Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
No one knows for sure what happened, and the people who do aren’t talking about it.
Five miles north of the Mexican border on a remote West Texas ranch, a New Mexico hunting guide and his client were wounded over the weekend in an alleged gunfight that a family friend described as an attack by “illegal aliens” and an attempted kidnapping.
The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office appeared to question that account in a statement Monday, saying “there is no evidence to support allegations of ‘cross-border violence.’” A Border Patrol spokesman called the alleged incident “highly unusual for our part of the border.”
The following is an account of the events.
Hunting guide Walker Daugherty, 26, of Chloride, N.M. – a ranching community about three hours southwest of Albuquerque near the Gila National Forest – was guiding an exotic big game hunt near Candelaria, Texas, on the border when his party was allegedly attacked by unknown assailants.
Daugherty and his fiancée, another hunting guide and his wife were staying in a lodge at the Circle Dug Ranch. Edwin Roberts, the hunter, and his wife were asleep in a rented RV nearby when gunmen attempted to take the vehicle by force.
Daugherty was shot in the abdomen when he tried to stop the assailants from taking the RV with his clients inside, according to a statement issued by the Gila Livestock Growers Association that described the attack as a kidnapping attempt. Roberts, 59, was shot in the arm.
The RV was “riddled with bullet holes,” the statement said.
Daugherty and Roberts were taken to an El Paso hospital and were in stable condition Monday.
Rancher and Gila Livestock Growers Association President Laura Schneberger issued a news release about the attack, based on the Daugherty family’s account. In addition to their hunting business, Redwing Outfitters, the Daugherty family runs a ranch near the Gila National Forest. The family could not be reached Monday.
“The attack has the family concerned that the attack was not just an attempt to rob the property,” the growers association statement said. “They believe the assailants intended to kill all the party. The attackers were strategically placed around the lodge, and the men were fired upon from different areas.”
The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call around 9:30 p.m. Friday from the Circle Dug Ranch, a two-hour drive from the Presidio County seat, Marfa. Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Nunez responded to the scene.
“We are still investigating details of the shooting,” Sheriff Danny Dominguez said in a statement. “However, there is no evidence to support allegations of ‘cross-border violence’ as released by some media sources.”
The terrain of Presidio County, near Big Bend National Park, is rugged like New Mexico’s Bootheel and notoriously difficult to patrol for both local law enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol.
The sheriff is tasked with securing more than 3,800 square miles – New Mexico’s Hidalgo County is about 3,400 square miles, by comparison – and the area is a known corridor for drug mules and smugglers leading migrants illegally over the border.
By phone, Dominguez said that despite the illegal traffic through the area, violent incidents like this one haven’t happened.
“This is out of the blue,” he said. “Like they say it happened, something violent like this – no.”
Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Rush Carter said agents aided sheriff’s deputies in securing the scene.
“It’s highly unusual for our part of the border,” Carter said. “Any kind of gun violence just doesn’t happen. I wouldn’t say ‘at all,’ but very, very few incidents. If we have gunplay in our area of operation, it’s not folks coming from Mexico doing that.
“We just don’t see it in people who are trying to smuggle aliens or narcotics. If you think about it, when something like that happens, you see the amount of law enforcement presence that comes into an area and the attention it gets, which is bad for them. It will make it that much tougher for them” to make their illegal crossings.
The Big Bend area of West Texas is a magnet for hunters and hikers. Tourism is big business from the hip, artsy town of Marfa into the wild reaches of the Big Bend National Park, which borders Mexico.
Daugherty’s group was hunting aoudad, also known as Barbary sheep, a type of big-horned North African sheep introduced in West Texas. Redwing Outfitters charges $4,900 for a four- to six-day aoudad hunt, according to its website. “In our camps you will find a Christian atmosphere, fun hardworking professional guides and real homecooking,” the website says.
The Circle Dug Ranch, where the party was spending the night, advertises bird-watching, cave exploration and photography workshops and promotes guided hunting packages. An email to the Circle Dug Ranch requesting comment went unanswered Monday.
“It’s a tourist attraction in the Big Bend area, and nobody wants to talk about it, but a lot of ranches have seen a lot of terrible things,” Schneberger said by phone. “This is personal.”
A GoFundMe website account set up to provide financial support to Daugherty had raised more than $18,000 by more than 200 donors in two days. Daugherty is expected to undergo surgery and does not have medical insurance, according to the site.