Rio Pecos Compound: Chapter 1.

14 Aug

Author’s Note: The sixth book published in the Clint Mason series, Rio Pecos Compound is being published here serially beginning in July, 2016. Please consider picking up a copy of Rio Pecos Compound and all the other Clint Mason books for yourself and a friend, and also look for the contents of these books on this site. Thank you very much for your interest.

Cover for Rio Pecos Compound, Book Six of The Clint Mason Series by William F. Martin.

Rio Pecos Compound

Learn more about Rio Pecos Compound: Book Six of The Clint Mason Series

Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1.

Several years had passed since Clint Mason had first ridden into the wide, spreading, grassy valley several days’ ride east of Santa Fe. Here the Pecos River, better known as the Rio Pecos, flowed between two steep mountainsides. The mountains formed a natural fence on both sides of the river.

Clint had joined a government survey crew almost five years earlier. The surveyor had been charged with the task of identifying the old Spanish land grants, their boundaries and set markers. The Mexican War had just ended and the United States Government had reached a settlement that gave them ownership of the New Mexico Territory. The U.S. Congress passed various legislation and rulings about the opening of this and other pathways to the West Coast.

The surveyor that Clint was working for back then was a crook, a bully and a lousy gambler. Clint’s excellent math and geometry skills advanced him into the confidence of the master surveyor. It also put Clint in a position to see the rip-off the surveyor was pulling on the U.S. Government and land grant holders.

When Clint went to work for this U.S. Government surveyor, Charles Norton, Clint had just turned 20. His six-foot frame was outfitted with a sharp mind, olive skin, dark eyes, wide shoulders and tough as rawhide muscles. It had only been five or six years since he had been driven from his home by a murder frame-up. If anyone had thought Clint was a fast-draw gunman at 15, they would not believe the speed and accuracy that he had developed since. These skills with a gun, even though exceptional, were second rate when compared to his abilities at card playing.

Clint’s mathematical mind was tops, and when combined with his ability to read people, he was a gambler without equal. In fact, these exceptional card skills had necessitated the development of the gun skills. During the past five to six years, Clint had been in over 20 gunfights, with only a few scratches or minor holes to show for them. The near-misses had convinced Clint that skill alone was not a guarantee of survival. Using one’s head to avoid, or at least to reduce risk, was the answer. Clint’s teenage years of hot temper and reckless behavior had given way to deliberate, low-key, and cautious behavior.

Clint had lost too many fights that he should have won, if it had not been for some unforeseen factor. Those memories reminded him of one incident where he had been the hero. A bar fight was raging between a cute little saloon girl and a big drunken miner. The miner was beating the crap out of this girl and no one was stepping in to help. Even though the miner had Clint by at least 100 pounds and had arms twice the size of his, Clint had held the upper hand and was giving the big miner a good beating to teach him a hard lesson. The next thing he knew, the little bit of a woman had crowned him with a bar stool. The miner proceeded to give Clint one of his worst whippings. Who would have thought or predicted that turnaround? That experience and several others had put Clint on a more thoughtful track.

The stamping of the horse under him brought him back out of his memories. He had ridden his horse hard and it was demanding some relief. The vast spread of land before him was his by deed, crook and deception. Down below was some of the best horse flesh that the West had produced. Clint had made it his mission to develop one of the best horse breeds in the country. He had started that dream almost four years ago.

While working for the government surveyor, a large tract of land had been identified between two major Spanish land grants. The survey crew had started calling it the No Man’s Land. A few days later, during a rough and tumble card game in a trail town near the Canadian River Basin, things turned deadly. A drifter and gunman caught Norton at cheating. The big, burly drifter had beaten the surveyor almost senseless, then began to pull his bone handled, skinning knife to finish the job.

Clint, without hesitation, shot the drifter and helped his boss through the saloon doors. Norton was begging for his life, when he realized that it was his helper, Clint, who was beside him. Charles Norton, the master surveyor and cheat, promised Clint anything if he would only save him. Norton wanted to get out of the town and far away. It took Norton a week of recovery before he approached Clint about that night at the saloon. Norton expressed his appreciation and thanks for saving his life, but completely overlooked his promise to give Clint anything he wanted. Clint decided to wait for another crisis which he knew would develop. Norton was a bully, a coward, a cheat, and a terrible card player. Sure enough, less than a month later, Norton was again in deep trouble with one of the gambling houses in Santa Fe.

He either had to pay up his gambling debts or a contract would be placed on his head. Norton was aware that Clint always seemed to have cash and he never seemed too lose at cards. Norton wanted Clint to cover his gambling debts so he could settle up with the Santa Fe gambling house. Clint made the deal with the devil. He would bail Norton out of his mess if the surveyor would transfer and record the No Man’s Land into Clint’s name. Norton protested, saying that the subject tract of land was more than 100,000 acres of top grazing land with water running the entire length. Clint reminded Norton that the land had been stripped from the two Spanish land grants and didn’t really belong to Norton. Any resistance drained out of Norton with the realization that Clint had recognized his scheme. The fear of having his gambling debts collected out of his hide persuaded Norton to complete the deal.

Clint could still remember that night in the back room of the Santa Fe gambling house. He had brought a message from Norton and a large cash payment to negotiate the settlement. Clint was wearing his worst trail clothes and he had a few extra gold coins. Four gamblers who saw him could not resist the temptation to fleece the cowboy bumpkin.

A smile crept over Clint’s face now, as the sweet memories of how he had cleaned out the house that night many years earlier flooded his mind. Not only did he get the land, but he added to his fortune another major grudge. There had been only two of the four gamblers left standing after that encounter. The group had tried to dry gulch him after the final game. While they had lost the card games, they still were intent on recovering their money and ridding themselves of a trail bum. For Clint’s part, when it was all over, the only way he’d be able to return to Santa Fe anytime soon was to become a different person. Thus, a new scheme was needed.

Knowing the type of men he was dealing with, Clint expected an ambush. He knew it would be out of town or in a back alley and without witnesses. The ambush was poorly planned. The gamblers were over-confident about this poorly dressed trail hand. Clint’s keen eyes spotted the first two gamblers hiding back in the alley at the rear of the stable. He could guess that they were waiting for him to come for his horse. The other two were probably in the stable or across the alley in a dark doorway where anyone leaving the stable would be an easy target.

Clint’s silent, patient surveillance paid off. It was less than 30 minutes before the sparkle of moonlight on a gun barrel in the darkened doorway gave the dry gulcher away. Clint put two shots into the dark opening, producing a terrible howl. A second round of shots honed-in on the orange flashes that the two alley gamblers were blindly sending his way. One of the gamblers stumbled forward and collapsed. Everything went quiet for a moment. Then, two horses raced out the other end of the alley.

Clint eased himself back into the shadows and casually strolled to the nearest café. He looked like a typical drifter or range hand, eating a late meal. No one would have guessed he had just walked away from a deadly gun battle that left two men dead. It was not long before some excited customers brought the story to the café. Clint listened with typical curiosity, as a spectator.

Clint had then returned to his domain with a master plan. While 100,000 acres was not the biggest of spreads in this territory, the quality of those acres, plus the water, made up for the difference. His hopes were high. This could be the end of roaming the west and constantly running into trouble. The New Mexico Territory was almost without law and order. The Spaniards had been driven back to Mexico. The Pueblos, Navajo and Apache Indians had been harassed, cheated and confined. They were restless and beginning to fight back. The eastern settlers were starting to move on the land. Gold and silver had been discovered north of that area and also in California. This discovery of gold was like a magnet, pulling the worst of mankind. If this was not enough, the Mexican War had left a lot of Mexicans and U.S. misfit soldiers, deserters and criminals in the region.

The U.S. Government had sent soldiers to Santa Fe to provide some law and order. Their orders to keep the peace were not easy to obey. The government quarters in Santa Fe was a makeshift building, and the commander could not control his men in rough and tumble Santa Fe. The gambling, drinking, corruption and graft were out of control.

Into this mess rode a man with the courage and will power to fight against the odds. Clint was a gambler by heart and by trade.

He gazed over his land with a sense of pride and accomplishment. He was not a nobleman from Spain who had been given vast amounts of land. Nor was he a rich land buyer from the east that came west with his vast amounts of wealth. He was a drifter, gambler, gunman, and a sought-after fugitive, but he had used his skill and tenacity to acquire this beautiful land. It wasn’t a ranch yet, but it would be someday.

Clint pulled a spyglass from his saddlebag. He was trying to locate the old adobe house that had been built on that land years ago. Shortly after acquiring the tract of land, Clint had brought in a few horses. He had spent some time patching the roof of the old Spanish adobe ranch house, cleaning out the hand-dug well and repairing the fireplace. The adobe structure was probably over 200 years old, but in excellent structural shape. Those southwestern adobe houses could last almost forever if the roof was maintained and the caps of the walls maintained by replacing the mud loss due to rain and wind.

A faint column of smoke brought his spyglass to rest on the ranch house. He could see the top of the building and its chimney, but no smoke. As he passed a little to the right, he saw that the smoke was coming from a Navajo-style mud hut.

Anyone watching the bronze-colored face of this stoic rider would never have detected a single change of expression. Clint’s poker face had been trained by hundreds of card games and gun fights to give no clue about the rage, excitement or concern flowing in his veins. The prospect that someone had moved onto his land would have thrown most men into a rage, prompting a direct confrontation to stir the trespassers up and out immediately.

Since he had been away almost two years, he decided on taking a few hours or days to investigate. Clint surprised even himself seeing how patience and caution had replaced his youthful recklessness. Near-death experiences have a way of providing some wisdom. At the very least, these near-misses help a person to establish priorities for life.

A few hours of observation provided a reasonable explanation for the activities he had observed. The people looked to be Navajo women and children. He could see some sheep nearby and what looked like a wool table and some weaving frames. It would appear that some Navajos had moved onto the ranch and set up a camp near the ranch house and well. Clint had seen many of these camps up north in Navajo country, but never this far south. This region was more likely to be the hunting grounds of the Apache. No one seemed to go near his ranch house. Clint had been on the trail for two weeks and that ranch house looked very inviting. He decided to move on down to the Navajo camp and his ranch house well before dark. If he came in slowly, maybe he wouldn’t get shot at out of fear.

He knew a few Navajo greeting words that would help, he hoped. He was also leading two other horses that would make him appear to be a ranch hand or worker. A few Navajo greetings or hellos to the camp were finally responded to with a greeting from an older woman near one of the mud huts. It only took a few moments for the verbal exchange to switch to Spanish. Both he and the woman were fluent, and that served a lot better than his limited Navajo.

The history of the Navajo group that was moving onto the ranch was soon explained. They had been raided several times up north by white buffalo hunters, their wool stolen, some sheep slaughtered and most of their range camps destroyed. Word had gotten around that the grazing was a lot better south of Raton Pass, but that rumor had missed the detail that it was fierce Apache land. As they moved onto the large grassy plateau south of Raton Pass, the Apache raided them several times, taking their wool blankets, meat and supplies. The Navajo group then continued to move south, crossing over the divide into the high plain of the Rio Pecos. Last winter they had come upon this vacant ranch. The well was good, shelter was available and no one seemed to be around. The condition of the corrals and ranch house indicated that this ranch owner would return. They decided to settle until that happened, and take advantage of the fertile, under-used valley.

Since arriving near the ranch, they had not been attacked. The Navajos were interested in staying nearby and would gladly pay or trade for the privilege. Clint assured them that they could stay if a fair arrangement was worked out. The ranch was going to be built up with horses, sheep and cattle. The Navajos acknowledged that they had found the herd of horses up in a dead end canyon just west of the ranch. They had recognized the high quality of the horses, and the discovery had confirmed their suspicions that they were on an occupied ranch.

An agreement was reached: The Navajo could continue to herd their sheep here, live in their huts and weave their blankets. In exchange for this privilege, they would care for the ranch house, herd Clint’s sheep with theirs, and give the ranch one-half of all lambs born to the Navajo herd. In addition to the sheep herding, they would care for the horses in Rock Canyon. The ranch would provide protection for the Navajos and their sheep. Clint also offered to assist them when trading trips were needed to buy supplies and sell wool, meat and blankets.

This arrangement seemed to please the Navajos. The Navajo shepherds would be a good way for Clint to build his sheep herd. It would also discourage drifters and vandals when they could see the ranch was occupied.

It was late when Clint left the Navajo campfire. He was looking forward to a good night’s rest under the roof of his own house. A couple of the women had been cleaning the house and building a kitchen fire inside as the bargaining had dragged on around the campfire. Clint had brought a little rye whiskey to the meeting. It was just enough to ease the tension and increase the openness.

With everyone in final agreement, Clint had withdrawn to his clean adobe dwelling. The Navajos had even placed some very thick wool blankets on the wood frame bed. He slept like a newborn puppy.

Over the next few days, Clint worked with a couple of the Navajo boys to repair the canyon fences that held the horses. The large pasture in this canyon could hold a lot more horses without over grazing. The spring-fed basin at the upper end of the canyon provided more than enough water for a herd three times the number that Clint had gathered so far. Clint spent some time breaking in new mounts and retraining at least three of the horses which Clint had brought here two years ago. They had been saddle-wise when he left them, but freedom gives horses a strong will to challenge the master with. Luckily, it only takes a little firm control to bring their memories back.

It was time to put Clint’s plan into motion. The house was in good order, the horses were secure and retrained, and the Navajos were going about sheep herding and blanket-making as they had done for over 100 years. The Navajo women amazed him. They were completely self-sufficient if left to live in peace. They demanded and expected nothing. They only wanted to be left alone to live their nomadic lifestyle.

This ranch provided the complete habitat for the sheep and the Navajo – the upper range of the mountains in the summer, then the low lying protected grass lands during the winter. The Indians had built several hut camps along the sheep trails from mountain range to valley. These people moved smoothly from camp to camp as the sheep moved along. The elderly women stayed in the base camp or permanent camp with the smallest children and did most of the weaving on bigger looms. The young girls did most of the herding. The young boys did not seem to be expected to herd, and Clint thought that perhaps that was because they weren’t very good at it. The Navajo men were few and far between. The two older men in the group seemed only to work on making silver jewelry and to go away on trading trips for long periods of time. They never asked for protection and were often gone for weeks.

Part of Clint’s plan was to build up a large sheep herd. The market was good for wool, mutton and blankets. Clint had learned a lot about developing sheep herds. The Churro breed was well suited for this climate and terrain, but produced poor quality wool and in small amounts. However, the mutton off the bare-belly, ugly little critter was excellent. The Merino sheep with its thicker, tighter wool could be crossbred with the Churro sheep. Watching the development was important because the Merino was not as hardy and did not proliferate as rapidly as the Churro. A good breeder aims to tease the best of both sheep strains into a better animal.

The Navajos did not like some of the finer, fuzzier wools of the Merino, preferring the longer coarse hair of the Churro. However, Clint had noticed that they were very adept at using both wool types. The blankets he saw around the huts were beautiful, and Clint knew immediately that they would trade for top dollar.

It was time for Clint to make a trip into Santa Fe. The Navajos wanted to make a trading trip to sell blankets and mutton so they could buy supplies – and also two Navajo men had prepared some jewelry for sale. They needed more silver and turquoise to tool new jewelry.

The ground rules Clint suggested provided the Navajos some protection from a safe distance. To do this, he planned to disguise himself as a Mexican hide-trader. He would travel separately, but within range to protect them against bandits and thugs. When they got to Santa Fe, they would not acknowledge each other. They would spend no more than three days at the Santa Fe market. If able to complete their trading earlier, they would leave. Clint would watch and follow them every step of the way.

The three-day trip into Santa Fe went without a hitch. The trading went very well and the blankets and silver jewelry were purchased quickly. By the second afternoon, the supplies were mostly purchased and loaded onto the wagons. The plan was to finish the trading the following morning and get an early start back to Rio Pecos. The camping area for traders was just south of the main market plaza. Clint knew that watchful eyes would have noticed the good trades this band of Navajos was making. Thus, he had increased his vigilance anticipating some attack.

The Navajos had settled in for the night when Clint’s watchful eye spotted four men sneaking up on their wagons. The lead man was climbing up onto one wagon when he put out a groan, jerked awkwardly to one side and fell back. One of the other would-be robbers crawled up to his partner and turned him over. Protruding from his fellow partner’s chest was the wicked end of an arrow. Quietly, he drew back to the third man and they started sneaking away. When they got back to their horses, their fourth member was laying on the ground in a pool of blood. Two of their best horses were missing, along with all their gear. The two surviving bandits rode off at top speed into the night.

The Navajo trading party returned to the marketplace the next morning without being aware of the night’s near robbery and killings. There was no trace of bodies or horses. They heard rumors around the trading tables about the bodies of two troublemakers that had been found in a dry wash outside of town. Murder was so common that not much was made of it. The wagons were loaded and the return trip to Rio Pecos was completed without incident. As far as the Navajos knew, the trip was without problems. They never saw Clint during the entire time. Two extra horses were tied to their wagons sometime during the return trip.

Clint was not seen for several days. However, the housekeeper reported to the other Navajos that a strange looking bow and some arrows were hanging in the back mud room of the ranch house. The Spaniard cross bow was not a common weapon in this territory. If the Indians had known European history, they would have recognized that the deadly devices dated back to the conflicts between the Moors and the Christians in Spain more than 500 years earlier.

Clint had been busy in Santa Fe during the trading trip. He had contacted the Santa Fe banker who had been handling his money for the previous ten years. The banker knew him as Cliff Martinez, a rancher and representative of Brad Mason, a banker and rancher from Manatee County, in the southern part of New Mexico Territory. The banker, Mr. James Jenson, was unaware that Brad Mason and Clint were brothers. Brad, Clint’s older brother, was not actually involved in any of these financial dealings. Clint had used his brother’s name so that if anything was to happen to Clint, then the considerable funds he had raised would go to Brad. Clint was a fugitive from the law in Manatee County, while Brad was a well-respected rancher and banker.

Clint had to perform a vanishing act in Santa Fe during the trading trip. His disguise as a Mexican hide-trader had to be switched to that of a clean-cut rancher for the banker, and then back into the dirty hide-trader gear.

Clint had chosen a stable on one of Santa Fe’s back alleys for this transition of identities. The stable was run by a giant black man. The blacksmith who went by the name of Joe Black did not ask questions and was willing to rent Clint a small room in the stable hay loft. Mr. Black was more than willing to clean out the small room for the handsome rent Clint offered. This stable hideaway was just right for his dealings, allowing him to move by foot in and out of the side streets, cafés and saloons without raising any curiosity from on-lookers. The side door of the stable led directly to the loft ladder. Clint could go and come without disturbing Mr. Black, who had his living quarters attached to the other side of the large stable building.

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