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Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

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Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

Postby saddlesore » 02 11, 2023 •  [Post 1]

Mexican Standoff


Later in the same year (1972), Jim and I had drawn cow elk tags for the Pecos Wilderness east of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was a late hunt in early December. Snow was already on the ground in the high country.

I had bought a used Stidham two horse trailer that I pulled with the 1970 Dodge ¾ T pickup. Jim had built a cab-over slide in camper for his 69 Dodge ¾ T. It wasn’t very fancy, but had an ice box and stove. He had also bought a two-horse trailer of which the make is un-rememberable to me. I do remember it as pretty rough. We had to give up the stock racks as it was too cold for the horses without some protection. I was using my horse, Sugarfoot, again and Jim had his daughter's bay mare.

We planned to hunt right out of Jack’s Creek campground the same as I did when it took Dave Humphreys on his hunt.

After outfitting Jim’s camper with food and water, we loaded tack, grain and strapped hay down in the trailers for the horses. We headed out early Friday morning. Pave roads were clear of snow but when we left I-25, the two-lane gravel road into Pecos, New Mexico was snow covered. It got worse as we started the short climb up to the camp ground. We had not even started the easy hills when it was evident that was spinning out. I had not learned yet that I should put chains on before I needed them instead of waiting until I was almost stuck.

When arriving, the camp ground was empty and we set up in the end that was reserved for horse traffic. It was great not having to shovel the snow away for a place to put a tent. We only had to unload the horses and tie them to the hitching rails provided. The trailers were set as a wind break for the horses. The weather was clear and sunny, but more snow was predicted. Later we had to use horse blankets to keep the snow off and provide a little warmth. Inside the camper for heat, Jim had one of those green Coleman catalytic heaters that burned white gas. That kept us fairly warm but we turned it off at night which made for frosty mornings getting out of the bed roll.

Hay was set out and I went to the water pipe that the Forest Service had set up to fill two five-gallon buckets for the horses. Either the Forest service had turned off the water or it was frozen, but there wasn’t a drop coming out. That was a problem. We had to have water for the horses. The most common cause of colic for horses in the winter is lack of water and they can die pretty quick from it. This meant we would have to walk the down hill to the creek or there was small creek crossing the trail a little ways up from the campground.

We decided to saddle up and ride up the trail at least to the end of the switch backs and we could water the horses on the way back down. Not quite to the upper end of the switch backs, we started to cut elk tracks in the snow . A lot of them.They were wondering in all directions so we figure they were not far, probably bedded own. Not wanting to bust them out then, we returned to camp thinking it would be a fast, easy hunt.

When returning, we found a party of four Mexicans had set up a tent camp on the opposite end of the parking area along with four horses.

To get off on a tangent, let me explain that current situation between Mexicans and white people. In New Mexico you have Mexicans who trace their ancestors back before Coronado.Then there are Spanish who claim their ancestors came from Spain. They looked with disdain at the Mexicans and get highly insulted if you call them that. Both look with disdain at white people ( gringos). Indians are scattered about and the Mexicans, Spanish ,along with some white people think they are inferior in all ways. There were so few blacks, they didn't even get a slice of the pie so to speak. I did not know any of this when I moved there, but Marty Vigil, an old hunting buddy, sat down and explained it to me at one time. The crux of the matter was that the Mexicans and Spanish still held a grudge for the white people invading their country. In the hunting part of it, they also though the whites shot all their game leaving nothing for them and generally disregarded all game laws. In the northern part of New Mexico this was all the more prevalent and a lot of it holds true today.

Back on the subject. The trail up the mountain started near the outhouse and the Mexicans pitched their camp right there. As we rode past, we got the familiar glare white people got. Knowing a little Spanish from living there 7-8 years, I could semi-understand their comments. Many of which contained the word Gringo. I figured " Well we were there,make the best of it"


Saturday morning after Jim's standard breakfasts of oatmeal, ( He was a cheese head from Wisconsin and that is what they ate) we were on the trail before day break. Jim went up trail towards Round Mountain and I cut around the north side close to where Dave had killed that little bull, agreeing to meet up about ten.The sun finally came up and it had to have been in the single digits. I sat for about three hours and finally had to get up and move around. No elk were to be seen. Lot of tracks, but there were no elk standing in them. When I met up with Jim he had the same story so we decided to ride around to see if we could get an idea off where the elk went. In the end it was a very unproductive day. Jim did say the four Mexicans rode past him earlier. The next day was a repeat, sit until froze out, ride around. Still did not see any elk. So much for a fast and easy hunt.

While we were riding around, on the way back to camp on that second day, a lone horse came out of the trees. Non one around, not saddled. It followed us back to camp.Figuring some would come looking for it, we fed and watered it along with our stock.

The day after the horse adopted us, we were back in camp early. It looked pretty bleak and we were trying to come up with plan B.

When the Forest Service made the parking lot, they had removed part of the hill on then north side to get enough dirt to cut and fill the lot flat.This left a bank, almost a cliff, about seventy-five to a hundred feet high.The main trail started at the left end of it, but if we went to the right end, the bank ended and we could ride up the ridge.

On this particular day, the Mexicans were all back in camp too.
While we had maps spread out on the hood of Jim's truck, we heard this crashing and running. Getting closer and closer. Looking over at the top of the bank we saw two-three elk running along the top. Then four-five. Then twenty or so. It took a bit to realize what was happening. Jim had his 45-70 laying on the hood, I had to go over to my truck and get my .308, so I was slower on the start. Jim's 45-70 was an original Winchester 1886 and he was shooting 500 grain cast bullets. My .308 was that Winchester Model 88, shooting 180 grain round nose bullets.

I am fairly certain that Jim missed his first shot, but the at the second shot I saw a cow stumble. I shot twice and I thought the second was a hit, but wasn't sure. During this time the Mexicans opened up. All four were shooting. We were shooting directly across and up a bit. The elk were perpendicular to us, so hits were broad side.The Mexicans were at he far end of the lot, so any hits would have been a hard quartering shots.Still the distance was less than a hundred yards.

There was a heck of a lot of noise and by then elk were running every where. Then dead quiet. Jim and I hustled over to where the bank ended and climbed up to find one dead elk. Then a little further two more cows. The first had a dead on, lung, broad side hit. Of the other two, one was a broadside hit, the other one had a hole that appeared as a high hind quartering spine hit. It was still alive and I head shot it to put it out of it's misery. The Mexicans had arrived and were yelling."Those are our elk.Those are our Elk".

I showed them the two broad side shots and asked them how they could make such a shot, but agreed the one butt shot was theirs. Some heated arguments ensued. All if us were armed and it was getting dangerous. Jim rolled the cow he shot and showed them the big entrance wound. Not convinced, he rolled it to the opposite side and there was a lump on the hide. He sliced the hide open and pulled the 500gr lead slug, mushroomed to about three quarters in diameter.

They didn't have much of an argument then, but there was still the other two cows. They all started speaking Spanish and I heard the word Gringo several times and hard looks. I mentioned to Jim that they were about to try to take all three elk.

Jim always carried a 1911, 45. He opened his coat, unsnapped the keeper and put his hand on the grip. The Mexicans turned and saw this and things got real quiet, fast. We were out numbered two to one. There was a few seconds there that seemed like minutes and I thought things were going to end badly. Figuring no elk was worth getting shot and dead and knowing Jim would get one or two, I relented and told them to take both elk, but we were keeping the one. They hastily agreed. I know if Jim had not had the 45, they would have taken all three.

We quickly gutted the elk and Jim asked me to go fetch a horse and rope while he stayed with the elk.

Getting back to the trucks. I hurriedly saddled my horse and returned about as fast as I could. Jim threw a rope around the head, tied up both front legs and I pulled the elk down and over to the trucks . There, we skinned it, quartered it with a handsaw, and put it in game bags. Then we locked it in the front of my horse trailer.


The following day, Jim stayed in camp. We were not to sure if our neighbors would do something to the camp or trucks. I left early before they were even up, rode up the trail past the end of the switch backs, and watched a few openings hoping to catch some elk out feeding. I was convinced that from all the tracks, they were no longer up high. After about four hours ,I froze out and returned to camp.

When I got close to the parking lot,I noticed a New Mexico Game and Fish truck with a horse trailer parked near our camp.The closer I got,I saw a game warden talking to Jim. I rode over, got off my horse, and tied up to the hitching rail. Jim introduce me and the officer's name was Henry Gallegos. I remember that name because of what happened later.

Jim had been telling Henry of our altercations with the other camp and Henry asked me to tell him what happened.I guess he wanted to see if our stories were the same.We got that out of the way and since the other camp was empty, he wanted to know if we knew where they were. Jim told him they all went up the trail about seven thirty or so. "Did they all have their rifles?" he asked, "Yep", Jim answered. "Where are the two elk they had claimed?" was the next question. I replied they were buried in the snow over near their tent.

Henry had already checked Jim's licenses then checked for mine. He asked us to open the horse trailer so he could see if the elk was tagged and it was.
Henry stood there a minute, looking kind of puzzled and said he would be right back. He walked over to the tent, and spent some time digging around the quarters.

When he came back, he told us the elk were not tagged and most likely the four of them were party hunting.

Henry unloaded his horse said he would be back in a while,then headed up the trail.We hustled into the camper to thaw out.

A few hours later, we looked out and there comes Henry following the four of them.The first two in hand cuffs.

Henry had them all dismount and the two in hand cuffs, he cuffed together and then cuffed a free hand thru the trailer bars.The other two he made take down the camp and pack everything in the trucks and trailers.Then dig out the two elk and load them in the back of his pick up.

With the two still handcuffed to their trailer, Henry came over and told us they wouldn't be bothering us anymore. Two were going to jail. Karma is b@#ch. I asked about the elk and he said he would like to give me one but they were evidence. Henry loaded up his horse and the last I saw of him, he was following the two trucks down the hill with the prisoners in the rear seat of his truck. So much fro Plan B that we never finished.

Before he left, I had asked him about the stray horse that followed us into camp. Henry said he could not take him, but for me to take him home and call the brand inspector. If no one claimed him in a month or so they would write out a bill of sale for me . More about that horse at the end of this story.


The next morning I headed out again, alone. Instead of going up the trail, I went over to the end of the parking lot where the steep bank flattened out and rode up the ridge above camp. It was snowing lightly as I remember and cold. One of those days when you try to convince yourself you are out there having fun and not doing a very good job of it.

I finally stopped and unrolled my pauncho and put it on to stay dry. It was one of the big rubberized ones that if you had two, you could snap them together and make up a pup tent. I had it laid out covering the horse's neck up to his head and the other end draped over his butt. It was like having a thousand pound heater under you so I eventually warmed up some. It took some of the grouch out of the horse too.

I had climbed upward and covered about a half mile I guess. Stopping frequently and glassing out front and over the lip of the ridge on the opposite side.

It wasn't very long until I saw some elk heads sticking out of the snow. Four of five of them bedded down in the snow that was maybe a foot deep.

I turned back about twenty yards, got off, and tied the horse, hoping he would not whinny from being alone. They had not seen me and the snow had covered any noise. Getting the pauncho off quickly was a disaster, but I finally got it clear, pulled my rifle from the scabbard, and as quietly as I could levered a round into the chamber. All miraculously without it spooking the elk.

The elk were no more than fifty-sixty yards. I had replaced the cheap fogging Bushnell with a Weaver V-7, 2.5-7 X. It was set on 2.5 X . Slowly making my way forward, I closed the gap until I could get a clear view of the elk. I found a stump that I rested the rifle on, lined up on a head, and sent a 180 grain, 30 caliber bullet into the nearest cow. Other elk exploded in all directions.The cow I shot disappeared. Her head had dropped down, buried the the snow. It didn't even get up. I had no reservations about shooting a bedded elk.

I back tracked to the horse, folded my pauncho, and mounted up.We walked right up on the dead elk. My horse didn't mine as he had been around dead critters before.

I thought about riding back down and getting Jim to help, but it was not a big cow. Probably two years old. By now I had the gutting mastered a heck of a lot better and it was snowing a bit harder.

Kicking snow back to get some working area, I had her gutted in less than an hour. I tied her front feet up to her head and threw a rope loop around her neck.

Mounted, I dallied on the horn and pulled the cow down the ridge. It was all downhill, not steep, and the horse pulled it easily.

Once I was even with the camp on top of the ridge, the steep bank was right below. I pulled the cow over the the edge, gave her a shove. She slid all the ways to the flat. It was a short ride to the end of the bank. I rode into camp and Jim asked me if I roped her before I shot her .Right! Always the clown. We dragged her out on the flat, took a picture, slid her into camp. Jim helped me skin and quarter it.

Dec hunt.JPG
Dec hunt.JPG (234.33 KiB) Viewed 150 times


That evening, Jim introduced me to his favorite beverage. Peppermint Schnapps and Blackberry Brandy. They call it a Snowshoe. The next morning my head felt like someone beat it with a snowshoe.

After the breakfast of oatmeal ( again) we loaded up.The horse that adopted us walked up to my trailer after I loaded my horse. A little tug and he loaded right up.

Although we still had the tire chains on, the trip down to the gravel road was a slippery, sliding adventure. More that once, I thought my trailer was coming around to meet me. We made it to Pecos without a mishap and took the chains off.The roads were clear then all the way home.

Jim knew a little about butchering and following week we gathered at his place to cut and wrap the elk.

The stray horse, no one claimed it. The Brand Inspector filled out a ownership paper and I had a free horse.

I didn't pay him much attention that winter, but come spring, I saddled him up and work it a little bit. I found out he would rear right after getting on him. About the 3rd or 4th time he did it, he went over backwards, coming down on top of me.The pommel of the saddle hit me along side the head and injured my neck. I wore a neck brace for six weeks and still have trouble with it. That is why they probably left the darn thing up in the mountains.

After I healed up, I taught him not to rear. It wasn't pretty and I won't say how, but he never reared again. When I left New Mexico two years later I hauled it to the auction and I think I got $150 out of it.

So much for free horses.
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Re: Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

Postby Jhg » 02 12, 2023 •  [Post 2]

Peppermint Schnapps & Blackberry Brandy. OMG.
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Re: Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

Postby 7mmfan » 02 12, 2023 •  [Post 3]

Better name for that drink would be a snowplow. Excellent story, really appreciate the time and effort you put into these.
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Re: Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

Postby Tigger » 02 14, 2023 •  [Post 4]

I would have loved to see the Mexican standoff! I think we take for granted that everyone will be civil in the backcountry....maybe that isn't so true!

Great job again Vince. These are as good or better than Outdoor Life ever printed!
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Re: Mexican Standoff, 5 short chapters

Postby Billy Goat » 03 04, 2023 •  [Post 5]

Tigger wrote:I would have loved to see the Mexican standoff! I think we take for granted that everyone will be civil in the backcountry....maybe that isn't so true!

Great job again Vince. These are as good or better than Outdoor Life ever printed!

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teach them second to love their family
and third, teach them to hunt and fish,
and by the time they reach their teens, no dope peddler under the sun will ever teach them anything".

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