The year was 1887 and Clint Rinehart was hanging out in the territory of New Mexico making money, lots and lots of money. He had spent most of his time, since 1886, working his claim; a gold mine located, most likely, in the Zuni Mountains, somewhere along the White River. Rinehart held close the location of his mine and only mentioned that he had located the original site of the Adams Diggings. He was a big man, a strong man, and a rich man. In the spring of ’86 he had brought in a wagon load of gold nuggets that probably weighed more than 1000 pounds. In those days the price of gold was exactly $18.94 an ounce and it fetched a considerable sum.
He didn’t relax though. He didn’t sit back and enjoy his riches. He kept going out again and returning with more. He would leave Silver City in the middle of the night and employ a series of feints and back tracks to lose anyone who might attempt to follow him to his claim. Six to eight weeks later he would return, from wherever he had been, with another wagon load.
In 1887 Clint Rinehart was on his way back to Silver City with a big load of gold. More than 1500 pounds strained the axles on his wagon, and he was making his way over private lands, The Lazy S Ranch to be exact. Three ranch hands who worked for The Lazy S spotted Clint somewhere south of Mule Creek and accused him of rustlin’.
They shoulda took Rinehart into Silver City and turned him over to Dangerous Dan Tucker, a small but hard man who was the Marshall of Silver City with jurisdiction extending all the way to Shakespeare. But they took the law into their own hands and lynched him. Strung him up from a big ole Cottonwood Tree, right there by the creek.
Rustlin’ was a hangin’ offense in those days.
Problem was though, they hadn’t checked his wagon. They didn’t know what he was hauling till after he was dead. Once they did find the gold, they knew that they had made a big mistake. They knew that someone with almost half a million dollars of gold wouldn’t likely waste his time rustling a few head of cattle. They stayed out for another two days trying to decide what to do. They figured they could take the gold and high tail it to Mexico but with the bandits and the Apache raiders they didn’t really like their odds of surviving. They opted to take the wagon in to Rackety Smith, owner of the Lazy S and let him decide what to do.
Smith shot all three, dragged ‘em down by the Whiskey River and left ‘em for the buzzards. He kept the gold and it was still in the wagon when it was purported that Geronimo’s band of raiders burned the ranch house to the ground.
Marshall Tucker investigated the murder of Rackety Smith and chalked it up to unknown Indian assailants. Then, he promptly resigned his post of Marshall and moved away from Grant County. Folks speculated that he had gone to California but no one knew for sure. In 1892 he swung back through the county. He had put on so much weight that his former friends and acquaintances barely recognized him. He stayed only a couple of days and then disappeared again; gone forever this time. Dangerous Dan Tucker, who had killed at least 17 men in his career, as a lawman and a gunman, vanished and was never heard from again. No one knows where he went. No one knows when or how he died. No grave has ever been found.
OK, so – I’ve played a little loose with the facts here.
Clint Rinehart is a real name but to the best of my knowledge she was never a gold miner in New Mexico and although she did live in New Mexico she left when she was just a child.
Dangerous Dan was real and has been considered by some historians to have been more effective with his heavy handed methods than even Wyatt Earp. He really did disappear into history but I made up the part implying that he stole any gold.
There really was a rancher named Rackety Smith but I have no idea what the name of his ranch was, so I made that up too. I like the name though. “Rackety Smith” just rolls out of your mouth nicely. It’s fun.