Wild Westerns
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Wild Westerns

The Saints of Banari

The spirit of the sun began to wane giving rise to the ghost of serpents. As the hot dry summer began to fade, it was replaced by a season of rain. When the seasons changed, the Mayo Indians left their homes along the Rio Mayo where generations of families had farmed for thousands of years. Mayo men, young and old, left to fight in the Mexican Revolution. The Mayo were angry at losing their lands to mestizos and robber barons. These Indian warriors fought the ancient way with scalp pole dances, fermented cactus juices, and ceremonial cannibalism. The Mayo fought to bring down the Mexican government.

At the Battle of Colima in 1919, the Mayo marched into war against the Mexican army with bows and arrows, stumbling into the gunpowder heart of a mechanized war machine. Men were shot to pieces all over the place. All you could hear were the moans of agony rising up as one voice. It was terrible. Terrible! Both the dead and the barely living were left on the battlefield for the coyotes to eat. There were so many coyotes.

When the Civil War ended and order was returned to Mexico it was restored by the technocracy of President Plutarco Elias Calles who passed much antichurch legislation. It was said that the President himself, paid a man named Rodriguez to enter the only church in Banari and burn it down as revenge for the Mayo fighting against him during the revolution.

Rodriguez just walked inside the front door, because who locks a church? He set fire to the only church in Banari; a one room building with a tower holding a beautiful bell, atop the highest hill in town. While the church burned, Rodriguez gathered up all the saints; statues of God’s most precious little children. Rodriguez held so many wooden statues that his arms were overflowing with saints. Rodriguez ran for the river, carrying the little wooden statues in his arms. Rodriguez had a special fate in mind for the saints, he would drown them in the river. Rodriguez ran down the dirt road until he reached the roadside cross which marked the boundary of the Banari pueblo. As soon as Rodriguez took one step beyond the little Mayo village, the wooden saints came to life squirming in his arms, wriggling to try and free themselves. Little wooden feet kicked at Rodriguez’ potbelly. Tiny wooden saint teeth bit into his arm. A few of the more earthy saints hurled curse words at him.

Rodriguez ran down the road as fast as he could with the wooden saints squirming in his arms. He ran until he reached the bridge which crossed the river. In the middle of the bridge, when Rodriguez was directly above the water, San Juan wiggled free. Saint John the Baptist was energized in the presence of so much water.

The little wooden statue landed on the bridge with a plop and raced away from the deranged criminal; hop, hop, hop. Rodriguez cursed and tried to recapture the renegade saint. San Juan’s eyes got big as he raced for the edge of the bridge. Rodriguez dove head first, skidding across the wooden planks. San Juan leapt, flying just beyond the villain’s grasp, and falling into the water, floating away on the current.

Enraged, Rodriguez dropped all the saints and whipped out his pistol, firing at the wayward Saint John. Bang! Bang! The little wooden statue bobbed in the waves, ducking beneath the water as bullets whizzed past his head. Bang! Bang! Rodriguez fired and fired until the chamber was spent.

The last bullet went whizzing past as the wooden statue of San Juan reached the shore, gasping for breath as it crawled up onto the muddy bank. Rodriguez cursed and tossed his empty gun into the river. He looked up just in time to see a giant wall of white water rushing toward him in a flood. The river washed away the bridge, taking Rodriguez with it. The force of the rampaging waters smashed him so hard that not even his bones were ever discovered.

When the church was burned it was the schoolteacher who saved the bell and hid it in the mountains before the federal soldiers could confiscate it. The Mayo elders ordered that the bridge never be rebuilt to help insulate the town of Banari from outsiders. Years later, after all the Mayo soldiers had returned from war, from hospitals or prison.

It was a young virgin girl who wrote to the governor requesting help. The governor replied with a letter which gave the people of Banari permission to rebuild their church and rehang the bell. All the saints except San Juan had to be replaced. While they were carving new statues they made a sculpture of the virgin girl too and now she stands on the altar beside God’s other most precious little children.

The original San Juan statue still stands on the altar. Just looking at him you can see his wood is older than the other statues but most of all when you look into his little painted eyes you can see the sad wisdom which only comes with old age. Other than that San Juan shows no scars from his struggles with Rodriguez. And at the river, on the very spot where San Juan crawled up on the shore, escaping the villain Rodriguez, the village elders placed a cross beneath the shade of an oak tree.

Every year on the 24th of June, the cross is laden with red flowers. The sunrise is

greeted by the crowing of roosters, two roosters who have been tied to the front pillars of the church. So early in the morning that the fog still clings to the bell tower; the drums begin to boom and the rattles shake. The deer dancer bobs his antlered head, shaking the morning dew from his brain.

While the deer dancer shuffles in the dirt, the people gather in the village plaza, just outside the front door of the church. The paskola clown dancers sprinkle red flower petals atop the heads of little children and old people. Two of the village elders untie the roosters from the church pillars and begin walking towards the river. All the people of the pueblo follow the procession; old people, parents, children, deer dancers, and paskola clowns. The paskola tease and jab, spinning about with their fox tails flapping behind them. The clowns sprinkle red flower petals along the path.

Leading the parade is the tiny ancient statue of San Juan, wearing his cape and straw hat adorned with red feathers. San Juan is carried to the river proudly, as the whole village of Banari splashes across the shallow stream. One of the paskola clowns baptizes the village head man in the muddy waters. The clown says the wrong words and dunks the chief several times so that he sputters and gasps. The people laugh. The paskola is doing more than baptizing the most important man in the village, he is making sure that the entire village is blessed by Saint John the Baptist on this day, his birthday, June 24th, El Dias de San Juan.

In the days right before San Juan’s birthday, the tortoises crawl across the rugged desert slopes of the Sierra Madres. The thirsty tortoises cry out “Waaa… Waah,” calling out the name of San Juan, praying for him to end the drought. It must work because every year, June 24th marks the start of the summer rainy season. Sometimes the rains come a little early and other years a little late, some years the rains come heavy and other years are light but the summer rains always come. Mayo cosmology paints a universe run by two all encompassing powers. There is the hot vengeful sun, a god of wrath and anger. There is also the water serpent, whose blessings fall as rain, growing the corn which feeds the future. The spirit of the sun begins to wane giving rise to the ghost of serpents. The hot dry summer fades, replaced by a season of rain, blessing the earth with a monsoon kiss. The little wooden statue of San Juan stands on the altar inside the rebuilt church, smiling as he watches over the people of Banari.

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Wild Westerns will tell histories of the wild characters who have inhabited the American west, Cowboys, Native Americans, conquistadors, mammoths, mammoth hunters, stagecoach bandits, archeologists, and Navajo Codetalkers and more who wandered the scenic places of the wild west

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Gary Every

Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times