If a person seeking valuable and interesting information will take a map and pass his finger down the center of Arizona until at a point where the boundary line dividing the United States from Mexico diverges from an east and west direction, to one running north-westerly until it meets the Colorado River, he will see near the diverging point a dot marked, Calabazas [English gourds or squashes.] This dot is the location, and Calabazas is the name of the town; a town with a short history, it is true; a history not widely known, but none the less interesting and eventful. By seeking further he will see that it lies at the junction of two railroads—on the map—that it is on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, and the astonishing additional fact, that the said river has neither source nor outlet.
The valley at Calabazas was about a quarter of a mile wide. Opposite the town site a small valley, or cañon debouched, down whose rocky bottom a railroad was being built. To the southwest were seen the mountains forming the boundary between Mexico and the United States, between which and the town laid extensive "mesas," or elevated table-lands, that ended in low bluffs overlooking the dry river bed. Half a mile south of the town a small ridge jutted out from the mesas, almost entirely closing the valley. At the point of this ridge was a dense, green patch of small Cottonwood trees. Thence to the boundary line ten miles distant, called, through this region, "The Line," are a series of low hills and small valleys.
The land upon which Calabazas stood was the property of the Calabazas Land and Mining Company, the town being a newly born child of the same Company. The C. L. & M. Company claimed all the earth from the Mexican boundary to as far north, east, and west as they conveniently or safely could. Unless some one found a mine or spring, there was none to dispute their title, for the land was valueless except in proximity to water. A railroad was projected to run from Tucson down the valley. It is still projected.
I hope it will not be assumed that Calabazas was an aggregation of iron and stone warehouses filled with luxuries for its inhabitants, or that the hum of its crowded streets was to be heard for miles away, or that the residence streets were lined with shade trees, or that the mansions of the aristocracy were embowered in tropical flowers, or that its society was divided into 'four hundreds.' Such would be doomed to poignant disappointment.
Calabazas City, as I found it, consisted of the foundation of a prospective hotel which was known sarcastically, as the "Hotel Futurity." A small frame building used as a country store and post office, with that wonderful assortment of cheap and varied wares never seen but in country stores, and a small brick house of two stories, one room to each story, the lower floor of which was used as a saloon, the upper one as the United States Custom House, and residence of the collector of the port and his staff of assistants, all comprised in the person of one—Drinkwater—an inspector reporting to the El Paso collector. Attached to this building was a brick corral [cattle pen,] having a large gate in front, and also an entrance from the saloon. This corral was used as a stable, a place in which to secure stock during Indian raids, and a fort from which to repulse the raiders.
The upper room, from which the building took the name of Custom House, was approached by a set of rickety outside stairs, that ended at a landing and door directly over the saloon door. A window in the wall at each gable end admitted light.
The room was in keeping with our republican simplicity. In its center stood a pine table containing one drawer. Upon the table was a dusty ink bottle, two or three rusty pens, a pack of dirty playing cards, a few soiled blank forms, a "Mescal" [Mexican whisky] bottle and a goblet, which, having no foot, was reversed, showing that the user was a person well informed as to the social usage in high-toned clubs on festive occasions. A couple of rough boards, supported by hay rope, hung from the ceiling joists. These
Hanging on the wall was a large map of Calabazas. Upon it was depicted a flourishing city. Great hotels towered up from the business thoroughfares—in black letters. Church steeples pierced the air in—blue letters. Handsome private residences graced the streets—in yellow letters. Palatial public edifices, and monuments, surrounded by parks, occupied squares—in red letters. Splendid avenues—in green letters, and double rows of black lines indicated street railways—in shaded letters.
On the map, Calabazas was many square miles in area, with presumably a large population; whereas the sole street was the stage road from Tucson to Hermosillo, Mexico, and five living souls comprised the entire white population,—Drinkwater, the saloon keeper, the store keeper, Crandall, the land agent, and myself.
In the suburbs (?) a quarter of a mile away, lived a few Chinese who had been making brick. Their time was now devoted to gambling and cutting railroad ties or cord wood in the adjoining scantily wooded gulches.
Near the town were scattered a few blasted Cottonwood trees, leafless and whitened by storm. These answered the purpose of telegraph poles in sudden emergencies, which were not infrequent later. Shallow
Calabazas bade fair to remain as it was, for it could never possibly live up to that gorgeous map. As a health resort, it would hardly be selected, though no one had ever died there, its citizens were too lazy to draw their last breath. It was a good place in which to take a Turkish bath, for the sun beat down with an intensity unequalled elsewhere; but to perspire in Calabazas was a shocking waste of whisky. Invalids requiring a low diet might have come, if they could have survived the trip—they certainly would have found the diet low enough. It might have been utilized as a burial place for the millionaire dead. In its climate and alkaline soil the bodies would have been incorruptible, and an incorruptible millionaire, dead or alive, would be worth a pilgrimage to see.
My arrival, as a permanency, was viewed with much suspicion, until a few days intercourse convinced the older residents that I was not a detective, revenue officer, or a special agent. For a small monthly stipend paid Drinkwater, I was permitted to call the southeast corner of the Custom House room my bedchamber, and there roll up in my blankets; the pack of cards, the table desk and the goblet were at my command. I could quench my eccentric thirst at the saloon "olla" [pronounced oya] a porous and cooling unglazed jar used for holding drinking water, or was welcome to draw all the water I chose from the well. Occasionally my own soap and towel were at my service; I could import mescal from the Line, duty free, if I divided equally with Drinkwater, and could borrow my shaving tools when not in use by my townsmen.
One morning the deadly dullness of our life was varied by a Mexican, who rushed in to say he had been attacked by Apache Indians who had tried to shoot him with a cannon. Drinkwater immediately secured his bottle of mescal and bottomless goblet, the corral gates were locked, and citizens, arming themselves, gathered in the saloon to protect it from the wily Apache.
Several hours passing and no attack, it was considered safe to reconnoitre; the Mexican stepped out of the door, and as quickly stepped back, saying that the Indians had the cannon pointed at the Custom House. This report made us quite nervous until we reasoned one with another, and decided that conceding the Apache to be a holy terror, ubiquitous, and continually doing impossible things, still it was rather out of the usual course for Indians to pack around a cannon to commit murderous assaults with. We concluded to all go out and take a look; we did so, and in solid phalanx advanced upon the torrid Apaches, who in thisinstance were surveyors, and the dreaded cannon a theodolite. They certainly looked as dirty as Indians. After a banquet on mescal and cigars from the saloon, we smoked the pipe of peace, and were informed that the laborers were now grading for the railroad down the cañon.
Calabazas soon felt the increased prosperity brought about by the proximity of the railroad builders. Crandall had no longer a sinecure, and Drinkwater began wearing paper collars as became a Government official. The stage came laden each trip with settlers, or those having business with the railroad company. Three wideawake and enterprising Chinamen; Cum Sing, Hi Sing, and Lo Sing, purchased a lot next to the Custom House and erected the "Palace Hotel." The hotel was a large wall tent of cotton duck, floored with rough pine boards and divided into two rooms by a canvas partition. The rear one was the kitchen, and the front the dining-room. The latter was furnished with a half-dozen small oilcloth covered tables, having benches on either side. There was one table on which high priced delicacies were served. Around this were set, in Queen Ann style, four common oak chairs. At the earnest request of the aristocracy of the town a private dining saloon was partitioned off in one corner of the large room. The walls of this were of thin cotton cloth secured to the roof with pins and to the floor with tacks. The doors of the hotel were of canvas, locked and barred each night with pins or mesquit thorns.
Hi Sing and Lo Sing were in charge of the kitchen. Cum Sing was manager, butler, steward, waiter, bouncer, and general utility man, for which he was well fitted, being a large man, and of ingratiating speech. He carried himself very rakishly; gambled, swore and drank whisky like a "Mellican;" had a contempt for "tenderfeet," and was very kindhearted.
The sleeping and dining room of the hotel was one and the same. Tired customers who had blankets to roll up in, could sleep on the floor free of charge, and they were grateful for the privilege. Barring the hotel cats that secreted themselves or slept during the heat of the day, and confined their rambles and fights, courtships and yowling to the dining room at night, the lodgers slept soundly and were satisfied with the privacy.
The bill of fare was in keeping with the hotel's general appearance, the locality, and the customs of the country. Flapjacks, and syrup, bacon and frijoles, pronounced "freholis [beans,]" were staples. Oleo-margarine or "bull-butter" was plentiful. The soup abounded in mystery and the hash in artfulness. The bacon had no more lean than is found in whale's blubber. The beans were cooked "en masse" once a week, and warmed up for the daily meals; should they, during the week, become soured by the warm weather and close imprisonment, their tempers were placated with soda allopathically administered. Many painful experiences were had with these beans after they had been sweetened to the taste, but their other bad qualities not eliminated. It was not Calabazas etiquette to use a knife on the butter, it being more convenient and fashionable to pour it over the bread from a spoon, for the temperature of the hotel was seldom below the boiling point. Milk was to be had from a condensed cow. If the proprietors had a prosperous week, canned tomatoes assisted in making a ravishing Sunday dinner. In the private room the rarest bric-a brac ironstone ware decorated the tables.
The Palace Hotel was the abode of a fat, haughty, somnolent fly, who, after a short sojourn in our midst, became so discouraged and rancorous that he was forever recklessly suiciding in the debilitated soup, the relaxed butter, or the viscid molasses. His body was embalmed in the mustard, and his person enriched the tea and coffee. He ornamented the ceilings, the walls and the tables, in bunches, festoons and wreaths. His constant, unvarying hum was heard by day and by night, above the din of the diners, and above the love songs of the cats; his eternal buzz assailed the ear unceasingly. This species of fly was only possible to Calabazas, an experience with him was an education in cuss words.
Large wall tents were erected upon the choicer lots adjacent to the Custom House and store; it is hardly necessary to say that these were, without exception, the home of the illusive faro chips and the enlivening whisky. The more aristocratic tents and those in the fashionable part of town, bore such titles as "Rest for the Weary," "The Golden Fleece," "The Pantheon," "The Bank Exchange," or "The Coliseum." Their proprietors wore white shirts, initialed, ivory sleeve buttons, massive oroide watches and chains, and ivory handled pistols and bowie-knives. The owners of these refreshment places and the dealers of their games were the souls of Calabazas honor. They constituted the upper stratum of Calabazas society, and faro chips on their games passed as current coin.
The Calabazas gamblers and saloon men were characteristic ones of the far West. They would express unbounded affection for each other one moment, and the very next, in a quarrel over some trivial matter, use one another for targets. Of course the survivor would pay all of the funeral expenses with no nigardly hand, and, if possible, employ a brass band to express, with trombone and bass drum, the intensity of his grief over his dead friend. At the funeral he would be chief mourner—out on bonds, or in charge of a deputy sheriff—and would bemoan the fate that Jack or Bill had brought upon himself by being "too fresh" to reach for, or too slow in drawing his gun from the hip. On one occasion a "Sport," at the risk of his life, saved that of his chum or "Pard." In talking of the occurrence, the saved friend, uneducated save in cards and shooting, said, in blood-curdling language, ‘‘I haven't never saw anything as nervy as Bill's throwing up Bob's pistol hand.’’ Bill was an educated man, and his ears had audibly cracked at this exhibition of his "Pard's" grammar. He, in a friendly way corrected him. This was taken as offensive. To mollify him Bill tried the universal panacea of asking the crowd up to drink, and all accepted but his chum. Bill then asked why he did not drink, make friends or fight. The offended man without a word, gently slapped Bill's face with his finger tips, and both reached for their weapons. As quick as thought two shots were fired, and the ungrammatical man lay dead, while his former friend laid by his side mortally wounded. To be grammatical, in Calabazas, was to covet death.
They had no mercy on the enemy on whom they fortunately had the "drop," and feared no one but the enemy who unfortunately had the "drop" on them. This "drop" being the unpleasant predicament one was in who, unarmed or unready to shoot during a quarrel, was consequently forced to view the bullets cuddled up in the chambers of his enemy's revolver, well knowing that if the finger on the trigger should be crooked, fatal results would ensue. It was customary for the gentleman having the "drop" to give as a preliminary to the final act, a very farcical rendition, to outsiders, of the intensity of his feelings toward his helpless enemy. For any one to have had the "drop" on them was the cause of many wakeful nights, and the drinking of many cocktails, until the "drop" was returned with interest.
They detested nothing so much as deception. Should a man call for a drink and have no money with which to pay, it would insure him a bullet or broken head; yet, if he said he was "broke" and wanted a "bracer" none of the better class would refuse him. They would have felt disgraced in their own estimation did they do so. ‘‘Any man was liable to be broke, but let him say so, like a man.’’
By some strange anomaly these people could not, unmoved, see human suffering, unless they were angry—always a fierce uncontrolled anger—nor could they hear of suffering without pecuniarily trying to relieve it. They were a strange compound of whims and fancies, and, under their varying impulses, were capable of the most generous and brave, or the meanest and most cowardly acts. A church— that they
In New Mexico and Arizona, strange to say, the most deadly ruffians were seldom over twenty-five years of age; very many not over eighteen or twenty. One that was scarcely twelve years old had quite a reputation, and was responsible for the conduct of two extra heavy revolvers, and a bowie-knife large enough for a hay scythe. Each of these desperadoes had his pistol handle notched for the men actually, or presumably killed by its owner. Their instincts were cowardly, and their delight was to abuse women or impose on civil, quiet persons. Upon the fears of such they played, until successful bluffing and continual practice with their recklessly handled weapons, gave them the necessary courage to clinch their, record by assassinating some defenceless person, when assured of escape.
The generic name for these youths of evil fame, throughout the Territories was "Kid." As Calabazas increased in population, they became nearly as common as the almost equally annoying Calabazas fly. A new comer, to whom the honors were shown, would, at a cost for refreshments of from twenty-five cents to one dollar and acquaintance, be introduced to "New Mexican Kids," "Wyoming Kids," "Arizona Kids," "Colorado Kids," "Texas Kids," and such a variety of other kids, that he would be so bewildered between the effects of vile whisky and the Kid introductions,
The genus "kid" wore his hair long, and in curls upon his shoulder in cow-boy or scout fashion; had an incipient moustache, and sported a costume made of buckskin ornamented with fringe, tassels, and strings of the same material—the dirtier the better. His head was covered with a cow-boy's hat of phenomenal width of brim, having many metal stars, half moons, etc., around the crown. Upon his feet he wore either moccasins or very high heeled, stub toed boots, and an enormous pair of spurs, with little steel balls that jingled at each step. Buckled around his waist would be a cartridge belt holding two carefully sighted revolvers, and a bone handled bowie-knife in his boot leg, completed his dress. He was invariably the proud owner of a "cayuse" horse and Mexican saddle, a bridle with reins of plaited hair, and a "riata" [lariat] tied behind the saddle. The "cayuse" was never far from his master, for when that gentleman wanted a horse he wanted him badly; either to escape from a worse man than himself, or to escape the consequences of having killed one.
The arrival of the stage coach was a deliriously joyful event, for all of the new comers had to be carefully questioned and their reasons for coming summed up. The motive for his visit being shown, if one would attend to his own business, dissipate a little so as not to appear mean, and accept their rough jokes or horse play in a proper and safe spirit, he would not only get along, but would make some friends who would stand by him should the fact of his being quiet or not carrying
At first, Calabazas was so quiet that Drinkwater's sprees were a relief, and his presence welcome. After the papers had been read, cards assisted in killing time. Each evening we indulged in games of poker (in which the stakes ran up to several thousands of dollars, represented by matches), until compelled, for comfort's sake, to extinguish the gnat-attracting lamp. Then, till the cool of morning, the sound of muttered oaths and spasmodic, ineffectual slaps would be wafted on the suffocating night air, as we battled with the bloodthirsty, voracious gnats that made night sleepless.
Very often, while having a game of cards in the Custom House, we would hear the gentle song of the Winchester bullet as it came in at one window and went out the other, some gentleman of humorous turn having fired at the lamp chimney for the purpose of "joshing" Drinkwater and myself. Quite often the report of the rifle was followed by the sound of shattering glass and a stygian darkness in the room. This, when an expert was at the other end of the rifle. Using the lamp for a target became so common that we found it dangerous to have a light, unless we moved the table into one of the corners where the bullet would have to pierce a brick wall before it could do any damage. Sometimes, when a particularly active game of cards was progressing in the saloon below, a dispute would arise as to the ownership of the "pot." Should the excitement become intense, bullets would presently come meandering up through the Custom
The bloods of the town would, toward morning, when business was slack, make social calls at each others saloons. Parties of these would drift into our saloon, and, occasionally, to show their good fellowship or high esteem, they would hail and desire me to come down and join them. Should the hail not be immediately answered, a few bullets would be jocularly sent crashing through the upper floor to expedite matters. Matters would invariably be expedited. With a series of appalling yells hurtling from my throat, I would hasten to the saloon, half dressed, pale and trembling, to be pulled to the bar by their friendly hands, while they cracked jokes concerning the mailing of an invitation from a revolver, and of how much quicker than the telegraph it brought an answer, with much more badinage to the same effect. That they were informed by Drinky as to the corner in which my bed was made, and fired into opposite corners, accounts for my having sustained no injuries other than to my nerves. These hospitalities could not be avoided. To sleep on the ground or from under cover, insured catching the prevalent ague, and a tent would have afforded no more privacy, nor as much protection from vagrant bullets. The Calabazans dearly loved the sound of pistol shots, and when not firing volleys into each other, were filling the air with random bullets.
Those who had remained below now came to see what was the matter. They were met on the landing with the exclamation, ‘‘We've killed him and had better skip over the Line!’’ An adjournment was made to the saloon below, and further efforts toward making "Rome howl" abandoned for the time being.
They gave me credit for many more good qualities than I was aware of having. My generosity, activity, bravery, whiteness, and general saintliness of character, as dilated upon, was a revelation to me, and I shuddered to think how nearly they had come to killing such an exceptionally good man. They deplored their luck, and devised schemes for escaping punishment for my supposed death. Drinky thought it best to skip over the Line and lose themselves in Mexico. The others thought it better for Drinky, as coroner, to hold an inquest over my remains, bring in a verdict of accidental death, and thus squash further proceedings. The gun-fighter would stand ready to kill any one
After quite a talk, the saloon keeper said that I might be wounded only, and not beyond help. Another of the party deemed it extremely foolish to bother about saving my life, and then probably have trouble over the shooting. If allowed to die, by all telling one story, things would be made straight, and they could bury me decently. He would pay his share of the expenses.
The gambler and gun-fighter decided upon making sure of my condition, and with Drinky again ascended to the room, their candle casting a funeral light around. I still laid perfectly quiet, with my face to the wall.
The gambler approached the bed, placed his hand upon my chest, and remarked that he thought my heart still beat. I did not breathe until almost suffocated, and then, being obliged to fill my lungs, drew a breath so deep and long that a sigh accompanied it. The gambler yelled excitedly, ‘‘He's not dead! Come here, quick!’’ The others sprang to his side and tore the blankets from my body.
They passed their hands over my person, and asked me to walk a few steps. The blankets were examined and no bullet holes found. Their faces wore a puzzled expression. Four or five shots had been fired into the corner from powerful weapons, and yet I was unwounded, nor was there a mark on my bed clothing. Either they had dangerously poor weapons or I had a charmed life. Nothing more was said concerning the shooting, they evidently believing my assertion of not having heard the shots. As I stood before them swinging my arms, twisting my body, and kicking out my legs to show that no vital injuries had been feloniously, and with malice aforethought, made away with by me, they looked as if expecting to see me drop dead at any moment. After satisfying themselves that I was unhurt, they shook hands with me impressively and assured me that if I ever needed friends they would be on hand, for I was a ---, and several other varieties of a good fellow. They wished me pleasant dreams, shook hands again, and took their leave.
Along the river bottom were hurdy-houses, an institution that is indigenous to the mining, railroad, or frontier town, and that merits a word of description. A large tent, supported by a framework of scantlings, is the ball room; around the sides are benches for onlookers and patrons, two or three hanging lamps dimly illuminating the interior. At the rear end is a counter and bar with shelves, and a mirror in a gilt frame. Upon this bar the owner makes his most enticing display of bottles, glass ware, and artificial flowers. A sawed off shot gun or a revolver occupies a special shelf under the counter, within easy reach
The musicians wear a fatigued air as befits the creme de la creme of hurdy society. It is an honor to have them accept a drink at your expense; and a friendly nod from one raises you to the same notch in your fellow's estimate as a free pass to a theater would in older communities. At eight o'clock P.M. the house fills with roughly-clad, rude-mannered, foul-mouthed men. The musicians take their places and the fiddler calls out, ‘‘take your partners for a dance.’’ With less bustle than in a city ballroom the dancers are in place, the floor manager, generally the proprietor assisted by a six shooter, winds his way among them to see that all is ready; to eliminate dead beats, and customers whose dance and bar bills are already large enough; or some fellow too attentive, and who may wed one of the girls, thus putting the hurdy-man to great expense in replacing her. A signal is given, the music strikes up, a rattling reel, a quadrille, or a well played waltz, and the rough shoes of the dancers beat the floor resoundingly.
At the end of the allotted fifteen minutes the music ends with a suddenness that stumbles. Each man takes his partner to the bar for refreshment. The men are handed any liquor they order. The girl's orders, varying from champagne to beer, are filled from one magical bottle containing innocuous, whisky looking, clarified
There was a refreshing candor and freedom from constraint in the intercourse between the Calabazans. To refuse a drink was a shocking insult to the entertainer, for the water being bad, it was something to be avoided at all hazards. It was not in good form to pronounce the surname, if you knew it, of one whom you were addressing. Ignorance of this social custom sometimes brought new comers to grief. Many a quiet keen eyed stranger came to the town; men whose ears cocked sharply at the hearing of a proper name. Therefore, from the highest stratum to the lowest level of Calabazas society, none seemed gifted with a surname, It was Lizzie, Mollie, Sallie, or George, bearing these names, identity was made sure by a prefix, suggestive of some personal peculiarity, as Handsome George, Curly Pete, Spud Micky, or Charley's Jack,—referring to some saloon utility man. Ladies having the same names were distinguished one from the other by being known as "Splay-foot Sal," "Jag Lizzie," "The Widow," or "Birdie"—if given to singing. Prefixes descriptive of personal deformity were common. "Sheeny," indicated a prominent nasal organ, "Conch" being substituted should the nasal organ be in the nature of a freak. "Limpy Bob" was a cripple, of course, and "Lucky" inferred
Calabazans used but few words to express a great deal. Experience had taught them the value of taciturnity; that the least said was the soonest mended, and the greater safety. Usually their remarks were limited to, ‘‘I don't care if I do,’’ ‘‘make your game,’’ or ‘‘whisky sour.’’ The slang, profanity, and mixture of Mexican words and terms, made the vernacular language almost a foreign tongue.
Their favorite drink was Mescal, a fiery liquor made from a species of agave or cactus. It can only be kept in glass, and is sweetened with salt before swallowing. Three successive drinks of Mescal would drive a fellow into voluntarily kissing his mother-in-law, which is a valuable pointer for that necessary and much abused female.
Such was Calabazas during its short-lived boom. The whistle of the bullet was heard in the land; the clattering music of the faro and poker chips, as they were shuffled through the nervous fingers of the players, sounding from every side, as if beans were falling on a tin roof. ‘‘Keno;’’ ‘‘Make your game, gentleman;’’ ‘‘The black wins;’’ and ‘‘Drop that pot, you ---!’’ Bang! floated to the ear from the several tents after dark. Desperate men, never perfectly sober, carrying heavy revolvers and keen-edged bowie-knives in boot or breast, filled the tents and streets. Low-browed dogs, keepers of low drinking resorts, with huge pistols fastened to their waists by steel chains, slouched around their tent doors awaiting a chance to rob some laborer. At every turn men
Those visiting the site of the former grandeur of Calabazas, as they ponder over its "kitchen middens," empty tins and early history, need not expect to find much but the name; for, upon the completion of the railroad, Calabazas became a dangerous way station; besides, a hurried trip to the Line was a wearisome and anxious one for those that prudential reasons compelled to make it. From time to time the best customers of the saloons and the flowers of society flitted to the Line. After the anti-Chinese riot, the people and tents moved to the new town of Nogales, whence it was but a step from the American sheriff to the Mexican safety over the Line. At the exodus, for obvious reasons, the Custom House and corral, the wells, and the hotel foundations were left behind. These are all that remain of the evanescent glories of Calabazas, unless, indeed, the map still hangs on the Custom House wall.