Canyon Mistake

by Jerri Garza

Tuesday’s noon confrontation about the hidden spring ended badly for rancher Kelly Juno. It was not the first argument but this one took his life. His neighbor Rance Dixon had just stabbed him in anger over a secret land survey. Dixon panicked and ran for his horse beyond the cottonwood tree, leaving Juno for dead. Wednesday evening surveyor Slade Johnson rode up to the Dixon barn to relay that their land was now registered with the county. And on Thursday morning, Sheriff Thornton visited at the Dixon fence line to inform him that Juno was missing. 1939 ended with the Juno family abandoning their ranch. Juno was still missing but there was no evidence of a crime, and there was no body.

Lenore Delano attempted to concentrate on reviewing the images for the 2019 ranching exhibit at the Alden City Museum. The museum board had Lenore on loan from a New Mexico museum under grant funds to document their county history records. Museum curator, Hart Johnson, had not proved to be of much assistance in sharing information. She overheard one of the museum clerks relaying of a frightening weekend adventure and returned the images to the file. Elise was blathering about a midday treat ruined, declaring loudly to the group at coffee break that Alamo Canyon was haunted with sounds of coyotes and owls.

Her tale continued with the mention of broken mirror pieces on the trail, and a cross of stones in a circle beneath an ancient cottonwood. When Elise noticed that Lenore became interested in the story, she explained that she and her college roommate had driven Highway 13 north of Fort Dumas for a picnic at the Alamo Canyon roadside park. She advised, “you should check it out,” and proceeded to draw a map indicating the location where they were spooked. That was Falcon Ranch property, formerly known as the Juno place in Victor county. She spent the afternoon studying resources in the library and considered asking her fiancée to take a weekend drive north along Alamo Canyon.

Enrique Rena welcomed a chance to get out of the office and view the Texas mountains. He was her best choice for adventure and safety, especially since he was former law enforcement. Fifteen miles into the canyon drive Lenore unfolded the map. They pulled over at the rest stop ahead near a rock bench overgrown by brush. Passersby might assume the truck with New Mexico plates was sightseeing. Enrique grabbed his camera then both slipped between the slack barbed wire. Someone had cut out heart shapes in a few of the thorny pads at the prickly pear cactus. They followed a worn cattle trail to a boulder that was a perfect resting spot.

Here were the broken mirror pieces Elise’s map indicated. Rustling sounds from nearby brush might be the coyote chasing a mouse. Lenore glanced ahead and matched the blooming cholla to her map. It was the only cholla with brilliant purple blooms. They found the tarnished medallion impossibly entangled among the spines. Instead of an owl they heard a raven at the top of a ponderosa pine. Enrique spotted the aged tree ahead against the looming needle-like cliff projections. And there was the circle of smooth river stones with a center designed as a cross.

A rusted horseshoe was coiled into one of the gnarled roots. Lenore noticed the terrain dropped off behind the tree. As they rounded the backside of the trunk, they noticed a tombstone-like slab embedded in the twisted roots. It was eroded and the chiseled letters had deteriorated decades ago. Enrique pointed towards the projections and stepped across the slowly flowing spring to the narrow opposite bank. Lenore followed but slipped and slid into the shallow cold water. Then something snagged her shoelaces and she again fell into the water.

Muffled shouting came from the rocky columns while she tugged at her laces. Her left lace was wound around a submerged slender metal spike. Enrique appeared at her side and moved stones away from the object then pulled it up. One end was sharp and had nearly severed her lace. “That is a rusty knife. Lenore, you need to see what is over there,” he announced softly. With soggy hiking shoes she stood unbalanced at the base the largest column. Enrique gently pulled her behind the crag into the darkness. What was revealed in the glow from his cell phone was not what they expected to find.

Three months later Lenore was offered the curator position at the Alden museum. Johnson was fired for concealing his evidence in Sheriff Thornton’s cold case and for his family’s participation in the land conspiracy. Newly elected Sheriff Douglas was stunned when he saw the skeleton in the rock shelter’s dust with a bullet hole in the skull. The team jumped when the tarantula crawled out of the eye socket. And he was surprised when the contents of the brittle saddlebag exposed a rusted tin box containing a scrawled message on a curled saloon receipt. “Juno… meet me at tree… Dix…” Added in shaky smeared scribbling was “Slade here…”

La Puerta’s forensics lab at the Texas/New Mexico line was able to discern initials “R.D.” on the knife. Juno’s faded journal pages recorded the events leading up to his fateful meeting. Investigators determined that Juno had pulled himself along over the creek where the knife became dislodged. Then Slade may have come upon him and pushed Juno into the shelter then shot the injured man. Amid the flint points was the confirmation of a crime mistakenly disregarded by the guilty parties. All too late for the Juno family.

Enrique and Lenore were married the next Saturday. Elise was promoted to curatorial assistant. Alden’s historical society registered the shelter as a historical site with the state of Texas. The remains of Kelly Juno were laid to rest in the pioneer cemetery with a simple ceremony and a new marker. Lenore placed the shiny silver medallion atop the stone.