Heroines of the Southwest

Their guns, a part of their money, and whatever the unfortunate families had that pleased the guerrillas, was speedily appropriated, the throats of their horses and mules were cut, Mrs. Braxton and Mrs. Benham were seized, and in spite of their struggles and shrieks each of them was placed in front of a swarthy bandit, and then the Mexicans rode away cursing “Los Americanos,” and barbarously leaving them to die of hunger and thirst.

After a four hours’ gallop, the marauders reached an adobe house on Picosa Creek, a tributary of the Rio Pecos. This was the headquarters of the gang, and here they kept relays of fresh horses, mustangs, fiery, and full of speed and bottom. Mrs. Benham and Mrs. Braxton were placed in a room by themselves on the second story, and the door was barricaded so that escape by that avenue was impossible; but the windows were only guarded by stout oaken bars, which the women, by their united strength, succeeded in removing. Their captors were plunged in a profound slumber, when Mrs. Benham and her companion dropped themselves out of the window and succeeded in reaching the stable without discovery. Here they found six fresh horses ready saddled and bridled, the others on which the bandits had made their raid being loose in the enclosure.

Upper Pecos River

Upper Pecos River

It was a cruel necessity which impelled our brave heroines to draw their knives across the hamstrings of the tired horses, thus disabling them so as to prevent pursuit. Then softly leading out the six fresh mustangs, each of our heroines mounted one of the horses man-fashion and led the others lashed together with lariats; walking the beasts until out of hearing, they then put them to a gallop, and, riding all night, came, at sunrise, to the spot where their suffering friends lay stretched on the sand, having abandoned all hope.

After a brief rest, the whole party pushed rapidly forward on their journey, arriving that evening at a place of safety. Two days after, they reached the headwaters of the Pecos. Here they purchased a large adobe house, and an extensive tract, suitable both for grazing and tillage.

These events occurred early in the autumn. During the following winter the Mexicans revolted, and massacred Governor Bent and his military household.

Arroyo Hondo

On the same day seven Americans were killed at Arroyo Hondo; a large Mexican force was preparing to march on Santa Fe, and for a time it seemed as if the handful of American soldiers would be driven out of the territory. This conspiracy was made known to the authorities by an American girl, who was the wife of one of the Mexican conspirators, and becoming, through her husband, acquainted with the plan of operations, divulged them to General Price in season to prevent a more general outbreak. As it was, the American settlers were in great danger.

The strong and spacious house in which the Benhams and Braxtons lived had formerly been used as a stockade and fortification against Indian attack. Its thick walls were pierced with loop-holes, and its doors, of double oak planks, were studded with wrought-iron spikes, which made it bullet-proof.

A detachment of United States troops were stationed a short distance from their ranch, and the two families, in spite of the disturbed condition of the country, felt reasonably secure. The troops were withdrawn, however, after the revolt commenced, leaving the new settlers dependent upon their own resources for protection. Their cattle and horses were driven into the enclosure, and the inmates of the house kept a sharp lookout against hostile parties of marauders, whether Indian or Mexican.

Early on the morning of January 24th a mounted party of twelve Mexicans made their appearance in front of the enclosure, which they quickly scaled, and discharged a volley of balls, one of which passed through a loop-hole, and, entering Mr. Braxton’s eye as he was aiming a rifle at the assailants, laid him dead at the feet of his wife. Mrs. Braxton, with streaming eyes, laid the head of her husband in her lap and watched his expiring throes with agony, such as only a wife and mother can feel when she sees the dear partner of her life and the father of her sons torn in an instant from her embrace. Seeing that her husband was no more, she dried her tears and thought only of vengeance on his murderers.

The number of the besieged was twelve at the start: Mr. and Mrs.Braxton, Mr. and Mrs. Benham and their children, three Irish herders, and a half-breed Mexican and his wife, who were house servants. The death of Mr. Braxton had reduced their number to eleven. A few moments later the Mexican half-breed disappeared, but was not missed in the excitement of the defense.

The besieged returned with vigor the fire of their assailants, two of whom had already bit the dust. The women loaded the guns and passed them to the men, who kept the Mexicans at a respectful distance by the rapidity of their fire. Mrs. Benham was the first to mark the absence of Juan the Mexican half-breed, and, suspecting treachery, flew to the loft with a hatchet in one hand and a revolver in the other. Her suspicion was correct. Juan had opened an upper window, and, letting down a ladder, had assisted two of the attacking party to ascend, and they were preparing to make an assault on those below by firing through the cracks in the floor, when the intrepid woman dispatched Juan with a shot from her revolver and clove the skull of another Mexican; the third leaped from the window and escaped.

As Mrs. Benham was about to descend from the loft, after drawing up the ladder and closing the window, she was met by the wife of the treacherous half-breed, who aimed a stroke at her breast with a machete or large knife, such as the Mexicans use. She received a flesh wound in the left arm as she parried the blow, and it was only with the mixed strength of Mrs. Braxton and one of the herders, who had now ascended to the loft, that the infuriated Mexican whom Mrs. Benham had made a widow, could be mastered and bound.

Three of the attacking party had now been killed and three others placed “hors de combat;” the remnant were apparently about to retire from the siege, when six more swarthy desperadoes, mounted on black mustangs, came galloping up and halted on a hill just out of rifle shot.

Mrs. Braxton and Mrs. Benham, looking through a field glass, at once recognized them as the band which had made them captives a few months before.

After a few moments of consultation one of the band, who appeared to be only armed with a bow and arrow, advanced towards the house waving a white flag. Within thirty paces of the door stood a large tree, and behind this the envoy, bearing the white flag, ensconced himself, and, striking a light, twanged his bow and sent a burning arrow upon the roof of the house, which, being dry as tinder, in a moment was in a blaze.