5 CALVERA THE BANDIT
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. 1960, Director John Sturges
That field where the corn grows higher than the rest is, my friend, where we buried Calvera and his men. Next to the field you can see the hacienda. It is the responsibility of my family but the hacienda belongs to the village. At first that spread was nothing more than a corral. The three boys that had to watch Bernardo die, they helped me erect the first fences. I hoped the work would help ease their grief. We named the hacienda Oberna after Bernardo. His second name was O’Reilly.
Villagers do not think about the spoils of battle. Chris explained what we had to do with the bodies of the dead men, their horses, weapons and clothes. Chris said we could sell the clothes and saddles but that we should keep the horses and weapons. The bandits may have been hungry when they died but they wore hats that could get a good price. It was their tradition. Calvera had a silver horn on his saddle. From what we sold at the border we had enough money to buy grain for the horses and to keep some money for bad harvests. I swapped some horses so that they could breed. The corral became a hacienda. My neighbours in the village are now not so poor. I have been given the house that is kept for the old man of the village. I am also, of course, very old. Without Petra I would be lonely and remember too much the day we fought and killed Calvera and his men.
The three boys that helped me build the corral now live in the United States of America. They found Chris and Vin in a Californian town called Bridgeport. There are 800 people in this town, so it must be a big place. I still see them as clear as anything, Chris and Vin riding off towards the sun and mountains. There were just the two of them but Chris and Vin also took the four horses of their men that had died and two others. Two horses carried Chris and Vin. On the back of the other six horses were what their dead riders had owned. Chris and Vin used the six horses to buy a livery stable, so I have been told.
Friend, I stayed in the village because someone had to corral the horses and to sell at the border what we had taken from the dead men. I married Petra but she was not the only reason I returned. There were the horses, and I understood my nature. I am an impulsive man, perhaps not so much now I am old. That day of the battle I saw many men less impulsive than me die. If I could farm like my neighbours, they might call me something other than Chico. I am the old man of the village, and they say Chico this, Chico that. I do not mind. I have a high house and I can sit on my porch. I sit with Petra and look down on a not so poor village and the hacienda. I like having the mountains behind me and close.
I never did speak to Calvera or light his cigar as I said. As a young man, I was boastful. Like my impulsiveness, it was my nature. I did wander up to the bandit camp but I listened from where I could not be seen. They were hungry and short of bullets. I could not believe what I heard. Calvera, the man that had robbed banks in the United States of America and was chased down into Mexico by the great North American Army, had no food for the winter. Lying flat on the ground and listening to Calvera shout at his men, I understood the villagers had made the right choice. We were right to fight. And since the battle the villagers have prospered. But we were lucky and some fine farmers lost their lives. What would have happened if Chris had not been able to find seven good men? The old man who once lived in this house here high above the village wanted my neighbours to fight but old men are like that, they like to rub their hands and watch young men risk their lives. Would I ask the villagers to fight if bandits returned? It depends on how many bandits and what they asked. Once a week I used to lead the shooting practice for my neighbours. Then my eyesight faded. I now have new remarkable eyeglasses but the villagers do not want an old man wearing eyeglasses telling them how to shoot their guns and rifles. I used to worry about Geronimo especially as we had horses but the Apaches never came to the village. Maybe they heard the tales about how we defeated Calvera. Now most of the Apaches are dead.
We have a priest who comes to the village twice a year as he always did. He knows more about Calvera than I do. Calvera came from a family that had a hacienda like the one you can see below. He was a good young man according to the priest. Calvera liked horses and he worked hard. His father, though, had a cruel tongue and said something to the son of his neighbours. The young son went away but he was angry at what had been said so he drank much tequila. He returned to the home of Calvera. The young son of the neighbour killed the father of Calvera. When I heard the priest tell this tale, my spine turned cold. I remembered the night when I had drunk whisky and challenged Chris to a gunfight. I was too drunk to kill anyone. A man not like Chris would have killed me. Calvera was not like Chris. Calvera had a temper. He avenged the murder of his father and upheld the honour of the family but he had to flee. The Federales put a price on the head of Calvera. To live, Calvera robbed banks in the cities and then fled to the mountains. Later he persecuted small towns and picked up more men. Some say Calvera once had as many as a hundred men but I do not believe it. We found four dead horses and Chris took two. I put 34 in the corral. Calvera had forty men.
Calvera was loyal to his men and kind to his horses but he thought farmers were not human. I heard him say so. Calvera admired bravery but any farmer that resisted him he thought a fool. The priest that visited the village told terrible tales about Calvera. Often the bandit would raid towns that had small brothels but in the villages without painted ladies his men would use what women were available. This was why the villagers always had their women work in the distant fields. Sometimes that helped but not always. Calvera never raped or hurt a woman or so he thought. His men were different. If they saw a look of hatred on a woman, they would tie her to a tree and all of the bandits would take her. I hope Calvera never did have a hundred men. Forty would be bad enough. This was why Hilario decided that the women in the village had to be hidden in the hills when Chris and his men arrived.
Calvera once kidnapped a wife of a Police Federale. She had to ride around with him and his bandits for two months while her husband thought about whether he should pay the ransom. When the woman was returned, she said she had been treated with respect and that Calvera was a gentleman. The woman was known to be an accomplished horsewoman. That would have helped her.
In another town there was a young priest that walked up to Calvera and faced him in the street. This young priest carried a rifle. Calvera laughed in his face, took the gun away and dragged the brave priest back to the church. The poor priest was fastened to the desk where every week he wrote his sermons. Calvera put the testicles of the priest into the drawer of the desk, locked the drawer and then left a knife on top of the desk. Calvera told the priest to be a man and set himself free. As he walked away, Calvera set fire to the room. The priest cut off what was trapped inside the drawer. His manhood burned inside his church. The young priest suffered and abandoned his God. The man who told us this tale refused to say anything more about what happened to the brave young man. Calvera hated priests. Something must have happened between Calvera and the church when his father was killed.
Chris Adams and Vin Tanner are still alive and living in Bridgeport California, so I believe. The three young boys that saw Bernardo die, they visit Bridgeport from time to time, so they said the one time they returned to the village. The livery stable Chris and Vin bought is now a garage for motor cars. I have the dream that Chris and Vin one day will arrive here in an American motor car but for that to happen the roads will have to improve, I reckon.
Friend, it is now time for my afternoon nap. Look at the church where I rang the bell the first day I arrived here with Chris. Look, every year the buildings in the village have fresh whitewash and we do whatever repairs are needed. Times change, and no doubt the village will see a motor car one day but I fear it will be without Chris and Vin. They were men better than me. But look at those beautiful horses in our hacienda. I hope God thinks he did right in bringing me to this village. Friend, it is now time for my afternoon nap. Petra will already be asleep. I do not sleep as much as Petra. Without a glass of whisky I would sleep even less.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.