The “Hunch”

From The Springer Times
Springer High School Edition
Volume 9, Number 24.
Springer, Colfax County, New Mexico, Friday, May 13, 1921.

(Submitted by Joe M. Cunningham)

It was a beautiful evening, quite common to the country, in early summer. The earth and air were beginning to gather the coolness that always comes soon after sunset.

No matter how hot the day may be, this delightful coolness always comes with the sunset in New Mexico.

The clouds over the bluish-purple mountains that formed the western horizon reached far into the sky. The golden sun had sunken behind the bulky giants of the west. The clouds above had a beautiful tint of gold with the top edges bordering with a soft, deep, rosy hue. It seemed as if the king of the heavenly bodies had gone into a pit somewhere in the mountains. Your imagination would lead you to believe this pit would reflect and magnify a thousand times the gorgeous colors of the sun when its light was thrown into the fleecy clouds, and so it was. Clouds to the south and to the north had a tint of these colors that faded into a white-grey at their extreme eastern portion.

A young man sat on a stone with his back against a scrub cedar tree, one of the very, very few trees that grow on the rolling, hilly prairie in some parts of the west.

A winding path led up to a well from a little shack at the foot of the hill not far distant. Scarcely ten yards above the well the young man sat, smoking peacefully. The blue smoke from his pipe circled and was caught by the gentle breezes and carried upward, putting to flight a gnat, mosquito or fly that chanced to come in contact with the fumes of the burning tobacco.

Happy thoughts and dreams of the beautiful clouds, mountains, colors, and of the days of happiness to come in the near future, were settling around him — dreams which were mingled with a fond vision of a certain feminine character whom he greatly admired.

The colored clouds began to fade into grey, dreams began to fade into hard, cold facts of reality, as the first dim stars appeared. Even the fire in his mouth went out just as the colors in the clouds had gradually gone out. He had begun to think of the task, if everything turned out all right as he had dreamed of, he could make a home and have a small fortune, maybe a large one for himself and the lady of his hearts desire. O, how he longed for the day when the parson would pronounce her his wife.

Shifting his position slightly, he found his limbs had grown stiff from sitting so long in one position. He arose, knocked the ashes from his pipe, took the bucket of water he had pumped and descended the winding path to the little grey, weatherbeaten shack at the foot of the hill.

Upon entering the small building he set the bucket of water on a bench behind the door, the lit a rather smoky old lamp. Should we have beheld him thus in the dim light we would have noticed these outstanding features in his appearance:

He was of medium height, having broad, thick shoulders, a stately, rather rough looking head, light hair and blue eyes, and a short, thick, bulldog type of neck. His nature was that of a young, happy-go-lucky boy, which he was almost. He was just a big boy suddenly grown into manhood, only he was not sure he was a real man yet. Only recently he had gotten out of college. He had received the degree of a full-fledged geologist. Upon returning to his father’s home in Wyoming, a contract was made between him and his father, in which the son agreed to make a survey of the geological facts of some land in New Mexico. His father was strongly considering the purchase of this land from a ranchman residing in that vicinity.

Thus William Farley sent his son, William Farley, Jr., to buy a small plot joining this tract in question. The twenty acres cost but little, and besides it might be of some value in the future anyway. William Jr. was to pretend to be suffering from ill health and to have came west under the doctor’s orders. Of course there were no signes of ill health written upon William Farley, Jr., but he had reasoned that sickness would be a sufficient explanation to cover up his real mission. Since the people there knew nothing, and cared less, about strangers that came along.

There was a great chance for a fortune if oil should be found on the land. William, Sr., had a chance to purchase a large tract of it, but he wanted to know its possiblities. It was imperative that the survey be made secretly, for as William, Sr., reasoned, should the idea of an oil strike get in the wind the old rancher would probably withdraw his offer altogether, or at least raise it to a prohibitive price.

It was understood that if William Jr. advised his father that oil might be found on this land, he would immediately close the deal for the land. All profits coming from oil that might then be sold from it were to be split fifty-fifty between father and son.

Sitting down to his table, William wrote a letter to his father, the first he had written to him since he arrived in New Mexico. He wrote another to the girl he was engaged to marry. He had met her back in the old eastern town where he had attended college.

After finishing his letters he retired, and for a long time lay awake, wondering what the coming of the new day would bring forth for him. He had now received his instructions, and tomorrow he was to make the first study of the country around him. He would try to determine the question as to whether or not the chances of striking oil were good enough to risk the price of the land. The greater part of the land was so rocky and hilly that it could be used for nothing else, only as a pasture for cattle in the summer. It would be practically worthless to them unless minerals or petroleum should be found upon it.

All of these thoughts slipped slowly from William’s mind and made room for pleasant dreams.

The morning sun as rose over the crest of the hazy, purple prairie hills in the east found William Jr. sitting on a log by the woodpile, ting to lay his plans for the day, He had been out of bed some two hours and had finished his morning meal.

The only friend he had near him now was an Airedale dog to whom he had taken a liking from the very first time he had seen him. One morning he had found the dog waiting at his door as if he might be wanting to speak to someone. When William came to the door the dog had gazed up into his face, and his eyes seemed to ask, “Won’t you be my friend? I’m hungry; won’t you feed me?”

For some unexplainable reason, William just seemed to have an open place in his heart for this shaggy, ugly dog. They were now becoming fast friends, and had learned to understand each other to a remarkable degree.

For a moment William forgot all about everything but his dog, as he sat looking into the deep, seemingly talkative eyes of the animal.

Talking aloud to him he said: “Bummer, old boy, no wonder old John Jones shot at the boys up home the time they threw stones at this dog. I can now see why a man living alone in the hills, as he did, could think that much of an old hound. Why Bummer, you seem like an old friend that I might have known for years. You’re almost human!”

The sun was well up when William finally arose and started off towards the river that lay about two miles north of his shack, with his lunch under his arm and his six-shooter hanging in its holster at this belt. He intends to spend the day if need be to make a good survey of some of the surrounding country.

Upon reaching the river, or what an easterner would call a creek, he followed on the banks downward with the course of the stream, stopping to study the mud and water in the still places. He was trying hard to find some signs of oil that he might recognize. Until noon he walked, the heat becoming more intense with each step, but still he found nothing to arouse interest.

At sunset he returned home. He was very tired and downhearted. All day long he had walked, searched, and looked for something that would tell him that there was a great pool of petroleum beneath that vast stretch of barren land. All his day’s work and time seemed to have been spent in vain.

A little later in the evening, after he had eaten supper and attended to a few of his duties about the house, he went outside and sat down on his old log by the woodpile.

Presently the question came into his mind: “I wonder why Dad sent me here?”

We notice that William Jr. was beginning to worry. “Could it be?” he silently asked himself, “that Dad found out that I really didn’t attend to business and studies enough to become an expert geologist? Does he know about the little affair I put over to obtain my degree from the college? I’ll bet he did know! Strange it never occurred to me before. Dad is a rather shrewd old bird, and he is always playing hunches. He is killing two birds with one stone by sending me out here. He has a hunch that this is oil land. He thinks that by sending me here he will also find out for himself if I have the education he sent me to get. He thinks that I will betray myself in some way as to my knowledge of geology.”

“By gum!” he exclaimed, so loud that Bummer stood up rigid and bristled, looking around to see what had caused his master’s excitement.

“Bummer, old boy, I’m going to put one over on Dad. I’m going to play a hunch myself. I have a real hunch, and I don’t believe it will fail. It must not fail, that’s all. I would be in a sure enough pickle if it did.”

Did you ever feel like someone was looking at you through your window, and later found out that they had been sure enough looking in at you at that time? Maybe you haven’t, but such things do happen to people — people there no different from you have this sort of experiences. Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night and have a feeling that you could not account for having, that something was in the room? You get up and maybe you find that you’ve been robbed, or maybe yu only find that your dog has nosed open the door and is in the corner sleeping, or you might find that a bat had flown into an open window. But you do find something. When you think about it the second time, it was a hunch you had that made you feel that something was there, wasn’t it?

William Farley Jr. had just such a “hunch,” and he was going to play it at a great risk.

William Farley, Sr. sat at the window of his large library reading the newspapers and letters that came to the ranch that morning via aeroplane.

After reading the newspapers he looked over the bunch of letters. Rather a strange man, isn’t he, to read the papers before the letters? But he nearly always did it. Something about his nature made the newspaper’s news just as important as his letters — or a bit more so.

Finally he opened a letter from his son. It read:

“Monte, New Mexico.
“June 23, 1920.

“Dear Dad:
“Close deal with rancher and secure deed. The signs of oil are fine. You’d better order a derrick soon. Gee, Dad, it is sure lonesome here. Write to me soon, won’t you, Dad?

“Your loving son,

The elderly gentleman looked up and stared out through the window for a moment, then laid the letter on the table near him. “Well,” he mused, “I guess I was mistaken. Bill must have made a success in school, for he surely has enough honor about him that he wouldn’t cause his Dad to spend a fortune for nothing. I’m going to see the deal through.”

He immediately wired his acceptance of the offer to the New Mexican and the first payment which was to make the transaction binding.

In a few days he had a drilling machine and a full force of men on th way to set up and start operations upon his new real estate. He gave his son orders to supervise the work and look after the financial end. It was necessary for William, Sr. to go east at this time and settle up some neglected business with some cattle dealers in New York. He would probably be gone two or three months, owing to how he found conditions. William, Jr. would have to look after things, that was all.

“Bill’s not a man yet,” said Farley to himself, “but I’ve a feeling that he has the stuff in him and will be one after having a few real big matters in life to deal with.”

It was just like William Farley, always trying to develop his son into a real man of the world, and do something else big at the same time. Kill two birds with every stone, seemed to be his motto.

William Jr. as we now see him is worried. His face is drawn and his eyes look dark and sunken. Days of worry have been long and many since drilling commenced. Every day brought forth greater difficulties. First there was a man killed by an explosion of a tank of gasoline near the driller.

William Jr. had managed to keep the work going, and the well was going deeper and deeper, but several men had quit working and left after the death caused by the explosion. The men were now on the verge of striking, and men were scarce and hard to get. These men were a hard lot, and might commit some act of violence. They had not received their pay for over a month, as for some reason the bank did not send the payroll when William ordered it. He gave the men checks, and they had been turned down at the bank.

His father had not answered his telegrams.

These were by no means the most serious worries that were gnawing at William’s nerves. Although he still had a strong “hunch,” or feeling that they would strike oil, there now comes a sickening thought: What if they would not strike oil? What if his father should find out that he was only playing a hunch — gambling his money away, with only a strange feeling to guarantee a return or event the recovery of the investment.

He eased his mind slightly with the thought that his father had always played “hunches.” Hid did not let the worries get the best of him, for he had the grid and sand to stick, even if he did get in deep.

He resolved to go to the telegraph office and send another telegram to the bank. He would not send anyone else. He would do it himself this time.

He saddled up his horse early in the morning and set out for the town about seven miles away. He sent a message to the bank inquiring why his checks had been turned down. He told them to prepare to meet some checks that he was going to write immediately, and reminded them that if the account was overdrawn, his father would stand good for the amount in question. He made the telegram long and sent it collect. He was mad, through and through. Then he sat down and waited three long hours for an answer. William Farley Jr. was not the happy-go-lucky youth that he had been a few months ago. He had something worth while to think about, and big things to do. Worries and cares of life were broadening his mind, making him a man.

When his answer came this is what William Farley, Jr. read:

“Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“September 28, 1920.

“William Farley, Jr.,
“Monte, New Mexico.
By order of William Farley, Sr., stopped payment on checks. Will pay limited amount next week.

“First National Bank,
“By Chas. Reid, Cashier.”

William stuck the telegram into his shirt pocket and strode out of the office. Why would teh bank accept his checks next week, and why did they turn down those he had already written? He couldn’t answer this question. Neither could he figure out why his father had ordered the bank to stop payment on the checks. “Well,” he finally said to himself as he was riding out of the little town, “I suppose I’ll have to let things slide as they are, but I be damned if I can get the drift of some things.”

William consoled himself with the thought that he could at least pay his men. He needed some consolation.

Upon arriving in sight of the camp, William noticed that the drill machine was not running. As he came closer upon the camp he saw some of the men were just lounging around and others in groups talking among themselves. Some of them were sitting on the shady side of their tents, talking and making gestures in a rather angry or excited manner.

“Well,” thought William, “they’ve struck! Just some more trouble for me.”

When he strode up into the camp he quietly unsaddled his horse and turned him in the little corral. Not one of the men that were gathered at the tent nearest to the corral appear conscious of his presence, but a group of Mexicans at the tent further on looked up and gazed after William with their black, beady snakelike eyes, as he strode up to his little shack and entered.

He sat down and pondered over the situation. He had already reasoned that the men had decided not to work any longer unless they received their back pay. He did not know what course would be best to pursue in a matter of this kind. Finally, after he failed to hit upon any other satisfactory method of solving his problem, he decided to let the men make the first move. As we shall see they were not long in doing this either.

In a few moments all the men gathered together and held conference. They decided to send two men picked from the bunch to demand of William immediate payment of wages.

Two men came and knocked on the door of the shack, and in answer to William’s “Come in,” the door opened and two men entered. One of them was a large, burley man in his shirt sleeves, name Pat O’Neil, a typical Irishman. Although he was rather a rough man, he was honest and good-hearted. William had recognized this fact soon after he had first seen him. The other man was a large native of New Mexico. They informed him that the men refused to work any longer unless they received their pay. Also if placed any value on his hide, he had better dig up.

“All right,” replied William, “call them together; I want to give them a talk, and I’ll pay them off.”

“Say, Boss Kid, I warn ye, it aint a talk they’re wanting;’ it’s money, and you better dig up dern sudden,” advised Pat.

“Go ahead and get them all up here,” commanded Bill.

William then made out a check for each man his time, writing the amount he owed them in full. He arose, took the checks outside, and faced the gang of about twenty-five men that had gathered.

“Well fellows,” William began: “I am sorry that you have distrusted me as you have, but here are your checks in full.”

Before he could say more, someone in the crowd sang out, “To hell with checks. You gave us checks before, and they were worthless. You dirty, lowdown, crooked skunk, you can’t cheat us again, Bill Farley. We want United States money.”

William felt the hot anger rush through his veins, but with a great effort kept himself under control. “You will find that these checks are alright now, boys,” he said quietly.

“Damn you, Farley, we want cold cash,” someone in the crowd persisted. “Cheat!”

William’s blood boiled. He hesitated — then turned to Pat O’Neil and held out the loose checks. “Keep them a minute for me, Pat.”

William knew instinctively that rough as Pat may appear on the outside, he was fair and square underneath.

Half crazed with anger, William advanced.

“Will the man that said that step out?” he demanded. “Let’s see if he’s a man?”