by Julia Robb
Texas Ranger Capt. W.E. Henry’s prayer, at Mission San José, in San Antonio, 1876
Lord, I’m a Methodist and talking to you here in a Catholic church, but I guess you don’t mind, this place has been here one hundred years and folks has offered up a lot of prayers. I might not be in this old world much longer, I’m sixty-five and headed for my long home, but I got it in mind to explain myself. I don’t expect you to overlook nuthing, but I want you to know there was reasons for ever terrible thing I done.
First thing is the fight on the San Jacinto River. A lot of the boys are proud of what we done when the Texian army whipped Sanny ana, in 1836, but I ain’t so proud. We was mad about what the mex did at the Alamo and at Goliad. That last was the worst, them mex murdered more than three hundred prisoners, just shot’em down like dogs, so when we had’em on the run at the San Jacinto, we didn’t let’em give up.
They threw up their hands yelling “Me no Alamo, me no Goliad,” but we shot’em, knifed ‘em, knocked their brains out with their own rifles and drowned ‘em. The boys wasn’t in no forgiving mood. I did my part in that slaughter and, like I say Lord, I ain’t proud, but Lord, my neighbor’s boy was at Goliad. They never found his body.
Then, there’s the Comanch. I’m a ranger and we don’t give no quarter. We slay our prisoners when we can git’em and some of the boys scalp’em for good measure. But Lord, ever thing that’s happened, what I done, none of it was for me, but for Isabelle and for my girls and for Texas.
Lord, have you forgot how I felt about Isabelle Ramseur? The first time I saw her at that Austin cotillion I didn’t just fall in love, I fell crazy in love. Belle was the most beautiful thing I ever saw, with all that black hair and her brown eyes kind of slanty. She was waltzing past me when I spotted her, her pink skirt aflying out like flushed quail. I couldn’t get no rest till she married me.
We was happy. When I come home at dark, dragging from the ranch work, she had a good supper and talk and when she put her nightgown on and took her hair down, it come clear down to her knees and shined so pretty in the candlelight. Even after the girls started coming, the marriage bed was our special repose, oh, I waked up kissing her.
It was the hell hounds started the change. Come 1850, they raided bad. One full moon, they slaughtered three families in one night and them was our neighbors, those were the same folks come to dance with us at gatherings, and bring little-bitty baby clothes when the girls was born. When I seen our neighbors’ bodies, scattered out like deer with the innards dug out, I was scared for my family.
Belle wasn’t for it, but I hired more men to work the place and I joined the Rangers, to git me a few of our feathered friends. Even when Austin wouldn’t give us a red cent, we rangers rode the wide country.
Looking back, I can see things better and I know I done wrong; Belle was all alone out there with my girls with me gone most of the time. I expect she cried, wanting me.
Then, along came the War of Northern Aggression and me and the boys joined up–none of us had enough guts to show the white feather and stay out; besides, them Yankees was invading, what was we gonna do, we’re men, we can’t put up with that kind of business.
Christmas Day, ‘63. I won’t never forget that day, it was so bitter the ground froze and the sky was winter blue, everthing kind of sharp like. Pete Waddell, a sergeant from my Frontier Regiment, came back from a furlough and he brung me a letter from my brother Spence. Waddell gave me a kind of funny look, but I never dreamed the truth.
I tore the letter open and after a minute everthing went round and round in front of my eyes and I like to fell out of the saddle.
Lord, the Comanch done killed my family.
The hell hounds violated my girls, like they do all our women, damn them to everlasting fire. They stuck a lance in Belle’s sweet heart and tore the hair from her head, Louise, my big girl, they cut her pretty white throat, she was eighteen. Mollie was only sixteen. And my baby, Annie Laurie, Lord, I still groan when I say her name: Annie Laurie was ten. My baby was dead, my baby.
I never should have left ‘em, but they was staying with Spence out his place, so I believed they was safe. Spence played the dog. He and his hands went for supplies and couldn’t get back the same day, and that was on a full moon.
What was Spence thinking? The Comanch killed his wife too, and his kids. When I got home, I didn’t go near Spence. He wrote me many a time, but I ain’t seen him.
Anyway, Lord, I took everthing out on the Yankees. When we went into a fight, I hollered to the boys, “howl, you dogs of war,” and we would commence to cleaning up ever blue belly we got our hands on.
Bullets whistled around me like a swarm of hornets, but I had the Yankees hopping. I give mercy only one time. A little dog curled up in a wounded Yankee’s arms, just ashivering. That blue belly looked straight up at me, all the while hugging and petting that dog. I considered putting a bullet in that yank’s head, but I didn’t. You can give me a gold halo for that one Lord, even if I did spare the blue belly for the dog’s sake.
You know what I done when I got back. We ain’t gonna talk about that now, but you know I followed the ways of iniquity.
Still, I’m not a bad man. I saved plenty of folks, just being out there chasing the Kotsoteka, Quahadis, Penateka, the Nokoni, Comanche, one and all.
Awhile back I found a Mescalero Apache baby and I give it to a lady in Fort Grierson. I could’ve bashed its brains against a tree like they do our babies, and probley should have.
I seen your face plenty of times, too, and it wadn’t in church. Sometimes I’ll be riding along looking for sign when I see the sky so blue and the wind is like your breath sweeping over the prairie. The dawns and sundowns are so pretty, the whole sky changing colors.
Well, I don’t expect you to forgive me for some of the things I done, I just wanted you to hear my side. Lord, will you tell Belle and the girls something for me?
I never quit loving ‘em.