Rio Pecos Compound: Chapter 2.

11 Sep
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 2.

The last trip to Santa Fe had been quite rewarding. His Navajo herders were well supplied with favorable trades for their jewelry, wool, blankets and mutton. Clint was able to reactivate his financial ties to Mr. Jenson, the Santa Fe banker. Also, a surprising piece of information that Clint had picked up at the card tables involved a possible source for a large sheep herd.

Clint had returned to the Santa Fe gambling tables after having escorted the Navajos back to his Rio Pecos Compound. Clint’s finances were in great shape, but extra cash was always useful. He enjoyed matching wits with gamblers, but mostly he was gathering information. Clint’s Mexican hide-trader image proved to be an excellent cover. The gamblers could accept that this hide-trader would have money, and was a reasonably smart trader, but their confidence was high that they were smarter than any lowly Mexican.

The tale gradually developed that cattlemen were moving their herds on to the high plains of northern Texas. The Spanish and Mexican land holders of that region were no match for the gunmen that the cattle owners were hiring from Texas and the East. A range war was brewing.

A myth was spreading that sheep and cattle could not share the same range. The truth was that the smell of sheep was offensive to the cattlemen. The cattlemen spread the rumor that the oil from the sheep hoofs was poisoning the soil. The U.S. Congress was promoting the expansion westward. Beef was much more acceptable to eastern markets than mutton.

The stories around the gambling tables in Santa Fe told of sheep drives of more than 100,000 sheep being stopped by Texas rustlers. It was no secret that the emerging cattle barons were behind those raids. The stories hinted at the prospect that thousands of sheep could be purchased for pennies per head. The Spanish land holders had Basque herders that tended the sheep. But, they were shepherds and not gunmen. A shepherd on foot was no match for a mounted gunman. The huge landholdings of the sheep owners were being overrun by the migrating wave of cattle from the east. Many of the large Spanish land grant holders were going broke. They had originally been supported by almost limitless wealth from Spain. When Spain and Mexico split, the U.S. and Mexican War had stopped the flows of money and support. The major market for wool, mutton and sheep was Mexico, and the cattlemen were blocking that passageway. So, the sheep owners were being starved without a way to sell their product.

Clint had learned enough about sheep history to know that some very large sheep trail drives had been made from Texas into New Mexico Territory more than 100 years earlier. The Spanish had also brought sheep overland from California. The animals had flourished so well in the Rio Grande Valley that the Spanish grant holders had moved hundreds of thousands of them down the Rio Grande valley to Mexico for sale. So the trail drive from the Texas high plains to the Rio Pecos Compound was possible. It would take at least 50 herders, plus dogs and pack horses to make the drive. While the Navajo women were excellent sheep herders, they were not suited for that kind of drive.

Clint decided to head to Texas with only a string of horses and a set of saddlebags filled with gold. He looked forward to the open range ride and the solitude. He loved this country; wild sage, hawks overhead, flowering cactus, and great horses under saddle. The outdoors living could always be accented with occasional visits to trail town saloons.

He loved the outdoor solitude, but a challenging game of chance with shrewd card sharks was even more stimulating. There was always that adrenaline rush when tempers flared and gun play could be split-seconds away. Very few card games ended with pistols drawn, but the threat was always there. The more likely outcome was being bushwhacked in some dark alley after a victory.

It took less than two weeks of steady riding to reach the Texas high plains. Clint rode into the midst of a sheep herd that stretched almost as far as he could see. The shepherds were leery, but directed him to a giant Spanish hacienda in a wooded grove near some small rolling hills. Additional Spanish adobe buildings covered several acres. The whole place was protected by heavily armed Mexican gunmen. The buildings and adobe walls formed a fort-like setting.

Clint was invited into a lavish sitting room. The furnishings must have cost a fortune just to ship there from Spain and Mexico City. It was some time before anyone came to greet him, but he was busy entertaining himself by examining the wall hangings and especially a display of old weapons. He spotted a cross-bow that was almost identical to the one he had just used on that robber in Santa Fe.

After a considerable delay, a tall, very dignified, gray-haired Spanish man approached him through one of the big arches. The tile work on the walls and entrance arches was beautiful. Each doorway was a piece of art. The elderly gentleman named Juan Martinez introduced himself as the owner and welcomed Clint to his home. While Clint was touring the Martinez art collection, Sr. Martinez was examining his mounts. The gentleman was quick to express his admiration for Clint’s fine string of horses.

It did not take Clint long to get through the formalities of greetings and bring up the purpose of his visit: He was there to buy sheep. The word up north was that the Texas cattlemen were trying to take over the range and drive the sheep off. It was also rumored that a superior line of sheep had been developed in this area of Texas by cross-breeding the Churro and Merino.

The Spanish patriarch was noticeably impressed that this rough-looking fellow would even be aware of such developments. Clint was asked to join the table for the evening meal. They would then discuss business later over drinks.

The dinner was excellent and lavish. Music was provided and beautiful young women kept the wine glasses full. The imported wine was outstanding and no doubt expensive. It occurred to Clint that he was being impressed with the grandeur and open display of wealth. This was probably to counter the rumor that the Texans were bankrupting the wealthy Spanish families. It could also be the lead-in to hard bargaining for the price of sheep. If it could be established that the sale of sheep was not needed or urgent, it would put Sr. Martinez in a better bargaining position.

After a rambling discussion of taxes, Mexican war, sheep breeding and the furnishings in his hacienda, the bargaining for the sheep herd was begun. Sr. Martinez was definitely impressed and pleased that Clint was interested in 100,000 head of sheep. That was the size of his remaining herd. Martinez had seen the cattlemen overrunning other sheep ranches so he had started a few years ago developing his own cattle herd. On occasion, his Basque sheepherders had been harassed, threatened and some were killed. It was then revealed that Sr. Martinez owned only 80% of these sheep. The Basque herders were partial owners and were working on a percentage of each lamb crop.

The Basque were a proud people and worked independently of the Spanish landlord. Both the sheep and the Basque herders had been brought to this country by the Spanish government. The business arrangement had always been a mutual shared partnership between landowner and shepherd.

These sheep herders followed the same lifestyle that existed for them over 1,000 years earlier in Spain and Eastern Europe. It was most likely that the Great Hannibal had encountered the Basque sheepherders 200 years before Christ.

A tentative agreement was reached pending the concurrence of the Basque. Sr. Juan Martinez would accept 100 pounds of coin for his interest in the sheep herd. Martinez was sure the Basque herders would be more than willing to join Clint in a new partnership. Martinez had discussed on several occasions the Basques’ desire to move toward the New Mexico Territory. The Texas raiders had killed so many herders and sheep with the raids becoming more and more frequent and ruthless.

A meeting would be arranged for Clint to present his proposal to the Basque herders. This clan of herders included more than 30 men, women and children. Clint cooled his heels for two days waiting for this meeting. The days were pleasant and relaxing and the accommodations were the best he had ever experienced. These Spanish landowners knew how to live. The guest suite he was provided was plush and spacious. Together with the excellent wine being served at every meal, the feather bed was so inviting that he was having trouble keeping his early-to-rise habit. Beautiful, young, dark-eyed girls were everywhere, waiting on tables, bringing clean towels, offering to do laundry, and cleaning this huge hacienda. Life was so good here Clint wondered why he was feeling the restless urge to get back onto the trail.

The meeting with the herders went very well. They were interested in leaving this hostile area. The rumors had also reached them over the past several years that the New Mexico Territory was an excellent habitat for the sheep. If they could keep the same ownership relationship, 20-percent of livestock and 20-percent of all lambs, wool, and mutton, they were ready to move immediately. Protection from the cattlemen was their major concern. Moving the sheep herd the long distance to Rio Pecos valley was no big deal. They were nomadic people, so moving with the herd was their normal day-to-day style of living. Their ancestors going back for hundreds of years had herded sheep all over Europe before they were brought to Mexico.

The drive northwest into the New Mexico Territory would be similar to their everyday activities. The head of the Basque herders assured Clint that his clan could handle the entire herd without assistance as long as bandits did not cause problems.

Sr. Martinez offered a partial solution. Eight of his young Mexican guards were interested in making the trip up toward Santa Fe. In exchange for food, fresh mounts and minimal expenses, they would ride guard for the herd. As soon as Clint had purchased some additional horses from Martinez, the drive was underway.

Clint had provided a trail map to the guards and the shepherds. However, the Basque herders let Clint know that they were quite aware of the best route to the Rio Pecos basin. They had already been planning to take their 20 percent of the herd to that region if Sr. Martinez could not provide the needed protection. The best way to get from this northwestern area of Texas into the northern portion of the Rio Pecos was through the Canadian River Passageway in the New Mexico Territory.

The Basque herders would follow the Canadian River west and then slightly northwest into the Mora Spanish land grant area. This route would bring them to the Santa Fe Trail on a high plateau just south of the Raton Pass. The sheep could then be moved along southwest, parallel to the Santa Fe Trail, until they hit the Rio Pecos. The map that ex-surveyor Clint gave the Basque leader was well landmarked and detailed. It was anticipated the drive would take two months if all went without a hitch. The young Mexican guards were biting at the bit. They were looking forward to the trip. The slow movement with the shepherd was something they could tolerate for a couple of months. After all they had been working beside the Basque for several years and they liked the food they provided. The Basque seemed to make a great camp every night. Life on the trail was just a way of life for these herders. They always seemed to be at home whenever they stopped. The Mexican guards had also been provided the best mounts that Sr. Martinez would sell. As the new owner, Clint was supplementing their riding stock with the loan of his horses. None of these Mexican riders had ever ridden on such powerful and enduring horses. This was going to be a great adventure, although Clint was a little concerned with the eagerness of the young Mexican gun hands.

A trial drive could turn ugly and treacherous at a single bend in the river. He urged all the caution these young heads would take, and then the drive was underway.

Juan Martinez suggested that maybe the cattlemen would support the removal of sheep from this range. This gave Clint the idea to try the idea on a few of the largest cattlemen in the area. The trail town of Amarillo was only a day’s hard ride southeast. Martinez suggested the Golden Nugget Saloon and Hotel as a good contact place, and offered the name of Major Henry Bell as a good starting place if Clint was interested in knowing who was behind most of the raids against Martinez’s herds. This connection had not been proven, nor would the governor-appointed marshal even look into the problem. Amarillo was a cattle town. It was also a wide open free-for-all frontier outpost. It seemed the worst of the east was moving west in search of riches. Many of these gamblers, ex-soldiers and get-rich-quick business people had made it to Amarillo.

The challenge was giving Clint a rush that he would have to control. He was beginning to feel the same as some of these young Mexican guards that were headed to Santa Fe with his herd.

The fresh air and open range was giving him a lift. It was surprising in that he was leaving the luxury of a big Spanish hacienda with soft beds and beautiful maids to sleep under the stars out in the open. There had to be a little insanity in his family tree. As he headed southeast toward Amarillo, the cattle herds became more numerous and sheep were much less noticeable. Clint had taken his time so he would arrive at the gambling tables late evening the next day.

The town looked as Sr. Martinez had described: rough, big saloons, lots of cowboys, much glitter and frenzy. The Golden Nugget could not be missed with its gaudy lanterns, painted signs, large hitching rail and covered porch along the entire front face. The clink of piano and raucous singing could be heard almost a block away. Juan Martinez had given Clint a drawing of a number of the largest outfit brands so he could recognize the horses and thus their riders. Major Henry Bell’s brand was a Circle B, and that brand was on several horses outside the Golden Nugget. It was Clint’s bet that the big white stallion with silver-trimmed black saddle belonged to Major Bell. No working cowboy would have such a show horse. A close look at the big white stallion revealed a lot about Major Bell, in particular the spur marks and sore mouth told of a cruel and over-controlling master. Clint tried not to let emotion interfere with business, but the mistreatment of animals did raise his boiling point.

It only took a minute inside the saloon to spot the arrogant Major. He was surrounded by people catering to him. The king was definitely lording over his domain. A direct entrance into the card game with the Major was highly unlikely. An indirect approach would have to be developed.

After moving around the saloon for over an hour, a table was chosen where two or three of the five men were from Circle B Ranch. Clint had overheard some talk at the table that identified the cowboys. When one of the players eventually excused himself, Clint asked if he could join the game.

This card game was slow-paced and friendly; none of these men were much into hard gambling. It didn’t take long for the topic of sheep to enter the discussion. The men shared the undesirable job of driving the sheep off the open range. The cowboys all complained about the messy job. The sheep could not be stampeded like cattle. The little wooly critters would just scatter and then stand there. When you would pull back, the sheep would come back together. Even shooting some of them didn’t drive the others away. Besides, the dead carcasses on the range only stunk up the place, and the cattle won’t come near a sheep carcass.

The cowboys were also reporting that Major Bell was getting very impatient with them. You could tell these cowboys didn’t like their job. They had been brought here with the cattle herds. They liked the cowboy life and didn’t want anything to do with shepherding.

Clint worked into the conversation the fact that he knew some people that would drive those sheep off the open range. The cowboys were very interested and they were sure their boss would pay good money to have the sheep gone. Major Bell had a lot of his men tied up with the on-going sheep problem. Besides, the sheep also ruined the open range grass for the cattle. Those sheep stunk up the grazing area for miles. Major Bell had also told his ranch hands that sheep could spread disease to the cattle and people.

It didn’t take long after Clint’s card game had broken up that an invite arrived to join Major Bell for drinks. The Major was a shrewd business man as well as an arrogant cattleman. The idea that the sheep problem could be solved immediately was worth a lot to him. The illegal operation he was funding to drive the sheep ranchers off the range or to break them was costing him a lot of money and time. If Clint could do this job within one week, Major Bell would be willing to pay up to one cent per head for each sheep removed. Clint countered the offer with two cents per head. He agreed that he would remove 100,000 sheep off the Texas high plateau within five days.

With an advance of 50 $20 gold coins as a binder, the balance of the gold coin payment could be made at the northwest corner of Major Bell’s desired open range when all the sheep were gone. This deal Major Bell was more than willing to accept. If this operation was successful, he would save more than the two cents per sheep head in manpower and lost cattle grazing fat. He knew that the cowboys did not like the killing of sheep and that they had not been successful in driving the animals off the range.

He also knew that Sr. Martinez, the largest sheep ranch owner, had recently hired some Mexican gunmen or guards that were making the raids more risky and more difficult.

Major Bell handed over the 50 gold coins and the deal was set in motion. Clint told the major he would start his men moving tonight. He was a little worried that some of Major Bell’s range hands might spot the sheep herd that was already moving west off the open range.

If Major Bell had that information, it could make it rather difficult to collect the balance of the gold payment. Clint’s sneaky plan might not produce the windfall profit that he anticipated. Even so, the pure fun of it was worth a lot of gold to his soul. As Clint rode out of town with his pockets full of gold coins, he could not hold back the laughter and shouts of joy.

The next four days were spent making fresh track over the sheep trail his herd had left almost a week earlier. The Basque herders had made good time. The round-up had been completed. There was not a single sheep to be seen anywhere. The fifth day brought four Circle B cowboys approaching his position, just as the agreement plan had specified. Clint had chosen a small rock outcrop with a few trees for cover right at the edge of a big grassy plateau drop off. The land west of here became very rough, very quickly. The transfer of this amount of money could be dangerous. Most of the cowboys would not see that much gold in their lifetime. Greed can do a lot to a man’s mind, so Clint had taken some precautions.

As the cowboys drew near, Clint moved into the opening near the campfire. He had gathered three of his spare horses which were staked out near the trees behind him. Clint wanted these cowboys to worry about what could be hidden behind the rock outcrop and in the trees. Clint would never know if his bluff worked or the cowboys decided to be fair and square and to pay up on the contract. The deal was completed. The four cowboys rode away, back toward Major Bell’s spread. Clint packed his gold on one of those spare horses and followed his herd’s trail west into New Mexico Territory.

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