“You see it was hoss and cabello, and Joe seemed to think the hoss on him was an unpardonable offense. Salt? You’ll find it in an empty one-spoon baking-powder can over there. In those panniers that belong to that big sorrel mule. Look at Mexico over there burying his fangs in the venison, will you?”
Ramrod was on guard, but he was so hungry himself that he was good enough to let the prisoners eat at the same time, although he kept them at a respectable distance. He was old in the service and had gotten his name under a baptism of fire. He was watching a pass once for smugglers at a point called Emigrant Gap. This was long before he had come to the present company. At length, the man he was waiting for came along. Ramrod went after him at close quarters, but the fellow was game and drew his gun. When the smoke cleared away, Ramrod had brought down his horse and winged his man right and left. The smuggler was not far behind on the shoot, for Ramrod’s coat and hat showed he was calling for him. The captain was joshing the prisoner about his poor shooting when Ramrod brought him into camp and they were dressing couldn’t find him. He’s built like a ramrod.”
After breakfast was over we smoked and yarned. It would be two-hour guards for the day, keeping an eye on the prisoners and stock, only one man required; so we would all get plenty of sleep. Conajo had the first guard after breakfast. “I remember once,” said Sergeant Smoky, as he crushed a pipe of twist with the heel of his hand, “we were camped out on the ‘Sunset’ railway. I was a corporal at the time. There came a message one day to our captain, to send a man up West on that line to take charge of a murderer.
The result was, I was sent by the first train to this point. When I arrived I found that an Irishman had killed a Chinaman. It was on the railroad, at a bridge construction camp, that the fracas took place. There was something like a hundred employees at the camp, and they ran their own boarding-tent. They had a Chinese cook at this camp; in fact, quite a number of Chinese were employed at common labor on the road.
“Some cavalryman, it was thought, in passing up and down from Fort Stockton to points on the river, had lost his saber, and one of this bridge gang had found it. When it was brought into camp no one would have the old corn-cutter; but this Irishman took a shine to it, having once been a soldier himself. The result was, it was presented to him. He ground it up like a machete and took great pride in giving exhibitions with it. He was an old man now, the storekeeper for the iron supplies, a kind of trusty job. The old saber renewed his youth to a certain extent, for he used it in self-defense shortly afterward.
This Erin-go-bragh–his name was McKay, I think–was in the habit now and then of stealing a pie from the cook, and taking it into his own tent and eating it there. The Chink kept missing his pies and got a helper to spy out the offender. The result was they caught the old man red-handed in the act. The Chink armed himself with the biggest butcher-knife he had and went on the warpath. He found the old fellow sitting in his storeroom contentedly eating the pie. The old man had his eyes on the cook and saw the knife just in time to jump behind some kegs of nuts and bolts. The Chink followed him with murder in his eye, and as the old man ran out of the tent he picked up the old saber. Once clear of the tent he turned and faced him, made only one pass, and cut his head off as though he were beheading a chicken.
They hadn’t yet buried the Chinaman when I got there. I’m willing to testify it was an artistic job. They turned the old man over to me, and I took him down to the next station, where an old alcalde lived, — Roy Bean by name. This old judge was known as ‘Law west of the Pecos,’ as he generally construed the law to suit his own opinion of the offense. He wasn’t even strong on testimony. He was a ranchman at this time, so when I presented my prisoner he only said, ‘Killed a Chinese, did he? Well, I ain’t got time to try the case today. Cattle suffering for water, and three windmills out of repair. Bring him back in the morning.’ I took the old man back to the hotel, and we had a jolly good time together that day. I never put a string on him, only locked the door, but we slept together. The next morning I took him before the alcalde. Bean held court in an outhouse, the prisoner seated on a bale of flint hides. Bean was not only judge but the prosecutor, as well as counsel for the defense. ‘Killed a Chinaman, did you?’
“‘I did, yer Honor,’ was the prisoner’s reply.
“I suggested to the court that the prisoner be informed of his rights, that he need not plead guilty unless he so desired.
“‘That makes no difference here,’ said the court. ’Gentlemen, I’m busy this morning. I’ve got to raise the piping out of a two-hundred-foot well to-day, — something the matter with the valve at the bottom. I’ll just glance over the law a moment.’
“He rummaged over a book or two for a few moments and then said,’ Here, I reckon this is near enough. I find in the revised statute before me, in the killing of a n***er the offending party was fined five dollars. A Chinaman ought to be half as good as a black man. Stand up and receive your sentence. What’s your name?’
“‘Jerry McKay, your Honor.’
“Just then the court noticed one of the vaqueros belonging to the ranch standing in the door, hat in hand, and he called to him in Spanish, ‘Have my horse ready, I’ll be through here just in a minute.’
“‘McKay,’ said the court as he gave him a withering look, ‘I’ll fine you two dollars and a half and costs. Officer, take charge of the prisoner until it’s paid!’ It took about ten dollars to cover everything, which I paid, McKay returning it when he reached his camp. Whoever named that alcalde ‘Law west of the Pecos’ knew his man.”
“I’ll bet a twist of dog,” said Ramrod, “that prisoner with the black whiskers spoke English. Did you notice him paying strict attention to Smoky’s little talk? He reminds me of a fellow that crouched behind his horse at the fight we had on the head of the Arroyo Colorado and plugged me in the shoulder. What, you never heard of it? That’s so, Cushion hasn’t been with us but a few months. Well, it was in ’82, down on the river, about fifty miles northwest of Brownsville. Word came in one day that a big band of horse-thieves was sweeping the country of every horse they could gather. There was a number of the old Cortina’s gang known to be still on the rustle. When this report came, it found eleven men in camp. We lost little time saddling up, only taking five days’ rations with us, for they were certain to re-cross the river before that time in case we failed to intercept them. Every Mexican in the country was terrorized. All they could tell us was that there was plenty of ladrones and lots of horses, ‘muchos’ being the qualifying word as to the number of either.