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Elmore Leonard


At first I wasn’t sure at all where to begin. When I asked advice, this man from the Florence Enterprise said begin at the beginning, the day the coach departed from Sweetmary with everybody aboard. Which sounded fine until I got to doing it. Then I saw it wasn’t the beginning at all. There was too much to explain at one time. Who the people were, where they were going and all. Also, starting there didn’t tell enough about John Russell.

He is the person this story is mainly about. If it had not been for him, we would all be dead and there wouldn’t be anybody telling this. So I will begin with the first time I ever saw John Russell. I think you will see why after you learn a few things about him. Three weeks went by before I saw him again and that was the day the coach left Sweetmary. It was in the afternoon, right after they had brought the McLaren girl over from Fort Thomas.

Some things, especially concerning the McLaren girl and also some of my ideas about John Russell at the time, are embarrassing to put on paper. But I was advised to imagine I was telling it to a good friend and not worry about what other people might think. Which is what I have done. If there’s anything anybody wants to skip, like innermost thoughts in places, just go ahead.

As for the title, it could be called any one of John Russell’s names; he had more than one as you will see. But I think Hombre, which Henry Mendez and others called him sometimes and just means man, is maybe the best.

For the record, the day the coach left Sweetmary was Tuesday, August 12, 1884. Figure back three weeks if you want to know what day I first met John Russell. It was not at Sweetmary, but at Delgado’s Station.

Carl Everett Allen

Contention, Arizona


Here is where I think it begins-with Mr. Henry Mendez, the Hatch & Hodges Division Manager at Sweetmary and still my boss at the time, asking me to ride the sixteen miles down to Delgado’s with him in the mud wagon. I suspected the trip had to do with the company shutting down this section of the stage line; Mr. Mendez would see Delgado about closing his station and take an inventory of company property. But that was only part of the reason.

It turned out I was the one had to take the inventory. Mr. Mendez had something else on his mind. As soon as we got to the station, he sent one of Delgado’s boys out to John Russell’s place to get him.

Until that day John Russell was just a name I had written in the Division account book a few times during the past year. So many dollars paid to John Russell for so many stage horses. He was a mustanger. He would chase down green horses and harness-break them; then Mr. Mendez would buy what he wanted, and Russell and two White Mountain Apaches who rode for him would deliver the horses to Delgado’s or one of the other relay stations on the way south to Benson.

Mr. Mendez had bought maybe twenty-five or thirty from him during the past year. Now, I suspected, he wanted to tell Russell not to bring in any more since we were shutting down. I asked Mr. Mendez if that was so. He said no, he had already done that. This was about something else.

Like it was a secret. That was the trouble with Mr. Mendez when I worked for him. From a distance you could never tell he was Mexican. He never dressed like one, everything white like their clothes were made out of bedsheets. He didn’t usually act like one. Except that his face, with those tobacco-stained looking eyes and drooping mustache, was always the same and you never knew what he was thinking. When he looked at you, it was like he knew something he wasn’t telling, or was laughing at you, no matter what it was he said. That’s when you could tell Henry Mendez was Mexican. He wasn’t old. Not fifty anyway.

Delgado’s boy got back while we were having some coffee and said Russell would be here. A little while later we heard horses, so we went outside.

As we stood there seeing these three riders coming toward the adobe with the dust rising behind them, Mr. Mendez said to me, “Take a good look at Russell. You will never see another one like him as long as you live.”

I will swear to the truth of that right now. Though it was not just his appearance.

The three riders came on, but giving the feeling that they were holding back some, not anxious to ride right up until they made sure everything was keno. When Russell pulled up, the two White Mountain Apaches with him slowed to a walk and came up on either side of him. Not close, out a ways, as if giving themselves room to move around in. All three of them were armed; I mean armed, with revolvers, with cartridge belts over their shoulder and carbines, which looked like Springfields at first.

As he sat there, that’s when I got my first real look at John Russell.

Picture the belt down across his chest with the sun glinting on the bullets that filled most of the loops. Picture a stained, dirty looking straight-brim hat worn almost Indian-fashion, that is, un-creased and not cocked to either side, except his brim was curled some and there was a little dent down the crown.

Picture his face half shadowed by the hat. First you just saw how dark it was. Dark as his arms with the sleeves rolled above his elbows. Dark-I swear-as the faces of the two White Mountain boys. Then you saw how long his hair was, almost covering his ears, and how clean-shaved looking his face was. Right then you suspected he was more to those Apaches than a friend or a boss. I mean he could be a blood relation, no matter what his name was, and nobody in the world would bet he wasn’t.

When Mr. Mendez spoke to him you believed it all the more. He stepped closer to John Russell’s roan horse, and I remember the first thing he said.

He said, “Hombre.”

Russell didn’t say anything. He just looked at Mr. Mendez, though you couldn’t see his eyes in the shadow of his hat brim.

“Which name today?” Mr. Mendez said. “Which do you want?”

Russell answered Mr. Mendez in Spanish then, just a few words, and Mr. Mendez said, in English, “We use John Russell. No symbol names. No Apache names. All right?” When Russell just nodded, Mr. Mendez said, “I was wondering what you decided. You said you would come to Sweetmary in two days.”

Russell used Spanish again, more this time, evidently explaining something.

“Maybe it would look different to you if you thought about it in English,” Mr. Mendez said and watched him closely. “Or if you spoke about it now in English.”

“It’s the same,” Russell said, all of a sudden in English. In good English that had only a speck of accent, just a faint edge that you would wonder every time you heard him if it really was some kind of accent.

“But it’s a big something to think about,” Mr. Mendez said. “Going to Contention. Going there to live among white men. To live as a white man on land a white man has given you. To have to speak English to people no matter what language you think in.”

“There it is,” Russell said. “I’m still thinking all the different ways.”

“Sure,” Mr. Mendez said. “You could sell the land. Buy a horse and a new gun with some of the money. Give the rest to the hungry ones at the San Carlos Indian agency. Then you got nothing.”

Russell shrugged. “Maybe so.”

“Or you sell only the herd and grow corn on the land and make tizwin, enough to keep you drunk for seven years.”

“Even that,” Russell said.

“Or you can work the herd and watch it grow,” Mr. Mendez said. “You can marry and raise a family. You can live there the rest of your life.” He waited a little. “You want some more ways to picture it?”

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