History Weekend – Tales of a 19th Century Road Warrior, Continued

(Part one is here.)
All righty – everyone still interested? This is the rest of the story, of Fred Harvey and his hospitality empire, which not only is given popular credit for ‘civilizing’ the Wild West, but also for supplying that stretch of the Southwest between the Mississippi-Missouri and the Sacramento with excellent food and drink, splendid service, and a constant stream of wives – for many of the women recruited as waitresses in the track-side station restaurants married right and left; to railroad men, co-workers in the Harvey establishments, and to customers they met in the course of their duties. A comparison between Harvey Girls and stewardesses in the glamorous days of commercial flight has been made now and again; both groups were composed of relatively young, independent and adventurous women, carefully selected and trained, and working in a setting where their attractive qualities were shown at an advantage.

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History Friday: The Most One-Sided Gunfight Ever

This affray did not happen in Texas, but in New Mexico in 1884. It did have all the classic Western elements; rowdy cowboys, a small town fed to the back teeth with their destructive and abusive antics, and a single local lawman determined to uphold the rule of law and order. Here, however, ends any resemblance to High Noon, Tombstone, Stagecoach, Shane or any other classic Western movie. In this case, the single resolute lawman stands out in the annals of Western law enforcement for several reasons; first for sheer, stubborn crazy-brave courage, secondly for being barely 19 years old at the time, a tough little banty-rooster of a guy barely five-seven in boots… and thirdly for being native Hispanic in a time and in a place where anti-Mexican bigotry fell very severely on the non-Anglo population of any class or income.

His name was Elfego Baca – and there was one more difference to him. Although he had been born in Socorro, New Mexico Territory, he had spent most of his early life in Topeka, Kansas, where his parents had sought work and an education for their children. This resulted in Elfego Baca being more fluent in English than Spanish at the time of his returning to Socorro and working as a clerk in a general mercantile owned by his brother-in-law. He had another notable skill; facility with a six-gun. Very much later in life he claimed he had been taught to shoot by Billy the Kid … either William McCarty-Antrim-Bonny or some other adolescent shootist with the same moniker in New Mexico Territory around that time.

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History Friday – Border Incursion Early 20th Century Style

Once there was a little town, a little oasis of civilization – as the early 20th century understood the term – in the deserts of New Mexico, a bare three miles from the international boarder. The town was named for Christopher Columbus – the nearest big town on the American side of the border with Mexico was the county seat of Deming, thirty miles or so to the north; half a day’s journey on horseback or in a Model T automobile in the desert country of the Southwest. It’s a mixed community of Anglo and Mexicans, some of whose families have been there nearly forever as the far West goes, eking out a living as ranchers and traders, never more than a population of about fifteen hundred. There’s a train station, a schoolhouse, a couple of general stores, a drug-store, some nice houses for the better-off Anglo residents, and a local newspaper – the Columbus Courier, where there is even a telephone switchboard. Although better than a decade and a half into the twentieth century, in most ways Columbus looks back to the late 19th century, to the frontier, when men went armed as a matter of course. Although the Indian wars are thirty years over – no need to fear raids from Mimbreno and Jicarilla Apache, from the fearsome Geronimo, from Comanche and Kiowa – the Mexican and Anglo living in this place have long and bitter memories.

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