Crooked trails, p.1
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Crooked Trails

  Produced by Eric Eldred



  By Frederic Remington

  Illustrated By Frederic Remington

  Author Of "Pony Tracks"

  First published in 1898














  "You have heard about the Texas Rangers?" said the Deacon to me onenight in the San Antonio Club. "Yes? Well, come up to my rooms, and Iwill introduce you to one of the old originals--dates 'way back in the'thirties'--there aren't many of them left now--and if we can get him totalk, he will tell you stories that will make your eyes hang out on yourshirt front."

  We entered the Deacon's cosey bachelor apartments, where I wasintroduced to Colonel "Rip" Ford, of the old-time Texas Rangers. I foundhim a very old man, with a wealth of snow-white hair and beard--bent,but not withered. As he sunk on his stiffened limbs into the arm-chair,we disposed ourselves quietly and almost reverentially, while we lightedcigars. We began the approaches by which we hoped to loosen the historyof a wild past from one of the very few tongues which can still wag onthe days when the Texans, the Co-manches, and the Mexicans chased oneanother over the plains of Texas, and shot and stabbed to find whoshould inherit the land.

  Through the veil of tobacco smoke the ancient warrior spoke hissentences slowly, at intervals, as his mind gradually separated andarranged the details of countless fights. His head bowed in thought;anon it rose sharply at recollections, and as he breathed, the shoutsand lamentations of crushed men--the yells and shots--the thunder ofhorses' hoofs--the full fury of the desert combats came to the prickingears of the Deacon and me.

  We saw through the smoke the brave young faces of the hosts which pouredinto Texas to war with the enemies of their race. They were clad inloose hunting-frocks, leather leggings, and broad black hats; hadpowder-horns and shot-pouches hung about them; were armed withbowie-knives, Mississippi rifles, and horse-pistols; rode Spanishponies, and were impelled by Destiny to conquer, like their remoteancestors, "the godless hosts of Pagan" who "came swimming o'er theNorthern Sea."

  "Rip" Ford had not yet acquired his front name in 1836, when he enlistedin the famous Captain Jack Hayes's company of Rangers, which wasfighting the Mexicans in those days, and also trying incidentally tokeep from being eaten up by the Comanches.

  Said the old Colonel: "A merchant from our country journeyed to NewYork, and Colonel Colt, who was a friend of his, gave him twofive-shooters--pistols they were, and little things. The merchant inturn presented them to Captain Jack Hayes. The captain liked them sowell that he did not rest till every man jack of us had two apiece.

  "Directly," mused the ancient one, with a smile of pleasantrecollection, "we had a fight with the Comanches--up here above SanAntonio. Hayes had fifteen men with him--he was doubling about thecountry for Indians. He found 'sign,' and after cutting their trailseveral times he could see that they were following him. Directly theIndians overtook the Rangers--there were seventy-five Indians. CaptainHayes--bless his memory!--said,' They are fixin' to charge us, boys, andwe must charge them.' There were never better men in this world thanHayes had with him," went on the Colonel with pardonable pride; "andmind you, he never made a fight without winning.

  "We charged, and in the fracas killed thirty-five Indians--only two ofour men were wounded--so you see the five-shooters were pretty goodweapons. Of course they wa'n't any account compared with these modernones, because they were too small, but they did those things. Just afterthat Colonel Colt was induced to make bigger ones for us, some of whichwere half as long as your arm.

  "Hayes? Oh, he was a surveyor, and used to go out beyond the frontiersabout his work. The Indians used to jump him pretty regular; but healways whipped them, and so he was available for a Ranger captain. Aboutthen--let's see," and here the old head bobbed up from his chest, whereit had sunk in thought--"there was a commerce with Mexico just sprungup, but this was later--it only shows what that man Hayes used to do.The bandits used to waylay the traders, and they got very bad in thecountry. Captain Hayes went after them--he struck them near Lavade, andfound the Mexicans had more than twice as many men as he did; but hecaught them napping, charged them afoot--killed twenty-five of them, andgot all their horses."

  "I suppose, Colonel, you have been charged by a Mexican lancer?" Iinquired.

  "Oh yes, many times," he answered.

  "What did you generally do?"

  "Well, you see, in those days I reckoned to be able to hit a man everytime with a six-shooter at one hundred and twenty-five yards," explainedthe old gentleman--which no doubt meant many dead lancers.


  "Then you do not think much of a lance as a weapon?" I pursued.

  "No; there is but one weapon. The six-shooter when properly handled isthe only weapon--mind you, sir, I say _properly"_ and here the old eyesblinked rapidly over the great art as he knew its practice.

  "Then, of course, the rifle has its use. Under Captain Jack Hayes sixtyof us made a raid once after the celebrated priest-leader of theMexicans--Padre Jarante--which same was a devil of a fellow. We werevery sleepy--had been two nights without sleep. At San Juan every manstripped his horse, fed, and went to sleep. We had passed Padre Jarantein the night without knowing it. At about twelve o'clock next day therewas a terrible outcry--I was awakened by shooting. The Padre was uponus. Five men outlying stood the charge, and went under. We gathered, andthe Padre charged three times. The third time he was knocked from hishorse and killed. Then Captain Jack Hayes awoke, and we got in a big_casa._ The men took to the roof. As the Mexicans passed we emptied agreat many saddles. As I got to the top of the _casa_ I found two menquarrelling." (Here the Colonel chuckled.) "I asked what the matter was,and they were both claiming to have killed a certain Mexican who waslying dead some way off. One said he had hit him in the head, and theother said he had hit him in the breast. I advised peace until after thefight. Well--after the shooting was over and the Padre's men had hadenough, we went out to the particular Mexican who was dead, and, sureenough, he was shot in the head and in the breast; so they laughed andmade peace. About this time one of the spies came in and reported sixhundred Mexicans coming. We made an examination of our ammunition, andfound that we couldn't afford to fight six hundred Mexicans with sixtymen, so we pulled out. This was in the Mexican war, and only goes toshow that Captain Hayes's men could shoot all the Mexicans that couldget to them if the ammunition would hold out."

  "What was the most desperate fight you can remember, Colonel?"

  The old man hesitated; this required a particular point of view--it wasquality, not quantity, wanted now; and, to be sure, he was aconnoisseur. After much study by the Colonel, during which the worldlost many thrilling tales, the one which survived occurred in 1851.

  "My lieutenant, Ed Burleson, was ordered to carry to San Antonio anIndian prisoner we had taken and turned over to the commanding officerat Fort McIntosh. On his return, while nearing the Nueces River, hespied a couple of Indians. Taking seven men, he ordered the balance tocontinue along the road. The two Indians proved to be fourteen, and theycharged Burleson up to the teeth. Dismounting his men, he poured it intothem from his Colt's six-shooting rifles.
They killed or wounded allthe Indians except two, some of them dying so near the Rangers that theycould put their hands on their boots. All but one of Burleson's men werewounded--himself shot in the head with an arrow. One man had four'dogwood switches' [Arrows.] in his body, one of which was in hisbowels. This man told me that every time he raised his gun to fire, theIndians would stick an arrow in him, but he said he didn't care a cent.One Indian was lying right up close, and while dying tried to shoot anarrow, but his strength failed so fast that the arrow only barely leftthe bowstring. One of the Rangers in that fight was a curiousfellow--when young he had been captured by Indians, and had lived withthem so long that he had Indian habits. In that fight he kept jumpingaround when loading, so as to be a bad target, the same as an Indianwould under the circumstances, and he told Burleson he wished he had hisboots off, so he could get around good"--and here the Colonel pausedquizzically. "Would you call that a good fight?"


  The Deacon and I put the seal of our approval on the affair, and theColonel rambled ahead.

  "In 1858 I was commanding the frontier battalion of State troops on thewhole frontier, and had my camp on the Deer Fork of the Brazos. TheComanches kept raiding the settlements. They would come down quietly,working well into the white lines, and then go back a-running--drivingstolen stock and killing and burning. I thought I would give them someof their own medicine. I concluded to give them a fight. I took twowagons, one hundred Rangers, and one hundred and thirteen TahuahuacanIndians, who were friend-lies. We struck a good Indian trail on a streamwhich led up to the Canadian. We followed it till it got hot. I campedmy outfit in such a manner as to conceal my force, and sent out myscouts, who saw the Indians hunt buffalo through spyglasses. That nightwe moved. I sent Indians to locate the camp. They returned before day,and reported that the Indians were just a few miles ahead, whereat wemoved forward. At daybreak, I remember, I was standing in the bull-wagonroad leading to Santa Fe and could see the Canadian River in ourfront--with eighty lodges just beyond. Counting four men of fighting ageto a lodge, that made a possible three hundred and twenty Indians. Justat sunup an Indian came across the river on a pony. Our Indians downbelow raised a yell--they always get excited. The Indian heard them--itwas very still then. The Indian retreated slowly, and began to ride in acircle. From where I was I could hear him puff like a deer--he wasblowing the bullets away from himself--he was a medicine-man. I heardfive shots from the Jagers with which my Indians were armed. The paintedpony of the medicine-man jumped ten feet in the air, it seemed to me,and fell over on his rider--then five more Jagers went off, and he wasdead. I ordered the Tahuahuacans out in front, and kept the Rangers outof sight, because I wanted to charge home and kind of surprise them.Pretty soon I got ready, and gave the word. We charged. At the river westruck some boggy ground and floundered around considerable, but we gotthrough. We raised the Texas yell, and away we went. I never expectagain to hear such a noise--I never want to hear it--what with thewhoops of the warriors--the screaming of the women and children--ourboys yelling--the shooting, and the horses just a-mixin' up anda-stampedin' around," and the Colonel bobbed his head slowly as hecontinued.


  "One of my men didn't know a buck from a squaw. There was an Indianwoman on a pony with five children. He shot the pony--it seemed like youcouldn't see that pony for little Indians. We went through the camp, andthe Indians pulled out--spreading fanlike, and we a-running them. Aftera long chase I concluded to come back. I saw lots of Indians around inthe hills. When I got back, I found Captain Ross had formed my men inline. 'What time in the morning is it?' I asked. 'Morning, hell!' sayshe--'it's one o'clock!' And so it was. Directly I saw an Indian comingdown a hill near by, and then more Indians and more Indians--till itseemed like they wa'n't ever going to get through coming. We had strucka bigger outfit than the first one. That first Indian he bantered my mento come out single-handed and fight him. One after another, he woundedfive of my Indians. I ordered my Indians to engage them, and kind of getthem down in the flat, where I could charge. After some running andshooting they did this, and I turned the Rangers loose. We drove them.The last stand they made they killed one of my Indians, wounded aRanger, but left seven of their dead in a pile. It was now nearlynightfall, and I discovered that my horses were broken down afterfighting all day. I found it hard to restrain my men, they had got soheated up; but I gradually withdrew to where the fight commenced. TheIndian camp was plundered. In it we found painted buffalo-robes withbeads a hand deep around the edges--the finest robes I have everseen--and heaps of goods plundered from the Santa Fe traders. On the wayback I noticed a dead chief, and was for a moment astonished to findpieces of flesh cut out of him; upon looking at a Tahuahuacan warrior Isaw a pair of dead hands tied behind his saddle. That night they had acannibal feast. You see, the Tahuahuacans say that the first one oftheir race was brought into the world by a wolf. 'How am I to live?'said the Tahuahuacan. 'The same as we do,' said the wolf; and when theywere with me, that is just about how they lived. I reckon it's necessaryto tell you about the old woman who was found in our lines. She waslooking at the sun and making incantations, a-cussing us out generallyand elevating her voice. She said the Comanches would get even for thisday's work. I directed my Indians to let her alone, but I was informedafterwards that that is just what they didn't do."

  At this point the Colonel's cigar went out, and directly he followed;but this is the manner in which he told of deeds which I know would farebetter at the hands of one used to phrasing and capable also of morepoints of view than the Colonel was used to taking. The outlines of thething are strong, however, because the Deacon and I understood thatfights were what the old Colonel had dealt in during his active life,much as other men do in stocks and bonds or wheat and corn. He had beena successful operator, and only recalled pleasantly the bull quotations.This type of Ranger is all but gone. A few may yet be found in outlyingranches. One of the most celebrated resides near San Antonio--"Big-footWallace" by name. He says he doesn't mind being called "Big-foot,"because he is six feet two in height, and is entitled to big feet. Hisface is done off in a nest of white hair and beard, and is patriarchalin character. In 1836 he came out from Virginia to "take toll" of theMexicans for killing some relatives of his in the Fannin Massacre, andhe considers that he has squared his accounts; but they had him on thedebit side for a while. Being captured in the Meir expedition, hewalked as a prisoner to the city of Mexico, and did public work for thatcountry with a ball-and-chain attachment for two years. The prisonersoverpowered the guards and escaped on one occasion, but were overtakenby Mexican cavalry while dying of thirst in a desert. Santa Anna orderedtheir "decimation," which meant that every tenth man was shot, their lotbeing determined by the drawing of a black bean from an earthen potcontaining a certain proportion of white ones. "Big-foot" drew a whiteone. He was also a member of Captain Hayes's company, afterwards acaptain of Rangers, and a noted Indian-fighter. Later he carried themails from San Antonio to El Paso through a howling wilderness, butalways brought it safely through--if safely can be called lying thirteendays by a water-hole in the desert, waiting for a broken leg to mend,and living meanwhile on one prairie-wolf, which he managed to shoot.Wallace was a professional hunter, who fought Indians and hated"greasers"; he belongs to the past, and has been "outspanned" under acivilization in which he has no place, and is to-day living in poverty.


  The civil war left Texas under changed conditions. That and the Mexicanwars had determined its boundaries, however, and it rapidly filled upwith new elements of population. Broken soldiers, outlaws, poorimmigrants living in bull-wagons, poured in. "Gone to Texas" had asinister significance in the late sixties. When the railroad got toAbilene, Kansas, the cow-men of Texas found a market for their stock,and began trailing their herds up through the Indian country.

  Bands of outlaws organized under the leadership of desperadoes like
WesHardin and King Fisher. They rounded up cattle regardless of theirowners' rights, and resisted interference with force. The poor manpointed to his brand in the stolen herd and protested. He was shot. Thebig owners were unable to protect themselves from loss. The propertyright was established by the six-shooter, and honest men were forced tothe wall. In 1876 the property-holding classes went to the Legislature,got it to appropriate a hundred thousand dollars a year for two years,and the Ranger force was reorganized to carry the law into thechaparral. At this time many judges were in league with bandits;sheriffs were elected by the outlaws, and the electors werecattle-stealers.

  The Rangers were sworn to uphold the laws of Texas and the UnitedStates. They were deputy sheriffs, United States marshals--in fact, wereoften vested with any and every power, even to the extent of ignoringdisreputable sheriffs. At times they were judge, jury, and executionerwhen the difficulties demanded extremes. When a band of outlaws waslocated, detectives or spies were sent among them, who openly joined thedesperadoes, and gathered evidence to put the Rangers on their trail.Then, in the wilderness, with only the soaring buzzard or prowlingcoyote to look on, the Ranger and the outlaw met to fight with tigerishferocity to the death. Shot, and lying prone, they fired until thepalsied arm could no longer raise the six-shooter, and justice wassatisfied as their bullets sped. The captains had the selection oftheir men, and the right to dishonorably discharge at will. Only men ofirreproachable character, who were fine riders and dead-shots, weretaken. The spirit of adventure filled the ranks with the most prominentyoung men in the State, and to have been a Ranger is a badge ofdistinction in Texas to this day. The display of anything but a perfectwillingness to die under any and all circumstances was fatal to aRanger, and in course of time they got the _moral_ on the bad man. Eachone furnished his own horse and arms, while the State gave himammunition, "grub," one dollar a day, and extra expenses. The enlistmentwas for twelve months. A list of fugitive Texas criminals was placed inhis hands, with which he was expected to familiarize himself. Then, insmall parties, they packed the bedding on their mule, they hung thehandcuffs and leather thongs about its neck, saddled theirriding-ponies, and threaded their way into the chaparral.


  On an evening I had the pleasure of meeting two more distinguishedRanger officers--more modern types--Captains Lea Hall and Joseph Shely;both of them big, forceful men, and loath to talk about themselves. Itwas difficult to associate the quiet gentlemen who sat smoking in theDeacon's rooms with what men say; for the tales of their prowess inTexas always ends, "and that don't count Mexicans, either." The banditnever laid down his gun but with his life; so the "la ley de huga"[Mexican law of shooting escaped or resisting prisoners.] was in forcein the chaparral, and the good people of Texas were satisfied with avery short account of a Ranger's fight.

  The most distinguished predecessor of these two men was a CaptainMcNally, who was so bent on, carrying his raids to an issue that he paidno heed to national boundary-lines. He followed a band of Mexicanbandits to the town of La Cueva, below Ringgold, once, and, surroundingit, demanded the surrender of the cattle which they had stolen. He hadbut ten men, and yet this redoubtable warrior surrounded a town full ofbandits and Mexican soldiers. The Mexican soldiers attacked the Rangers,and forced them back under the river-banks, but during the fight the_jefe politico_ was killed. The Rangers were in a fair way to beovercome by the Mexicans, when Lieutenant Clendenin turned a Gatlingloose from the American side and covered their position. A parleyensued, but McNally refused to go back without the cattle, which theMexicans had finally to surrender.

  At another time McNally received word through spies of an intended raidof Mexican cattle-thieves under the leadership of Cammelo Lerma. AtResaca de la Palma, McNally struck the depredators with but sixteen men.They had seventeen men and five hundred head of stolen cattle. In arunning fight for miles McNally's men killed sixteen bandits, while onlyone escaped. A young Ranger by the name of Smith was shot dead byCammelo Lerma as he dismounted to look at the dying bandit. The deadbodies were piled in ox-carts and dumped in the public square atBrownsville. McNally also captured King Fisher's band in an old loghouse in Dimmit County, but they were not convicted.

  Showing the nature of Ranger work, an incident which occurred to myacquaintance, Captain Lea Hall, will illustrate. In De Witt County therewas a feud. One dark night sixteen masked men took a sick man, one Dr.Brazel, and two of his boys, from their beds, and, despite the imploringmother and daughter, hanged the doctor and one son to a tree. The otherboy escaped in the green corn. Nothing was done to punish the crime, asthe lynchers were men of property and influence in the country. No mandared speak above his breath about the affair.

  Captain Hall, by secret-service men, discovered the perpetrators, andalso that they were to be gathered at a wedding on a certain night. Hesurrounded the house and demanded their surrender, at the same timesaying that he did not want to kill the women and children. Wordreturned that they would kill him and all his Rangers. Hall told them toallow their women and children to depart, which was done; then,springing on the gallery of the house, he shouted, "Now, gentlemen, youcan go to killing Rangers; but if you don't surrender, the Rangers willgo to killing you." This was too frank a willingness for midnightassassins, and they gave up.

  Spies had informed him that robbers intended sacking Campbell's store inWolfe City. Hall and his men lay behind the counters to receive them onthe designated night. They were allowed to enter, when Hall's men,rising, opened fire--the robbers replying. Smoke filled the room, whichwas fairly illuminated by the flashes of the guns--but the robbers wereall killed, much to the disgust of the lawyers, no doubt, though I couldnever hear that honest people mourned.

  The man Hall was himself a gentleman of the romantic Southern soldiertype, and he entertained the highest ideals, with which it would beextremely unsafe to trifle, if I may judge. Captain Shely, our othervisitor, was a herculean, black-eyed man, fairly fizzing with nervousenergy. He is also exceedingly shrewd, as befits the greaterconcreteness of the modern Texas law, albeit he too has trailed banditsin the chaparral, and rushed in on their camp-fires at night, as two bigbullet-holes in his skin will attest. He it was who arrested Polk, thedefaulting treasurer of Tennessee. He rode a Spanish pony sixty-twomiles in six hours, and arrested Polk, his guide, and two privatedetectives, whom Polk had bribed to set him over the Rio Grande. Whenthe land of Texas was bought up and fenced with wire, the old settlerswho had used the land did not readily recognize the new regime. Theyraised the rallying-cry of "free grass and free water"--said they hadfought the Indians off, and the land belonged to them. Taking nippers,they rode by night and cut down miles of fencing. Shely took the keys ofa county jail from the frightened sheriff, made arrests by the score,and lodged them in the big new jail. The country-side rose in arms,surrounded the building, and threatened to tear it down. The big Rangerwas not deterred by this outburst, but quietly went out into the mob,and with mock politeness delivered himself as follows:

  "Do not tear down the jail, gentlemen--you have been taxed for years tobuild this fine structure--it is yours--do not tear it down. I will openthe doors wide--you can all come in--do not tear down the jail; butthere are twelve Rangers in there, with orders to kill as long as theycan see. Come right in, gentlemen--but come fixed."

  The mob was overcome by his civility.

  Texas is to-day the only State in the Union where pistol-carry ing isattended with great chances of arrest and fine. The law is supreme evenin the lonely _jacails_ out in the rolling waste of chaparral, and itwas made so by the tireless riding, the deadly shooting, and theindomitable courage of the Texas Rangers.

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