The old man shook his head. He sat for a long time.
I shouldn’t ask you.
No. It’s all right. You know his daughter was also named Maggie. It was she who told Fountain to take the boy with him. He said they wouldn’t disturb an eight-year-old boy. But he was wrong, wasn’t he?
No, not me.
What do you think happened?
I always thought the bodies had been brought to Mexico. They had the choice of burying them out there somewhere south of the pass where they could be discovered or going another thirty miles where they could leave them out of the world and I think that’s what they did. ”
– Cormac McCarthy, City of the plain
The limestone cabin sits like a lighthouse on New Mexico, ten thousand feet in the sky. Built on top of the Sandia mountains in 1936, the Rock House was an outpost for wandering rangers, a shelter from the weather, a tourist landmark. It is surrounded by patches of flat rock, platforms from which travelers can look out and see vast south-western territory below. The sight causes a quiet self-reflection from his witnesses, the type inspired only by detachment from the world itself to heaven. Altitude provides the kind of thin air that governs the lungs of a caged fighter.
Two figures move in a circle on top of the granite top of the Sandias. The miles separate them from MMA JacksonWink, the gym they traded for this flat stone floor and this infinite sky ceiling. The clouds flow beside them in dilated strips and fade like remnants of the distant past over Albuquerque. Fighting hoops, hands raised, and Brandon “Six-Gun” Gibson takes his fists in his gloves, high above his boundless New Mexico nowhere.
His fighter career derailed by an injury decades ago, Gibson now trains many of the world’s elite MMA athletes. It’s tight legends from pound to pound; amazing perspectives with unmarked faces and insatiable ambitions; constant vitality with scars such as marked tragedies, skin like skin; champions and challengers; cowboys and murderers born the same way. Many come and go through JacksonWink doors and Gibson saves time for everyone. But only a few selected fighters earn the privilege of joining him Here.
“When I take out the fighters, I’m very selective,” he says. “In the gym I will 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 a lot to me.”
Few people know this place like him. Few can study his history, as Gibson did, and be so strangely compared to his own.
February 2, 1896
They found the rebellious tracks just west of the White Sands, near the remote low hill of Chalk Hill. The winter sun shot out of three empty shells behind a nearby bush, attracting the questioning gaze of one of the men. Easier to find was the stain. The blood had dried and darkened, a phantom tattoo on the sand of New Mexico. As if the man he poured from wished to persecute the earth itself.
Ten miles away, the group discovered the bucket cart. The vehicle had been ransacked and the papers left inside had been torn and scattered on the floorboards. They never found the accusations of the grand jury, nor the two bodies.
Colonel Albert Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry had embarked on a long journey from Lincoln to their home in Mesilla. Fountain brought charges against breeder Oliver Lee and 22 others who were investigating cattle theft allegations. 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 great ambitions and the necessary wickedness to achieve them, and he had filled himself with his rival Fountain who intruded on his affairs. It seemed inevitable that soon one Albert would free the other’s world.
Before leaving Lincoln, Fountain had received a ticket.
While the lawless era of the Old West was breathing its last breath, a handwritten death threat was still enough to color the majority of passive brave men. But Albert Fountain – prosecutor, state senator, army veteran – was not a man of faltering beliefs.
In his 57 years, Fountain has played a vital role in building the framework for today’s New Mexico. He fought for the Union army during the civil war and in 1861 he took part in the Union’s reconquest of New Mexico territory. He defended homeowners in the Apache wars. In 1865, he escaped death while chasing a gang of Apache militants – an arrow protruding from his arm, a bullet in his thigh, trapped under his lifeless horse for an entire night. The fingers of death have been pinned on its shadow for decades, always a whisper out of reach.
But these cattle thieves had the right friends in the best places. And from above, honest men like Albert Fountain looked a lot like stubborn pawns, begging to be blown off the board.
Someone slipped the ticket to Fountain right there in the Lincoln courthouse, the same one the boy had released from all those years ago.
“If you drop this we’ll be your friends,” reads. “If you continue with it you will never reach home alive.”
Brandon Gibson, associate director of the Parks and Recreational Department of Albuquerque *, walks through the halls of the New Mexico State Capitol. Do not meditate in combat tactics or shadowboxes in secret; elbows and countermeasures, high kicks and distance and position control switches have been placed, neatly and temporarily, in the drawers of his subconscious. Save the rare question of a curious colleague, he does well to keep his two works separate.
The country’s only circular building may bear the nickname of a Muay Thai gym from the movie B – The Roundhouse – but Gibson is there for the colorless task of approving a bill. Poorly adrenaline, but his daily work offers his subtle chills.
It goes beyond archival antiquities and sepia-toned photographs hanging from the walls of Roundhouse. An image, captured in the early 1890s, decades before New Mexico was granted state, depicts a group of representatives standing outside the territorial house.
The image stimulates Gibson’s interest. There among the handful of distant faces is the great Albert Fountain, surrounded by friends and closer to death than he could have ever imagined. The face of a Union Army soldier, a Texas senator, a battle-hardened procurator; a face once seen by a boy on the walls of his family home – the face of Brandon Gibson’s third great-grandfather.
“I grew up on Colonel Fountain’s story,” says Gibson. Remember the relics that adorned the great-grandmother’s house in El Paso, Texas: a clock given to Fountain by the governor of Texas; photos of Fountain’s grandparents; a painting of the prosecutor and his son Henry in their table wheelchair, father and son traveling in a house they would never reach.
Beyond Gibson’s nostalgia, beyond the dusty photos nailed to the walls and all the artifacts of the Old West, the influence of Albert Fountain still permeates through New Mexico that Gibson calls today.
“There are still living examples of his work. He helped found New Mexico State University, helped bring schools to the Mescalero Apache reservation, fought for many Native American rights. He was a lawyer, was a military veteran and did many fantastic things for Texas and New Mexico while he was alive.
“My family has always been proud of the man he was.”
The last word persists: the bitter sting of an “is” that through an act of cruel violence has become an “era”. But despite all the injustice that sparked Fountain’s death, perhaps he would find some comfort if he could see his rest resting today. If he were to look at New Mexico now, he would find one of his descendants who carries on the commitment to build a better future for the earth. The lifelong task that was interrupted for Fountain.
Gibson has done various city management jobs in Albuquerque during his first twenty years. He would punch and head to Greg Jackson’s gym, where he would train under the guidance of Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. On the weekends, he would fight.
He rose through the ranks of the city government as his fighting career took hold. As superintendent of the Open Space division, he supervised archaeologists, foresters and trail teams, visiting the many sanctified monuments and monuments he had studied for years.
“Much of my work has been to tell sacred stories about these landscapes,” he says. Ever since he was promoted to Associate Director across the department, Gibson has graduated from telling stories about the history of the earth to shaping the history of his present.
His double lives progressed in parallel, the public official on weekdays and the Saturday night fighter. But this changed in the mid-1920s, when a serious injury put his competitive aspirations on the ice – and led him to find the path he has traveled since then.
“I broke my leg when I was 25,” he says, “and that’s when Greg Jackson encouraged me to start the coach.”
Few men in combat sports share Greg Jackson’s eye for talent. His suggestion turned out to be much more than a game of sympathy for a wounded and ruined young fighter.
Gibson is known today as one of the most gifted and innovative coaches in MMA. He has driven some of the best athletes in the sport to gold belts and superstardom, including Jon Jones, one of the most extraordinary talents the UFC has ever seen.
The peculiar dichotomy of his two careers is not lost on Gibson, the esteemed public official known in the world for caged fighters on bends. But the division between his two works is not as clear as it might seem. When talking to Gibson, it becomes clear that the desires he fulfills 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 archetypal men whose stories have been passed down through generations. You grew up with that and you grew up to be an honorable person; you will fight for what is right. You will have a grit and a boldness for yourself, and also a compassionate side who wants to serve the community and the less fortunate ones.
“And if you want to become a leader, you need to know how to take care of yourself and others. Martial arts have given me a clear path for this. It wasn’t just sport; it was strength, it was strength, it was the feeling that you won’t be pushed, bullied or persuaded. “
Gibson looks back to his ancestor. He knows the story of Albert Fountain, and therefore knows that the beliefs he appreciates most in himself were the same qualities that led Fountain to his disappearance long ago, in a much more ruthless New Mexico.
“New Mexico has been a violent, ruthless, merciless place,” says Gibson. “There hasn’t always been a judge, a jury and a trial.”
A certain irony colors Gibson’s words, since it was a single process that almost obscured Fountain’s most virtuous exploits. His aggression as a prosecutor may have been his downfall, and yet he is most often mentioned for his role as defense attorney in a trial in 1881. Regardless of what he did from that day on, Albert Fountain must have known that this Case would have found its way into his praise.
After all, the trial saw him defend the most notorious outlaw in the history of the American West.
It continues in Pt II: the patron saint of New Mexico
* As of this writing, Gibson’s professional title has changed to Associate Director of the Cultural Services department.