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of the U.S. Army, which sent them packing. of them: Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, John The history of ill-fated Texan efforts to Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass, hellcatters like obtain the plunder of New Mexico is althat. Wallace’s account of how he survived most farcical in its total repudiation of their is compelling. According to Wallace, he grandiose dreams. Many Texans perished, thought he detected a difference in size beand those that did not had to suffer a forced tween the white or smaller beans and the march to Mexico, imprisonment, privation, black or larger ones. When it came time for and the sheer misery of being held captive him to draw and the blindfold was in place, by hated enemies. he tried to calculate by touch the size of the beans, and eventually settled upon one that he believed was white. “It was a white one, of course, or I should not now be here to tell my story,” he writes, “but not a very white one, and when I cast my eyes upon it, it looked to me as ‘black as the ace of spades.'” The small, dullish white bean that he drew saved his life. In McMurtry’s hands, however, the wiley old frontiersman draws a black bean and dies. \(Gus and Call, by the way, draw McMurtry’s Bigfoot Wallace is not allowed to live out his historical life. Bigfoot actually died in 1899, and his life as told to John C. Duval is one of the classics of early Texas literature. We wouldn’t have that book if he had drawn the black bean. So I don’t get it. Why does Bigfoot die in McMurtry’s novel? Is there some anti-bean gene in McMurtry? He killed off Judge Roy Bean, remember, and now Bigfoot Wallace gets it because of a bean. Or is it INTO THIS HISTORICAL MESS enter Gus and Call, as young Texas Rangers who have signed on to see the world, make a steady living, and have some rowdy adventures to boot. Gus will disappoint, I believe, those readers who loved him in Lonesome Dove. All Gus talks about is “poking” whores. Call, who is actually trying to learn to survive on a bloody, merciless frontier, is more pleasing. Taciturn but alert, Call remains a fairly interesting character. After much suffering caused by bad leadership, nasty weather, and nastier Comanches, Gus and Call and a handful of stragglersincluding the legendary Bigfoot Wallaceare taken captive by the Mexican army and marched through the Jornada del Muerto, from which the novel takes its title. Eventually the captives are taken to a small village in the vicinity of El Paso, where the novel reaches its conclusion, a retelling of the most famous incident Mexico does exactly thatconfuses the Wichita with the Red. Here McMurtry brings on Charles Goodnight, for a cameo appearance. Sensible as always, Goodnight points out their error, and laughs at the folly of their notion that Santa Fe is a paradise of gold and silver there for the taking. The Somervell Expedition of 1842 was also ill-conceived, and quickly ended in abject failure. Many of its adventurers immediately joined forces in what would turn out to be an even greater disasterthe Mier Expedition. It is the Mier Expedition that McMurtry draws upon most heavily. Yet another adventure, the Warfield Expedition, of 1842-43, was intended as a retaliatory mission to invade New Mexico. The Texans captured one little flea-bitten town, Mora, but were routed when Mexican troops stampeded their horses. Some elements of this folly also find their way into the novel. The Warfield contingent then joined up with one Jacob Snively, a leader with not the most heroic-sounding moniker, who had formed an expedition said to have the support of Sam Houston himself. Styling themselves the “Battalion of Invincibles,” they proved anything but. In Kansas, where they sought to capture lucrative caravans on the Santa Fe Trail, Texas troops ran afoul in the Mier Expedition: the “decimation.” At one time, every Texas school child knew the story of the black and white beans. When the Mier Expedition collapsed and the Texans surrendered to the Mexicans, they were put in chains and marched into the interior of Mexico, all the way to Perote Prison in Mexico City. The few survivors languished for nearly two years, before finally being released to straggle back to Texas. But before that outcome, the prisoners were subjected to the decimation. In Saltillo, all the Texans were blindfolded in turn, and forced to draw beans from an earthen pot. Those who drew white beans were spared; the seventeen who drew black beans were stood against a wall and shot. The decimation didn’t particularly improve Texas-Mexico relations. The most detailed historical account of the black bean episode appears in John C. Duval’s The Life of Bigfoot Wallace. Bigfoot Wallace was a real person, one of those outsized figures that tended to turn up on the Western frontier. Texas had a bunch that McMurtry dislikes certain oversized figures from the mythic past and wants to pare them down to size? Or is it that he wants to join the postmodernist camp and treat historical fact irreverently and irresponsibly? In the first pages of the novel there appears a whore weighing two hundred pounds. For reasons unexplained, she is called “the Great Western.” Is this an allusion to the idea of writing a Great Western? Does it mean that such an ambition is a form of whoring? I don’t know. It’s all very deep or very shallow. That McMurtry seems to be wallowing in postmodernism would appear to be the case by the circumstances he invents sur rounding the bean episode. First of all, it doesn’t take place in Saltillo; McMurtry’s characters never cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. Secondly, he stages the whole episode at a leper colony. That’s right, a leper colony, something we haven’t seen since Lew Wallace’s popular novel of 1880, Ben Hur. The leading leper is a British lady named Lady Carey, who has for retinue a “Negress” and a chipper son, the young vis count Mountstuart. Lady Carey needs an escort to Galveston and enlists the services of the handful of surviving Texans. And so they set off. Call and Gus are especially pessimistic about their chances. Through out the whole trek they have been under constant murderous harassment from Buffalo Hump, a fearful Comanche skilled in the ways of torture and dismemberment. Sure enough, only a few days after leaving the leper colony, they come upon B.H. and the boys. Things look really bleak until Lady Carey takes over. She strips off her clothes and rides naked into the Comanche position, singing an aria from a Verdi opera in pure, thrilling Italian. The Indians, of course, who’ve never heard Italian opera, light out for the mountains, and all are saved. Australians have an expression for this kind of scene: they would call it over-the-top. I can’t help wondering what Charlie Goodnight would have thought about this turn of events. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip Is there some anti-bean gene in McMurtry? He killed off Judge Roy Bean, remember, and now Bigfoot Wallace gets it because of a bean. 18 SEPTEMBER 29, 1995