When it comes to the Wild West few people represent the grit like Elfego Baca.
Baca was born in 1865 in Socorro, New Mexico. However he spent much of his youth in Kansas where he gained a formal education. He eventually moved back to New Mexico where his father took a job as a lawman. It was around this point of time that a group of Cowboys were terrorising the area. Drinking, fighting, gambling, whoring and shooting down anyone who got in their way. There is one story which claims these Texas cowboys held down a young man and castrated him while the others drank and laughed along. Not the typical night out on the booze that we are used to in today’s world (Anyone who has seen the 1993 movie Tombstone will have an idea as to what these guys were like. And if you haven’t seen it you need to stop reading right now and go watch it!) Basically they were such a force that local law enforcement turned a blind eye to much of their transgressions. The legend goes that Baca was hearing these stories from a local deputy sheriff and after telling this sheriff in no uncertain terms that he was quite shit at his job, – Baca became sheriff (its uncertain how this happened, probably involved a butt kicking). But this was the Wild West and this was Elfego Baca. So not long after his promotion Baca rode into town to sort these troublemakers out.
Baca wasted no time in making an impact. After the cowboys had come through town shooting the place up he calmly walked into the bar they were drinking and proclaimed rather loudly ‘Here is one Mexican that isn’t afraid of an American cowboy’. It was a brazen and risky move and one which warranted an even more aggressive reaction. Charlie McCarthy drew his gun and shot off Baca’s hat. Now to most people this would have been enough to make them withdraw, tail between the legs, reconsidering their life choices which led them to this point and questioning ones entire existence in the universe. But not Elfego Baca. He stood there resilient, not flinching as his hat got blown off his head. Baca had let the cowboys know that he was there to make a change. He arrested the troublemaker Charlie McCarthy to the disdain of the other cowboys.
The cowboys did not take this laying down and went to confront Baca at the makeshift jail that McCarthy was being kept. Baca drew and shot one cowboy in the knee and the horse of another. The horse fell on its rider, killing him. Baca returned to the jail and took McCarthy in for trial.
With the cowboys still holding all the power in the county McCarthy was acquitted. Following the release some of the cowboys went boozing and it didn’t take long before the brilliant idea of revenge started to stir. They went looking for this little Mexican, self proclaimed lawman and found him holed up in a house in Frisco (now known as Reserve). It seems that Baca had anticipated the cowboy appraisal and was ready. When they asked him to come out he shot at one through the door hitting him twice in the stomach where he bled profusely to death while being comforted by his cowboy buddies. Shots continued to rattle the house and crowds started gathering on the hill watching this shootout unfold. The cowboys laid out blankets from house to house to conceal their movements to Baca. What anyone failed to realise was that the house Baca was in had a sunken floor (approximately 12-15 inches) which shielded Baca from the relentless gunfire. As night began to fall the cowboys were worried that the man they so desperately wanted to kill would try to sneak out so watchers were set up at strategic points around the house. That morning unsure whether Baca had somehow slipped out in the dead of the night, one cowboy ran across the house’s field of vision only to be shot at. Yep Baca was still in the house. Then something that would truly cement Baca in the realm of badassery happened, smoke started to rise up from the chimney and the smell of beef tortillas, beef stew and coffee filled the warm New Mexico air. Baca was making himself breakfast. You can’t shoot at cowboys with an empty stomach. In between trying to shoot the house down the cowboys had tried to blow it up and light it on fire. All to no avail. Bullets kept firing at them from the crevices of the house. Elfedo Baca was truly untouchable. As night started to fall on the second day a compromise was reached. The cowboys left (without their pride) and Baca exited the building wearily with a Sheriff Ross from Sirocco. He was tired, hungry and pissed off, but he had won.
Baca was put on trial himself for the deaths of a further four cowboys during the Frisco Shootout but was ultimately acquitted when the door of the house was presented as evidence…. it had 400 bullet holes in it alone. And the house, would have around 4000 in total. Not one hit Elfedo Baca. Soon after the incident peace returned to the area of Frisco.
Baca remained a lawman, where he would issue each wanted criminal a letter saying that if they did not turn themselves in, it would be considered an act of defiance and Baca would come a looking. Almost all showed up to the sheriff’s with the hands out in front to get arrested. Such was the legend of Elfedo Baca.
He would go on to lead a political life, not nearly as exciting as his endeavors as a lawman but equally as important. He was intent on making a change for the better. Even though a T.V. mini series was made about him, he does remain somewhat obscure in the writings of the American West, maybe due to his Mexican lineage, but one thing is certain. Elfedo Baca was a badass and Elfedo Baca is everything I love about the Wild West.