CHAPTER XXVI. ACROSS THE MEXICO BORDER
"Mexico is a good place to keep away from just at present." This was the invariable answer to a few casual inquiries concerning what I would be likely to meet with in the way of difficulties, a possible companion for the voyage to the Gulf, and how one could get back when once there. I received little encouragement from the people of Yuma. The cautions came not from the timid who see danger in every rumour, but from the old steamboat captains, the miners, and prospectors who knew the country and had interests in mineral claims across the border. These claims they had lost in many cases because they had failed for the last two years to keep up their assessment work. There were vague suggestions of being stood up against an adobe wall with a row of "yaller bellies" in front, or being thrown into damp dungeons and held for a ransom.
The steamboat men could give me little information about the river. The old channel had filled with silt, and the river was diverted into a roundabout course little more than a creek in width, then spread over whole delta. The widely spread water finally collected into an ancient course of the Colorado, known as the Hardy or False Colorado. As nearly as I could learn no one from Yuma had been through this new channel beyond a certain point called Volcanic Lake. Two or three parties had come back with stories of having attempted it, but found themselves in the middle of a cane-brake with insufficient water to float a boat. With a desire to be of real assistance to me, one old captain called a Yuma Indian into his office and asked him his opinion, suggesting that he might go along.
"Mebbe so get lost in the trees, mebbe so get shot by the Cocopah," the Indian replied as he shook his head.
The captain laughed at the last and said that the Yuma and Cocopah Indians were not the best of friends, and accused each other of all sorts of things which neither had committed. Some Mexicans and certain outlawed whites who kept close to the border for different reasons, and the possibilities of bogging in a cane-brake were the only uncertainties. In so many words he advised me against going.
Still I persevered. I had planned so long on completing my boating trip to the Gulf, that I disliked to abandon the idea altogether. I felt sure, with a flood on the Colorado, there would be some channel that a flat-bottomed boat could go through, when travelling with the current; but the return trip and the chances of being made a target for some hidden native who had lived on this unfriendly border and had as much reason for respecting some citizens of the United States as our own Indians had in the frontier days, caused me considerable concern. I knew it was customary everywhere to make much of the imaginary dangers, as we had found in our other journeys; but it is not difficult to discriminate between sound advice and the croakings which are based on lack of real information. I knew this was sound advice, and as usual I disliked to follow it. At last I got some encouragement. It came from a retired Wild West showman, - the real thing, one who knew the West from its early days. He laughed at the idea of danger and said I was not likely to find any one, even if I was anxious to do so, until I got to the La Bolso Ranch near the Gulf. They would be glad to see me. He thought it was likely to prove uninteresting unless I intended to hunt wild hogs, but that was useless without dogs, and I would have trouble getting a gun past the custom officers. His advice was to talk with the Mexican consul, as he might know some one who could bring me back by horseback.
In the consul I found a young Spaniard, all affability, bows, and gestures; and without being conscious of it at first I too began making motions. He deplored my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, laughed at any suggestion of trouble, as all trouble was in Eastern Sonora, he said, separated from the coast by two hundred miles of desert, and stated that the non-resident owner of the La Bolsa cattle ranch happened to be in the building at that moment. In a twinkling he had me before him and explained the situation. This gentleman, the owner of a 600,000-acre grant, and the fishing concession of the Gulf, stated that the ranch drove a team to Yuma once a week, that they would bring me back; in the interval I must consider myself the guest of the Rancho La Bolsa. The consul gave me a passport, and so it was all arranged.
In spite of the consul's opinion, there were many whispered rumours of war, of silent automobiles loaded with firearms that stole out of town under cover of the night and returned in four days, and another of a river channel that could be followed and was followed, the start being made, not from Yuma, but from another border town farther west. A year before there had been an outbreak at this place of certain restless spirits, - some whites included, - and they went along the northern line of Mexico, sacking the ranches and terrorizing the people. The La Bolsa ranch was among those that suffered. The party contained some discharged vaqueros who were anxious to interview the ranch foreman, but fortunately for him he was absent. Then they turned south to Chihuahua and joined the army of Madero. War, to them, meant license to rob and kill. They were not insurrectos, but bandits, and this was the class that was most feared.