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EVOLUTION OF A STATE


CHAPTER VI



The Redlands - general character of; San of the land; Notorious counterfeiter; Mob law; Precious metal; Brown's mine; A noted horsethief.

The Redlands had a hard name, and there is no denying the fact that there were many hard characters there, its geographical position making it a convenient retreat for renegades, who infested the border along the Sabine, just as they do now along the Rio Grande. Worse, even, in that there was then no extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico, and the settlers, too weak to protect themselves, and having neither civil nor military protection, were completely at the mercy of these outlaws, who would not have hesitated an instant to put a bullet through any man who was foolhardy enough to resist them, or who was even distrusted as being so disposed.

This I discovered from the start. I suppose, on account of my having been banished from San Felipe, they looked upon me as a congenial spirit. and therefore took no pains to conceal their operations from me, even making overtures to me; but it was one thing with me to assist a friend to escape from prison, and quite another to become a bandit, counterfeiter, or land shark.

My first association was with a notorious counterfeiter, whom for the nonce we will call John Doe, in whose shop I worked, though not in his line of business. He offered me a partnership, proposing that we go over into Mexico and open up business. I never saw him manufacturing the "queer," but I saw his outfit, of which he made no secret. There was nothing of the desperado about him. On the contrary, he was pleasant and peaceable and generally liked, and, so far from being looked upon as a malefactor, was considered a public benefactor, in that he furnished the only currency to which the people had access. The country could not be said to be on either a gold or silver basis, copper being the basis of Doe's coinage, and, the supply failing, he sent out emissaries to rustle for the precious metal. Not finding any other available source of supply, they appropriated a copper still, which was converted into coin. His Mexican eagle dollars were as handsome coins as I ever saw, much finer in execution, in fact, than the genuine article, and passed current in the community until the plating began to wear off, when he gathered them in, and, treating them to a fresh coat, sent them out again.

Indian Bill, a Cherokee, was one day at a horse race, and, becoming thirsty, repaired to a booth where liquid refreshments were dispensed, and, calling for a drink, threw down a dollar. The proprietor picked up the coin, and, perceiving that the copper foundation was showing around the edges, handed it back to Bill with the remark:

"This is one of Doe's dollars. Take it back to him and tell him to plate it over again."

The Indian took him at his word, and, looking around among the crowd, espied the manufacturer of the rejected coin. Rushing up to him, Bill held out the dollar, saying:

"See here, Doe, this dollar no good; he no buy whisky. Take him, Doe, take him; skin him again, skin him again."

The crowd set up a shout, amidst which Doe calmly pocketed the dollar, handing Bill a brand new one, with which he returned to the bar and discharged his whisky bill, though the proprietor doubtless recognized its character as quickly as he had that of the first tender.

Doe also coined doubloons which, though perceptibly thicker than the genuine coin of that denomination, was still a trifle light, but as there were no scales to test them as they passed unchallenged as long as the plating was intact. Doe's currency furnishes a good example of the practical working of the populist idea: it was all right in domestic transactions, but when they attempted to discharge foreign obligations with it, it got them into trouble. Ambitious to extend his field of operations, Doe went over into Louisiana, where he was apprehended. The authorities failed to convict him, but his currency was depreciated to such an extent as to render the floating of it unprofitable. His die for dollars had a slight crack in it by which his coin soon came to be recognized, but his shrewdness turned it to account. Casting a pure silver dollar, he entrusted it to an accomplice, instructing him to go to a saloon and tender it in payment for drinks, and when it was refused, as it was sure to be, the mark being plainly visible, to feign indignation and offer to bet $500, which Doe supplied, that it was pure silver. The fellow did as instructed and had no trouble in placing his bet. The suspected coin was submitted to a jeweler, who, of course, pronounced it pure silver. By this coup Doe reimbursed himself for his losses on his venture and returned to the west side of the Sabine, where his efforts were more appreciated.

Another way in which Doe added materially to the wealth of the colonies was by restamping the old hammered dollars, a single blow of the hammer adding 25 cents to the value of each one. There were thousands of them thus rehabilitated. Indeed, it was a regular business collecting them.

A couple of years later his operations were thrown completely in the shade by what was known as the Owl creek money, counterfeit United States bank notes of different denominations, and so nearly a perfect reproduction of the genuine that they were even imposed on the banks. Paper and ink being cheaper even than copper, Doe's currency was given the go-by. The country was soon flooded with the Owl creek paper, and as everybody in the Redlands had more or less of it, and they were all interested in maintaining it at par, it, too, continued to circulate even after its true character was recognized. That, too, was practical populism. I was approached by one of the promoters of the scheme, who offered me any amount of the counterfeit paper at fifty cents on the dollar if I would take it into Louisiana and float it. Realizing that such secrets are dangerous, I told him that I would take the proposition under consideration. Said he, looking me straight in the eye, "Remember, if you 'cheep' your life won't be worth a snap." I told him I understood that, and would "see him later." I was alarmed lest some suspicion might attach to me, so I got away from there as fast as possible. Under such pressure it is not to be wondered at that the paper passed, there being, as previously stated, no public protection accorded the people of that section. The only semblance of government was the office of alcalde, presided over by old Ben Lindsey, a well-meaning old fellow, as ignorant of law as of grammar.

The only case, so far as known to the writer, that was ever tried before him was that of a man who was arraigned for shooting another man's dog, the complainant demanding damages therefor. Mace Cole was employed by defendant to conduct his case. There were no statute books available, the only hook in court being the Bible on which the witnesses were sworn. Picking up the Bible, Cole asked the alcalde if, in the absence of other law, the old Mosaic code would be admissible. The alcalde, totally at a loss to know what to do with the case, consented to be governed by the primal statute. Turning to Deuteronomy xxiii, 18, Cole read: "Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore or the price of a dog into the house of the Lord thy God, for even both these are an abomination unto the Lord thy God."

This appearing to be plainly against the plaintiff, the case was dismissed, the plaintiff paying costs.

Another swindling scheme that was being worked on a gigantic scale, and which was productive of more lasting evil, it will be necessary to go back to 1829 to explain. In that year Don Padillo came on from Saltillo as commissioner of the land office, to survey and make title to the claims of bona fide settlers outside the regular colonies, being provided with blanks for the purpose, on which, were stamped the seal of the Republic of Mexico, lacking only the specifications and signature of the commissioner to complete them. Accompanied by T. Jefferson Chambers, surveyor general for the colonies, he established headquarters at Nacogdoches, but, unfortunately for the old don, he became enamored of the pretty young wife of one of his attaches, and to get the husband out of the way sent him on an errand from which he never returned alive. Suspicion at once fell on the commissioner and he was arrested as the instigator of the murder. He was thrown into prison and his papers all thrown into the hands of an unscrupulous gang, who at once proceeded to establish a land office of their own. Securing the services of an old Spaniard who had been a government clerk for years and was an expert penman, they had him forge the commissioner's signature to the blanks, and thus equipped set up business on a large scale, issuing floating certificates to any amount of land for an insignificant consideration. Any good plug of a pony would buy an eleven-league grant. James Armstrong, afterward a member of the legislature, told me how they conducted business.

"I had just come to the country," said he, "and, being broke, was looking around for a clerkship or other employment that might procure necessities. In this emergency I accepted a position in the office of the manager of the land-grabbers, and was set to work filling out the blanks. I worked a whole month, meanwhile running on 'tick,' and at the end of that time demanded my salary, which had been fixed at $50 a month. Imagine my disgust when, instead of cash, I was tendered a certificate for eleven leagues of land. The cool audacity of the thing fairly took my breath away. I told the boss that I preferred the money. 'You are a fool,' said he.

'Maybe I am,' I replied, 'but if it were land I was after I could have filled out a certificate for any amount that would have been just as good as yours.'"

I was also offered any quantity of these bogus land certificates to dispose of in Louisiana on shares, and no doubt I could have done so to advantage among the wealthy planters, whose slaves were becoming too numerous for their plantations, thus creating a demand for increased acreage. Perhaps it was only because I lacked the courage necessary to the making of a rascal; at any rate, I rejected all these alluring offers for fortune, not caring to run my neck into a halter by being made a cat's paw for these scoundrels. Of the effects of this wholesale land fraud I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. It was the foundation for all the land litigation that has vexed the souls of the settlers ever since.

To return to the lawless gang which infested the border, I will give an account of one of their outrages, which came near being the last one for some of them.

Over near Nachitoches, in Louisiana, there lived an old Frenchman, who had a mulatto wife and several quadroon children. These border ruffians went over there, murdered the old man, and seizing his wife and children, brought them over into Texas and tried to sell them. The family spoke but little English, but they managed to make the facts known whereupon the people rose en masse against the perpetrators of the outrage, who, but for their timely flight, would have ended their careers at the ends of halters. The unfortunate family were returned to Louisiana.

When the country began to settle up, circumscribing their field of operations, these outlaws disappeared. I found their descendants here in California when I came hither in '61, and was chagrined to find that such wretches had fixed the general character of the Texans in the minds of the people from other states. There were two gangs of them, and they at length had a falling-out and a vendetta ensued, and every time one was killed the mass of the people rejoiced. The darkest stain on the annals of the Redlands - and I only mention it here to illustrate the evil results of mob law - was the hanging of a man by the name of Luny by an excited populace. The victim, in company with one Connel, had served a term in the United States army, and on being discharged at old Fort Jessup, near Nachitoches, invested their savings in general merchandise, opening a store in the Redlands, where they were well liked, Connel marrying old Elisha Robins' daughter. Robins was one of the most prominent men in that section.

For some reason the partnership between Luny and Connel was dissolved. Luny went down on one of the lakes along Ayes Bayou and with another man, whose name I do not remember, opened a store there. As neither of the men had families, they bached together, having a half-witted boy for factotum. At length the partner was missing, and, on the theory that Luny was the only person that could have a motive in his disappearance, the people took the matter in hand and arrested Luny. He told them the last time he saw the missing man was early one morning, when he started out to hunt his horse.

The country was scoured without any trace, the people growing more excited as the subject was discussed. They took the boy in hand, and, through fright, induced him to tell that Luny had killed his partner and thrown the body in the lake. The lake was dragged without results, but the mob had worked themselves up to such a pitch of indignation that they determined to hang Luny anyway. In vain he protested his innocence, and, counsel of the more conservative element being thrown to the wind, poor Luny was strung up to a limb. Some time afterward the body of the missing man was found in the woods, sitting leaning against a tree, his bridle clutched in his hand, evidently the victim of heart disease.

With a number of other men I was standing on the porch of Elisha Robins' boarding house when a grotesque figure surmounted by a coonskin cap sauntered slowly past the group, scrutinizing each face as if in search of some one. Presently some one addressed me by name; the stranger turned quickly to locate the party answering. Stepping up to me, he inquired: "Is your name Smithwick?" "Yes, sir," I replied. His face lighted up. "You're the man," he exclaimed, extending his hand. "You're the man I've been hunting for." I involuntarily ran over in mind all the notable things, good and bad, I had ever done, but could recall none that seemed to fit my mysterious visitor. "You're the man," he again repeated, after the style of Poe's raven. "Well, what can I do for you?" I inquired, my curiosity being fully aroused by his queer introduction. "Just step this way," said he, eyeing my companions suspiciously. I felt a little timid about going with him, but, as his demeanor was rather friendly than otherwise, I walked out of earshot of the group on the porch. Looking all around to assure himself that there were no eavesdroppers, the old man drew from his pocket a small parcel tied up in a rag. Carefully untying the package he revealed a quantity of shining particles, which at first glance had quite a resemblance to gold. Said he: "My name is Brown. I live out in Tenehaw district, where we think we've got a fortune, but we heard you'd been out in Mexico and knew all about mining, so we want you to go in with us. You shall have an equal share. This is the stuff."

A moment's inspection satisfied me that there was no gold in the sample, but I saw that it would take stronger evidence than my word to convince him, so I took the parcel into the shop. I blew up the fire, and, putting the mass in a ladle, set it in the furnace. It bubbled and smoked and assumed the appearance of burnt leather. I then crushed it to a powder from which every semblance of gold had disappeared. The old fellow looked as if doubting the evidence of his own eyes, and glared at me as though I had been juggling with his specimen. Swallowing his disappointment, he departed, a sadder if no wiser man.

A few days later a friend of mine came over from Louisiana with a lot of jewelry which he proposed peddling out through the country. Being an entire stranger, he wanted someone to go out with him. Having nothing better to do, I acted as escort.

Colonel English, with whom I was acquainted, was quite an influential man in his neighborhood, and in trying to find his place we stopped at a cabin to inquire the way. The proprietor gave me a searching look and his brow darkened. Instead of answering my question he broke forth in a strain that savored of insanity: "I know what you're after, but you'll never find it, and if you do it shall never do you any good," said he, in a menacing tone.

Completely mystified by such an unprovoked attack I asked him to explain the meaning of it.

"You told Brown there was no gold in that stuff he showed you. We know better. Now you think you'll find it yourself; but if you do, it shall never do you any good." He looked savage, and, knowing something of his reputation, I didn't care to fool with him.

Finding it impossible to disarm his suspicions, and feeling sure that we would be under surveillance as long as we were in the neighborhood, and fearing for the consequences if we should by any chance get into the vicinity of the "mine," we were on the point of giving up the jewelry campaign. We succeeded in reaching Captain English's place, and to him related our encounter with his millionaire neighbor. The captain laughed heartily but we didn't feel as if it was altogether safe to be circulating promiscuously around in such an explosive atmosphere.

Captain English was head chief of the tribe, however, and he volunteered to straighten the matter up. He posted us on the location of the mine, and we were thus enabled to give it a wide berth. It was doubtless guarded as long as we were around. So strong was the delusion that it would have no doubt led to bloodshed had anyone attempted to examine the supposed gold mine. So can the glittering tempter conjure up the latent devil lurking in men's hearts; nor does it matter that the glitter is false.

One other story of the Redlands I must tell, only withholding the name of the principal actor therein. After I had been some time in Louisiana the cholera broke out, and there was a general stampede to escape its ravages. I had got hold of a pretty fast horse and concluded to take him over into the Redlands for the races. Away out in the piney woods, between Bayou Coti and Fort Jessup, lived a man by the name of Fox, who kept a hostelry for the accommodation of the few chance travelers on that lonely road. It was getting late in the day, and, seeing no signs of human habitation, I was growing apprehensive of having to make a dry camp, when I saw a little smoke rising some little distance from the road. Riding out to it, I perceived a pony staked near by and a man lying down. Upon my approach the latter arose to a sitting posture and greeted me pleasantly. In answer to my inquiries, he told me that it was but a short distance to Fox's, and I was going to proceed on my way when he asked me where I was going. I told him. Said he: "I am going there myself, and if you have no objection I would like to bear you company." Pleased with the appearance of my would-be traveling companion, I readily assented. The next morning we started on together, and I congratulated myself on my good fortune in having fallen into such pleasant company. He was an elderly man, decently and plainly dressed, seemingly well acquainted with that section. Surmising, perhaps, that I had some curiosity to know more of him, he at length said: "Perhaps you would like to know who your traveling companion is?" I confessed my curiosity. "Well" said he, "my name is H----, old John H----. I know you've heard of me; everybody has." Yes, I had heard of him, and was rather disconcerted to hear that my genial companion was a notorious horsethief. He probably anticipated my confusion, for he hastened to reassure me.

"You need have no apprehensions on that score," said he. "You'll find that when we get into the settlements everybody will be glad to see me."

I found that to be true, everybody shaking his hand and calling him "Uncle John." He then told me frankly that he was on his way home to the Redlands after being discharged from the Louisiana state prison, whither he had been sent for an alleged irregularity in horse trading.

"The jury that convicted me of stealing Nelson's horse were trying me on general principles. I clearly proved myself clear of that charge," said he; which was no doubt true on the face of it, but the jury had seen too much of that sort of thing to be deceived by outside appearances. They penetrated the disguise and unearthed the fact that he belonged to a regularly organized band scattered through different parts of the country, whose practice it has to meet as strangers in some town remote from their raids and trade horses in the presence of a crowd, and then each go his way on an animal which he knew perfectly well had been stolen, even if he were not the actual thief.

So old John went to the penitentiary, where his habits of thrift and enterprise enabled him to make the best of the situation. Said he: "I made money while there." I was interested in knowing how he did it. "Had some money when I went in, and I got some of the attendants to bring me in material for a cigar factory (convicts were not made to work in those days). By and by I enlarged my business, employing some of my fellow prisoners to help me, and by the time my term was up had quite a flourishing trade and saved money, after paying a go-between to buy my material and dispose of my wares. When I was leaving the prison I had the satisfaction of seeing Nelson, whose horse got me into trouble, just going in for having received a bale of stolen cotton from a nigger. I stepped up to him smiling, and, extending my hand, said: 'How do you do, Mr. Nelson? I am truly glad to see you.' Then, turning to the warden, I introduced him. 'This is a particular friend of mine, warden. Be kind to him for my sake.'"

We rode on until near noon, when I began to look around for some cabin where we might stop for dinner. There were no settlements, only just now and then a cabin in a little clearing where a few acres of corn were making a struggle for existence against the barren soil and dry atmosphere. Espying one of these, I suggested that we stop and try to get dinner.

"No use," said the old philosopher; "don't you see how black the smoke is? You can't get anything fit to eat there." We passed several with the same densely thick pine knot smoke pouring out of the stick and mud chimneys "No use," H---- persisted. By and by we came to an abandoned clearing, where the wild blackberries were grown up, full of the largest, finest berries I ever saw.

"I think we had better stop here," said he. So we took off our saddles, and while our horses dined on the luxuriant grass we did full justice to the blackberries. "I have been a bad man," he admitted, regretfully, I thought, "but I have a nice family, as you can see for yourself if you will do me the honor to visit us, and for their sakes I am going to reform my ways."

"How is it," I asked, seeing the cordiality with which everybody greeted him, "that you seem to have no enemies in your business?" "Well," he replied, "I never speculated on my neighbors, and never allowed anyone else to. I always went outside."

I visited his home and found, as he said, that he had a nice family. I never again heard of his being engaged in shady transactions, and am therefore fain to believe that his reformation was genuine.



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