The Bootheel

Couple of interesting stories out of the Bootheel this past week – and there aren’t many weeks you can say that about NM’s southernmost tip. According to the March 1 Deming Headlight, Forest Service workers found the body of a 72-year-old Deming man near his pickup south of Lordsburg, five miles from the border. No indication of foul play, and apparently no clue what he was doing so far from home and so close to the line; in reporting him missing his wife said he was “disoriented” from his cancer meds.
That same day according to El Paso TV the Border Patrol captured another pickup, this one a heavy-duty Ford F350 that  “breached” the border carrying 1,600 lbs of pot. (Good news for Colorado merchants who sold a reported 2.5 tons of legal marijuana last year; I’m sure they appreciate the feds protecting their market from cut-rate foreign imports.) The truck was boosted in Tucson, driven south and loaded up and then sent on a kamikaze run north through the Bootheel. The truck was apparently chased down by helicopter and the driver and passenger fled on foot before capture.  A bold move that must have made the two mulas instant heroes of a new corrido in the Lordsburg lockup, but it’s hard to guess how they could have thought it would work out otherwise, given the concentration of local, state and fed’l LEOs around Deming and Lordsburg. It was a scheme Cheech and Chong would have rejected as impractical.
It’s been years since I’ve been down as far as Antelope Wells, which must certainly be the most isolated (legal) crossing anywhere along the 2,000 mile border, but the Bootheel has always been a dangerous place. The route through the Burro Mountains and down along the Peloncillos was a favorite Apache trail from the Mogollons to the Sierra Madre.

Frank Bennett Photo


Updated Chapter 3 with a pic of scout Frank Bennett (courtesy The Huntington Library, San Marino, California). A  tough, courageous and principled guy who came to a sordid end when he was pushing 50 — a dangerous age for any man, but particularly one who had led a vigorous and physically challenging life but found himself in middle age with little or nothing to show for it but his fading celebrity as a “famous Indian scout.”  I found his suicide note (Chapter 7 ), like most, poignant but self-pitying; tactless at best to blame the woman you’ve just killed for your troubles. “Don’t you hate it when loves turns around and bites you like a damn rattlesnake?” one of Carl Hiaasen’s characters asks in Strip Tease,  “It happens, by God. Happens every day.”

Viva Villa!

columbus 4

This weekend is “Camp Furlong Day” in Columbus, marking the 99th anniversary of Villa’s Raid. I won’t be able to make it this year, but thoroughly enjoyed my visit last year. Historical re-enactors, horsemen, history buffs, mariachi bands and great food. A genuine expression of cross-border good will. And the little museum at Pancho Villa SP has an engaging and informative exhibit on the raid, the Mexican Revolution and Pershing’s punitive expedition. Highly recommended.

New Gaming Compact

The state’s new agreement with the tribes excludes the Fort Sill Apache.  “This is not singling out Fort Sill,” said Jessica Hernandez, the governor’s chief counsel and lead negotiator. (Alb Journal, Sunday, March 1) I believe she means that particular provision doesn’t mention the Fort Sill Apaches by name, it just happens to apply only to that particular tribe. So the tribe is once again going to the state Supreme Court to force Gov. Martinez to deal with them. There are now 26 Indian casinos in NM.


Ira Hayes was a Pima who had hardly ever been off the reservation in Arizona before he enlisted in the Marines. He never learned how to cope with his wartime memories or his fame as one of the iconic flag raisers. He drank himself to death at age 32.

Edge Effects

My progress on Tracking Nana has been slowed recently by Edge Effects by Robert D. Temple. It’s a hefty 600+ pages, which I pick up to browse for a few minutes and then get engrossed in for hours.

An obsessive after my own heart, Temple became fascinated with border name places and went in search of them.  (We’ve all heard of Texarkana, and some of us have been to Texico, but there are hundreds of others all over the U.S., from Vershire to Mexicali). Along the way Temple researches old railroad timetables, follows current and out-dated maps, questions gas station attendants, waitresses and small-town librarians, and tracks down the old coots who are the repositories for local history and folklore,  It makes for fascinating reading.



Geronimo died Feb. 17, 1909, age about 80. In 1897, he wrote to President McKinley: “It is my land, my home, my father’s land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct. ”

But like Nana, Geronimo died at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Two bills that would have represented a very small step toward bringing their descendants home to New Mexico both failed in the state legislature this year.  Ironically, chief opposition to their return comes not from the whites who evicted them 130 years ago but from their cousins the Mescalero,  who are afraid a new casino would cut into the profits from their Inn of the Mountain Gods.

hanging or shooting?

Both Utah and Wyoming are considering the firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection, at least partly because death penalty opponents are doing their best to shut off the drug supply, although in both states the debate seems to focus on what is the most painless and efficient method of ushering the subject out of this vale of tears.

But “humane execution” is an oxymoron, and Rodney Balko makes the point that the condemned may suffer more from lethal injection than from a well-placed bullet.  The process is designed not to benefit the victim but to spare our own sensibilities.

If we as a community, acting through the law enforcement and judicial system, decide to kill somebody, each of us should be prepared to shoulder that shared responsibility. Instead, we send the poor bastard off someplace out of sight to be quietly put to sleep, just as Dad promised us the puppy was going off to live on a farm in the country. It offers a comforting delusion.

Stoning makes sense as the ultimate expression of this shared community responsibility. Think this man or woman deserves to die? Pick up a rock and pitch in. If the firing squad was randomly chosen from the jury pool it would serve as a less messy version of this shared community responsibility.  (Anybody not personally prepared to pull the trigger should be excluded from sitting on the jury in a capital trial anyway.)

If that’s too barbaric for modern times, maybe we should restore public hangings. It’s true these occasions often attracted the wrong type of crowd, and you may want to turn away from the grim scene. But at least we are collectively bearing witness to what we’re doing. They say Judge Parker watched every hanging he ordered from his courthouse window; he believed it his duty.

I’m no expert on hangings, but I know they weren’t uncommon on the frontier. Based on the anecdotal evidence, I’m not sure that rough justice was any more unfair or misguided than today’s elaborate and prolonged proceedings. And I’m not sure the old way wasn’t more merciful in other ways. Personally, I believe I would rather be dragged out of the courtroom and strung up from the nearest cottonwood, the bang of the judge’s final gavel still echoing in my ears, rather than spending years locked in a little cage listening to lawyers argue.

Don’t fence me in

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
Gaze at the moon ’til I lose my senses
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
— Cole Porter & Robert Fletcher