The first time we set eyes on Richard Shuman (pictured above), he was cursing at his dog Hannah and swatting her with an old bath towel. We nodded as we drove past, crossing our fingers that the camp site we had reserved at Brantley Lake State Park in New Mexico wasn't right next to his. He didn't nod back.
Over the next few days, we kept an eye on the leather-clad misfit, still unsure about his status at the park. We watched a handful of other campers unhitch in the spaces next to his, and leave again within the hour. In truth, it was hard not judge the man by his cover. He'd posted "No Trespassing" and "Beware of Dog" signs all over his camper. His truck was painted camouflage and sounded something like the apocalypse. He ran a diesel generator through most of the night. At times, we felt like we were camped out next to a running lawnmower.
Nevertheless, in our last hour at Brantley Lake - and still searching for a good interview from New Mexico - we decided he was our man. After talking with Shuman for nearly an hour, I found plenty to disagree with; at the same time, I found him strangely likable, and exactly the type of interview I imagined when Mel and I were still dreaming up Local Color XC. But nobody can tell Shuman's life story better than Shuman himself. The text below is an abridged transcription of my interview.
I’ve been all over the country.
I’m 73, will be 74 next month. I’m a retired truck driver, mechanic, security guard, etc. I was born in Fostoria, Ohio, about 30 miles southeast of Toledo. I came to New Mexico with my father and mother in August 1960. I was 17. My father was an engineer for the missile silos near Roswell.
I didn’t start the security work until probably 1980, out here in the oil field. They call it “rig watching.” When they leave for the holidays and stuff, I go stay on site at the rig. You stay 24 hours, and usually for about six days at a time. It’s not exactly the safest thing to be doing. You take a drilling rig bit, and that’s upward of a million dollars just for the bit. It’s a very stealable item out in the oil field, so I do armed security.
In the last 56 years of living here in New Mexico, I’ve been in four gunfights.
I was in Arizona in ‘84. Criminals shot my neighbor three times before I took action. Of course, I spent a day or two in jail, but I got exonerated of any wrongdoing.
And then there was another guy in Roswell in ‘82 or ‘83, shot three people in his backyard. It’s kind of a long story. We were having a keg party, and the host came out the back door with a rifle in his hand and said, “Who stole the keg?” He was probably all drunk. We called him Talkin’ Tommy. When our guys approached him on the back porch, a struggle ensued over the rifle. The two of them got inside the house and a shot went off, and here come one of our guys out the door, and the host proceeded to start shooting at people.
I carry all the time, ever since I moved to New Mexico. I get into pretty remote areas, and sometimes I’m close to the border. I’m a former member of the Minute Man Civil Defense Corp. In 2006-2007, we camped out along the border in Columbus to intercept illegal aliens and drug smugglers and stuff. They’re now defunct.
Anyhow, this guy had shot three people and his own kids were in the backyard, and I walked over toward my motorcycle to get my .42 caliber pistol. I got the black powder and returned fire, and he went upstairs and proceeded to continue shooting out the upstairs window with a .12 gauge slug gun. There were three of us. One of them had a buck knife, and I had one round left in my black powder, and we stormed the house. We go up the stairs, and out of the door comes a big old lady. She almost got shot. He escaped out the window, but the cops caught him.
All I can say is don’t ever get in a gunfight with a black powder.
I am absolutely a staunch believer in the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court determined that we have the right to defend ourselves, no matter where we’re at; not just in the home, but anywhere. That means out here in the streets—anywhere. I disagree with some states on the concealed carry permits because that is a form of gun control in disguise. Instead of registering guns, they’re registering people that own the guns through that licensing. Just because a few crazy people go and do mass shootings, don’t penalize the rest of the American citizens. Disarm us and you watch, ISIS will be here in a heartbeat.
I basically live in the state parks system.
I pay $100 per year for an annual permit. I’m disabled, and I’m a senior citizen. That works out to about $9 a month for rent.
I was watching TV one night, watching the news, and the park superintendent here at Brantley Lake was being interviewed and he said they had a big fish kill and they didn’t have the staff to clean it up. Algal blooms killed them off. So I called him from Roswell – I lived in Roswell for 30-some years off and on – and I said, “How would you like to have a volunteer come help?” And he said, “Yeah, come on down.” Well, I was the only one that volunteered apparently. It took me two and a half months.
I’m low income, but of course my expenses are low also. I don’t have a mortgage to worry about. I have everything that anybody else has who owns a home. I have a microwave. I have flat screen TVs. I have a computer. Everything I have is paid for. No debt. I’m absolutely free. I’ve had people actually say they’re envious because I am so free.
I don’t owe nobody nothing. I don’t owe nobody the time of day. People stay pretty well away from me. I’ve had people say, “Richard, a lot of people don’t want to approach you, because you’re scary.” And I say fine, because I’m not out here to make friends. I’m not out here to make enemies. I’m just enjoying my retirement. Minding my own business.
The guy I bought this motorcycle off of—now there’s a story still in progress.
I was staying over at Elephant Butte Lake, and I was going to put a differential gear in my truck. I didn’t have a press, but the neighbor guy had a repair shop, and I knew he had a press. I went over there one day, and there was some other guy in the shop. He said, “Randy is gone. I’m here watching the place.” I said, “I need to use a press to push the bearing off and on.” He said to come on in. He was real friendly and stuff, didn’t charge me nothing. He happened to mention he had a motorcycle. He said, “I’ve got an old DT1 Yamaha out there that doesn’t run.” I said, “Oh yeah? I used to race those things back in the 70s, the exact same model.” I was third ranking in the state of New Mexico in 250-class motocross. He said, “Why don’t you come out and take a look at it for me some day?” I said, “Sure. Why not?”
So I made arrangements, went out there on a Sunday and looked at it. It was in real bad shape. It had been sitting there for five years at his place, and probably sat for another 25 or 30 years some place else. It was all caked up, real dirty. So I started looking at it and diagnosing things. I’d take the carburetor off and say, “Look here,” and he’d say, “What’d you break now?” I’d say, “I didn’t break nothing—it’s already broke. I don’t break things. I fix things.” Then I’d find something else. I’d take the plugs out and say, “Look here,” and he’d go, “What’d you break now?” I’d say, “I didn’t break nothing! Quit saying that or I’m not gonna touch this thing. Don’t you understand? I’m an expert on this motorcycle and I’m just trying to communicate with you what I’m finding.”
So I took it to my place, and I got it running. Eventually I offered to buy the motorcycle off of him. I said, “I’ll give you $1,000 for it.” He said, “No, no, I don’t want to sell it.” I said okay. A week later, he got ahold of me, wanted me to do something else to it. I said, “I’ll give you $1200 for it,” and he said no again. One week later, he comes back and says, “Hey, you still wanna buy that motorcycle?” I said, “Sure, I’ll give you $1,000 for it.” He said, “You offered $1,200.” I said, “Well, I’ve spent $100 bucks since then.” I said, “I’ll give you $1,000 for it.” The auction was coming to town and he wanted to buy some farm equipment. I said, “You have to get a clear title on it, and a bill of sale.”
So we’re having a drink and smoking. I offered for him to read the title. He didn’t want to read it. I said that’s okay. We signed it off and I gave him his thousand dollars. He had put a new drive chain on it, and the old one was still out at his place. I said, “Maybe next weekend I’ll come out and pick up that old chain.” He said to come on out. So the next week, he called me and said, “I’m sorry I sold that thing. I want you to sell it back to me.” I said, “No, I don’t think so. You got seller’s remorse?” And he said, “Yeah, real bad.” I said, “Well, I have a bit of buyer’s remorse, ‘cause I don’t know what shape that transmission is in yet, and I’m just a poor man. It took me over a year to save $1,000.” So I said, “No, I’m gonna keep it for a while.” He cursed at me – I thought jokingly – “You son of a bitch,” or something like that.
So that Sunday I go down to pick up that chain. I no sooner than get off that motorcycle when he says, “I guess this means I don’t get to ride this down to the river?” And I said, “That’s correct,” and he went berserk. “You lying son of a bitch! Get off my property!” The chain was in a bag, and he came at me with it. I carry a .45, but I had gloves on and my jacket was zipped up and I couldn’t get at it. He was coming at me, so I said, “Sure I’ll leave. I’ll leave.”
I go to get on the motorcycle and he come at me with that chain and that bag, and his son is standing there, too. And I thought oh shit there’s two of them, I’m in trouble. He came at me two or three times, and I’d back up each time. His son said, “Dad, let him have that motorcycle,” and he backed off. I got on it and I turned around and got hit right in the back, and it was excruciating, because of my degenerative disc, and I almost fell down. I got the motorcycle started and I drove away.
About a week later, I’m at Wal-Mart and here he comes. I read peoples’ expressions. I’m deaf, and I’m a pretty good judge of what their attitude is. And he mouths something at me, but there were a lot of people around. So I got on my bike and left. I said, “Okay, I better watch this guy.”
When I first met him, he told me he was a diagnosed schizophrenic. That should have raised a red flag right there, but he seemed pretty friendly, and I’ve known schizos before. This was all in February. In July, I’m hooked up and getting ready to leave Elephant Butte Lake to go down along the river for my six days out of the park, which is only two miles from his place. I see him driving by and he’s cursing. The last part I heard was “cocksucker.” And as he goes by, I yell back, “Fuck you!” And he slams on the breaks and jumps out of his truck. He’s gonna come after me.
I got in my camper and grabbed my AR-15, and if he stuck his head in there, I was gonna shoot him. I wasn’t gonna let some 260-pound man beat on me because he had seller’s remorse. I decided discretion is the better part of valor. If I went to jail or got injured and went to the hospital, I’d lose everything I had. They’d get a wrecker and impound my camper and everything, and I don’t have that kind of money.
So I called some friends up in Socorro, 60 or 70 miles away, and said, “Hey, I need to come up there for a while.” So I went up there for three months, just to stay away from this guy. And then I was staying up on the Rio Grande river up there. No problems, hardly anybody came up there. I decided in the winter I was gonna go to southern New Mexico. Better climate. So I come down here. And now here I am.
I want to go back over to Elephant Butte. If I do go back over there, what I need to do is call the Sheriff’s Department – I know a deputy over there - and tell him the same story I just told you, and get a restraining order. So that’s the plan. Maybe in a month or two, I don’t know. I’ve got to work hard finding things to do.