For some months of a certain year a grim bandit infested the Texas
border along the Rio Grande. Peculiarly striking to the optic nerve
was this notorious marauder. His personality secured him the title of
"Black Eagle, the Terror of the Border." Many fearsome tales are on
record concerning the doings of him and his followers. Suddenly, in
the space of a single minute, Black Eagle vanished from earth. He was
never heard of again. His own band never even guessed the mystery of
his disappearance. The border ranches and settlements feared he would
come again to ride and ravage the mesquite flats. He never will. It is
to disclose the fate of Black Eagle that this narrative is written.
The initial movement of the story is furnished by the foot of a
bartender in St. Louis. His discerning eye fell upon the form of
Chicken Ruggles as he pecked with avidity at the free lunch. Chicken
was a "hobo." He had a long nose like the bill of a fowl, an
inordinate appetite for poultry, and a habit of gratifying it without
expense, which accounts for the name given him by his fellow vagrants.
Physicians agree that the partaking of liquids at meal times is not a
healthy practice. The hygiene of the saloon promulgates the opposite.
Chicken had neglected to purchase a drink to accompany his meal. The
bartender rounded the counter, caught the injudicious diner by the ear
with a lemon squeezer, led him to the door and kicked him into the
Thus the mind of Chicken was brought to realize the signs of coming
winter. The night was cold; the stars shone with unkindly brilliancy;
people were hurrying along the streets in two egotistic, jostling
streams. Men had donned their overcoats, and Chicken knew to an exact
percentage the increased difficulty of coaxing dimes from those
buttoned-in vest pockets. The time had come for his annual exodus to
A little boy, five or six years old, stood looking with covetous eyes
in a confectioner's window. In one small hand he held an empty two-
ounce vial; in the other he grasped tightly something flat and round,
with a shining milled edge. The scene presented a field of operations
commensurate to Chicken's talents and daring. After sweeping the
horizon to make sure that no official tug was cruising near, he
insidiously accosted his prey. The boy, having been early taught by
his household to regard altruistic advances with extreme suspicion,
received the overtures coldly.
Then Chicken knew that he must make one of those desperate, nerve-
shattering plunges into speculation that fortune sometimes requires of
those who would win her favour. Five cents was his capital, and this
he must risk against the chance of winning what lay within the close
grasp of the youngster's chubby hand. It was a fearful lottery,
Chicken knew. But he must accomplish his end by strategy, since he had
a wholesome terror of plundering infants by force. Once, in a park,
driven by hunger, he had committed an onslaught upon a bottle of
peptonized infant's food in the possession of an occupant of a baby
carriage. The outraged infant had so promptly opened its mouth and
pressed the button that communicated with the welkin that help
arrived, and Chicken did his thirty days in a snug coop. Wherefore he
was, as he said, "leary of kids."
Beginning artfully to question the boy concerning his choice of
sweets, he gradually drew out the information he wanted. Mamma said he
was to ask the drug store man for ten cents' worth of paregoric in the
bottle; he was to keep his hand shut tight over the dollar; he must
not stop to talk to anyone in the street; he must ask the drug-store
man to wrap up the change and put it in the pocket of his trousers.
Indeed, they had pockets--two of them! And he liked chocolate creams
Chicken went into the store and turned plunger. He invested his entire
capital in C.A.N.D.Y. stocks, simply to pave the way to the greater
He gave the sweets to the youngster, and had the satisfaction of
perceiving that confidence was established. After that it was easy to
obtain leadership of the expedition; to take the investment by the
hand and lead it to a nice drug store he knew of in the same block.
There Chicken, with a parental air, passed over the dollar and called
for the medicine, while the boy crunched his candy, glad to be
relieved of the responsibility of the purchase. And then the
successful investor, searching his pockets, found an overcoat button--
the extent of his winter trousseau--and, wrapping it carefully, placed
the ostensible change in the pocket of confiding juvenility. Setting
the youngster's face homeward, and patting him benevolently on the
back--for Chicken's heart was as soft as those of his feathered
namesakes--the speculator quit the market with a profit of 1,700 per
cent. on his invested capital.
Two hours later an Iron Mountain freight engine pulled out of the
railroad yards, Texas bound, with a string of empties. In one of the
cattle cars, half buried in excelsior, Chicken lay at ease. Beside him
in his nest was a quart bottle of very poor whisky and a paper bag of
bread and cheese. Mr. Ruggles, in his private car, was on his trip
south for the winter season.
For a week that car was trundled southward, shifted, laid over, and
manipulated after the manner of rolling stock, but Chicken stuck to
it, leaving it only at necessary times to satisfy his hunger and
thirst. He knew it must go down to the cattle country, and San
Antonio, in the heart of it, was his goal. There the air was
salubrious and mild; the people indulgent and long-suffering. The
bartenders there would not kick him. If he should eat too long or too
often at one place they would swear at him as if by rote and without
heat. They swore so drawlingly, and they rarely paused short of their
full vocabulary, which was copious, so that Chicken had often gulped a
good meal during the process of the vituperative prohibition. The
season there was always spring-like; the plazas were pleasant at
night, with music and gaiety; except during the slight and infrequent
cold snaps one could sleep comfortably out of doors in case the
interiors should develop inhospitability.
At Texarkana his car was switched to the I. and G.N. Then still
southward it trailed until, at length, it crawled across the Colorado
bridge at Austin, and lined out, straight as an arrow, for the run to
When the freight halted at that town Chicken was fast asleep. In ten
minutes the train was off again for Laredo, the end of the road. Those
empty cattle cars were for distribution along the line at points from
which the ranches shipped their stock.
When Chicken awoke his car was stationary. Looking out between the
slats he saw it was a bright, moonlit night. Scrambling out, he saw
his car with three others abandoned on a little siding in a wild and
lonesome country. A cattle pen and chute stood on one side of the
track. The railroad bisected a vast, dim ocean of prairie, in the
midst of which Chicken, with his futile rolling stock, was as
completely stranded as was Robinson with his land-locked boat.
A white post stood near the rails. Going up to it, Chicken read the
letters at the top, S. A. 90. Laredo was nearly as far to the south.
He was almost a hundred miles from any town. Coyotes began to yelp in
the mysterious sea around him. Chicken felt lonesome. He had lived in
Boston without an education, in Chicago without nerve, in Philadelphia
without a sleeping place, in New York without a pull, and in Pittsburg
sober, and yet he had never felt so lonely as now.
Suddenly through the intense silence, he heard the whicker of a horse.
The sound came from the side of the track toward the east, and Chicken
began to explore timorously in that direction. He stepped high along
the mat of curly mesquit grass, for he was afraid of everything there
might be in this wilderness--snakes, rats, brigands, centipedes,
mirages, cowboys, fandangoes, tarantulas, tamales--he had read of them
in the story papers. Rounding a clump of prickly pear that reared high
its fantastic and menacing array of rounded heads, he was struck to
shivering terror by a snort and a thunderous plunge, as the horse,
himself startled, bounded away some fifty yards, and then resumed his
grazing. But here was the one thing in the desert that Chicken did not
fear. He had been reared on a farm; he had handled horses, understood
them, and could ride.
Approaching slowly and speaking soothingly, he followed the animal,
which, after its first flight, seemed gentle enough, and secured the
end of the twenty-foot lariat that dragged after him in the grass. It
required him but a few moments to contrive the rope into an ingenious
nose-bridle, after the style of the Mexican /borsal/. In another he
was upon the horse's back and off at a splendid lope, giving the
animal free choice of direction. "He will take me somewhere," said
Chicken to himself.
It would have been a thing of joy, that untrammelled gallop over the
moonlit prairie, even to Chicken, who loathed exertion, but that his
mood was not for it. His head ached; a growing thirst was upon him;
the "somewhere" whither his lucky mount might convey him was full of
And now he noted that the horse moved to a definite goal. Where the
prairie lay smooth he kept his course straight as an arrow's toward
the east. Deflected by hill or arroyo or impractical spinous brakes,
he quickly flowed again into the current, charted by his unerring
instinct. At last, upon the side of a gentle rise, he suddenly
subsided to a complacent walk. A stone's cast away stood a little mott
of coma trees; beneath it a /jacal/ such as the Mexicans erect--a one-
room house of upright poles daubed with clay and roofed with grass or
tule reeds. An experienced eye would have estimated the spot as the
headquarters of a small sheep ranch. In the moonlight the ground in
the nearby corral showed pulverized to a level smoothness by the hoofs
of the sheep. Everywhere was carelessly distributed the paraphernalia
of the place--ropes, bridles, saddles, sheep pelts, wool sacks, feed
troughs, and camp litter. The barrel of drinking water stood in the
end of the two-horse wagon near the door. The harness was piled,
promiscuous, upon the wagon tongue, soaking up the dew.
Chicken slipped to earth, and tied the horse to a tree. He halloed
again and again, but the house remained quiet. The door stood open,
and he entered cautiously. The light was sufficient for him to see
that no one was at home. The room was that of a bachelor ranchman who
was content with the necessaries of life. Chicken rummaged
intelligently until he found what he had hardly dared hope for--a
small, brown jug that still contained something near a quart of his
Half an hour later, Chicken--now a gamecock of hostile aspect--emerged
from the house with unsteady steps. He had drawn upon the absent
ranchman's equipment to replace his own ragged attire. He wore a suit
of coarse brown ducking, the coat being a sort of rakish bolero,
jaunty to a degree. Boots he had donned, and spurs that whirred with
every lurching step. Buckled around him was a belt full of cartridges
with a big six-shooter in each of its two holsters.
Prowling about, he found blankets, a saddle and bridle with which he
caparisoned his steed. Again mounting, he rode swiftly away, singing a
loud and tuneless song.
* * * * *
Bud King's band of desperadoes, outlaws and horse and cattle thieves
were in camp at a secluded spot on the bank of the Frio. Their
depredations in the Rio Grande country, while no bolder than usual,
had been advertised more extensively, and Captain Kinney's company of
rangers had been ordered down to look after them. Consequently, Bud
King, who was a wise general, instead of cutting out a hot trail for
the upholders of the law, as his men wished to do, retired for the
time to the prickly fastnesses of the Frio valley.
Though the move was a prudent one, and not incompatible with Bud's
well-known courage, it raised dissension among the members of the
band. In fact, while they thus lay ingloriously /perdu/ in the brush,
the question of Bud King's fitness for the leadership was argued, with
closed doors, as it were, by his followers. Never before had Bud's
skill or efficiency been brought to criticism; but his glory was
wandering (and such is glory's fate) in the light of a newer star. The
sentiment of the band was crystallizing into the opinion that Black
Eagle could lead them with more lustre, profit, and distinction.
This Black Eagle--sub-titled the "Terror of the Border"--had been a
member of the gang about three months.
One night while they were in camp on the San Miguel water-hole a
solitary horseman on the regulation fiery steed dashed in among them.
The newcomer was of a portentous and devastating aspect. A beak-like
nose with a predatory curve projected above a mass of bristling, blue-
black whiskers. His eye was cavernous and fierce. He was spurred,
sombreroed, booted, garnished with revolvers, abundantly drunk, and
very much unafraid. Few people in the country drained by the Rio Bravo
would have cared thus to invade alone the camp of Bud King. But this
fell bird swooped fearlessly upon them and demanded to be fed.
Hospitality in the prairie country is not limited. Even if your enemy
pass your way you must feed him before you shoot him. You must empty
your larder into him before you empty your lead. So the stranger of
undeclared intentions was set down to a mighty feast.
A talkative bird he was, full of most marvellous loud tales and
exploits, and speaking a language at times obscure but never
colourless. He was a new sensation to Bud King's men, who rarely
encountered new types. They hung, delighted, upon his vainglorious
boasting, the spicy strangeness of his lingo, his contemptuous
familiarity with life, the world, and remote places, and the
extravagant frankness with which he conveyed his sentiments.
To their guest the band of outlaws seemed to be nothing more than a
congregation of country bumpkins whom he was "stringing for grub" just
as he would have told his stories at the back door of a farmhouse to
wheedle a meal. And, indeed, his ignorance was not without excuse, for
the "bad man" of the Southwest does not run to extremes. Those
brigands might justly have been taken for a little party of peaceable
rustics assembled for a fish-fry or pecan gathering. Gentle of manner,
slouching of gait, soft-voiced, unpicturesquely clothed; not one of
them presented to the eye any witness of the desperate records they
For two days the glittering stranger within the camp was feasted.
Then, by common consent, he was invited to become a member of the
band. He consented, presenting for enrollment the prodigious name of
"Captain Montressor." This name was immediately overruled by the band,
and "Piggy" substituted as a compliment to the awful and insatiate
appetite of its owner.
Thus did the Texas border receive the most spectacular brigand that
ever rode its chaparral.
For the next three months Bud King conducted business as usual,
escaping encounters with law officers and being content with
reasonable profits. The band ran off some very good companies of
horses from the ranges, and a few bunches of fine cattle which they
got safely across the Rio Grande and disposed of to fair advantage.
Often the band would ride into the little villages and Mexican
settlements, terrorizing the inhabitants and plundering for the
provisions and ammunition they needed. It was during these bloodless
raids that Piggy's ferocious aspect and frightful voice gained him a
renown more widespread and glorious than those other gentle-voiced and
sad-faced desperadoes could have acquired in a lifetime.
The Mexicans, most apt in nomenclature, first called him The Black
Eagle, and used to frighten the babes by threatening them with tales
of the dreadful robber who carried off little children in his great
beak. Soon the name extended, and Black Eagle, the Terror of the
Border, became a recognized factor in exaggerated newspaper reports
and ranch gossip.
The country from the Nueces to the Rio Grande was a wild but fertile
stretch, given over to the sheep and cattle ranches. Range was free;
the inhabitants were few; the law was mainly a letter, and the pirates
met with little opposition until the flaunting and garish Piggy gave
the band undue advertisement. Then McKinney's ranger company headed
for those precincts, and Bud King knew that it meant grim and sudden
war or else temporary retirement. Regarding the risk to be
unnecessary, he drew off his band to an almost inaccessible spot on
the bank of the Frio. Wherefore, as has been said, dissatisfaction
arose among the members, and impeachment proceedings against Bud were
premeditated, with Black Eagle in high favour for the succession. Bud
King was not unaware of the sentiment, and he called aside Cactus
Taylor, his trusted lieutenant, to discuss it.
"If the boys," said Bud, "ain't satisfied with me, I'm willing to step
out. They're buckin' against my way of handlin' 'em. And 'specially
because I concludes to hit the brush while Sam Kinney is ridin' the
line. I saves 'em from bein' shot or sent up on a state contract, and
they up and says I'm no good."
"It ain't so much that," explained Cactus, "as it is they're plum
locoed about Piggy. They want them whiskers and that nose of his to
split the wind at the head of the column."
"There's somethin' mighty seldom about Piggy," declared Bud, musingly.
"I never yet see anything on the hoof that he exactly grades up with.
He can shore holler a plenty and he straddles a hoss from where you
laid the chunk. But he ain't never been smoked yet. You know, Cactus,
we ain't had a row since he's been with us. Piggy's all right for
skearin' the greaser kids and layin' waste a cross-roads store. I
reckon he's the finest canned oyster buccaneer and cheese pirate that
ever was, but how's his appetite for fightin'? I've knowed some
citizens you'd think was starvin' for trouble get a bad case of
dyspepsy the first dose of lead they had to take."
"He talks all spraddled out," said Cactus, "'bout the rookuses he's
been in. He claims to have saw the elephant and hearn the owl."
"I know," replied Bud, using the cowpuncher's expressive phrase of
skepticism, "but it sounds to me!"
This conversation was held one night in camp while the other members
of the band--eight in number--were sprawling around the fire,
lingering over their supper. When Bud and Cactus ceased talking they
heard Piggy's formidable voice holding forth to the others as usual
while he was engaged in checking, though never satisfying, his
"Wat's de use," he was saying, "of chasin' little red cowses and
hosses 'round for t'ousands of miles? Dere ain't nuttin' in it.
Gallopin' t'rough dese bushes and briers, and gettin' a t'irst dat a
brewery couldn't put out, and missin' meals! Say! You know what I'd do
if I was main finger of dis bunch? I'd stick up a train. I'd blow de
express car and make hard dollars where you guys get wind. Youse makes
me tired. Dis sook-cow kind of cheap sport gives me a pain."
Later on, a deputation waited on Bud. They stood on one leg, chewed
mesquit twigs and circumlocuted, for they hated to hurt his feelings.
Bud foresaw their business, and made it easy for them. Bigger risks
and larger profits was what they wanted.
The suggestion of Piggy's about holding up a train had fired their
imagination and increased their admiration for the dash and boldness
of the instigator. They were such simple, artless, and custom-bound
bush-rangers that they had never before thought of extending their
habits beyond the running off of live-stock and the shooting of such
of their acquaintances as ventured to interfere.
Bud acted "on the level," agreeing to take a subordinate place in the
gang until Black Eagle should have been given a trial as leader.
After a great deal of consultation, studying of time-tables, and
discussion of the country's topography, the time and place for
carrying out their new enterprise was decided upon. At that time there
was a feedstuff famine in Mexico and a cattle famine in certain parts
of the United States, and there was a brisk international trade. Much
money was being shipped along the railroads that connected the two
republics. It was agreed that the most promising place for the
contemplated robbery was at Espina, a little station on the I. and
G.N., about forty miles north of Laredo. The train stopped there one
minute; the country around was wild and unsettled; the station
consisted of but one house in which the agent lived.
Black Eagle's band set out, riding by night. Arriving in the vicinity
of Espina they rested their horses all day in a thicket a few miles
The train was due at Espina at 10.30 P.M. They could rob the train and
be well over the Mexican border with their booty by daylight the next
To do Black Eagle justice, he exhibited no signs of flinching from the
responsible honours that had been conferred upon him.
He assigned his men to their respective posts with discretion, and
coached them carefully as to their duties. On each side of the track
four of the band were to lie concealed in the chaparral. Gotch-Ear
Rodgers was to stick up the station agent. Bronco Charlie was to
remain with the horses, holding them in readiness. At a spot where it
was calculated the engine would be when the train stopped, Bud King
was to lie hidden on one side, and Black Eagle himself on the other.
The two would get the drop on the engineer and fireman, force them to
descend and proceed to the rear. Then the express car would be looted,
and the escape made. No one was to move until Black Eagle gave the
signal by firing his revolver. The plan was perfect.
At ten minutes to train time every man was at his post, effectually
concealed by the thick chaparral that grew almost to the rails. The
night was dark and lowering, with a fine drizzle falling from the
flying gulf clouds. Black Eagle crouched behind a bush within five
yards of the track. Two six-shooters were belted around him.
Occasionally he drew a large black bottle from his pocket and raised
it to his mouth.
A star appeared far down the track which soon waxed into the headlight
of the approaching train. It came on with an increasing roar; the
engine bore down upon the ambushing desperadoes with a glare and a
shriek like some avenging monster come to deliver them to justice.
Black Eagle flattened himself upon the ground. The engine, contrary to
their calculations, instead of stopping between him and Bud King's
place of concealment, passed fully forty years farther before it came
to a stand.
The bandit leader rose to his feet and peered through the bush. His
men all lay quiet, awaiting the signal. Immediately opposite Black
Eagle was a thing that drew his attention. Instead of being a regular
passenger train it was a mixed one. Before him stood a box car, the
door of which, by some means, had been left slightly open. Black Eagle
went up to it and pushed the door farther open. An odour came forth--a
damp, rancid, familiar, musty, intoxicating, beloved odour stirring
strongly at old memories of happy days and travels. Black Eagle
sniffed at the witching smell as the returned wanderer smells of the
rose that twines his boyhood's cottage home. Nostalgia seized him. He
put his hand inside. Excelsior--dry, springy, curly, soft, enticing,
covered the floor. Outside the drizzle had turned to a chilling rain.
The train bell clanged. The bandit chief unbuckled his belt and cast
it, with its revolvers, upon the ground. His spurs followed quickly,
and his broad sombrero. Black Eagle was moulting. The train started
with a rattling jerk. The ex-Terror of the Border scrambled into the
box car and closed the door. Stretched luxuriously upon the excelsior,
with the black bottle clasped closely to his breast, his eyes closed,
and a foolish, happy smile upon his terrible features Chicken Ruggles
started upon his return trip.
Undisturbed, with the band of desperate bandits lying motionless,
awaiting the signal to attack, the train pulled out from Espina. As
its speed increased, and the black masses of chaparral went whizzing
past on either side, the express messenger, lighting his pipe, looked
through his window and remarked, feelingly:
"What a jim-dandy place for a hold-up!"