Rio Pecos Compound: Chapter 10.

23 Jul
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 10.

Client knew that the surveyor that had falsified those papers for Claude Johnson against the Rio Pecos Compound must be found or this problem could rise up again. The railroad had set up a field office in Santa Fe, but their main front line office was up near the Raton Pass and another one was in a trail town called Las Vegas. It only took a couple of days of observing the Santa Fe office to identify some railroad workers and join them at cards. Clint soon learned that the chief surveyor was named Charlie Atkinson. His office was in the big, new hotel that had just been completed in Las Vegas. It became rather clear that these field survey workers did not trust or care for their top man. Atkinson never went into the field himself. He often changed the field notes and then the field crews would be sent back out to change their placement of survey monuments. Atkinson spent lots of money, too much for the salary that a railroad or government surveyor could earn. His lavish lifestyle and association with the rich landholders was not missed by these hardworking field crews. Clint learned that Atkinson frequently came to Santa Fe to meet with Claude Johnson. The field surveyors were sure that Atkinson and Johnson were long-time friends from back east, maybe St. Louis.

The construction of the westward rail lines had reached Abilene, Kansas. Stockyards were being built there near the rail head. Train service from St. Louis and Chicago to Abilene was anticipated by next year. Clint had heard a rumor from one of the Bond Ranch workers that Sr. Bond was planning a big sheep drive to Abilene next summer. The price for wool, hides, and mutton was expected to be almost double what the merchants were paying in Durango.

Clint hung around Santa Fe keeping a lookout for Atkinson. He was hoping to see the meeting between Johnson and Atkinson. It was not yet clear that Johnson had completely given up his quest to acquire the Rio Pecos Ranch. Johnson’s loss of so many men during the raid on the Rio Pecos trading camp would have stopped most land-grabbers. Soon afterwards, Johnson had been able to get two of his men out of jail. No one from Rio Pecos had come to testify about the raid, so the judge had dismissed the case. Clint noticed several new gun hands around Mr. Johnson every time he appeared in Santa Fe. These could be just replacements. Mr. Johnson’s gunmen were having a rather bad year.

The latest two that had disappeared were the ones sent to move Joe Black out of the livery stable. Mr. Johnson knew that his men had done their job because Joe had been laid up for over a week. The blacksmith did eventually pack up and leave Santa Fe, but the two gunmen had not been seen again.

Johnson’s men now ran the stable and the Mexican hide-trader had been run out of his loft room above the stable. These kind of stories circulated around and they served Clint’s needs just fine. There was no need to correct the tales with facts.

He found a run-down shack with stable stalls on the edge of town. The owner was more than glad to rent it for a year. It was so rough that no one else would live in it. The shack and Clint’s hide-trader appearance fit perfectly.

A little carpenter work, new bedding and security locks made the place just right for his needs. The horse stalls and lot opened onto a back alley, whereas the front of the house was on a narrow, winding street… not much more than a dirt path.

Clint was loafing near the general store when one of the surveyor workers passed him accompanying well-dressed gentlemen. This had to be Charlie Atkinson, the chief surveyor from the Las Vegas office. Clint hurried around the back streets so he could be in position to watch the meeting between Johnson and Atkinson. He would get as close as he dared. Even if he could not hear the conversation, watching their faces would help.

So, Clint filled himself a plate of food, grabbed a beer and then joined a table of three other working-type men. One man was even dirtier than Clint and smelled worse, too, so Clint fit right in. It was almost an hour before Atkinson came into the saloon and headed straight to Johnson’s special table. During the hour of waiting, Clint had traded seats a couple of times. His position now gave him an excellent view of Johnson’s table. Clint bought his table a round of beer. This would keep the table members in place. None of these working men would think of leaving a free beer.

The meeting between Johnson and Atkinson looked very serious. Johnson had asked the other players at his table to leave and to give him some privacy. While the discussion was way too low for Clint to hear anything, their expressions were serious and grew mean looking. Claude Johnson was shaking his head no several times as Atkinson would lean into the conversation, apparently asking Johnson for something or for him to do something. Clint could see some fear and some anger in Johnson’s face. Atkinson’s face was not as visible, but he was definitely pushing the agenda. Clint could tell the meeting was nearing its end, so he slowly moved out. He wanted to see how many men were with these two, and try to memorize their looks.

Clint counted at least eight men acting as guards for Johnson and Atkinson. Four of the eight were locals that he had seen with Johnson before. The other four were new faces. At least two of these new faces were definitely experienced gun hands given their expensive gear. They had the look of confident bodyguards, a step up from the gunmen that Johnson had been hiring. Charlie Atkinson must have enough money or backing to put on such a show, and have Johnson cater to him. Johnson was a powerful man in Santa Fe circles.

Atkinson and Johnson went to Santa Fe’s best hotel near the market square. The guards spread out around the hotel. The two top guns were inside with Atkinson. It was difficult for Clint to stand watch on the hotel being so close to the market square. A lot of his people were still trading and buying supplies around the square.

The next observation spot for Clint would be the land office. If Atkinson and Johnson were continuing their pursuit of the Rio Pecos ranch, they would probably come there to verify their claim against the ranch. It was almost noon the next day before Atkinson went to the land office. He was in the office for only a very short period of time. The look on his face as he came out was that of an unhappy man. His stride was deliberate and angry as he returned to the hotel, two top guns by his sides all the way.

Clint did notice that one of Atkinson’s other guards had been posted up the street from the land office. This gent was probably told to report anyone going in or out of the land title recording office. Clint would like to know if a new notice had been posted at the land office, but the risk was too high to look now.

Clint’s check on the traders’ camp revealed that his people were packing up for their trip back to Rio Pecos. From his distant perch and with his spyglass, he could see that everyone was in good spirits, wagons loaded and all the sheep sold. Just to be cautious, he would watch over the wagon train until it passed through the Gloriata Pass, and then come back to monitor this Atkinson fellow.

Over the next couple of days, Clint made the rounds to Johnson’s ranch overlook, then back to the Golden Mint saloon, including a check on Atkinson’s bodyguards near the market square hotel. Johnson and Atkinson had settled into a regular routine of big eating, gambling and pretty women. They had either decided to forget the Rio Pecos deal or they were entertaining themselves as they waited for something or some else.

The lookout for the land office finally abandoned his post. This gave Clint a chance to slip inside for a quick inspection.

Clint wasn’t surprised to see an updated notice referencing a new survey by Charlie Atkinson. The claim stated that the original survey of five years ago had been in error, thus the major portion of the land deeded to Brad Mason and Cliff Martinez was not valid. This new survey had the buildings and water well area of Rio Pecos Compound belonging to Claude Johnson and company. The registered land surveyor, Charlie Atkinson, would personally have to testify at the land office hearings next month. Clint’s task would be to prevent Atkinson’s testimony. The word from the survey workers had Atkinson returning to Las Vegas to retrieve the new survey documents, plus a copy of the old mistaken survey. This claim that his old survey was located in Las Vegas was probably the heart of the fraud. Clint knew his real land survey was filed with the Santa Fe land office.

Clint decided that a trip to Las Vegas was the best course of action. If it came down to a confrontation between him and Atkinson, it would be better if it was outside of Santa Fe. Clint would take two horses. That would put him in Las Vegas a couple of days ahead of Atkinson and his guards. Clint took two completely different dress outfits, plus two saddles and gear. He might have to play more than one role to protect his identity in Santa Fe.

The trip north on the Santa Fe Trail went swiftly and without a hitch. He avoided three freight loads headed south as well as several groups of riders. He had taken only enough time on the trail to detour to his ranch house to switch horses and get some extra clothing. He slipped in and out quietly, but two of his Mexican guards revealed themselves. They reported that everything was under control at the compound. Even the blacksmith had arrived.

Clint arrived in Las Vegas early in the afternoon wearing the dress and gear of a wealthy rancher. That gave him time to locate Atkinson’s office. If he could get inside the office and scout out the layout before Atkinson arrived, maybe he could develop a plan. He would make conversation about the future of the railroad and its route through the area south of Las Vegas. The two office workers were very eager to present their plans to Clint. They were showing off some independence with Atkinson out of the office. A question about the Mora land grant and the availability of land for sale prompted them to display a large map. Clint could see several corrections on the southern boundary. These surveys were very familiar to Clint, because he had worked on them five years earlier. The land south of the Mora grant was now identified as the C. Johnson and Company holdings with B. Mason crossed off. Clint then saw the footnote he was looking for; a survey notebook number and date.

Bound survey notebooks were the official records. They were usually cross-referenced by map coordinates, dates of survey and book number. Clint identified the two books that would tell the story; his original survey five years ago, and the new survey book that was completed just last year. The office worker then pulled out a larger map that covered the area between Las Vegas and Raton Pass. He proudly pointed out some land that was available for sale. Mr. Atkinson would be back in a couple of days. He would be the contact if Clint wanted to buy land up that way. Clint acted very interested and took some notes about directions and landmarks. He let the office help believe that he was going up there to look over the area. While Clint was busy looking over the Raton area maps, some angry ranchers came into the survey office. This left Clint alone with the maps during the heated discussion with the five ranchers. The ranchers were contending that they had bought some land from Sr. Bond four years ago. The title was being challenged so they wanted to see the original survey. The office staff unlocked the big glass case that held the original survey books. They pulled the two books that covered the two different dates the ranchers were complaining about.

Clint could clearly see the new book that covered his revised land area survey. When the group was in a very intense discussion with everyone bent over the other table in the next room, Clint did a swift shuffle of books and removed three. Clint then saw two older survey books lying on a side table along with one new book. A quick look showed him that another fraud was being prepared. Clint put these books back into the glass case and left one of the other books on the side work table.

When he excused himself, the office workers only looked up briefly from their heated discussion. He promised to come back if the land up north looked any good. Then he headed north out of town. After a short distance, he pulled off the road and circled around the town to where he had left his other horse. A change of clothes and horse made a completely different man out of Clint. He then moved to a position to watch the trail from the south and the survey office.

If he could find out what land dispute these ranchers were having, maybe their problem could mask his plan. It was almost sundown when the ranchers came stomping out of the survey office. It must have been quitting time because the office workers locked up and left almost immediately after. The angry ranchers headed down the street to a large café that was attached to a hotel. Clint made his way down from his lookout perch and entered the café. He picked a small table beside the men he had seen at the survey office. They did not give him any notice. He was just another dusty trail hand.

Their discussion was no trouble to follow. They were both angry and loud. Someone was trying to steal the land they had purchased from the Bond land grant. They even openly threatened to burn down the survey office. Two more men came over to the large table to join in on the discussion. Everyone was in agreement that something was crooked about land dealing in this region. It was clear that most of these men had planned on getting rich when the railroads purchased the right-of-way through their ranches. The problem was identifying who was behind this fraud. The railroads could be ripping off everyone, the government land grant surveyors could be crooked, or even the big Spanish land grant holders could be double dealing. This open display of anger would be the perfect cover for Clint to make a raid on the survey office.

Late that night, Clint broke into the survey office and ransacked the place. A selection of survey books was taken, mostly those that covered the lands of the angry ranchers. It had to look like a revenge raid by that group so that Clint’s missing survey book would just be lost along with the others. The last piece of the puzzle was the dropping of a couple of the rancher’s survey books in the livery stable where the ranchers were keeping their horses.

Clint headed back to Rio Pecos. If this did not derail Atkinson and Johnson, then a more drastic action would be forthcoming.

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