25. Galveston to El Paso

Chapters 25 and 26 recount an incredible walk – most of the way from Houston Texas to Los Angeles California.

Click here to download chapters 1-25 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

25.1 Houston Will be a Great City

January 17,1904

Before coming to Houston, Hayes used money borrowed from his sister Jennie to pay fare over to Orange on the Louisiana border to see about work in the saw or paper mills there. Nothing doing in either and “Sad enough a big hole is made in this money Jennie loaned me, and I don’t know when I can ever pay it back. It seems humiliating to borrow money, this is my first occasion to do so, and I hope my last.”

The land is poor at Houston but the location is splendid for commerce. Cotton, grain, cattle and many other agricultural products of Texas and Oklahoma flow down Buffalo Bayou and through the roads crossing here. The town is still a little sleepy from the Old South days but “virile business men from the north are waking these Southerners up.” Oh, and the oil fields too.

With no job and dwindling resources in Houston Texas, what is a fellow to do? Well, walk to Los Angeles of course: “Now there is nothing to do but to make my way westward toward the Coast.”

25.2 State Farm at Richmond

January 21, 1904

Hayes walked the 32 miles from Houston to Richmond passing a “state work farm where were many convicts.” To Hayes the guards on horseback armed with rifles ready to shoot any prisoner who lifted a hand from his plow look more criminal than the men wearing stripes. “It is not a pretty sight to see men treated thus, but it is not compulsory for men to commit crime. There must be some deterrent, else the country would go into anarchy.”

With no job prospect in sleepy little Richmond and feet sore from walking this far, Hayes spends a little more of Jennie’s money on the train west to San Antonio.

25.3 At the Alamo

January 21, 1904

Hayes has never had much faith in employment offices but he’s far enough down to try even that.

“In the meantime I have been seeing the Alamo, which is sacrosanct in the eyes of all Texans.” The story of the famous battle as Hayes tells it has 183 rough men given the opportunity to desert the fort in the face of 4,000 Mexican troops; “only one took advantage of this last chance for life.” Those remaining fought the Mexican army for days until their ammunition was exhausted – then fought on with “gun butts, knives, and their bare hands.” At last, seven wounded men were captured and killed by Sanata Ana’s men, their bodies thrown on the pile and burned with all the rest. These martyrs to freedom later inspired the men under Houston’s command to defeat the Mexican Army “and freed Texas from the thrall of ignorance and the Catholic Church, which has always dominated the Latin countries to their detriment.”

“But is the tomb of these men held sacred?” Only if you think that plastering an advertisement for a local railway over the bullet-scarred walls and blood-soaked ground is a fitting monument. “The desire for money does not afford sanctity to even a place like this that should be a shrine.”

The rest of San Antonio is, “the prettiest town I have seen in Texas,” with gardens, old adobe walls, and bronzed cowboys “wide hatted and high booted.” A nice town, but Hayes has no time to tarry; all energy must go toward finding a job.

25.4 Overlooking Devil’s River

January 24, 1904

The employment office in San Antonio offered a job but when Hayes showed up at the site there was no work – and sorry, no refund. There goes a dollar. He’s heard of work on an irrigation canal out toward Del Rio so he spends a little more of his nearly empty purse on train fare out that way – “but in vain.” At a canal site in Del Rio he sees Mexicans working for 85¢ a day and offers to join the crew, even paying for his own board. “But they will not permit an American to work with the peons.”

January 26, 1904

On this date Hayes begins the entry with an extended paragraph describing the natural beauty where he’s seated “on the bluff looking over Devil’s River, a sparkling stream far west of Del Rio.” Here, spreading oaks relieve the sage, mesquite, prickly pear and thorn bush of the unirrigated lands surrounding Del Rio. Fish swim in the river and across the nearby Rio Grande in Mexico he sees a deer come from the chaparral to drink from its clear waters. (I believe this place where Hayes took inspiration is now submerged by Amistad Reservoir built in 1969 where Devil’s River meets the Rio Grande.)

Refreshed by the untouched beauty at this wild place where the Rio Grande flows between “two rugged hills on either shore that extend up and down the river as far as eye can see,” Hayes finds a reserve of strength to meet the challenges of the human world. “I am hiking west, hoping against hope to find something to do along the line. There is not much chance now, but there may be something.” He’s sleeping in the bush and has “some charqui (dried meat) and a loaf of bread, a that has kept me thus far.”

24.5 Manna in the Desert

January 28, 1904

Walking hard by day on “a rocky track” and sleeping out by night in the bitterly cold winter desert of West Texas, Hayes has no food – yesterday nothing at all. “I was reconciled to starve, when a pullman train passed me and the cook must have cleared out the pantry. For steaks, bread, even pie came from the window of the dining car, and the gravel where it fell was easily brushed off.” One wonders if a kindly cook saw a lonely wayfarer in need of help or if this was just an impossible coincidence.

By the time he walked into the small village of Comstock, he’d eaten the largesse from the train and hunger returned. “As there was no restaurant, I entered a meat shop and purchased some raw beef. This was very acceptable as good meat as I have ever eaten.” Fortified, he continued on, walking toward Langtry.

25.6 Langtry

January 28, 1904

Hayes walked the sixty-five miles from Del Rio to Langtry in two and a half days. To cross the chasm at the Pecos River he mounted a viaduct 300 feet above the trickle of water below, leaning forward into a cold sandy wind with all his strength. At Langtry he found “a water tank, a railway eating house and a small round house.” When he asked at the eating house to work in return for food, the “genial proprietor” offered him a job for as long as he liked. At this new place he writes, “At least I am gorged to repletion.” He looks forward to getting strong again after spending most of his time in Texas half starved.

February 2, 1904

The “genial proprietor” initially offered to pay Hayes $5 a month, but now that’s been raised to $10. Most of the custom at this place comes from trains passing through – freight train workers get a fair price, which is promptly doubled for passenger trains. Many of the trains coming through Langtry must have passed Hayes walking alone through the desert. “Now the trainmen know me, and marvel because I do not beat my way. But when I reformed at Victor, I barred hoboing, and will to the end, I hope. This has given me considerable prestige among them.”

All the railway men say that Hayes reminds them of “Fitzsimmons, the prizefighter, who was one of the participants in a scrap here a few years ago.” That fight took place in 1896 and Fitzsimmons knocked out the reigning heavyweight champion, Peter Maher in one round in a bare-knuckle fight held on an island in the dry bed of the Rio Grande River (prize fighting was illegal in both Texas and Mexico) half a mile from Langtry .

Robert Fitzsimmons
Alex Maher

The fight promoter had to build a road down to the dry riverbed. He didn’t make much money because spectators on the American side could sit on cliffs on the riverside for a good view of the fight; almost no one paid for ringside seats. The promoter died in March of the previous year, so Hayes just missed meeting Roy Bean.

25.7 Judge Roy Bean

February 2, 1904

Some tall tales have been told about Roy Bean including the ones by Walter Brennan and Paul Newman in two separate movies, by Edgar Buchanan in a television series, and by Larry McMurtry in a Western novel. Hayes tells a couple of tales too, stories he picked up “reading the correspondence of this strange man,” in his hometown, in the year after he died.

Judge Roy Bean

Bean “set himself up as justice of the peace in this out-of-way spot, and dispensed justice according to his own idea of right, or rather that of the Southern Pacific Railway, which is the source of Langtry’s prosperity.” Judge Bean decided any case between a crippled train worker and the Southern Pacific in favor of the company; in return he rode Southern Pacific trains anywhere in the country on a free pass.

“He married and divorced people, settled the rows among the cattlemen and cowboys, fined any who had money heavily, and if they would not pay imprisoned them in a cellar under his hall of justice, as the sign above it says.” Bean’s saloon/hall of justice was the Jersey Lilly. Keeping the peace west of the Pecos included issuing and enforcing injunctions against any other drinking establishment that tried to set up in Langtry. It also included all manner of petty shakedowns. One time a man fell off a bridge over the Pecos and was killed with $100 and a gun in his pocket. “He said no sober man would have fallen off the viaduct, so fined the corpse $50 for being drunk and $50 for carrying a concealed weapon.” On another occasion, two Mexican couples came to be divorced, then both couples re-married, swapping mates. Bean charged them all he thought they had but on the way out one of the women dropped a purse containing $12.50. “Bean called them back again. He had forgotten something. He charged each couple $6.25 witness fees, thus getting hold of every peso they had.” Hayes says he could tell dozens of other stories about this “rascal” who sounds more like a small time grafter than the wild west hanging judge of the books and movies.

25.8 Roy’s Son Sam Bean

February 10, 1904

Broke in Langtry on his 26th Birthday, Hayes receives a pay increase to $15 a month, and a letter from “my people” in Hico, “They bawl me out, of course, for no one loves a man who is unfortunate.”

February 16, 1904

Hayes still works at the eatery but the constant quarreling between the husband and wife ownership team makes it uncomfortable. Sam Bean, the son of Roy Bean came through on one of his trips across the border. “Sought by the authorities of both countries, he skips to the U.S.A. when Mexico gets too hot for him, then returns when the southern Republic seeks a closer acquaintance.” The younger Bean makes his living smuggling and stealing cattle and horses, driving stolen herds across the shallow Rio Grande to whichever country he’s not in. Hayes describes him as “a genial soul.”

Some of the local Mexican citizenry still come to Langtry seeking justice, as in the denial of paternity dispute before them just now. Hayes gives no report on how they decided the paternity, but remarks that the wife “is a remarkably beautiful girl.”

A cowboy stopping in for lunch had a fox tied to his saddle horn; he says he shot it while mounted with his “six-gun.” These men shoot so accurately they can snip small lizards from the limbs of trees. “But there is none of the fighting so well advertised elsewhere in the world.”

25.9 El Paso by Train

February 21,1904

Even at the increased wage of $15 per month Hayes couldn’t have made more than about $10 staying at Langtry less than a month. Nevertheless, he’s back on the road, paying train fare as far as El Paso where the only work not done by Mexicans calls for “a highly specialized mechanic to work in the smelters or for the railways.” Since Hayes has neither skill, he’ll have to look elsewhere, “God alone knows where, I don’t.”

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