Campfire Talk Part 19 with Larry Weishuhn

25 December 2012

What follows is a chapter from my first book, PEAR FLAT PHILOSOPHIES, published by Safari Press in 1995 as part of their Classics in Big Game Hunting Series... That book in the trade edition can still occasionally be purchased through Amazon. The limited edition (1000 total) has become a fairly rare collectors item. Although the below was written back in about 1993, nearly 20 years ago. It remains one of my all time favorites of the stories and tales I’ve written... I wish you all the Merriest of Christmases! God’s blessings upon each an every one of you! Larry Weishuhn Old Charley was not quite himself. He had an extra bounce in his step, his steel-blue eyes twinkled like a youngster’s who knew a secret and could not wait to tell someone. Normally the ornery old rascal was just that, an ornery rascal. Irascible in every way, Old Charley normally reveled in being miserable and making everyone else around him feel the same way. Charley’s camp is nestled along a creek and under ancient liveoaks, which served weary pilgrims for hundreds of years. When we arrived there, Charley was humming a song. The tune was somewhat foreign and most of it passed off as being a ditty Charley had picked up during the days he traveled with a packtrain through the sierras of Mexico in search of gold and lost legends. Out in the back, the old man’s mule nibbled on some freshly rolled oats, not the normal meal for his beast of burden. Ol’ July generally had to survive on stemmy saccatone grass, which grew along the sides of the creek. Charley dearly loved the old mule, but could never see any benefit in feeding him good groceries. Many’s the time I’d heard old Charley say, “Why if that ornery old mule ever ate good, he’d be plum ruint! Next thing you know he’d be expecting me to carry the load!” Around Christmas each year,we - my brother, a couple of old friends and I - would head to Charley; Rancho do los Cuernos. For some reason the old whitetail bucks, fattened on mesquite beans and acorns, seemed to prefer the prickly pear flats near Charley’s camp over the surrounding country. I had med Charley nearly twenty five years earlier in a cantina near Del Rio. He appeared to be down on his luck, but still stood pine-tree straight and tall, wearing a good hat and pair of boots. I had helped him home. I remember ending up spending a couple of days with him at his ranch working cattle. As I prepared to leave, he asked if I enjoyed hunting deer. “Yes Sir!” I replied. So it came to be that each December since then I had returned to visit Charley, to hunt deer, and to listen for hours as the old man told tales of chasing banditos down near the Rio Bravo when he was a young man. Charley had spent quite a few years riding the river in search of smugglers, bootleggers, and bandits back in the early 1900’s. Back then you did whatever you were big enough to do, and evidently Charley had been plenty big! one of Charley’s favorite tales was about the night he was on patrol with a couple of compadres. Charley and his two look-alikes had encamped on a high bank overlooking the Rio Grande, waiting in ambush for the bandits. They had been there since early afternoon - cramped, cold and getting stiffer and stiffer as the hours passed. Just before inky darkness of December blanketed the area, a “Blue Norther” blew in, in true blizzard fashion. As the temperature dropped to near zero and rain turned to sleet and snow, the three men on the north side of the Rio knew that to survive the night they had but one open option: to build a fire in a steep sided canyon. They knew that such a fire would betray their presence and position, but it was that or freeze to death! No sooner did they have a fire roaring and coffee boiling when they heard horses approaching. The bandits reigned their mounts close to the fire, staring at the rangers across the flames. Neither side knew what would happen next. Finally one, obviously the leader of the band spoke in broken English, “Amigo, the noche is muy frio. Tonight we warm by the fires; we fight in the manana, no?” A short time later the bandits and the rangers lay beside a much larger fire and soon spoke of old days. Then one in the group remembered the night could probably be the 25th, Christmas. When the graying dawn foretold the coming of daylight, the bandits and the rangers parted company. The shootout occurred a few hours later. Old Charley always spoke with great reverence of his enemies. “They were MEN!” he would say with respect. Charley believed strongly that a man was judged not only by his action, deeds and friends, but by his enemies as well. In the kitchen the cook went to work on the wood stove to prepare a feast of wild turkey and venison. Charley even smiled when the cook went to work, rather than making his usual sour remarks about how the cook never quite adapted to modern cooking. It was then I noticed he had a bottle of “good stuff” hidden in the wood box. For a moment I thought perhaps the merriment could be related to his “tippling” a bit, because Charley was acting differently. He even smile a little when he talked. A couple of hours later just before dinner, Charley disappeared into the back part of his camp. Minutes later he reappeared wearing a suit that had not seen daylight since the 1930’s. It smelled slightly of moth balls and old pipe tobacco. Even though age had taken its toll on both man and the suit, had Miss Emma been alive today, she would had surely swooned upon seeing the dashing figure that Charley was today! It had been Miss Emma, Charley’s lady love and wife who had selected the campsite Charely now called home. On the mantle of the rock fireplace was a faded photograph of a beautiful young woman, a Winchester Model 92 in one hand and a huge whitetail rack in the other. Charley glanced at the photograph as he walked toward us. Then he stopped and stared for a while at it. A tear seemed to come to his eye as he remembered the good times they had shared together. Truth know he had now worn the suit he did today since her funeral. She had passed away while he was on a foray in Mexico. He had never forgiven himself for not being at her side when she died. But she had never been on sad moments. The old man straightened and squared his shoulders. “Tonight we celebrate! Remember the time I told you about the bandits sharing my Christmas night fire, that cold miserable December night?” I nodded an affirmative. “That night one of the swore if we ever met again, there would be gun-play, and one of us would surely die. The next day I had him in my sights, then at the very last moment before pulling the trigger on him, I pulled down and shot his horse from under him and spared his life.” He hesitated momentarily in reflection. “He’s alive! I ran into him a month ago at the Panther Canyon store. We talked for hours, then I invited him to come to supper. He’s coming tonight. My old enemy. Now there was a man!” That night my old friend said grace...”Lord, we thank you for our many blessings. Let us not forget the true meaning of Christmas to celebrate this time with joy, love, and respect, not only for our families and friends, but our enemies as well. Amen!” “Amen!”