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Will Fox

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The Ghosts of Chalk Hill — Part 1: Six-Gun

On the fighters and outlaws of New Mexico’s present and past.

“Who do you think killed Colonel Fountain? The old man shook his head. He sat for a long time. I ought not to of asked you. No. It’s all right. You know his daughter’s name was Maggie too. She was the one told Fountain to take the boy with him. Said they wouldn’t bother an eight year old. But she was wrong, wasn’t she?

"Do you think they’re still buried out there? No. I don't. What do you think happened? I always thought the bodies were taken to Mexico. They had a choice to bury em out there somewhere south of the pass where they might be discovered or to go another thirty miles to where they could drop em off the edge of the world and I think that’s what they done.” — Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

Cottonwood trees that line the Rio Grande with the Sandia Mountains in the background Photo by: Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The limestone cabin sits like a beacon over New Mexico, ten thousand feet in the sky. Built atop the Sandia Mountains in 1936, the Rock House has served as an outpost for wandering rangers, a shelter from angry weather, a tourist hotspot. It’s surrounded by patches of flat rock — platforms from which travelers may look out and see a sprawling southwestern terrain down below. The view provokes a quiet self-reflection from its witnesses, the kind inspired only by skyward detachment from the world itself. The altitude provides the kind of thin air that disciplines the lungs of a cage fighter.

Two figures move in circles atop the granite summit of the Sandias. Miles separate them from JacksonWink MMA, the gym they’ve traded for this flat floor of stone and this ceiling of infinite sky. Clouds stream by them in dilated streaks and fade like residues of the distant past over Albuquerque. The fighter circles, hands raised, and Brandon “Six-Gun” Gibson catches the punches in his mitts, high above his boundless New Mexico nowhere.

His own combat career derailed by injury decades ago, Gibson now coaches many of the world’s elite MMA athletes. He’s cornered pound-for-pound legends; stargazing prospects with unmarked faces and insatiable ambitions; steadfast lifers with scars like tally-marked tragedies, skin like leather; champions and challengers; cowboys and natural born killers alike. Many come and go through the JacksonWink doors, and Gibson spares time for them all. But only a select few fighters earn the privilege of joining him out here.

“When I do take the fighters out, I’m very selective,” he says. “In the gym I’ll train anyone. But to go to one of these sacred places, I have to be very connected to the fighter. It’s not just a tourist attraction because this landscape means so much to me.”

Few people know this place like he does. Few can study its history, as Gibson has, and be so strangely confronted with their own.

February 2, 1896

They found the wayward tracks just west of the White Sands, near the remote low rise of Chalk Hill. Winter sun beamed off of three empty bullet casings behind a nearby bush, drawing the interrogative gaze of one of the posse men. Easier to find was the stain. The blood had dried up and darkened, a phantom tattoo on the New Mexico sand. As if the man from which it spilled wished to haunt the land itself.

Ten miles away the posse discovered the buckboard wagon. The vehicle had been ransacked and the papers left inside were torn up and scattered across the floorboards. They never found the grand jury indictments, nor the two bodies.

Colonel Albert Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry had embarked on a long trek from Lincoln to their home in Mesilla. Fountain brought with him the indictments against the rancher Oliver Lee and 22 others he was investigating on charges of cattle theft. But the case had its complications. Lee was a neighbor and cohort of Albert Fall, a powerful landowner, lawyer, and sworn enemy of Albert Fountain. Fall had lofty ambitions and the necessary malevolence to achieve them, and he’d had his fill of his rival Fountain meddling in his affairs. It seemed inevitable that one Albert would soon rid the world of the other.

Before leaving Lincoln, Fountain had received a note.

While the lawless era of the Old West was drawing its last breath, a handwritten death threat was still enough to color most brave men passive. But Albert Fountain — prosecutor, state senator, army veteran — was not a man of wavering convictions.

In his 57 years, Fountain played a pivotal role in building the framework for today’s New Mexico. He fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, and in 1861 he took part in the Union’s recapture of the New Mexico Territory. He defended homesteaders in the Apache Wars. In 1865, he narrowly escaped death while pursuing a band of Apache militants — an arrow protruding from his arm, a bullet in his thigh, trapped beneath his lifeless horse for an entire night. Death’s fingers affixed to his shadow for decades, always a whisper out of reach.

But these cattle thieves had the right friends in the right high places. And from overhead, honest men like Albert Fountain looked much like stubborn pawns, begging to be swept off the board.

Someone slipped Fountain the note right there in the Lincoln courthouse, the same one the Kid had sprang free from all those years ago.

“If you drop this we will be your friends,” it read. “If you go on with it you will never reach home alive.”


Will Fox

Brandon Gibson, Associate Director of Albuquerque’s Parks and Recreations department*, walks the halls of the New Mexico State Capitol. He doesn’t ponder combat tactics or shadowbox in secret; clinch elbows and counter hooks and high kicks and distance control and stance switches have been tucked away, neatly and temporarily, in the drawers of his subconscious. Save the rare question from a curious coworker, he does well to keep his two jobs separate.

The country’s only round capitol building may bear the nickname of a B-movie Muay Thai gym — The Roundhouse — but Gibson’s there for the lusterless task of passing a legislative bill. Scant in the way of adrenaline, but his day job offers its own subtle thrills.

He passes the archival antiquities and sepia-tones photographs that hang from the Roundhouse walls. One picture, captured in the early 1890s, decades before New Mexico was granted statehood, depicts a group of representatives standing outside of the Territorial house.

The image piques Gibson’s interest. There among the handful of long-gone faces is the great Albert Fountain, surrounded by friends and closer to death than he could ever have known. The face of a Union Army soldier, a Texas senator, a battle-hardened prosecutor; a face once seen by a young boy on the walls of his family home — the face of Brandon Gibson’s third-great-grandfather.

“I have grown up with the story of Colonel Fountain,” Gibson says. He recalls the relics that adorned his great-grandmother’s house in El Paso, Texas: a clock given to Fountain by the governor of Texas; pictures of Fountain’s grandparents; a painting of the prosecutor and his son Henry in their buckboard carriage, father and son traveling to a home they’d never reach.

Beyond Gibson’s nostalgia, beyond dusty photos nailed to walls and all the artifacts of the Old West, Albert Fountain’s influence still permeates through the New Mexico Gibson calls home today.

“There are still living examples of his work. He helped establish New Mexico’s state university, he helped bring schools to the Mescalero Apache reservation, he fought for a lot of Native American rights. He was a lawman, he was a military veteran, and he did a lot of great things for Texas and New Mexico while he was alive.

“My family has always been proud of the man he was.”

That last word lingers — the bitter sting of an ‘is’ that through an act of cruel violence became a ‘was.’ But for all the injustice that precipitated Fountain’s demise, perhaps he’d find some solace if he could see his own resting place today. Were he to look upon New Mexico now, he’d find one of his descendants carrying on the commitment to building a better future for the land. The lifelong task that was for Fountain cut short.

Gibson worked various city management jobs in Albuquerque throughout his early twenties. He’d punch out and head to Greg Jackson’s gym, where he’d train under the tutelage of Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. On the weekends, he’d fight.

He ascended through the city government ranks as his fight career picked up steam. As the superintendent of the Open Space division, he oversaw archaeologists, foresters, and trail crews, visiting the many hallowed landmarks and monuments he’d studied for years.

“A big part of my job was to tell the sacred stories of these landscapes,” he says. Since being promoted to Associate Director of the entire department, Gibson has graduated from telling stories of the land’s history to shaping the story of its present.

His dual lives progressed in parallel, the public servant on weekdays and the Saturday night fighter. But that changed in his mid-twenties, when a major injury put his competitive aspirations on ice — and led him to find the path he’s been walking ever since.

“I broke my leg when I was 25,” he says, “and that’s when Greg Jackson encouraged me to start coaching.”

Few men in combat sports share Greg Jackson’s eye for talent. His suggestion proved to be much more than a sympathy play to a wounded, crestfallen young fighter.

Gibson is known today as one of the most gifted and innovative striking coaches in MMA. He’s guided some of the sport’s top athletes to gold belts and superstardom, including Jon Jones, one of the most remarkable talents the UFC has ever seen.

The peculiar dichotomy of his two careers is not lost on Gibson, the esteemed public servant known to the world for cornering cage fighters. But the divide between his two jobs is not as stark as it may appear. When speaking to Gibson, it becomes clear that the yearnings he satisfies through each role were instilled in him at a young age, through the tales of men like Albert Fountain.

“I was brought up with these archetype men whose stories were passed down through generations. You’re raised with that, and you’re raised to be an honorable person; you’re going to fight for what’s right. You’re going to have a grit and a boldness to you, and also a compassionate side that wants to serve the community and those less fortunate.

“And if you’re going to be a leader, you need to know how to take care of yourself and others. Martial arts gave me a clear path for that. It wasn’t only sport; it was strength, it was fortitude, it was a sense that you’re not gonna be pushed or bullied or persuaded.”

Gibson again looks back to his ancestor. He knows Albert Fountain’s story, and so he knows the convictions he values most in himself were the same qualities that led Fountain to his demise long ago, in a much more unforgiving New Mexico.

“New Mexico was a violent, cutthroat, no mercy place,” Gibson says. “There wasn’t always a judge, jury, and trial.”

A certain irony colors Gibson’s words — as it was a single trial that nearly overshadowed Fountain’s more virtuous exploits. His aggressiveness as a prosecutor may have been his downfall, and yet he’s more often mentioned for his role as a defense attorney in one trial in 1881. No matter what he did from that day forward, Albert Fountain must’ve known this case would find its way into his eulogy.

After all, the trial saw him defend the most infamous outlaw in the history of the American West.

To Be Continued in Pt II: The Patron Saint of New Mexico

*Since the writing of this story, Gibson’s job title has changed to Associate Director of the Cultural Services department.


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