Boot-Hills and Their Stories

Old Man Clanton came with one of these ’49 outfits, a typical specimen of that lean-jawed leather-faced breed who have fought Indians, lynched Mexicans, and established themselves in hundreds of dreary outposts beyond the last settlements. He went on to California, failed to find the gold, and returned some time during the latter seventies to the upper San Pedro Valley. Here he ” raised his family,” as the old expression has it, and his sons grew up, Finn, Ike, and Billy. Those were wild days, and the two last-named boys became more proficient with rope, running-iron, and forty-five revolver than they ever did with their school books. In time they were known as rustlers and in the lawless town of Charleston by the San Pedro River they fell in with Curly Bill. When the outlaw went eastward into the valleys of the San Simon and the Animas the two young Clantons went with him. The cow-thieves of the San Simon and the Animas did not go to the trouble of altering brands or “sleepering,” as their successors have in later years, but drove entire herds and sold them, as they were, to shippers. Occasionally they rode down into Sonora to raid the ranges south of the border. One July day in 1881 a number of them embarked on such an expedition and they gathered a bunch of several hundred longhorns. They brought them up through Guadalupe Canon and came on northward to the Double Dobe Ranch. Here they left the cattle with a man to hold them, while they rode over to Curly Bill’s place, not far distant.

But the Mexicans had been suffering from this sort of depredations until patience had ceased to be a virtue and a band of thirty dusky vaqueros were following the trail of those stolen longhorns. On the afternoon of July 26 the man who was riding herd caught sight of the steep-crowned sombreros coming out through the mirage on the flats to the south. He waited only long enough to satisfy himself as to the nationality of the riders, then clapped spurs to his pony and raced to Curly Bill’s place.

Cattle Rustling

Cattle Rustling

It took the rustlers some time to saddle up. When they arrived at the Double Dobe they found nothing of their former prizes but a fresh trail. They made the best speed they could, but the Mexicans were “shoving those cattle hard,” as the old-timers say. They had a good lead and they held it clear to Guadalupe Canon. The running fight that followed lasted half-way through the g«rge. The men from Sonora were seasoned hands at Indian warfare, and they had no mind to give up their beef. They left a small rear-guard, who fell back slowly from rock to rock while their companions urged the longhorns to a run. The shouts of “Toro! Toro! Vaca! Vaca”! mingled with the crackling of the rifles. And when the rustlers finally routed the stubborn defenders to chase the herders on through the ravine and reassemble the panic-stricken stock, they took back three dead men across their saddles. They buried the bodies at the Cloverdale ranch and so started a lonely little boot-hill whose headboards showed on the edge of the mesa for many years.

There came now to the old Guadalupe Canon trail a new traffic. Mexican smugglers who had formerly been crossing the boundary at the southern end of the San Pedro Valley shifted their route and traveled northward to Silver City. They were hard men, accustomed to warring with the Apache, bandits, and border officers. They banded together in formidable outfits to guard the dobie dollars which loaded down the aparejos during the northern journey. And Curly Bill’s companions saw them passing on more than one occasion: a scuffle of hoofs, a haze of dust, through which showed the swarthy faces of the outriders under the great sombreros—and, what lingered longest in the memories of these hard-faced men of the Animas, the pleasant dull chink of the dobie dollars in the rawhide pack-sacks.

In Galeyville the rustlers talked the matter over. It was a simple problem: go and get the money. They went one day and made their camp near Guadalupe Canon. They sent scouts on through the gorge to watch the country from the mesa above the spot where John Slaughter’s ranch buildings stood. One hot noontide the scouts came riding in.

“There’s a big outfit coming. Must be a dozen mules and nigh on to thirty men.” The outlaws were in the saddle before those who brought the tidings had time to breathe their horses.

In those days you were supposed to give a man what the old-timers called an even break before you killed him. The supposition was lived up to by the chivalrous and ignored by many who gained large reputations. But when it came to Mexicans there was not even that ideal to attain; they were not rated as full-fledged human beings; to slay one meant no addition to the notches on one’s gun, nor did one feel obliged to observe the rules of fair play. You simply killed your greaser in the most expeditious manner possible and then forgot about it. The rustlers went about the business according to this custom. Save for Curly Bill the members of the party left their horses in charge of a man around a turn of the gorge. They hid themselves behind the rocks on the steep mountain-side and waited while their burly leader rode slowly to meet the smugglers.

The train was traveling after the Mexican fashion, which is very much like the Spanish California manner of driving a herd. The chief of the outfit rode in the lead some distance before the first pack-mule. The laden animals followed in single file. Flanking them on each side were the armed guards, with one or two closing in on the rear. Thus they came, winding their way among the stark rocks and the clumps of Spanish bayonet, and when the leader caught sight of Curly Bill from under his huge, silver decked sombrero, he reined in his horse; his grip tightened on the rifle which he carried across his saddle. The outriders pulled up; there was a low rattle of shifting weapons and the bell of the first mule stopped tinkling as the train came to a stand.

But the strange rider was alone. The leader raised his arm in signal and the straggling procession resumed its advance. The solitary American rode on until he was alongside their head man.

“Buenos dias, Senor,” he said and checked his pony. The Mexican answered. The pair shook hands. When they had talked for some moments, Curly Bill turned and rode back up the canon beside the smuggler. The pack-train followed and the men on the flanks eased their rifles back into the sheaths. They traveled until the lead mule had passed the last hidden rustler.

Curly Bill Brocius

Curly Bill Brocius

Curly Bill’s right hand swept to his revolver holster and came on upward clutching the weapon’s butt. The movement was so quick that before those who were looking at him really grasped its meaning the hot rocks were bandying echoes of the report. The Mexican was sliding from his saddle, quite dead. The outlaw was spurring his pony up the mountain-side.

Now the outriders dragged their rifles from the sheaths but while they were seeking to line their sights on the murderer the rustlers opened fire on them. Those cow-thieves of the Animas were good shots; the range was brief. The flat explosions of the Winchesters, the scuffling of hoofs, the voices of dark-skinned riders calling upon their saints as they pitched forward from their frenzied horses, dying; the squealing of a hit burro; these things the arid cliffs heard and repeated to one another. And then the rat-tat-tat of hoof beats as the surviving smugglers fled westward.

That is the way the rustlers told the story in Galeyville amid grim laughter; and the voices of the narrators were raised to carry above the staccato pounding of the pianos, the scuffling of boot heels on the dance-hall floors, the shrill mirthless outcries of rouge-bedizened women, and the resonant slapping of dobie dollars on the unpainted pine bars. Now and again the recitals were interrupted by the roaring of forty-five revolvers as the more fervid celebrants showed their expertness at marksmanship by shooting the French heels from the shoes of the dance-hall girls.

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