Edited by Melissa Barker
©December/2022 Morgan Elliot www.morganelliot.com
The Silent Night Gang is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright December/2022 Morgan Elliot
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—mechanical, photocopy, electronic, recording, or any other, except for brief quotations in printed reviews—without prior permission of the author.
I am thankful to my wife, whose encouragement and genial tolerance keep me on track. But most of all, I am grateful for not being booted to the curb for my endless questions and proofreading requests.
A very sincere “thank you” to my wonderful Beta Reader Nelda Wrenn. Her diligent and thoughtful suggestion made The Silent Night Gang a better story.
A special thanks to Christine Baker of CB Creative, Inc. for the logistical support.
“The Night Before Christmas”
1823 by Clement Clarke
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash.
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name;
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Prancer,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Sah away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the courses they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys-and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound;
He was dress’d all in fur, from head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow;
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of this head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
All original punctuation and spelling preserved.
Chapter 1: The Heist
“Ride,” shouted the masked rider, the tan duster flapping in the wind. Gang members galloped away from the bank with bulging sacks slung over their saddles. The masked rider stayed behind to deal with a deputy running after them with a Winchester repeating shotgun. The rider leveled a Colt Six-Shooter and squeezed the trigger. The deputy collapsed, gripping his leg and howling in pain. Turning the horse, the leader of the gang galloped after the other gang members, knowing that an avenging posse would be hot on their tails within the hour.
The Santa Fe National Bank, the repository for the wealth of Santa Fe’s clergy and society elite, was the last of the gang’s planned robberies before Christmas. Gang members were meticulous planners and everything had gone smoothly until the eleventh hour. They had waited until dark when the last of the customers was long gone and the lone teller was closing up. Two members of the gang waited for the lone teller to come out the front door. They stuck their revolvers in the teller’s ribs, quietly made their demands, and nudged him with their guns back inside. They watched as the teller nervously stuffed “greenbacks” into flour bags that the gang had supplied. The third gang member stayed with the horses, and the fourth served as a lookout.
The “Silent Night Gang,” as they had been dubbed by law enforcement, never used their real names. No one had ever gotten a whiff of their names in the few years they had been operating. In keeping with their moniker, they named themselves after four of the reindeer in a poem from 1823 called, “The Night Before Christmas.”
Riding hard for thirty minutes, Dunder, the gang leader, gave the signal to veer off east toward the Glorietta Pass. As the dust churned up by the gang’s horses settled back to the hard earth, the first sign of snow appeared. Pulling out a telescope, Dunder scanned the area, surprised that the posse had not yet made an appearance.
“Anything?” asked Comet, who was waiting nearby.
“Nope. Maybe the snow scared them,” chuckled the leader.
“Hey Dunder!” shouted Prancer. “We gotta get going. The snow is going to make the pass slippery.”
“I’ll lead,” chimed in Dasher, the newest member of the gang.
Careful to slow their horses down the steep slope, they were approaching the last curve through the pass, when a bunch of men on horseback stormed out from behind a tall bluff that had concealed them. The gang’s egress was blocked. After a couple of the ambushers lit torches, Dunder recognized one of the men. Marshall Tim Rutledge, who had been hunting the gang for three years, had a serious obsession to string them up.
Rutledge ordered the gang to drop their pistols, get off their horses, and put the bags of money on the ground. Dasher and Prancer dismounted, dragged the bags of money down from their saddles, and lined them up between the posse and themselves. A member of the posse rode behind the gang to block them from reversing their direction and escaping through the narrow west entrance to the pass.
Dunder and Comet dismounted and set their bags in line with the others. Dunder, facing away from the marshal, surreptitiously lit them on fire with a cigar lighter acquired in a poker game a few years back. In a moment, the “evidence” was up in flames lighting the night sky.
The marshal and posse members jumped off their mounts and tried to save the bags of “greenbacks.” The chaos provided the gang with the opportunity to remount and reverse direction. As the evidence went up in flames, the deputy that had blocked the west entrance to the pass, panicked as he saw the four masked riders thundering toward him. He spurred his horse out of the way to avoid being trampled.
The gang split up into pairs and took two different, but longer routes to their hideout deep in the rugged Pecos Mountains. Dunder and Comet went northeast and had to skirt a large lake. They didn’t dare chance crossing the ice. Prancer and Dasher headed south for several miles, then east along an old mining route until they could go north again.
Dunder and Comet arrived at their hideout exhausted and soaked, but they took care of the horses first. When they finished, they carried their saddlebags into the small, unassuming and well-hidden cabin. Stripping off their wet clothes and falling into their bunks, neither voiced that they were concerned that the other two hadn’t made it back.
The fire was waning, and the damp cold woke the leader. Quickly pulling on pants and shirt, which had been left by the fire to dry, Dunder peered out the window. An anguished gravelly voice was coming from the barn. Grabbing a rifle, and nudging Comet, they both listened. Comet got up and dressed in record time and the two of them pulled up their bandanas and exited the cabin through the back door.
Cautiously, they surveyed the area behind the cabin. Agreeing that the coast was clear, they quietly moved toward the small barn until they were positioned on each side of the door.
“I’m going to kill you all,” grunted a low gravelly voice. “Let me out of here you bastards!”
Jerking open the doors, Dunder and Comet barreled into the barn ready for a fight but were surprised to see a blindfolded and hog-tied person on the dirt floor. The other two gang members were going about their business rubbing down and feeding their horses without paying any attention to their prisoner. The captive was incensed and struggled to escape the ropes. Comet nudged his leg and pointed out the wound. The prisoner screamed in pain and fainted.
“What the hell is going on? Who is this person?” groused Dunder.
“Well, I reckon it’s a member of the posse who thought we wouldn’t notice being followed,” answered one of the late comers.
“How’d he get shot?” asked Comet.
“That’s the hombre that blocked our retreat and he was stupid enough to try to follow us. When we passed Pigeon’s ranch, we hid behind some boulders, and when he came through, I shot him with my rifle. That stupid marshal made us drop our revolvers but forgot about the rifles on the saddles.” Dasher sported a smug smile.
“Why’d you bring him back here?” gruffly asked Comet.
“His horse skedaddled away, he was unconscious. He would have frozen or died from blood loss out there. Besides, you said we never were to kill nobody,” quipped Prancer.
“Okay, finish up with your horses and we’ll figure out what to do with your reluctant suitor.”
“He ain’t no suitor of mine. Got the wrong equipment. I like me the softer sex.” Prancer walked away laughing.
“Dunder, what do you want to do?” voiced Comet.
“We’ll tend to his wound and tomorrow, I can take him down near Hot Springs in that old buckboard behind the barn and deposit him near the Painted Post mine before I head home. Someone will find him.”
“I don’t like this, Dunder. This spells trouble in double time.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m not gonna kill a person unless it is in self-defense and there is no other choice.”
“Put him up on the table. Tie a rope around one of his wrists and loop it under the table to the other wrist. Dunder, be ready to hold his legs just in case he is stupid and tries to get up,” ordered Comet.
Comet lifted the wounded leg and turned it slightly eliciting a welp of pain from the unwelcome patient. He roused momentarily then dropped back into unconsciousness.
“Looks like it’s a through and through. Dunder, boil some water and put a knife in it then get me a bottle of whiskey.”
“He ain’t in a drinking mood,” said Prancer, who was near by changing into dry clothes. “He dead yet?”
Comet answered, “No, and don’t you go getting any ideas on how to fix this little problem.”
Dunder came back to the table and began unbuckling their captive’s belt. Once the pants were unbuttoned, Dunder yanked them down. The cowboy was left in his long johns. A low whistle filled the cabin. “Well I’ll be damned.”
“What is it?” asked Comet who was readying the supplies needed to sew and bandage the wound.
“Hold on.” Dunder began unbuttoning the man’s soaked shirt. Pulling it aside, the undershirt was next.
“Huh,” mumbled Dunder.
“What is it?” asked Comet.
“He’s got a chest wound. Someone wrapped his chest all the way around the ribs and back.”
“Dunder, cut open the binder and let’s see how bad the wound is.” Comet handed scissors to Dunder who cut up along the sternum until the bandage had been sliced in two. By the time both shirts and chest bandages had been opened, all four of the gang members were looking down at their prisoner. They were dumbfounded at what they saw.
“Holy shit,” whispered Prancer. “We got ourselves a gal pal!”
Prancer and Dasher backed away from the table as if they had been burned. Comet’s head was shaking in disbelief. Dunder was thunderstruck.
As the gang’s leader removed the shirts, bandage, and long johns, as much as Dunder tried not to violate the woman’s privacy any more than necessary, brushing her soft velvety skin could not be avoided. Dunder felt a pulling and a deep wave of sadness that flooded every cell that lived and breathed.
Untying the bandana covering most of her head, Dunder was struck with the color of her chin-length cropped hair parted down the middle. It was a delicious, warm blend of sunlight with a hint of ginger resembling the color of a special variety of sunflowers that Grandma grew in the backyard.
Dunder’s eyes traveled from her face to her collar bone, delicate in the low light of the cabin, then lower. Lying on her back, her breasts sat less close together, yet each one perfectly molded. Her pale nipples puckered in the cold air and caught the light from the flickering fire. They were achingly beautiful. Dunder’s hand hovered with harrowing restraint, trying not to brush her nipple.
The woman’s taut stomach ended in a slight flare of the hips. Her legs were long, well-muscled, then tapered from the thighs down. When Dunder’s eyes passed over the wound in her thigh, a wave of grief clutched at the heart which had been frozen for so long. With great reverence, Dunder covered her with a blanket.
The cheap whiskey that was going to be used to sterilize the captive’s wound, was passed around to each gang member, all of them taking deep swigs. The same thought was running through each of their brains…What in darnation are we going to do with this woman?
Comet took control of the group and said, “I am going to fix the leg. Dasher and Prancer, find something for the woman to wear, and Dunder, come help me. The plan still stands.”
“All right, let’s get her into one of the bunks.” Prancer, the strongest, carried the woman to the bunk closest to the fire, tied each wrist to the bed posts, and covered her, hoping she would sleep the rest of the night.
There were two bunk beds in the cabin, now abandoned. Years ago, it had been used by wranglers who seasonally drove the cattle herds up from the valley to the high mountain pastures in the summer. Prancer and Dasher scrambled up into the two top bunks, tucking in their rifles before they dropped off to sleep. Dunder got into the remaining lower bunk, scooting over to make room for Comet.
“You’re crowding me,” complained Dunder, as Comet got into the narrow bunk. “You hoping to turn me on or what?”
Comet chuckled and lobbed back, “You wish.”
Minutes later, the only sounds in the cabin were Paul Bunyan snores, but not everyone was asleep. The image of the vulnerable woman lying on the table equally tantalized and tormented Dunder.
The next morning, they said their goodbyes, each heading in a different direction. As Dunder drove the old buckboard, two things still nagged. How did Rutledge know where to wait for us? Is it possible that one of the gang members had sold out? I suspect the only way to find out is to set a trap, but what kind of a trap? It burned a hole in Dunder’s brain.
The other thing that had consumed Dunder during the long ride home was the woman, now riding in the back of the wagon. The plan was to leave her in the dilapidated wagon near the Painted Post turquoise mine so she would be found. Then Dunder would ride out on Rebel. The gang’s leader wrestled with a conscious that was screaming so loud logic could no longer be heard.
In the end, Dunder left the woman, wrapped in several blankets, where she was sure to be found before she froze to death. Dunder’s heart ached all the back to town.
Chapter 2: The Land Grant
Antonia Leal, at five feet two inches, a diminutive women in stature, but a giant in attitude, was giving instructions to her kitchen staff for the Christmas-day dinner that would take place in about a week. It was a long standing tradition to invite all the Leal Ranch employees.
A Land Grant made by Mexico to her great, great, great grandfather in 1794 and had been passed down through several generations. Up until five years ago, Antonia’s brother was the official property owner, though she took care of most of the ranch’s business. He preferred to breed steers. She was raised there and not only knew its 350,000 acres inside and out, but also its vast operations.
Antonia inherited the property when her brother died from a gore wound caused by a feisty Texas Longhorn he had recently acquired from a breeder in Texas. Since he was unmarried, the land passed on to Antonia. Women in New Mexico were allowed to own property starting in 1839 and she was one of the few that wielded the power that came from cattle, land, and money, though she rarely used it.
She was a bit of an outcast because she didn’t hob-knob with the elite ranchers, mine owners, and business people in the area, preferring to keep her own company. Finishing up in the kitchen, she had just gotten back to her office in the front of the house when she heard her name being called.
“Miss Antonia, the blacksmith is here, in the kitchen waiting for you.”
“Thank you Nelda. Would you please tell the blacksmith to come through to my office?”
“Of course, Miss Antonia.”
A tall, sturdy blond woman knocked on the door jam and waited for an invitation to enter. She was dressed in denim breeches, a long sleeved heavy linen shirt, and a leather apron that covered her shoulders, chest, and extended down to her knees. Her outfit was complete with a belt that usually held tools of the trade. This morning it was empty.
“Come in, Minnie. What can I do for you?”
Minnie strode into the office and parked her almost six foot frame in front of the fire, rubbing her hands together.
“Cold out there today,” she mumbled to no one in particular.
“Pour yourself a cup of coffee,” encouraged Antonia, who never lost the irony of Minnie’s name compared to her physical stature.
As a female blacksmith, she was an oddity but could correct any gait problem with the proper fitting of horseshoes and the decorative iron work she did in the off season, was highly sought out. Antonia had hired her full time a few years back when she realized the extent of Minnie’s talents.
“I hate to admit it, Antonia, but I didn’t estimate right on the iron supplies I need to get us through the winter.”
“Does Clement’s have what you need or do we have to telegraph an order to Texas?”
“Dunno. I would have to ride into town and give it a gander.”
“If they do have what you need, how much are we talking about?”
“Probably four or five hundred.” Minnie winced at the cost and mumbled, “Sorry.”
“No need. You’ve had a lot on your mind lately, right?”
Minnie’s cheeks flushed bright red as she averted her eyes. “Well, that ain’t gonna go no where’s.”
“Why not?” asked Antonia with genuine interest.
“Well, I knows your stand but not everybody sees it the same, including them there cowboys running around the ranch.”
“You forget one thing, Minnie. I own this ranch and I pay the wages of everyone who works here. If you want to invite your friend to Christmas dinner, you should. I’d be happy to have an extra guest.”
Antonia thought for a moment, then continued, “I have an idea. What do you say to you and me leaving for town to check on your supplies? While you are doing that, I’ll visit the dress shop. And, if you decide you want your friend here, you can go by the saloon and make the invitation. We can be back before dark if we hurry.”
“That’s right nice of you, Miss Antonia, but I don’t think you know who we’re talking about.”
“No, I don’t know exactly who you mean but I think she’s part owner of the saloon.”
Minnie was flustered. She didn’t know how to tell Antonia her friend’s background and in her frustration blurted, “You really want an ex-whore at your dinner table?”
Antonia was momentarily surprised at Minnie’s outburst. She paused a moment, then gently continued. “Minnie, is your friend a good person?”
“Yes, better than most.”
“Then that’s good enough for me.”
“But in the past, she’s lain with some of the cow pokes.”
“And they will behave as gentlemen or they will be looking for other jobs come the day after Christmas. You do what you want, but she is welcome at the Leal Ranch. Now let’s go.”
Grace looked up as the bell on the door tinkled and a cold wind swept through the front of the dress shop.
“Hello there, Antonia. I didn’t expect to see you today.”
“Well that’s a fine howdy to your best customer!” Antonia laughed as she removed her gloves and muffler. “Can’t I just stop by and wish you a happy Christmas?”
“Of course you can, but I thought…” Grace did not get a chance to finish her sentence. The bell on the door tinkled again and in strode Mr. Canterra as if he owned the shop. Grace rushed to the entryway and as soon as Mr. Cantera saw her, he started yelling, jabbing his finger in the air near Grace’s face.
“I’m not paying your jacked-up prices for any more of my wife’s dresses. Hear me loud and clear. She is not authorized to order anything else from you, not even a piece of lace!” He turned on his heel and stormed out, rattling the glass as the door slammed shut.
“What was that all about, Grace?”
“Apparently his wife overspent her budget when she ordered a half dozen new dresses for the holiday season. You know, Antonia, sometimes I get lonely, but I would rather be by myself than saddled with a person as despicable as Jorge Canterra.”
“Amen to that!” voiced Antonia.
The folks in Hot Springs knew very little about Grace Garabaldi. All anyone knew is that Grace had come from Philadelphia in a cloud of silence, bought the dress shop, hired seamstresses, and seemed to have plenty of cash. Antonia had resisted the temptation to find out as much as possible about the area’s newest resident, but finally gave in, contacting a private investigator in Philadelphia. She never shared with anyone, including Grace, what she had discovered.
“Grace, I had better let you get back to finishing up whatever is on your agenda today. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Are you by yourself, Antonia?”
“No. I came in with Minnie. She needed some supplies and now I had better go find her before she spends all the ranch’s profits from this year.”
Chapter 3: Shots in the Night
It was a week after the Silent Night Gang dispersed from a cold, wet night in their hideout. Dunder was the last to arrive just as daylight embraced the inky blue and gray night sky.
Comet held the window curtain aside and peered out confirming that the boss had arrived. Several minutes later, Dunder swung open the door and was hit with a wave of welcome warmth and a waft of something cooking.
“You sure took your sweet time getting here,” commented Comet.
“Sorry guys. Just wanted to make sure no one was following me. As it was, I had to make up a reason for leaving mid-morning so that I wouldn’t arouse suspicion.”
“And what reason did you invent?” asked Dasher.
“That I had to see the doctor. As soon as I mentioned ‘private parts’ no one asked any further questions. Told them I’d be staying overnight in town.”
Prancer, always irreverent, blurted, “And just how’re your private parts fairing? You ain’t used them in a long time!”
Dasher and Comet held their breath waiting for Dunder’s response.
“My privates are just that…private, but just so you know, I only disclose that information to people I lay with.” Dunder feigned annoyance then announced, “Let’s eat.”
“All right then. Are we agreed?” asked Dunder.
Three heads nodded simultaneously.
“Same territories as the last couple of years?” questioned Dunder.
“Yup,” all three of the others agreed.
“Shame we had to torch the last haul, but I think we still have enough from that uppity Independent Mining Bank in Cerillos.” Dunder stood up and picked up the saddlebags. They were stuffed with letter-size manilla envelopes.
“We got enough to put a hundred in each envelope,” declared Prancer.
“Yes we do,” answered Dasher. Opening a safe that was wedged behind the wood stove, Dasher took out pile after pile of “greenbacks.” Earlier while waiting for Dunder, the other three gang members counted out stacks of one-hundred dollars. They now stuffed each pile in an envelope. Finishing around midnight, they packed their saddle bags, said their goodbyes to each other, and rode out in four different directions.
Two hours later, Dunder rode into Rainsville. It was a small ramshackle town that during the week was inhabited by mostly women and children. The men were away working in the turquoise mines. Dunder’s horse, Rebel, came to a full stop in a little plaza and stood still as Dunder discharged three shots into the air.
Slowly, cautiously, women dressed in night clothes and shawls came out of their dilapidated houses, and as if by rote, lined up close to the horseman. It was no surprise to Dunder. The gang had been passing out money to needy families for several Christmases. When the last person had received an envelope, Dunder’s horse reared before he and his rider were off to Mora, then Sapello, where indigenous people traded their wares at a trading post that often took advantage of them.
This scene was duplicated by the other three gang members in nine other settlements. This pre-Christmas ritual was guarded by the townspeople who often mislead law enforcement officers as to what they knew about the Silent Night Gang. The gang was as revered by the poverty-ridden locals as much as the 13th century’s enduring folk hero, Robin of Loxley, better known as Robin Hood.
It was almost day break when the reindeer-named gang members congregated at the cabin. After watering and feeding the horses, they ate and rested for a while, agreeing they were lucky for not having encountered any overzealous trolls that Rutledge had roaming around. Always varying the night and routes they took, it was hard for law enforcement to mount an effective undertaking to capture them, but what they did was getting riskier and riskier each year. By midday, they were heading back to their respective towns, no longer dressed as outlaws.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT!