Sunday, May 24, 2015

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren: #12

In 1981 while managing a New Mexico ranch, I discovered the previous manager had been murdered.

I’d been working on a copper exploration project around Van Horn and teaching aerobics in the Van Horn High School gym, and although that outdoors and easygoing lifestyle suited me, it did nothing for my upward career movement. It was in fact a sabbatical (associated with a tall, blond hunky engineer). During the day I got to bounce around in a beat up pickup absorbing some of the most beautiful country in Texas, and occasionally cataloguing and graphing core samples. Then in the evenings, I led a rag-tag group of cowgirls, mothers, grandmothers and teens in an hour-long dance and yoga workout to Rick James’ Super Freak and Steve Winwood’s Arc of the Diver. I wasn’t inclined to move back to “civilization” and pantyhose.

Then one morning, while scanning the El Paso Times, I came across an ad for a job: “Wanted, host/hostess – isolated mountain ranch – must be familiar with animal husbandry and horticulture.” I called the phone number in the ad, and drove to El Paso the next day to interview for the job – which I got. On a short flight to the ranch, my new boss, (who was piloting the plane), dropped a small bomb, “The previous manager of the ranch committed suicide, at the ranch.”

Then, during the drive from the tiny airport close to the ranch, he told me the incredible story of how he acquired the property, which was tucked into a high canyon adjacent to Lincoln National Forrest.  He said the ranch was formerly owned by a survivalist commune of around 150 families, who supported themselves growing marijuana underground using grow lamps, and who were busted when the FBI raided the place thinking Patty Hearst was being held captive there by the Symbionese Liberation Army (see famous photo). The IRS garnished the land for back taxes on all the money the commune made selling marijuana, and auctioned the property, which my boss purchased. The commune's self-proclaimed “Messiah” was sent to prison, but had recently been released and had been seen around the area shoeing horses for a living.

For 8 months, I lived in a mountain paradise, raising a large garden, taking care of horses, exploring trails, hiking, and occasionally entertaining my bosses friends who would come for weekend stays to take photos, play cowboy/cowgirl, and soak in the wood fire-heated hot tub. The 5,000 sq. ft. main house, originally build by the survivalists as a tabernacle, was extraordinary. The gigantic kitchen with its hand-built pine dining table and chairs that seated 14, had a huge wood burning stove (on which I cooked) and a greenhouse on one end with a giant grapevine that grew up the rock wall built into the side of the mountain, across the ceiling of the kitchen, and sprouted hanging clusters of grapes. We didn't have electricity, so the house was lit by propane lamps and heated by wood-burning stoves. And in the bunkhouse was a rather large stain of faded maroon marking the spot where I was told Miguel’s life had ended.

Over the course of my unforgettable time at the ranch, and through an equally unforgettable set of circumstances, I discovered (I believed) Miguel had not killed himself, but rather was killed by a South African mercenary hired by my boss. I know that sounds unbelievable, and in fact I could be wrong. I often wonder if I should even be telling this story. If my accusation were ever brought to the attention of the people I believed were involved in the murder and cover up, I could be subject to legal action - or worse. But the knowledge haunts me, and so I continue to tell the story, concealing the exact identities, as a small token of justice for Miguel.

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