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(Book Selection) San Carlos Crossing - II

Sergeant Thomas L. Evetts paused under the mottled shade of the palapa in front of the Castolon Store to roll a smoke from the just purchased bag of Lobo Negro Tobacco.  He scratched a match across the buckle of his gun belt and touched it to the paper.  Squinting through the smoke, he watched  the 2 other Rangers and the Customs Agent tend to the horses and the pack mule.

He had arrived with the other Texas Rangers earlier in the day at the request of  Agent Curran Watts who manned the Customs Office at Castolon.   The small US Cavalry troop stationed there had done little to stem the tide of smugglers from the south that crossed the Rio Grande between Presidio and Sanderson.  The rugged mountains of the Big Bend favored the local smugglers  who new every trail, tinaja, windmill  and water tank between La Muzquiz and Alpine.   Indian Raiders had long known about this crossing.  It was but one of the many branches of the Indian War Trail that brought the Comanche and Apache raiding parties into  Mexico  from Texas in decades past. When Prohibition became the law of the land 3 months earlier on January 1, 1920, the northbound trickle turned into a flood.

Smuggling had become a major moneymaking operation with many US Distilleries choosing to move operations to Mexico when the Volstead Act was passed.  For the average worker in the United States, the per capita income in 1920 was $1,136.00. Whatever the income was south of the border, it was definitely less. Tequila, mescal, rum, whiskey or a suitable substitute sold for twenty-five to fifty cents a quart in Mexico, and it would be sold in the United States for four to fifteen dollars a bottle. The profit from one trip could exceed a year’s income for a Texas cowboy. For a Mexican farmer, the profit was almost unimaginable.  Even the cheap rotgut shipped north in the square cans turned a tidy profit for the smugglers and bootleggers.  He winced as he thought about the last time he had tangled with some of that rotgut on a personal basis over at Eagle Pass.  The next morning had been more than painful.  “Never again. Gettin’ too old for that foolishness now.”

Evetts could give a good damn about Washington politics or Border economics. All he knew was Captain Trevose had told him to gather up  2 Rangers from the Company  and  get over to Castolon to give Watts a hand.  From experience Evetts knew Captain  Trevose was not a man to be trifled with and he best not have to ask you twice to do something.  He  had picked James Holt and Archer Daniels to join him on the ride from Del Rio.  Both of the young Rangers had lived all their lives in the South Texas Brasada (Brush Country).  Evetts himself had grown up on a ranch outside of Cotulla and had been horseback since he could walk.  “Best get after it” he muttered as he strode across to the corral where the stock was tied.

Like the other Rangers, he was riding a tough little  Quarter Horse with gear acquired over his decade in Ranger service.  Utility defined selection in this harsh dangerous country and everything he owned spoke to the job. Except maybe his spurs; one exception bespeaking male vanity.  The spurs were made by Bianci in Victoria and had Mexican coins as rowels.  The saddle was purchased from a bank robber in the the jail at Cotulla who met his fate on the gallows in the adjoining courtyard.  Hanging from the saddle horn was a morral (pouch) in which he carried extra cartridges.  The rifle scabbard held a Remington Model 8 semi-auto in .30 Remington with a 15 round magazine special ordered from Jake Petmeckey’s store in Austin, Texas.  Three more loaded magazines were in the morral.  On his right hip, he had a Smith and Wesson .44 Special Triple Lock revolver.  Behind the big Triple Lock was a 9 inch skinning knife honed razor fine.  Under his vest, he carried a .32 ACP 1903  Colt  Pocket Hammerless in a small shoulder holster.  The other Rangers were outfitted in similar fashion with the exception of their rifles.  Both Holt and Daniels preferred the Winchester Model 94 lever actions in .30-30 over his big auto loader and neither one could afford the pricey Bianci spurs.  A slight smile appeared briefly. “Give ’em time and they’ll be sporting gal leg spurs or some such. Seen it time and time over.”

Watts had called Captain Trevose earlier in the week with a tip that  a mule train of liquor was headed north and would be crossing the river below Lajitas at San Carlos Crossing that night.  Trevose had dispatched Evetts and his troop out of Del Rio immediately with general orders to work the areas east of Castolon around Mariscal Canyon and La Linda.  Secrecy was essential as Big Bend was sparsely populated and the arrival of three Rangers armed to the teeth was certain to get the La Frontera grapevine humming.  Leaving at dusk, the group would move east for the benefit of prying eyes and then turn west toward their true destination.

Evetts was  just a naive country cowboy when he he started in Cap Dooley’s Ranger Company a decade before. The Old Man was a legend in the Rangers and had helped clean up the Nueces Strip back in the day when it was one of the most lawless places on earth.  “Listen here Evetts”  he would say.  “Boy, don’t underestimate these Mexicans . Their great grandpas started up running goods across the River and they don’t know nuthin’ else.  They are smart, they know the lay of  the land and they will try every trick in the book.  If it does come down to brass tacks,  they’d as soon shoot as not.”  He had learned plenty from the Old Man in the year they rode together.  Tracking, gun play and how to work and live for weeks at a time in dry country where everything either sticks or bites came naturally to Evetts.  Mostly, the Old Man had taught Evetts how to work smart.  His mind wandered back to the hot day in August they had been riding toward Cotulla to lay up for awhile.  Many weeks in the Brasada had taken its’ toll on men, horses and gear. Cap Dooley had turned around in the saddle to say something and just fell right off his horse; deader than a doorstop before he hit the ground.  The doctor in Cotulla said most likely it was a heart attack, after all the Old Man was past 70.  They had buried Captain Dooley on Evetts’  family ranch the next day.  The high bluff overlooking the Nueces River had been one of Cap’s favorite places to make camp and Evetts thought it fitting for him to spend eternity there.

Evetts had his doubts about young Watts acting as their guide when he had met him earlier in the day. Leaving just before dusk,  few words were spoken as the small group strung out in single file.  As the hours pf picking their way through the boulders, scrub and cactus passed,   Curran Watts  was proving to be a capable and knowledgeable guide.   At the head of the small group,  he and Watts discussed strategy as  he fully expected the 4  gringos to be facing a larger band of smugglers later in the night.   Surprise and a good ambush location were essential if they were to see the next sun rise.  He turned in the saddle and asked Watts what his best thinking was on the smuggler’s route.  “Waal,  if’n I was a smuggler,  I would be sweating bullets up around that Terlingua and Study Butte.  Too many eyes and ears and places for a man to lay up and get the drop on me.  Once’t  I made it through there and out into the Big Bend Valley,  I shore would be breathin’ easier.”

They rode in silence as Evetts  thought things through. “Curran, where would you least expect to get bushwhacked if you was one of them banditos?”   Watts pushed his hat back off his forehead and said “Let me be thinking on that fer a minute.”

 

Previous installments of the book are HERE.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  None of the characters are real.  The events depicted may or may not be historically true or even remotely factual.  Locations and descriptions may or may not be actual.  This is my original work and you DO NOT have permission to copy more than a short excerpt which must point back to my original document. This work and all work in this series is Copyright © 2013 MyOldRV.com.

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(Book Selection) San Carlos Crossing - II, 9.6 out of 10 based on 10 ratings
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5 comments to (Book Selection) San Carlos Crossing – II

  • Bob

    OK now you have me hooked—Thanks for the excerpts

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  • Ken

    Andy, good description of the brasada. Most folks just do not grasp the concept of “if it don’t have stickers, it is poison”. That country takes hard men to make a living out of it. Water is a sometimes thing if you are not near the few rivers. Smart travel will outlast luck all the time.

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  • lj

    Yep,Andy’s developing story causes me to pause and wonder about the life of yesteryear out west.
    Ken, though never lived in the desert, but just driving through west Texas, and beyond I always wondered about the souls out there making a living in that hard scrabble, hot-dry-windy-dusty-stick u bushes-burrs-brambles-rocks and dirt environment. I spent a short 4 years trying to make a living on a farm, and just in that experience I found most of my neighbors hovering between hardship n misery and hoping that the next refinanced bank note would be enough for them to ‘make it’. Those hardy folk found many ways to make ends meet, through resourcefullness, work and determination, but despite the difficulties, most were remarkable in keeping the faith, and maintaining cheer

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  • Andy…You have quite a talent there. Love the read!

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