THE CALABAZAS CLUB.
A railroad, a telegraph, a policeman, and a barber shop, are the four signs of a complete civilization. Railroad and telegraph lines were rapidly approaching our town. We had been permitted to elect a Justice of the Peace and a Constable. Mr. Murphy provided the barber shop. When Mr. Murphy came to the town to spy out the land, as it were, he was made completely welcome, and received so much encouragement in the way of treats and promised custom that he decided to locate, and made the surprising statement that he would open up a first-class barber shop the next day. I say "surprising statement" advisedly, for Murphy walked into town looking extremely dirty and tired, as if from a long tramp, his sole baggage consisting of a not very large bundle, suspended from his shoulders by a piece of hay rope. But Murphy was as good as his word, and next morning his shop was running in full blast. A cottonwood pole, wrapped in gaudy stripes of red and white cloth, advertising the fact that Calabazas had at last become possessed of this fourth visible sign of a perfect civilization.
The barber shop was situated in a cul-de-sac, about five feet wide and ten feet long, between the Palace Hotel and Custom House. It had no roof other than the sky, and needed none, as all Calabazas labor was performed in the cool early morning or during the shady afternoon. Murphy's furnishings were in complete keeping with the simplicity of the Calabazan life and his own. One public spirited citizen had loaned him a cane-bottomed oak chair with a round back, in which to seat his customers; another had let him have a tin basin in which customers might perform their ablutions; and the store had credited him to the extent of two roller towels, a bar of refractory and imperishable soap, and a whisky keg—to be used as a washstand. Cum Sing had generously contributed a handless teacup for a shaving mug, and Murphy completed the outfit with an old brush and comb, a lather brush, two antiquated horn handled razors, a seriously mangled razor strop, and a large number of old "sporting" and "criminal" newspapers, without which latter it is impossible to successfully start a barber shop anywhere. These last he took from his bundle.
Having all of the traditional peculiarities and insinuating graces of his profession, Mr. Murphy anxiously inquired into the health and business prospects of his customers, as he puffed the clipped hair from their faces and necks with his breath, or dictatorially advanced the proper manner of settling the great political problems of the day, while rubbing a pint of rancid oil into his customer's scalp. To his credit, be it said, that he discountenanced all such dudish devices as sea foams, hair dyes, and hair restorers, which made many say he was partially insane, or depreciated these things because he could not furnish them.
His discourse in general was devoted to athletics; the details of all horse and foot races, pugilistic matches, etc., he had at his tongue's end. His talk had a hypnotic effect on his customers that was a blessing; for his barber's chair having no head-rest, it was painfully tiresome to rest the neck on the round chair back. One's neck felt broken before one-half of the face had been shaved, with the usual barbaric twists of the head. But he was considerate, and used his stomach as a rest for his customer's head when shaving the other side of his face. At this blessed change of position, the martyr generally fell asleep to the music of the barber's ceaseless drone, with a restful assurance that the chair back had not completely broken his spinal column. After the shave, the customer was made perfectly at home by being told to "jist step over to yon basin and wash the lather off, and I'll give ye's hair a swipe."
Notwithstanding that Murphy became so deeply interested in his own conversation as to shave off a customer's moustache when requested to clip it, or to completely denude the head of hair, when instructed to trim it, or insisted in puffing the hair at the back and over the ears, and in bringing a cowlick down over the forehead, yet he was on good terms with all, and his faults were overlooked in thankfulness that his razors had not obliterated the beard by pulling it out by the roots, and in gratitude for having used his stomach as a head rest. Murphy having a
It stands to reason that Murphy was not long in becoming generally known. During the heat of the day he rested himself by playing pedro for the drinks, or in heated arguments concerning horse races and the endurance of various athletic champions. During such arguments, each round of a fisticuff encounter was illustrated by standing at guard, hopping back and forth on his toes, and gently tapping with his finger ends the various parts of his listeners' anatomy, as he described the knock-out blows of the bloviating and high-priced pugilistic heroes. He carried his head projected a foot in front of his body in approved pugilistic fashion; he carried his arms akimbo, and walked heel-and-toe in approved sprinter fashion, and wore on Sundays a jockey cap and figured shirt, the pattern of which was numberless horseshoes in approved horseman's fashion. From a piece of blanket filled with straw and suspended from the roof of a
Murphy's continued talk, violent exercises, and freely loaned athletic literature, created a sort of athletic boom. Every evening, at dusk, wrestling and sparring matches could be seen going on in the street. Short distance foot races, under his refereeship, took place for the cigars or drinks, or he would select horses from the corral, and encourage their owners to run short races—time no object—for small purses.
In two weeks after Murphy's advent, Handsome George, Curly Pete, Bottle Bob, Casino Harry, and several others, with Murphy as instructor, formed an athletic club to encourage sport of any kind, and to look out for talent to meet the home talent. Miners and railroad hands were encouraged to settle their differences pugilistically. If no one had differences to settle, it did not take long for the club members to create personal antagonisms sufficiently serious to make a settlement by battle before the club necessary, their efforts being rewarded by much amusement and many winnings of bets. The club also arranged cayuse races for purses, on which events pools were sold, and pegs were driven in the center of the main street that quoits might be indulged in. The reputation
The fame of the local club spread abroad. Each Sunday saw a horse or a foot race, or an athletic match of some kind, and attracted many "sports" from the neighboring towns, all of which turned to the profit of the towns people. Murphy, though an all around athlete according to his own claims, more particularly affected foot racing, and at his chosen sport soon had made himself champion of Calabazas. None could be found to compete with him for a wager. From a suit of knit underclothes he, after much labor, manufactured a suit of tights, dressed in which he exhibited his powers before the "B'yes" every Sunday afternoon, always winding up with a wordy and vociferous challenge to the world. He became so puffed up, and so impatient of interruption, that, if discussing a point, he would tell an impatient customer: ‘‘Yon's the razor and mug; jist give yeself a rake off while ye's waiting, and I won't charge ye's but half price; ye's can get some wather from the well.’’
Amongst the railroad hands that infested the town at the Sunday gatherings, was a young man that took nearly as much interest in the sports as did the barber. He was a slouchy, good-natured fellow, wore loosely fitting workman's clothes, and his Sundays were spent in contests in which he infallibly met with defeat. Like Murphy, he loved the "cinder path," and was always ready to sprint with him—but not for
One Sunday night a number of the club were in the "Golden Fleece" drinking, and Murphy, as usual, was exalting himself and bantering his young footracing friend. The young man's employer, a railroad contractor, tired of Murphy's self laudation, quietly remarked that he "didn't think the barber was any great shakes of a footracer anyhow." In an instant the air was full of offers to bet against any one the contractor thought could outrun him. The contractor didn't care about betting, but thought the young fellow could beat him if he were trained. Murphy's nose went up so high at this that it threw his head back upon his shoulders. The young fellow! why, he would tie both hands behind him, give him the odds, and then beat him. Curly Pete, Handsome George, and Murphy, offered him odds—offered to tie Murphy's feet and race the young fellow, until at last the contractor was bluffed into making a bet with each of them of one hundred dollars against two hundred, that the young fellow could outrun Murphy if given ten feet start in two hundred yards. To the young man's remonstrances, he only replied, ‘‘You shut up,
The intervening week was used by the contestants in training. Murphy was timed by various stop watches, and improved; but with his rival there was no improvement, train as hard as he might. The contractor's money was as good as lost, and he himself seemed to regret that, in drunken folly, he had risked his money; for no one else would take any odds and bet on the young man. The afternoon of the appointed day, the men were made ready for the race. Murphy appeared in his racing costume, and sprinted over the track several times to limber up. His adversary, clothed in a loose fitting suit of cotton overalls, and shod with a pair of light shoes, made no pretence of limbering up. A referee and judge were selected; the men were placed toe to mark, the word was given, and Murphy without trouble distanced the young man fully twenty-five feet, in addition to the ten feet start given him. The contractor gave the defeated man a reproachful look and told him to go home to the camp.
This was the first contest of any kind upon which a large amount had been wagered, and the winners were jubilant. Favors were showered on Murphy; he had drinks and cigars enough offered to have kept him supplied for six months. As the evening wore away, the contractor that had backed the loser was bantered on all sides. Murphy, with his Irish wit, drove him nearly to distraction. Humorous condolences and railery that greeted him when he entered a saloon, made him quite ill-humored, for he was drinking
Shortly before Murphy had opened his shop, a fellow countryman of his, Riley by name, had established himself in Calabazas with an express wagon. The wagon was a shabby concern, having more barb wire and hay rope in its make up than lumber and bolts. It was drawn by a medium sized, bony, bay horse, that to all appearance had not strength enough to raise his head above his knees; his tail was barren of hair; his mane was thin and roached like a mule's, and in walking he raised one shoulder with a jerk, whilst the opposite hip almost sunk to the ground; his near fore leg was swathed in a grain sack.
Riley, the owner, was a small man, with a faded, patched suit of clothes, and a cap made of the crown of a felt hat with a portion of the brim left on. He did such light hauling as was needed around town, and on Sunday became religiously drunk on his week's earnings. Himself, his horse, and his wagon, seemed
The news of the race to come off was spread around the neighborhood, and it was expected that many strangers would be in town the appointed day. A nice racing path was laid out, and so much interest was excited that George, Pete, Bob, and Harry, putting their heads together, determined to make it a boom day for Calabazas, by having boxing, wrestling, and dancing matches, and a quarter race for small purses. No money other than the contractor's could be won on the foot race, but some might be won on the other contests. A committee was appointed to obtain men for the wrestling and boxing matches, and a dancing match was arranged for at the Big Casino hurdy-house. The foot racers trained steadily. The contractor's man was closely watched, and timed in his practice runs by a secret emissary of the club, and his reports were that the club members who had bet on Murphy
The anxiously looked for Sunday came at last. The town was crowded with visiting sports and people from the adjacent country. At nine o'clock sharp in the morning, the day's sports were inaugurated by sparring matches at the "Golden Fleece," and "Coliseum," and by wrestling at the "Pantheon;" all for small purses. At the "Big Casino" the Doctor waltzed for an hour, wearing out two partners and the "piano thumper," which ended the morning's sports. At three o'clock the great foot race was to take place, and the day was to close with the horse races. George, Pete, Bob, and Harry were in high glee. Their saloons had made money, they had bet with judgment on the contests of the morning, and had a delightful "pudding" laid aside for the afternoon. At half past two o'clock, Casino Harry and the contractor prepared their men for the foot race, the backers electing Pete-the-rancher as referee and Crandall as starter.
These preliminaries having been arranged, the men appeared at the starting point. Murphy looked even more confident than usual in his bran new racing clothes and shoes. The contractor's man had on a pair of cheap slippers, and a suit of common blue overalls cut off at the knees and elbows. As he stood by Murphy's side waiting for the word, he looked far more discouraged than did the man who had bet on
The betting finished, the starter and referee took their places. Confident Murphy and his modest opponent toed the scratch, and, at the starter's shot, went like the wind. Both sides of the track was lined with spectators. The contractor's man was the favorite with the hurdy-girls because he looked scared. At the fifty foot post he was behind, and the club smiled. At the one hundred foot post he had closed the gap a little, and was painfully struggling to gain still more. The hurdy-girls said ‘‘Oh!’’ Bets of three to two on Murphy were freely offered, and taken by the visiting sports. At the one hundred and fifty foot post the men were shoulder to shoulder. The club quit smiling, and made even bets. At the two hundred foot post, and finish, the contractor's man was a foot ahead, with enough wind left to cruelly ask Murphy, ‘‘Why did'nt you run, what did you stand still for?’’ and overbearingly offered to tie his feet and run him for any odds. Murphy was so exhausted that he had to be lifted up and assisted to the store.
The Calabazas club now lost interest in the day, their handsome saloon profits and small winnings were more than swallowed up in their vanished "pudding." Although Riley had lost much money on Murphy, by his foolish bets at long odds, he was so pleased at his defeat that he became still more gorgeously drunk than before. He took his money from the store safe, and went around shaking the bag and offering to bet on any kind of proposition. He had harnessed up his old bay horse, and they were in everyone's way while preparing for the finishing races, and his noise and chaff annoyed the losers on Murphy beyond measure. When the horses were brought to the starting point for the quarter races he was wild with excitement, and wanted to enter the race with his outfit on any terms; and when laughed or jeered at, offered to bet any one that his horse could beat any horse in the race, or the winner. George, Pete, and Bob snapped the old man up on his proposition. ‘‘Of course it was like stealing Riley's money, but Riley had been making fool bets all day,
While the race bets were being settled, Riley was sitting in his wagon half asleep, and his old bay horse with braced feet and hanging head, was nearly so. One of the judges shook him and wanted to know if he was going to race or forfeit. ‘‘Race av coorse, the divil a thing else,’’ said Riley. A saddle was taken from one of the defeated horses and put on Riley's bay, and the question of a rider was debated. Riley, with drunken obstinacy, declined to let any one ride the bay but himself, and he mounted the old horse, whose legs bent under his weight. Some of those who had bet with the old man, felt so ashamed of the bare-faced robbery they were perpetrating, that they offered to withdraw their bets if he would forfeit twenty dollars to each. Riley had taken several more drinks and refused to draw, but instead, offered to bet horse against horse that he would win, which bet, to rid himself of Riley's biting gibes, the winner's owner accepted, but with no intention to take Riley's horse if won.
If the defeat of Murphy was a shock, the winning by Riley's horse was a catastrophe. It was an unaccountable series of accidents such as could only occur in a town of superlative "jayness," and peopled by "suckers," "flats" or other monstrosities of the victim tribe. The owner of the defeated horse offered the winner fifty dollars to settle the bet, which amount the old man accepted, and, gathering in his other winnings, left town in company with the man to collect the money.
This fatal Sunday ended athletic sports in Calabazas, and ended the Calabazas Club as well. George, Pete, Bob, and Harry sat up quite late that night, nervously figuring as to how they could have lost so heavily on such sure things. Why didn't Murphy pack more baggage? Why didn't Riley's horse limp when
The four friends put on their pistols and cartridge belts, and rode five miles to the railroad camps to interview the men. At the camps they were told that Murphy and O'Connor (the winner) as soon as he had received his share of the winnings, bought two cayuses and had started for the Line. At the grader's camp it was found that Riley had left there quite sober after getting his fifty dollars, and had ridden toward the Line. They spurred their horses and reached Nogales. The Custom officers said the three men had passed there laughing and talking hilariously; had only stopped long enough to buy some Mescal and pay duty on their horses, which they did from a sackful of money. As they were not permitted to pursue any further, the "big four" of Calabazas, turned, with long drawn groan and saddened faces, homeward.
Riley's wagon laid around until used for kindling wood. Mr. Murphy's tonsorial parlors were dismantled, and his sporting literature divided among the hurdy-houses. It was wafted into Calabazas not long after their departure, that these three men were partners in working "jay" towns; that Murphy, O'Connor, and Riley were assumed names. The first two were professional foot-racers, but were so well known in California, where they had worked fake races, that they had been forced to hunt new pastures, and had found no green feed until Calabazas had been reached. Riley's horse was not an old plug by any manner of means, but instead, was well known—in California—as a short distance racer, that an acre of alfalfa and a ton of corn a day would not have fattened. His peculiar gait had been taught him by Riley after infinite labor, and his bandaged knee was not at all lame or sprained, as was claimed. Neither was his true color bay, but white. The bay color had been imparted by Mr. Riley with great skill, and an intent to obscure his identity; to keep that color intact, until the town had been worked, was the reason of so much assiduous
The last heard of the trio, they were eating beans and Chilli peppers in a Mexican jail, after some sharp play at a "Fiesta" or religious festival, at which sharp play they had succeeded in almost bankrupting several revolutionary Generals and Governors, who thought they had a tender pudding to be disposed of. It behooves infant Western cities to look out for the triplets, for they are full of guile and deception—and cutting eye teeth is ever painful.