The half-grown pup had followed Old Pete and the mule from the Ute Indian encampment down-canyon. It was a gangly thing, large for an Indian dog, with dirt-matted curly black hair. Pete looked at it in disgust as it half-crouched at his feet.
“Damned if the thing ain’t smilin’,” Pete muttered. He poked the dog’s side with his foot. “You a doe or a buck?” The animal rolled over obligingly, paws in the air. “Buck.” Pete toed it again. “Well, you won’t last long, I expect. Be runnin’ off to the first camp with a bitch in heat.” He turned and twitched the mule’s lead rope. “Giddup.”
They trailed the Cimarron River up-canyon through the afternoon and settled into camp under an overhanging sandstone boulder as the light began to fade. It was still early: the sunlight went sooner as the canyon walls narrowed. But Old Pete was in no particular hurry and the pup was acting a mite tired.
“Gonna hafta keep up,” Pete told it as he cut pieces of venison off the haunch he’d traded from the Utes. The dog slunk toward the fire and Pete tossed it a scrap. “Too small fer my roaster anyway,” he muttered as he skewered a larger chunk onto a sharpened willow stick and lifted it over the flames.
On April 18, 1867, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Edward Bergmann resigned from a promising military career to become a miner in Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s Baldy Peak mining district. But Bergmann wasn’t just any miner. He was the superintending partner in Lucien Maxwell’s Aztec Mine on the east slopes of Baldy, a venture that would haul out roughly $1.5 million in gold in the first five years of operation. Bergmann’s work there and in other operations was so successful that he was worth $60,000 in real estate by the summer of 1870.
Born in Prussia around 1833, Bergmann had been a 28 year old private in the U.S. Army when the Civil War broke out in 1861, a private who was granted an immediate discharge from his clerking duties at Departmental headquarters in Santa Fe so he could accept a 1st Lieutenant commission in the New Mexico Volunteers.
He rose quickly. By September 1862, Bergmann was a Captain and responsible for rebuilding and resupplying Fort Stanton. By early 1867, he was a Lt. Colonel leading scouting expeditions on the San Juan and Las Animas Rivers.
But news of the gold on Baldy Mountain seems to have roused the mining fever in the Lt. Colonel, because he resigned his commission shortly thereafter and was soon on the ground in Etown and its surrounding mines.
He did well. By 1870, Bergmann owned $60,000 worth of real estate and was secure enough to attract the attention of local belle Augusta Sever, whom he married in December. Over the next fifteen years, he continued his activities in the area, participating in the Spanish Bar mine at the mouth of Grouse Gulch just east of Etown and taking on other roles, including acting as Etown Justice of the Peace during the Colfax County War.
Oddly, Bergmann’s real estate holdings seemed to have diminished to a mere $1,500 by April 1875, when the Territorial property tax assessment was made. However, he’d apparently made some powerful friends by that time, because when the New Mexico Territorial Penitentiary opened in Santa Fe in August 1885, Bergmann was named its first warden, a position he held until at least 1893. He must have gotten the mining fever once again, though, because he died in Colorado’s Bowl of Gold, near Cripple Creek, in 1910.
Augusta Meinert stood firmly in the center of the makeshift courtroom, her eyes on the judge. At thirty-seven, she was still attractive, though the stubborn tilt to her chin said she didn’t often take “no” for an answer.
Judge Watts studied her. “You understand what divorce means?” He spoke slowly, as if unsure her English could withstand the strain of the concept.
Augusta’s chin went up. “I understand no longer the bastard takes the money I earn.” A ripple of suppressed laughter ran through the onlookers behind her. She turned and glared, and the men fell silent.
“You will be a marked woman,” Judge Watts warned. “This isn’t Germany.”
She frowned. “In Germany, he takes my money, and I can do nothing.” She smiled suddenly, her eyes twinkling. “It is why I like America.”
The Judge nodded and gaveled the rough wooden planks of the table before him. “The first divorce in Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, is hereby declared final,” he announced.
On Thursday, April 9, 1868, gold prospector William “Wall” W. Henderson killed a man in Humbug Gulch east of Elizabethtown, New Mexico Territory. Being a law-abiding man, Henderson went to Etown to turn himself into the authorities. The authorities seem to have been fairly weak at the time, because a mob of about eighty men threatened to take matters into their own hands. Fortunately, a messenger was able to reach the Fort Union cavalry troops stationed thirty miles away at Maxwell’s Ranch (today’s Cimarron) in time to request assistance.
A sergeant and ten men travelled up Cimarron canyon overnight to reach Elizabethtown early the next morning and disperse the mob. They took Henderson back to Maxwell’s, out of harm’s way, and the miners went back to work. In fact, things calmed so much that Henderson returned to Elizabethtown and went back to mining. He was still there the following year, when he served as a member of the petit jury during the Colfax County District Court’s 1869 Spring session. And he did well financially. By the summer of 1870, Henderson had amassed $5,000 in real estate.
That year, he also stood security for Charles Kennedy’s bond to appear before the Fall Court response to embezzlement and assault charges. Ironically, Kennedy himself would be lynched by an Etown mob later that fall, following accusations that he’d killed and robbed a series of men at his cabin about ten miles south of Humbug Gulch.
Sources: Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Leo E. Oliva, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, 1993; 1870 Colfax County Census, Etown precinct; New Mexico Territory District 1 Court Records, 1869 through 1870.
Judge Palen flattened his palms against the rough wooden table that served as the Court bench and scowled at Sheriff Calhoun. “Are you telling me that you called twenty-one men for jury duty and only seven showed up?”
Calhoun was a big man, but he fingered the broad-brimmed hat in his hands like a schoolboy. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, go get fourteen more.”
The Sheriff nodded, turned, and crossed the creaking wooden floor.
Palen turned his attention to his seven potential jury members. “All right,” he said. “Now how many of you are going to have good excuses for not fulfilling your civic duty?”
Three of them sheepishly raised their hands. Palen nodded to his court clerk to begin taking their excuses and closed his eyes. And he’d thought this appointment as Chief Justice of New Mexico Territory and Judge of its First Judicial District was a logical step up from postmaster of Hudson, New York. He suppressed a sigh. How he missed the broad sweep of the river, the bustle of the town’s port. He grimaced and opened his eyes. Only four jurymen left. Damn this town, anyway. The whole of New Mexico Territory, for that matter.
Friday, April 1 was the first day of the Spring 1870 Court session in Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, and Judge Joseph G. Palen must have thought someone had pulled an April Fool’s joke on him. At the end of the 1869 Fall session, he’d made three local men responsible for selecting jurors for the Spring term, but it hadn’t done much good. Only six of the identified grand jury members had showed up, so the Judge ordered Sheriff Andrew J. Calhoun to bring in 15 more potential jurors. Which he did but eleven of them had excuses. The 57-year-old Harvard-educated Judge Palen must have wished he’d never accepted President Ulysses S. Grant’s offer to promote him from Hudson, New York postmaster to Chief Justice of the New Mexico Territorial Court and therefore Judge of the Territory’s First District, which included Colfax County.
Something similar had happened at the beginning of the Fall 1869 session, Judge Palen’s first in Colfax County, and he’d thought he’d solved the problem by giving E.B. Dennison, Benjamin F. Houx, and John Sutton the task of ensuring there’d be enough jurors for the Spring Session. But even their fellow citizens couldn’t corral the miners and ranchers of Colfax County to do their civic duty.
Late that day, the Sheriff finally brought in enough men to fill out the grand jury panel, none of them with reasons strong enough excuse them from the task. However, Palen still had no petit jury members. It was the morning of Tuesday, April 5 before he had both panels in place. Which wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, except that the court session was scheduled to end on Saturday, April 9. There wasn’t much time to address the over 70 separate actions that came before the court during the week-long Spring 1870 session.
Dusk was falling on the back country road. The old car rattled on the washboard surface. Susan was driving, giving Carl a break. It had been a long and discouraging day. A shadow moved across the road ahead of her and she slowed. Carl opened his eyes.
“I thought I saw a deer,” she told him. “Up there on the left.”
He leaned forward, scanning the bank. “Stop a minute,” he said. “Look right there, next to the big ponderosa.”
She braked and looked, blinked and looked again. “That’s not a deer,” she whispered.
He shook his head. “It’s a cat. A big one.”
“A cougar,” she said. “Awesome.” And then there was nothing to see but shadows, rocks, and trees.