Soap and Water - 022
Download an audio version at (www.joshuamalbin.com/soap-and-water).
-Posted by Wyatt Burp
Okay, I know I said no blogging while I’m away on this job, and yet here I am blogging. There are two reasons, and they’re related.
First, I read thisarticle. Margaret Anthony, the woman who wrote it, claims her editor butchered it, but as far as I’m concerned that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I was there with the woman as her guide and fixer, and I know that the world is reading a distorted version of what we both saw.
Second, I’ve recently seen some things with her that need to get to the rest of the world undistorted. It would drive me nuts to know that the only version of the truth out there belongs to the Washington Post Times.
I have no way of knowing what real-life difference it’ll make to write this. I don’t know if anyone is still reading me after I said I was taking a break. I’m hoping at least some of you forgot to take me out of your RSS readers. Anyway it’ll be out there somewhere, and that’s the best I can do.
For those of you who are reading, I need to warn you that these posts are going to be longer than you’re used to putting up with from any blogger, let alone me. I’m working with stone knives and bearskins here—or at least old computers with creaky internet connections when I can get to them, pen and paper when I can’t. I can’t hit “publish” every time I finish a thought.
But enough throat-clearing.
Here’s the first thing the Post Times will almost certainly get wrong if they publish a story about it at all: Margaret Anthony and I witnessed a drug dealer torturing a teenaged boy. It happened in two stages, and after the first stage we might have been able to stop the second, only we didn’t.
It’s not that they’ll get everything wrong. There’s a lot Anthony will almost certainly get in there if she writes about it. She’ll nail who was tortured and who tortured him, where it happened, how it happened, and even why it happened. If the Post Times publishes it I’ll throw up a link to the article and you can read all of that from her.
What the Post Times will get wrong, though, is that they’ll leave out the context. Part of it Anthony doesn’t know, part probably doesn’t seem important to her, and I’m willing to bet that part either she or her editors will suppress for ideological reasons.
The part she probably doesn’t think is important starts with what we were doing immediately before we saw the boy: eating a meal at one of the fanciest private clubs in the state of Colorado, which just happens to be in four parked train cars, in a largely abandoned town 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.
It’s called Jack’s Coach Gourmet (On Sidings). The parentheses are part of the name. Its members are powerful men from all over—regional Army commanders, cartel jefes, water magnates, gun and explosive dealers, private security contractors, settlement call managers, those types. On Tuesday they could be trying to kill each other; on Wednesday at Jack’s they’ll sit at neighboring tables. They don’t just come for the food, which is good but not magical. They come for the after-dinner smoking parlor, home of the best chess in four territories. A few of the men who go to Jack’s are gourmets, a few love cigars, but they’re allchesshounds.
Apart from that Jack would refused to tell me or Anthony much about his business. He wouldn’t say when he started it, or how many members he had, or how he managed to stock a whole refrigerator full of foods most of us poor Westerners only get to see once a month if ever: fresh heavy cream and eggs, aged Romano and pecorino, smoked ham, saffron.We had fresh linguine in a porcini-alfredo sauce, half a grilled trout each with a fresh lemon wedge and minced dill, and for dessert chopped apples, pine nuts, and honey-sweetened whipped cream on a butter shortbread cookie.I didn’t see the bill. Anthony has a company credit card and Jack has one of those old ink-roller credit card machines. I’m pretty sure that if I did know how much dinner cost it would piss me off, because I think the Post Times paid more for it than they do for at least two days’ worth of my time.
But as long as we had an open tab going I called for a cigar and brandy when we retired to the smoking parlor.
It’s all very civilized. I’m sitting there in a firm yet comfortable leather chair, drinking brandy from a snifter just big enough to warm with one hand, and knocking my cigar ash into a heavy glass ashtray. Two of the four other guys who’d been at dinner bought cigars too. One of them has settled back into a leather armchair like mine, unfolded a newspaper—the Post Times, in fact—and started doing the crossword in pen. The other’s begun a chess game with a third, on a black and white marble board, with men hand-carved in soft stone. The chessmen even have newly felted bottoms so they didn’t clatter on the marble.
It’s so nice, in fact, that Anthony compares it to “a hotel bar on a weekday afternoon, back in D.C. before the war.”
One of the chess players looks up from his game and talks to us for the first time. “Don’t get comfortable,” he says, “it’s the Wild West out there.”
“Does that make you cowboy or Indian?” says the man with the newspaper. He has a Spanish accent.
The chess player smiles. “I’m the traveling snake-oil salesman. You’re the cattle rustler. My friend here,” meaning the other player, “he’s the U.S. Cavalry.”
I should have guessed, even if the man was in civilian clothes. He’s black, and these days a black man in the West is probably a settler or in the Army.
The man with the newspaper raises his glass. “To the U.S. Cavalry!” he said.
Which brings the part of the context Anthony doesn’t know: history. An Easterner like her doesn’t really understand what it means to say “it’s the Wild West out there” or invoke the U.S. Cavalry.
I’ve had a little time with an internet connection as I write this, and pretty easily turned up this eyewitness account of one Wild West battle waged by the U.S. Cavalry not so far from Jack’s smoking parlor.
I saw the American flag waving and heard [chief] Black Kettle tell the Indians to stand around the flag, and there they were huddled—men, women, and children. … I also saw a white flag raised. These flags were in so conspicuous a position that they must have been seen. When the troops fired, the Indians ran, some of the men into their lodges, probably to get their arms.
The Indians were Cheyenne. Sioux had been attacking wagon trains all that year, but they were a different tribe. The Cheyenne had signed a treaty with the United States a decade earlier and had tried to keep peace with white settlers since. In fact, to prove they were no threat, this particular group of Cheyenne had put themselves under the authority and protection of U.S. Fort Lyon.
I think there were six hundred Indians in all. I think there were thirty-five braves and some old men, about sixty in all … the rest of the men were away from camp, hunting.
Miners, traders, and homesteaders were pouring into the Colorado Territory. The old treaty gave the Cheyenne rights to too much valuable land, and anyway, who cared about the distinction between tribes?
I saw five squaws under a bank for shelter. When the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all. I saw one squaw lying on the bank whose leg had been broken by a shell; a soldier came up to her with a drawn saber; she raised her arm to protect herself; when he struck, breaking her arm, she rolled over and raised her other arm, which he struck, breaking it, and then left her without killing her.
The soldiers were men of the First and Third Colorado Regiments, commanded by Colonel John Chivington. “What shall I do with the Third Colorado Regiment if I make peace?” the governor asked an officer who’d come to plead for the Cheyenne. “They have been raised to kill Indians and they must kill Indians.”
There were some thirty or forty squaws collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded but a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the squaws in that hole were afterwards killed, and four or five bucks outside. The squaws offered no resistance. Every one I saw dead was scalped. I saw one squaw cut open with an unborn child… lying by her side.
“Kill and scalp all, big and little,” Chivington declared in a public speech before the attack. “Nits make lice.”
I saw the body of White Antelope with the privates cut off, and I heard a soldier say he was going to make a tobacco pouch out of them. … I saw a little girl about five years of age who had been hid in the sand; two soldiers discovered her, drew their pistols and shot her, and then pulled her out of the sand by the arm.
About 130 Indians died. In the next year Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux killed and looted together up and down the South Platte. They shot eighteen white people in the small town of Julesburg and burned it to the ground.
Nowadays we Westerners are the desperate natives, up against technology and numbers we know we can’t match in the long run. I’m not absolving any of us who murders or tortures, but when our Occupiers raise an army to attack Indians they must kill Indians, and then they must expect the Indians to fight back. They are responsible right along with us when Julesburg burns. Or when a boy gets tortured. When you create anarchy people get hurt, mostly people who don’t deserve it.
A little while after the exchange about the Wild West, Anthony leans in close to the man with the newspaper. “I write for them,” she says, and taps her finger on the page. “I didn’t think you could get it out here.”
He says he had it flown in specially. She says Oh yeah? What do you do? Before I know it they’re heading outdoors so she can interview him privately.
I’m right behind. If anything bad happens to her I don’t get paid, and I don’t know the first thing about the guy except that the traveling snake-oil salesman called him a cattle rustler. Whatever that means, it doesn’t sound good.
It sounds a lot worse when we get outside. These two mean-looking guys climb out of their brand-new pickup and come towards us, each carrying a semiautomatic pistol in a hip holster. One follows Anthony and the cattle rustler into the tumbledown train station just across the way, and then stands at the door and won’t let me in. The other stays by the pickup, keeping an eye on me. I’ve left my gun in my own truck, where it’s doing a great job of protecting the glove compartment.
I pace around the parking lot, waiting. On one circuit I pass near their pickupand see a boy somewhere around eighteen trussed in the bed, squatting on his heels with his back against the cab. One piece of rope ties his left ankle, goes through an eyebolt on the cab wall behind him, and finishes around his right ankle. Another goes around both of his wrists, pulls them between his knees, and ties them to the same ring. He can’t unbend his back, sit, or stand. He can’t roll backward and he can’t roll forward. He must have been like that all through our dinner, and I can’t tell if he’s still conscious or if the pain from being cramped up like that has knocked him out. If he’d screamed during dinner we wouldn’t have heard him. Inside the train car, built to shut out noise, we could barely hear the diesel generator right outside. His head is hanging forward and I can’t see his eyes. He has on a settlement jumper.
I wish I could say I was brave enough to untie him, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t even brave enough to beg the gunman standing there to let him go. If he’d raised his head and looked at me I might not have been able to turn away—I know I’d have seen him since the full moon was shining. I didn’t know whether or not to be grateful that he didn’t. It felt inhuman, but what could I do? We’ve all seen way too much suffering in the West. We know that most of the time we can’t help each other, so we have to ignore each other. Otherwise we would drown in guilt and shame.
All I did was go over near the train station and call for Anthony. I thought that if she finished her interview, the cattle rustler might untie the boy himself, since he was obviously in charge. But he didn’t. He came out and got in the middle seat of the cab without looking at the bed. His bodyguards climbed in on either side and they drove off.
Later we found the boy again and the cartel boss—because that’s what he was—had done something even worse to him. I don’t want to write about that. I don’t think I can write about it coherently, except to say that I had a chance there to save him, and I didn’t.
Anyway, that’s the rest of that first piece of context. While a boy screamed in pain, two thugs sat in the cab of that truck, unmoved, and we sat twenty feet away eating at a fancy restaurant, unawares. That tells you something true about the West, but I doubt Anthony will think it’s important enough to report.
The last part, the part she’ll suppress, is the guy from the U.S. Cavalry. He must have been some high rank in the Army, and maybe he knew about that particular boy, maybe he didn’t. But the cartel boss screwed that eyebolt permanently into the body of his truck for one purpose and one purpose only, and the Army officer had to know about it, or at least suspect something like it. Yet he sat there, played chess, and laughed with the man.