Laredo (Sunday Sermonette)

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You can tell a lot about people by what they read: shiftless romantics, sharp-eye’d business tycoons, relentless warriors, intellectual, hopeless dreamers, etc. 
Bull Chief, Apsaroke (Crow) 1908
I found books by Larry McMurtry when I took a course in Western American Literature because humanities were required even if you were a hard science/math major. I never used the degree professionally because there’s no ACTION in most hard science jobs – nobody throws grenades at you or shoots at you, and where would be the fun in that?
It wasn’t only McMurtry. I also enjoyed Willa Cather (My Antonia), and Zane Grey, who lived up near the White Wolf Mine and wrote of Arizona’s highlands. Truth be told, there’s a lot of good Western American literature out there and there is even more that is ‘uninformed’ to put it kindly. McMurtry knew his subject and knew his characters and they jumped off the pages. I followed his writing and his career.
Streets of Laredo – a 1993 novel was is the second book published in the Lonesome Dove series, but the fourth and final book chronologically.
What follows is an exchange between Judge Roy Bean (The only law West of the Pecos) and Billy Williams. (page 49-51)
Billy Williams had to walk the last five miles into Ojinga because he lost his horse. It was a ridiculous accident. It was sure to hurt his reputation as one of the last great scouts, and his reputation had been slipping badly anyway….”Willy, you had best retire,” his friend, Judge Roy Bean told him the last time the two of them visited. “A man as blind as you are ought not to be riding this river. You could fall in a hole and be swallowed and that would be that.”…
“I can’t tell that you ever amounted to much, Roy,” Billy informed him. “It’s irritating that you set up to be a judge of your fellow man so late in life. It’s all because of this saloon. It’s the only saloon around here, and that’s why you think that you can be a judge.”
“I admit it was a timely purchase,” Roy said.
“You didn’t purchase it, you shot the owner,” Billy reminded him. “Tom Sykes, I knew him. He was nothing but a cutthroat himself.”
“That’s right—so I purchased his saloon with a bullet.” Roy said. “Three bullets in all. Tom wasn’t eager to die.”
“That’s still cheap,” Billy said.
“Not as cheap as one bullet,” Roy said. “The sad truth is, my marksmanship has declined. In my prime, I would not have had to expend that much ammunition on Tommy Sykes.”
The “Old West” didn’t last long. The arrival of the railroads and immigrants from Europe changed everything about it and civilized it. As soon as the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression/Second War of the Rebellion ended, the Army figured out that if you killed all of the buffalo, the Indians would starve and would settle on reservations. With very few exceptions, that happened and the wild ones all ended up at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma after they capitulated. Most of those with reputations went on to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show to make some extra money. Even the renegades were practical men.
Within a lifetime (1830-1900) the “Old West” lived and died.
And here is the sermonette: sic transit gloria mundi – all glory is fleeting.

16 thoughts on “Laredo (Sunday Sermonette)

  1. I like a lot of McMurtry's writing. Lonesome Dove ran over 900 pages but didn't seem nearly that long. While the old west was pretty much done by 1900, it certainly seemed to try to hang on longer. Harry Tracy cut a bloody swath across the NW before being cornered by a posse and committing suicide in 1902. Butch Cassidy operated mostly in the first decade of the 20th century. There was certainly a lot of wild west in the Mexican Revolution. Henry Starr was killed in a bank robbery 1921. On the other side of the law Bill Tighlman(age 70) was killed enforcing it in 1924. There are are examples notably Frank Hamer and it seems the old west has never completely left the Rio Grande. A fascinating period.

  2. The Hashknife Cattle Company left some interesting history behind in the Arizona highlands well into the 20th Century.

    My grandfather lived in remnants of the Old West, and told stories, but even then it was the civilized Old West.

    Perhaps the Pancho Villa campaign of 1916 could be said to be the end of the Old West?

    On May 14, 2nd Lt. George S. Patton raided the San Miguelito Ranch, near Rubio, Chihuahua. Patton was out looking to buy some corn from the Mexicans when he came across the ranch of Julio Cárdenas, an important leader in the Villista military organization. With fifteen men and three Dodge touring cars, Patton led America's first motorised military action, in which Cárdenas and two other men were shot dead. The young lieutenant then had the three Mexicans strapped to the hood of the cars and driven back to General Pershing's headquarters. Patton is said to have carved three notches into the twin Colt Peacemakers he carried, representing the men he killed that day. General Pershing nicknamed him the "Bandito". Imagine if that happened today?

  3. "Where the Old West Stayed Young" by John Rolfe Burroughs detailed the history of the Browns Park area in Northwest Colorado. Lots of stuff going on well into the Twentieth Century.

  4. We may have to define terms more closely. Was the Pancho Villa Campaign in Northern Mexico part of the Old West? They used automobiles… Tractors were being used to till the land instead of horse drawn plows. Even Northwest Colorado was significantly impacted by the railroad that brought settlers west.

    The Battle of Big Dry Wash was fought on July 17, 1882, between troops of the United States Army's 3rd Cavalry Regiment and 6th Cavalry Regiment and members of the White Mountain Apache tribe. It was the last battle of the Apache. Geronimo surrendered for the final time in 1886.

    By 1900, there were telegraph lines strung everywhere and the railroad was expanding. It brought manufactured goods to all parts of the USA. When I was a boy growing up in the 60's, I had a horse, we had an outhouse and a coal stove. But we also had a television (with rabbit ears).

  5. That it was, but the stupid ones continued into the 1900's, getting shot down for their stupidity, including robbing trains.

  6. There have always been thieves and robbers continuing up to the present day. The transition from "the Old West" to the modern era was different in some areas simply because they're remote. Alaska is an example of a slower transition. Still, the Indians were finished by 1890, and the mining boom was still ongoing. Maybe we can argue that it was over by 1914, and the beginning of World War One?

  7. Thanks for that, we forget the Wild West was short lived, at least I tend to. Still, it lingered on in the imagination and I remember playing Cowboys and Indians when I was a kid. My boys don't, sadly.

    Have you followed/read about the Wild West shows that toured Europe, Buffalo Bill etc.?

    One of the direct descendants of Ranch 101 ( goes to the Laguna Park mission — a world champion barrel racer in her own right. So the spirit and personal connection's still with us. I like that.

  8. I'm a McMurtry fan, too. I enjoy a good western book now and then. I like the Johnstone series of books, not to historically accurate, but fun reading.

  9. What date to pin on the inception of the Wild West? Surely the fur trappers should be included. Unfortunately few of them left accounts- Osbourne Russell's "Journal of a Trapper" is a good read, amazing how many 9 lives the guy had.

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