I have been to Graveskul!!!
Let me explain...
So there is this retreat north of Santa Fe, New Mexico called "Ghost Ranch". It is set in a spectacular box canyon surrounded by gigantic mesas with evocative names like "Heaven's Gate", "Orphan Mesa", and "Kitchen Mesa". It is so spectacular that practically every western movie released in the past 20 years has been filmed there.
The author's silhouette with Kitchen Mesa in the distance on the left...
A pic off the internet with "Chimney Rock" in the foreground and "Heaven's Gate" in the distance.
This is our family's second trip to Ghost Ranch, so this time I really got to dig in and learn about the place. Nowadays, Ghost Ranch is mostly known for being the residence of Georgia O'Keefe, and where she did her most famous paintings. There is an undeniable arty vibe, BUT if you poke around a little (and ask the wonderful librarians at the onsite library! YUSSSS!) you discover that the actual Wild West history of Ghost Ranch is AWESOME.
In short, from 1876 to 1903, the box canyon was in the possession of two brothers. These guys were known as the Archuleta Brothers, and they were the baddest of the bad....
...below excerpted from "Valley of Shining Stone/The Story of Abiquiu"
".... [the Archuleta brothers were horse and cattle rustlers] .... The corpses of the Archuleta victims were believed to be at the bottom of the homestead well.
"The Rito del Yeso homestead was soon given a new name: 'They called it Rancho de los Brujos,' Joe I. Salazar remembers. 'Witch Ranch... Ghost Ranch. They say the spirits of the people murdered and buried by the Archuletas never died.'
This went on for 27 YEARS... until
"... after the younger brother brought home an olla (pot) of gold that was payment for cattle he had sold to a Santa Fean. The younger brother buried the gold near the canyon house, perhaps to hide it from his brother, perhaps simply to keep the damning evidence from law-abiding eyes. But the burial of the gold was a fatal mistake: when the older brother, Juan Ignacio, 'Nacho,' learned of the riches hidden from him and could not secure its location, he killed the younger brother with an ax.
"Nacho then threatened to kill his dead brother's wife and promised to feed her child to the hideous rattlesnake Vivaron, when he emerged at sunset, if she did not show him where her dead husband's gold had been buried. Apparently the brother gave his sister-in-law one night to ponder her choices, for she was able to flee the canyon in the dark with her small daughter. "
After reaching safety, the wife and daughter of the dead brother shared their story and the local ranchers had had enough. They rode out to the ranch and hung the surviving brother and 4 henchmen from a tree over the road outside the main house, finally bringing an end to a 25 year career of castle rustling, mayhem, and murder.
Ok, so witchcraft, giant demonic snakes, marauding cattle rustlers, and hanging trees? Does this sound familiar to you?
If not, please visit this amazing blog...Give 'Em Lead
It is the story (mostly) of "Black Vasken" (a Chaos Prince) using (mostly) Oldhammer Fantasy, around the "everytime" western town of "Graveskul". Airbornegrove describes his "Graveskul" setting thusly...
A town of terror, violence, mayhem, horror, and misery! Here on the frontier in a realm torn by rebellion, one can make themselves an existence with a fistful of Chaos Kredz, or for a few Kredz more who knows?
So, like I said in the title...
I have been to Graveskul!
Back to our regularly scheduled blog post...
So I brought some figures with me to Ghost Ranch to paint, and after I learned all about the Archuletas, plus my nephew's enthusiasm (who hasn't been exposed to the awesomeness of miniature wargaming) after he saw me painting minis... IT WAS TIME TO SET UP A GAME!!!
The Archuleta house is still there, so we were walking right on the map.
Below is the house as you approach... (I walked by this house several times everyday on my way to and from the dining hall. Each time I passed, I couldn't help but wonder "which tree did they hang them from?")
It's mostly open ground, but there is a low ridge to the left.
We had to improvise the table. The surface was a green vinyl tablecloth they let us borrow from the cafeteria. The rocks, scrub and brush we just picked up from the ground, and the house was a couple of torn corners from a cardboard box.
Rules were "Shadow Wars".
Scenario was simple:The local ranchers were finally provoked beyond the pale by the Archuletta brothers depredations, so the best gunhand that could be found was hired and made Sheriff. He brought a couple of his men and collected a few of the more willing locals. They proceeded up the road to arrest the brothers.
The brothers have been working the valley for decades, they have spies among the demons and beasts they share the land with (this is by the brothers' own account BTW). They know the posse is on its way, and are ready to fight. They have a few henchmen, but "Vivaron" (the giant demon serpent) only comes out at sunset and won't be available to help.. (Actually, the gift shop didn't have any giant plastic toy rattlesnakes. C'est la guerre.)
I don't have many pics of the game. It was the heat of the moment and we were rolling. The Posse split their force and the Sheriff went up the left using the ridge as cover. The rest of the posse were advancing more deliberately, and firing as they came on up the right of the road.
The plan was for the Sheriff to close rapidly, as he was skilled at close range shooting. Unfortunately, not today, as he got up on two of the Archuleta henchmen, he completely whiffed. The henchmen ...did not....
After their leader went down the rest of the posse really lost heart. The Archuletas were in good cover in the house, and that put the posse at a severe disadvantage in the firefight. After a couple more of them were wounded, they packed it in, and went back down the road.
So clearly, this was NOT 1903...
Abiquiu is in for many more years of criminal mischief from the Archuletas
WHOSE CANYON IS THIS?!!!!????
(Nephew in front, Son in back, as the FEARSOME brothers)
We have gone to Ghost Ranch during "Family Week" twice now. There are planned hikes, art classes of various kinds, and other activities both for families to do together, and some to send the kiddies off for grown up peace and quiet. The activities are a light touch though. I spent my afternoons on a bucolic veranda either painting minis or just looking out at the spectacular view.
As I was painting, many kids came up and were very curious, to the point that the art director asked if I would be willing to run a class next year. I have no idea what that would look like, but I was very flattered. OTOH - aside from the remoteness, I couldn't help but think it would be an excellent place for some sort of convention or gaming get together. It is very reasonably priced for lodging and food, and contains 2 large meeting halls, a library, and a several other classroom buldings that would make a lot of square footage for games. (Not to mention, wives and kids have a gazillion square acres to play in)
As a last note...
the "Vivaron" legend has some curious loose ends.
The first one, was that an actual giant pre-historic snake skeleton was found exposed in plain sight by archaeologists just below Orphan Mesa about 50 years after the Archuletas' demise. The brothers always claimed that the demon serpent, Vivaron lived under Orphan Mesa. Whoa... creepy
Second, it is theorized by some that the late Jim Morrison of the Doors, knew all about this history, and he was directly referencing Vivaron in the song "Not to Touch the Earth". That song led to his nickname, "The Lizard King".
I wasn't sure I was going to even post about this so, thanks aribornegrove for prodding me into it.
...and I didn't mean for this post to be so long, but it was just a great collision of family, friends, hobby.
I have corresponded with airbornegrove extensively about Ghost Ranch/Graveskul. If I were you, I would watch the Give 'Em Lead blog closely for more developments...
Thanks for looking!