— Argentina —
At the edge of the village a man was washing a horse tethered to a tree. A boy sat in the shade of the tree with a dog. I asked the man about a store but the pueblo was on siesta. I asked about a place to put up my tent and the man welcomed me to sleep in his camper. He was called Elbio and the boy was his son. He sent the boy for fruit and water and told me to sit under the tree.
I sat beside the dog and watched Elbio shampoo the horse’s mane. His son returned with a pitcher of water and a bowl of peaches. Two of the boy's sisters came to look at me. I drank the cold water and ate a peach. Elbio finished hosing off the horse and stood over the dog that lay beside me in the shade. He hit the dog in the head and it yelped and walked off and Elbio sat down.
"Read this for me." He handed me an advertisement torn from a newspaper. It was for a horse for sale in Carmen de Patagones.
"Read it aloud, Jesse. I am unable to read."
I read it to him. He nodded his head.
"I will go to see about this horse."
Elbio was a horse trader. The horse tethered to the tree he had purchased today in a town not far from Stroeder. In six months he planned to sell the horse. The horse was called Pensar de Ti and she was blind in one eye but she was well-mannered and otherwise in good condition.
Elbio got up and untethered the horse and led it across the gravel road to a small corral where a black horse and a brown horse were standing.
“Jesse,” he waved me over. “Help me with this horse.” He wanted to pull it into the corral.
“What must I do?”
“Do this, Jesse,” he clicked his tongue and whipped a short length of rope in the air. He handed me the rope. He wanted to scare the horse forward into the corral.
Elbio opened the corral gate and tugged at the horse. She saw the two other horses and did not want to go in. I stood behind her, out of kicking distance, and swung the rope and made the clicking sound. She jerked her head to see what was behind but she did not move forward.
“Hit her with the rope,” Elbio said.
I whipped her gently on the hindquarters and she shuddered.
Elbio pulled at the rope tether but she did not move.
“Hit upon her with strength, Jesse.”
I whipped her harder and she jerked her head and pulled Elbio out of the corral and he nearly lost her but held on. She did not want to go in with the other horses.
He motioned to stop and we waited for her to calm down.
Elbio approached her and stroked her head and as he talked to her he carefully wrapped the rope tether around her hind legs. Then he started pulling her forward into the corral. He got her in and I closed the gate. We leaned over the wooden fence and watched the two horses smelling out the new one.
The black horse was the best of the three, he said, and it would sell for much silver.
"The new one is okay now with the others," said Elbio. "Let's go to the house."
The concrete house was long and narrow with dirty white-washed walls where black flies flew and landed. We sat at the wooden table with his four daughters and two sons and Elbio broke off pieces of bread and cut pieces of cheese and handed out sandwiches to each of us. He and I drank red wine from a box and we talked about America.
"You are married, Jesse?"
"I am not."
"Do you have children?"
"We have almost the same years, Jesse. When will you have children?"
"I don’t know."
"Tell me. Which religion have you?"
"I was born a Protestanto."
He nodded. "But you should be married. You should not be traveling."
The youngest boy giggled and whispered to his sister. The little boy wore thick bifocal spectacles but he was badly wall-eyed.
"Papa, Papa," said the little boy. "I want to talk to the gringo."
"Talk to him."
But the little boy only looked at me with his good eye, the other eye looking off across the room. Elbio's wife came from the kitchen and placed a tray of empanadas on the table. They were carne with olives or carne with pieces of boiled egg and they were hot and very good.
Elbio asked if I knew of the bandolero norteamericano Butch Cassidy. I did and I mentioned the Sundance Kid but he did not know of him. He told his wife to go and bring something.
"Butch Cassidy stayed at the house of my grandmother at Río Pico in Chubut. Some say the outlaw was killed in Bolivia but this is not true."
His wife returned with a bundle of stained cloth. Elbio unwrapped the cloth carefully. Inside was an ivory handled Colt .45.
"It is the revolver of Butch Cassidy," he said proudly. "The outlaw gave it to my grandmother as payment for his stay in Río Pico."
Elbio handed the revolver to me. It was heavy and the metal was oiled and well-cared for. It was a beautiful gun.
"Fronterizas surrounded the house and shot Butch Cassidy and the other outlaw. They cut off their heads and their hands to be sent to North America for the reward. My grandmother said it is not right to bury the norteamericanos without heads and hands. Everyone liked the norteamericanos and felt badly they were killed. They are buried near the house."
We talked some more but I was sleepy from the wine and my Spanish deteriorated. The wall-eyed boy giggled and repeated my mistakes of grammar to his sister. Elbio showed me out to the camper that sat on cinderblocks in front of the house. I thanked him for his hospitality. "In the morning we will eat breakfast. Then we will go to see about that horse."