Rio Pecos Compound: Chapter 8.

30 Apr
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 8.

Spring came with a sudden burst of flowers, new green growth and noisy children playing outside. The new lamb crop was even better than expected. The push would be on come fall for another major drive to get the sheep to market.

While Clint did not want to over-graze his range, he also wanted to constantly improve his herd. Culling out the worst of the sheep each year would gradually lead to a superior herd.

The winter’s weaving had produced some beautiful blankets. Even though the Basque and the Navajos did not socialize, the woven designs were beginning to combine the best of both. The much finer wool of the Basque sheep was finding its way into the course weaving patterns of Navajo blankets. Natural dyes that each culture had developed over the years were varied. As they shared these dye secrets, colors were produced that had not been seen before in the markets around the Santa Fe square. The Rio Pecos blankets as they were beginning to be known drew top-dollar bids.

After the winter, the trading post and storage rooms became rather bare. The finished products of blankets and jewelry were starting to accumulate. A major trading trip to Santa Fe was needed as soon as the weather and roads permitted.

The lead preacher had convinced two of the settler families to join him in his move to Santa Fe. The money they had made building homes for the other settlers and the buildings for Clint’s ranch would see them through for a few months. Both families were pretty good carpenters, and besides, the preacher was a good helper when he put his mind to it. Santa Fe had a lot of building going on as more people arrived every year. The lumber drivers of the Bond Ranch had given the preacher the names of several landowners in Santa Fe. So along with the preacher, two families would make the trip with the supply train. As well as possible, the settlers’ wagons had been repaired over the winter. Even though the village did not have a blacksmith, Clint had set up a shop with forge and the needed supplies. Everyone did their best to repair wagons, saddles and harnesses, and to shoe the horses.

This trading trip would be a major event. Most of the people would go this time. A few of the Basque and Navajo herders would stay to tend the herds. One of the settler families would also stay at the ranch and look after things. Two of the Mexican guards would stay with the ranch. About 200 sheep were to be driven along with the supply train. These sheep would then be dressed out and sold as mutton when they arrived at the traders’ campsite just outside of Santa Fe. The first two days went slowly. The sheep traveled at a rate of less than fifteen miles per day. After two days of this, it was decided that the wagon train would go ahead to set up camp and open their booths at the market square. The herd would arrive several days later, and then the mutton would be put on sale.

The trip agreement was the same as last time. Each group would handle its own trading and the purchase of its own supplies. Clint would not be a part of the caravan. The Mexican guards would provide protection. If additional funds were needed to restock the trading post, a bank withdrawal could be arranged with Mr. Jenson. The ranch’s share of the sales should be more than enough to restock the Rio Pecos store and trading post. Two of the three store managers were making the trip and they would handle the money and the re-supply.

Clint took two extra horses and went directly to Santa Fe. This put him several days ahead of the supply train. His stable loft room was as he had left it. Joe Black was working hard at cleaning up the stalls when Clint arrived. A brief conversation covered weather, new people in town and payment for his room for another year. Joe let Clint know that the landlord was changing things, thus Joe could not guarantee that Clint’s room would always be available. Clint read some worry and concern in Joe’s face and voice.

Clint reassured him that the room had been a great help and if it wasn’t available sometime in the future that would be okay. Clint appreciated the support that Joe had already given him. This spare-room deal had been a win-win for them both.

This trip into Santa Fe was a test run to see if the past saloon shootout at the Silver Spur would cause him any problems. After a few hands of cards at the Silver Spur, he was soon relieved of his worries. The only mention of the incident was a slur about him hiding under the tables. These western men put a high value on bravery and toughness. This Mexican hide-trader was low on their list even before that show of cowardice. He had become almost an invisible man in the crowd… just as he wanted.

The next stop was the Golden Mint where Clint had been told the questionable owner of Joe’s stable hung out. It did not take long for Clint to spot his next target. Claude Johnson was an overweight, over-dressed, pushy gent. Clint noticed at least two gunmen that seemed to be watching over him. The back table gambling group was out of Clint’s dress code. The thing to do now was to observe and learn as much as possible about this man and his method of operation. Three days of circulating in and out of the Golden Mint and other cafés and saloons built up a picture of this man in Clint’s mind.

Claude Johnson had arrived in Santa Fe five or six years earlier with obvious money. He had purchased a good size ranch outside of town and also a couple of small businesses in town. He always had two or three guards near him. A few shop owners hinted that Mr. Johnson may have used his guards as muscle forcing a below-market sales price for the businesses he purchased. In addition, at least two different people expressed the opinion that Claude Johnson had taken ownership of Joe Black’s stable. The Mexican Army had left in a hurry leaving Joe Black behind, so these local shop owners thought that by rights of occupancy, Joe should own the stable and blacksmith equipment. The rumor had it that Mr. Johnson had presented a paper to the land office giving him title, but this paper didn’t show up until several years after Mr. Johnson had moved into the area.

A visit to the land office provided Clint a big jolt. Posted on the inside wall were several notices of land disputes. One of those notices identified title to the Rio Pecos land being challenged by Claude Johnson. A survey by one of the railroad companies was cited as the source for challenging the title held by Brad Mason and Cliff Martinez.

The land title challenge had only been submitted within the past two weeks. A 60-day public posting of the dispute was required before a hearing could be held. The challenging party would then make its case before the land office staff. If there was merit in the challenge, then a public hearing would be held before the territory judge. The old Spanish land grants were being challenged frequently. The courts seemed to be supporting the eastern settlers rather than the old Spanish families. The original huge land grant holdings were gradually being torn apart or at least reduced in size.

Clint knew that his land had been surveyed and recorded. If a new survey was being used to challenge the boundaries, that new survey was probably a fraud. It would take some time to track down and uncover this shady deal. Besides, it was going to be extra tough because his brother Brad knew nothing of this entire land deal and then complicating matters even more was Clint’s double identity.

The signatures on both Joe Black’s stable title work and Rio Pecos land were the same. Claude Johnson was the proposed owner of both with the same three witnesses. Clint copied down the names of the witnesses, and the surveyor.

The surveyor’s name had a familiar ring. He had been on another survey crew when Clint was doing survey work. Most of the survey group was crooked and greedy. In fact, it was that surveyor’s greed that had given Clint the chance to acquire his vast track of land. Solving this problem was going to be tricky. If his true identity was discovered through the tie to his brother Brad, he could be jailed on the old arrest warrant.

Clint’s appearance had changed so much from a small, wiry 16-year-old with a hot temper to a mature, solidly-built and tall body. It was unlikely that his young enemies would recognize him by sight. However, a link by name or association would be more likely.

It was the fifth day before Clint spotted some of the Rio Pecos people at the market square. He kept his distance, but was on the lookout for any problems. It looked like his people were doing a brisk business. In fact they might complete their trading before the sheep even arrived. The whole group was having a great time without knowing that the ranch they were depending on was under a challenge for ownership. If Clint could have it work his way, that problem would be solved before it ever confronted them.

The banker, Mr. Jenson, would have to be contacted to see if Claude Johnson had made any claims against his ranch. This meant that changing back into his business suit would increase the risk of being identified. He had moved all his clothes out of the stable loft room the last time he stayed. Joe Black did not seem to pay any attention to his comings and goings. It appeared that Joe was having problems of his own. So, Clint moved his stuff back into the stable loft.

The meeting with Mr. Jenson went well. No claim had yet been made against the ranch. This suggested to Clint that Johnson was trying to slip his new survey through without anyone noticing. If the hearings could be held without dispute, very likely the land title office would accept the new survey and transfer title.

Clint made another handsome bank deposit. His behind the scenes gathering of information from saloon to saloon was very profitable. His skill at cards, the lack of any good competition and lots of available cash made for big winnings and little notice. Each table take was small and he moved often.

Twice he spotted some of his Mexican guards, but wasn’t recognized by them. The young guards were much too interested in the young ladies to focus on a common hide-trader.

His daily inspection of the campsite finally paid off. The sheep herd arrived at last, and the slaughter and meat processing were all completed.

Clint stepped up his surveillance because the money and supplies were mounting. This often brought out the crooks. He was pleased with the improvement in his young guards. They had increased their presence and alertness. The young men were an impressive sight, with their black saddles trimmed with silver, fancy guns and excellent horses. They had broken and trained some of Clint’s best stock and took pride in showing them off. Hopefully, this show of force would be enough to ward off the usual lazy bandit. It may also serve the Rio Pecos traders well that word was spreading about anyone who messed with these people often disappearing or dying. A mysterious protector seemed to be looking over the people from Rio Pecos.

When Clint was satisfied that his people were as well protected as possible in the lawless territory, he got back to addressing the legal challenge to his land ownership. The most direct way would be to assassinate Claude Johnson. While this had a certain appeal to Clint, it also pricked a little of his ruthless nature.

Although Mr. Johnson had made a lot of enemies with his unethical dealings and his overly flamboyant manner, it might bring suspicions back to Rio Pecos as a clear beneficiary of his death. Clint called forth a little more patience and deliberation out of his soul. If Claude Johnson had heard the rumors about the protection afforded the Rio Pecos Compound, then maybe a stern warning would get him to back off. Sending a note to Johnson stating the facts of the true survey and a warning of dire consequences was a good idea. This warning, if ignored, would clear Clint’s conscience if he had to take more drastic measures.

If Clint could get the message to Johnson while the Rio Pecos young guns were still in town, it might have more effect. The problem of this idea was that his Mexican guards would not be aware of the pressure their presence might put on Claude Johnson. This could place his guards at greater risk if Johnson was not bluffed. Clint would need to be present when Johnson opened the note so he could read his face and reaction. Clint’s superior skill in reading people would be very critical. If Johnson decided to take action, he might have his many guards take out the young Mexican protectors.

Clint prepared the note and made his way to the Golden Mint Saloon. Claude Johnson sat at his favorite table where the dealer always provided him the same seat. This group was made-up of ranch owners, businessmen and well-dressed gamblers. It was not a table that a poorly-dressed working-class Mexican could join. However, if Clint wanted to watch the body language and facial expressions, Claude needed to receive his note during the card game. Clint watched the game for over an hour before an idea presented itself. Claude Johnson always had a barmaid bring him a shot of rye whiskey after every hour of play. His special bottle was brought on a tray and the shot was poured in front of him. It was somewhat a show of style and very much an arrogant display of wealth and power. You could tell that Johnson was a little sweet on the very pretty young barmaid, who was the only one that served him.

The trick was to get the note onto that tray in a way that Johnson would notice it. It had to pass the barmaid’s inspection until the drink was served. Clint had noticed that the bartender used little folded cards to send out bar bills to special guests. A quick slip-of-hand by Clint secured one of the cards to the tray with the note inside.

As the waitress moved through the saloon headed to the rear table, a slight bump and the card was on the tray without anyone noticing. Then, Clint casually moved to a good vantage point. The process worked beautifully. Johnson opened the card and took out the note. As he read it, a look of alarm and fright showed ever so slightly across his poker face. He played one more hand, and then excused himself. This was followed by a brief conversation with the barmaid. Her protests of innocence were apparent even from Clint’s distance. The following discussion with the bartender was much longer, and it led to a scan of the saloon searching for a guilty face. Clint was passed over without much attention. Soon, Johnson’s guards joined him and they left the saloon.

The bartender was giving the barmaid the third degree when Clint slipped out the side door of the saloon. He suspected that Johnson had posted watchmen outside to identify anyone leaving in a hurry or acting suspiciously. Clint moved into the shadows and waited. His eyes adjusted to the dark, then he slowly moved to inspect his escape route. The guard on the back alley was not very attentive. He was smoking, so a cigarette glow was visible, plus Clint could smell the smoke. The lookout was restless and moving around a lot. This made it easy for Clint to sneak up on him and lay the butt of his gun upside his head. Johnson’s man dropped like a rock. The sound did not bring anyone, so Clint stripped the man of his belt and gun, then slipped on down the alley to the stable.

After stowing the downed guard’s gun and gear, he then moved up to Main Street to monitor the movement of Johnson and his men. There must have been six or seven heavily armed men moving up and down Main Street looking for trouble. Clint had hoped that the note would cause Johnson to pull back and be more cautious. It may have had the opposite effect. Clint did notice that no law officers were in on the search, so apparently Johnson had not reported the threat to the sheriff’s office.

It wasn’t long before two gun hands came to the stable and rousted out Joe Black. They wanted to know if anyone had taken their horses out in the past hour. The men were rather rough on Joe as they looked throughout the stable. One of them climbed into the loft and busted into Clint’s room. He slapped Clint around a little, mostly out of frustration. Clint took the roughing-up like a coward and the gunman left.

When Clint climbed down out of the loft, Joe was apologizing to him for the trouble. Joe and Clint had a little laugh between them over the poor job the gunmen had done on them. They joked that they had been hit harder by angry women than these lightweight troublemakers.

After a few hours, Johnson and eight riders pulled out of town. Clint could tell the one he had crowned was still shaky. Two of his crew had to help him onto his horse. Johnson’s face was a picture of disgust over the fruitless exercise.

Clint would trail this group out of town for a ways to make sure they were headed back to their own ranch. The next couple of days would probably give Johnson enough time to either cool off or plan a counterattack. Once Clint was sure the Johnson crew was headed home, he returned to the stable. Since Joe knew the people from the last trip when he had repaired the Kansas settler’s wagons, he was asked to go out to the Rio Pecos campsite to alert everyone about possible trouble. Clint then packed enough gear to camp out near the Johnson Ranch. The pine-tree covered mountains up above the ranch complex would give a good vantage point for his spyglass.

On the second day of spying on the ranch complex, he spotted some activity. Clint counted ten armed riders headed back to Santa Fe. This could be Johnson’s response, so Clint had to get around Santa Fe and in position to help at the Rio Pecos group’s campsite. His traders had brought women, children and old people for this major trading get-together. Clint must prevent disaster from falling on these good, unsuspecting people.

Clint positioned himself about half a mile from the campsite. He selected a good bluff with a well-worn horse trail for rapid escape, but also a clear view of the paths leading up to the traders’ campsite. Joe Black must have gotten the word to the Rio Pecos people, for the guards were out on the perimeter. Then he spotted Joe Black. He had stayed with the camp and was doing his job of repairing wagons, greasing wheels, and checking horseshoes.

The Johnson riders were only a couple of hours behind Clint. They were spotted about a mile away. He could tell that the raiding party was sending out two scouts out front. This would give Clint enough time to move around behind the Johnson riders as they waited for the report from their scouts. Clint had moved in rather close by the time the two scouts reported back to the other riders.

Clint could not hear the discussion, but a plan was being drawn out on the ground with everyone circled around. The group then broke up into three parts. Two riders headed out on either side of the traders camp and six men tied their horses and started sneaking on foot toward the camp. It would take these men at least 30 minutes to reach their goal. If Clint could warn the camp when the men on foot were about halfway there and coming without their horses, his outlying Mexican guards should be able to control the four bandits that were moving in on the sides. And then, it would be time to deal with the six men on foot. Clint was amazed that this group of would-be killers did not leave a guard on their horses. Clint slipped up to the tied horses, dropped off their saddles and turned them loose. Then, it took only two warning shots to scatter the horses and alert the camp. Clint heard some immediate gunfire as he moved to higher ground. Reaching a ledge, his spyglass was able to spot two loose saddle horses without riders. Additional gunfire was coming from the far right of the camp. Then Clint could see the two Johnson riders trying to escape the gunfire of three Mexican guards. They did not make it.

The six men on foot were backtracking toward where they had left their horses.

This would be some long shooting for Clint, but a few shots should hold the retreating gunmen. Clint was just about to squeeze off a shot when he saw two more of his Mexican guards circling around the six men on foot. The six Johnson men sprayed a few shots toward the two riders and were answered with a barrage of gunfire from all sides. Only two of the six men were standing when the smoke cleared. Clint looking on from his hidden vantage point could see that his guards had everything under control. No need to interfere or even be recognized. He sneaked back to town and retreated to his loft.

He would just wait to see what stories were spun about the ill-planned raid and the heroic defense put up by the Rio Pecos Compound people. It didn’t take long for the Mexican guards to bring in the two captured gunmen and turn them over to the Territory Marshall’s office.

When Joe got back to the livery stable, the story he told was already beginning to grow. Not only was it reported that more than a dozen armed men attacked the Rio Pecos campsite, but no mention of the fact that over half the men had been on foot and that the camp had been forewarned and was waiting for the attackers.

Joe also told Clint that one of the men that had roughed Clint and Joe up was among those killed. Clint observed a bit of satisfaction in Joe’s face. At least there was occasional justice in the world.

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