familiar with state government knows that the Legislature requires the various
agencies and commissions to submit a biennial report. |
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 fireplace.
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 El Paso 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 more.
To illustrate the
effectiveness of the Rangers in ridding 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
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
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.”
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.”
girl of his dreams lived in Texas.
“This is the best country I ever saw,”
the outlaw continued, “and the healthiest country on earth.”
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.”
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
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
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.