closest thing to email in 1878 was the telegraph, but even then
the government apparently didn't mind taking a peek at telegrams
or private correspondence and using what it found for its own purposes.
All in the name of law and order, of course.
Anyone familiar with state government knows that the Legislature
requires the various agencies and commissions to submit a biennial
report. Most agencies, eager to show taxpayers and legislative budget
writers their worth, not only gladly abide by statute, they prepare
an annual report. Full of statistics and charts, most of these reports
are not the sort of document a normal person would want to curl
up with in front of a fire place.
Not so the Adjutant General’s Report for 1878, submitted by General
William Steele to his Excellency, Gov. R.B. Hubbard on December
2 of that year. It has real content.
At that time and for a good while thereafter, the Texas Rangers
were a component of the Adjutant General’s Department. From the
Salt War to the violent demise of outlaw Sam
Bass, 1878 had been an eventful year for the Rangers. All of
which makes for interesting reading in this report. But there’s
To illustrate the effectiveness of the Rangers in riding the state
of undesirables, General Steele included a letter “from a desperado…evidently
a fugitive from justice in Texas, addressed to a woman here in Texas.”
Unfortunately for posterity, to protect the innocent, Steele did
not include the name of the correspondent or the addressee. For
that matter, the general also omitted just how the missive came
into state hands. Even so, it is one of the most remarkable letters
ever penned by an outlaw, a class not generally known for its literacy.
outlaw, clearly a transplanted Texan, wrote the letter on Sept.
1, 1878 from his camp in Dark Canyon, “Warloupe” Mountains, New
Mexico. Better known to accurate spellers as the Guadalupe Mountains,
this range bridges Texas and New Mexico about a hundred miles east
of El Paso.
Proudly, the outlaw told his belle he had traveled 500 miles since
his last letter. “This is headquarters for my gang,” he said of
aptly named Dark Canyon. “I have ten men with me—the best armed
and best mounted outfit you ever saw. There are a war going on here
between two strong parties [the Lincoln County, N.M. War of Billy
the Kid fame], and we have got an independent scout of our own.
We just got in off of a raid, and made it pay us big.”
While offering no further details, the gang leader seemed more worried
about his girl than getting caught either by a lawman or a bullet.
“Darling,” he sweet-talked, “I am making money fast; but I see a
hard time and am troubled to death about you. If I had you here
I would be the happiest man on earth.”
Alas, the girl of his dreams lived in Texas.
“This is the best country I ever saw,” the outlaw continued, “and
the healthiest country on earth.”
Of course, good climate seldom could cure instant-onset lead poisoning.
The knave continued:
“On the twentieth day of August Gross and McGuire got into a fight,
and McGuire shot him just below the heart, and I killed McGuire.
I shot him through the heart. He never spoke after I shot him. We
buried him as nice as we could, and sent Gross into the settlements,
where he is being well treated. I think he will recover.”
The outlaw may have just drilled someone through the heart, but
his own heart had been stolen by his darling in Texas.
“Oh, how I wish you were here,” the bad boy went on, “you would
look like a child in six months. [Bold talk, even for an outlaw.
Saying that something will make a woman look younger implies that
she appears older than she is.] This is the finest watered country
on earth, and the best climate; cool nights all summer.”
That reminded the lover boy that he had his girl a Navajo blanket,
worth $75, “the prettiest thing you ever saw.”
Well, that was about all the fellow knew or could tell.
He closed, “Baby, take care of yourself, and be sure to write.”
Above his signature, he wrote, “From your loving one.”
All Steele included were the swain’s initials, S.Z.
Who knows who S.Z. was and what happened to him or his lady love?
Since he had been plying the risky trade of outlawry, the best guess
would be that he soon ended up on a cooling board preparatory to
a Boot Hill burying.
But maybe not. Perhaps he and Miss Noname got married and she made
an honest man of him. Or it could have worked the other way, him
making a bad woman out of her.
Happily ever after, of course, usually only happens in fairy tales.
Perhaps, if they did get together, they ended up splitting the sheets.
But it’s a good guess she kept the Navajo blanket.
© Mike Cox
- September 20, 2005 Column, modified May 19, 2016
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