The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939




"MENITO is in there," said Mrs. Yegua, as we entered her grounds, next morning, and she pointed to a little log-house at the further end of the corn-field; "he's hid behind the door, and is going to shut it as soon as they come. Yes, here they are," said she, after a while; "do you hear them chatter? Now I have to go out and let them see me; they wont go near the corn-crib till they are sure that I am at the other end of the garden."

She hobbled out toward a thicket of mango-trees, where the troop of monkeys seemed to be holding a council of war. They would mount a stump at the edge of the grove, take a peep at the corn-crib and jump down again, and chatter to one another in an excited way; or congregate around a short-tailed youngster that was sitting at the foot of the stump, uttering a plaintive squeal every now and then, as if he were impatient at the delay.

"They have seen me now," said Mrs. Yegua, when she returned across the open field; "that 's what they have been waiting for all morning, may be; I did n't notice them till I heard them chatter, my eyes are so weak, you know."

The monkeys seemed to know it, too; a crowd of mischievous boys could not have treated a short-sighted policeman with more disrespect. They followed her half-way up to the cottage, flourishing their tails and making faces at her until their leader, a big fat ceebo with a bushy tail, wheeled and made straight for the corn-crib, as much as to say; "Come on, boys; she's gone."

There were seven of them; and six, including the bobtail baby, entered the crib at once, but the fat leader squatted down on the threshold, just in front of the door, where he could survey the field as well as the interior of the crib. Five minutes passed, and the gratified grunts of the marauders showed that they were enjoying their breakfast.


"Why in the name of sense does n't Menito shut the door?" asked Tommy; "he 's missing his best chance if he's waiting for the fat fellow to go in!"

The leader seemed in no hurry to leave his post, and looked almost as if he were going to fall asleep. He was leaning against the door in a half-reclining attitude, and began to stroke himself complacently, perhaps feeling proud of having led so successful a raid, when he suddenly received a kick that sent him spinning to the middle of the road, and a second after, the door was shut with a loud bang.

The leader bolted into the next thicket with a whoop of horror; the grunts of the lunch-party had suddenly turned into a hubbub of confused screams, and, even before we reached the crib, we could distinguish the piercing squeals of the little bobtail.

"Don't open the door!" cried Menito, when he heard us coming; "they are trying to break out. Quick! Get me a forked stick, somebody; I have to catch them before I can put them into the bag."

While Tommy ran to the stable to get a pitch-fork or something, I peeped through a knot-hole, and saw four middle-sized monos huddled together in a corner, screaming, and crouching behind a big female that tried to force her head through a crack in the floor. The little bobtail was racing around the crib with squeals of despair, but in the midst of his agony he suddenly grabbed an ear of corn and began to eat with furious dispatch, as if he were resolved to have one more square meal before his death. As soon as we handed the forked stick through the door, the general gallopade recommenced; but Menito was too much for them. One after the other he pinned them to the ground, and five minutes later the five senior monos performed their antics in a tied-up bag, while the bobtail youngster was crouching in a corner with a long string around his neck. Still, the little sinner had not renounced his hopes, for, when we entered the crib, he jumped upon the widow's arm and pressed his face to her shoulder with a deprecatory chatter, as if he were pleading the most reasonable excuses.

"Where are you going to take them?" asked Mrs. Yegua, when we had caged the monos in our wire baskets.

"To France," said Menito. "This gentleman is going to turn them over to the French authorities."

"To France," mused the old lady—"yes, I remember; that 's where Maximilian used to send our prisoners. Well, good-bye, then," said she, shaking hands with the little bobtail, that had taken a back-seat on Betsy's croup; "good-by, my poor lads; I am sorry it has come to this, but it is not my fault. I have warned you enough."

The monkeys themselves did not seem to mind it very much. They examined every cranny of their wire prison, but soon found out that they were in for it, and began to make themselves at home. The foremost cage had not been strapped on very tight, and, whenever it swung forward, one of the prisoners reached out and pulled the mule's ears; and it took us a long while to identify the rogue, for, when we turned around, they all sat quietly together in a
corner, looking as innocent as possible. Our dog had stolen away for a still-hunt in the pine-woods, and when he returned, it set the monkeys all agog, and the little bobtail began to squeal. The others answered him with a low chatter, and, finding that talking was permitted, they soon jabbered away at a lively rate, especially if they perceived anything unusual at the road-side.

But, in the afternoon, when we reached the brink of a wooded plateau, they all turned their heads in the same direction, and the cackling suddenly stopped. What could that be? From a valley on our left came the echo of a curious sound, as if, far away, a hundred dogs were barking together, or joining now and then in a long-drawn howl. Menito stopped the mule and faced about.

"Listen!" said he; "do you hear those dogs?"

"Dogs could not yell like that," replied Tommy; "it must be a panther."

No, sir; the boy is right," said the guide. "That's a pack of perrones[wild dogs] hunting a deer or a buffalo. They are heading this way, it seems."

The din came nearer and nearer, and, at the next turn of the road, our dog dashed ahead as if he had caught a glimpse of the game. At the same time, we saw two horsemen galloping across the road in the same direction. They had been herding mules on the grassy plateau ahead of us, and had put spurs to their horses when the noise reached the lower end of the valley.

"Let 's hurry up!" cried Menito. "Let us find out what 's the matter and have some fun, may be."

"All right," said the guide; "but we have to stop at that mulberry-wood down there. It 's time for dinner, and there 's a spring in that bottom—the only good one I know in this neighborhood."

Before we left the road, we stopped and listened intently, but the barking sounded more like a bay now; the perrones must have surrounded their game, or the horsemen had turned them back; anyhow, the chase did not seem to come any nearer, so we wended our way to the spring.

"Oh, dear! That 's a cornexo-roost," said Menito, when we approached the grove. "We sha'n't get much rest there, I 'll warrant you."

"Why? What 's the matter?"

"You 'll soon find out. Look at those birds."

Cornexois the Spanish word for a rook or jack-daw, but in southern Mexico that name is applied to a kind of bush-shrike, about the size and color of a jay-bird, only that the blue of the wings is much darker. A host of these birds had taken possession of one of the mulberry trees, and began to congregate in the tree-tops when they saw us approaching.

"Now look out for a fuss," whispered Menito.

"You just leave them alone, and they wont bother you," said the Indian. "Here we are; look sharp now, boy, and help me get those baskets down."

There was a fine spring at the lower end of the grove, and Black Betsy drank and drank till we had to loosen her girth; but it puzzled us how to water the monkeys without giving them a chance to break out. At last, Menito solved the problem by simply placing the lower end of the wire baskets in the creek, so that the captives could help themselves without leaving their prison. While the Indian got our dinner ready, I set the boys to forage for grapes and ripe mulberries.

"Now I know what 's the trouble with those birds," said Tommy; "they 've a nest in that second tree there; look up here—you can see it quite plainly."

"For goodness; sake, leave it alone," said Menito. "You 'll start the whole flock after you in a minute."

"Well, what of that?" asked Tommy. "You are not afraid of birds, are you? Just look at him: that 's the boy who told us he was born in the Sierra de Jalisco, where people don't know what fear is!"

"Nor do I," said Menito; "but I know what a cornexo is, and you don't, it seems."

"Then I 'm going to find it out right now," said Tommy, and began to climb the tree.

When he got near the tree-top, the old nest-bird flew up with a loud scream, and her cries soon brought up a flock of cousins and aunts from every tree, and before he reached the nest, the noise became actually deafening.

"There are five young ones in here, nearly full-grown," Tommy shouted down. "Shall I get them, Uncle?"

"All right," I called out. "If they have their eyes open, we 'll take them along for specimens. Bring them down."

But that was easier said than done. Tommy took out his handkerchief; but the moment he put his hand upon the nest, the cornexos fell upon him like a swarm of angry hornets, fluttered around his face, dashed at his head from behind, clung to his clothes, and pecked away at his legs, in spite of his vigorous kicks.

Menito laughed till I thought he would choke.

"You 'd better ask their pardon, and come down," he called out.

Tommy made no reply, but wrapped up the birds well, put the bundle in his bosom, and began to climb down slowly with his knees and his right hand, using his left to shield his face. When he got back to the lower branches, the cornexos saw us and left him one by one—all but the old hen-
bird, whose boldness seemed to increase, for she pecked away at his ears, and at last dashed into his face, left and right, as if she wished to get at his eyes. Tommy then stopped a moment, and, when she came the next time, received her with a slap that sent her spinning through the air; but that only made matters worse, for her chattering now turned into piercing screams, and the whole swarm joined in the chorus, till we could not help thinking that we had paid too dear for our specimens. Still, they were pretty fellows, with large yellow beaks, and we made them a good comfortable home in one of the smaller cages.

By and by, the Indian resaddled the mule, and we were helping him to pack the dishes, when we heard the little bobtail monkey squeal away with all its might. Running toward the spring, we caught sight of a long-legged, wolf-like animal that slunk off through the high grass, and, seeing us approach, gathered itself up and darted into the prairie at the top of its speed.

"A perron, I declare!" said the guide. "He was going to drink at this spring, right under our noses. I guess he belonged to that hunting party. Yes, look over yonder," he added. "Here they come—the horsemen, I mean. They were chasing a buffalo, and they have got him, sure enough."

From the lower part of the valley, where we had left the road, the two herders approached at a lively trot, with a big, sluggish animal—a buffalo bull, that stumbled along as if he were tired or wounded, but every now and then he broke into a plunging gallop. They had caught him with a lariat, a long strap of tough rawhide; and, while the first horsemen dragged him along, his comrade brought up the rear and plied his whip whenever the bull became restive. If he plunged ahead, they let him have his way, for he never could outrun the little horse, that jusdt kept ahead enough to keep its rider out of harm's way. Between the two men and their nimble horses the big brute was perfectly helpless. Tommy snatched up his hat, and was on the point of starting, but, seeing that the hunters headed for the spring, we all waited in the shade of the grove. At sight of our party, the bull stopped instantly and stared wildly at us, but a crack of the heavy whip set him going again, and the whole cavalcade came thundering down into the grove.

"Caza barata!" [Cheap venison], laughed the man with the lariat, when he stopped his captive in the creek. "We caught him without firing a shot. The perrones had tired him out before we took a hand in the game."

"I should say so," I replied. "Look at the poor fellow's legs; the wild dogs must have caught up with him, it seems."

From the knees to the fetlocks, the buffalo's legs looked as if he had been dancing in a thicket of prickly-pears, and even on his dewlap the perrones had left the marks of their sharp teeth. It was clear that the poor beast had had a close race for his life.

"Yes, it 's a shame," said the hunter. "But we 'll take care of him when we get him home; the hacienda[farm-house] is not more than two miles from here."

"Look here, amigo," said I; "I should like to buy a young buffalo-calf; do you think you could catch me one, and bring it to Benyamo before the end of this week?"

"I don't know," said the herder. "It 's a little late in the season for young calves; but if you are going to Beyamo, you might as well stop at the haciendato-night, and the ranchero can tell you, if anybody in the country can. He 's a great hand at hunting. All this land here belongs to his cercada. You had better come along."

"He 's right," said the guide. "I know the place—the Hacienda del Rio; it 's not much out of our road, anyhow."

"What does he mean by a 'cercada'?" asked Tommy, when we proceeded on our journey.

"A hunting-preserve," I answered. "The rancherohas taken out a license which makes it a trespass for other people to hunt on his land."

The proprietor of the ranchoreceived us with cordial hospitality, and seemed quite sorry to disappoint us when he learned the purpose of our visit.

"It 's too bad," he said. "My herders caught dozens of wild calves last spring, but I did not keep them; there is not much demand for such things here. I sent two of them to my next neighbor in the Casa Morena, and he gave them to his old grizzly."

"A grizzly bear! Do you know how much he would charge for such a bear?"

"Not much, I reckon; he had two of them, and killed the bigger one because he ate so much. The one he has now is only half-grown. But, may be, a full-grown panther would suit you as well?"

"Yes, if it is n't crippled, nor sick."

"Then I think we can accomodate you, after all," said the ranchero. "My neighbor caught a splendid panther a few days ago, and meant to have a dog-test next week."

"What's that?"

"Oh, a dog-test is the best way of finding out if a shepherd-dog is a good fighter. If he will tackle a panther, he is n't afraid of anything."

"How far is the Casa Morena from here?" I asked.

"About seven miles," said the ranchero. "You
can get there to-morrow before noon, without difficulty, and reach Benyamo by a trail across the mountains."

After supper, we spread our blankets on the veranda, and the farm-hands crowded around to examine our nets and wire baskets.

"What in the world are you going to do with all those wild animals?" asked one of the herders, staring at our load.

"Oh, they are going to have a grand matanza[a beast fight] in France," said Menito, "and we came here to buy the most desperate brutes we can get."

"Why! Have n't they any bulls in that country?" asked the herder.

"Yes; but bull-fights are against the law in France," said Tommy.

"Oh, that explains it," said the Mexican. "Of course, then, you have to make shift with something else. It 's a pity we have n't got any traps ready; we could catch lots of perrones for you tonight—just hear them!"

A moaning, melancholy howl sounded across the hills; the wild dogs seemed to have taken their disappointment to heart.

"No wonder," laughed Tommy, "if they have to go to bed supperless after their hard chase—the poor wretches!"

"Why, it serves them just right," said Daddy Simon. "If the proprietor of this place has taken out a license, they had no business to hunt on his preserve."


BEFORE we reached the hacienda,the report seemed to have spread that we were going to collect all the wild brutes we could lay our hands on, for on the outskirts of the village we met a man, who inquired very politely if we did not wish to buy his old boar,—"an outrageout hog and a powerful fighter," he assured us. We declined the proposal, with thanks, but we had hardly got rid of him when another fellow offered us "a regular fighting mule."

"A truly desperate animal," he said; "you never saw such a kicker."

"We cannot buy a fighting-mule on trust, you know. We 'd have to write France about it," said Menito; but Tommy laughed so much at the idea of the fighting-mule that the fellow suspected a joke and left us alone.

There is a kind of tree in Mexico called charca-wood, and which looks very much like black-walnut; but if you try to break a charcastick, it splinters like bamboo, and if an animal should attempt to gnaw it, it would tear its gums all the pieces. The panther had been confined in a large box of such charca sticks, and the box was now standing on the threshing-floor of the barn. It was too big to be carried over the mountains, but they had a smaller cage of the same kind of wood, and, in order to get the cunning panther into his cage, the overseer had devised quite an ingenious plan.

In one corner of the barn they had removed a board, and placed the cage outside, with its open door just fitting the hole in the board-wall. It was a sort of sliding door that could be raised and lowered with string. Now, if the panther should try to escape through the hole in the wall, she would run right into the cage; and if we pulled the string, down would come the sliding-door, and we should have her just where we wanted her.

The panther was a female, as lithe and active as a weasel, and beatifully marked. She was not quite full-grown, but evidently a dangerous brute, and before they opened the box, the Senor (the owner of the hacienda) asked us to step behind a board partition, where they stored their grain. The box had been turned over sideways, so that the door was now on top, and one of the grooms went boldy up to it and removed the staple. He opened the door just a little bit, waited a second and then closed it again; opened it once more and waited about two seconds before he shut it; the next time three seconds, and so on.

The panther watched every action he made, with glittering eyes, and crouched down for a spring, but the continual motion of the door somehow confused her, and when the groom finally threw the door wide open and walked away, she remained quietly at the bottom of the cage, still watching the opening. By and by, she raised her head, eyed the aperture closely and carefully, and suddenly bounced out with a spring that landed her nearly in the middle of the threshing-floor. There she stood for a moment with glaring eyes, and then bounded away and galloped along the walls, hunting for a loophole or a hiding-place. She came close to the hole in the corner, but unfortunately stumbled over the loose board, took fright and bounded away to the opposite end of the barn, where she espied a little cranny between the floor and the boards of the side-door. In the next moment she was tearing away at the boards with claws and teeth.

"Bad luck—there she goes!" cried the overseer. "Quick! Somebody run to the village and fetch the herder Tomas, the man who caught the bear with a lariat last year!"

"There is n't time. She will get through there in ten minutes!" shouted the Senor. "Get the dogs—every one of them!"


The groom ran out, and quickly returned with a pack of big shepherd-dogs, while one of the stable-boys came in with a powerful brindled deer-hound.

"Fetch them this way!" cried the Senor. "Now they see her. Alza!Forward, boys! Grab her!"

"They will tear her to pieces," I remarked.

"No danger," laughed the Senor. "She 'll take care of herself."

He was right. It was wonderful how easily the little brute held her own against five big hounds, two of them considerably heavier than herself. They dashed at her with a rush; but, in the nick of time, she flung herself on her back, and up went her four claws, the points bristling like sixteen daggers. The dogs started back as a man would from the muzzle of a loaded shot-gun, and the panther at once recommenced her work at the boards.

"Here, Joe, slip the deer-hound!" cried the Senor.

The hound leaped upon her with a fierce growl, but was hurled back by a blow that made his hair fly and tore a heavy leather collar off his neck.

"Have you ever seen such a lucky dog?" laughed the overseer. "If it had not been for that collar, she would have torn his throat from ear to ear."

The shepherd-dogs charged her again and again, but not one of them dared come within reach of those terrible paws, and in the intervals of the fight she tore away at the planks and boards.

"That won't do," said the Senor. "Get a pail-ful of hot water."

"I am sorry to say that wont do, either," I remarked. "I have no use for her if you spoil her fur. Can't we scare her out of that corner somehow or other?"

"I guess we can," said one of the herders, "and in less than two minutes. Have you any black pepper in the house, Senor?"

"Plenty of it. Why?"

Well, then, let Joe get a red-hot pan and a handful of pepper. That will fetch her; it will start a balky horse that would not care for the heaviest cart-whip in Mexico."

"Now hand me that pan," said the herder, when Joe returned. "Let the panther alone for a minute; I 'm going to work this business from the outside, or you would all sneeze yourselves to death."

I thought so, too, for the mere scent of the pepper-smoke made my eyes smart as if I had washed them with lye, and the boys began to cough and rub their noses. The herder went out and placed the pan close to the cranny of the side door, fanned it with his shawl, and soon the smoke came through the boards in little curling white clouds.

I once heard five tomcats waul on the same roof, but the concert could not compare with the music of the she-panther when that smoke reached her nostrils. She pressed her nose against the floor, rubbed her eyes with her paws, and squealed in a way that made the boys laugh till they screamed; but still she held her ground, like a stubborn child that will rather stand any misery than yield its point.

"Have you any gunpowder handy, Senor?" asked the overseer.

"Here, take my powder-flask," I said, guessing what he would be about.

He went out, and, a second after, a big gray cloud puffed up through the cracks, and the panther bolted like a shot. The idea of facing that amount of smoke had suddenly overcome her powers of endurance. She darted to the opposite end of the barn, saw the loophole, and at once squeezed herself through and into the cage. A pull at the string, and we heard the sliding door drop. We had her safe.

"Such a vixen!" laughed the Senor. "I warrant she had seen that hole long ago, but was bound to give us all the trouble she possibly could. Now, don't you think she is worth eight dollars?"

"I suppose so."

"Well, then, make it ten, and I 'll let you have the little grizzly, too. I 've not much use for him, anyhow."

"All right," said I; "I 'll take him."

"Well, but hold on," said the overseer. "This gentleman has n't anything to put him in, and we have only this one cage."

"Can you wait until to-morrow?" said the Senor.

"Not very well," I replied. "We have to get to Benyamo by Saturday night.

"Well, then, I 'm afraid we shall have to muzzle him and cut his claws. Our village teamster will start for Benyamo this evening, and we can put the grizzly in the back part of the wagon. He 's too contrary to go afoot."

"But how can you muzzle him?" I asked.

"Oh, we 'll manage that," said the overseer.

The grizzly looked, indeed, as if he could not be trusted in his present condition. He was chained up near a little garden-fountain; and, when he saw us coming, he retreated toward a sort of dog-house, growling and showing a row of formidable teeth. The overseer went up to the dog-house from behind, dragged it back till the bear could not reach it with his short chain, and then called the groom.

"Now come on, Joe; turn the squirt on him."

The groom quietly unscrewed the pipe and turned the nozzle on the grizzly. In spite of his
chain, the bear leaped to and fro with surprising agility; but the jet followed him wherever he went, and drenched him till he weltered and groveled in a puddle of wet sand.

"Stop," said the overseer; "let us see if that will do." He fetched a long pole and held it close to the bear's head. "Look here, Jack, will you behave now?" he asked.

The bear eyed him, grabbed the end of the pole, and crushed it between his jaws like a turnip.

[illustration - Breaking a grizzly.]

"He wont give in yet. Go on, Joe," said the overseer.

The deluge recommenced, and the bear stuck out left and right with a violence that spattered water all over the gravel-plot. Twice he rose on his hind legs, and shook his dripping paws as if he longed to grapple with a less evasive foe; but by and by his legs gave way, he put his paws farther and farther apart, and finally rolled over and clutched at the empty air, as though he were going to choke.

"Hold on," I said, "or perhaps you 'll kill him outright."

"Stop, Joe," said the overseer. "But I don't trust him yet; he 's up to all kinds of tricks."

He took up the pole and poked him repeatedly; but the bear lay still, gurgling and snoring as in a dream. He was thoroughly stupefied, and before he could recover his senses, the men muzzled him and cut every one of his long claws. When he awoke, he found himself, gagged and tied in a nice straw-padded cart, on the road to Beyamo. The bear, the panther cage and the monkeys were in the cart, and Black Betsy carried only our provisions and a few of the empty, wire baskets.