HOW I MET BIGFOOT WALLACE
In 1862, after I was "adopted" by Ed Kennard, I worked in his stable to pay for my lodging. He probably would have not expected it of me but I felt that I wasn't entitled to eat his food and do nothing for it. Later, of course, when I started school, I spent much less time working in the stable.
One winter's day, this tall beat up looking man came to the stable with his horse. Ed was at lunch so I was watching the place: feeding horses, brushing them down and cleaning. I heard the man come in and I walked towards him.
"Hello. Anyone here?" he said.
"Hello, may I help you?"
He looked at me and asked "Where's the smithie?"
"He's at lunch. I'm watching the place until he gets back."
"Who are you?"
"I'm his daughter."
"I didn't know Kennard had a daughter. You don't look much like him; you look Mexican."
"Actually, I'm adopted, but I consider him my white father."
"Where's your real parents?"
"I don't remember my father at all. He was killed years ago. I've lost touch with my mother, but I hope to find her someday. I go up into the hill country hoping to meet some tribe that knows where she is."
"Tribe? Ain't nuthin in the hills but comanches. " … Then his eyes got very big and his mouth opened. "Yer a Comanche, aren't ya? No wonder yer so dark haired."
"Yes sir. I am Nowena and my people are Comanche. But I live with my white family now."
"I'm not sure I want to leave my horse here. You might steal it."
"No sir. I'm not a thief."
"Well, if you don't mind, I'll just come back when Kennard is here."
"Certainly,sir. He should be here in a few minutes."
I didn't know who the man was, so I went back to my work. In a few minutes, Ed returned. I told him about the man and our encounter. He said "Well, don't let anyone upset you. Just be honest and do your work so that no one can find fault with you. There'll always be people that won't like you, no matter what you're like. Do your best and don't hurt others."
About ten minutes went by before the man returned. He came in and said to Ed, "Hey, smithie, my horse needs a shoe."
"Sure thing, Bigfoot. I'll get on it right away. NOWENA! C'mere and check on this horse."
I came from behind a stall and walked up front. The man saw me and said, "If ya don't mind,I don't want no redskin touchin' my horse."
Ed gave Bigfoot a sullen look and asked, "What's wrong with her touching your horse? She works here, ya know?"
"Dang it, Ed; she's Comanche. Ya can't trust them. I can't believe you took her in. Next thing, she'll be thinking she's white. You can take a savage out of the wild but you can't take the wild out of the savage."
"Okay, just leave the horse. It'll be ready in an hour."
With that, Bigfoot left and went on about his doings. Ed turned to me and gave me these instructions: "Check the horse and fix her up with what she needs."
"What about Mr. Bigfoot?"
"Mr Wallace. That was Bigfoot Wallace. He's fought a lot of Comanches. Don't expect him to be friendly. Do good work and you'll be respected for that."
I set to work and replaced one shoe, renailed another, then brushed the horse down. As I was only 12 years old, I had to stand on a stool to reach the back and shoulders of most horses. Nonetheless the job was done when Bigfoot returned.
"Is she set to go, smithie?"
"Yeah. Check her out; make sure the work looks okay."
Bigfoot took his horse to the front where there was more light. He checked the shoes, and the overall look of his mare. "Looks good. How much I owe ya?"
"Two bits oughtta cover it."
When Bigfoot dug in his pocket for a quarter, Ed told him,"Give it to her; she did the work."
Bigfoot looked startled, like he had been taken by surprise. Back then, no frontiersman would live long if he were surprised too much.
I held out my hand and Bigfoot reluctantly placed the coin in my palm. "Thank you, Mr. Wallace." I then returned to my labors.
Ed calmed him down,"She's a fine lil girl: friendly, smiles, honest, affectionate; not like what you'd expect a savage to be. Give her a chance, Bigfoot; you might find that she's just like any other kid her age. She likes pretty clothes and she also wants friends to play with. She even plays baseball with the boys. I'm quite impressed with her since taking her in."
"How come she hasn't run off?"
"She don't want to; she likes not having to sleep with one eye open all the time."
With that exchange, Bigfoot grunted and left.
After our introduction, I'd see Bigfoot around town now and then. I always spoke and waved. He would return the greeting sometimes.
Now this is not the end of my story. I encountered Bigfoot Wallace several times when I was far from home. The following is one of those encounters:
Two years later, in 1864, I was up in the hill country west of Medina. To survive when enemies surround you, one must take notice of anything and everything out of the ordinary. So, with some alarm, I noticed a small object moving slowly at a distance. At first I thought it was a bear. No, the movements were not smooth; it was like a wounded animal. No, it wasn't that either. I moved closer. The object sat up and looked at me; it was human! It began walking in haste away from me. I rode closer, close enough to see that it was a Mexican girl, very dirty and raggedy, trying to flee.
When I was close enough, I yelled to her: "Hola! No tengas miedo!" For the sake of readers that don't speak Spanish, I will continue in English.
The girl stopped and looked back at me. Then she returned to hobbling as fast as she could. I rode up to her, blocking her way. 'Miss, what are you doing out here? This isn't safe for you, wandering around. Who are you? Where do you live?"
She asked me, "Are you going to hurt me?"
"Oh, no, no. What happened? I want to help you." Then it dawned on me that she had escaped a raiding party and was trying to get back to Mexico. Some raiding parties sought horses and would steal children for the purpose of replenishing the tribe. This girl must be one of them.
I got off my horse Salsa, and offered the girl some water. She drank hastily. "Take it easy or you will get stomach pain."
She calmed down, then told me how she had escaped the raiders. Her name was Rosalinda Perez and she was ten years old. She had pretended to be ill and fell off the horse she was on. So, they had shot her with an arrow and left her for dead. Amazingly, the arrow had penetrated her back but had fallen out on the second day of her liberty. She had lost some blood but the entire arrowhead had apparently not gotten through her leather jacket. Truly, she was blessed with unusual good luck. She had lived, and made it this far back towards her home, and now, I had found her and would help her further in her journey.
Although she was initially alarmed when I told her I was Comanche, I explained that I was taking her South, to Mexico; not all the way to her village but to the first town we might come to. I was not part of a raiding party but was by myself.
We spent two nights traveling towards the Rio Grande. I did not wish to get close to a town, but would drop her off where she would be close enough to walk. That was my plan, anyway, but it didn't quite work out that way.
On the third day we crossed the Rio Grande west of Piedras Negras. I didn't know exactly where we were as I rarely went this far south. I should have dropped her off outside of Piedras, you see, but we kept going.
About 2 hours into Mexico, we were trotting along when a small company of Mexican soldiers on horseback burst out of the brush about 200 yards away. They were after us! I told Rosalinda to get off, I had to go NOW. I sort of dropped her and turned my horse Salsa back towards the river, and we sprinted for safety. A couple of shots passed very close to me but the Mexican soldiers could not aim well while riding their horses.
I took a look back and saw they had stopped to find out what I had left. I didn't take the time to see what the resolution was; I kept riding,hard. I looked back again and saw about 8 of them chasing me.
There was neither brush nor significant clumps of trees to dash behind; it was a straight out race for the Rio Grande in more or less an open area. I could be shot off my horse unless I could put more distance between the soldiers and myself. Salsa, don't fail me now. If I ever needed a champion, it was at that place and time.
Totally unknown to me, Bigfoot Wallace was just a few miles away, with a group of Texas Rangers. They were camped on the cliffs above the Rio Grande, on a route I had avoided when going south. The cliffs had a maximum height of 50 feet, which made it ideal for observing the border for miles in each direction and all approaches too.
The following part is what Bigfoot told me happened that day. He and Lucas Pearce had returned to the cliffs from a scouting mission to the eastern part of the border. One Ranger was sitting on the top of the cliffs with a telescope, scanning up and down the river. They were actually looking for Mexican raiders coming north and not Comanches going south. While the boys were eating, the ranger with the telescope saw me riding quickly towards the river. He hollered to the others that a Comanche squaw was riding fast towards the border. The captain told Bigfoot and Lucas to intercept me after I crossed the river, as their horses were still saddled. They could ride off the cliffs, going East, then when the terrain flattened out, ride hard to the North then turn Northwest as they cleared the backside of the bluff, and I would not see them until they were almost on top of me. A couple of other Rangers saddled up to join Bigfoot and Lucas.
My problem now was to get across the Rio Grande as quickly as possible. Although not deep, the water would slow me down, enough perhaps for the Mexican soldiers to close on me. I had no choice: I hit the water full speed and Salsa found some footing. Good, the river was only about 4 feet deep here. I glanced back and saw that I had actually increased my lead over the soldiers. Surely I was safe now, but I got to the U.S. side and once again urged Salsa to go full speed. I had judged correctly this time: the Mexicans crossed the border and continued the pursuit. They were not going to honor international boundaries with a prey so close. But how much longer could Salsa run at top speed?
Then, to my right, I saw two horsemen who had an angle on me and would cut me off. I could not go in any other direction. In less time than it takes to tell you, I recognized Bigfoot as one of the horsemen. I slackened my speed and turned towards them. Their pistols were drawn and they were riding hard towards me. Then they too slowed down their pursuit, being puzzled by my move and not recognizing me. I rode up and said, very happily "Oh, Bigfoot, am I glad to see you!"
"Oh, it's you. Why are you riding so hard? The Mexican army after you?"
"Yes, they are!...and here they come!"
The two Rangers looked to their left where I pointed and saw the soldiers closing but who immediately slowed down when they saw the 3 of us, and with 2 more Rangers on the way, the desire for a fight was leaving them.
Bigfoot took over and hailed the Mexicans,"Hola. You are in U.S. territory, amigos."
The Mexican officer replied, "We want the girl."
"What has she done?" he asked, in Spanish.
"She stole a Mexican girl, and was taking her North."
I jumped in: "I did not. I was bringing her home. I found her in the drylands 3 days ago. Just ask her."
Bigfoot solved the negotiations very quickly. "Señor, you are not in Mexico. You need to turn around and leave." He kept his revolver cocked and so did Lucas. The other 2 Rangers rode up with their pistols at the ready.
The Mexican officer thought for a moment then decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He might not recognize the Rio Grande as the border but these Texas Rangers did and he was not given to political diatribes. He angrily told his men to turn around and go back across the River. He glanced back with a scowl on his face that would have scared the smile from a Jack O' Lantern. The Texas Rangers had won that encounter, and I was alive and free.
"What are you doing here, Nowena?"
I told the Rangers briefly that I had found the girl and was taking her home.
One of the Rangers asked Bigfoot: "Is she a friend of yours?" pointing his nose at me.
"She's my farrier." Then he addressed me:" you hungry?"
"Yeah", I nodded,"I could use a good meal."
"Let's go eat lunch" Bigfoot announced as we turned our horses for their camp.
I spent the night with them and left for Bandera the next day. It was good to visit with the Rangers, fellow Texas citizens. I would meet some of them again. It pays to have friends.