By Bill Russo
Published by CCA Media
Cape Cod, U.S.A.
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It was hot, even by Texas standards. The temperature had climbed to 104 (40 Celsius) when Sam Bean and his wife Juanita climbed on their buckboard in the late afternoon of May 5, 1905 heading for the fiesta in the village fairgrounds.
“I’m worn out ‘Nita’. Summer’s two months off and already the daytime temperatures are above 100. But even with the infernal heat, I got a lot of work done today. By this time next week we’ll hold the grand opening of the Del Rio Lilly, the finest saloon in town!”
“I guess we’re in for a long heatwave Sam. It shouldn’t get this hot until June. It might be good for business though. You’ll have a lot of thirsty customers and they’ll have money to spend because the crops won’t suffer thanks to the canals.”
“And all the cattle will be well watered and fed. When the founders tapped San Phillipe Springs and set up the networks of irrigation canals, they gave life to Del Rio. This tiny settlement will probably be a major city by 1925 – unless people like that rat Orasco have their way.”
“You’re always fighting with Cliserio Orasco. Can’t you two get along?”
“No Juanita. He’s no good. His cantina has been the only watering hole in town for over five years. Ever since he found out that I’m going to open a better saloon than his rodent infested hovel, he’s been plotting against me. You know he has! Tools have been stolen, lumber has disappeared, and last week somebody set the place on fire in the middle of the night. It’s lucky that I decided to sleep in the building or we would have lost everything.”
“It’s even luckier that you woke up in time to save your life and douse the blaze before there was serious damage.”
“I’ve never had much luck Nita, at least not until I met you. Things are starting to turn around for me now.”
“I think your famous father had all the luck in your family and there was none left over for you. Judge Roy Bean had enough lucky breaks and escapes to fill up about a dozen story books. When he passed on three years ago Sam, he didn’t leave you much money, but maybe you’ve inherited his luck.”
The spirited bay mare trotted smartly, pulling the conveyance along the cactus lined trail to the fairgrounds. The heat of the day was beginning to pull back slightly and Sam and Nita were fanned by a gentle breeze coming from the Gulf of Mexico, three hundred miles distant. Due to a quirk of nature Del Rio was the constant recipient of a stream of gulf winds that retained their moisture during the long voyage from the sea. Unlike much of the surrounding area, the climate of the village was very far from the typical ‘hot and dry’ as found in West Texas – Del Rio was instead, ‘hot and moist’; almost sub-tropical.
It was a combination that made for good ranching and farming, but often left the working men short of temper. From May to August there was a chance that the temperature could hit a hundred on any given day; and during March, April, September, October and even November, there was a strong possibility of the mercury topping ninety. It was a wet heat that soaked a man from his socks up through his underwear right to the top of his head. Some of the cow punchers and other laborers in the area took to shaving their heads smooth to avoid having to deal with hair that was always as soggy as a wet-mop.
Sam Bean’s brown hair, not completely shaved off, was closely cropped in the new ‘crew cut’ style that was gaining favor both in the military as well as among civilians.
Juanita’s thick black hair was swept up to the top of her head, wrapped in a bun, and covered by a large floppy hat. At the height of the May 5th festival, during the dancing, she planned to release the trapped tresses and let them tumble in a wavy cascade from her shoulders down to her waist.
When they reached the fairgrounds Maria ran to the picnic area to secure a table for dinner, while Sam tended to Mehitable, the graceful bay. As Sam hobbled his horse in a thick patch of Buffalo grass he noticed a man watching him from a nearby Cottonwood tree.
He couldn’t make out the face, but there was no mistaking the attire – a black western hat with a white band, black shirt and pants, and black boots dotted with silver sparkles: It was Cliserio Orasco.
Raging with anger, Sam walked swiftly towards the tree, where Orasco stood in the shadows. Without thinking about it Sam wrapped his hand around one of the twin Colts that were holstered at his side. He wore his weapons because he planned on entering the pistol shooting contest that was part of the evening’s festivities.
“I heard you had some trouble at your building site,” said Orasco with a sneering grin as Sam approached him.
“That straw you used to set the fire was the last straw Orasco,” Sam grunted grimly. “We may as well settle this now. Reach for your gun.”
“Look before you shoot compadre,” replied Cliserio Orasco. “Do you not see that I am not wearing a gun? I do however have a knife in my saddle bag. Perhaps if you wish to try to kill me later, we could meet near the shooting range, and I will bring my knife to your gunfight!”
Orasco laughed mockingly at Sam, and walked swiftly towards the picnic area where his wife was waiting for him. Furious, Sam stayed rooted to the ground beside the big Cottonwood for a full three minutes before he was calm enough to join Juanita at their table. He didn’t tell his wife, but he had decided that he would finish the feud with Orasco tonight, one way or the other.
Juanita found seats at a table with Mary and Jim Sanders and was chatting happily with them when Sam arrived. The two young couples were discussing plans for the grand opening of the saloon when the blacksmith Tug McBride stood up to speak.
McBride was a wagon-maker of note and the best harness man between Del Rio and San Antonio, 150 miles east. In 1905 there were 20 million horses in the United States and only 70 thousand automobiles. McBride’s harness shop was the busiest store in Del Rio, but for the mercantile and Orasco’s Cantina.
“Howdy folks and welcome to the Cinco De Maio festival of Del Rio City. We got a great crowd. It looks like the whole town is here. Now some of you might be wonderin’ why a big, red headed Irishman is talkin’ about a fiesta celebratin’ the French being driven out of Mexico by Benito Juarez! The answer is that Esteban Mendoza who owns the “Muy Bien Restaurante” was supposed to be giving this little speech but he asked me to do it for him. He requested that I give the talk cause he’s too busy countin’ up all the money he made by gouging six bits outta you lads and ladies for the sparse meal he’s going to give you!”
Everybody laughed at McBride’s speech, even Senor Mendoza himself who scurried from table to table to make sure that everyone had heaping platters of his special pollo y arroz (chicken and rice). As a tribute to his Italian mother he also served soft bread with a hard crust and ‘Abondigas estila Mama’ (Meatballs, Mama’s style) in tomato sauce.
Everyone agreed that 75 cents was a tiny price to pay for such a grand meal, especially since it was highlighted by a brand new pie that had been recently invented in New York City.
“This pie that I made for you today was first served a few months ago by my cousin Guillermo back east. I hope you like it. It is called Pizza Pie.
The pie, consisting of sauce, meats, and cheese baked on top of a circular shaped shell of bread dough, was the hit of the fiesta, especially since it was served with the recently introduced Mexican beer celebrating the new century, “Siglo XX” (“20th Century”). The beer was first brewed in 1900 and later when the ‘Siglo’ was dropped, it was renamed ‘Dos Equis XX’ (meaning in English, “Double X).
The schedule for the remaining daylight hours included rifle and pistol shooting contests as well as a few cow punching events. At dark a glowing bonfire set ablaze was to be the signal for the band to start the music and the dancing
Sam was one of just three sharpshooters to get a perfect score the first round of the ‘quick-draw and shoot’ contest. He hit all six of the glass bottles thrown up in the air in front of him. The winner of the second and final contest would receive a shiny, brand new five dollar, half-eagle coin.
1905 Half Eagle – worth five dollars at issue and up until the 1920s. In the 2000s a half eagle is worth perhaps a thousand dollars or more, depending on its condition.
Tad Clapper, Gawk Larkspur, and Sam Bean were told to stand about three feet from each other on a line drawn in the dirt. In turn each had to shoot at a cluster of tiny tea-cup saucers thrown high into the air. The shooter hitting the most of the ten plates thrown would be the winner. In case of tie, the procedure would be repeated for as long as it took for somebody to win.
Tad Clapper went first. Over 70 years old, Clapper served as a Lieutenant under Grant in the American Civil War in the 1860s. He was missing the lower part of his left ear. The old vet didn’t talk about that much, but other old-timers reported that Clapper had got that injury battling the Commanche in the Indian Wars. Clapper was ancient but still could handle his pistols as well as almost anybody in Texas.
“Throw!” commanded Tug McBride. A split second later, brightly colored saucers flew upwards and spread out as they took flight. Clapper drew his twin Colts at lightning speed and fired so fast that the blasts almost sounded like one shot.
When Tad was done he holstered his weapons and waited for the cloud of smoke to clear so that he could watch the scorekeepers as they picked up the few saucers that he missed.
“There’s three that ain’t broke,” shouted Brace Beezer as he held up the unbroken dishes. “That means that old Tad got seven. That’s going to be awful hard to beat!”
Gawk Larkspur was up next. Barely over 18 the sandy haired youth was very fast on the draw but his accuracy wasn’t on a par with his quick draw. He hit only five of the teacups despite firing 12 rounds in a split second.
Sam Bean took his place on the firing line. When the saucers were tossed he quickly filled his hands with his twin Colts and fired only ten shots.
“He got ‘em all. Every single one! Hot Dang! He got ten plates and he only fired ten rounds! ” shouted Brace Beezer from his knees as he examined the broken pieces of china. “Nobody coulda done better than Sam Bean; not Wild Bill Hickok or even Buffalo Bill Cody.”
Photo of Sam Bean’s father Roy, circa 1895
Amidst back slapping and celebratory handshakes Clapper, Beezer, and a group of eight or ten other shooters led Sam Bean to a makeshift bar that Cliserio Orasco had set up near the target ranges.
“I ain’t drinking with Orasco!,” Sam proclaimed as the men stuffed him into a seat at a table beside the bar. “That stinking rat tried to burn down my place. He doesn’t want me to open my saloon and he’ll kill me if he can.”
Orasco, his face shaded by the brim on his black Stetson with the white band, smiled when he heard Sam’s comments.
“Sam Bean, why do you accuse me of this crime? You have no proof of it. Why don’t you spend some of that half eagle you just won and buy everyone a drink?”
Typical Western Saloon circa 1900
Sam ended up buying several rounds and with each new glass his anger grew until finally he said…. “Orasco doesn’t use a gun boys. He favors a knife. I’ve got a pretty good idea that one of these days he’s going to throw it into my back if he gets the chance. I think I’ll fix it so that he can’t.”
Without another word Sam Bean drew both of his colts and snapped off a shot that tore into Cliserio Orasco’s right arm, about three inches below the shoulder. Even before Orasco had a chance to scream Sam took aim with his other revolver and shot off Cliserio’s right ear lobe.
Everything happened so fast that nobody could make a move. As if hypnotized, twenty or more men watched in silence as Sam Bean fired 12 shots. One in the arm, the second in the right ear lobe, the third tore off Orasco’s black Stetson as well as a swatch of hair and a bit of scalp.
The brutal fourth shot went through the back of Orasco’s right hand, exiting through his palm. Sam turned his attention to the bottles of whiskey and shattered eight as he emptied his weapons.
After the final round was fired nobody moved except Orasco. With his useless right arm and his bloody right hand dangling by his side he walked haltingly towards the table where Sam Bean was smiling at the gory results of his marksmanship.
“You made a mistake malandro (rogue/bad guy), I am not right handed. To slice with my knife I use my left hand – like this!”
From beneath his shirt Orasco drew a long dagger that witnesses would later call a “Bowie Knife”. When he got within a foot of Bean everyone expected him to slash Sam’s throat, but instead he wound up and thumped him on the top of the head with the flat of the blade.
Sam’s eyes rolled and he nearly lost consciousness as the heavy knife struck him with a loud splat. As blood began to drip down his face Sam raised his hands in a defensive posture. Orasco slashed at the hands, opening deep wounds.
“You were the great shooter today Sam Bean, but now you will see what a good knife can do. A good knife must be heavy enough to use like a hatchet. I demonstrated that my knife has that quality when I bashed you on the head.”
Bean was cradling himself with his arms and seemed only partly aware of what was happening. The other men sat in their chairs without moving.
“A good knife also must be sharp enough to use as a razor. I could give you a shave right now malandro. Perhaps I will.”
Instead, Cliserio Orasco slit Sam Bean’s throat.
When the witnesses to the bloodbath at the Del Rio Fairgrounds shook off their stupor, they arrested Orasco and held him on charges of murder. A judge from San Antonio was brought in for the trial. When he heard that Sam Bean had fired 12 rounds at him before Clisereio drew his knife, the judge said “Senor Orasco is not guilty. The defendant acted in self defense and I think it is fair to say that he will go down in history as the only man to prove that you can bring a knife to a gunfight!”
Sam Bean’s tale is the first story in the book, Justice, Texas Style, based on the real life adventures and misadventures of one of the most famous families in the colorful and often violent Wild West of the Americas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Though the stories feature real people and events, no attempt at historical accuracy is made or claimed.
Watch this site for future installments.
About the Author:
Bill Russo is the author of The Creature from the Bridgewater Triangle and Other Odd Tales from New England; in which he recounts his meeting with a swamp creature called a Puckwudgie. His blog about that scary encounter led to an appearance in the award winning documentary, The Bridgewater Triangle. He also was also featured on national television in ‘Monsters and Mysteries in America’ and ‘America’s Bermuda Triangle’.
A number of his fictional works are centered in the Bridgewater Triangle, where he says “Fanatasy and reality are crowded together into a haunted 200 square mile area of Massachusetts – where they share an uneasy truce”.
Parts of this story are adapted from “Cape Cod’s Figure in Black” which introduces John Deer and the Russo Brothers, as well as the little girl from Provincetown who becomes the new ‘seer’ of the Cape.
‘Swamp Tales’ and its prequel, ‘Jimmy Catfish’ take readers deep into Southeastern Massachusetts and neighboring Cape Cod for various adventures involving ghosts, monsters, and a strange amphibious boy who swims with, and leads, a school of shark-like, killer catfish.
In ‘Ghosts of Cape Cod’, Russo does not write the typical tale of people waking up and seeing spectral beings at the foot of their bed; rather, he probes into the fascinating lives of the real people who became the legendary ‘haunts’ of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
Many of the ‘Ghosts’ are well known such as the real ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’, Sam Bellamy. He was Captain of the Whidah – the richest prize ship in history. Others are lesser known but no less fascinating, like the Reverend Joseph Metcalf who owned the first of the once ubiquitous Cape Cod Flower Boats. The story of the Ghost of the 13 Churches is told in detail for the first time. It’s an odd yarn of a peculiar doctor who amassed one of the biggest fortunes in Colonial Massachusetts. He gave it away to the 13 churches of Cape Cod when he died; but then returned from the grave to take it all back!
The Ghosts of Cape Cod audio book is available at all major retailers. The narration is by Scott R. Pollak of National Public Radio.
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His other employment included management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space:
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Justice, Texas Style in the wild days of the late 1800s and early 1900s was swift, violent and capricious. In many lawless places, the only law was that which was laid down by the most feared law-breaker. Criminals often wandered back and forth between 'lawing' and 'theiving'. Lawmen did the same. Based on real life people and events this book depicts the life and times of one of the most flamboyant of the old time crooks with a badge - Roy Bean. The story starts with Roy's luckless son Sam, in 1905.