[Unedited version of feature article on Wells Family]
Title: “Ladrones de la Noche – Thieves of the Night”
“Setting up a homestead in the early 1900’s in southeastern Arizona was extremely dangerous. Cochise County was a turbulent melting pot of rough characters from all over the west. There were still train and stage robberies, murders and lynchings, raids from marauding Apaches and, even more frequent, night raids from thieving Mexican bandidos.
The family homesteaded first in Gleeson. They had to protect their livestock and goods while also building corrals, barns and houses. This meant cutting timber in the Chiricahua mountains and hauling it across the valley. They had to put a well down and a windmill up and clear land quickly to get seeds planted if they were to have food that autumn. Reubin Wells, one of 15 children and 10 sons was 19 at the time and was only 1 of 4 sons of an age and size to help set up their homestead. They had originally brought a hundred plus horses and mules with them, and had already traded off or sold about half to the cavalry for food while en route.
One of the first chores assigned Reubin, or RG as he was known, was to protect the herd of horses they’d brought with them. While the rest of the family built corrals and started a house, the horses were herded into a box canyon near Turkey Creek in the Chiricahuas and RG was left to guard them. His dad told him not to play hero. “Don’t brace any horse thieves alone.” Even though they thought they’d hidden the horses well, early one morning before dawn, RG was awakened by the whinnies of horses. He heard some muffled but strange commotion and climbed out on a big boulder at the entrance to the canyon. He watched about half of his horses and 2 sombreroed-bandits disappear through the pass.
At sunrise, as he was making his way down out of the foothills, he met a rider who approached and introduced himself as the owner of the ranch he was crossing. RG had heard of the tough old character, Winchester Smith, and was glad to tell him about the rustlers. Winchester offered to help and they swiftly followed the herd’s tracks until they could see dust ahead, the herd well on its way to Agua Prieta, Mexico. They formulated a plan. They tied up some brush for RG to drag behind his horse, and was told, “Now, kid, you just keep coming along. Not too fast and make a lot of dust.” The horse thieves would expect some pursuit and this would reassure them that they had a good lead. It would give Winchester a chance to catch up with them.
RG spent an anxious couple hours doing as he was told until he heard some distant gun shots. Then he sped up, saw a dust cloud and then the lost horses headed toward him. Driving them was Winchester, who had added two saddled but rider-less horses. Rube asked him what had happened, and Winchester just said, “I caught them.”
Winchester waved off any reward, saying he’d just keep the two horses and saddles. RG later said, “I sure was curious to hear what happened to them rustlers, but Winchester wasn’t saying. I figured his name about said it all.”