Tales Of The Rio Grande
September 23, 2010
Longtime readers of Shooting Times will recognize the subhead for this installment as the headline for former Shooting Editor Bill Jordan's bimonthly department that ran in ST beginning in 1990.
Bill signed on with ST in 1982, and his first monthly column, called "Point Blank," started that year. Eight years later, he began atlernating between "Point Blank" one month and "Tales Of The Rio Grande" the next month. The tales presented here were first printed in 1995. — The Editors
This story is from Ed Woods, former Border Patrol agent and pilot. Although Woods disclaims any knowledge of Jim Keyser's partner in this caper, he seems suspiciously well informed. It occurred in 1958 at El Cajon, California.
"Way back when, in the early days of my career just off probation, I was on the night watch in Roca Pass, just south of the Sweetwater River bottom. One December night, the Patrol inspector, Jim Keyser, and his partner (I have conveniently forgotten his name) drove an old Chevy panel to the river bottom. Since the winter nights were quite nippy for crouching at fence corners near one of the usual places for illegals to cross, the 'layin in' crews used some furniture blankets that a local moving company had quite generously donated.
"The team this night dragged blankets, flashlights, and snacks and such up the hill to the selected spot, arriving about 9 p.m. There, they took turns 'napping' while the other stood watch.
"Everything was quiet for the first few hours. Then it became Keyser's turn to watch, so he was punched awake and reminded to stay awake and watch. Keyser was well wrapped up in his blanket, warm and cozy, and the inevitable happened. He dozed off.
"The next thing the pair knew, there was a screeching of stretched fence wire. Keyser snapped to consciousness in a hurry and looked up. There, skylined against a moonlit sky, was one heck of a big illegal and one not so tall, both legging it over the fence.
"Keyser was so startled he couldn't think of anything else to do, so he jumped up, blanket and all still wrapped around him with the only opening at his face. Raising his elbows out made him look bigger, and he yelled at the top of his voice, 'Heyaaa!' The big illegal, still straddling the fence, let go of the top wire and returned Keyser's yell with a louder one. Whereupon, Keyser screamed even louder, and the big illegal answered. Anyway, after three such exchanges, the illegal proceeded to pass out, falling flat on his face on Keyser's side of the fence. About that time, the little one says, 'Que paso, seÃ±or? Es usted un aparecido?' (What goes on, sir? Are you a ghost?)
"Still no word out of the big guy. I suppose when a second, even bigger ghost appeared behind Keyser (his partner), it was more than the big illegal could handle and he passed out again.
"Well, let me tell you, old Keyser was afraid he had caused that hombre to have a heart attack and that he had died. It took a few minutes to determine the guy's status, due to his heart pumping kind of irregular and a sort of wet area that ran from his crotch a long way toward his shoe tops.
"Keyser said, 'My God, I thought he had a heart attack and died. What do we do now?'
"Well, when everything settled down, the big guy was revived and was amiable enough to walk down the mountain to the vehicle. Old Keyser never did doze off on his part of the watch again to my recollection, and I still can't remember who his partner was."
It Happened At Ole Miss
Now for a little something on the serious side of Border Patrol business. The next story comes from "Triple H," Harry H. Heard.
"It was 1962, just a few months after finishing border Patrol Academy in 1961.
"It was peaceful, warm, and everything was right with the world. Then it crackled (the radio), and my whole world was turned upside down. All units were to report to headquarters immediately!
"At the station (McAllen, Texas), our supervisor gathered us all in a room, shut the door, and issued the following instructions: 'You will go to your homes. Change into civilian clothes, with coat and tie. Bring your baton, gun, and cuffs. Be back here in one hour. Don't tell anyone what you are doing, why, or when.' Then he swore us all in as U.S. Marshals.
"The McAllen station was at the edge of the airport. One hour later, a Border Patrol C-16 plane landed and loaded about 20 of us. A couple hours later, we landed at a U.S. naval base near Memphis, Tennessee. There we were taken to barracks and told to 'stand by.' We stayed there a couple of nights and then were told to 'load up.' Back into the same plane (there were about 40 of us by then), and we soon landed at Oxford, Mississippi. Then we knew!
"The United States had been going through the throes of integration for years. Recently, a young black man had applied for entry in the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) at Oxford and had been rejected. The Kennedy Administration in Washington had instructed the Attorney General to see that the applicant be placed on the campus.
"As we climbed into an open stake-bodied truck, we could see a small twinw -engine plane land and saw Mr. Meredith (the applicant) and two U.S. Marshals alight. They followed in a car as we headed to the Ole Miss campus. We had been issued helmets and gas masks. As we rode on to the campus, we could hear a roar. A sound, a rumble, coming from a frightening mob is like no other sound.
"A few bottles flew through the air and hit the truck, breaking the windshield. We made our way to the Lyceum building where students register and get assigned to classes and quarters.
"Getting down from the truck, we were stationed shoulder to shoulder across the front of the Lyceum. There was a Mississippi State patrolman standing between us and the mob, his car parked nearby. He was attempting to hold the crowd back with his presence. Soon, however, bottles and bricks began to fly. One of the U.S. Marshals (not one of us) fired a tear gas gun and hit the state policeman. Talk about a bad shot. That did it. The policeman got in his car, turned on the siren, and left. Then all hell broke loose.
"There are really no words to describe an angry mob directing their total anger at you. First a brick landed on the helmet of the man next to me and knocked him cold. Two of us dragged him toward the building into some bushes. By this time, the air was filled with tear gas we were throwing. A brick hit me in the shoulder but landed flat and j
ust drove me back a few feet. Bottles by the hundreds were smashing on us and on the Jeep in the street. Those gas masks saved our eyes. We expected to be overwhelmed by the mob momentarily. There seemed to be thousands of people. Cars were being burned, bricks and bottles were being thrown, and one man was lying in a pool of blood, shot through the throat.
"As darkness approached, the bullets really started to fly. They popped against the front of the Lyceum, buzzed around us. My buddy and I stood behind the Jeep, cut the lights on. It was pointed toward the crowd. As we stared through the windshield, bullets popped through the glass. So much for that. We really had no cover except for the Jeep and another Army truck. Then the truck was set on fire."They ran a bulldozer toward us. Somebody stopped it. Somebody knocked the driver out of it and stopped it. It was pandemonium. This went on all night.
"About daylight, the National Guard came in. They lined up in front of what was left of us and fired a volley over the heads of the mob. They (the Guard) went down from bricks or bullets.
"One man was dead, several were wounded. All were bruised and battered. The area was so soaked with tear gas one couldn't breathe without a mask. One hero braved the mob in a truck to fetch more tear gas during the night (that was Charlie 'Chula' Chamblee). One man held up his pocket watch with a bullet right in the center. That was close.
"Then it was over. Daylight came."
To this day, few people know that the Marshals at the riot in Oxford were mostly Border Patrol agents.