Zane Gray – West of the Pecos
Pecos Smith is the best horseman, the best shot, the best man with a rope who ever rode out of southwest Texas. That is all anyone really knows about him. But in six-gun country, west of the Pecos, people figure he will be useful to have around. This is what Terrill Lambeth believes after her father is killed by rustlers and she faces ruin.
Zane Gray was born Pearl Zane Gray in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872. He took his first trip to Arizona in 1907 and, following his return, wrote and published his first Western, Desert Heritage. One of the most famous Western authors of his time, Gray fashioned psycho-dramas about the odyssey of the human soul. More than one hundred films have been based on his work, a record that remains unbroken. He lived in Altadena, California, and died in 1939.
As far as I could find out, two films were made based on this book – 1934 and 1945. It is no relation to the 1922 silent film of the same name.
And then one late February evening in 1982 I sat on a bus heading from Dallas to El Paso. All the seats were taken, so I didn’t get a chance to curl up on two seats and get a little sleep on the long night driving through Texas. My spine did not thank me.
A middle-aged man sat next to me. Despite the late hour, the word was given. He explains to me that he is a truck driver and that he drove the vehicle from Tucson to New York, but now he is taking the bus back home to Tucson, Arizona.
Cut my ears, truck driver? My English at that time was quite weak, and school British English at that. Somehow I guess that truck is the same as lorry. I explain to him that I speak English English. And he tells me – you know, Brits don’t speak English, WE speak English. And I continue to struggle with understanding his words. With all long vowels.
Shortly after leaving Dallas, we stop for a short rest. My friend, a truck driver, invites me for a drink. Because, according to him, passengers are being ripped off at the station, we go two blocks ahead. Side street, small noisy bar, locals only. I’m thinking, I hope he won’t hit me over the head and rob me… We drank our whiskey and went back to the bus.
After a long night drive, I wake up in the middle of the desert in the morning. Hot sand, sparse bushes and in the distance hilly masses, shapes familiar from westerns. My friend explains to me that I must not step off the road here. Why? It’s a lot of snakes here! You should hear how he said that sentence!
Yes, of course, Southern American English – SEA. You probably have an idea of what a Southern accent sounds like. Southerners have a drawl, they say “y’all” and maybe even “howdy.” Surely not everyone in the South talks this way, but most are aware of the fact that Southerners don’t speak the same way as Northerners.
What most people call the “Southern drawl” has to do with the length of the vowels. What often happens is the vowel will be diphthongized, meaning it’s split into two syllables. You’ll hear this in lots of words, like “here” as hee-yur or “red” as ray-ehd.
We cross the Pecos River early in the morning. Memories of the Zane Gray books, all the western movies I saw in my youth flash back into my head. Where the good are good and the bad are red, mostly.
At noon we drive to El Paso. A lively southern town. Founded as El Paso del Norte (at what is now Ciudad Juárez, Mexico) by Spanish Franciscan friars at an important mountain pass, the area became a small agricultural producer although most settlement was south of the river where modern Mexico lies. The city was considered part of New Mexico under the Spanish Conquerors and was tied economically to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Chihuahuan mining districts of San Felipe El Real and San José del Parral.
I get out, put my luggage in the locker at the station. I sit down at the first small Mexican restaurant for my first hot meal of the day. I get into a conversation with the waitress and ask for a place to stay. She recommended Hotel McCoy to me.
The White House Department Store and Hotel McCoy is a historic building in El Paso, Texas. It was built in 1912, and designed in the Chicago School style by architect Henry C. Trost of Trost & Trost. The first floor is where the department store was housed while the remaining floors were for the hotel. The store itself was co-founded in 1900 by Felix Brunschwig and three of his nephews: Myrtil, Gaston and Arthur Clobentz. In 1904, it was incorporated as Felix Brunchswig & Co. The building was remodeled in 1946-1949 for 1 million dollars. The building was renovated into office space in 1985, which it continues to be used for today. Trost was inspired by Chicago architecture, which is quite obvious from the buildings he designed in El Paso. The building follows the Sullivanesque scheme of base, shaft and ornamental cornice, and is an early example of the structural and decorative possibilities of reinforced concrete.
It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since September 24, 1980. So, before my arrival.
I enter the hotel. A long corridor to the reception, with a latticed counter, brass upright bars. Behind them, a younger man, despite the darkness wearing Ray Ban sunglasses. A spare room, small, with a secessionist patterned radiator.
Late in the evening, on the third day, I travel further towards San Diego.