Quote of the Day: How to Get Killed

 

…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?

There are 38 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    And here is the whole song, long version:

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I suppose it’s a timeless story, since an impetuous Roman centurion fell for a Galician barmaid. Here’s the more familiar version of the story for non-country western listeners a half century ago. 

     

    • #2
  3. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant, that is one of my favorite songs.  I think it was aired first in 1959 or 1960. I was in the Army stationed in Germany at that time, and El Paso was a big hit in the States.  My Mom sent me a tape of the song..

    • #3
  4. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    I dispute the notion that while coming down the hillside he shot first.  “Shouting and shooting I can’t let them catch me” could very easily interpreted as “them” were the ones “shouting and shooting”.  What purpose would he have in shouting?  To whom would he shout?

    Nope.  They spotted him, recognized him as the man who had killed their friend, and started shooting.  They hit him, he fell off the horse, and they shot him a second time, presumably before he could remount.  If they had not been deputized, you might well be able to charge them.

    But the horse was a problem.  They hang horse thieves.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Here’s the more familiar version of the story for non-country western listeners a half century ago. 

    That was certainly played on C/W stations back in the day.

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Another variation on the how-to-get-killed theme: a young man, a bordertown bar, and a murky encounter with a momentarily enchanting lady until it turns lethal–

     

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I dispute the notion that while coming down the hillside he shot first. “Shouting and shooting I can’t let them catch me” could very easily interpreted as “them” were the ones “shouting and shooting”. What purpose would he have in shouting? To whom would he shout?

    Nope. They spotted him, recognized him as the man who had killed their friend, and started shooting. They hit him, he fell off the horse, and they shot him a second time, presumably before he could remount. If they had not been deputized, you might well be able to charge them.

    But the horse was a problem. They hang horse thieves.

    Your interpretation is possible. The noun involved with “Shouting and shooting” is not clear. It could be either the other cowboys or the protagonist of the song. He is a known hothead with an impetuous streak, so his shouting and shooting at them would not be out of character.

    You are also correct that if they were not deputized and just started shooting, they would be facing possible penalties for murder and vigilantism.

    The likelihood that it was because he had killed their friend is low. The deceased was a stranger in town. It would be more likely that one of the cowboys owned the horse, but were that the case, they might not be as willing to shoot, since it could hit the horse. But, were they deputized as a posse, they might be more likely to shoot him, since he was known to be a fast gun from the earlier incident.

    • #7
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    This details scenarios to avoid, but also gives a solution that may help.

     

    • #8
  9. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):
    The likelihood that it was because he had killed their friend is low.

    Cowboys don’t come into town alone.  And both the stranger and the posse are described as cowboys, indicating a likelihood of connection.  Although, you’re right that it may well have been a horse belonging to one of them.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Cowboys don’t come into town alone.

    Were it Kansas City where the cows were being taken to the railhead, certainly the usual case. But had he been working at a local ranch, he would have been in there every Saturday night and well-known. Probably a drifter between jobs.

    • #10
  11. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Cowboys don’t come into town alone.

    Were it Kansas City where the cows were being taken to the railhead, certainly the usual case. But had he been working at a local ranch, he would have been in there every Saturday night and well-known.

    Even if he was local, still part of a group.  What, he’s the only guy at the Bar-T who likes to get laid?

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Even if he was local, still part of a group. What, he’s the only guy at the Bar-T who likes to get laid?

    Or, just new to the Bar-T and his coworkers didn’t warn him or didn’t know the protagonist was jealously sweet on Felina. It’s only a song, and certainly not perfectly clear. The only thing that is really clear is that the idiot stole a horse.

    • #12
  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Cowboys don’t come into town alone.

    Were it Kansas City where the cows were being taken to the railhead, certainly the usual case. But had he been working at a local ranch, he would have been in there every Saturday night and well-known.

    Even if he was local, still part of a group. What, he’s the only guy at the Bar-T who likes to get laid?

    This man raises a valid point. The comment of the Judge is sustained. 

    • #13
  14. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Even if he was local, still part of a group. What, he’s the only guy at the Bar-T who likes to get laid?

    Or, just new to the Bar-T and his coworkers didn’t warn him or didn’t know the protagonist was jealously sweet on Felina. It’s only a song, and certainly not perfectly clear. The only thing that is really clear is that the idiot stole a horse.

    Whatever you say, Stretch Armstrong.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Whatever you say, Stretch Armstrong.

    I was not disputing your point about the group, just finding a way to make it compatible with the song given that it states the decedent was a stranger. Had he just joined a ranch company a few weeks before, he could be part of a group and still be a stranger in town.

    • #15
  16. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Whatever you say, Stretch Armstrong.

    I was not disputing your point about the group, just finding a way to make it compatible with the song given that it states the decedent was a stranger. Had he just joined a ranch company a few weeks before, he could be part of a group and still be a stranger in town.

    Okay fine.  They were on a cattle drive to Kansas City, passing by El Paso, which was a convenient path because of the whole having a paso thing.

    • #16
  17. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Maybe Felina was a fallen angel who ad the young cowboy completely under her evil powers. Robin’s knew of those:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hh_XhovQB9M

    • #17
  18. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Arahant you show once again excellent taste in picking this ballad. Here is another with a more modern take on the tragic mistake (not reforming one’s evil ways….): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0kJdrfzjAg 

    • #18
  19. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    I suppose it’s a timeless story, since an impetuous Roman centurion fell for a Galician barmaid. Here’s the more familiar version of the story for non-country western listeners a half century ago.

     

    When I read the OP, this is the one I was trying to remember.

    • #19
  20. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I was about eight years old when I first encountered Robert W. Service.

    There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
    But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.

    I devoured everything else of his that I could find.

    EDIT: Leave my formatting alone! I am a computer professional, dammit!

    • #20
  21. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    I’m not a Bob Dylan fan boy, but I think Blood On The Tracks may well be the greatest album ever made.  

     

    • #21
  22. kelsurprise, drama queen Member
    kelsurprise, drama queen
    @kelsurprise

    My first intro to great western ballads was this album of my dad’s:

    We played it a lot one summer when my cousins were visiting, which is why my aunt then had some explaining to do later, when teachers inquired about this very odd (and “slightly alarming”) schoolyard ditty they overheard her sweet little girls teaching to their friends:

    Bullet in my shoulder!
    Blood . . . . runnin’ down my vest.
    Twenty in the posse . . . and they’re never gonna let me rest.
    Till I became a wanted man I never even owned a gun.
    But now they hunt me like a mountain cat and I’m always (always) always (always) alwaaaaays, on the run!

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Arahant you show once again excellent taste in picking this ballad. Here is another with a more modern take on the tragic mistake (not reforming one’s evil ways….):

    Little known fact is that there were only three Black Lightnings built that year.

    • #23
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    I was about eight years old when I first encountered Robert W. Service.

    I might have been younger. My mother had a book of his poetry.

    • #24
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    kelsurprise, drama queen (View Comment):
    My first intro to great western ballads was this album of my dad’s:

    I listened to a lot of gunfighter stuff:

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    And then there is this sort of Western song:

    • #26
  27. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    The alternate scenario:

     

    • #27
  28. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Lefty’s fault is fairly obvious

    I seem to be incapable of embedding url’s

     

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):
    Lefty’s sin fault is fairly obvious…

    I go straight to the source for that one:

    • #29
  30. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    It’s hard not to pick the Ray Charles/Willie Nelson version, but Alison Krauss…

    • #30
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