In 1981, my riding partner, Rick Dailey, and I learned that a Mexican bandit was crossing the border near Arivaca, AZ and raiding the ranches and outlying homesteads. Rick’s grandparents lived near that small town and were concerned that they would be next. Their neighbor had been hit twice in a month; the latest, erlier that morning. Rick and I volunteered to check it out.
Rick and I loaded our horses in the gooseneck trailer and drove to Arivaca. We visited with Gramps and Granny and then saddled up and rode to their neighbors. We scouted around and found the tracks of an unshod horse; the one the bandit had ridden. We spoke with the neighbors and had a pretty good idea where to look. We were about to chase down the crook when a deputy sheriff arrived. He was a joke. When he found out what we were planning, he threatened to arrest us. We laughed and just rode away. He didn’t follow because there was no road; just a trail off through the high desert.
Looking back, I believe this Vega-Vega guy had been watching us all along. We didn’t pay attention to his tracks and rode right into an ambush. His first shot hit the pommel of Rick’s Saddle. It ricocheted past my ear. I have no idea about his second shot. We both bailed off and looked for some cover. I had my Winchester, Rick his pistol. Had the shot been true and not deflected by the saddle horn, Rick would have been killed. We fired in the general direction of the ambusher. When no shots were fired in about ten minutes, we slipped back to our horses and returned to Gramps and Granny. The cop was waiting for us and again threatened to arrest us for interfering with his duty.
Rick wanted to pound him into the dust. I felt the same way but used some of the legal jargon I had somewhere in my cranium to disarm the fool. I reminded him that lawyers made a good living suing police for wrongdoings. He backed down and took the arrest threat away. He issued a personal treat, however. I signaled Rick to keep quiet. The deputy went away and we planned our next moves. We were determined to get this Vega-Vega Bandit.Here's a peek:
Slowly their adversary came toward them. He kept them in his sight at all times, and was prepared shoot if either partner made a move toward his gun. The man was alone. He was Mexican, but his English was very good. He still had the Spanish accent, but it was clear that he’d had some education. He was bigger than most Mexicans were. He wasn’t tall, standing around 5’8” but massive shoulders and a barrel chest made him appear formidable. A broad grin crossed his face when he visually inventoried their camp. He held the rifle on them and ordered each to lie face down in the sand. RC didn’t respond as quickly as the bandit liked, so the Mexican fired toward him, and RC flung himself to the ground.
“I do not joke you, Señors. I can kill you where you lie if you do not do as I say.” He spat angrily.
“What do you want?” RC asked.
“Everything you gringos own,” he laughed.
Curtis could see the man out of the corner of his eye. The bandit felt that he was safe from authority way out here. He was casual but alert as he examined the items still left lying on the ground. He found Curtis’ pistol and stuffed it into his waistband. He wore camouflage trousers, surplus combat boots, and a long sleeved knit shirt. He took his time saddling Curtis’ horse. Not once did he allow either of his victims out of his sight. When he attempted to put the saddle on the mule, he had a problem. The ornery cuss never did like the feel of the packsaddle, and usually threw a fit when the britchen was put under his tail. Rather than risk either RC or Curtis jumping him, the man ordered Curtis to do the task. Curtis obliged, but contemplated every move to figure any way that he might have an opportunity to attack the robber. The Mexican bandit never gave him a chance. He stood away from Curtis and was able to cover them both with his rifle. He enjoyed watching the mule taming. Finally, with both horses and the mule loaded, the bandit ordered each man to empty their pockets and throw the contents to him. Complying with his instructions, RC begrudgingly tossed the man his wallet, which contained over three hundred dollars in cash. Curtis had to turn over the ounce of gold he had panned earlier in the morning as well as the hundred and fifty in his pockets. The Mexican outlaw left the loose change in the sand and mounted RC’s big Grey gelding. It was obvious to the partners that the thief was an experienced horseman. He led the other horse and mule out of the arroyo and when he topped the ridge, snapped two shots in their direction to discourage any thoughts of pursuit.
Rick and I spent the night with his grandparents in Arivaca and set out the next day to track the bandit to wherever he might have holed up for the night. We found where he’d cut and restrung the barbed wire fence that separated the US from Mexico. We foolishly went on through. We rode for a mile into Mexico and then came upon a stream. We discovered a cave near the stream. The hoof prints and dung from his horse were all over the area. The cave was evidently where he’d spent the night. It appeared to be well used by wetbacks as well. Disposable diapers suggested the cave had been recently used.
While I poked around the cave, Rick scooped and filled a saddle bag with black sand he’d gathered from the stream bed. He was always prospecting. We followed Vega’s trail a few miles further into Mexico. We were wary of an ambush. One of us always scouted ahead; we leapfrogged into the uncharted territory. I kept lobbying for us to turn back. It seemed like the logical thing to do. Rick was still peeved about the bullet that destroyed his saddle horn and almost took his life.
We were so concerned about being ambushed again that neither of us had considered watching our back trail. Trouble came to us from that direction. Not from Vega-Vega but two other guys. (we couldn’t agree; Rick thought they were wannabe illegal’s -- I thought they were bandits) One had a pistol, the other a rusty old butcher knife. I was the closest to the pair when we turned around. I spurred my horse into the guy with the knife and kicked him in the face as he fell to the ground. Rick and his horse Guthrie rode down the guy with the pistol; he was running away. The bandit tried a snap shot at Rick as he disappeared over a ridge. The shot missed but evidently hit the saddle bag full of sand; we found the slug later in the week when we panned that sand for gold dust. A lot had leaked out of the bullet hole. Rick swore it was the good stuff we lost. We skirted the area around the cave and stream to avoid running into any other people. They all seemed pissed at us…
Neither Rick nor I went back that cave or stream on the Mexico side of the border. Nothing was heard from Vega-Vega. There was a rumor flitting around that two cowboys snuffed his ass. (I learned years later that Vega Vega had been captured in Hermisillo, Mexico and spent 10 years in prison.)I wrote the novel PARTNERS with some modified scenes that sorta-kinda depicted our real life encounter. The book was published by an unknown publisher and was a huge failure. HUGE! I’d sold my ranch and was heavily invested in a weekly newspaper when the ‘blue lines’ were sent to me to proofread. I didn’t even look at them and the book was published missing an entire chapter. I rewrote it years later and it happened to be published at the same time the movie “Broke-Back Mountain” was being hyped. It was a movie about two gay cowboys. Everyone assumed PARTNERS WAS THE ROOT OF THAt STUPID MOVIE…another failure! Damn!