March 25, 2003
The Renegades were bound for Turkey Creek Canyon last Thursday and we had the full support of the Philmont Ranch (The million acre ranch that oilman Waite Phillips gave to the Boy Scouts) on whose land the site is located. We took off in two of their big Suburbans and headed up the back way to drop in behind the canyon and proceed down to the site of the famous shootout where members of the Wild Bunch gang were pounced on by a posse from Colorado and Cimarron. Three lawmen were killed and several of the bandits were badly wounded (Sam Ketchum died from his wounds). It was a very dramatic gunfight and I’ve wanted to see the site ever since I first read about it in True West in 1959.
The first part of the trip went smoothly as we drove up nice graded roads high into the snow-packed mountains.
Several miles up we got off the main road, waded across a stream and headed up a steep canyon. From that point the roads got very slippery. Both trucks were in 4-wheel-drive and we waited as the lead truck slipped and spun up increasingly steeper grades. Then we would follow, often with the disadvantage of sliding into the muddy ruts of the lead truck. When we finally got to the road that branches off down to the gunfight site, our lead driver told us it was too dangerous to proceed.
I said, “I’ve waited 40 years to see this site and we’re two miles from it and I’m not going to stop now.” I was ready to walk the two or three miles, but most of the other Renegades were not impressed and declined to go along. So, I caved and we didn’t walk it. Instead we climbed another big hill (going away from Turkey Creek Canyon) and coming down the other side, our truck slid off the road and buried itself in a snowbank. We tried and tried to get it free, putting rocks and twigs and branches underneath the tires. Using radios, the other truck came back and they too got stuck, but were able to drive out of it. They also had a come-along wench, but it broke, or rather the wooden pole stuck in the ratchet slot broke off and we couldn’t get it unstuck. So we piled in the remaining truck (9 of us) and slid down the mountain (once again my pucker factor kept the truck on the road). We got back to the hotel at about one, had lunch then took off for the Philmont Ranch and the Philmont Museum. We ended up at Rayado, where Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell had a stage station. The Boy Scouts rebuilt the site and they did a good job. Learned interesting factoids about the Santa Fe Trail: The freight wagons travelled three abreast, not single file like in the movies. The wagon boss didn’t yell “Wagons Ho!” he yelled “Stretch ‘em out! Stretch ‘em out!” and they transported glass panes in barrels of flour as a natural shock absorber. Of course, sometimes the glass still broke and then you had flour with a bite.
“Victory is not won in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later win a little more.”
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