Boot-Hills and Their Stories

“Don’t you dare lay a hand on me,” he cried, “you murderer,” and struck Murphy full in the face. His hand fell limply back. The breath had departed from his body with that blow.

The long procession is waning. Now those are coming whose headboards were erected in the early 1880s. A company of swarthy black-eyed riders in the flaring trousers and steep-crowned sombreros of Mexico jog along elbow to elbow with hard-eyed horsemen from the valleys of the San Simon and the Animas. Smuggler and cow-thief, there is a story in their passing which centers about a deep gorge near the place where the boundary between New Mexico and Arizona meets the international line. That story goes a long way back.

Down in the southwestern corner of the Animas Valley the Guadalupe Canon trail approached the gorge from which it got its name. In the days when the American colonists were still contented with Great Britain’s rule it was a main thoroughfare between the Pinos Altos mines and old Mexico. Long trains of pack-mules, laden with treasure which the Spaniards had delved from the sun-baked mountains near where Silver City now stands, traveled this route. Apaches and bandits made many an attack on them in the canon.

The Pinos Altos mines were abandoned. The trail fell into disuse. The years passed by. The ’49 rush brought new travelers of another breed who beat down the old track again. Passing through the gorge they too found the Apache lurking among the rocks and more than one old argonaut laid down his eight-square rifle for the last time within the shadow of those arid cliffs.

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.

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