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With a six-gun in his holster and a Bowie knife in his boot, Judge Roy Bean leaves Mexico on the Spanish Trail heading for California in search of a woman and buried gold. But which one was he willing to fight for more? The American Frontier promises adventure for Bean, but not without the threat of trouble. Without a shadow of fear, Bean proves to be unlike any other cowboy that the Comanches of the Southwest have ever seen . . . or will see ...
With a six-gun in his holster and a Bowie knife in his boot, Judge Roy Bean leaves Mexico on the Spanish Trail heading for California in search of a woman and buried gold. But which one was he willing to fight for more? The American Frontier promises adventure for Bean, but not without the threat of trouble. Without a shadow of fear, Bean proves to be unlike any other cowboy that the Comanches of the Southwest have ever seen . . . or will see again.
From the time I reached the old Spanish Trail to California, the wind had blown strong and always westward. And I followed that wind, or rather I and my little black mare and my pack mule drifted along with it, like ships upon an ocean; for the waves of the sea were patterned in the endless miles of ever shifting grasses that often came up to my stirrups.
So I rode west, seemingly free of the trouble that had uprooted and hustled me from Mexico and across three territories--like a windblown tumbleweed.
Camping in the partial shelter of a willow thicket on the fifth day since leaving the last of civilization, a run-down trading post at Vermillion Cliffs, I found myself doing some long and hard thinking about myself--Roy Bean, late of Mason County, Kentucky, and a devil of a lot later from that gunfight at Chihuahua ... and the murderous event following.
Just a shade past twenty-three, as I hunkered by my lonely campfire on a windy June evening in 1849, I seemed to have lived several lifetimes already--and mighty busy ones! I'd flatboated from Kentucky to New Orleans at fifteen, spent a goodly hitch teamstering in the recent Mexican War, toting gunpowder and cannonballs for Zack Taylor, and finally becoming a sort of a counterjumper at my brother Sam's little trading post and groggery in the town of Chihuahua, until a few short weeks ago!
Early on that explosive morning, as I was dusting off the bar and thinking of the local girls, Sam had hurried into the place, all wrought up. "Goldummed knothead!" His eyes stuck out like he'd just been punched in the brisket. "You been out tomcattin' again with them Verdugo gals?" A couple of our early barflies staredup from their drinks.
"Might have walked out with one or the other." I wondered who'd been talking. Likely it was that green-eyed cat Conchita Peralta--and just because I'd dropped a hint or two that she might start looking toward becoming Mrs. Roy Bean--sometime. The trouble was I'd worked the same dodge around Chihuahua somewhat freely since joining Sam.
When I gave over freighting after the war and came to help my brother in his business I promptly got myself some visions of becoming a regular merchant prince. I was a go-getter, no matter what I went at--and I was mighty enthusiastic about the local belles, for one thing! One or the other could wind up as spouse to a whopping success, which would be me. The only joker in that deck was the fact that I just couldn't make up my mind which of the little señoritas to settle down with--and so kept trying to sample the merchandise, and getting away with it.
But now it seemed my sampling was catching up with me!
"Well, you're sure in one hell of a fix!" Sam shouted. "Esteban Domingo just galloped in, filled to th' brim with firewater and yellin' for your scalp!"
"Margarita's old beau? Thought he was in some Vera Cruz jail for slicing up a rival." A chill plunged down my backbone.
"He must have let himself out to come visitin'! And here he comes now!"
Sam was right. One of the meanest-looking Mexicans I'd ever set eyes on burst through the batwings, waving a mighty long knife!
"Borrico! Puckered horned toad! Two-faced coyote!" And those were the kindest of the volley of words shouted at me as he ran me around the saloon, scattering our early risers and bottles to hell and gone!
Wasting no time at peace talk, I leaped back of the bar and came up with Sam's big Walker Colt, hoping for a dry charge.
"Hold on! I don't know you, you crazy fool, let alone your infernal lady friends!" I cocked the heavy pistol with both hands, while the last customer plunged headlong into the street. Sam was already absent.
"Sí, I know you, though, you woman-chasing cockroach!" And with a drunken war whoop he flung himself at me, knife slashing a glittering streak.
Things happened fast. Came the ear-blasting roar of the Walker as its hammer slammed down and the weapon belched fiery lightning. That thunderous crash was still racketing through the building as the late Esteban Domingo thudded onto the sawdust with half of his ugly face missing.
For a tingling, humming moment I stood frozen flat-footed, staring at that sprawled body on the blood-spattered floor, then I dropped his big, silver-laced sombrero onto his face, or what was left of it, and staggered out onto the street. As I stood there gulping the air, a head or two poked around the nearby adobes. Other faces peeked from behind cottonwoods or stared out of the alley shadows. Feet began thudding, like rolling drums, as Mexicans ran up the street. Groups gathered, big straw sombreros tipped together as their owners whispered and rolled glittering black eyes in my direction.
Though Esteban Domingo had been a no-good drunken troublemaker, he came from an old Sonora family with plenty of pesos, which was the main reason he'd lasted as long as he had. He'd also served in the Mexican Lancers and was rated a jim-dandy Yankee sticker. Well, he'd sure enough stuck his last Yank!
Two of our regulars, Siquio Sánchez and García Tayopa, came pussyfooting in through the front door, brittle smiles lurking under their handlebar mustaches. More Mexicans broke away from the growing crowd and eased their way into our place to gawk and mutter.
Our anglo traders began to show up. Big Jim Wilson and cockeyed Frank Burris dashed over from Portales Street, with old Solomon Fancher, of the freighting company, waddling at their heels. My brother was with him and he tugged me off to one side.
"Wait a minute, that bunch in there'll steal us blind unless someone watches them!" I told him.
"Don't fret yourself over some bottles of pop-skull or a few yard goods--and give me that weapon!" Sam grabbed the Walker out of my fist and jammed it into his waistband. "Take a look at that!" He jerked a thumb at the growing crowd.
Though it was still early in the day, about the whole town of Chihuahua was up and out on the streets.
"Git yourself over to th' wagon yard and hitch up old Zack and Betty, and damned muy pronto!" Sam gave me a shove and Solomon Fancher grabbed me on the rebound and shoved me along through the milling Mexicans. He waved a hand at the wagon yard when we got there. "Thanks to you, Mr. Quick Shot, me and your brother and every gringo's got to pull freight fast--if we don't want our throats cut by these jumped-up chili con carnes. They're good customers but gol-damn hot enemies when their dander's roused. I oughta know. I was at Goliad!"
Fancher waddled around, yanking his beard and flinging orders. "When we heard Domingo was after your hide, we knew one or t'other would hit th' deck! And you, you unconsiderate limb, had to come out on top! Jest listen at that!"
The shrilling of women and the bellowed curses of the menfolk began to rise around town. I wondered if Margarita Verdugo was helping in that caterwauling, but I got busy hitching up our Dearborn wagon. Most of the American merchants used the big, heavy Conestoga freight wagons or lubberly Chihuahua high-wheeled carts with double-yoked oxen. I'd always felt that it gave us style to drive a span of horses, and now it looked as if we could use them to move in a hurry, for the uproar was swelling like the mutter of a coming storm.
"Hustle! Hustle! They're about ready to start th' hull darn war over agin!" Sam was back, wild-eyed and sweating, as he scrambled into the squeaking seat of our Dearborn. By now just about every americano was on the streets or gathering around the wagon yard with all of their weeping women and bawling kids.
Those glowering knots of Chihuahua citizens, milling about, waving hands and fists, had been neighbors, customers and apparent friends ever since Sam and I and the other gringos moved in after the signing of peace back in March of 1848. Since then we all had dug in and made the fur fly with our businesses--trading, grocery, dry goods and the rest. And now it seemed the honeymoon was over for good!
Not one man in all those staring crowds made a move to stop our leaving, even the local Jefes kept their distance as our makeshift wagon train began to rumble, cart and wagon, up Galagos, past the rows of stores and cantinas, but the racket over on the other streets was getting louder. There came the brittle clash of broken windows and the hollow thud of scattered shots.
Hearing those sounds we all whipped up our horses more briskly.
On the way, some of our party made several hurried stops to save trunks and other belongings. I got our small chest and some oddments from our comfortable adobe on Jalapa, leaving behind our Yaqui house servant, Texutla, to watch the place against our return.
It gave both Sam and me a wrench to pull up stakes and leave our dandy little place, with its walled patio garden and dozens of flowering plants. There in a corner, our huge chirimoya tree, festooned with a rainbow of orchids, lorded it over a regular little Garden of Eden, rioting with kumquat, lemon, grapefruit and golden oranges. Nothing like it in old Kentucky! And now we were being chased headlong out of that Eden.
As I dashed back from the house with the last piece of luggage, old Texutla, her broad brow creased more than ever with furrows, held up gnarled hands, wailing, "Return, O señores, return!"
I gave her a big hug and the keys to the place, joshing her about her tears as I jumped into the Dearborn beside Sam.
Tuxutla wiped at her eyes. "Lágrimas de corazón son como una benedicción del cielo!" (Tears of the heart can be like a benediction of heaven!) Then she smiled through those tears. Dear old soul, we'd not see her again.
Whips cracked, wheels creaked their rusty protest, and we trundled out into the sage and sand barrens, headed for anywhere but Chihuahua, women white-faced, men clamp-jawed and kids sniffling--all grieving for their own lost Edens.
For an hour or so we traveled on, most of the men on horseback, following their families in the heavy wagons, to the tune of forty-odd. And as we rode along the sandy track northward, we kept craning our necks back to gaze at the receding white cubes and oblongs of old Chihuahua; then at last the town sank away behind the rolling brown sand hills. But it was still marked by the drifting black plumes, smearing up into the bright blue sky dome, where some home or business place vanished in flames.
Gone out of sight were Margarita, and Conchita, and Emilita, and all the rest of those dark-eyed, red-lipped, soft-curved señoritas--as well as a year of hard work.
We expected to be followed, but it seemed the ranting citizens of Chihuahua had felt they'd come out ahead at that. Not only had they gotten rid of the gringo but they'd gotten their lazy brown paws on that bustling Yankee tribe's property as well!
I had figured to be ranked as a regular first-class pariah by all of our spontaneous exiles, but hardly a one, outside of old Fancher and Sam, gave me the slightest dirty look. Most seemed sort of proud of me. Those Mexicans back there might have booted us out, but I'd upheld the U.S.A. It was as though I'd won the war all over again--before our retreat.
So we stretched out our wagon train and dug into the hundred hot and sandy miles separating us from the town of Jesús María in northern Sonora, our nearest place of refuge.