“So this is how it will end.” He thought to himself. “Either I die here in the street or return to the ranch and live out my days with another man’s blood on my hands.”
Ray Masterson stood wide legged, knees partially bent, the duster that furled around his boots was unbuttoned to allow access to the Smith and Wesson pistol he wore in a cross-draw belt holster. Ray kept his hand close to the pistol, eyes on his adversary. He was surprisingly calm. This moment and how it would feel occupied his thoughts for most of the last year. He somehow always felt that when the time arrived he would be nervous. Ray never had any doubt that he would go through with it, Bill Benders’ reputation be damned. There was a debt to be paid and now it would be collected.
The street destiny found Ray Masterson standing on was in the town of Mowry, Arizona Territory. The population of five hundred gave it the distinction of being the largest town in the area Southeast of Tucson. When Sly Mowry bought the Patagonia mine in 1860 he worked it two shifts a day and took out tons of silver, lead and zinc. The lead he sold to the army, either North or South, the silver he kept for himself. By the time Ray arrived silver was getting harder to extract and Mowry looked like it was headed for extinction. A painful road led Ray to Mowry.
News of a bright future took Ray on an unexpected trip to Tucson. Grim circumstances caused him to leave Tucson the day after he arrived. He spent just enough time there to give his brother John a proper burial and provision himself for the chase. He jotted a quick note to his wife, which he handed to the telegraph operator on his way out of town. In it he explained the unsavory circumstances of John’s death and his plan to track down Benders. He told her he loved her and that he would return. He scratched out the final phrase, “one way or another”.
With a packhorse in tow, Ray Masterson headed south to Montana Camp while the sky still only hinted of the day to come. Skirting the looming nine thousand-foot bulk of Mount Wrightson, he rode into the shadowed relief of Agua Caliente Canyon at noon the next day. Here he watered the horses in the Agua Caliente wash, ate a cold lunch, then followed the wash toward its source, east through the Santa Rita Mountains. The trail was deceptively steep and despite the mild pace he set, his breathing grew labored. Ray stopped several times among the Emory oaks and Apache pines to rest the horses. They where having no better time with the thin air as he neared the seven thousand-foot saddle where he would then descend south into the desert and strike Montana Camp by the next evening.