Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

Bennie's Brigade aka the Cowboy Brigade

A Tale of high adventure and derring do in the wilds of Arizona (with apologies to the dime Westerns of yore)

By Sharon Heist

As the sun began its descent and anyone with any sanity was already in the shade, I made my arrival at Cowtown Keylocko. The horses were just being cooled down and brought to the picket line as I crossed into Cowtown.

It would be an understatement to say that the modern vehicles parked on the main "street" were an anomaly. The guys were all dressed in period clothes-complete with appropriate levels of dust, and a look that bespoke cattle drive beat. On a backdrop of crumbling wooden buildings, hitching posts and the resident pig population, they could have easily stepped back a hundred years. Linus was replete with a hat seasoned to the point of distress and pistol tied down to his leg, and omnipresent tobacco. I would have loved to film the whole thing in sepia.

The rush on the coolers in the back of my truck would have been apropos of cowboys hitting the saloon on payday. Even the pigs scattered. It was clear that the troops had suffered great privation in the carrying out of their bovine chasing duties and were in need of sustenance and libation. I wished I had brought dutch ovens and cooking gear, replete with the mandatory beans and son of a gun stew.

Horses looked as beat as their riders, and made their opinions known about the quality of the water in the horse trough. (It may have been a bit alkaline for their palates.) So there was a certain level of coaxing needed. Coming to the rescue at one point was Bobby, whose patience and knowledge worked on the last holdout.

As the sun set in the West, the generator was cranked up and the saloon began to blare a constant stream of Marty Robbins and the Sons of the Pioneers. The decibel level was enough to make conversation difficult in the Saloon, and even nearby. Augmented by Linus horseback serenades , twilight did not start out in a serene fashion.

The guys regaled us with the near misses, miscues and the wiliness of the Mexican Corriente cattle who had the advantage of multiple arroyos, brushy canyons and heavy, rough ground. Cholla, mesquite, and creosote brush provided their own input. After an evening of catching up on the days activities in the saloon, while teetering on the somewhat irregular bar stools, (which had been made for long lanky cowboy types-the only one who could actually sit down on them was Bobby) folks wandered off to various bedrolls and accommodations. Linus, George, Brian and Reggie to the camp with the horses, Tony and Elaine to the deluxe accommodations in the airy classic camper-accompanied by the quiet hum of the flies on the ceiling and the pigs nearby and I retired to the back of my truck.

The night was a continual serenade-from the coyotes and dogs exchanging long conversation, to the owl chorus early in the morning, the occasional grunting and snorting of the porcine population and finally the dulcet tones of Linus trumpet sounding reveille and waking up the rooster and guinea fowl.

As the group collected in the morning, it was clear that the night was less than restful for most. Horses were watered and groomed-with a lot of attention paid to removing the ubiquitous cactus spines from the animal's coats-a souvenir of the previous days adventures. Prickly Pear Cholla has two sets of spines-the sharp visible spines, and the tiny, hair-like fibers that work their way deep into the skin until they fester and begin to work out again.

While Ed Keylocko had said the cowboys would be out from "no light to no light", the sun was high when they finally left. By the time they were on the trail, the cattle had fed, watered and hunkered down in the shade-making it almost impossible for them to be driven out. Though the day was hot and still, and the work of the drive must have been rough, the boys managed an energetic gallop into town-sans cattle-who had declined their best offers to be beguiled into coming with them.

Elaine and I stayed "in town" with little to do. Had we been fully equipped, I could have had a full meal waiting when the cowboys returned. Elaine and I did make a "run" for ice, soda, fruit and other comestibles-including the makings for tortillas, since I figured I could manage that much without major equipment or supplies. George also stayed behind as his horse "Jazz" did not want to play well with others. We were glad to see everyone arrive safely and in good spirits.

Gathering to discuss the days events while the horses were being cooled down, the group was in good spirits. It all had to do with being together, with enjoying each other's company and enduring the same experiences. The general consensus was that folks would start breaking camp and heading home in the morning. First Sergeant Hinton gave his men orders for morning cavalry maneuvers, partially to orient possible new members to the group-Tony and Bobby. Rocky had come by and barbecued hamburgers, which were a welcome change from the limited rations to date.

After the horses were again watered, picketed and fed we had time to laugh and tease each other-stories were told and embroidered upon-George's rattlesnake gaining at least two feet in length and several inches of rattles in the retelling. Tony and I found an eager audience with Rocky, when he innocently asked a question about "Black Confederates". He has now seen the light, and will carry forth with our work on the true stories of the Black military experience in the Civil War. He has invited us to speak at the college where he teaches, and is eager for further enlightenment.

Meanwhile, the glint in Linus' eye had a golden tinge as he listened to the stories of goldmines in Mexico, and readily available placer gold. When he saw the proof-he began to wax eloquent about the potential uses of all that gold and was ready to immediately head for pick and pan. This in turn led to the potential for metal detectors and some future plans which will be told at a later date.

A Karaoke machine had been brought into the saloon, and the microphone passed from hand to hand and cowboy song to Temptations ballad. Tony, Reggie, Bobby and Rocky all did their bit-but clearly the most impressive were the duets by Bobby and Rocky. Those two were singing old school like pros to the delight of their limited audience. Linus said he would sing if he could bring in his horse and sing in the saddle, but couldn't do it on the ground-though he did manage to dance on the bar a little later into the night.

As Karaoke made way for Marty and the Sons once again, the talk turned to favorite western and cavalry movies, plans for Sunday and the next time we would all meet again-probably in Brackettville for Seminole Days. A lot had already happened to bond our little group even more tightly together. Experiences during the weekend, finally hearing some of the true events behind the ill-fated "Ride Home", which elicited even more disgust with and lack of respect for its perpetrator. There was talk of horses, of cavalry troops, maneuvers, the outpost at Naco, Fort Huachuca and so much more.

People wandered off as fatigue set in, but most of the group hated to break up-it was all just too good, being together in that time and place. By the time we all went our separate ways-the exhaustion was evident. The night was quiet-even the omnipresent hogs and coyotes remained silent until the morning bugle call.

I had risen early to deal with the interesting concept of making tortillas with only an aluminum turkey roaster, plastic fork and a water bottle to work with. I started a fire in the barbecue pit, and washed the roaster-then using the roaster to mix the dough. It was a lesson in makeshift-rolling the dough in the same recycled roaster, cooking the tortillas on the grill and then frying ham and turkey for filler, so the guys would at least have something warm that morning. Elaine watched and learned, so she can replicate it at home-though I assume in slightly more modern conditions. One thing is certain, none of us will be in the same position should we do this again.

The cavalry practice went well. The guys are skilled riders, and the horses are learning their parts as well. Since they were not in full uniform on regulation saddles, we weren't allowed to take pictures, but they looked good, and will be really sharp with some more time together. Ed had warned us that our presence would be required at church services, but the erstwhile preacher never showed. Instead, Ed took up his duties and gave us his views on the afterlife.

As we left the services, and all made preparations to head our various ways, it was a bittersweet parting. We had shared a lifetime of experiences in a very short time, and now we had to go back to the real world of jobs, responsibilities and the intrusions of modern life. But we left just a little closer than we came-and have brought some new faces into the circle-Tony, Elaine, Bobby, and Rocky, The Cowboy Brigade-Bennie's Brigade has weathered another campaign, so ride proud men-you have once again proved your mettle.

Category: Western Frontier | Subcategory: Cowtown Keeylocko | Tags: Brackettville , Arizona
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: Arizona, Cavalry, Civil War, Kinney County (Texas), Maine, Seminole, Seminole (Indians),