Maud Hawk Wright and Villa’s Raid on Columbus

No Pretty Picture
      Based on the novel No Pretty Picture: Maud Hawk Wright and Villa’s Raid on Columbus by
      Michael Archie Hays ©2016
      Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
      Logline: In this true story, rebels of Pancho Villa’s army kidnap a young American woman from her ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her infant son stolen, her husband executed, she rides horseback for nine days with Villa’s expeditionary force, testing the limits of her physical and emotional endurance, only to become an unwilling collaborator in Villa’s extraordinary invasion of an American town.
      Maud Hawk Wright: The central character, Maud is a tough, resilient American horsewoman, rancher and sawyer in northern Mexico during the years of the revolution in her early twenties. She is the mother of an infant, Johnnie, and wife of Ed Wright. Also on their ranch live their hired help, Maria and Agustin Moreno.
      Ed Wright: Maud’s English immigrant husband is executed—along with their hired hand, Frank—the day after Villa’s raiders abducted them. He then plays a role in Maud’s remembered conversations as she rides with Villa’s army.
      Cervantes: A colonel in Villa’s army and Villa’s confidant, the sabre-wielding Cervantes is the sadistic overseer of Maud’s captivity. He is assisted by his likewise belligerent lieutenant, Hernandez.
      “Palo”: An old raider with a long history in the revolution, Palo attends to Maud during the journey, making attempts to befriend her. His story becomes a metaphor for the narrative of the Mexican Revolution, humanizing an otherwise brutal experience for Maud.
      Pancho Villa: Alternately narcissistically charming and manically obsessed, the general of the northern Mexican revolution drives his men into a hopeless battle against the American Army, appealing to their national pride, their desire for revenge and their dream of a recovered heritage. He engages Maud, soliciting her help, and finally freeing her.
      Buck Spencer: An African-American settler in Mexico, who, like Maud, is abducted from his wife Elena, their children and his ranch during the raiders’ journey. Vivacious and expressive, Buck functions as an alter ego to Maud and as a sounding board for the personal stories of the raiders.
      Juan Ramon Ruiz: A highly articulate, educated but supercilious raider who is assigned to Maud’s and Buck’s oversight mid-journey.
      Enriqueta: A young woman, a friend of Palo’s who disguises herself as a man in order to participate against Villa’s wishes in the raid. Smoldering with a desire for revenge, she articulates a personal story that humanizes and clarifies the nature of the revolution.
      Colonel Slocum: The commander of the Camp Furlong, the army outpost in the border town Columbus, New Mexico, arrives at the scene of the battle after Villa’s raiders have fled, and, with his wife, Mary, must sort out the allegiance of Maud, who, now freed from the raiders, is suspected of being their collaborator.
      Act One
      A small band of raiders, led by Colonel Cervantes, stop a passenger train in Chihuahua, Mexico, and take a group of American mining engineers from their car, line them up and shoot them, robbing and mutilating their bodies afterward.
      In the twilight hours of March 1st, 1916, an American woman is preparing food in her simple house in the low mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico. She splits her attention between the stove and her infant son. Her hired woman, Maria, is in and out, working, as is her husband Agustin.
      From a short distance, raiders, again led by Cervantes, view the ranch house and see Maud doing a chore in front of her house. They confirm that she is the horsewoman they’ve heard of and watch her return indoors. The raiders approach the house, some twenty of them, and Maud, thinking sound to be her husband, Ed, and his hired hand, Frank, returning with goods, opens the front door to greet them. At first civil, Cervantes presents himself and his men as regular army men, needing food, but within minutes it is clear, especially as they enter the kitchen by force, that they are rebel raiders. Maud tries to pacify them, offering them what little food she has and asserting that her husband and his help will be back shortly.
      Tensions mount when Ed and Frank arrive with their horse laden with supplies, with Cervantes acting more aggressively. He takes Ed outside, ties his wrists, and then shortly returns with him to house to have Ed call Frank outside, at which time, Frank is bound. Both are ordered on to their horses. Maud is drawn out of the house by Cervantes and sees the two, bound and ready to be taken, and cries out to Ed. Cervantes leads her away on horseback and then has her bound as well. Cervantes informs her that her infant, Johnnie, has been given to Maria, the help.
      As the sun descends, they join the train of raiders riding single file from the ranch, the Wrights’ stolen cattle herded before them. Behind them burns the Wrights’ small house.
      An old man, Palo, attends to Maud as they ride through the night, trying to clothe her against the cold, trying to keep her quiet when she shouts out for Ed in the darkness. She sleeps on horseback, waking as the column enters into a gradually deepening canyon, where the raiders are greeted by other Villistas and their families. In particular, Palo is greeted with affection. One greeter is a woman would-be raider, Enriqueta, who teases Palo about Maud, suggesting that she was his new girlfriend.
      As they ride deeper down into the canyon, Maud finds Ed and Frank, also still bound on horseback. They exchange worries, especially about Johnnie, and to Maud’s surprise, Ed asks her to roll a cigarette for him and to put it to his lips and light it. When Cervantes approaches, Ed insults him, and Cervantes has Hernandez take the two gringos away. After a few minutes, there is the sound of gunfire.
      Maud begins to suspect that her husband has been shot and cries out about it. Palo cannot silence her, and Cervantes rides up to terrify Maud to silence. He commands Palo to strike Maud, and when he does, as lightly as he can, Maud punches him in the nose so hard that it pours blood.
      Farther down into the canyon, they stop while Cervantes and Hernandez greet and converse with Pancho Villa. Nearby a young soldier strums a guitar and sings some verses of a corrido he is writing about the beginnings of Pancho Villa’s career as a fighter, while his friend offers helpful advice. Against the canyon wall stand three bound men, and in front of them four men armed with rifles prepare to execute them. An American film director and a cameraman, carrying a large box camera and tripod, complain about the light and try to explain to the rebel in charge that they cannot take a decent film of the execution until the sun is higher. Villa becomes involved and is eager to accommodate the moviemakers, delaying the execution. Meanwhile, they film the ironic but compliant Villa on horseback, acting out a scene from a battle, directing him on his appearance and expressions. After a conversation with Cervantes and Hernandez, Villa meets Maud, explaining to her that she will be taking care of the remuda, the extra horses, for their next attack. After a short rest, Palo awakens Maud, telling her to mount up. They join a force of hundreds of riders leaving the mouth of the canyon as the sun descends.
      Act Two
      The first day on the trail, Maud learns from an apologetic Palo about his and the soldiers’ fear of Villa and his guards, the Dorados. She overhears Villa talking to Cervantes and others. Villa explains that they will attack Columbus, New Mexico, to steal arms from the US Army encampment, which spies tell him is poorly guarded, and also to get revenge on a merchant—a gun dealer among other things—who has cheated them on an arms deal. During a rest off the trail, Maud quietly cinches up her horse’s saddle and makes a quick break for it, riding expertly and at full pace away from the army. Her horse is slowed by the difficult trail while Dorados pursue her, nearly killing her. When she is returned to the others, Villa has her wrists bound and gives her a mule to ride. He promises her, however, that after this raid, she will be freed.
      That night, Maud is placed in an abandoned, roofless adobe, trapped in it by the many saddles the raiders have placed at its door. Palo has untied her wrists for the night and offers her food and water before placing the last saddles in front of the door. In the middle of the night, Maud quietly removes some saddles, one at a time, from the door and makes her way, her dress hiked up, through the field of sleeping men, toward a beautiful black horse. As she approaches it, trying to untie and untangle it, the horse proves skitish, snorting and backing up. She calms it, working at the tangle, but Palo has followed her. Maud surprises him by asking him what he is doing. Confused for a moment, he then quietly lifts his rifle and returns Maud to the adobe.
      Periodically, Maud recollects conversations and events from her past, especially meeting Ed, who worked for her father as a sawyer. She remembers his first impressions of her, her teasing him about his English accent and style, their conversations about eloping and fleeing her parents, settling in El Paso long enough to make some money and settle in Chihuahua with some cattle. She remembers also their leaving Chihuahua because of the early revolution and the violence of Carranza’s rebels as well as their confidence later that it was safe to return to their ranch. She thinks of Johnnie, his birth, her and Ed’s shared joy, Johnnie’s first steps and speech. These reminiscences occur throughout the journey, giving her strength but also indicating her growing weariness and disassociation.
      The morning after her attempted escape, the riders leave the mountainsides and raid a ranch for cattle and water. They stay there for the night, slaughtering cattle and roasting the flesh on bonfires. After the men have eaten, Villa walks among them and gives a speech, encouraging them that they will be rich after this historical raid, a raid, which he has been assured will initiate an invasion of the United States by both Japan and Germany.
      In the night, Palo wakes Maud with some burnt meat. It’s time to ride again. Maud wakes in a panic, nearly delirious, saying that the meat was her dead husband, accusing them of cooking and eating him. Palo calms her, and they ride in the dark. During the ride after the sun has come up, Palo is visited by two of the raiders who seem to make casual conversation with him but at the same time seem to be testing his loyalty to Villa. They talk about the source of Villa’s invincibility and about a rider that had just been killed for falling off his horse and not returning to it quickly. Maud, exhausted and discouraged, is riding nearby but falling in and out of sleep in her saddle. When the riders leave Palo, she begins to talk about her baby, how she wants him back. She touches her face and finds that she is seriously sunburnt. After a bit, Maud asks Palo why he is called that, ‘stick.’ He says he can’t explain it to a woman.
      The next morning on horseback, Maud awakes to a rush of activity, flanks of raiders approaching a ranch below them. Much like the style he exercised with Maud during the raid on her place, Cervantes approaches the angry owner of the ranch, Buck Spencer, a black American, in a polite manner. But all around them are the signs of a devastating raid, as his cattle are being rustled from nearby fields. Buck is furious and antagonistic, shouting in Spanish, calling the raiders names. That night they stay at the ranch, roasting Buck’s corn and cattle. Buck, bound on his front porch, is seated by Maud and is surprised to learn she is American and not—based on her dress and poncho, her reddened face and dirty hair—some kind of native.
      When the raiders prepare to leave, the let Buck know that he is coming with them. When he resists, they threaten his wife and children as they come out of the house in response to his shouting. As they ride, Buck learns about the upcoming raid, and curses Palo and others. A new raider has joined them, Juan Ramon Ruiz, a very proper, articulate young man who is extremely deferential to Maud. He says that men call Maud La Reina, the Queen, because she is so strong and never complains. Buck curses at him, and his cursing leads to a conversation about the merits of having a foul mouth. Buck tells the story of his grandmother, who would terrify those around her with her curses.
      That evening the raiders enter a canyon to rest. It is bitterly cold. Villa has heard news from Columbus about an arms shipment, arms he is expecting to steal in the raid. Villa sees Maud and remarks on how healthy she looks, sun beaten as she is. He tells her that he expects her to fight alongside his men. He promises to free her and give her gold after their raid has succeeded. He then cuts the tethers that bind her.
      In the darkness of the early morning, as Maud and Buck are wakened by Ruiz, there is a ruckus when Cervantes confronts an odd-looking raider who turns out to be a woman, Enriqueta, Palo’s friend from the camp. She is nearly killed for her deception but, because of her determination to fight for Villa, is given a reprieve begins riding with Palo and Ruiz, along with Maud and Buck. Later, some raiders hear from a rancher about some American cowboys nearby. Villa gives the order to track them down and kill them without mercy. Shortly thereafter, the raiders returns, some wearing new clothes, celebrating the murder of the cowboys. Meanwhile, Buck tells Maud about a comic strip, a new addition to the newspaper, about a mule named Maud that kicks everyone around her.
      Ruiz begins to tell Maud and Buck the story behind Palo’s nickname. It begins with a famous woman in Sonora, a healer named Teresa de Cobora. But after he gets the story started, Ruiz insists that Palo tell the rest of it. As a young man, Palo went with his wife to see her because they were not able to have children. The moment with Terestia was overwhelming to Palo, and he was apparently healed as shortly thereafter, he and his wife began having children. The story is interrupted by a rider looking for Villa. He finds the General and delivers news that anguishes Villa.
      When the raiders stop in a canyon for rest, Villa delivers the news to them in an animated speech: Associates of theirs, leaders of the revolution had been arrested in El Paso, and once in jail, they were doused with gasoline and incinerated. Villa promises the same to the Americans of Columbus.
      After a rest, while it is still night, they mount again. In the quiet, Maud and Buck whisper about the future and how they might regain their people; Maud, her son, Buck, his family. Then as Palo nears, Buck asks him to resume the story that explains his nickname. Palo relates the story tentatively, saying that Teresita was beautiful beyond belief to him and that when she put her hands to his head to pray for him, he got a ‘palo,’ an erection, the first since marriage, which was a miracle, but it was a miracle that would not go away for a while, subjecting him to the admiration of all around him. From that day forward, he had a new name.
      The fame of that miracle led the townspeople to return to Santa Teresa for advice regarding the oppression they were experiencing from the government and hacienda owners during a long drought. The Indian saint prophesies to them about an upcoming bloodbath but that God will protect them in their struggles. Energized by her promise, they fight back against government agents when a local girl was abused, and they were swept up in ecstasy when they defeated the local oppressors. But shortly thereafter, new troops arrived, devastating their village. In the violence, Buck lost his family and land, leading him to a life in the revolution.
      An American cowboy approaches the raiders in a friendly, off-hand way, and is quickly run down and killed. Cervantes calls it practice for Columbus.
      During a rest period in a canyon, some deserters quietly leave the camp on horseback. Cervantes is informed, rides off in a fury and within an hour returns with their horses, saddles and guns. Shortly thereafter, Cervantes approaches Maud with a rifle. To her amazement, he offers it to her so she can use it in the upcoming battle. Maud promises him that if she has a rifle, he will be the first to die from it. She relates the story to Buck, disappointed that she had been too honest. Villa talks to some rustlers who show him a beautiful black stallion that he adopts in favor of his mule, preparing for the raid.
      Quietly, Palo entreats Maud, requesting that after the raid, when Maud goes north, she take him with her as a hired hand. Maud, exhausted and bewildered, abruptly rejects the idea.
      Another American cowboy approaches the raiders from the north. Recognizing Villa, he calls out to him, “Remember me?” He is immediately attacked, knocked from his horse, shot and then trampled repeatedly by the horses of Cervantes and Hernandez.
      Act Three
      The last day before the raid, tensions mount between Enriqueta and Maud and Buck as she attacks them for taking land from Mexicans and of knowing nothing about the actual lives of Mexicans. She calls Maud a coward for not fighting in upcoming battle, and Maud and Buck retaliate in a shouting match. When the mood calms, Enriqueta explains her devotion to Villa and the revolution by harkening back to her old life. She describes an attack Villa and his men made on the hacienda her family worked on. Instead of feeling threatened, she felt liberated by the attack from the routine abuses of the hacienda and decided to join the revolution.
      In the middle of the night they ride across the broad plain south of Columbus. The singer from the camp has finished his song, and in the quiet of the night he sings it, a song about the Villa’s rage against injustice and the beginnings of the revolution. Approaching the town, they now ride single file as they gather in an arroyo to receive instructions. Men poured kerosene into tins and others prepared unwrapped a machine gun and its tripod. Villa instructs them, gesticulating broadly, separating them into several waves of riders. At the sound of the machine guns first shots, they are to begin the attack. Villa tells them to burn everything. Palo directs Maud and Buck and a small herd of saddled horses to a protected spot behind a small hill just outside of the town as the raiders begin the attack. Maud hears the sounds of the attack and goes with her mule to the other side of the hill, from which she witnesses the early stages of the attack, raiders riding along the parallel streets of the town, shooting, starting fires. She sees the Commercial Hotel get torched as a young boy in long johns flees across the field. People leave their house only to be shot as flames engulf half the town. A bullet slaps the leather of her mule’s saddle, and she returns to the safe side of the hill. Ruiz is there, telling them to get ready for the first wave of raiders. Many then come rushing in, dismounting and then mounting the horses near Maud and Buck. This happens several times, each time with more and more of the men wounded, nearly dead. Maud sees Buck roll away in the dust to escape.
      Chaos follows as fewer men get fresh horses but many seem to be fleeing. There is news that the U.S. soldiers are now awake and driving them away. Villa’s men sound a retreat bugle call. Maud looks for Villa and finds him crestfallen and desperate, ordering men to flee from the advance of the Americans. Maud tells him she is leaving, and he agrees on the condition that she goes north, not south. Nearby, she finds Cervantes, his sword nearby, his face shot open, whispering to her for water. Picking up his sword, she presses it against his heart and then lets it drop. She notices his elaborate black leather, silver-studded saddle on a dead horse, releases the cinches and drops it on to of her mule’s saddle.
      Maud enters a nearby house, where a man lies dead on the porch. She enters and finds a woman wounded in the hip. She attends to the woman until a soldier comes to attend to her. She rides with the woman in an ambulance, but everyone is wary of her, dirty and sunbaked as she is, thinking she is a raider. At an infirmary, she attends to the wounded until she is taken to the house of the commander of the camp, Colonel Slocum. At Slocum’s, Maud is bathed and dressed by Slocum’s wife and allowed to sleep.
      The next morning in his home office, Slocum is grilling his underling about the problems with the arms, especially the machine gun, during the raid. He receives information regarding the company’s pursuit of the raiders. He then interrogates Maud, assuming in part that she is a collaborator with Villa, a spy, perhaps. Maud tells her story, including information about Buck. He takes her on a walk through town, where she can see the devastation, the burned buildings, the grieving widows, and the stack of bodies—raiders—being burned. She crouches near the smoldering fire, looking for traces of the people she rode with, finding nothing. Slocum is nearby talking to Buck, who looks across the street to Maud. She walks to him, greeting him happily, her story now confirmed by Buck’s testimony.
      Back home, Slocum has arranged for passage for Ed’s horse and saddle, now back in Maud’s possession, as well as Cervantes’ saddle as Maud plans to go to Safford, Arizona to be with her parents. But with surprising alacrity, a message has come from an embarrassed President Carranza that Johnnie will be taken by train to El Paso for Maud to recover him. Maud leaves Columbus with Mrs. Slocum, dressed in Mrs. Slocum’s clothes, by train to El Paso, where she is given her boy, both radiantly smiling for the Mexican government’s photographers.
      In 1960, Maud now in her sixties, she and Johnnie have driven from her home in Mountainair, New Mexico, to visit Columbus for the first time since the raid. Johnnie parks his pickup by Cootes Hill, Maud’s location during the raid. A state park is being developed there, to Maud’s dismay, named Pancho Villa State Park. “Why would they do that?” Over a lunch she tells Johnnie about the raid, and then describes how she once saw a rough-looking fellow outside a hardware store in Mountainair. He was wearing the same boots as Pancho Villa wore, and she thought, at least for a moment, that Villa had come to see how she was doing. Johnnie, bemused by what appears to be Maud’s warm feelings for Villa, assures her that he was killed some twenty years earlier. They drive back to Mountainair in Johnnie’s pickup, and Johnnie reflects on how difficult the kidnapping must have been for Maud. What kept her going, he wonders aloud. Maud answers, “You did, sweetheart. You did.”