"Don't I never tell you the story of the death of Crawfish Jim?"
The Old Cattleman bent upon me an eye of benevolent inquiry. I assured him that the details of the taking off of Crawfish Jim were as a sealed book to me. But I would blithely listen.
"What was the fate of Crawfish Jim?" I asked. The name seemed a promise in itself.
"Nothin' much for a fate, Crawfish's ain't," rejoined the Old Cattleman. "Nothin' whatever compared to some fates I keeps tabs onto. It was this a-way: Crawfish Jim was a sheep-man, an' has a camp out in the foothills of the Tres Hermanas; mebby it's thirty miles back from Wolfville. This yere Crawfish Jim was a pecooliar person; plumb locoed, like all sheep-men. They has to be crazy or they wouldn't pester 'round in no sech disrepootable pursoots as sheep.
You-all has seen these yere gents as makes pets of snakes. Mebby it's once in a thousand times you cuts the trail of sech a party. Snakes is kittens to him, an' he's likely to be packin' specimens 'round in his clothes any time.
"That's the way with this Crawfish Jim. I minds talkin' to him at his camp one day when I'm huntin' a bunch of cattle. The first I notes, snake sticks his head outen Crawfish's shirt, an' looks at me malev'lent and distrustful. Another protroods its nose out up by Crawfish's collar.
"'Which you shore seems ha'nted of snakes?' I says, steppin' back an' p'intin' at the reptiles.
"'Them's my dumb companions,' says Crawfish Jim. 'They shares my solitood.'
"'You-all do seem some pop'lar with 'em,' I observes, for I saveys at once he's plumb off his mental reservation; an' when a party's locoed that a-way it makes him hostile if you derides his little game or bucks his notions.
"I takes grub with Crawfish that same day; good chuck, too; mainly sheep-meat, salt-hoss, an' bakin'-powder biscuit. I watches him some narrow about them snakes he's infested with; I loathin' of 'em, an' not wantin' 'em to transfer no love to me, nor take to enlivenin' my secloosion none.
"Well, son, this yere Crwafish Jim is as a den of serpents. I reckons now he has a plumb dozen mowed away in his raiment. Thar's no harm in 'em; bein' all bull-snakes, which is innocuous an' without p'ison, fangs, or convictions.
"When Crawfish goes to cook, he dumps these folks oaten his clothes, an' lets 'em hustle an'play'round while grub's gettin'.
"'These yere little animals,' he says, 'likes their reecreations same as humans, so I allers gives 'em a play-spell while I'm busy round camp.'
'"Don't they ever stampede off none?' I asks.
"'Shorely not,' says Crawfish. 'Bull-snakes is the most domestical snake thar is. If I'd leave one of these yere tender creatures ere over night he'd die of homesickness.'
"When Crawfish gets ready to bile the coffee, he tumbles the biggest bullsnake I'd seen yet outen the coffee-pot onto the grass. Then he fills the kettle with water, dumps in the coffee, an' sets her on the coals to stew.
"'This yere partic'lar snake,' says Crawfish, 'which I calls him Julius Cæsar, is too big to tote 'round in my shirt, an' so he lives in the coffee-pot while I'm away, an' keeps camp for me.'
"'Don't you yearn for no rattlesnakes to fondle?' I inquires, jest to see what kyard he'd play.
"'No,' he says, 'rattlesnakes is all right—good, sociable, moral snakes enough; but in a sperit of humor they may bite you or some play like that, an' thar you'd be. No; bull-snakes is as 'fectionate as rattles, an' don't run to p'ison. You don't have no inadvertencies with 'em.'
"'Can't you bust the fangs outen rattlesnakes?' I asks.
"'They grows right in ag'in,' says Crawfish, same as your finger-nails. I ain't got no time to go scoutin' a rattlesnake's mouth every day, lookin' up teeth, so I don't worry with 'em, but plays bull-snakes straight. This bein' dentist for rattlesnakes has resks, which the same would be foolish to assoom.'
"While grub's cookin' an' Crawfish an' me's pow-wowin', a little old dog Crawfish has—one of them no-account fice-dogs—comes up an' makes a small uprisin' off to one side with Julius Cæsar. The dog yelps an' snaps, an' Julius Cæsar blows an' strikes at him, same as a rattlesnake. However, they ain't doin' no harm, an' Crawfish don't pay no heed.
"'They's runnin' blazers on each other,' says Crawfish, 'an' don't mean nothin'. Bimeby Caribou Pete—which the same is the dog—will go lie down an' sleep; an' Julius Cæsar will quile up ag'in him to be warm. Caribou, bein' a dog that a-way, is a warm-blood animal, while pore Julius has got cold blood like a fish. So he goes over an' camps on Caribou, an' all the same puts his feet on him for to be comfortable.'
"Of course, I'm a heap interested in this yere snake knowledge, an' tells Crawfish so. But it sorter coppers my appetite, an' Crawfish saves on sheep-meat an' sow-belly by his discourse powerful. Thinkin' an' a-lookin' at them blessed snakes, speshul at Julius Cæsar, I shore ain't hungry much. But as you says: how about Crawfish Jim gettin' killed?
"One day Crawfish allows all alone by himse'f he'll hop into Wolfville an' buy some stuff for his camp,—flour, whiskey, tobacker, air-tights, an' sech.
"What's air-tights? Which you Eastern shorthorns is shore ignorant. Air-tights is can peaches, can tomatters, an' sim'lar bluffs.
"As I was sayin', along comes pore old Crawfish over to Wolfville; rides in on a burro. That's right, son; comes loafin' along on a burro like a Mexican. These yere sheep-men is that abandoned an' vulgar they ain't got pride to ride a hoss.
"Along comes Crawfish on a burro, an' it's his first visit to Wolfville. Yeretofore the old Cimmaron goes over to Red Dog for his plunder, the same bein' a busted low-down camp on the Lordsburg trail, which once holds it's a rival to Wolfville. It ain't, however; the same not bein' of the same importance, commercial, as a prairie-dog town.
"This time, however, Crawfish pints up for Wolfville. An' to make himse'f loved, I reckons, whatever does he do but bring along Julius Cæsar.
"I don't reckon now he ever plays Julius Cæsar none on Red Dog. Mighty likely this yere was the bull-snake's first engagement. I clings to this notion that Red Dog never sees Julius Cæsar; for if she had, them drunkards which inhabits said camp wouldn't have quit yellin' yet. Which Julius Cæsar, with that Red Dog whiskey they was soaked in, would have shore given 'em some mighty heenous visions. Fact is, Crawfish told Jack Moore later he never takes Julius Cæsar nowhere before.
"But all the same Crawfish prances into camp on this yere occasion with Julius bushwacked 'way 'round back in his shirt, an' sech vacant spaces about his person as ain't otherwise occupied a-nourishin' of minor bull-snakes plenty profuse.
"Of course them snakes is all holdin' back, bein', after all, timid cattle; an' so none of us s'spects Crawfish is packin' any sech s'prises. None of the boys about town knows of Crawfish havin' this bull-snake habit but me, nohow. So the old man stampedes'round an' buys what he's after, an' all goes well. Nobody ain't even dreamin' of reptiles.
"At last Crawfish, havin' turned his little game for flour, air-tights, an' jig-juice, as I says, gets into the Red Light, an' braces up ag'in the bar an' calls for nose-paint all 'round. This yere is proper an' p'lite, an' everybody within hearin' of the yell lines up.
"It's at this crisis Crawfish Jim starts in to make himse'f a general fav'rite. Everybody's slopped out his perfoomery, an' Dan Boggs is jest sayin': 'Yere's lookin' at you, Crawfish,' when that crazy-boss shepherd sorter swarms 'round inside his shirt with his hand, an' lugs out Julius Cesar be the scruff of his neck, a-squirmin' an' a-blowin', an' madder'n a drunken squaw. Once he gets Julius out, he spreads him 'round profuse on the Red Light bar an' sorter herds him with his hand to keep him from chargin' off among the bottles.
"'Gents,' says this locoed Crawfish, 'I ain't no boaster, but I offers a hundred to fifty, an' stands to make it up to a thousand dollars in wool or sheep, Julius Cæsar is the fattest an' finest serpent in Arizona; also the best behaved.'
"Thar ain't no one takin' Crawfish's bet. The moment he slams Julius on the bar, more'n ten of our leadin' citizens falls to the floor in fits, an' emerges outen one par'xysm only to slump into another. Which we shorely has a general round-up of all sorts of spells.
"'Whatever's the matter of you-all people?' says Crawfish, lookin' mighty aghast. 'Thar's no more harm in Julius Cæsar than if he's a full-blown rose.'
"Jack Moore, bein' marshal, of course stands his hand. It's his offishul dooty to play a pat hand on bull-snakes an' danger in all an' any forms. An' Jack does it.
"While Crawfish is busy recountin' the attainments of Julius Cæsar, a-holdin' of his pet with one hand, Jack Moore takes a snap shot at him along the bar with his six-shooter, an' away goes Julius Cæsar's head like a puff of smoke. Then Moore rounds up Crawfish, an', perceivin' of the other bull-snakes, he searches 'em out one by one an' massacres 'em.
"'Call over Doc Peets,' says Jack Moore final, 'an' bring Boggs an' Tutt an' the rest of these yere invalids to.'
"Doc Peets an' Enright both trails in on the lope from the New York Store. They hears Moore's gun-play an' is cur'ous, nacheral 'nough, to know who calls it. Well, they turns in an' brings the other inhabitants outen their fits; pendin' which Moore kills off the last remainin' bull-snake in Crawfish's herd.
"Son, I've seen people mad, an' I've seen 'em gay, an' I've seen 'em bit by grief. But I'm yere to remark I never runs up on a gent who goes plumb mad with sadness ontil I sees Crawfish that day Jack Moore immolates his bull-snake pets. He stands thar, white, an' ain't sayin' a word. Looks for a minute like he can't move. Crawfish don't pack no gun, or I allers allowed we'd had notice of him some, while them bull-snakes is cashin' in.
"But at last he sorter comes to, an' walks out without sayin' nothin'. They ain't none of us regardin' of him much at the time; bein' busy drinkin' an' recoverin' from the shock.
"Now, what do you s'pose this old Navajo does? Lopes straight over to the New York Store—is ca'm as a June day about it, too—an' gets a six-shooter.
"The next information we gets of Crawfish, 'bang!' goes his new gun, an' the bullet cuts along over Jack Moore's head too high for results. New gun that a-way, an' Crawfish not up on his practice; of course he overshoots.
"Well, the pore old murderer never does get a second crack. I reckons eight people he has interested shoots all at once, an' Crawfish Jim quits this earthly deal unanimous. He stops every bullet; eight of 'em, like I says.
"'Thar ain't a man of us who don't feel regrets; but what's the use? Thar we be, up ag'inst the deal, with Crawfish clean locoed. It's the only wagon-track out.
"'I shore hopes he's on the hot trail of them bull-snakes of his'n,' says Dan Boggs, as we lays Crawfish out on a monte-table. 'Seems like he thought monstrous well of 'em, an' it would mighty likely please him to run up on 'em where he's gone.'
"Whatever did we do? Why, we digs a grave out back of the dance-hall an' plants Crawfish an' his pets tharin.
"'I reckons we better bury them reptiles, too,' says Doc Peets, as we gets Crawfish stretched out all comfortable in the bottom. 'If he's lookin' down on these yere ceremonies it'll make him feel easier.'
"Doc Peets is mighty sentimental an' romantic that a-way, an' allers thinks of the touchin' things to do, which I more'n once notices likewise, that a gent bein' dead that a-way allers brings out the soft side of Peets's nacher. You bet! he's plumb sympathetic.
"We counts in the snakes. Thar's 'leven of 'em besides Julius Cæsar; which we lays him on Crawfish's breast. You can find the grave to-day.
"Shore! we sticks up a headboard. It says on it, the same bein' furnished by Doc Peets—an' I wants to say Doc Peets is the best eddicated gent in Arizona-as follows:
"An' don't you-all know, son, this yere onfortunate weedin' out of pore Crawfish that a-way, sorter settles down on the camp an' preys on us for mighty likely it's a week. It shorely is a source of gloom. Moreover, it done gives Dan Boggs the fan-tods. As I relates prior, Boggs is emotional a whole lot, an' once let him get what you-all calls a shock—same, for instance, as them bull-snakes—its shore due to set Boggs's intellects to millin'. An' that's what happens now. We-alls don't get Boggs bedded down none for ten days, his visions is that acoote.
"'Which of course,' says Boggs, while we-alls settin' up administerin' things to him, 'which of course I'm plumb aware these yere is mere illoosions; but all the same, as cl'ar as ever I notes an ace, no matter where I looks at, I discerns that Julius Cæsar serpent a-regardin' me reproachful outen the atmospher. An' gents, sech spectacles lets me out a heap every time. You-alls can gamble, I ain't slumberin' none with no snake-spook that a-way a-gyardin' of my dreams.'
"That's all thar is to the death of Crawfish Jim. Thar ain't no harm in him, nor yet, I reckons, in Julius Cæsar an' the rest of Crawfish's fam'ly. But the way they gets tangled up with Wolfville, an' takes to runnin' counter to public sentiment an' them eight six-shooters, Crawfish an' his live-stock has to go."