Boot-Hills and Their Stories

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.

John Ringo, the king of the outlaws, got wind of what was going on and rode over from Tombstone, silent as usual, and with that saturninity of expression which grew darker as the whisky began to work within him. He took no part in the celebration but sat through one day and two blazing nights, dumbly sardonic, at a round table. Save for his dark countenance, the faces which ringed that table were changing constantly. Men came noisily, sat down for a time, and departed at length in chastened silence as the poker-game which he had organized went on and on—until a large share of those dobie dollars passed unto him. Then, with the sudden flare of recklessness which invariably came to him sooner or later, he in his turn flung away the silver over the unpainted bars. So the incident passed and was forgotten—by the rustlers.

The Mexicans did not forget.

Old Man Clanton started with a Tombstone butcher and three others on a journey for the Animas Valley a few weeks later. They were going to buy beef cattle and they took the Guadalupe Canon route. One night they made camp near the middle of the gorge. And while they slept a dozen swarthy men, who wore the steep-crowned sombreros and the trousers with leathern facings which were a part of every Mexican smuggler’s costume, came creeping in and out among the boulders like the Apache whose ways they had studied in years of border warfare.

They had waited a long time in the lofty mountains south of the boundary, watching the malapi flats for a party of Americans; and at last these had come. They had dogged their trail through the long hot afternoon, keeping well back lest they should be discovered. Now they were closing in. The air grew cooler and the hour of dawn approached. They slipped, black shadows a little deeper than the night which enfolded them. The light climbed up the eastern sky and leaked down between the cliffs; the cold gray dusk which comes before the dawn. The shadows melted slowly; the heavens began to blush. Down here a man could line the notch of his hindsight with the bead. A pebble tinkled in the arid watercourse. One of the sleepers stirred in ids blankets. He caught the sound, opened his eyes, and saw the crown of a sombrero rising behind a rock. He leaped from his bed and flung himself among a clump of boulders just as the rifles began to talk.

Two or three cowboys were lounging about the Cloverdale ranch-house on a blazing summer afternoon when a queer figure came into sight upon the palpitating plain. The spectacle of a man on foot was so uncommon in those days that they had a hard time making themselves believe that this form, which at times took distorted shapes in the wavering overheated air, was that of a human being. Then they set forth to meet him, and they brought the one survivor of the Canton party to the ranch-house. His bare feet were bleeding; he was half clad; and his tongue was swollen with thirst. They got his story and they rode to Guadalupe Canon where they found the bodies of his companions. They buried them on the little boot-hill overlooking the ranch buildings.

But the episode was not yet finished.

Johnny Ringo

Johnny Ringo

Time went by. Billy Clanton and the two McLowry boys, who are said to have been parties to the Dobie Dollar Holdup, died one autumn morning fighting it out against the Earp faction in Tombstone’s street. Curly Bill’s fate remains something of a mystery, but one story has it that Wyatt Earp killed him near Globe, Arizona two years or so later. John Ringo killed himself up in the San Simon, delirious from thirst. Rattlesnake Bill, who helped to spend the Mexican silver, was shot down by a fellow rustler in Galeyville. Jake Gauz, another of the participants, was lynched for horse-stealing not far from the head of Turkey Creek Canon.

So they went one after the other, and it is possible that every man who was present at the massacre of the Mexicans died with his boots on.

“Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” The words come from one who rides near the grim procession’s end; a slim young fellow, beardless, his hair hanging to his shoulders. It is the boy whom men called Billy the Kid. He quoted the passage to Pat Garret when the Lincoln County sheriff and his posse were taking him and his captured companions to Santa Fe.

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