TEXAN BY ANY NAME
By JW Edwards
A thin tendril of smoke drifting skyward off in the Sonora’s desert horizon was the only sign another human being occupied the cholla infested landscape. The lack of raised dust meant whoever it was had been there for a spell and hadn’t found any need to move on yet.
The scene disturbed the lone rider as he watched the smoke snake skyward. He thought it was a stupid move, having a fire like that. Without conscious thought, he worried the hairs on the mare’s mane between his fingers. Under his breath he mentioned this to no one in particular. “With that smoky a fire, that idiot might just as well be flashing a mirror about for all the savvy he showin’.”
Anyone who’s spent time in Indian country knew a small, short lived smokeless fire made of dry twigs was trail wise. This beacon in the wilderness was either a tenderfoots disastrous attempt at crossing the desert or like dung to a fly, it was used to purposely attract the eyes of greenhorn miners or Easterner do gooders making their way west.
He continued speaking but now it was aimed at his horse, “Dang it Snort, No man could a traveled this far bein that stupid an stayin’ alive this long out there. There’s a passel of mean ‘ol Apaches about an I ain’t even mentioned nothin’ ‘bout the group of white stage robbin’ hombres heard here about too.”
Snort only snorted like she understood and agreed.
He knew he was going to investigate. “ I know this ain’t what I should do Snort, but dang it all, what if it is just a idiot numbskull out there? Why with that smoky blaze he just let it be known to every no good within ten miles that they’s a ripe peach for pluckin’… unless of course this be a set up for robbin’ a greenhorn good Samaritan. My gut says that’s what’s goin’ on out there Snort. We might as well get on out there an’ see for ourselves”.
It was an old Indian trick. Convincing a passing traveler that someone’s in need then robbing or killing them when they arrived to help.
Out here in the dry desert, it wasn’t unheard of to find captive white women being used to draw in the unsuspected traveler by loudly pleading for help. Knowing he was smarter trail and desert wise than even most Apaches, he edged Snort on towards the smoky tendril.
Slowly the rider made his way around in a large circle so he could observe the smoky camp from the west where he would be partially obscured by the brightness of the setting sun. He’d stay hidden in the desert brush until the ancient volcanic peaks cast their long shadows across the desert floor painting a confused collage of shadows, brush and cactus.
Securing his horse to a small greasewood branch behind a slight rise, he crawled through the brush as silent as an Indian imitating a snake. Reaching a small arroyo he slid down into it and after waiting a minute to make sure he was still unobserved he removed his hat and lifted his eyes above the rim.
What he saw appalled him. Scattered about was a mixture of clothes, personal items and bodies. The smoke was the result of a torture. Stretched tight over the fire, an old man was held firmly in place by having his hands and feet tied to brush at opposite ends of each other. His body had been cooked in half over the fire.
Noting the scuffed up desert floor around his feet showed he was alive when the fire was lit under him. An old woman lay naked and dead nearby. No longer having a nose and lips with her eyes gouged out she had died horribly. By the looks of it, she must have been the old man’s wife. Two younger men, maybe in their teens lay dead. One died swiftly having his throat cut, he was the lucky one. His body was away from the others as if he was on sentry duty for the camp. The other boy of maybe fifteen or so lay naked, thoroughly tortured and gelded. The buzzards had been just begun to settle down to a warm meal of innocents.
As much as he wanted to scare off the gorging buzzards, the rider knew to make no sound or expose himself. The fire was still too fresh and the deaths too recent and on top of that, there was no trail dust noted earlier to speak of their leaving. Whoever they were that did this were most likely still hunkered down nearby just waiting for the curious to arrive so they could attack and continue their fun with a fresh number of volunteers.
The rider knew to be extremely cautious. Snort was tied off far enough away to stay hidden so that was good. It was his laying in the arroyo that worried him. He could be discovered if someone else entered the same wash from either end. Quick to reverse this situation, he silently backed up feet first until he reached the opposite side of the arroyo’s slope. Within a few minutes he again was hidden by the cholla and brush above the wash.
Keeping his ears alert for any sound that might announce their where abouts, he began scanning the desert floor with the eyes of an eagle for signs of disturbance. A broken scrub twig knee high and a fresh over turned stone the size of a gold double eagle gave the direction of their exit away. Looking beyond these signs he noted no further disturbances. This meant that whoever it was, they were laying wait in the scrub not more than fifty feet away from the grizzly scene. He counted his blessings when he realized how close he had been to being seen.
He lay still as a rabbit watching the desert return itself to normal. A lizard ate a desert spider, a bird flitted about under a mesquite tree pecking like a chicken at the beans lying underneath. If they were Apaches, they could silently out wait most whites ten to one. The rider in this case was the one, so it was going to be a long night. Guessing at their heritage, he settled down by tucking his arms under his head and getting some shut eye. He would need the rest.
Snort knew not to make any noise where he stood. The rider had trained him well. If his nose was rubbed before the rider moved out, it meant make no sound especially if another horse or human shows up. If the rider rubbed the spot above the eyes, it meant be quiet but silently alert me to any presence by scraping one hoof across the ground. A whinny meant “Forget the other two and get the hell out of Dodge, we’s bein’ set upon by no goods!”
Not hearing any warning from Snort yet meant the Apaches were not moving about but were still hunkered down in the brush waiting for the rider to make his move. He was sure they spotted him earlier when he headed across the flats of the desert after he noticed the smoke. It was such an obvious set up. The rider figured the Apaches had either thought he was a greenhorn traveler unable to read sign very well or that they were in fact a group of careless young braves bent on making hell on earth. Considering the carelessness of the scuffed earth and the broken twig, he rightly made out they were the later. Still, they were deadly and they weren’t going away by wishing it.
Around two in the morning, the rider awoke refreshed, took a swig of water, stretched his legs and arms silently and began implementing the plan he had decided on. After an hour of scanning the very tops of the brush, he finally saw what he was looking for. The freezing nighttime desert temperature announced their position by exposing their barely visible wisp of frosty breaths. Since no horses or their vaporous breaths were visible, the rider knew they were then hidden out of sight beyond the rise. It was even a possibility they were held near where Snort was tied. He was fortunate the Apache’s horses hadn’t reacted to Snorts presence. It would have been over for him before he even started. As it was, he now knew the near whereabouts of their horses and the exact location of the waiting Apaches.
With the first grey light in the eastern sky, the desert breeze began its daily west to east travel. Already positioned west of the hidden Apaches, he reached under his woolen vest and removed his silver whiskey flask. With continued snake like caution, he made his way through the densest sections of brush while pouring a continuous line of whisky in the desert sand beneath the brush. When the flask was finally emptied, he had made a quarter of a circle around the Indians. He then lit a Lucifer ‘strike anywhere match’ and put the burning head to the trail of whisky still dampening the sand.
Meanwhile, six young Apache’s lay hidden in the desert brush. Keeping in contact with each other by eye contact only, they practiced the age old Apache tactic of silent waiting.
Suddenly not a hundred feet in front of them, the earth ignited in a stretched out fiery blaze and with the morning breeze the inferno started racing their way. Their night vision ruined, they tried their best to make it unseen back to their waiting horses but with little success. Within a minute, the whisky fueled desert brush was so ablaze it exposed the fleeing Apaches as if lit by Boston theater lights. Rising onto his knees, the rider aimed his Navy Colt and began firing at the fleeing no goods. Aiming carefully, he pulled the trigger six times. One after another went down until none was seen standing.
Not trusting each shot fired to be a killing one, the rider reloaded and made his way stealthily from one body to another. Only one remained breathing, the rest had in fact had been given death by lead.
Rolling the ailing brave onto his back the rider saw where his bullet had gone. It had not been an immediate death shot by any means. Staring down at the lone Apache survivor, the rider saw the young brave was barely in his teens. “Dang it boy, what’re you doin’ with this passel a no goods? Ain’t you a bit young to prove your manhood? I mean it ain’t like you’s a growed man yet.”
In response, the young brave only moaned. The bullets path had entered his upper left side, had traveled along the front of the rib cage and exited near his right nipple. “Yeah, I bet it do hurt a might, but without infection, you’ll live. “ The rider stood and stretched, then bent over him and removed the knife the brave had on him. Looking closely at the blade he said, “I got some stuff in my saddle bag that I can clean and bind you up with, long as you don’t be no fool an’ try an’ get at me, just lie still.”
“Go,” the young brave said gasping, “I no can get up to kill you anyway.”
“Well ain’t that mannerly of ya.” Turning as he walked back to retrieve Snort and his saddle bags the rider called back in disgust. “I shoulda’ just put a bullet through your skull an’ been done with ya’. Why I’m ‘bout to patch you up beats the hell outa me!”
By noon the young brave lay patched and medicated with a salve normally used on horse wounds. A slight fever had begun but the rider figured this was more from the pain of the wound and broken ribs that from infection. A day or two more would tell more about that. The boy slept.
Having found and retrieved the Apaches horses, he was pleasantly surprised to find no brand on them. Unbranded Indian broke horses brought a good price on the market, something his near empty pockets desperately needed. It made no sense to tether them together, they had nowhere to go anyway so he let them graze where they could.
Sun up the next day brought good news to the young brave. No fever and hungry as a starving bear. The rider had made his way back to the grizzly campsite and buried the bodies. Searching around for any items that he could himself use he found a pound of Arbaughs coffee beans, some canned food items, a box of mixed coins amounting to twenty seven dollars and a bottle of whisky. The Apaches were too young to have appreciated the taste for whisky yet so it went over looked or unwanted. Putting his newly found goods in his saddle bags, he then said a prayer to the Lord above for those now lying cold in the ground that they would now be at peace. Something their last minutes on this earth surly were short of.
Arriving back at his own camp, the rider saw that the young brave was sitting up. Dismounting, the rider strode on over to the sitting brave and spoke. “I just buried that family you all kilt. I ain’t gonna ask your reasons for doin’ what you did ‘cause I know the Apache way, but it pisses me off terrible that you chose a family as weak to the territory as they were. Did you believe killin’ a weak fightin’ family made you a big warrior, give you big medicine like your grandfathers had? You ain’t no more a man than you was last week. No difference than killin’ a rabbit then tellin’ everybody you fought a wild desert beast tooth an’ nail an’ kilt it with your knife.” Your grandfathers earned the word warrior by goin’ against something that by all rights shoulda’ kilt them right off. Ain’t no glory in what you did, just shame.”
“Why you help me? I should sleep with my brothers. You shame me by defeating me then not honoring me with death so songs could be sung about me. “
“Honor you? I’d rather honor a whole sack a horse apples than honor you. No siree, I’d not give you that!”
Rekindling the earlier night’s camp fire to boil some water for his found coffee beans, he turned again to the boy. “What name does your father call you, is it yet the name your mother gave you at birth? That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Killin’ all them honest unarmed folk just so’s you can get warriors names for yourselves? Well I got a name for ya’ and it starts with ass an’ ends with hole!”
“I have no name now, your swear name is more than what I have. When I tell my father I was ready to make a name, he only laughed. He tell me I was young fool. If I disobeyed and shamed him by sneaking out with the others, he would no longer say I was his son he would remove even my birth name. I want to show him I was warrior, not a boy. Now I am shamed and have no name. “
“Well, soon as you can ride we’ll head over to where your people camp. I’ll ride along until we get near your camp, then I’ll veer off an’ let you ride on in alone so’s you can straighten things out with your pa.”
“No, I no can go back, I would be laughed at by the women then beaten to death for shaming my father. No, you say you know Apache. You know I can no longer return to them.”
The rider was between a rock and a hard place. He knew the Apache youth hadn’t even seriously considered the reality of becoming a real warrior. To him it was the same as those kids back east reading a dime novel and thinking they would six shoot their way to fame by killing every cattle thief out west. He also figured the boy had no part in the thing since his knife was still clean when he removed it from him. If it had been dirty with blood, he would have shot him dead where he lay.
In burying the dead Apaches, the rider saw them to be in their late teens early twenties, plenty old enough to decide right from wrong…and accept the consequences there of. How could he blame the starry eyed youth? Wasn’t he about the same age when in search of adventure, he ran away from home? Of course that lasted until his Pa found him teary eyed, lost and hungry. With a good belt to the behind he put his foolish notions away and grew to be a man the way most men do…by getting older.
“So what now then no name? I suppose you can head Mexico way. You could make it there in a week or so if I give you back your horse. I heard Mex’s an’ Apaches get along somewhat. Maybe that’s the best place to go.”
“ You tell me to go, I go. You tell me to feed horse, then I feed horse for you. I have no family, no tribe, you own my life.”
Pouring a cup of hot coffee for himself he stopped and told the boy, “Now hold on there no name, I ain’t your owner and sure ain’t your Pa. You all just get better an’ leave me be an’ we’ll call it even up.”
The boy looked crest fallen. The rider knew he had just made things worse for the boy. He had rejected him even as a slave. At least being captured into forced slavery a boy could still grow up within his new adopted tribe and become a warrior. Now there truly was no saving face for the young brave.
“Aw crap! I didn’t mean it that way I said it boy. Even if I did, we got two different cultures here. Why hell, if you was a white boy, you’d still be sitting in front of a school Mar’m reading your ABC’s.”
The Apache youth looked baffled. He rider added, “Forget it boy, you wouldn’t understand.”
The day came when the Apache youth was able to ride. His wound just an angry red slash across his chest. Well, I figure it’s ‘bout time I head on back Texas way no name. I used to be a Texas Ranger before the big war between us whites happened. I got told a ways back they might be getting things together again with the new Governor they got. Maybe I can rejoin and earn a living. You can tag along if you wish. If not, I’d head on to Mexico way. Just stay out of trouble.
While the Apache boy did not understand all that was being said, he had heard of Texas before. “I ride to Texas, maybe lone rider like you need me. Not safe for white man here. Many snakes and creatures that sting along the way. Me teach.”
“Suit yourself, but when we get there ain’t gonna be no way you can tag along. Bein’ a Ranger is a job done mostly alone.” Or so he thought.
Two months later and having sold the spare horses along the way they arrived at Fort Stockton near the Pecos River along the old Comanche war trail. True to his word the Apache kept a vigil eye out for snakes, scorpions and such. They had formed a partnership that could only be achieved in Texas. After being relieved of his Navy Colt and leaving the Apache boy at the gate, the ex Ranger headed over to the Ranger command center whose jurisdiction was all of south west Texas. There he presented himself to the Commander of the Rangers.
Recognizing his old friend, the Captain Commander smiled broadly and exclaimed in a gravel grinding voice “Well I’ll be damned, I thought for sure you was dead by now!“ You looking for work Mr. Lone? I sure could use you if you are. I got a hot spot over El Paso way that needs a few strong hands.”
“I came from the Arizona gold territory, I guess mining ain’t my callin’. I heard rumors while there that the Texas Rangers are gonna’ be reborn an’ financed by the Governor himself. I sure could use a steady income that’s a fact. So is what they say true?”
“In so many words they are, but paydays are still far and few but they always seem to eventually tally up. Rewards still can be collected if there’s a bounty offered, that helps, plus you get a stipend for your horse of four dollars a month. Food, odd sized ammunition and duds is up to you. Just like before the war except now we have the backing of the governor. Sometimes it now gives us an edge of authority over local sheriffs and such than it did in the earlier days. Still interested?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I got a favor to ask. I ain’t one to lean on an’ old friendship but I kind of got a responsibility as such now. I got me a trail pard.”
“Well hell, why didn’t you say so! Havin’ a partner to back you up is a good thing, right?”
“I got to tell you straight Cap, you’ll be findin’ out soon enough anyway. My pards an Apache. A young Apache. Don’t ask how or why it come about but it did. You know I never had a pard, I always rode alone. Maybe I got old or tired or soft, but this kid’s the only one I’d ever trust to cover my back. Take it or leave it Cap. You want me fine but you gotta let me have my pard trail with me.”
Looking downward as if studying the paperwork scattered on the desk in front of him, the Captain said, You do know taking an Apache out of Arizona territory is against the law don’t you. How could I cover something like that?”
“You don’t have to, he has no people, been disowned by ‘em. Only you know his bein’ an Arizona Apache, why He might be a Texas Mescalero Apache or maybe a Lipan Apache or even Jumano. Who the hell would know he’s from Arizona and not Texas?”
“Is he here? I mean at the fort?”
“He’s outside the fort waiting for me.”
“Bring him here. Give this letter to the guard at the main gate, he’ll get an escort here to my office. With the unrest we have with Indians, no Indian can just walk in unannounced. If you’ll agree to my terms, I’ll sign his paperwork. No pay for your partner, no stipend for his horse, he’s your responsibility, there’s no way I could get a Ranger pay draft for an Indian. If there’s a bounty reward offered on a posted no good, you can share it with him or not, it’s your decision. I signed him in as a Wichita. That tribe is hundreds of miles north east of here and unlikely anyone will question it. Now bring him in here, I’d like to see what you saw so grand in an Indian that you’d want him to ride with you.”
An hour later a knock at the Captains door announced the arrival the escort. “Come in”, the Captain called back.
The door opened and in stepped the rider with his young Apache. The Captain’s jaw hung open.
“You can’t be serious,” he balked loudly, “he’s but a boy! He can’t ride as a Ranger. ”
“A deal’s a deal Cap. Besides, I didn’t ask that he be a Ranger, just my pard” Grabbing the Apache now a Wichita’s paperwork off the Captains desk along with their orders, and before he could renege on the deal, he pushed the Apache youth out the door.
“Wait!” cried the Captain as he reopened the door, “what the hell’s his name, I gotta have a name for paperwork.”
Mounting their horses, the rehired Ranger yelled back, “When I figure one out I’ll let ya’ know!”
At the post main gate, an obvious born and bred Yankee scout (even though being dressed in western buckskins) was given the duty to clear the two. “ Your names and orders?” He asked while extending his hand outward to the paperwork being offered him. He went about signing them out, allowing the Ranger to retrieve his weapon.
Dismissing the Apache boy, the scout looked to the Rider, “What is the Indians name Ranger?
The rider fumbled about trying to think of something proper to call the boy for the scouts sake but before he could make one up, the young Apache stepped forward and announced boldly while pointing to the Ranger, “Me call him Kemo Sabe, you say, Lone Ranger. My name Tonto, good scout.”
Giving the two a bewildered look the scout just shook his head. After glancing over the Rangers orders , he replied, “Alright Ranger Lone, I’ll have Private McCleary here get your weapon for you. I see you’re headed out to the revived Ranger post out El Paso way. Seems you’ll be having some company along on the trail.” The guard turned to speak to Private McCleary, “Private, retrieve the Rangers Navy Colt from the guard shack an’ return it to him.” he then added, “On second thought, you might as well grab that silver Colt that New Ranger Hop-a-long something or other turned in, he’s the one wearing the black ten gallon hat that’s limping his way back over here. Seems these three are being stationed together in El Paso.”
As the three moved out of Fort Stockton on horseback, They could hear the Sergeant loudly comment to the private, “Ranger lone, Tonto and Hop-a-long…Thank God at the end of this month my duty in this man’s Calvary will be over. I’ll be heading east to Abilene where being normal is the norm. I swear upon my Pop’s grave Private, I’ll never understand why these Texans take on such fool sounding names, it’s like they always have to out do everybody else. They can’t just be average and fit in like everyone else. I’m glad my Mama had the sense to name me plain old James Butler Hickok that’s for sure!”