Fall weather has arrived, and I was thinking that this weekend would be the perfect time for a hike in the Magdalena Mountains via Water Canyon.
There are lots of cool trails past the picnic area, and high up the road to the MRO and Langmuir, you’ve got some great photo ops of the backside of ‘M’ Mountain and Strawberry Peak.
And there’s lots of history back in there. The Jaramillos and other families settled in Water Canyon, and there was even a little store at one time. But going up there is nice just for the change of scenery, and with the rains, who knows, there may be water in Water Canyon again.
Anyhow, whenever I would venture out that way, taking the road off Highway 60, I would think of the late Tom Kelly, who grew up there.
For over 50 years, Tom ranched in and around Water Canyon and did so as long as he could get on his horse. Before he passed away in 2019 at age 93, Tom always had a story to tell of Magdalena’s earlier days, honest and unabashed.
You could usually catch him having coffee in the Magdalena Cafe practically every morning, and if you were lucky, you might be able to coax him into reminiscing about the old days. One time I had my pocket recorder with me when he told the story about a Magdalena merchant who was implicated in the death of a cowboy named Lon Henry in 1943.
He said in those days Magdalena’s Main Street was home to several businesses; the Becker-Mactavish store, Scotty McLaren Drug Store, Silver Bell Bar and the Aragon Hotel.
As Tom tells it, there were double doors leading from the Silver Bell into the lobby of the Aragon Hotel, then a door into the café. In the back of the hotel was the large Aragon Hotel dining room, where dances and parties were held.
On tables along one wall were dishes and several water jugs. The water jugs were hand-blown lead crystal with long necks, and heavy.
“On the night of Lon Henry’s killing, Badger and Bruner’s Cattle Company cowboys were having a party and dance celebrating something, and there was about 25 or 30 of them and a few guests celebrating,” Tom recollected. “In those days, Hispanics did not mix together much with Anglos as now. They had their parties and dances, and the Anglos for the most part did not try to join in their crowd.”
On the night in question, however, “a group of Hispanic men came in the Silver Bell and on into the Aragon where the party was going on. Morgan Salome joined them as he was in the bar.
“Well, the fight started and the cut-glass water pitchers were getting thrown back and forth across the room,” Tom said. “In the process, Lon Henry was conked in the back of the head with one, and he died from it.”
The party, or the fight, ended pretty quick and the people not invited left in a hurry.
“Lon Henry was a cowboy at times, but at this time he was the cook for Badger and Bruner as they were working cattle on the Muleshoe Ranch, Bear Mountains and La Jencia ranches,” he said. “Why was Morgan Salome picked out? He was probably one of the few party crashers anybody knew.”
“Morgan Salome was one of the best merchants Magdalena had and was honest as the day is long,” Tom said. “During hard times in the 1930s, he gave everybody credit for groceries, and sometimes these bills ran a year or two before being paid. I asked him how many of these families out of the hundreds never paid him and he said, ‘two’.”
He said whenever someone asked if Morgan was the one who killed Lon Henry, that was the only way he could answer.
I can’t help thinking that Tom Kelly and other ranchers and cowboys who have passed on in the last few years are the last of a breed, so to speak. Reminders of a time when life was pretty straightforward. Back in the years BC; you know Before Computers.
That was back when going “viral” meant something bad. Or a cell phone might’ve been something in prisons. Or, when a browser was someone who didn’t buy anything. When Java was a cup of joe. Or spam was just spicy ham in a can. Or a website was where a spider lived. Or hashtags might’ve been smothered in gravy at Waffle House. Yum.
I have to confess I’m not ready to go back to the days before USB ports; it’s just that I keep hearing in my head the Borg’s mantra, “Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over.”
I think I’ll tweet that.