OLD BILL – 4 of 6

Well, he’d got hisself away from the Ute war party, but with only his rifle, one beaver trap, and the clothes on his back. As he headed west into the foothills, Old Bill considered his situation. He was moving into the snow, not away from it, and the cold was devilish fierce. The wind howled into his face, bringing dampness with it. No one but a fool would head into this storm, toward the peaks, ’stead of down. He hoped the Utes would think so, anyways.

He gripped his rifle, resettled the trap looped over his shoulder, and lowered his head, battered hat tilted against the wind. And he’d thought he’d been cold before he entered that valley. He began to climb steadily, careful to conserve his energy, his long legs eating the mountainside.

When he finally stopped to rest, he could see nothing below but blowing whiteness.

from Moreno Valley Sketches


Black Jack Ketchum Plays His Last Hand

On July 16, 1899, bullets began raining down on Black Jack Ketchum’s Turkey Creek Canyon hideout west of Cimarron, New Mexico Territory, and the outlaw began the last hand in his life’s game of cards.

Two years earlier, Ketchum and his gang had barricaded a cave in the upper reaches of the canyon with logs and built a corral nearby for their horses, in case they needed a hideout, which seemed highly likely. Black Jack had been a brutal teenager with a penchant for malicious activities like burning Hispano sheepherders’ camps and he’d grown into an outlaw with a taste for theft, women, and gambling, hence the name “Black Jack.”  In fact, shortly after they’d constructed their Turkey Creek Canyon hideout in 1897, Black Jack and his buddies hit Cimarron’s gambling halls, with Black Jack losing heavily the night before they ventured out to hold up their first Colorado and Southern train near Folsum, New Mexico.

Two years later, Ketchum and his gang robbed another Colorado and Southern train near Folsum, then made a run for Turkey Creek Canyon. But a sheriff’s posse tracked them down and opened fire the morning of July 16. In the ensuing conflict, the sheriff and two posse members were killed, Black Jack’s brother Sam was fatally wounded, and gang member William McGinnis was injured.

Black Jack escaped, but not for long.  He was arrested the following month in Union County, New Mexico. The trial and then the plans for the hanging took a while, but in April 1901, when his hand was truly up.

July 16.illustration.Ketchum hanging photo

However, Ketchum’s death didn’t come easily. Today, he’s remembered in New Mexico as the man who lost his head in a hanging. The Clayton, NM executioner didn’t calculate the rope weight and length correctly and Ketchum had been indulging during his prison stay, adding extra pounds. When the trap door opened, his body swung through but his head was cut off by the rope: A truly grisly way to die.

Sources: Stephen Zimmer, For Good or Bad, People of the Cimarron Country, Sunstone Press, 1999;  Stephen Zimmer and Steve Lewis, It Happened in Cimarron Country, Eagle Trail Press, 2013.


OLD BILL – 3 of 6

At dusk, Old Bill wrapped himself in a buffalo robe and lay quiet against the skin wall of the Ute lodge. This weren’t no hunting party, if he savvied correct. They were layin’ in wait for somethin’ and it weren’t other Injuns, to his thinking. He wasn’t exactly a captive, but Three Hands had made it clear he should stay in camp.

He’d been wandering these parts long enough to have picked up a smattering of Ute lingo. What he’d overheard made him think there were Mexican soldiers headed thisaway. From Taos, mebbe, though it was a darn fool time of year to be comin’ from that direction.

He studied his situation. He didn’t blame the Utes for their plans. It was their country, after all. Theirs and the Taos Injuns. But he didn’t want to be caught in the middle of it neither. He eased out of the robe.

from Moreno Valley Sketches

OLD BILL – 2 of 6

He entered the Ute camp warily, one hand on the mules’ lead rope, his rifle in the other. A man rose and came forward. Old Bill snorted a laugh. “Three Hands!” he said. “I done found you!”

The man studied him. “You searched for me?”

“Well, not ’xactly. But I sure am glad t’ find you.”

Three Hands nodded. “You are cold.”

“Warmer now than I was,” Old Bill said. “This is quite a little valley you have here.”

“Not so little.” Three Hands gestured to the south. “More below.”

“Sure am glad I stumbled in,” Old Bill said. “I was nigh to freezin’ comin’ over Bobcat Pass.”

The other man looked at the mules. “You trap?”

“I was, but the beavers are iced in nasty hard this winter. Can’t get at ’em.”

“The signs say the cold will continue.”

“That how come you’re here?”

Three Hands smiled noncommitally.

from Moreno Valley Sketches

Baldy Town Celebrates the 4th of July

On July 4, 1871, up-and-coming lawyer Melvin Whitson Mills delivered the Independence Day oration at Baldy, the center of gold mining activity on the east side of Baldy Mountain north of Ute Park, New Mexico Territory. The celebrations included a parade of 500 people marching to a grove of trees outside town. There, the local newspaper editor read the United States Declaration of Independence and Mills, the young lawyer and would be politician who had so ably defended serial killer Charles Kennedy a year and a half before, delivered a “spread eagle” oration. A formal dance ended the day.

Although there were those who weren’t impressed that Mills had almost succeeded in rescuing Kennedy from the hangman’s noose, he was respected enough in the county to be elected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1873 as well as various other municipal, county, and Territorial positions. Along with his legal practice and his connections to the Santa Fe Ring, these activities gave Mills the financial ability by the end of the decade to construct a handsome three-story mansard-roofed home in Springer which was known throughout the territory for its more than twenty rooms and its maple interior trim. He also owned a large ranch outside in eastern Colfax County, where he raised cattle and planted the fruit trees that can still be seen in what is now Mills Canyon.

July 4 illustration.Mills house

Sources: Bainbridge Bunting, Of Earth and Timbers Made: New Mexico Architecture, UNM Press, 1974; Loretta Miles Tollefson, The Pain and the Sorrow, Sunstone Press, 2017; Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and his era, U of Arizona Press, 1973.

Etown’s Moreno Hotel Opens With Elegant Dinner

On Wednesday, July 1, 1868, the newly constructed Moreno Hotel opened in Elizabethtown, New Mexico with a dinner for 83 guests, and Etown congratulated itself on its prosperity. The hotel was a living symbol of how far the town had come since its gold-mine camp beginnings early the previous year. This inaugural dinner was served on “the finest china in the territory” and accompanied by bottles of Mumm’s Dry Imperial Champagne. The hotel was nicely located on 3rd Street between Broadway and Washington and would have had a fine view of Baldy Mountain on the eastern side of the valley as well as the various gold mining claims on the Moreno Creek in the valley directly below the town.

July 1 illustration.Mumm champagne label

It’s not clear who owned the Moreno when it opened, but two months later, it passed into the hands of Augusta Forbes, a German-born woman who, when she divorced her runaway husband the following spring, was granted the right to revert to her maiden name of Augusta Meinert as well ownership of the hotel and “all the personal property, household, and kitchen furniture now on the premises.”

Meinert operated the hotel for about four and a half years. She remarried in late December 1872 and formally handed off the Moreno to her new husband, Chancy Storey a month later. She seems to have retired from active involvement in running the business at that point, because she’s listed as a housewife in the June 1880 census while Chancy is listed as a hotel keeper, presumably of the enterprise that had such an elegant beginning twelve years before.

Sources: Colfax County Real Estate records, 1868-1888; U.S. Census Data, Colfax County, New Mexico Territory, 1870 and 1880.

IT’S HERE!!!!!!

I’m pleased to announce that my new novel The Pain and The Sorrow is already in print! This is the story of New Mexico Territory’s serial killer Charles Kennedy and his teenage wife, the girl who endured years of his abuse before finally reporting his nefarious activities to the authorities. Pain and Sorrow cover.framedOrder it from your favorite bookseller or online! Here are two online sources: Amazon, Barnes and Noble.