Like the archetypal Irish beat cop patroling the New York City boroughs with a rolled up newspaper, John Stockley’s father rode up and down the river protecting U.S. cattle herds as a tick inspector half a century ago. He didn’t carry a gun, telling those who asked simply, “I can ride faster without one.”
(Wise words. When I get to some active smuggling sites beneath Laredo, I’ll come to see that minding one’s business and not playing with guns leads to longer, happier lives here.)
But the terrain has changed, agree Stockley and his younger ranch hand compadre chatting with me at the Fort Duncan Museum grounds in Eagle Pass, one of too-many unfortunate locations to be sliced through by The Wall.
They say a new breed of “ranchers,” mostly retired folks from out of the area, are buying up small tracks of land and calling themselves cattlemen. (“They say if you can climb to the top of your windmill and see your fenceline, it’s not a ranch,” Stockley says.)
They cite a Texas metro newspaper that featured on such gentleman sitting on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande with an M-16 on his lap. The man swore Eagle Pass was under attack by illegal immigrants.
“That’s when things changed,” says Richard Flores.
Soon, there were shootings — and they weren’t coming from Mexico.
Blame the new retirement sport. One couple out of Ohio or some equally gawdawful place panicked when migrant travelers stopped to ask for some water. The man drew his gun. They migrants ran. The Ohioan shot, puncturing the artery in the fellow’s leg.
So when you hear that Homeland Security’s fence will cut through not only this historic site, but also the park where residents of both sides of the River gather to celebrate International Friendship Day, it can give you a sick sort of feeling.
Almost every person I stop to speak to that has made the River home is asked at one time or another by passing motorists or visiting relatives, “Aren’t you scared?”
Their answers typically mirror my own thoughts. I’m more scared in the Interior, in our U.S. cities, breeding grounds for far worse than this River and its peoples — smugglers included — can throw out.
[Painting, right, “International Friendship Day Parade,” by Eagle Pass artist E.O. Mackey.]