The Trinidad Kid by Will C. Barnes

There's a girl I'd love to see,
She's a waiting there for me,
'Way down yonder in the southwest land.
She has eyes of dreamy blue,
And her heart is always true,
'Way down yonder on the Rio Grande.

The singer was riding slowly around a herd of steers "bedded down" on an open flat about a quarter of a mile from the western, or Mexican bank of the river of which he sang.

It was the first guard, from eight to ten, and the steers, having had a fine day's grazing, were all lying down chewing their cuds as comfortably as a bunch of milk cows in a dairy barn.

Across the herd his "side partner" on the guard was riding toward him, so that twice in each circle of the herd they met for an instant and then each jogged on into the darkness.

As they met this time the singer finished the verse, and his pony acknowledged the slight shifting of his rider's body in the saddle by coming to a stop.

"Gimme a match," demanded the singer as he felt in his vest pocket for the "makings." "Here 'tis," replied the other, "and I reckon I'll just build a smoke myself."

"Let's jog along together," suggested the second man, "and you sing, for if we stand here and strike a match this herd of oxen will just about get up and quit the flats."

Down along the river bank the dim spark of the cook's fire showed where the outfit was camped, while a short distance beyond it the Rio Grande at full flood roared like a sullen yellow monster.

The fringe of cottonwoods and Tornillos along its bank were outlined against the background of the sky like shadow pictures, while an occasional dull crash told of the loss of another slice of the Republic of Mexico where, undermined by the swift flood, a piece of the bank had dropped into the river and was on its way to the gulf.

"Do you reckon we'll have much trouble swimmin' these steers tomorrow?" asked the singer, as, contrary to the rules of night-herding of all cow outfits, they rode along together.

"No, I don't believe we will," was the reply. "Uncle John savvys this river like a native, an' if he looks at it tomorrow an' says 'Cross 'em,' they'll make it all right."

"Well, she's sure high, and 'tain't the water I'm afraid of half so much as the infernal quicksand. I never did like the water, nohow." He shook his head: "Once I got into the quicksand in the Little Colorado over in Arizony and like to ended up in the Campo Santo fer sure."

"Say" and his companion handed him a flaming match—"you smoke up a little an' fergit all that. We got troubles aplenty without huntin' up imaginary things to git skeered of. Did you hear the yarn that stray man was a-tellin' in camp tonight?" he remarked, with the evident intention of drawing his friend from so gloomy an outlook.

"Never a word; I was shoeing my horse when he was talkin' an' didn't hear what he was sayin'. What was he talkin' about?" the singer queried.

"Well," said the other, "it 'pears like he was workin' fer the Turkey Track outfit in Arizony and him an' another Turkey Track screw comes over the line to git a little touch of high life among the paisanos on this side. Well, they gits it all right, for between half a dozen Mexican women, two or three hombres, an' a kaig of mescal, 'tain't hard to start something; an' when the dust settled down this stray gent finds hisself with a dead man on his hands an' him over here where it's the eagle an' the snake instead of the Stars an' Stripes a-flyin' overhead. I was busy makin' down my bed an' never heerd how he come out 'ceptin' he says there was some fool law these Mexicans has which don't allow the body of any one what dies on Mexican soil to be taken out of the country for five years. So he had to leave his friend there instead of gittin' him acrost an' plantin' him up in the Pan Handle where his folks lived."

"What for don't they let any dead body be taken out of this here country?" And the boy turned uneasily in his saddle.

"Damfino," replied the other; "reckon it's just some cranky notion these Greasers got; maybeso they likes your sassiety an' hates to part with you, but, anyhow, that's the law all right, all right, an' if you dies here, you stays here, for five years, if no longer."

"Say, Jim," the kid's voice was full of awe; "My old mammy's up yonder in Trinidad, an' by hooky, if I was to die down here an' she couldn't git hold of me to bury me up there where she laid the old man an' my sister, she's like to go plum loco, fer sure."

"Well, you better make your plans to die on 'tother side the line or else so close to it that somebody can haze you across without any of them there Rurales gittin' on to your game," was Jim's reply, as he returned from chasing a steer back into the herd. "So far as I'm concerned," he continued, "I don't reckon it makes much difference where I'm stuck away, for I'm a drifter an' ain't got no kin that I knows of, an' I guess when a feller's dead he kin hear ole Gabe blow his horn on this side the Rio Grande jist as easy as on 'tother."

The next morning the sun was just peeping over the sand hills away to the east when Uncle John, who had been down along the river since the first gray streak in the sky announced the coming of day, rode into camp as the boys were catching out their horses. As the wagon boss glanced at him, he nodded and said, "All right, George, we'll try it this morning; the river has fallen a lot since last night."

"Which means that I turns this here mule loose an' gits me a horse," remarked one of the riders who had just roped a little black saddle mule, "fer a mule ain't no earthly good in water. If they gits their ears wet, they jist lays down on you, an' quits right there."

"On her hand I placed a ring,
When I left her in the spring,
'Way down yonder in the southwest land."

The singer's voice rose above the shouts of the other boys as they pushed the cattle along toward the river.

"An' she said she'd not forget me,
Oh, she'll be there to meet me,
'Way down yonder on the Rio Grande."

"That's right, Kid, sing to 'em. Time you've got through with this here muddy water job she won't know you if she is there to meet you," laughed the horse-wrangler.

As the herd swung down to the river, the horse-wrangler had his entire remuda at the water's edge, and with two men to help him he slowly forced the horses out into the stream, with old Bennie, the crack "cutting horse" of the outfit, in the lead. The old rascal had been used for this work for ten years and well knew that there was a nose bag full of oats waiting for him on the further bank of the river.

As the steers on the O. T. ranch had always been handled by placing the horse herd ahead of them when corraling or taking a narrow trail down some caņon, they followed the horses with little delay.

On the upper side of the lead cattle rode the Trinidad Kid on his best horse.

"Oh I know a shady spot,
Where we'll build a little cot,
 'Way down yonder in the southwest land.
"And the mocking birds will sing,
And the wedding bells will ring,
'Way down yonder on the Rio Grande,"

he sang loudly as his pony plowed through the muddy water.

"Say Dick," shouted the man behind him, "ain't you going to ask us to all the doings when them wedding bells cut loose?"

"I reckon so," was the answer, "and what's more, if I gets me onto the yonderly side of this streak of mud, I'm a going to stay there. I've seen all I want to of this 'maņana land.'"

Just at the critical time, when everything seemed to be working out all right, a great wave of water swept down the stream and broke with a crash right in front of the leading steers. They hesitated for a moment, then another wave broke, and still another, and in an instant the leaders were swinging back on to each other in their senseless panic. In less than a minute a hundred of them were swimming round and round in the muddy waters, a whirling, struggling mass of horns and bodies. They jumped upon one another, bearing the under ones down into the water, until it was boiling with the fighting, maddened animals.

The kid did not wait for orders. Well he knew that it was up to him to break up that milling mighty quick or the whole day's work was lost. Heading his pony toward the struggling mass of animals, he drove at them without an instant's hesitation.

"Oh the mocking birds will sing,
And the wedding bells will ring,
'Way down yonder on the Rio Grande."

Singing at the top of his voice and swinging his slicker over his head, he swept down on the outside steers, being crowded on to them by the swift current against which his plucky pony struggled hard. Had he abandoned the effort and turned the animal up stream, facing the current, he might have breasted it and held his own, but the kid resolutely kept his place as well as he could.

"'Way down yonder on the Rio Grande,
'Way down yonder in that southwest land,"

he sang valiantly as he thrashed the steers with his yellow slicker, trying to turn them from their course. He was rapidly accomplishing his purpose, and a few of the leaders were already turned and about to string out for the shore, when one broad-horned fellow right behind him raised in the water like some huge sea monster, and lunged upon his horse's hips with both front feet.

The weight of the steer drove the horse down into the water, the swift current swept him on to his side, and in a second he was under the mass of steers, his rider hanging to him.

A few minutes later the horse came into view from below the cattle but the boy was missing. Uncle John, at the first sign of trouble had dashed toward the spot, and as the horse came into sight leaned from his saddle, grabbed the bridle rein and pulled the half-drowned animal on to his feet in the shallower water. Spurring into the deep water again, he and the men with him swung up and down the line of cattle, watching with eager, anxious eyes for the slightest sign of a human form, but they could see nothing.

Meantime the steers were rapidly crossing, and the leaders had already climbed out on to the opposite bank and were working back from the river, coughing and shaking their dripping bodies.

Two other men joined Uncle John in the search for the lost singer, but though they watched every spot, riding up and down the stream for a mile, they were unable to discover any sign of the boy.

Leaving Jim and another man to watch the river, the rest of the outfit pushed the steers out on to the open range to graze.

Up and down the bank all that day the two men rode, reinforced by all the others who could be spared from the herd. Across the seat of the saddle on the horse ridden by the boy was a deep scar where the rowels of his spur had cut the leather, done probably as he slipped from the horse as he went under.

The steers could not be held there long, so the next morning Uncle John, with a heavy heart, started the outfit at daybreak for the railroad loading pens, thirty miles away, leaving Jim, who had asked for the job, behind to keep a lookout for the body of the drowned cowboy. All day long he rode the banks of the river. Every eddy as well as the great rafts of driftwood, was carefully searched. Just a short time before sunset he noticed a couple of buzzards a little lower down on the river slowly circling overhead. He knew their keen eyes saw something, and both hoping and dreading that it was what he sought, he worked his way down towards the point over which the great birds were hovering. Here the river had cut into the sandy bank and a thicket of willows hung over the yellow water. Getting down onto one knee, Jim peered under them.

Yes, there was "something" there. His heart came into his mouth, he gasped for breath, and the cold sweat stood on his face in great drops. A long, lance like pole from a nearby pile of drift wood, furnished him with a tool to sound the depth of water along the bank. It was not over waist deep, the bottom was firm, and, dropping off the bank, he waded down under the overhanging brush. There, floating in the stream, was the body of the Kid. A bough had caught in the belt of his leather "chaps" and held it firmly. It was the work of a moment for Jim to attach one end of his saddle rope to the belt and carry the other back with him to the open spot above the willows. His first intention was to tow the body up to a place where it could be taken out and then go for help.

Wading up the stream, he climbed out on the bank and sat down to rest for a moment. It was second nature for him to get out his pipe and tobacco, and as he sat there the talk between himself and the singer around the herd the night before the crossing came to his mind. What could he do? The body was found on Mexican soil. About a hundred yards from the bank behind his was a little Mexican jacal, or hut, where he had noticed half a dozen children—even now he could hear their shouts as they played. To get it away from there was seemingly impossible.

The twilight was nearly over and in the east the sky was glowing with the light of the moon, which almost at the full would soon rise. For half an hour he sat there thinking, the pipe smoked out and dead between his teeth. Then he rose, knocked the ashes out on his boot heel, slipped the pipe into his pocket, and worked his way carefully up to the top of the bank behind him. Peering through the fringe of trees, he saw in the moonlight the mud daubed jacal. A dog barked, in the distance a coyote answered with its shrill "yip, yip," and from the limbs of a mesquite—the family chicken coop—a rooster saluted the rising of the moon with a cheerful crow. In front of the jacal a bright spark glowed where the fire of mesquite limbs over which the evening supper had been cooked, was dying away, and he could dimly make out the forms of the family asleep on the ground near the hut.

Then, satisfied with the condition of things, he carefully worked his way back to the edge of the river, and, having looked to the rope, which he had fastened to a sharp piece of drift driven into the sand, lay down by it and in ten seconds was fast asleep.

About three o'clock the next morning, just as the moon dropped behind the cottonwoods along the river, throwing deep shadows over its sullen tide, four steers, probably lost from the herd the day before, came down to the river to drink. As they reached the edge of the water one raised his head quickly and snuffed the air. The others also threw up their heads and tested the air with their keen noses, their great ears cocked forward to catch the slightest sound. High headed and suspicious, they all stood for an instant, and then as if with one impulse ran back a few steps and stopped to look again.

Out there in the deep shadow something moved slowly and heavily. Now and then a splash came from the object as the water struck against it.

The steers snuffed and licked their lips as do such animals where fear and curiosity is struggling in them for the mastery. Then as the something moved more distinctly, with terror in their eyes they all turned and burst into the darkness behind them, crashing through the young cottonwoods and over piles of loose driftwood in their mad haste to escape—they knew not what. Still, the "something" came on; slowly it moved through the muddy waters until the form of a man could be distinguished in the uncertain light, carrying some heavy load.

At the edge of the river the man placed his burden on the soft sand and dropped down, panting for breath.

At noon that day, a single horseman rode a tired, sweat-covered animal into a little town on the railroad some thirty miles from the river. Two hours later, away to the north, under the snow-capped Rockies, where the city of Trinidad nestles below the Raton Pass, a lone woman received this brief message:

"Dick was accidentally drowned yesterday crossing the river. Wagon will be here tomorrow with body, Please wire instructions.

"James Scott."