Chapter 1



I, James York, was the son of one of the richest, most aristocratic families in England in 1874. Unfortunately for me, I was the second son, and, under the rules of primogeniture, only the first born son could inherit the family estates. On the other hand, I was fortunate that I was well loved, both by parents and siblings, and, since there was plenty of money to go around, I never lacked for any advantage of the high-born of England at that time.

I married well to Catherine Smythe, a younger daughter of a family nearly as wealthy. Catherine was very beautiful and devoted to me. To her, I could easily walk on water any time I wished, and she would have tried to do the same at my merest suggestion—I did not have to order!

My only real problem was my ambition. I could not stand to be a member of the idle rich whose only ambition was to be invited to the next royal soiree. I wanted to make something of myself and to be important to society, not just "high society." I was afflicted with intelligence and drive, neither one of which was doing me any good in my present position.

Catherine and I discussed this at length, so many times that we finally reached the mutual conclusion that the only solution was for us to move far away and start life anew. The question was where? I contacted my many friends with overseas connections and finally reduced the choice to three places: Africa, America, or Australia. India was rejected out of hand, and Africa would mean being part of the colonial establishment, which neither Catherine or I found attractive. Australia was rejected by Catherine, because she couldn't face Christmas in the middle of the summer; admittedly a quirk, but there you were. That left America.

Neither of us wanted Canada because of its reputation for harsh winters, so that left the United States. Many Englishmen of our class were moving to "ranches" in western states or territories, so this sounded attractive. I obtained further information and found that a place called New Mexico Territory had the climate and landscape we were looking for. At this time, much of New Mexico was covered with grassland, with some majestic, snow covered mountains for scenery. Admittedly, there was a native population which was somewhat restive, at times, but the US Army was in control of that situation.

As it happened, there was a large ranch for sale in a place called Otero county, wherever that was, in southern New Mexico. The ranch was developed, with a manor house, housing for the workers, and had numerous cattle and land under cultivation. This sounded ideal for our needs, particularly after the agent for the property made a hard sales effort. Catherine and I, for I always included Catherine in any major decision, decided to purchase this property and move there.

Since I was an avid hunter, and Catherine went on occasion just to be with me, we went in to a famous gun dealer in London to purchase hunting weapons. I bought for myself the usual array of double-barrel shotguns in 10 and 12 gauge, and Catherine was fitted with several single-barrel shotguns in 12, 16 and 20 gauge. It was suggested that we wait until reaching America before buying rifles and pistols, since the sales personnel did not know what to recommend.

We were warned to take plenty of riding clothes, since there were few good roads and it was necessary to go most places by horseback. This thrilled Catherine since she loved horses and riding; I often joked with her that she would never get off her horse except to come to bed, if she had her choice.

We packed carefully, everything including my beloved books. There was so much to cull and so much to pack that it took us months. Finally, we were ready to leave. Both families, en mass, came with us to the dock to see us off, knowing that they would probably never see us again.

It was an arduous, even though first-class, trip across the ocean and then across the United States. The final leg of the journey was, indeed, made on horseback, since Catherine insisted that, at this stage, her pregnancy did not warrant riding in a carriage.

We were both thrilled and impressed when we first saw what was now the York ranch. We had spent the previous night in the hotel in the small (to be generous) town of Julesburg, in order to be fresh when we reached our new home. It had taken most of the morning to make the trip from Julesburg, because the route was winding and nowhere straight, and we were both so enthralled by the sights and smells and sounds of our new home, that we continually had to stop to investigate something new.

Catherine, particularly, was much take with the manor house. It was mostly two-story adobe faced with stucco and had a terracotta roof; a typical Spanish-American style structure. The building had so many rooms that she wondered if she would ever get enough furniture for all of them, forgetting that the house was already furnished with the previous owner's effects.

We had hardly arrived when we were met by a stable-boy who came to look after our horses. When we told him who we were, he let out a loud call which brought the ranch foreman and the housekeeper on the run; Sam Hudson and Juanita Alvarez were introduced. Juanita took us on a tour of the house and Sam went back to the corral where they were training some horses.

Juanita gave us a very thorough tour, which took nearly two hours. We finally retired to the breakfast room where we sat at the table and were served coffee. Catherine and I suddenly realized that we would have to get used to coffee; we were going to have trouble getting tea.

I told Juanita that the wagons with our articles from England would arrive this afternoon and I would leave it to her to find places for them. I said that as far as Catherine and I were concerned, Juanita ran the house, we just lived there. Juanita was relieved to hear that; she had been afraid that she would lose her management responsibilities, which she cherished. I left to find Sam while Catherine and Juanita got to know each other.

I found Sam at the corral and inquired what was going on.

Sam said, "Well, Mr. York, we are training our latest crop of young horses for riding. The previous owners found that raising horses was much more profitable than raising cattle, though we still run some of them because it's expected of a ranch."

I replied, "First of all, Sam, please call me James. 'Mr. York' makes me look around for my father. I know nothing about ranching or raising either horses or cattle. I must depend on you to teach me everything you can, so we can keep the York ranch a going concern."

"OK, James, I'll try to remember." Sam said with a grin. "If you like, I will continue to run the ranch as I have, lately, until you are ready to take over. One thing you do have to decide on is will you change the brand? Right now, we use the Circle L brand, but we can easily register a change, if you want to. I would suggest changing to Circle Y; if you wish, I could have new branding irons made up quickly."

"Ah, Sam, I like the sound of Circle Y. Let's make the change as soon as you can. I assume we can still sell the animals branded Circle L without trouble; can't we."

"Yeah, no problem!"

"On another topic. I understand that some of the ranch is under cultivation. Who is responsible for that?"

"I am ultimately responsible, since I am foreman, but Jesus Alvarez, Jaunita's husband, actually supervises that phase of the ranch. At the moment, that is not a very big part of the ranch operation, but it could easily be increased, since horses don't need nearly the range that cattle do."

"I'll find Jesus later. At the moment, if you are not too pressingly involved in something else, could you start my education in being a ranch owner?"


My first meeting in my new office: "Ah, Jesus, I am pleased to meet you."

"Buenas dias, Mr. York. It is my pleasure to serve you. What can I do for you, now?"

"Well, the first thing is to call me James. Whenever I hear 'Mr. York, ' I look around for my father. Other that that, if you have time, I'd like for you to tell me about your activities and plans with the cultivation here on the ranch."

"Yes, Mr... uh James, I will try to remember. I have time to discuss this with you, now.

"We have a few acres planted in alfalfa and oats for the horses. Other than that, we have nothing but Juanita's large garden for food for the house and the workers. Of course, we can make changes in that to anything you would like."

I said, "I would like to diversify into a full range of food crops which I hope to sell. We could start off with local sales, but, once we have the railroad, we could sell anywhere.

"I think the first thing I need to know is which crops would grow well on our ranch."

Jesus replied, "We have a very sandy soil with a virtually waterproof hardpan close to the surface over most of the ranch. This makes the ground hold the water well when there is a covering crop. We have plenty of water in most places, but I have noticed that it is getting scarce in places that once had plentiful water. I think that we could grow almost anything that you wanted to. The real problem is deciding which to try first."

"In that case, let us make a list of the crops that you could most easily manage on a commercial basis. From that list, we can select one or more to try."


That evening, we had supper in the "breakfast room," really an informal dining room. Catherine and I were joined by Sam, Mary, and Bill Hudson and by Jesus, Juanita, and Carmelita Alvarez. The purpose of this meeting was for us to get to know them and to form real friendships. So far, so good; the supper went well and everyone, including the children, appeared to have an enjoyable time. If the others continue to find it agreeable, Catherine and I hope to make this a regular affair. Catherine and I need to find good friends or we will both go mad; we are both used to a lot of social contact.

There were few people near by, except ranch employees. There were a few ranches within convenient riding distance, but only two to which women could safely go without escort, even if they were armed. Julesburg was just too far away for townspeople to be considered. We were very lucky that we met nobody on our first trip to the ranch from Julesburg, for we were both unarmed, out of blissful ignorance—that will never happen again.

That night at supper, I asked Sam for advice about weapons. He suggested that I obtain an Army Colt in .45 caliber for my pistol and a Henry "yellow boy" as my rifle. He said that he could not recommend anything specific for Catherine; she should try several guns to see what she could handle. Mary recommend a .38; that was what she used. After supper, we checked the gun room to see if the previous owner had left anything useful—nothing.

The next day, Sam assigned two men to be our bodyguards while we rode into Julesburg to look for guns. The general store had the .45 Colt and Henry "yellow boy" in stock so I was easily satisfied. His selection of pistols for Catherine was limited, but she purchased a .38 in hopes that it would do. We bought holsters and plenty of ammunition, since we had to learn to shoot our new guns. In deference to Catherine, we ate lunch in a backroom of the saloon and returned home.


Over the next few weeks, we practiced with our new guns until we became familiar with them. Catherine was able to shoot the .38 well enough, but I wondered if she would be able to kill somebody; I had my doubts. I became quite accurate with both of my new weapons, probably as a result of my hunting experience, but I would never become a "quick draw." I was particularly competent with the Henry, which I loved to shoot.

I had occasion to use my newfound shooting skill the next week. Some horses were rustled and Sam, four of our men, and I set off in pursuit. There was no trouble following them; even I could see their tracks. Sam said that he thought they were Mexicans, but he couldn't be certain. He was pretty sure they weren't Indians, because their horses were shod. In any case, we should find out pretty soon. Since we got a early morning start, we had plenty of daylight to use in trailing them.

That afternoon, Sam said that the trail looked fresh enough that he was sure that we would catch up, soon. Not long afterward, we saw dust from what could be a herd of horses, moving fast, but not running. We had been alternating gallop and rest, gallop and rest, so our horses were in reasonably good condition. We slowed to a lope while one of our men moved ahead to scout. He returned to say that those were, indeed, our horses and the thieves were Mexicans. We followed at a safe distance until nearly dark, when the thieves stopped to make camp.

We stopped to rest and eat a cold supper while the thieves settled down. Sam was sure that they had not seen us, so we had a distinct advantage. About midnight, we crept up on their camp and one of our men silenced the lazing guard with his knife. We then spaced ourselves around their camp and shot them as they lay on their blankets. They were dead after only a few shots; Sam checked to be sure. He had the men search the bodies for valuables, and we took their guns and horses. The next morning, we rode away from the camp with our recovered horses. I was feeling proud of myself; I thought that I had comported myself very well.

When we reached home, Sam had the men divide the money from the thieves among themselves; they each got about $12, enough to make the men very happy and incite some jealousy among those who didn't get invited along. After all, $12 was a lot of money in 1875!


Catherine was a bit upset that we had killed the thieves, instead of capturing them. But I pointed out that some of our men might have been hurt if we had tried for a capture. Furthermore, the thieves would have been hanged as soon as we got them back to the ranch. There was no question of their guilt, and conviction for horse steeling carried a death sentence. Catherine calmed down a bit at this explanation, but I could tell that she still had her doubts. Oh, well, she would learn, eventually.


Jesus had planted several acres of different vegetables as experimental plots. They all did well, in fact, better than we had expected. There appeared to be no animals or insects present which preyed on our plants, so we had no losses from that cause. Despite a short growing season because of the very late start, we had good yields; I had thoughts of two crops per season.

We had no trouble selling our surplus in Julesburg, so I knew that we could sell everything we could grow in Alamogordo, if we could just get it there. Wagons would work, but the railroad would be even better. Unfortunately, Julesburg was not connected yet. I consulted with Jesus and Cathrine and decided to put in large crops of desirable vegetables in the spring and try hauling them to Alamogordo for sale. If all worked as I expected, we would reap quite a profit.


We had settled into a comfortable routine at York ranch since we had arrived in June of 1875. Catherine and I were very happy with what we had accomplished in these first few months. I thought it was time to start planning (worrying!) about Catherine's pregnancy. There were no doctors for many miles; so what could we do if Catherine had problems with the delivery? I was told to relax; Juanita, the housekeeper, was a competent midwife and could handle any emergency.

Here it was, November, and the baby would be due any time. I fretted and carried on, but Catherine and Juanita were so calm that it was maddening. At last, Catherine announced that her labor pains had started! She was in labor for sixteen hours and I was in agony for that whole time. Sam and Jesus stayed with me, being sympathetic as needed, but encouraging me the whole time. Finally, the baby was born, a girl. We named her Victoria and the whole ranch celebrated with us.

We were euphoric for about two weeks, then tragedy struck! For some reason known only to God, Victoria suddenly turned blue and died! Juanita tried everything she could, but it was too late! Nothing more could be done; Victoria was gone! Catherine and I were devastated, but life went on whether we liked it or not. Juanita consoled us and said that this happened to babies sometimes and there was nothing we could do but try again. At first, we wouldn't listen, but finally we came out of our funk. I think it took Catherine until February and me until the end of March before we were civil to anybody and anything but a terror to be around. But people forgave us and life did go on.


Our horse breeding program was such a success that we could have closed the rest of the ranch down and still made a comfortable living. Sam was a master with the horses and we could not have wanted a better foreman.

Jesus had us setup with an agricultural program of inspired brilliance. If the farming plans worked anywhere near expectations, we would become the garden spot of New Mexico Territory. Jesus felt that the only problem could come from not having enough water, and that was not likely. Therefore, we planted, tended, and waited.


There was a peculiar uproar in Julesburg. A Ku Klux Klan organizer was coming to town. The townspeople were about evenly split on whether he should be allowed to speak. But the side in favor won the argument by invoking the Constitution and the right to free speech. Practically the whole town showed up at the rally, along with the people from the surrounding ranches. There must have been over 500 people there!

The rally started with some local idiot ranting and raving about how the niggers were going to take over the US if the good white people didn't stop them. This made some in the audience stare at each other and some laughed; the only Negro in the whole county worked on a ranch about forty miles from Julesburg, and was hardly likely to start a revolution.

The next speaker was from out of town, Alamogordo, I think. He carried on about how the Jews were trying to buy up the country. Again, people in the audience stared at each other and some began to laugh. Nobody knew of any Jews within fifty miles. Julesburg was not scared of Jews.

Finally, the KKK speaker stood up and started ranting about the danger from Catholics. That ripped it! Over half the audience was Catholic and were a bit put out by this slander! About twenty men charged the speaker's stand and went after the KKK man. There was a real Judge Lynch atmosphere flashing through the audience. Fortunately, a traveling Catholic priest happened to be passing through town, and he was able to calm the mob. The KKK man did wind up with a broken nose and a badly torn suit, but he was allowed to leave town with his life. I can't understand how somebody could be so stupid as to come into an area of predominately Mexican heritage and attack the Catholic church!

I happened to say something to some of the bystanders and, next thing you know, I found myself chairman of a committee formed to keep the KKK out of Julesburg and its environs.

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
Historical /