Will Hale tells us about his life on the Texas and New Mexico ranges in straightforward language, rich with range patois, in this narrative covering a piece of American history from the Mexican War (1835-36) to the 1880’s (Yes, we realize that’s more than twenty-four years). Hale’s adventure starts when he shoots a fellow young boy in a schoolyard tussle and has to skip town, and he navigates the rest of his life with the same disregard for the law and lack of morality. Get a glimpse into the mind of a real outlaw cowboy as you follow him through Indian fights, cattle raids, murders, love affairs, practical jokes and wars. He treats each of these events with equal breeziness.
We get a good taste of Hale’s nonchalance early in the book, when he is describing an attempted horse robbery:
The next day the boys rode out and looked after the cattle and shot four or five Indians. That same night a couple of the boys were watching the horses and one noticed something coming along like a hog. When it got close it began to grunt like a hog. Harden knew there was no hog any closer than Fort Brown, and was not certain what could happen. So he thought he would shoot him for luck. He took out his revolver and shot two or three times, and one or more of the boys came out to see what was the matter. He told them he had only shot a hog. On looking at it they found it to be an Indian who was making for the horses in order to scare and eventually steal them.
Hale attempts to give little summaries of current events, but devotes much of his narrative to his numerous courtships and the practical jokes he and his best friend were constantly playing. For example, to get back at a particularly onerous teacher the two boys put a snake in his desk one morning:
As soon as the teacher opened the drawer for his pencils the snake saw the hole in his sleeve and I suppose the snake thought it was a hole in a hollow log or a tree, by the way it acted, so the snake went up his sleeve. The teacher saw it and yelled and was so badly scared…he jumped so high that he made two or three running motions in the air, before he touched the floor.
Although Hale becomes involved in much more serious business as the book progresses, such as transporting large herds of cattle across the hostile range, he never seems to outgrow this childish mindset.
We were soon to need some money, and did not want to sell any cattle to get it either, so Jim Smith proposed to go where they carried gold from Chihuahua…and capture a mule train load of it…The Mexicans seemed to think everything was all right. They had stacked their firearms. They had four men guarding them. All at once Smith gave a whistle and shot them dead. It took us no time to pack the mules for we had them to do it by saying we would kill them.
Some of the action may be exaggerated, and in his effort to impress the reader Hale involves himself in some famous escapades, like the pursuit of Billy the Kid. But Hale’s voice is so authentic that it’s hard to doubt him.
Until recently, only a few copies of this book existed. Hale himself may have published the book originally, and later destroyed most of the copies in order to protect himself and others who might be incriminated by it. Don’t miss this one – it even made bibliophile Louis P. Merril’s List of 100 Scarce and Rare Books About Cows!