Nowadays, we laugh about card cheats, it wasn't always that way. Just 25 years ago, people didn’t blink to see someone smoking in a public restaurant, but would have condemned anyone putting a leash on their kid.
This is part four of five excerpts from chapter one of my book, Trouble in Taos. It’s the story of Slimy Beach, Gunfighter, Latrine digger, and terrible storyteller. Slimy killed the local blacksmith in part three. If you’d like to catch up, here are the links to part-1 part-II part-III
Ordinarily, even back then, there was some fuss when one man shot another in cold blood. Most people figured a hanging might be the proper thing to do, or at least a search to find the sheriff, who habitually left town whenever he heard gunshots. He could usually be found after a day or two at Miss Katherine’s House of Comfort.
It was Estevo’s response that changed the mood. At least it confused the thinking of men who were already in a group stupor from Estevo’s mud, a mixture of beer, whisky, cider, turpentine, and tobacco juice. (The tobacco juice was mostly from the backwash of half-empty glasses, the contents of which were the main ingredient in mud.) It wasn’t just Estevo’s mud and mood that confused those present. Estevo was what passed for an educated man in those days.
Estevo spoke Spanish, English, Tiwa, and a couple other Indian languages to boot. He could even read and write a little. He was also an inventor, if you consider mud an invention, and Two-Bucket Joe, along with the others present, figured that any man with such intellectual accomplishments had to know more about the law than they did. If he hadn’t been such a coward, Estevo might have been mayor, or even the territory governor – or more likely just dead.
But this story is not about Estevo, who really wasn’t all that interesting; it’s about Slimy, who was even less interesting. Slimy had shot a perfectly good blacksmith, and blacksmiths were pretty useful and hard to come by in the West. Not only that, he wounded two poker players and destroyed what was, by western standards, a very fine chair.
The poker players were understandably annoyed until one noticed that the blast also surprised Lefty Hagar enough to drop his extra hold card from his sleeve. Lefty was a man of uncommon luck, which is to say, a real unpopular guy. Those who had the most cause to call for Slimy’s hanging were perfectly happy to trade a cold-blooded murderer on the gallows for a card cheat. The point, according to Two-Bucket Joe, was to have a hanging, and when it comes to people who needed hanging, card cheats come first.
Jacques de Tiwa, a man who claimed to be the son of Maximillian, the dead ex-Emperor of Mexico, went down to Miss Katherine’s to wait for the sheriff to show up. The injured gamblers split Lefty’s winnings and purchased bottles of real whiskey to treat the house. After the second round, most people had not only forgiven Slimy, but thought him a fine, though smelly, fellow. Some even admired his watch.