Has anyone in Santa Fe ever heard of a dusty little frontier town called
Four Corners? Chances are good that the answer is no. So you might ask me,
where is it? Or say, well I've never heard of it! But why do I want to know,
anyway? Five weeks ago I was asking the very same things. Today, I think
I'm a better man because I know the answers to those questions.
Just over a month ago, the
governor's office requested that this paper send a reporter to cover an awards
ceremony. Now, as most of you well know, I do special columns and editorials.
I don't do 'regular' newspaper reporting. My response was simple when I heard
about the assignment, Don't look at me! Besides, the presentation was scheduled
to happen at Thanksgiving and was taking place more than three hundred miles
got the job.
Of course, I was being sarcastic
when I found out I had been assigned the task. But being the professional
that I am, the resentment didn't last long and I set about discovering where
it was, that I was actually being sent. Most of our readers know how large
the Territory is. A lot of you also know that it is made up of eighteen different
counties. My guess is that a lot of these counties have many dusty little,
no-name towns. The community I was looking for is called
it, Four Corners. A few hours later I discovered my destination in Dona Ana
County, in the south central portion of New Mexico Territory.
The following day I tried to
do a little research on the town itself but found little historical data.
I decided to try the newspaper achieve. I managed to identify a few old articles.
They were mostly reprinted stories from papers in and around the county seat
of Las Cruces. As I continued my search, I began to notice a pattern immerging.
The articles seemed to indicate that Four Corners wasn't a place I wanted
to go. The tales read like a bad dream. They told of cattle baron/settler
disputes, murder, hangings and bank robbery. It looked as though my intended
destination had all the normal problems associated with life in the average
frontier community. These are just a few of the reasons why I don't care
to live in these far away places. So why on earth would I want to visit?
The more I found out, the more I was becoming convinced that I wasn't going
on any journey
job or no job.
My livelihood at stake, I decided
to keep looking. I found some more recent articles and discovered that they
were taking on a new light. They were still sporadic in nature, but the newer
stories seemed to say that life in that part of the Territory was becoming
safer. I double-checked the timeline I was constructing. It appeared that
things had gone from bad to good in a fairly short period of time. How could
such a horrible situation turn around so drastically, you might ask? Believe
me, I was thinking the same thing. More than curious by now, and finding
no specific explanation for the dramatic turnaround of events, I decided
to make the long journey to Las Cruces. Arriving at the county seat, I was
able to locate a few more articles. These new stories told me a curious tale
of a different kind of lawman taking up residence in the area.
I should say lawmen
a small, yet dedicated, collection of individuals
who were willing to stand up for justice, in their own unique way. 'How very
interesting!' I thought. Things were beginning to look up for me. I considered
the idea that if this awards presentation wasn't that exciting, that maybe
I could redeem myself and, maybe write a story about these seven lawmen.
I decided to spend one more day on the stagecoach and make the journey Four
Corners. After all
I do need my job, even if I don't always like it.
The closer I got to that dusty
little frontier town, the more prevalent the stories became. I also had the
good fortune to meet up with the circuit court Judge responsible for the
area. If he didn't know about these law-abiding men, then who would. I began
to learn firsthand about the things the citizens of this vast county already
knew. Along with a good part of the surrounding countryside, the inhabitants
of Four Corners, New Mexico are very familiar with the small group of
peacekeepers that protect their way of life. They call them 'The Magnificent
So let's see
The easiest way to fill in the blanks is to take you back
It's April in 1876.
Picture yourself in a small,
dust-swept community that most civilized folks have never heard of, much
less want to live in. The usual assortment of strangers has been seen travelling
through town lately, and today the township is experiencing yet another,
in a long line of bad days. To make matters worse, both the town's sheriff,
and deputy have decided that they've had enough.
Abandoned by their lawmen, the
townsfolk have been left to fend for themselves. This also meant that the
town's resident healer had no one to protect him from a drunken mob intent
on a vigilante hanging. It seems all the man did was try to save a dying
trail boss. He failed in his efforts, and was comforted by the foreman's
angry men. They were unshakable in their desire to serve up their own kind
of revenge. Witnessing an injustice about to happen right before their eyes,
two complete strangers took it upon themselves to put an end to the attempted
lynching. There was gunplay, and a lot of dead men, but the town's healer
As it turns out, there were
two more strangers in town that day. Having traveled some distance, an Indian
Chief and his friend witnessed the impromptu display of heroism for themselves.
Not doubting the courage that they saw, they quickly decided that the two
men might help them protect the inhabitants of their own Seminole Village.
They asked for hired guns and
offered payment. That's just the way some things are done out here
Judging the odds and tallying the purse, the two gunmen and the healer assembled
four more men. We know some of why this band of seven gathered that day,
but their true reasons for joining the group will probably remain their own.
I'm told some of them signed on simply for the small amount of money that
was offered, while others were just looking for something to pass the time.
Seven men in the wrong place, at the wrong time
or is that the right
place, at the right time.
So here they were, seven virtual
strangers, heading for an Indian Village in the middle of nowhere. They made
their journey, held their ground and triumphed. Some sustained a few injuries
in the battle they fought, but nonetheless, they returned to Four Corners
the same number that they had left. With the exception of a few newly formed
ties, each man was intent on going his own separate way. A brave tale indeed,
but hearing the story, my question now was obvious. So why is it that they
didn't split up as planned?
While the men had been otherwise
occupied many miles away from town, the newly appointed Circuit Court Judge,
Orin W. Travis had received word that this community was without a sheriff.
He made the journey to Four Corners and witnessed a murder the very day he
arrived. Wasting little time, Judge Travis put out a call for a replacement
lawman. Finding no one better suited for the job, the Judge hired a young
volunteer. He was unaware of the man's previous exploits with a group of
six other men.
The members of the original
group kept tabs on their youngest member. Realizing that he didn't yet possess
the experience to handle his new responsibilities by himself, the band of
men made a collective effort to help their young friend bring the murderer
to justice. Seeing their efforts for himself, Orin Travis was more than surprised
by the teamwork displayed by this gathering of near strangers. He was also
pleased to discover that despite their individual reputations, their collective,
personal convictions were very much like his own. Judge Travis has never
doubted the actions he took that day. On his own authority, he hired that
same band of men to protect the citizens of the crime-ridden town.
That was the turning point in the history of this town and surrounding area.
Since that fateful day, these men have proven, time and time again, that
they are more than worthy of the appointment and responsibility that they
share. They have saved countless lives through their efforts, and provided
much needed assistance on many occasions. It is one such incident that has
gained the attentions of our new Territorial Governor, the honorable Mr.
So there I was thinking that
if one story didn't work out, I would write a second article to make amends.
I never dreamed that the two accounts I was documenting would actually turn
out to be one story. As it turns out, after receiving a Petition of Recognition,
the governor and his council have chosen to award the Territorial Medal of
Valor to each member of this brave band of men. And as I pointed out earlier,
I'm the lucky man who gets to record the events.
So why do I keep referring to
myself as 'lucky', you might ask? The answer is simple. I am fortunate to
have seen for myself why this award was so important to the people of Four
Corners. I was able to sense how they truly 'feel' about these men. My first
hand experience means that I can actually say, that I understand! My job
now is to make you understand.
The details behind the petition
seem simple. The freedom and safety of the citizens of Four Corners, and
its surrounding countryside was threatened this past October. The Magnificent
Seven responded in the only way they know how. It didn't matter to them that
the enemy was an unknown element they had never dealt with before. The only
thing that concerned these men was the well being of the people that they
have promised to protect.
The foe in this instance was
a relentless pack of wild dogs. Once the friend of every man, woman and child,
these animals had been abandoned or forgotten. They reverted back to surviving
by instinct alone, and it was that hereditary savagery that led them into
the path of civilization. It's a scary thought when man becomes the hunted
and not the hunter, but that's exactly what the citizens of this township
Thinking not of themselves,
but of their community and its people, the peacekeepers of Four Corners leapt
into action. After identifying the enemy, their first course of action was
to recover their most vulnerable citizens. The men systematically rescued
all of the children who were making their way to school on that fateful day.
One young man was delivered to their healer after being viciously attacked.
His leg was in ruins, but his will to live endured. That job completed, the
peacekeepers set about cornering and killing the forsaken animals. They succeeded
in their task with only one fatality to report, but thankfully, due to their
valiant efforts, the first victim of the wild dogs was also the last.
A horrible few days for a community
to bear, but life continued in this town. The child injured by the marauding
animals was a young man named James Watson. His mother, Mrs. Margaret Watson,
is the one who started the petition of recognition. She wrote about the selfless
efforts of these seven men. She told the governor how they tirelessly perform
their duties with very little real acknowledgement from those around them.
Mrs. Watson also wrote
'We have come together as a community because
there is so much that we owe them. I have sent this petition, with all the
signatures I have gathered, so that you may see for yourself that this request
is a unified and heartfelt one. The Magnificent Seven deserve this award
more than you can ever know. They deserve more than we can ever give them.'
Governor Wallace was called
away to deal with the situation happening in Lincoln county and was unable
to present these awards himself. His representative too, was called back
to Santa Fe on business. Now, while this might sound somewhat callous on
the part of our elected representatives, you must understand one very simple
thing. The day the governor agreed to recognize this petition
everything he ever needed to do.
I am very happy to report that
the awards presentation went ahead as scheduled. On perhaps the most fitting
of days, the community of Four Corners gathered to present each of their
seven peacekeepers with the Territorial Medal of Valor. It was a splendid
day, and Judge Travis made a speech. He called the awards a 'small token'.
He also said that, 'on this Thanksgiving Day, the collective thanks of a
community couldn't go unnoticed.'
The presentation was a well-kept
secret, and as such, I spoke to no one the day before the celebration. Just
after noon, on the appointed day, the peacekeepers accompanied the Judge
out of town. He gave them no reason but they followed his orders without
question. Returning two hours later, the men were surprised to find a platform
in the middle of the street and hundreds of people gathered around.
Mrs. Mary Travis serves as the
town's newspaper journalist. Her late husband was a victim of the notoriety
that once plagued this community, and as such, she is a strong advocate for
reform. Judge Travis, along with his daughter-in-law, provided me most of
the background information you've read here. I did speak with many of the
townsfolk as well.
I was there, in that dusty little
frontier town, for just a short while. But in that brief time, I was given
a gift. What I saw and heard this Thanksgiving gave me more than enough words
to write this article, but it was the feelings I was left with that gave
me the inspiration. In all my years as a journalist, I have never witnessed
the true depth of emotion that I felt in this town, in three short days.
Who are they, you might ask?
It's funny, you know, but most people I talked with never mentioned any of
them by name. These men are so much a part of one another that I can understand
why. I was left with the knowledge that little details like names aren't
really important in the scheme of things. The feelings tell the story so
much better. 'The Seven', as they are affectionately called, have done more
for this community than just protect its people. They have raised the spirits
of a township and made it a place where people want to live. They
have set an example for all men to follow. They have given these folks a
reason to be Thankful
each and every day.
I wish you could see my expression
right now. I'd like to think that you have the same silly grin on your face
that I do mine. The people of Four Corners, New Mexico, didn't really say
a lot to me. The real point is
they didn't have to. I hope my words
have done those citizens justice. I hope you too can understand how they
feel about the men they call
The Magnificent Seven.