The Legend of Coyote Don

Back when this place was still Mexican land, there was was a village here. It didn’t have a name, it was just called La Hacienda. It was centered around a ranch owned by cruel, cruel man who drank too much and beat his wife with a horsewhip. He was regarded as a visionary, a genius. His name was Alfonso Mercredes de Papalote. He had stood up to the Spanish, and was now paid favors by the Mexican government, in land, in shady tax deals, and in personal visits by the Governor whenever he rode through. He was a hero, and a savior. But things changed as La Hacienda grew. Papalote kept the villagers as serfs, and would not allow them their own land. He collected their earnings, and gave back to them what they needed.

At first this arrangement was all right, since the villagers didn’t need much, and since they trusted Papalote and his wisdom. He collected the earnings of their visitors too, though. If a family newly arrived from Monterrey showed up at the doorstep of one of the villagers without stopping first to see Papalote, he would kindly make a call and visit himself. This was regarded as an honor, as was the passing of a symbolic conquistador’s helmet for whatever jewels and coins the family might be carrying, for they were remnants of the old empire and not acceptable in the humble Hacienda.

Papalote was a handsome man, once. And still was, if you asked any of the villagers. His ruddy face was not fat but thick-skinned like a lizard, weathered and expansive like a true Mexican patriot in the lands of Alta California. He had broad shoulders from which hung an enormous kettle of a paunch. And though his arms and legs were skinny, you knew by looking that they were hard as a warriors, and you didn’t ever doubt the stories that he told of going on quests for El Dorado. According to Papalote’s letters to the Governor, the meek little Hacienda was the closest known location to the fabled lost city of gold. Using modern cartography and referring to his thumb-worn copy Amadis of Gaul, which had survived wars and shipwrecks, he had been able to nearly pinpoint the location. It would be Papalote’s life mission to discover El Dorado and extract its riches in the name of God and Mexico. It was whispered in some circles, back in Mexico City and Monterrey where Papalote was from, that he had made a similar pledge to the King of Spain himself, and had switched allegiances out of convenience, but these whispers never made their way to La Hacienda. Papalote cut the lips off of any man, woman or child who repeated blasphemy. There was a small church across the way from his ranch, and the church marked the top of a circle that the rest of the villagers homes were built around. Thus one always knew who the Supreme Authority was at all times.

It is hard to know from historic record whether the one known as Coyote Don came because he was summoned, or whether he happened upon La Hacienda and learned of its secrets quite by accident. The villagers were illiterate, but a letter written by the grandson of one of them refers to a particular incident in which some children were playing in the circle, rolling and chasing a wagon wheel—the man’s grandfather was one of the boys—and they were laughing and repeating stories about Papalote. “He has udders like a goat!” they chanted. “He has spines like a lizard!” One of the children, emboldened by this play, ventured to repeat a rumor that had somehow made its way to his ears. “You know, Papalote has been King of other Haciendas before.” This stopped the children in their tracks: it was a new idea, and they did not know what to make of it. Other Haciendas? This idea made sense, but the notion that their own Papalote had been the father and benefactor of others seemed unimaginable. La Hacienda and Papalote were entwined as one. Did he leave the others orphaned for ours? What happened to the people abandoned by Papalote? It was a cruel and mischievous idea, but it took root in the children’s minds, for they knew of Papalote’s temper, and his fickleness. They had once seen him, in all his grace, rescue a goat from slaughter because, he said, God had told him this goat was special. But when the goat bit his hand, he smashed its skull in with the butt of his pistol without a second thought.

The story was repeated to one of the parents. “Is it true?” The parent must have been very sad, for children will not hold their tongues they way adults do, and this parent must have known that their child was at risk. This parent must have gone to Papalote and told him of the rumor. “You see, sir, it was a harmless game, and you know how children will be,” the parent must have confided, “but I just wanted to let you know that it was not my child, but the child of J___ who said these things. Honestly, I don’t know where they hear such things. Kids!”

So it was that the child of J___ was slaughtered in front of the parents and everyone in La Hacienda. First his lips were cut off, and then his throat was stomped on. The parents were hung afterward. “God will not tolerate blasphemy,” decreed Papalote. And he was right.

One of the children had escaped after his playmate was killed. He slipped away into the desert on a burro, with no food or water to keep him. He rode through Blunderbuss Canyon and Silverado Canyon, through the hills of what is now modern day El Empresa, and down to the coast, to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. This is why some scholars believe that Coyote Don was a baptized Indian, though some argue he was one of the Franciscans. Another folktale featuring Coyote Don says that he was an American vaquero, or cowboy—that’s where we get the name buckaroo—but those stories came much later, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In any event, Coyote Don showed up on the crest of a hill overlooking La Hacienda, and it is said that he saw the sadness there, and vowed to God that he would avenge the death of the boy and his family and rescue the people from El Diablo.

Papalote was a genius though, and he knew Coyote Don was coming. Maybe he saw him up on that ridge, or maybe someone had alerted him to the presence of a lone horseman outside La Hacienda. He rounded up his cowhands, his servants, and all the men in the village. He opened his private armory to them, and they all selected pistols and muskets, quickly and quietly.

Coyote Don saw an empty village, and began to ride down the slopes of the hill and into La Hacienda. As he neared the circle of the town, he saw a line of mounted men approach from the backside of Papalote’s ranch house. Coyote Don stood and leaned forward in his stirrups and launched into a full gallop, and the line of ranchers did the same, galloping at full speed directly toward the lone horseman.

Bullets singed the air amid thundering hooves, whizzed past Coyote Don’s cheek. Coyote disregarded these—”If I am meant to die, I am meant to die,” he is known to have said. “Until then, I am still alive, and I have work to do.” He hefted his coil of rope from the leather loop on his saddle, and began to spin the lasso, allowing the circle of the lasso to widen as it spun. As he rose directly into the midst of the charging ranchers, he threw his lasso and then pulled it, yanking a rider off his horse, then grtabbing the other end of the rope, also cleverly tied into a slipknot, and used it to lasso another rider. As he rode, he threw the middle of the rope up over his head, and allow it to go taut, forming a trip-line between the fallen rider and the falling one, and catching two more riders in between. He yelled as he grabbed his pistols from his two side holsters and began shooting, one after the other, with only a split second to aim between each firing. One, two riders go down, blasted in the chest. Three, four, the bullets fly and drop two more. Five, six, seven, eight—Coyote Don kicks his heels in and fires straight, dropping the enemies like flies hitting an invisible wall. Soon they are all dead or lying wounded on the ground, and Coyote Don, unhurt, sees his last enemy, Alfonso Mercredes de Papalote himself, standing there, his hands at his hips ready to draw his weapons and fire.

Coyote Don pulls up twenty paces short of this Diablo and dismounts, throwing his leg over his horse and jumping down in one fluid motion.

They stand there watching each other for what seems like forever, staring each other down. Each one is trying to break the will of the other, but this is Papalote, and this is Coyote Don. Neither will is to be broken. One is mad, and one is fierce. Without a word, Papalote roars and Coyote Don lunges forward and ducks into a roll. Papalote draws quick and slaps the hammer back on his pistol and fires. But he misses the fast Coyote, and must pull the hammer back again. In this instant Coyote Don draws himself to his feet and whips out his own revolver and fires. And keeps firing. He empties the chambers into Papalote. And Papalote goes flying backward, each bullet a nail pinning him to an unholy cross of his own making. BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM, he staggers back, and falls, dead as the desert.

Coyote Don stands over his corpse and spits. He has slain the villain, but now he looks around. He has also slain the villain’s indentured army. He has killed all of the men in the village. He looks around, now very thirsty. He looks and sees the eyes that are on him from behind doors and windows.

Coyote Don tips his hat. He is a dog, true to his name. He leaps up onto his horse, and he rides back into the hills. He is not heard from again in this area.