keith M willis

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Bed and Breakfast

Bed and breakfast owners in Las Cruces, southern New Mexico, invited a Fort Selden park ranger to come and do a soldier presentation for their guests. I accepted and got dressed in 1880s wooly soldier garb.  I grabbed a couple of black-powder rifles and a sack of gear and headed out in a state pickup truck.   

I located the bed and breakfast and found a parking spot about a block away.  I collected my guns and equipment and walked to the bed and breakfast.  The owners ushered me in to a waiting group of about fifteen adults.  I spent fifteen minutes talking about the history of the area and of Fort Selden and the surrounding Indian tribes.   

What I did not know was that a neighbor lady had seen me walking along the sidewalk in strange clothes carrying two guns.  She called the cops.  There was a bank a couple of blocks away.  The cops were now mobilizing and the local news station had learned of the incident over the police radio frequency.   

I finished my history and soldier presentation and suggested we all go out back for a demonstration of the guns.  A couple of ladies headed to the bathroom and the other guests carried chairs outside.  I showed them a Sharps carbine and a long barrel 58 caliber rifle.  Then I loaded a black powder cartridge into the long rifle (no lead bullet), put on a firing cap, aimed at the sky, and fired.  There was a loud bang.  A big puff of black smoke blew out of the barrel, and everybody was pleased.   

The police patrolling through the neighborhood now had a clue where the stranger with the guns was because they heard the bang.  A lady came from the bathroom and said she didn’t get to see the first shot; could I shoot another?  I said “sure” and loaded another powder cartridge into the rifle and fired it.  This resulted in another loud bang and everybody was happy.   

A different lady headed back inside the bed and breakfast to go to the bathroom.  About a minute later she reappeared around the outside of the building.  She walked over and whispered in my ear that the police out front would like to speak with me.  I lowered my rifle in my left hand and headed that way when a husky police sergeant stepped around the corner of the building, his pistol drawn and pointed in the air.  His forehead showed sweat so he was nervous.   

I asked what he was doing and he breathed a big sigh of relief.  He told me this was the first time he had drawn his gun while on duty.  I looked around the side of the house to the street out front, and there were cops and cop cars everywhere.  Creeping slowly toward me was a nervous news reporter with a camera pointed at me.  Sweat was running down his forehead.  When he got close, he asked what I was doing.  I told him I was a park ranger from Fort Selden doing a soldier demonstration at the bed and breakfast.  I told him that I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to shoot guns inside the city limits so I was sorry about that.   

Then I walked to the front yard of the building to get a better view of all the commotion.  The camera guy followed along beside me with film still rolling.  I had to chuckle at all the cops and cop cars everywhere.   

 I then went back to the rear of the bed and breakfast where the guests were still gathered and told them the demonstration was over.  A couple of ladies helped me carry the guns back to my truck.   

The next day at Fort Selden one of the bed and breakfast visitors came to see me.  She filled me in on the previous evening’s TV news.  The story of the day was the police manhunt for a stranger carrying guns near the bank.  The largest manhunt in Las Cruces in the past decade turned out to be a park ranger from Fort Selden.  A false alarm.  Some of the bed and breakfast guests had gotten on TV.  This was big entertainment for them.   

I asked the lady if I came across the news as a bad guy and she said no. It was just a simple mistake.   

One footnote to this story came about a month later when the news reporter showed up at Fort Selden during a dress reenactment day.  I recognized him and we shared some laughs.  He told me that more than twenty cop cars had surrounded the bed and breakfast during the soldier incident, and a SWAT sniper, after locating my position, had put me in his crosshairs to see if I was a threat to the bed and breakfast guests.     

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