making him do something stupid that would play into my hands. I did not want him to think that he could evade me so easily. On the other hand, that O’Lee and Leland would stand trial was good enough for me. I had the evidence to convict them, and they would hang just as dead whether they were in Kerry’s custody or mine. I was not, however, going to let them think that their subterfuge had succeeded. I was willing to cash in on any foolish move they might make.

“At every stop the train made, I was on the platform surveying the boarding passengers. We were just about to pull out of Sorroco when I happened to glance at the window of the smoking car. There was a bearded fellow seated there that I had not remembered boarding at the previous stops. That made me suspicious so once the train got rolling I asked the conductor if he remembered any one boarding from the backside of the tracks. He confirmed that three men had jumped on board as we were leaving the stop just before Sorroco and that they had taken seats in the smoking car. Right then and there I would have bet everything I owned that they were the boys I was after.

“I had a decision to make. I was tempted to arrest them myself but since the crime was no longer in my jurisdiction, I had no authority to do so especially if they were in the custody of a duly appointed peace officer. I realized that the most I could do was give those boys a bad case of the willies.

sf train2“I explained my plan to Captain Hume. We chained our prisoner to his seat and then we walked back to the smoking car. Those boys must have seen us coming as it was mighty quiet when we stepped into that car. Right away, I recognized the men I had been chasing. Both had full beards. Leland wore dark glasses and pretended to be asleep. The deputy had his face buried in some French blue book. The man I wanted, O’Lee, was hiding under a railroad cap. We had worked it out beforehand that Hume would cover Leland and the deputy, and I would have a go at O’Lee. I went over to where O’Lee was sitting, stiff as a raw hide in a snowdrift. I planted my foot on the armrest of the seat next to his and made like I was looking for some reading material in the newspapers and magazines stacked there. Then I leaned against the back of his seat and looked out the window, casual-like, as if I was enjoying the scenery. I was close enough to see the sweat rolling down the back of his neck. Those boys didn’t know whether to shit or go blind.” The old man chuckled, replacing the cork. “I’d say that’s a memory I’ll always savor.”

“What’d O’Lee do?

“Nothing. I figure I had him shaking in his boots. If he or Leland had been foolish enough to start gunplay, they would have got the worst of it. As it was, I got the satisfaction of seeing them sweat. After a time, I sauntered back to my seat in the passenger car. Those boys probably had to go off somewheres and change their britches.”

new badge hd 26“Falk had the venue of the trial changed because he claimed that his clients would not receive a fair trial in either Dona Ana County or Ortega Country.

That was a crock served on a silver platter. They would have got what they deserved. Justice, nothing more, nothing less. Those boys had done the deed, that was a fact. Falk figured if he could have the proceedings moved out of the vicinity of the crime, he would be able to control the way the events played in the newspapers. They moved the trial to Hillsboro, a mining camp up in the Black Range. You couldn’t find a more secluded backwater in the whole territory.”

The old man had noticed the rider a while back. They were in the flat stretch about half a dozen miles outside of Las Cruces. He was almost a mile behind and from his pace would soon catch up with them.

“Hell, the case was tried in the newspapers before it even went to the jury! Falk was granting interviews to anyone who could spell his name. He would say anything to put his clients in a good light. Once he even compared O’Lee to Robin Hood and painted me as the wicked sheriff of Nottingham. They made out like O’Lee was some kind of cultivated gent, that he spoke Greek and Latin when he was nothing but a West Texas brush popper. The prosecutor was a hack sent down by the Republicans in Santa Fe to make sure that the Democrats did not win. It had nothing to do with bringing the men who murdered Colonel Jennings and his kid to justice.”

The old man noticed that Adams would occasionally pull back on the reins and that the horse was responding by slowing its pace. He had a good idea of who was following them.

hillsboro“You would have thought it was fiesta week in Hillsboro. Why, Western Union even ran a wire up there just for the trial! They had reporters come from as far away as New York and London. Folks were arriving by the wagonload everyday just to get a seat in the courtroom as if it was some kind of opera or musical concert. The hotel was packed four to a room in no time, mostly with O’Lee partisans. Tent camps were set up all over the hillside on the outskirts of town. The truth is, the jury had to sleep in the hayloft at Hank’s livery!

“Falk and his crowd held forth over at the Silver Maiden Saloon, and the Santa Fe gang used O’Shea’s Miner’s Club and Billiard Emporium as their headquarters. You could sit in Cobb’s barbershop and watch the gaggle of newspaper boys go from one camp to the other to get the opposing versions of how the day’s testimony had gone. The later it got, the harder it got for those shit scribblers to find their way across the street to the opposite camp for that last glass of convincing. Falk you might say had the deepest pockets and thus proved his righteousness by the number of besotted writers that were swept up at the Silver Maiden the following morning.

“I wouldn’t be saying much if I said that the prosecutor was incompetent. Falk demolished just about every witness who took the stand. And with nary an objection from the Territory’s side. I guess they reckoned that given enough rope Falk would hang himself, but they hadn’t figured that he was as clever as Houdini at getting out of a close place.

“He cross-examined me for a whole three days. He did not cow me, though. I gave it to him straight from the chest. I told him what I thought of his back room manipulating of the courts, how it was his kind that was responsible for the corruption in the Territory, that politics was determining the course of justice. And he could not demolish my testimony. My evidence was irrefutable, and he knew it. I would not be shaken. As much as he tried.

  “Falk sunk as low as bringing O’Lee mother to the stand to testify to her son’s character and innocence. Her weeping into her hanky that way, she probably did more to acquit those boys than any of Falk’s underhanded moves. Moreover, it did not help that every testimony in O’Lee’s favor was greeted with cheers and applause from the remuda of Texas jackasses Falk had packed the courtroom with. Or that the Dog Canyon pistoleros had made it plain and clear what would happen to the jury if the verdict was returned guilty.

“The closing arguments lasted all of one day. Falk took the time to denounce each and every witness and piece of evidence against O’Lee, claiming that the accusations were nothing but politics by the Republicans. He name-called the entire Rio Grande Valley establishment, said they were slime, a bunch of broken down hacks, and liars. Claimed that there wasn’t enough evidence to hang a yellow dog, let alone the defendants. It was late evening before he was done with his marathon summation. After the prosecutor presented his rebuttal, Falk’s case did not look as strong as it might have. However, Falk had one last card to play. By then it was close to midnight and the jury was just plain tuckered, but Falk insisted that they return their verdict before they bedded down for the night in their fashionable straw palace. That jury certainly knew what was important to them. They took a whole of eight minutes to declare O’Lee and his assassins not guilty.”

The rider was close enough behind that he could no longer be ignored. Adams had glanced over his shoulder in nervous anticipation. The old man smiled as he twisted the cork out of the bottle with his teeth. He had been right.

“If Gil Leland is ready to talk like I heard then I’d say O’Lee should start worrying about his chances of gaining a seat in Santa Fe. Leland’s sister even admitted in the Las Cruces paper not long ago that soon after the disappearance of Jennings, she went to slop the hogs and found them rooting among young Rudy’s remains near the edge of the pen. This was at the Dog Canyon ranch. I’ve heard tell that for the price of a bottle of whiskey that Leland will spill his guts about the whole affair. He’s as much as admitted to being the one who killed the kid.”

Next Time: The End Of The Road

On The Road To Las Cruces ~Six~

by Pat Nolan

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“Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.”

One-eyed Tom, the proprietor of the Coney Island Saloon in El Paso and the old man’s longtime friend and gambling associate, read from the page Apollinara had prepared from a text by the agnostic, Ingersoll.

The day had begun with a gully washer and had made a pond of the rectangular hole carved in the red dirt in a neglected corner of the Las Cruces Odd Fellows Cemetery. As the funeral procession had wound its way to the burying ground later that day, large threatening dark clouds raced across the severe blue like itinerant mourners threatening to drop more misery on the assembling dignitaries, friends and family.

“We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry.”

cemetaryThe old man’s children, four boys and three girls, stood at graveside, their heads bowed. Paulita, the youngest of the girls, held the three-year old boy on one hip. Apollinara stared solemnly, stoically at the long plain coffin holding her husband’s body. In her black-gloved hand, she clutched the telegram of condolence from the President, Theodore Roosevelt. At her side, a grim Governor Kerry stared intently at the red muck that encased his new boots. The old man’s brothers, long estranged, had made the trip from Louisiana, tall and gangly like their departed sibling. A young reporter from the El Paso Herald stood off to one side, unobtrusively, jotting in a narrow notebook.

“From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead,” One-eyed Tom quavered, “there comes no word; but in the night of death hope sees a star and listening love can hear the rustling of a wing.”

A cloudburst greeted his words. With the sound of spreading wings, almost in unison, and as if in salute, the black umbrellas of the prepared rose over the heads of the dark clad mourners. Rivulets appeared in the rutted red earth, wending their way between mud spattered shoes, over the piles of crimson dirt at grave’s edge, and around the large gray mass of granite headstone upon which was carved the name, Garrett. The accumulating wet gathered in depressions made by the carriage wheels and boot heels like murky pools of blood before dribbling down the desolate hill.

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The old man wet his whistle and continued. “I had a plan, and if it was going to work, I had to play it out slow so as to hang all three with the same noose.

If this had been an open and shut case of some desperados on a tear, it would have been over and done with long ago, and without any help from me. As I said before, politics was involved and so I had to proceed cautiously. Too cautiously, some have said. I had to weigh the political implications for everyone I investigated. Politicians, if they ain’t long on ethics, are certainly long on memory, and I didn’t want to step on any toes that would come back years later to kick me in the rear when I wasn’t expecting it. I was caught up in the power game between the Democrats and the Republicans. The murder of Jennings was almost inconsequential, a minor irritant, and so I had to get in the swim just to stay afloat.

“I played a waiting game figuring that someone involved in the murders would either brag or break. Gil Leland was the one I would have given odds as most likely to talk. There was one of the goosiest fellows I ever came across. At times he was just one big twitch, arms, face, legs going every which a way with some kind of affliction. Don’t think they ever figured that one out. He’s one of them northern types with white blond hair that he always keeps jailbird short. Has the kind of blue eyes that are so light they’re almost colorless. The locals call him El hombre sin oyos, the man with no eyes.”

“Are you saying he’s still alive, I mean, living around here?’

“He is at that, and crazier than a loon, I hear. He’s finally cracked. And he’s talking about it now, letting on little details that only the killers would know. I also hear that when he’s had a little too much firewater that’s the only thing he’ll talk about. I’d say his conscience is getting the best of him.”

“Has he said anything that could be used to implicate him in the murders?”

wantedolee“Oh, he’s always said plenty. You see, the killing of Colonel Jennings was thought to be a feather in their cap by some, including themselves. Leland was just a boy himself when the murders were committed, and he was cocky, boastful and impulsive as most boys are. And not too bright.

“He’s the one I was most anxious to arrest in particular. He had the potential of being the prime witness. O’Lee and Falk knew this too so they kept him away from the wrong kind of people, people who might be willing to talk to me about what he was saying.”

“What was he saying?”

“Some of what I was told, and it’s been a while now, was that Rudy Jennings was nothing but a little half-breed and to kill him was nothing more than killing a dog. He said of Jennings that the old bastard got what he deserved. But it’s what he’s saying now that has O’Lee worried.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, it seems that Leland is saying that he’s ready to confess and that he wants to confess to me. I do not know why. It won’t do a whole hell of a lot of good. I’m not a lawman any more. Nevertheless, he’s saying he knows where the bodies are buried, and he’s saying that he’s the one who killed young Jennings. The way it was told to me, he grabbed the boy by the hair, pulled his head back and slit his throat with no more compunction than if he was a crippled calf.”

“Did he say how the Colonel died?”

“The way I heard it, they overtook the buckboard and just started shooting. No one knows whose bullet actually killed him. There’s even talk that the Colonel hopped between the riggings to get away but was dead before he hit the ground.”

The young man nodded his head. “I’ll bet if he could, he would tell some tales.”

“I’m counting on it. I may not be able to arrest O’Lee for what he did back in ‘96 but I can expose his villainy and finally clear up the mystery of White Sands.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“I’m going to write a book about it.”

“A book?”

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Any book would be a lie. Without Ash, it was only a threat, a bluff. He was willing to expose O’Lee for the criminal that he was, and he had noised it about that that was what he intended to do.

On the other hand, he was less eager to reveal his own ineptness. How could he admit to the embarrassment of Wildy Well? He had blundered and had let O’Lee get the best of him in that instance. This was when he needed Ash to help him. Ash could temper a tornado down to a dust devil. He had controlled the spin on the one book they did write together though the results were not what they had anticipated.

“You eventually captured the men indicted by the grand jury, didn’t you?”  Adams was getting downright fidgety. He had loosened his cravat, and the pigskin gloves had been stuffed into a pocket of the raw canvas duster.

The old man nipped at the bottle a couple of times before answering. He didn’t like to lie mainly because he wasn’t good at it. That was Ash’s bailiwick. “I was never one for riding all over creation looking for desperate men and exposing myself to an ambush. Patience is as important as dry powder on the hunt, especially a manhunt. So I waited. I knew O’Lee and Leland were hiding out in the mountains. I had reports that they’d grown beards in an effort to disguise themselves. Of course, I would have known them even if they were hairless. I was anxious to get my hands on Leland. If I could get him to divulge where the bodies were buried, I was positive O’Lee and his assassins would have an appointment with the hangman.”

“You must have gone after them.”

The old man wet his lips and stared ahead at the rutted road, the sage and stunted greasewood that grew up along the embankment, the shimmering crests of the sawtooth Jarilla Mountains in the distance.

“Once I tried to take them at Wildy Well, and almost had them.”

“I assume you weren’t successful as ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes, don’t it?”

“Well, I was successful in impressing O’Lee that I was serious about bringing him to justice. But I’d also have to admit that I might have acted a bit too hastily in this case.”

“What happened?”

“It was this way. I had a deputy by the name of Jorge. He was an honest-to-god Mexican pistolero, what you might call a flashy fellow. He dressed like a vaquero at a fiesta every day of the week. You comprende? The wide embroidered sombrero, the dragoon jacket, conchos up the pant leg, spurs with huge rowels, a brace of Colts in embossed scabbards, quirt. . .in short, the whole shooting match. Hell, when the sun hit him with all his silver on, he lit up like a big piece of jewelry.”  He could almost feel Ash prompting him. “We could only travel at night because you could see him coming for miles in the daylight. He was sure a pretty shadow, but he was also a reliable man, a dead shot, and I trusted him.

“One afternoon he came by my office and informed me that he’d discovered where O’Lee and Leland were staying that night. When he told me that it was in the adobe shack at Wildy Well, the thought crossed my mind that O’Lee was getting awfully reckless by placing himself so close to my reach. Maybe, I thought, he is trying to test my resolve in capturing him or maybe he is daring me to come after him. I was inclined to let him try a little harder because if I did not act then, that might make him bolder and more careless, and I would have him. As it happened, two other deputies, Woody Eastwood and Lefty Cartwright, as well as a young school teacher by the name of Matt Hughes who often volunteered when I need an extra man were in the office when Jorge stormed in with this information. Now Jorge was of the opinion that we should ride right out there and arrest them. And Woody and Lefty, who felt that they had been chaffing at the bit long enough anyway, chimed in that they thought that it was a good idea, too. I mulled it over knowing the potshots I’d be taking from the press and citizenry if word ever got out that O’Lee had been within my grasp and I failed to act so, against my better judgment, I agreed to undertake the expedition.

“If we were going to take them, I knew that it had best be by surprise so I waited till after midnight before starting out. La madruga, as Jorge called it. We rode to within a mile of Wildy Well before dismounting. As I re-call, it wasn’t a particularly dark night, the moon was still up, and as it was mid-July, the air was notably balmy. We arrived at the line shack just before dawn. It was an adobe and wood shanty with a lean-to propped against one side. We kept watch on it for a while just to make sure no one was up and stirring so as not to spoil our surprise. Finally, we decided to make our move. Jorge was so intent on stealth that he even took his boots off and proceeded in his stocking feet. I always figured that it was the Indian in him that made him do that. We got up to the door of the adobe without being discovered and then, since it wasn’t latched, we invited ourselves in.”

Adams was plainly interested again. “What happened then?”

wildywells1The old man took another swig. The answer to that question led to the unraveling of the entire unfortunate adventure. They had not surprised O’Lee and Leland under the blankets. Instead they had rousted the Madisons, a family O’Lee had hired as caretakers. Old lady Madison had sat up stiff as a plank and started screaming when she woke to see a pistol barrel stuck in her face, and that in turn had awakened her husband and the two children. There had been another adult sleeping in the room too, but he was no one they could identify. He had ordered them to light a candle, and after a quick search of the single room and the sleeping loft where the children had been, he had found no one else.

“It looked like we had a case of mistaken identity,” he finally admitted. “The people in the adobe were just some harmless folks, the Madisons, a husband and wife who were employed by O’Lee to keep his stock watered. I questioned them but they denied having seen O’Lee or Leland. By then everyone was up and milling about so we stepped back outside to reconsider our strategy. I had Woody go over to the corral and size up the horses. O’Lee or Leland would not be riding just any nags. Jorge swore up and down that O’Lee should have been there but I was inclined to dismiss it simply as bad information. Then something occurred that made me suspicious. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught one of the Madisons trying to signal to someone on the roof.”

“They were on the roof!”

“That was my suspicion though I couldn’t be positive right then. There was a ladder over by the shed on the side of the adobe but it wasn’t tall enough to reach, and besides I was not anxious to stick my head up there just to get it blown off. Now Matt Hughes had more guts than brains and he set about moving the ladder onto the roof of the shed and that way getting a look over the wall.”

“Couldn’t you just step back a ways to get a view of the roof top?”

“Not without leaving myself open to taking a bullet and not on an adobe I couldn’t. Think about it. Most adobes are built with about two feet of wall above the roof line. Anybody up there is in a superior position because it acts as a natural fort. They had command of the entire compound, us included. Well, before I could get off a word of caution, Matt was up on the ladder pointing his Winchester over the lip of the wall. The next thing I know there’s shooting and Matt is tumbling off the ladder and crashing through the top of the shed! I did not know it then, but he was mortally wounded, gut shot by those cowards.

“I was in a mighty bad position right about then, out in the open with not a lick of cover. I managed to get myself behind the shitshed, their rounds kicking up dust at my heels. Woody had a clear shot at them from over by the corral but they managed to keep him pinned down. Lefty was over by the water tower behind a pile of gravel but he could not move one way or the other without exposing himself. A couple rounds had punctured the tank so he got himself a cold shower he had not been counting on. And Jorge was caught back at the adobe, bare footed and without a stitch of cover. I remember he clung to the side of that adobe as if it were a sheer cliff, unable to get out to a firing position, and him the most fearsome pistolero of our bunch.”  The old man offered a sardonic chuckle with this memory. It had not been humorous at the time. Matt Hughes had probably fired first though he had testified at the inquest that the men on the roof had been the first to get shots off. He was a youngster and trigger happy, and he had paid with his life. He still blamed himself for the man’s death, and the fact that O’Lee had got the upper hand rankled him yet. The humiliation that they had endured a rout at the hands of those bastards burned him now as freshly as it had ten years past.

“You were in a fix, I’d say. What did you do then?”

“I did the only thing I could do. I called for O’Lee to surrender.”

“That was rather bold of you.”

“True, I was in what you might call a close place. However, I was still the law and I had the right to demand that they put down their weapons and come out with their hands up. O’Lee was of a different opinion. He claimed that I would kill him if he gave himself up and, though that was not my intention, I knew it to be a possibility as I had heard that he had bragged that he would never be taken alive. Unfortunately for me, I was in no position to bargain.”

The exasperation even after all those years dulled him to silence. Moreover, the drink he had been spilling down his gullet made him feel a certain thickness that was at the same time a fuzzy constraint. A grim bitterness tightened the corners of his mouth and his lower lip protruded in sour contemplation. Anyone familiar with the wounded, glowering look that passed over his shaded brow would have known that it was time to politely seek other company or face the brunt of his explosive rancor. The injustices he felt he’d suffered, real or imagined, at the hands of manipulating politicians smoldered within him and were invariably fueled to flame with drink.

Adams prattled, unaware. “Seems to me you could have planned that undertaking a little more carefully. How did those men on the roof know they weren’t being set upon by robbers or Indians?”

“I called for them to surrender but they answered with their guns. I had a woman and two children in danger of being struck by stray gunfire if I decided to fight. I knew that I would get my chance at O’Lee again. I told him that we would pull back if he held his fire, and he agreed. And that’s pretty much all there is to that story.”

The discomfort and anger he felt was making him sullen. He pictured their retreat. They had been forced to abandon Matt Hughes’ body. They’d had to retreat, Leland spitting jeers and insults at their backs, hands over their heads until they dropped behind the rise. They had made a pitiful, almost comical, sight: Woody and himself glowering in silence, humiliation steaming off them; Lefty soaked to the bone, growling and mumbling; and Jorge hopping from one foot to the other at the bite of some sharp rock or mesquite thorn and uttering elaborate Spanish Indian curses and blasphemies. Empty handed as a sodbuster at a tax auction, as Ash would say.

Next Time: Pecos Politics