I know what 21 year old John Pleasant Gray was thinking on the evening of Saturday, 13 August, 1881, when he first saw the bloody man staggering through the yellow tabosa grasses. He was frightened, fearing an Apache raiding party must have ambushed the workmen who had spent a month building the adobe cabin he had slept in for the first time last night. The laborers had left the day before, escorted by the ranch hands, leaving only himself and the cook in their isolated outpost 15 miles north of the Mexican border. And in the clear air of the New Mexico dusk, John could see the dark brown blood caked on the man's lower face, as he stumbled across the distance between them.
Raised in civilized Sacramento, California, and the Sonora, Mexico port of Guyamas, John Gray had never seen the Animus mountains before the spring of 1881. He could not know that Apaches could rarely afford attacking large parties of whites. John had never seen the Sonoran Desert before 1880, when after graduating college he joined his family in Tombstone, Arizona.
John's father, 56 year old (in 1881) "Colonel" Mike Lee had lived in Tombstone almost since before it was a town - 1879. He had lived there long enough to be sued by Ed Schefflin for stealing ore from The Good Enough claim. But Mike had served in the California Legislature, and hired expensive Sacramento lawyers, who counter sued Ed - and won. The title of "Colonel" was purely ornimental. Mike Lee had been born in Tennesse and raised in Texas, and moved to California in 1849, but he never served in the milia in any of those places.
In Tombstone(above) Mike Gray owned a boarding house, was secretary to the town council, and served as a Justice of the Peace, where he acquired the title of "Judge". As such Judge Gray spent his time arrainging alledged drunks, petty thieves and killers, and assessing taxes. He was a "mover and a shaker" in Tombstone, well known as "selfish and dishonest" and "a slippery character". That spring of 1880, looking to give his returning son John Pleasant a good start in life. Judge Gray paid the infamous Curley Bill Brocius $300 sight unseen for 300,000 acres of land on the slopes of the Animus Mountains, in New Mexico. And he sent John and his 18 year old son Richard "Dixie Dick" Lee Gray, to manage the palce, although neither of them had any more expericence at ranching than did Judge Colonel Mike Gray himself.
Curly Bill Brocius (above) did not actually own paper to the land in the Animus mountains. He claimed a homestead there.
Brocius and he and his partner, Robert E. "Dutch" Martin (above), often grazed cattle there, which they had rustled in Sonora Mexico, and driven across the border through Guadalupe canyon, about 20 miles south of Martin's ranch around a New Mexico the spring called Cloverdale. In Sonora 'Dutch' Martin was known as a thief and a murder, responsible for killing a dozen Mexican citizens a year. But in Cloverdale Robert Martin was a respected businessman, with a wife and child.
Just about the time John Pleasant Gray was graduating from the University of California, businessman Dutch Martin had been murdered - shot in the head from ambush by rustlers who had lately taken to rustling the largest rustler's cattle. 'Dutch' Martin was 45 years old when he died, and William "Curley Bill" Brocius (above) was nearly 40 himself. Where the freckled faced "Curley Bill" had once been, ".. able to hit running jackrabbits, shoot out candle flames...and ...quarters from between the fingers of "volunteers, " the middle aged alcoholic Curley Bill's world was beginning to blur at the edges, like Wild Bill Hickock's before him. Hickok had died at 39, so Brocius the gunman was living on borrowed time. Time to change careers. And time to replace Dutch Martin in the Rustlers Trail.
The trail began between the western foot of the Dragoon Mountains and eastern rampart of the Mule Mountains, centered upon the San Pedro River (above, left). There, cattle were fattened on the feed lots of the Clanton and McLaury ranches before being slaughtered to feed the hungry miners in Tombstone and its mill town outliers of Charleston, Contention, Fairbank and Millville. The cows had arrived in this promised land from the east, by crossing the Dragoons through South Pass, and enduring the water-less desert of the Sulfur Springs Valley. The drovers had prepared the cows for this endeavor by fattening and watering them on the slopes of the 6,000 foot high Chihuahua Mountains (above, right), at way stations like the Horse Shoe Valley 7-Up ranch , whose owner of record was a San Francisco barkeep named "Buckskin" Frank Leslie - recruited by Curley Bill.
The Chiricahua mountain ranches were a rest stop after the herds had traversed the north-south San Simon Valley, which they had crossed after resting on the slopes of the Pedrogosa or Peloncillo Mountains, transited by the easy, well watered Skeleton Canyon on the Arizona-New Mexico border (above).
Between the western mouth of Skeleton Canyon, it had been an easy drive across the San Bernadino Valley from the Animus Mountains, where the new Gray Ranch (above) was to provide ample grass and water, just 15 miles north of the beginning of the trail - the American side of the the winding, deadly pass through the Guadalupe Mountains.
The man who finally staggered into the Gray ranch that Saturday evening had spent the day traversing an arm of the San Bernadino Valley, on foot. He was exhausted, sunburned, dehydrated, and incoherent. It was some time before he could even identify himself. But when John Gray learned the man was not one of the construction workers, but a Cow Boy named Harry Ernshaw he panicked. Ernshaw had been in the rustler party with as his 19 year old brother. "Dixie Lee "Gray had been gone south of the border to learn the rustler art under the tutelage of Old Man Clanton himself. As quickly as he could, John saddled a horse and went for help. He rode 20 miles east, to the slopes of the highest peak of the Animus mountains, Mount Gillespie. Here, he knew was a "Cow Boy" camp.
John Gray would dramatically described the twisting canyon ride on dawn Sunday 14 August 1881, and the growing dread he felt approaching the grassy clearing where he had been told his brother's body lay.
"Out of the clear sky," John recalled, "a black speck appears and soon other black specks ... Soon they are high overhead, beginning to circle slowly...circling round and round - and you know that somewhere within that circle on the earth below lies a corpse..." When the canyon walls fell away, John remembered the top of every tree in the clearing supported at least one of those "fiendish looking" birds. Sixty years later he said he thought of every buzzard as, "the worlds most vigilant undertaker."
The image of the 4 bodies was burned into his mind. "All were perfectly nude...Billy Lang...Jim Crane...Old Man Clanton...and my brother Dick, just turned nineteen....We found the dead body of Charlie Snow...about a half-mile from the camp. The other cowboy, Billy Byers, we found alive some five miles away. He was shot through the front of the abdomen and the ball had gone clear through his body..." Byers was "completely out of his head", but he would recover.
John recalled, "We took our dead back to the ranch." There they ripped up the cabin's flooring to make coffins. "We buried the four bodies in a little square plot on the top of the nearby knoll."
Before its first stolen herd had even reached the new oasis, the Gray Ranch had turned to dust in the mouths of its new owners. In his 1940 memoir "All Roads Led To Tombstone", John Pleasant Gray sanitized the events of that summer, as people are wont to do with time. He remembered, "My father and I felt conditions were too hard at the time to fight against." He did not mention that the naked scavaged corpse of his 19 year old brother had represented the inflated cost of stolen Sonoran cattle. But Judge Gray had $300 invested in the property, and John Gray remembered his father insisted they hold onto the property. "I made a trip out from Tombstone every month," he remembered, "to sleep one night at the ranch in order to comply with the preemption law." And to visit his brother's grave. In closing that early episode in his long life he added that after the Guadalupe Canyon Massacare, "Even the rustlers kept out of the valley for fear of meeting the Mexicans."
A few years later, Judge Gray sold the rustler's oasis to the George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, for $12,000. So in the end I guess it proved worth the life of Judge Gray's youngest son. But John Gray never said so.
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