WELCOME TO PICKETWIRE
A serialized story
by tim wintermute
Other than the top of Mount Witt there is no better view in Picketwire than from a hill at the western edge of town. Looking out over gently rolling prairie at the Sangre de Cristo mountains it offers a truly sublime perspective. Of course, since it’s also Picketwire’s Cemetery, the view for its permanent residents is obstructed by six feet of earth. When Jane was a girl she would ride her bike on the paved walkways that meandered through the cemetery, stopping to read their epitaphs. She hadn’t been back since her return to Picketwire. After parking her car she walked to the area under a grove of elms where she stopped and looked at the headstones. Her great grandparent’s epitaph was carved in Japanese as well as English.
The day before Uncle Joji had told Jane and Bruce that the Japanese characters painted on the side of the building in the secret internment camp meant “not forgotten”. Only after he said that did he look at the photo on her smartphone. Then he nodded and said, “Yes, I was right, that is what is written.”
“How did you know?” She asked him.
“Because a young man who came to see me asked me to write those words in Japanese.”
“What young man?”
“He came by a couple of months ago. I never met him before. He said he was researching water conservation and heard that I practiced the Fukuoka method. That is a way of farming that conserves water that I learned while I was in Japan. It is the farming method I use here. When we finished talking about that he brought up Camp Amache. After we talked about it and it was a great injustice to put Americans in prison simply because they were of Japanese descent, he said he had heard about another camp where Japanese Americans were imprisoned that was separate from Camp Amache and asked me if I knew about it. I told him what I knew.”
“What was that?”
Uncle Joji was silent for a long time before replying. “My father, your grandfather, told me about the camp. My father and I were driving on Highway Fifty near the turn off to the road that leads to where Camp Amache was and that is when he told me about what had happened to the Japanese Americans during the war and that there had been an internment camp up the road. I said I’d like to see it so we drove up to where it had been. There wasn’t much left to look at that I remember but he said that he visited the camp when he was a young man. He described It like he was looking at it although it was invisible to me. I already knew that he and Japanese American men, were barred from joining the military except for those who were able to volunteer for the 442nd that fought in Europe. I used to be embarrassed about it when my schoolmates bragged about their fathers serving in the war. They made them sound like heroes, of course. Fortunately, my father and the other Japanese Americans living here were not considered to be as great a risk as those who lived on the coast so they weren’t put in camps. However, they were allowed to visit Camp Amache. When he asked the people he met in the camp why there were so few young men he was told that many, unmarried young men had been taken away to another, secret, camp. They were told it was for security reasons. The people who told him were very afraid and he promised not to tell anyone because it would make trouble and they feared they might be sent to such a camp as well. My father also said that he still felt guilty that with so many of the young men missing he and his male friends were very popular with the girls in the camp.”
“What did the young man say after you told him?”
“He thanked me and left.”
“Well, a couple of weeks ago he reappeared and said that he had found the camp where I said it would be and that many of the buildings were still standing. Then he said that he’d done some research and that the prisoners in the camp were forced to work for the Double B Ranch. He said the papers he found said that the ranch provided beef to the military during the war and because most of the men were fighting they needed workers. So this secret camp was established and that some of the male prisoners at Camp Amache who were in good physical condition were moved there. It was classified as a top secret because of the war effort but he didn’t see how raising cattle could be called a top secret. He said that they were slave labor and that was the real reason it was a secret. Then he asked me to write down the Japanese characters that mean not forgotten. I wrote them on a piece of paper he gave me. As soon as you mentioned the writing on the wall I knew it must be those words. I was right.”
“That is quite a secret.”
“Yes, but there was another secret.”
“There’s more?” Bruce exclaimed. Jane had forgotten he was there.
“Some of the prisoners died and were buried in the Picketwire Cemetery.”
“Where?” Jane asked him. “When I was a girl I used to ride out here on my bike and read the headstones and I never came across them.”
“They are buried in the southwest corner where they don’t even cut the grass. They are not even visible unless you are looking for them. The markers look like small stones that have rolled off the prairie. There are no names on them, only a number and a date. There were stories that there were bodies buried there in unmarked graves. People said that they were murderers who had been hung, crazy people, people who had died in an epidemic and couldn’t be buried next to healthy dead people. All sorts of stories. One day me and a couple of my friends went to the cemetery to see if the stories were true. We found the markers and I noticed that the dates on them were from 1942 to 1944. Then I went to the County Clerk’s office and looked at the death records for those years. I found that there were only a few deaths recorded during that period and those who died and were buried in the cemetery had headstones with their names on them. When I told my Father he said he agreed with me that it must be where they buried some of the prisoners.”
“And you never told my Dad?”
“Yes, I disobeyed my Father and told him. Your Dad had overheard our parents talking about it and he kept asking me so I finally told him. I felt relieved to tell someone. But your Dad was still just a child and it disturbed him a great deal. He had nightmares and my Father found out. He was very mad at me for not keeping it a secret. He said it was wrong to burden anyone else with this knowledge. Then he made both me and your Dad swear not to tell anyone.”
“I remember overhearing my grandparents talk about the camp once and when I asked my Dad he made it clear that they didn’t want to discuss it.”
“There should be no more secrets.” Uncle Joji replied then looked off toward the mountains.
No more secrets, Jane repeated silently as she sat cross legged surrounded by the nine markers. She had written down the numbers and the dates for each of them on a pad of paper. The wind rustled the grass and blew strands of her hair across her face. Clouds drifted across the sky. It wasn’t just who they were but how did they die? What were their families told? This knowledge had been passed down from her grandfather through her uncle and now to her. The young man Uncle Joji had told also knew. At least he had done something when he wrote not forgotten on the side of the abandoned building in the camp. But who would see the words and if they did and translated them into English, would they know what they meant? She got up and started walking back to her car.
“I see you found them,” someone called out. Startled, Jane turned and saw an old man in coveralls standing behind a marble headstone. He was thin, slightly stooped and his face weathered by years in the sun and wind. There was a pair of pruning shears in one of his gloved hands and some weeds in the other.
Regaining her composure, Jane asked. “You know about these graves?”
“I saw them buried.”
“I was only a kid, of course. My Dad worked here as the caretaker. I took over for him as caretaker when he died. He’s right over there with Mom.” He pointed at two headstones a few feet away with his pruning shears, then smiled and shook his head. “She used to complain that he spent more time with dead people than her. They both got what they wanted.” He turned to Jane and said, “Anyway, I’ve worked here my whole life.” He nodded at the headstone in front of him. “I’ve just been making a contribution to my retirement plan. Pulling some weeds from my six foot under pension. As you can see it’s got my birth date, which is when I entered the family business, but my last day on the job will have to be carved by someone else.”
Jane read the name on the headstone. “Lazarus Lamont. Your first name is really Lazarus?”
“My parents had a sense of humor. My Dad used to say that if Jesus came back and started raising the dead we’d be out of a job. I go by Laz. I tell people it’s short for lazy.” He placed the shears and weeds on top of the headstone, took off his gloves and they shook hands. Jane was surprised by the firm grip.
“I’m Jane Takamoto.”
“You must be related to the Takamotos over there under the Elms. Nice folks. Never cause any trouble.”
He chuckled and said. “That’s good. That you can laugh, I mean. Most people seem to think that because it’s a cemetery you have to be deadly serious.”
“To answer your question, yes, I’m related. I grew up here and moved away but just came back. This is the first time I’ve been out here since I returned but I used to come out here quite often. I’m sorry that I don’t remember you.”
“I try to be invisible. Sort of like an undertaker at a funeral. See but not be seen.”
“You said you saw the people being buried here when you were a kid?”
Laz’s expression turned serious. He crossed his arms and looked at the markers. “I can see it now even though it was in 1946, a year after the War ended. I was only five years old at the time. It was after sunset. Twilight time. A truck drove up to the cemetery gate. The caretaker’s house is right next to it. I heard it idling and looked out my window. My Dad went out, talked to someone in the cab and then opened the gate. He started walking and the truck followed him. I snuck out of my room and followed the truck that was following my Dad until he stopped over there. About five or six men got out of the back of the truck and dug nine graves, then they took plain wooden coffins out of the back of the truck and buried them. After they covered them up with dirt they placed those little stone markers down and drove off.”
“Did your Dad ever say anything about it?”
“A few years later, when I was twelve or thirteen, I told him what I’d seen. He said it wasn’t a regular burial but a re interment because the bodies had been buried somewhere else and then been dug up and reburied here. According to him the folks who buried them didn’t want anything on the stones but the cemetery rules stated that the markers had to identify the person and the date they died. However, it seems that the rule didn’t say specifically that the identification had to be a name so that’s why the markers just have numbers on them. The people who buried them said that was their identity number. The Cemetery Association changed the rule after that but, well, it was a little late for those fellows over there. They did put the date they died.”
“I can understand why you never forgot what happened.”
He nodded and said. “There was one more thing I’ll never forget and that’s what my Dad did after the bodies were buried and the truck left. He just stood there for a few minutes and then bowed his head and said something. I couldn’t hear what he said so I asked him and he told me that he felt something needed to be said but since he didn’t know anything about the people who had just been buried he didn’t know what was appropriate. He didn’t have his Bible with him so he decided to repeat the only poem he knew by heart. He had to memorize it when he was in grade school.”
“The Charge of the Light Brigade. Anyway, it’s not the words but the thought that counts, he figured and I agree.”
“Did your father tell you who the men were that buried the bodies?”
“He said he hadn’t seen any of them before. The only person he recognized was the guy he talked to who was in charge. The guy had stayed in the cab of the truck so I didn’t see him.”
“Who was he?”
“Charles Boone, Wylie’s dad.”
“I must apologize,” Sister Beatrice said to Tony, her gloved hands placing the map on the table in her workroom. She had removed it from a cell that had once been used for solitary confinement where artifacts were now stored. “I saw it as just a very old map of the area and not as part of a legal document. Otherwise, I would have come straight to you and told you. After all, if it was stolen from your family and it should be returned to you. I don’t know how I could have missed what seems obvious. I guess I didn’t see the forest for the trees.”
Tony liked Sister Beatrice. He had often shown her the items that he had found on his amateur expeditions around the area and she had treated his discoveries as if they were important artifacts worthy of careful examination. He hated to see how distraught she was. “I’m just happy that you discovered it. I mean, we thought it had disappeared for good. Many people said it never existed in the first place; that Don Francisco made it all up. Now, here it is in the flesh - I mean paper.” Tony said, bending over for a closer look at the map.
“It’s actually drawn on parchment, which is made from calfskin so you’re right to say in the flesh,” Sister Beatrice said. “I’ve carbon tested the ink, compared it to other maps of that time and the signature of General Armijo matches other documents he signed.” She replied, pointing at the seal next to the signature, being careful not to touch it even though she was wearing latex gloves. “Probably most important is that his official seal is next to the signature, wax and all. The original seal is in the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. I went down there and it’s a perfect match.”
“This must be the genuine article,” Tony said.
“Artifact,” Sister Beatrice corrected Tony. “I also had an authority on maps and documents, Professor Arthur Blechstein at the University of Colorado, look at it and he agrees that it seems to be authentic.”
“Seems to be?”
“There is one issue.”
“Establishing provenance. If would help to be able to know the chain of ownership.”
“The chain ownership? There’s only one link as far as ownership and that’s my family. Whoever had it after that was either the thief or dealing with stolen property.”
“Let’s call it chain of possession, then.”
“Since you found it in a prison cell the guy who stole it had to be an inmate. Talk about chains, the guy was locked up behind bars.”
“It was unlikely that the person who hid the map was the same person who stole it since the map was reported stolen in 1850 and this place wasn’t opened until 1875. He would have had to hold onto it for twenty five years at least. The person who stole it could have given it to someone else and that person was the convict who hid it here.”
“Do you know who the inmates were who occupied the cell?”
“There is a master registry of all the convicts. The original is with the Colorado Department of Corrections but I was able to get a copy and I loaded all the information onto a computer database. It has things like their name, their date of birth, last known address, their criminal record, what they were sentenced for, the date they were incarcerated and the date they were released or died. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in it that tells us who occupied a particular cell.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Not exactly nothing. There is graffiti.”
“Convicts wrote on the walls. Those who knew how to write, that is. Sometimes they signed their name or initials.”
“You mean like Kilroy was here?”
“Yes, only it would more likely be killed Roy.” After chuckling, she turned serious and said. “We can check any name or initials against the registry database.”
“Did you find any signed graffiti in the cell where this was found?”
Sister Beatrice smiled like she was about to let a cat out of a bag. “As a matter of fact, we did. We found two sets of initials and one prisoner signed his name. Three prisoners in the registry had the same initials TW and four prisoners had the initials BG. The signature is Ruf Ryder.”
“There was actually a convict with the name Rough Rider? That’s what you call someone who rides wild horses.”
“It’s spelled r u f not r o u g h and r y d e r not r I d e r. There’s a Rufus Ryder in the registry and he’s also the only person with that last name so it has to be the same person.”
“Probably preferred being known as a rough rider instead of a Rufus. Anyway, with a name like that I sort of hope he did it.”
“He was only twenty five when he was incarcerated here so he couldn’t have been the person who stole the map.”
“Maybe the thief gave it to him as you suggested?”
“Yes, but it could also be any of the six people with the same initials on the wall or it could be someone who didn’t feel like leaving his mark for history.”
“Do you know anything about these people?”
“Just the information that’s in the registry and now the database.”
“What does it say about Ruf Ryder fellow?”
“I can pull it up on our computer.” She walked over to a desktop computer. It was already on so with a few keystrokes she pulled up the file labeled Ruf Ryder. Tony looked over her right shoulder as she scrolled slowly through the information.
“Wait,” Tony said. “It says he was convicted of committing grand larceny in Purgatory County.”
“Yes, he’s the only one who was serving time for a local crime.”
“Local boy makes bad.”
“Not just local but right next door,” Sister Beatrice replied. “The Double B Ranch was the place that was robbed.”
Francisco Way was more like a country lane than a street. It wasn’t straight and it wasn’t wide and it wasn’t smooth but it did get to you to where you were going if that place was the Hacienda Medrano because the street had originally been the half mile drive from the Rancho Medrano gate. When “Don” Francisco Medrano contributed part of the Medrano land to establish Picketwire one of his conditions was that “the paseo”, as he called it, would not be altered in any way. Another stipulation was that the Hacienda could never be sold and if no Medrano chose to live there it was to be donated to Picketwire. Tony’s parents were the current Medrano’s in residence and they might be the last since no one else in the family, including Tony, had expressed any interest in living there. After Francisco died the town council decided that it should be renamed in his honor. Paseo Medrano was the favorite until his oldest son, Alejandro, objected and argued that it be called Francisco’s Way because their father was so stubborn, a trait Alejandro shared and so he got his way.
Tony’s father, Roberto, had his office in the Medrano Building, a modest two story brick building at the beginning of Francisco’s Way not far from where the old gate once stood. Roberto’s office looked out at the canopy of Sycamore trees that lined Francisco Way. His name was stenciled in bold, black letters on the frosted glass of the door. It was no bigger or bolder than the names stenciled on the doors of the other five offices on the second floor. The frosted glass allowed the names to be scraped off without leaving a trace but that rarely happened. There wasn’t much staff turnover at Medrano Holdings, which reflected its investment strategy. As Roberto liked to point out, it was called Medrano Holdings not Medrano Droppings.
Roberto’s door was open as it usually was unless there was a need for privacy, which was hardly ever. Tony walked in without knocking. His father was sitting behind his desk staring at a computer screen. He was wearing his usual white shirt, suspenders and tie. Tony knew that his suit coat was on a hanger in the closet. Every employee at Medrano Holdings dressed for work. Each had a clothing allowance in the same amount that they could use at The Fashion Farm, whose motto was “clothes for the cultivated”. Roberto believed that dressing for work was like putting on a costume that helped you get into the role you played. In the same way, when left work you took it off and could leave the role behind. He believed that companies that encouraged their employees to wear the same casual clothes that they wore when they weren’t working, blurred the line and resulted in the person never being able to leave their job behind. Maybe that was his problem, Tony thought, that he didn’t dress up for work, and that was why he had such a hard time separating his work from the rest of his life.
Roberto looked up from the computer screen. “Hi Pop,” Tony said.
“Hello stranger,” his father replied swiveling his chair so he faced Tony, who had pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Stranger? I was just over for dinner the other night.”
“The other night was a week ago. You must have someone else cooking for you.”
Tony smiled broadly. He enjoyed going back and forth with his father. The two of them might not always have rapport but they sure had repartee. “Come on, Pop, nobody can compete with Mom.”
“If that’s the reason you aren’t married, maybe I should cook when you come over instead of your mother.”
“Pop, I’m not looking for someone who can cook for me. Mom taught me the basics and she said I’m not that bad. Hey, why don’t I cook something next time I come over?”
Roberto grimaced and said, “If that’s what it takes to have you visit I guess I can stomach it.”
“Actually, I’ve been dating someone and maybe I’ll bring her with me.”
Roberto’s face brightened. “Will she help you cook?”
“No, we just started dating. Isn’t it enough that I bring her to dinner? I mean, this will be the first time I brought a woman I’m dating to dinner with you and Mom.”
“Of course, it more than enough, Son. I promise that if you bring this woman I will eat whatever you cook and I will also say that it is not bad. Now,” Roberto said, cutting off any rejoinder by Tony. He nodded at the rolled up document Tony had placed on the desk. “What do you have there?”
“Hey, that’s the reason I came by,” Tony answered, unrolling the map and turning it so his Father could see it.
“What’s this?” Roberto asked leaning forward to examine the document.
“This is a copy of an official map that shows that our land grant is for real. The one that was stolen. Don Francisco was telling the truth.”
“Of course he was telling the truth, son.”
“Of course, but this proves it.”
“I hope you didn’t need proof to believe Don Francisco.”
“Of course not. Still, we can now show the world.”
“You say this is a copy? Where is the actual map?”
“It’s in prison,” Tony answered as he sat down in one of the two chairs facing his father’s desk.
“Actually, it’s in Our Lady of Lost Souls but Sister Beatrice found it in one of the former prison cells. It had to have been stashed away by a convict. He probably thought it was a pretty safe place. I mean, who would look for stolen property in a prison?”
“Yes, who indeed. No wonder they could never find it,” Roberto sighed. “Does Sister Beatrice know who hid it there?”
“Not exactly. Sister Beatrice has a copy of the records for all of the convicts but there’s nothing in them that says which convicts occupied which cell. Still, there were six whose names match the initials that were scratched on the cell’s wall and one convict actually signed his name. His name was Ruf Ryder, if you can believe it. It’s spelled R u f R y d e r, and there was a convict named Rufus Ryder.”
Roberto shook his head. “The map was stolen in 1850 and the prison wasn’t built until 1875 so if this Ruf Ryder was the thief he would have had to hold onto it for at least twenty five years and then smuggle it into prison and hide it. Sounds far-fetched if you ask me.”
“Ruf Ryder couldn’t have stolen the map, anyway, Pop, because he wasn’t born until 1860. Not only that, he was sent to prison for a crime he committed in 1883.”
“What was the crime?”
“Grand Larceny. He was from this area and stole something from the Double B Ranch. Local boy makes bad.”
Roberto slapped the top of the desk with his right hand and exclaimed. “That means he could have stolen the map and hidden it.”
“But that’s impossible, Pop. Like I told you, he wasn’t born until 1860.”
“He didn’t steal it from Don Francisco. He stole it from the Double B.”
“Why would the map stolen from our family end up at the Double B?”
Roberto didn’t answer Tony. He got up from his chair and walked over to the door and closed it. He walked back to the desk, sat down and, finally, said. “What I am going to tell you is a secret.”
“A family secret so you must promise to keep it confidential.”
“According to your grandfather Don Francisco the Boones stole the map.”
“How did he know that?”
“He didn’t trust C.W. Boone. Besides, the Boones gained the most when the land grant was denied.”
“I never knew that.”
“There was no need for you to know. What would be the point since there is nothing that can be done about it?”
“But now we have this,” Tony said, reaching over and picking up the map. “It’s proof that the land was granted to our family.”
“And what do we do with this proof? The Federal Government ruled against us in 1854. The matter is settled.”
“How do you know? Maybe there’s some legal action we can take.
“Legal action? The statute of limitations has long since expired.”
Roberto walked over to the window. He stared at the sycamore tree. Finally he went back and sat down in his chair. He looked at Tony and said. “ Don Francisco accused C.W. of stealing the map.”
“C.W. denied it, what do you think? He told Don Francisco if he tried to pursue this accusation he would not only pull his support for establishing Picketwire he would make sure it never happened. C.W. had a lot of friends in high places in Denver whose support was necessary to incorporate Picketwire as a town. Don Francisco knew that C.W. could carry out his threat so he promised to drop it. He told him that even though they both knew it was the truth it was a promise and he told C.W. that as a man of honor he would keep his word.” He paused and looked at Tony. “The Medranos still keep their word. You understand what I am saying?”
END OF INSTALLMENT 21
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