- On a dry, dusty day in 1884, a Texas cowboy named Charlie
McCarty was happily drunk in the mud-hut New Mexico town of Frisco. His
strong sense of loyalty to his home state, coupled with the whiskey that
warmed his insides, soon erupted into yells about the Alamo and wild shots
from his six-gun.
- Charlie McCarty was one of the Slaughter Ranch cowboys
[not the same John H. Slaughter who cleaned up Tombstone], who often frequented
the upper plaza of the village of Frisco, and the villagers knew that if
any of the Slaughter men were bothered by a mere New Mexican, an entire
army of cowboys from the ranch would descend on the town and leave nothing
untouched. So they usually tolerated Charlie McCarty and his roughshod
compadres shooting up their town and doing whatever it might be that made
- But on this particular day the shots attracted the attention
of a lean, fine-featured youth who happened to be passing through town. This
nineteen-year-old Mexican sought out the town officials and asked why they
let such a rowdy cowboy run loose on the streets.
- "He is a Texan, senor," was their
reply. "He works at the Slaughter Ranch."
- "That is not reason enough to let him shoot up the
streets," the young stranger said. "He could kill someone."
- "Who are you to tell us what to do?" the mayor
demanded of him. "You are a boy, a stranger to this town. Be on your
- "I am Elfego Baca," the youth announced, "and
I am the law." With that he remove a badge from his shirt pocket and
pinned it on his chest.[Some historians say that Baca pinned on a
crude badge that he had made on the trail to Frisco; others maintain that
he was a legally sworn deputy with a real tin star.]
- "But we don't need the law," the mayor of the
little town protested. "These men are letting off steam, having fun
- The mayor's speech was interrupted as a bullet whined
down the street, and the men dived for cover.
- Elfego Baca left the cowering crew of New Mexicans and
marched down the street. Baca quickly disarmed the whiskey reeling Charlie
McCarty and brought the cowboy back to the town officials. "Now you
can put him in jail,'" Baca told them.
- But the officials wanted no part of McCarty or any other
cowboy from the Slaughter Ranch. They knew if they put one of Slaughter's
men in jail, there would be some very unwelcome reprisals.
- "You've captured him; you're the law," they
told him, "so you can do with him what you like."
- "All right," Baca said disgustedly, "but
get me a room where I can hold him for the night. Tomorrow I will take
him to the county seat for trial."
- When the news reached the ears of the foreman of the
Slaughter Ranch, a man named Young Perham, he and a dozen ranch hands were
immediately on their horses and heading for town to reclaim Charlie McCarty
for Texas. The Slaughter cowboys were surprised to find that the Mexican
youth was not cowering away in some back alley hideout, but was waiting
for them in front of the door of his temporary jail.
- The cowboys reined in their horses, but remained mounted
as the steady-eyed youth glanced over them all.
- Perham was direct. "You got one of our hands in
- "Si. senor," Baca replied.
- "Well, we're gonna take him out. Some of you boys
get a ram so we can break in that door."
- "No, senor!" Elfego Baca shouted.
"He is my prisoner. You will not take him from me."
- The cowboys ignored the words of Baca until a Colt .45
appeared in the teenaged lawman's hands.
- "Better put up that Colt," Perham warned
- "You'd better get out of here," Baca threatened.
"I'll count to three before I shoot."
- One of the ranchhands snorted his contempt and said that
no Mexican could count to three. The other cowboys laughed and added their
own derisive comments into the mix.
- "One," Baca announced. The cowboys' horses,
sensing the tension, became skittish.
- The Texans' hands moved slightly for their holstered
- "Three!" Baca shouted, and his Colt blazed,
burning a hole in the knee of one of the cowboys and sending the horses
of the others plunging and scattering. Perham could not control his mount,
and he fell to the ground to watch with horror-filled eyes as the horse
itself landed on top of him, critically wounding him.
- The rest of the cowboys beat a hasty retreat back to
the Slaughter Ranch, and the village was left in an uproar. The townspeople
knew what to expect, and they were not surprised the next afternoon when
cowboys from all of the outlying ranches came to Frisco to see that the
upstart young Mexican got what he deserved.
- The more level heads among the ranch owners realized
that there could be real trouble if it once got started. The respected
ranchers James H. Cook and the Englishman William French suggested that
a trial for McCarty on the charge of disturbing the peace be held at Milligan's
Bar. Baca was given a signed agreement that he would be free to leave Frisco
after the trial.
- McCarty's trial took exactly five seconds. He was declared
guilty and ordered to pay a five-dollar fine for disturbing the peace.
The revolver with which he had been shooting up the town was confiscated,
and he was set free.
- Baca knew the temperament of the cowboys. The signed
agreement which granted him safe passage out of town would mean nothing
to the angry cowhands seeking revenge on the smart-aleck Mexican kid. If
he started to ride out of town, he knew that he would not get very far
before a group of saddle tramps would catch him out in the open.
- While the men were bolstering their courage with whiskey
at Mulligan's, Baca sought cover in a mud hut, called a jacal ,
but the town, which was overflowing with vengeful cowhands, was not big
enough to conceal his movements. Soon the word was out where Baca had taken
cover, and a group of men, led by a cowboy named Herne, strolled boldly
to the door of the jacal and demanded that the youthful lawman
come out and stand trial for disturbing their right to have a good time
in Frisco. Herne leveled a cocked Winchester at the door.
- The cowboy's demand was not answered with words, but
rather with bullets, as Baca's Colt rang out, sending two pieces of lead
through the door and into Herne. The rest of the cowboys scattered, leaving
William French to haul away his dying ranchhand.
- The shooting attracted others, and soon the hut was surrounded
with angry Texans, who poured a steady stream of lead through the plaster
and straw walls of the jacal.
- After this torrent of lead, a group of cowboys approached
the hut with a white flag and demanded that Elfego Baca surrender. Baca
told them that he would join them in hell first and the shooting began
- By late afternoon, a total of 80 men had joined what
would come to be called The Frisco War. Milligan's saloon began doing a
big business in cartridges as the Texans continued to methodically knock
apart the walls of the hut with .45-caliber slugs.
- But the jacal was built with a floor which
was sunk several inches below ground level, and while the bullets whistled
over his head, Baca lay safely out of the line of fire. After
an entire day's bombardment he remained unscratched.
- About sundown one of the Texans downwind of the shack
smelled smoke, and several cowboys began to wonder if the little mud hut
had caught fire. But shortly after the smell of smoke came the scent of
warming coffee and frying meat. Baca was cooking supper!
- The young Mexican had begun to take on the status of
a superhuman being, and one of the cowboys had the bright idea that if
six-guns and rifles could not kill him, then dynamite surely would.
- Procuring a bundle of dynamite and a length of fuse,
the Texans gathered to watch the fireworks as the lethal package was lofted
through the air toward the jacal.
- The blast sent everything inside flying, including Elfego
Baca. But, miraculously, he tumbled down in the only part of the hut left
standing, and he remained unhurt.
- The cowboy who had thrown the dynamite proclaimed that
the kid had been blown to a thousand pieces, and the entire group of Texans
retired to Milligan's to celebrate.
- The next morning the cowboys who moved cautiously up
to the shack found it quiet. But when they broke into the open, bullets
began whining around their heads. Once again the battle was on.
- The cowboys, with an unlimited supply of cartridges,
kept pouring lead through the shattered dwelling; but just as the day before,
none of them found their mark.
- The Texans even constructed a suit of armor out of an
old stove and drafted one of their number to approach the remains of the
hut using it as a shield. But Baca's marksmanship found chinks in
the armor, and he soon drove the cowboy away.
- Every plan the Texans tried, failed, and they were surprisingly
receptive to the offer of a truce forwarded by a deputy sheriff named Rose.
Rose was sensitive to the temperament of the villagers and realized that
they had taken courage from Baca's one-man stand. If the shooting were
not stopped, the Texans might have a real war on their hands with the emboldened
New Mexicans. The only problem was how to inform Baca.
- Rose and a man named Cook agreed to do this with the
help of a friend of Baca's from the village. The lawman approached Baca
with the promise of a truce, and Elfego agreed to leave the hut. He promised,
however, to kill both Rose and Cook if the Texans tried to take him on
the way out of the village.
- With Baca's guns at his back, Rose explained the deal
to the Texans, and the reluctant cowboys talked it over. As a final selling
point, Cook pointed out the rifle-toting New Mexicans from Frisco, who
had taken up positions on the hill overlooking the plaza.
- The cowboys had had enough. If one teenager could give
them that much trouble, they didn't want to take on the whole village.
The only thing that men from the Slaughter outfit asked was that some of
their hands be allowed to accompany Baca to the county seat where he would
stand trial for murder. By their final tally, Baca had killed four of their
men and wounded eight. Their request was agreed upon, but Baca rode in
the back of a wagon, and the entire troop of cowboys rode in front
- As evidence at Baca's trial the defense entered the door
of the hut, which had 367 bullet holes in it. Everything inside the jacal had
been perforated. Even the broom handle had been hit eight times. Altogether,
the cowboys had expended over 4,000 rounds into the hut, and Elfego Baca
had emerged unharmed. The youth, who had withstood eighty armed men for
thirty hours, spent about four months in jail and was acquitted at both
of his trials.
- Baca accepted the tally of four men killed and eight
wounded, but some historians have claimed only one man, Herne, actually
died during the Frisco War, while another cowboy suffered a painful knee
wound, and Parham died from having his horse fall on him.
- Elfego Baca later became a lawyer, a superintendent of
schools, Sheriff of Socorro Country, New Mexico, a bouncer at a Prohibition
saloon, and a candidate for U.S. Congress and the Governor of New Mexico.
He died peacefully at the age of 80 in 1945. Twelve movies have been made
of the teenaged lawman who fought off 80 men, and one television series
with Robert Loggia as Baca.