A Texas Matchmaker/An Indian Scare
Near the close of January, '79, the Nueces valley was stirred by an Indian scare. I had a distinct recollection of two similar scares in my boyhood on the San Antonio River, in which I never caught a glimpse of the noble red man. But whether the rumors were groundless or not, Las Palomas set her house in order. The worst thing we had to fear was the loss of our saddle stock, as they were gentle and could be easily run off and corralled on the range by stretching lariats. At this time the ranch had some ten remudas including nearly five hundred saddle horses, some of them ranging ten or fifteen miles from the ranch, and on receipt of the first rumor, every remuda was brought in home and put under a general herd, night and day.
"These Indian scares," said Uncle Lance, "are just about as regular as drouths. When I first settled here, the Indians hunted up and down this valley every few years, but they never molested anything. Why, I got well acquainted with several bucks, and used to swap rawhide with them for buckskin. Game was so abundant then that there was no temptation to kill cattle or steal horses. But the rascals seem to be getting worse ever since. The last scare was just ten years ago next month, and kept us all guessing. The renegades were Kickapoos and came down the Frio from out west. One Sunday morning they surprised two of Waugh's vaqueros while the latter were dressing a wild hog which they had killed. The Mexicans had only one horse and one gun between them. One of them took the horse and the other took the carbine. Not daring to follow the one with the gun for fear of ambuscade, the Indians gave chase to the vaquero on horseback, whom they easily captured. After stripping him of all his clothing, they tied his hands with thongs, and pinned the poor devil to a tree with spear thrusts through the back.
"The other Mexican made his escape in the chaparral, and got back to the ranch. As it happened, there was only a man or two at Waugh's place at the time, and no attempt was made to follow the Indians, who, after killing the vaquero, went on west to Altita Creek—the one which puts into the Nueces from the north, just about twenty miles above the Ganso. Waugh had a sheep camp on the head of Altito, and there the Kickapoos killed two of his pastors and robbed the camp. From that creek on westward, their course was marked with murders and horse stealing, but the country was so sparsely settled that little or no resistance could be offered, and the redskins escaped without punishment. At that time they were armed with bow and arrow and spears, but I have it on good authority that all these western tribes now have firearms. The very name of Indians scares women and children, and if they should come down this river, we must keep in the open and avoid ambush, as that is an Indian's forte."
All the women and children at the outlying ranchitas were brought into headquarters, the men being left to look after the houses and their stock and flocks. In the interim, Father Norquin and the masons had arrived and the chapel was daily taking shape. But the rumors of the Indian raid thickened. Reports came in of shepherds shot with their flocks over near Espontos Lake and along the Leona River, and Las Palomas took on the air of an armed camp. Though we never ceased to ride the range wherever duty called, we went always in squads of four or five.
The first abatement of the scare took place when one evening a cavalcade of Texas Rangers reached our ranch from DeWitt County. They consisted of fifteen mounted men under Lieutenant Frank Barr, with a commissary of four pack mules. The detachment was from one of the crack companies of the state, and had with them several half-blood trailers, though every man in the squad was more or less of an expert in that line. They were traveling light, and had covered over a hundred miles during the day and a half preceding their arrival at headquarters. The hospitality of Las Palomas was theirs to command, and as their most urgent need was mounts, they were made welcome to the pick of every horse under herd. Sunrise saw our ranger guests on their way, leaving the high tension relaxed and every one on the ranch breathing easier. But the Indian scare did not prove an ill wind to the plans of Father Norquin. With the concentration of people from the ranchitas and those belonging at the home ranch, the chapel building went on by leaps and bounds. A native carpenter had been secured from Santa Maria, and the enthusiastic padre, laying aside his vestments, worked with his hands as a common laborer. The energy with which he inspired the natives made him a valuable overseer. From assisting the carpenter in hewing the rafters, to advising the masons in laying a keystone, or with his own hands mixing the mortar and tamping the earth to give firm foundation to the cement floor, he was the directing spirit. Very little lumber was used in the construction of buildings at Las Palomas. The houses were thatched with a coarse salt grass, called by the natives zacahuiste. Every year in the overflowed portions of the valley, great quantities of this material were cut by the native help and stored against its need. The grass sometimes grew two feet in height, and at cutting was wrapped tightly and tied in "hands" about two inches in diameter. For fastening to the roofing lath, green blades of the Spanish dagger were used, which, after being roasted over a fire to toughen the fibre, were split into thongs and bound the hands securely in a solid mass, layer upon layer like shingles. Crude as it may appear, this was a most serviceable roof, being both rain proof and impervious to heat, while, owing to its compactness, a live coal of fire laid upon it would smoulder but not ignite.
No sooner had the masons finished the plastering of the inner walls and cementing the floor, than they began on a two-roomed cottage. As its white walls arose conjecture was rife as to who was to occupy it. I made no bones of the fact that I expected to occupy a jacal in the near future, but denied that this was to be mine, as I had been promised one with three rooms. Out of hearing of our employer, John Cotton also religiously denied that the tiny house was for his use. Fidel, however, took the chaffing without a denial, the padre and Uncle Lance being his two worst tormentors.
During the previous visit of the padre, when the chapel was decided on, the order for the finishing material for the building had been placed with the merchant at Shepherd's, and was brought up from Corpus Christi through his freighters. We now had notice from the merchant that his teamsters had returned, and two four-mule teams went down to the ferry for the lumber, glassware, sash and doors. Miss Jean had been importuning the padre daily to know when the dedication would take place, as she was planning to invite the countryside.
"Ah, my daughter," replied the priest, "we must learn to cultivate patience. All things that abide are of slow but steady growth, and my work is for eternity. Therefore I must be an earnest servant, so that when my life's duty ends, it can be said in truth, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.' But I am as anxious to consecrate this building to the Master's service as any one. My good woman, if I only had a few parishioners like you, we would work wonders among these natives."
On the return of the mule teams, the completion of the building could be determined, and the padre announced the twenty-first of February as the date of dedication. On reaching this decision, the ranch was set in order for an occasion of more than ordinary moment. Fidel and Juana were impatient to be married, and the master and mistress had decided that the ceremony should be performed the day after the dedication, and all the guests of the ranch should remain for the festivities. The padre, still in command, dispatched a vaquero to the Mission, announcing the completion of the chapel, and asking for a brother priest to bring out certain vestments and assist in the dedicatory exercises. The Indian scare was subsiding, and as no word had come from the rangers confidence grew that the worst was over, so we scattered in every direction inviting guests. From the Booths on the Frio to the Wilsons of Ramirena, and along the home river as far as Lagarto, our friends were bidden in the name of the master and mistress of Las Palomas.
On my return from taking the invitations to the ranches north, the chapel was just receiving the finishing touches. The cross crowning the front glistened in fresh paint, while on the interior walls shone cheap lithographs of the Madonna and Christ. The old padre, proud and jealous as a bridegroom over his bride, directed the young friar here and there, himself standing aloof and studying with an artist's eye every effect in color and drapery. The only discordant note in the interior was the rough benches, in the building of which Father Norquin himself had worked, thus following, as he repeatedly admonished us, in the footsteps of his Master, the carpenter of Galilee.
The ceremony of dedication was to be followed by mass at high noon. Don Mateo Gonzales of Santa Maria sent his regrets, as did likewise Don Alejandro Travino of the Mission, but the other invited guests came early and stayed late. The women and children of the outlying ranchitas had not yet returned to their homes, and with our invited guests made an assembly of nearly a hundred and fifty persons. Unexpectedly, and within two hours of the appointed time for the service to commence, a cavalcade was sighted approaching the ranch from the west. As they turned in towards headquarters, some one recognized the horses, and a shout of welcome greeted our ranger guests of over two weeks before. Uncle Lance met them as if they had been expected, and invited the lieutenant and his men to dismount and remain a few days as guests of Las Palomas. When they urged the importance of continuing on their journey to report to the governor, the host replied:—
"Lieutenant Barr, that don't go here. Fall out of your saddles and borrow all the razors and white shirts on the ranch, for we need you for the dedication of a chapel to-day, and for a wedding and infare for to-morrow. We don't see you along this river as often as we'd like to, and when you do happen along in time for a peaceful duty, you can't get away so easily. If you have any special report to make to your superiors, why, write her out, and I'll send a vaquero with it to Oakville this afternoon, and it'll go north on the stage to-morrow. But, lieutenant, you mustn't think you can ride right past Las Palomas when you're not under emergency orders. Now, fall off those horses and spruce up a little, for I intend to introduce you to some as nice girls as you ever met. You may want to quit rangering some day, and I may need a man about your size, and I'm getting tired of single ones."
Lieutenant Barr surrendered. Saddles were stripped from horses, packs were unlashed from mules, and every animal was sent to our remudas under herd. The accoutrements were stacked inside the gate like haycocks, with slickers thrown over them; the carbines were thrown on the gallery, and from every nail, peg, or hook on the wall belts and six-shooters hung in groups. These rangers were just ordinary looking men, and might have been mistaken for an outfit of cow hands. In age they ranged from a smiling youth of twenty to grizzled men of forty, yet in every countenance was written a resolute determination. All the razors on the ranch were brought into immediate use, while every presentable shirt, collar, and tie in the house was unearthed and placed at their disposal. While arranging hasty toilets, the men informed us that when they reached Espontos Lake the redskins had left, and that they had trailed them south until the Indians had crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico several days in advance of their arrival. The usual number of isolated sheepherders killed, and of horses stolen, were the features of the raid.
The guests had been arriving all morning. The Booths had reached the ranch the night before, and the last to put in an appearance was the contingent from the Frio and San Miguel. Before the appearance of the rangers, they had been sighted across the river, and they rode up with Pierre Vaux, like a captain of the Old Guard, in the lead.
"Ah, Don Lance," he cried, "vat you tink? Dey say Don Pierre no ride fas' goin' to church. Dese youngsters laff all time and say I never get here unless de dogs is 'long. Sacré! Act all time lak I vas von ol' man. Humbre, keep away from dis horse; he allow nobody but me to lay von han' on him—keep away, I tol' you!"
I helped the girls to dismount, Miss Jean kissing them right and left, and bustling them off into the house to tidy up as fast as possible; for the hour was almost at hand. On catching sight of Mrs. Annear, fresh and charming in her widow's weeds, Uncle Lance brushed Don Pierre aside and cordially greeted her. Vaqueros took the horses, and as I strolled up the pathway with Esther, I noticed an upper window full of ranger faces peering down on the girls. Before this last contingent had had time to spruce up, Pasquale's eldest boy rode around all the jacals, ringing a small handbell to summon the population to the dedication. Outside of our home crowd, we had forty white guests, not including the two Booth children and the priests. As fast as the rangers were made presentable, the master and mistress introduced them to all the girls present. Of course, there were a few who could not be enticed near a woman, but Quayle and Happersett, like kindred spirits, took the backward ones under their wing, and the procession started for the chapel.
The audience was typical of the Texas frontier at the close of the '70's. Two priests of European birth conducted the services. Pioneer cowmen of various nationalities and their families intermingled and occupied central seats. By the side of his host, a veteran of '36, when Mexican rule was driven from the land, sat Lieutenant Barr, then engaged in accomplishing a second redemption of the state from crime and lawlessless. Lovable and esteemed men were present, who had followed the fortunes of war until the Southern flag, to which they had rallied, went down in defeat. The younger generation of men were stalwart in physique, while the girls were modest in their rustic beauty. Sitting on the cement floor on three sides of us were the natives of the ranch, civilized but with little improvement over their Aztec ancestors.
The dedicatory exercises were brief and simple. Every one was invited to remain for the celebration of the first mass in the newly consecrated building. Many who were not communicants accepted, but noticing the mistress and my sweetheart taking their leave, I joined them and assisted in arranging the tables so that all our guests could be seated at two sittings. At the conclusion of the services, dinner was waiting, and Father Norquin and Mr. Nate Wilson were asked to carve at one table, while the young friar and Lieutenant Barr, in a similar capacity, officiated at the other. There was so much volunteer help in the kitchen that I was soon excused, and joined the younger people on the gallery. As to whom Cotton and Gallup were monopolizing there was no doubt, but I had a curiosity to notice what Scales would do when placed between two fires. But not for nothing had he cultivated the acquaintance of a sandy-mustached young ranger, who was at that moment entertaining Suzanne Vaux in an alcove at the farther end of the veranda. Aaron, when returning from the chapel with Susie Wilson, had succeeded in getting no nearer the house than a clump of oak trees which sheltered an old rustic settee. And when the young folks were called in to dinner, the vagabond Scales and Miss Wilson of Ramirena had to be called the second time.
In seating the younger generation, Miss Jean showed her finesse. Nearly all the rangers had dined at the first tables, but the widow Annear waited for the second one—why, only a privileged few of us could guess. Artfully and with seeming unconsciousness on the part of every one, Deweese was placed beside the charming widow, though I had a suspicion that June was the only innocent party in the company. Captain Byler and I were carving at the same table at which our foreman and the widow were seated, and, being in the secret, I noted step by step the progress of the widow, and the signs of gradual surrender of the corporal segundo. I had a distinct recollection of having once smashed some earnest resolves, and of having capitulated under similar circumstances, and now being happily in love, I secretly wished success to the little god Cupid in the case in hand. And all during the afternoon and evening, it was clearly apparent to any one who cared to notice that success was very likely.
The evening was a memorable one at Las Palomas. Never before in my knowledge had the ranch had so many and such amiable guests. The rangers took kindly to our hospitality, and Father Norquin waddled about, God-blessing every one, old and young, frivolous and sedate. Owing to the nature of the services of the day, the evening was spent in conversation among the elders, while the younger element promenaded the spacious gallery, or occupied alcoves, nooks, and corners about the grounds. On retiring for the night, the men yielded the house to the women guests, sleeping on the upper and lower verandas, while the ranger contingent, scorning beds or shelter, unrolled their blankets under the spreading live-oaks in the yard.
But the real interest centred in the marriage of Fidel and Juana, which took place at six o'clock the following evening. Every one, including the native element, repaired to the new chapel to attend the wedding. Uncle Lance and his sister had rivaled each other as to whether man or maid should have the better outfit. Fidel was physically far above the average of the natives, slightly bow-legged, stolid, and the coolest person in the church. The bride was in quite a flutter, but having been coached and rehearsed daily by her mistress, managed to get through the ordeal. The young priest performed the ceremony, using his own native tongue, the rich, silvery accents of Spanish. At the conclusion of the service, every one congratulated the happy couple, the women and girls in tears, the sterner sex without demonstration of feeling. When we were outside the chapel, and waiting for our sweethearts to dry their tears and join us, Uncle Lance came swaggering' over to John Cotton and me, and, slapping us both on the back, said:—
"Boys, that rascal of a Fidel has a splendid nerve. Did you notice how he faced the guns without a tremor; never batted an eye but took his medicine like a little man. I hope both of you boys will show equally good nerve when your turn comes. Why, I doubt if there was a ranger in the whole squad, unless it was that red-headed rascal who kissed the bride, who would have stood the test like that vaquero—without a shiver. And it's something you can't get used to. Now, as you all know, I've been married three times. The first two times I was as cool as most, but the third whirl I trembled all over. Quavers ran through me, my tongue was palsied, my teeth chattered, my knees knocked together, and I felt like a man that was sent for and couldn't go. Now, mind you, it was the third time and I was only forty-five."
What a night that was! The contents of the warehouse had been shifted, native musicians had come up from Santa Maria, and every one about the home ranch who could strum a guitar was pressed into service. The storeroom was given over to the natives, and after honoring the occasion with their presence as patrons, the master and mistress, after the opening dance, withdrew in company with their guests. The night had then barely commenced. Claiming two guitarists, we soon had our guests waltzing on veranda, hall, and spacious dining-room to the music of my fiddle. Several of the rangers could play, and by taking turns every one had a joyous time, including the two priests. Among the Mexicans the dancing continued until daybreak. Shortly after midnight our guests retired, and the next morning found all, including the priests, preparing to take their departure. As was customary, we rode a short distance with our guests, bidding them again to Las Palomas and receiving similar invitations in return. With the exception of Captain Byler, the rangers were the last to take their leave. When the mules were packed and their mounts saddled, the old ranchero extended them a welcome whenever they came that way again.
"Well, now, Mr. Lovelace," said Lieutenant Barr, "you had better not press that invitation too far. The good time we have had with you discounts rangering for the State of Texas. Rest assured, sir, that we will not soon forget the hospitality of Las Palomas, nor its ability to entertain. Push on with the packs, boys, and I'll take leave of the mistress in behalf of you all, and overtake the squad before it reaches the river."