Gruesome Prophecy Tattooed on a Soldier’s Breast
Chapter IX, John F. Finerty Reports Porfirian Mexico: 1879
by John F. Finerty,
aka “The Reckless Hibernian”
books I sing"
- A Texas
Escapes' column showcasing excerpts from “volumes
of forgotten lore.” Rescued from library sales, thrift store shelves and recycling
dumpsters, if it’s amusing, poignant or illustrates the somewhat overblown and
colorful prose of yesteryear, it can find a place here. Think of it as a home
for unwed paragraphs or a museum of resuscitated sentences. |
in the 1870s a popular regiment of the United States Infantry was stationed at
Fort Brown in Texas. It was a corps that had
written its name with sword and bayonet on the pages of history in our war with
Mexico. In all the ranks
of that regiment there was no more well-built and handsome soldier than Private
Bradley. Whether or not he enlisted under his real name is a military mystery,
because a great many of the wearers of Uncle Sam’s uniform, for one cause or another,
masquerade under assumed names. I remember on one occasion, in Arizona that a
young Infantry officer approached and called me by name. I was surprised to recognize
the youth, a scion of a wealthy and “high-strung” family of Chicago. A tendency
toward wildness and a dispute with his “governor” had driven him to enlist. He
rather liked the life and asked that I not let his family know that I had seen
him. After his five years of service would expire, he intended to go home and
surprise them. I don’t think that he has fulfilled his intention, because I have
not laid eyes on him since.|
Well, Private Bradley may not have been a
prince in disguise, but he was, in the testimony of comrades, a gentleman in manner,
well educated, but rather given to wild adventure and amorous intrigue. He admitted
that he had many voyages at sea, and his familiarity with the customs and conditions
of faraway lands and peoples confirmed the truth of his interesting narrative.
Like most clever fellows destitute of good moral balance, he was fond of the cup
and devoted to the softer sex.
The old historic Mexican city of Matamoros
lies across the Rio Grande from Fort Brown, and is always a source of great attraction
to the soldiers stationed at that post who are often granted passes as a special
favor to visit their Aztec neighbors. Sometimes, when the privilege is denied,
a few of the wilder spirits take “French leave” and cross to the other side at
Christmas eve, 1875 was crisp and lighted by stars, as Mexican
nights in that region are about that time of year. Private Bradley was almost
as well known on the streets of Matamoros as the Colonel commanding Fort Brown
himself. It was also well known that the particular attraction which brought him
so often to the right bank of the ugly river was a certain dark-haired, black-eyed,
yet fair-skinned senorita, whose claim to beauty none denied, but whose reputation
for purity might have been greatly improved. She had many ardent lovers among
the sandaled chivalry of Matamoros, but the graceful form, manly face, and attractive
manners of the young American soldier inflamed her imagination and won her capricious
affections. Bradley first met and danced with her at a “fandango” and from that
hour an intimacy grew between them which was only terminated by a remarkable tragedy.
the particular Christmas eve mentioned, Bradley asked leave to visit Matamoros.
His commanding officer refused permission on the grounds that quarrels had been
frequent of late over cards and mescal between American soldiers and soldiers
and citizens of Matamoros. Bradley had made an appointment with his Mexican charmer,
and was resolved not to disappoint her, whatever might be the cost to himself.
The infatuated soldier “ran the guard” and crossed the river to join his mistress
at her residence. There they pledged their mutual love in many a brimming cup
of Coahuila wine before they fell into a sleep that, for one of them, at least,
was to know no waking.
Reveille sounded sharp and clear on the parade
ground of Fort Brown on that beautiful Christmas morning of many long years ago.
Roll call proceeded but the first sergeant of Private Bradley’s company called
his name in vain. The sergeant was surprised for this was the first time the missing
soldier had ever been absent from his proper place in the ranks. The captain,
fearful of something evil, ordered search and investigation be made at once.
The sun rose scarlet-hued on the towers, domes and spires of picturesque Matamoros
that fair and holy morn. Almost at its first beams the frenzied shrieks of a woman
in mortal terror and distress rang out from a small house on one of the streets
opening on the main square of the city. Her cries brought both the police and
the military patrol. The woman, young and beautiful was in her night garment,
which was splashed and dyed with blood. The officer of the patrol asked what was
wrong and with trembling hand, she pointed to the open door of the house. With
renewed wailing and yet wilder shrieks, she led the way into the house, through
the kitchen and into the bed chamber.
The sight that met the eyes of the
beholders was such as to shock the most hardened of them. The bed had been placed
beside the window and like all windows in Mexico,
it was barred, but not very close. The lattice or blind had been pushed aside.
The light of the early day fell upon a bloody couch, and upon it the ghastly corpse
of the stalwart young American whose dead face wore a look of agonized surprise.
The body rested upon the back, and through the left breast was driven a stiletto
which pinned it to the bed. The assassin had pushed his arm through the window
bars and had committed his dastardly crime while the unsuspecting victim slept.
The wretched woman, steeped in the fumes of wine, had slept until the chill of
early dawn and a sensation of inexplicable horror had aroused her. She became
violently insane and had to be removed to a place of safe detention.
American commandant sent a surgeon, with a few men to investigate the sad affair.
When the American party reached the fatal house near the plaza, one of the soldiers
immediately identified the dead body as that of Bradley, and tearing aside the
bloodstained shirt of the victim, cried out to the surgeon, “look there, sir!
The surgeon did look and saw the dreadful weapon of death had entered the breast
just below the left nipple, had pierced the heart and back and had absolutely,
so to speak, nailed the body to the reeking mattress. After removing the dagger
and washing away the blood, the surgeon saw that the breast had been artistically
tattooed, after the fashion prevalent in the navy, with the shield and arms of
the United States. This was on the right breast while on the left, partially perforated
by the cruel stiletto, was tattooed a human heart with a dagger piercing it and
the red blood gushing from the wound.