Heavy rains this summer in my home state of New Mexico have brought joy to many who've tired of the drought, and I'm among them. But the elation of the cool summer was jolted to sorrow in August with the passing of one of the Southwest's most colorful characters.
Charles Newman Pirtle will be remembered for many things, among them being one of the finest gentlemen the country has ever known. I'd known Charlie Pirtle since the early '80s, having been introduced to him by my Dad. Charlie enjoyed a great career in the United States Border Patrol, retiring from the Las Cruces, New Mexico, station. He and my Dad had heard about each other long before they actually met. The story went that Dad and Charlie resembled each other to the point they were often mistaken for one another. One day Dad was traveling near Las Cruces and encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint attended by Agent Pirtle. Dad and Charlie took a long look at each other. Finally, the silence was broken and a friendship began.
"You must be Pirtle," Dad said.
"And you must be Skelton," Charlie replied.
I later spent a good deal of time with Charlie up at Mike Laney's ranch near the Gila National Forest. Charlie loved hunting mule deer there, and each year he'd set up a fine camp near Macho Canyon. It was always good to hunt with Charlie, as he was a first-rate storyteller and fine camp chef. Mike and I heard a lot of great tales about Charlie's Border Patrol career, his time on the Border Patrol pistol team, his time in the U.S. Army as a ski trooper in Alaska and stories of the many characters he'd run into over the years. Charlie was a fine shot and could handle a pistol as well as anyone I'd ever seen. And it seemed he always bagged a decent mulie up at Mike's place.
After his retirement from the Border Patrol, Charlie didn't want to hang around the house so he signed on with the Marshal's Service, conducting courtroom security duties at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. As a pretty young federal agent, I was often in court there and had the chance to visit with my old friend. During times I was required to give testimony regarding various investigations, Charlie frequently sat in the courtroom and listened—impartially, of course. Seeing Charlie there always gave me a comforting feeling–a good thing when you're in such a spot.
Along with his courtroom duties, Charlie took time to teach tracking skills. As a Border Patrol agent, he had a reputation as one of the finest trackers around. After his retirement, Charlie taught tracking and sign-cutting to search-and-rescue groups and law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Charlie owned a fine little cabin on the Red River in Northern New Mexico–one of my favorite places in the state. He graciously loaned me the place on several occasions. The cabin was a grand place to get away from everyday life. It was chock full of neat accoutrements Charlie had gathered over the years, and the walls were lined with some of his many hunting trophies. The place sat smack dab in the middle of some of the best elk country in the Southwest, and the Red River teemed with trout.
Along with being a master pistol and rifle shot, Charlie was a collector with a penchant for fine Colts and Winchesters. He had a fine collection and was always thrilled to share it with his many friends. Last fall Charlie headed down to my part of the state, joining me and Mike Laney, along with InterMedia Outdoor's Jim Bequette and Darin Narlock, for some shooting and tale-swapping around the Florida Mountains. Darin filmed some of these exploits for various episodes of "Guns & Ammo TV."
Charlie turned out to be a natural storyteller on camera, and he charmed the whole group.
Charlie Pirtle had a kind and gentle nature that captivated everyone he came into contact with. I'd bet most of the thousands of illegal aliens Charlie apprehended during his Border Patrol years liked him. He was a friend to many, a hero to some and one of the finest men I've ever known.
As his son, Carl, told me shortly after Charlie's passing, "Mountains aren't supposed to go away."