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…One night a wild young cowboy came in,
Wild as the West Texas wind.
Dashing and daring, a drink he was sharing
With wicked Felina, the girl that I loved.
So in anger I challenged his right for the love of this maiden.
Down went his hand for the gun that he wore.
My challenge was answered in less than a heart-beat;
The handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor.
Just for a moment I stood there in silence
Shocked by the foul, evil deed I had done.
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there.
I had but one chance and that was to run.
Out through the back door of Rosa’s I ran,
Out where the horses were tied.
I caught a good one. It looked like it could run.
Up on its back and away I did ride…
As I was growing up, I loved Western songs. I loved ballads. My favorite of all was “El Paso,” sung by Marty Robbins. It was a good story and the singer had pipes. There were only two problems I saw. My father was a policeman, and so I learned much about the law at an early age. The obvious question would be, what did the protagonist of the song do wrong? Examining the lyrics, what he seemed to think he did wrong was murder, but the lyrics do not back this up. When he says he “Challenged his right for the love of this maiden,” the protagonist probably said, “Hey, buddy, stay away from my girl.” It doesn’t say that he had pulled his own gun and was pointing it at the stranger. The stranger reached for his gun, and the protagonist defended himself. It was a fair killing. It is possible that the challenge was stronger, but unless the protagonist had the gun already in his hand, the stranger had a chance to de-escalate things. He could have backed off with his hands up and in sight and started talking, soothing, asking questions. Instead, he reached for his gun. So, either the stranger was stupid enough to think he could beat a guy with his gun already out, or it was a fair fight and the stranger moved first.
Unfortunately, the protagonist then panicked. He should have just waited for the sheriff and the trial. Instead, he ran. That in itself was not bad. Fleeing the scene might be done by anyone. Half the bar probably ran out when things started looking ugly. But how did he run? He went out back where the horses were tied and caught a good one that looked like it could run. In other words, it was not his horse. He stole a horse. That was his main crime. (Other than being a jerk, panicking, and being stupid.) That is what he would have been prosecuted for. That was stealing another man’s living. That was like grand theft auto and a few other crimes all in one.
But wait, there’s more. This moron escapes to the badlands of New Mexico. But he’s so in love with Felina that he has to come back and see her. He might have managed this, of course, without too much trouble, but he’s an idiot. Let’s skip ahead a few verses:
And at last, here I am on the hill overlooking El Paso,
I can see Rosa’s Cantina below.
My love is strong, and it pushes me onward.
Down off the hill to Felina I go.
Off to my right I see five mounted cowboys.
Off to my left ride a dozen or more.
Shouting and shooting, I can’t let them catch me.
I have to make it to Rosa’s back door.
Now, if you’re like me, you probably see the problem here. This guy has been gone, presumably for at least a week given that he rode from El Paso to the badlands, had time to get lovesick missing the babe, and then rode back overnight. It is possible that he is just so stupid that he came back the next night, I suppose, but that level of stupidity strains credibility. His mistakes that are obvious in the song could have been done by any young hothead, but coming back almost immediately would be a step too far. Yet, his immediate assumption on seeing cowboys out riding is that they are looking for him. What does he do? “Shouting and shooting…” That’s right. Instead of just riding into town slow and easy, he makes a spectacle of himself and shoots at the cowboys. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m out with some buddies riding outside of town, whether part of a posse or not, and some Yahoo comes riding down the hill shooting at me, I’m going to shoot back. If he had just ridden down slow and easy, he might have made it to the cantina without notice or with a slow chase with a couple of the riders, if it were a posse, designated to follow him down and see if it’s the fellow the posse sought. Instead, he gets himself killed, just barely dying in Felina’s arms.
Very romantic. Great as a song. But were it true, the guy is a perfect demonstration for what hotheadedness gets you: a plot of land about eight by four and six feet deep.
Have you ever thought about your favorite songs and found what the protagonist did wrong? How about a favored poem?