Soap and Water - 034
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(Draft – Autosaved)
The Last Battle?
- Posted by Wyatt Burp
I’m setting this post to publish three weeks delayed from when I’m writing it. I’m in Las Vegas at the moment, and I’ve learned that about a dozen Posses have all gathered here for an assault on a Federal base. I’m holding back the publishing date so as not to be responsible for giving away their plans.
Anthony and I arrived in Vegas, checked into a ratty hotel downtown, and immediately I went out for a walk to find a laundromat. A cat had pissed on some of my clothes, and it’s impossible to live with that smell.
Right away I started noticing Possemen in street clothes. When you’ve been in the West long enough you learn to spot one who’s just showered, washed, and come down from the hills for the first time in years to do business in the civilian world. He’s uncomfortable in his skin and walks carefully enough to make you wonder where the gun is hidden. Usually you see one or maybe two at a time, but I must have seen half a dozen in that one short walk.
I have to admit that my first reaction wasn’t to get curious about why they were all there, let alone to try and find out. I’ll have to develop that instinct for my new job—I’m leaving this blog soon, and the West, to take an introductory gig at the Washington Post Times. No, my first reaction was shame. I was ashamed that I’m forsaking the West for the very paper I’ve been railing against, and I was sure they could tell. I felt like they even had the right to judge me.
Note that while I feel guilty, I’m not actually apologizing here. I have to take this job for my family. There’s a lesson for you if you want it: never rely on a desperate family man. There’s always someone he loves a little bit more than his integrity.
I found a cleaner for my coat and headed back to the hotel. The casinos all had their air conditioners turned off and their doors open to the street. In one of these places I saw an old Posseman having a drink alone at a bar just inside, and the guilt I’ve been describing pushed me toward him. I went in, offered him a cigarette, and we chatted. I think he was suspicious of me at first, but it was after midnight and he was pretty drunk. He couldn’t stay suspicious for long because he couldn’t hold onto any thought for long. Finally I confessed to him that I’m going East.
“I can’t blame you,” he said. “Any sane man would.”
Stupid as it sounds, that actually made me feel a little absolved.
We kept chatting, and pretty soon he told me why there were so many Possemen around, the handful I’d seen and hundreds more, according to him. The Posses believe that the Feds are kidnapping teenagers, holding them prisoner at a secret laboratory at Area 51, and testing some kind of soap-based napalm on them. In a few days, he said, they’ll all descend on that lab and set the kids free.
Now, I don’t have any idea if this is remotely true, and in all probability none of us ever will know. If there is an attack, one of two things will happened. Either the Feds will quash all news of it, because Area 51 officially doesn’t exist, or at best it’ll get reported as unmotivated terrorism. So I thought I’d better at least publish some record of the Posses’ motivation, as perhaps my final honest act before I go to work for the enemy.
As long as I’m being honest, though, I should add that I’m not at all sure the man can be taken at face value. One of the last things he said before he got too drunk to hold up his head was, “We won the last battle of the Indian Wars here, and by fuck we’ll win this war here too.”
I looked it up online, and for one thing, that boast is factually wrong. The last battle between an Indian tribe and U.S. troops happened in 1918, in Arizona just our side of the Mexico border. A group of Yaqui mistook some American soldiers for the Mexicans they were fighting and fired at them, and the Americans shot back.
The story I think the old Posseman had in mind happened seven years earlier, in 1911. The Indians involved were fifteen members of a Shoshone family who’d been kicked off their reservation land in southeastern Idaho to make room for settlers: Mike Daggett, his two adult sons, their wives, and various grandchildren ranging down from teens to babies. They’d wandered across northern Nevada for twenty years trying to live off the desert and sometimes doing labor on ranches.
During a cold winter the Daggetts roped and slaughtered some cows that didn’t belong to them. A little while later, four Basque shepherds stumbled onto their campsite. The family assumed the men were hunting them as cattle thieves, so Mike and his two sons killed the Basques and the whole family ran away.Two weeks later a posse caught them and shot all but four: one of the women and three young children.
For any other war I don’t think you could count that as a battle, a deputized mob against three murderers and their desperate, starving family, armed with a black-powder rifle, a couple of forty-year-old pistols, and spears. It feels appropriate to the Indian Wars, though, moral tangle, squalor and all. Certainly more so than the Yaqui firefight, which was simply an accident.
Even if you accept it as “the last battle of the Indian Wars,” though, I think the Posseman’s gotten confused about who “we” are in the story. We Westerners may have killed the Daggetts, but today the Possemen are a hell of a lot more like the Daggetts than they are like the posse who chased them down. If this is the Posse movement’s final battle, it won’t be because they win.
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