Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rudy Mauldin, Special Agent

I had scarcely started my road trip when my first story revealed itself. I had left the Santa Fe Plaza, headed south on Old Santa Fe Trail, merged on to Old Pecos Trail to I-10. I Drove east on I-10 so I could catch US 285 and traverse the big empty with more cows than people that leads to Texas. US 285, a favorite of mine, starts near Denver, winds south to New Mexico and cuts a diagonal across the Land of Enchantment toward West Texas and my target, Marfa.

I had driven about twenty miles on 285 past Eldorado with a short stop at the Amtrak Station in tiny Lamy when I came upon a long stuttered Standard Oil station on the right side of the road. It was the third occasion that I’ve photographed the forlorn complex.

I bundled up since it was 7:30am and nearly freezing. I was trying to find a different take on the familiar subject, when I heard a vehicle pull in behind mine. My first thought was Highway Patrol or suspicious locals. A cowboy got out of his pick-up and walking toward me. The lean gent asked, “You like it?” A smile in his voice.

I offered that I’d photographed the scene several times and was always drawn to places left behind.

He told me that he was always replacing the padlock on the gate. That folks would pop the lock to access the grasslands beyond.

I asked if he’d always been a cowboy. The answer was yes and no. Yes, he had always wrangled as had his father. But he had been Special Agent for the BLM for 26 years, 14 working under cover. He broke horses at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and worked as a wrangler in New Mexico and Utah. Then the BLM came calling. He told me the Bureau hired five agents and he focused on protecting Indian artifacts. He told me about being part of the earliest DNA testing at a pilfered archaeological site in southeastern Utah. He told me the DNA from a single cigarette butt led to the arrest, prosecution and sentencing of one Earl Shumway to five years in federal prison. He said a documentary called Secrets of Hidden Canyon had been produced about the saga. I googled the title and found the film was made by station KUED in Salt Lake City. I tried unsuccessfully to buy the DVD on the station’s website so will call today to see if I can make the purchase.

“I’m Steve.” I told the cowboy.


We shook hands. I told him that I was from Taos. He said he’d done some work there and that it’s a neat town. I said, “Sure is but that there’s a real divide between the cultures. Superficially it’s welcoming but beneath the surface there’s resentment.”

“Tell me about,” Rudy replied. “I went to high school in Pojoaque and got my ass kicked more times that I can count. I wound up in the hospital with ulcers. That’s how bad it was.”
Pojoaque is one of northern New Mexico's 19 pueblos.

He pointed at a ranch house a mile south and asked, “Ever photographed one of those homesteads?”

I allowed that I had not. “Can I get in?”

He said, “Sure. Follow me.”

I followed him to the locked pipe gate, he opened up and I followed him as far as the house. He told me to make myself at home and that he had to turn on the water at the corral. After I photographed the house, the wood barn and two windmills with missing paddles and wandered to the large pen with a handful of Black Angus cows.

As I was taking my last shots he drove up and I said I’d follow him out, so he didn’t have to hang around. I told him that I’d really enjoyed our conversation and would like to continue it sometime.

He said, “I don’t have any paper or a pen.” I gave him the pad I always keep in my right rear jeans pocket. He laid it on the hood of his truck and wrote “ Rudy Mauldin, Secrets of Lost Canyon, Earl Shumway.”

I was elated to hear Rudy's tale and it reminded me that you have to be there and you have to listen.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Today's blog is precisely why you were so successful in the restaurant business. Meet and greet and listen. It served you well then, and now again with Rudy Mauldin. What a great encounter, and how lucky you were that he showed up and was gracious enough to allow you to photograph the wide open. As always, you did the spaces well with your camera and toning, Steve. There is something about U. S. Highway 285 heading south through Vaughn and Encino to Roswell. Empty and mesmerizing. Cows grazing amidst the grasses and tumbleweeds, and pronghorn frequently joining the group. But Special Agent Mauldin is the real star here. A terrific story to start this snowy Monday. Gracias, Amigo!