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The Rousing Life of Elfego Baca of New Mexico
By Kyle Samuel Crichton
Facsimile of the 1928 Edition with a New Foreword by Stan Sager and Preface by Marc Simmons.
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The year is 1928. Forty-four Octobers have come and gone since Elfego Baca earned top ranking as a gunfighter. Few now remember that on a fall day in 1884, in the village of Frisco, New Mexico, Baca ducked some 4,000 bullets fired by eighty cowboys aiming to kill him. Fewer still recall that the reason for the shoot-out was Baca’s obsession with rescuing Mexican settlers from abuse by Texans in days before “civil rights” became a catch phrase.
The reputation of the Hero-now turned-lawman-lawyer-politician is sorely in need of repair, for despite his boasts of possessing one of the best law practices in the state, things have not gone well for Baca. Elfego has been declared a bankrupt; he’s been humiliated by an untidy divorce; and neither political party in the state seems to want to run him as a candidate for much of anything. So, what’s a man of action to do?
What Elfego does is to make a pre-emptive strike to repair that tattered reputation. He finds a biographer to tell his story just like he wants it told, including his meetings with Billy the Kid and the opera star, Mary Garden. He finally settles on Kyle Samuel Crichton, but only after William A. Keleher, the respected journalist-lawyer, has said, “No.” Keleher introduces Baca to Crichton, who has few writing credentials though he would later author popular books and a successful Broadway play.
Crichton has escaped from the smoke stacks and slag heaps of the Pennsylvania mining country to the pure air of Albuquerque, not to repair the reputation of those like Elfego who have fallen from grace, but to repair his own health. While Elfego is as short as Napoleon, Crichton is taller than Gary Cooper. While Elfego is rotund, Crichton is thin and muscular. While Elfego is bold, Crichton is cautious. But Crichton, who later wrote a biography of the Metropolitan Opera star Risë Stevens (Subway to the Met), brings a wild sense of humor that was to be reflected in all his books. And, while Baca is long on yarns that boost his heroism, Crichton insists on balance. The narrative of the book the pair produced remains open to question: How much of it is fact, how much is flights of fancy?
Whichever it is, it’s a whale of a story about a life lived to a fullness rarely experienced.
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