||the AMBROSE BIERCE site|
Ojinaga was a town of such treeless desolation that it made Presidio, its American cousin across the Rio Grande, seem prosperous. The place was composed of square, adobe houses and white, dusty streets. Few houses had roofs, most had walls that had been fractured by cannon blasts. Chickens, children, and dogs used the gaping holes in the walls like doors.
Pancho Villa & Seven Seas
The warring sides had exchanged Ojinaga six times during the revolution. Maybe it was seven. No one was sure. For the moment, it was in the hands of General Salvador Mercado, survivor of a deadly one-hundred-fifty mile retreat across the desert from his denouement at Tierra Blanca. Mercado had begun his campaign with an army of fifteen-thousand men. By the time he reached Ojinaga he had just three-thousand-five-hundred, including eleven generals, twenty-one colonels, and forty-five majors.
Villa's strategy against Mercado was direct. After an artillery pounding it was a head on assault. Villa, wearing two crisscrossed bandoleers and a sombrero, was astride his favorite horse, a stallion named Seven Leagues. He'd owned many horses and he gave them all the same name. A white silk scarf flowed from the bandido's neck. He wore buckskin trousers and jodhpur boots and big-rawled Mexican spurs. Not far behind him was the old gringo with a white mustache. Bierce, dressed in his usual black, rode his white mare, his Colt .45 at his side, a Winchester cradled in his arms.
"Sure you're up to this, old man?" Pancho shouted.
"I can still pull a trigger," Bierce shouted back.
"You're about to get your chance, senor."
The sun flashed on the menacing sight of field guns protecting Ojinaga. But the guerrilleros knew that the Huertistas were low on shells and ammunition, that they were exhausted, depleted, starving, terrified, and weary of fight.
"Viva la Revolucion!" Villa yelled to his cavalry, waving his rifle over his head.
A crater from a cannon blast erupted not seventy-five feet from the old man, scaring his horse, who rose on her hind legs. But Bierce was steady at the reins and urged her onward. The federales had dug trenches in which to position themselves. They'd stacked sandbags. They'd overturned cars and had piled debris to use as cover from the invaders. But they had no will.
"Not bad shooting for an old gringo."
"I learned my skills in the Ninth Indiana Infantry Regiment, General."
Bullets whistled over their heads. Villa, running pigeon-toed, found his horse and grabbed the bridle. The desperate Huertistas, firing over their shoulders, splashed across the shallow water of the Rio Grande. They were greeted by unfriendly American soldiers led by Colonel John Pershing and herded into a great, unsanitary corral like cattle. Later, the Mexicans were moved to Fort Bliss, where they were crowded into a stockade enclosed by barbed wire until the Americans could figure out what the hell to do with them. That night, Ojinaga was tranquil except for the odor of smoke and rubber and death. Exhausted soldiers slept, buzzed by mosquitos. Near a campfire a soldier strummed a guitar and sang "The Morning Song to Francisco Villa." It would be a long time before the smell of the battle went away.
Villa said to Bierce, "You saved my life."
"My compliments, sir."
"Senor, you're a foolhardy man."
"That's usually a man who's unlucky in the execution of a courageous act, General."
"Because you saved my life, that don't mean I'm going to let you live. You've still got to play The Game."
"I wouldn't have it any other way, sir. You're a man who has it in his power to abate in me the ravages of senility and reduce the chances of being drowned."
Villa took out a cigar and put it in his mouth. He heard a dog bark. Already the animals had emerged from their hiding places to sniff at the bodies of the dead.
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