LAW AND ORDER, LTD.
The Rousing Life of Elfego Baca of New Mexico
FOREWORD TO THIS EDITION
The year is 1928. Forty-four Octobers have come and gone since Elfego Baca earned top ranking as a gunfighter. Few now remember that on a fall day in 1884, in the village of Frisco, New Mexico, Baca ducked some 4,000 bullets fired by eighty cowboys aiming to kill him. Fewer still recall that the reason for the shoot-out was Baca’s obsession with rescuing Mexican settlers from abuse by Texans in days before “civil rights” became a catch phrase.
The once-proud Hero has aged from a slim, smooth-faced lad of nineteen into a corpulent, male version of his mom, whom he described as “short and stubby.” The reputation of the Hero--now turned lawman-lawyer-politician--is sorely in need of repair, for despite his boasts of possessing one of the best law practices in the state, things have not gone well for Baca. Memories of the acts of the state legislature in making him the butt of jokes about his role in a bribery stake-out that went bad still linger; Elfego has been declared a bankrupt; he’s been humiliated by an untidy divorce; and neither political party in the state seems to want to run him as a candidate for much of anything. So, what’s a man of action to do?
What Elfego does is to make a pre-emptive strike to repair that tattered reputation. He finds a biographer to tell his story just like he wants it told. He settles on Kyle S. Crichton to put it all in black and white, but only after William A. Keleher, the respected journalist-lawyer, has said, “No.” Keleher introduces Baca to Crichton, who has few writing credentials though he would later author popular books, including a biography of opera star Risë Stevens (Subway to the Met), and a successful Broadway play.
Crichton has escaped from the smoke stacks and slag heaps of the Pennsylvania mining country to the pure air of Albuquerque, not to repair the reputation of those like Elfego who have fallen from grace, but to repair his own health. While Elfego is as short as Napoleon, Crichton is taller than Gary Cooper. While Elfego is rotund, Crichton is thin and muscular. While Elfego is bold, Crichton is cautious. Elfego supports law and order, but Crichton is not so sure that either law or order is a virtue, as he would demonstrate when he left the Southwest to take up his typewriter to tap out political tracts for the Daily Worker and other Communist and far-left leaning publications of nineteen-thirties America. While Baca is dead serious about the writing project, Crichton brings a wild sense of humor that was to be reflected in the books he would write later. And, while Baca is long on yarns that boost his heroism, Crichton insists on balance.
But Elfego finds a solution for disagreements that split him and his biographer. When the big man challenges the way Elfego says things had gone, Elfego reminds him of the nine notches in his gun-handle, and Crichton concludes that he has no wish to become number ten. And so, the narrative of the book the pair produced remains open to question: How much of it is fact, how much is flights of fancy?
Whichever it is, it’s a whale of a story about a life lived to a fullness rarely experienced. So, here’s the product of the 1928 Baca-Crichton collaboration, reprinted in full by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, from the original 1928 edition. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.
Stan Sager is the author of "¡Viva Elfego! The Case for Elfego Baca, Hispanic Hero," also published by Sunstone Press.