Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Evasive Arts

Natches Murphy, the infamous Fresno outlaw and pistoleer, never intended to invent the greatest pursuit evasion maneuver since the fake detour sign, it just sort of happened that way.

When the hounds and the posse are at our heels, you and I know to enter a waterway and travel up or downstream for a clever distance before exiting on the far bank. It's as instinctive as the ragged breaths that tear our lungs. But like every innovation on the timeline of human advancement, someone had to do it first. And in the case of the go-up-or-down-a-ways-before-exiting-the-stream trick, that someone happened to be Natches Murphy, the infamous Fresno outlaw and pistoleer.

Natches Murphy was a bad man, of this there is no doubt. He'd done plenty of things that probably deserved a hanging. But as it were on that fateful day, his crime was nothing more than an ill-timed glance in the direction of a white girl just as a gust of wind happened to elevate her petticoats.

In those days some towns didn't much cotton to half-breeds staring at the bare legs of white girls. And other towns could be downright hostile about it. And a few towns had it on the books right alongside rape, child murder and mass cow poisoning. Unfortunately for Natches, he happened to be in the third kind.

Natches watched with some concern as furious storms of deeply offended citizenry burst from wooden doors and coagulated before him in the street. He cleared his throat and addressed the seething mob.
"Señors, I can see you are angry." A hundred clicking hammers verified this observation. Natches extended his hands, palms out, and tilted his face in a mercy request. "Señors, do not kill me--it was the devil what seized my eyes and ran them up that white girl's thigh--not me Señors, not I."

Natches sighed as they opened fire. "And so now I run."

Natches Murphy owned a spectacular horse, an outlaw's horse. It was fast as a prairie twister, mean as cancer. That horse spent so many years fleeing stuff at a dead gallop that it had practically forgotten how to walk or trot. Natches sure needed him now--the whole countryside turned out for the chase. Posses pursued Natches in unrelenting waves. Days passed.

When streams appeared in his path, Natches urged his horse across them. Straight shot, grab a few sips of water as you cross, keep running once you reach the other side. That's how it had always been done. The task of the fleeing party is to flee, and you flee by running--everybody knew that. Natches was halfway across yet another stream when his horse lurched and fell. The old boy had run itself to death--it was all it knew how to do--it surely died ecstatic.

The stream was shallow but swift. It snatched Natches and swept him away. He managed to straggle ashore an hour later, but on the same side of the riverbank. He sat down and waited to be captured. He'd had about an hour lead--he'd spent an hour tumbling and bumping down that wretched stream, making absolutely zero forward progress, and now here he was on the same side, exhausted and without steed. His doom was certainly only moments away.

Natches Murphy sat undisturbed on that riverbank for hours. The posse charged across the river and straight into a desert, where every last man perished. 'Round about sundown, Natches began to put it all together. He started to realize he might have just made a significant scientific breakthrough. He used a pointy stick, scribbling crude diagrams and mathematical computations in the river sand to confirm it. Natches tilted his head back and laughed his incredulous rapture into a darkening sky. Then he stood and walked away. The evasive arts had just been born. Pursuit would never be the same.

(Can't get enough of Natches Murphy? Can't say as I blame you, he's quite an hombre. Hey, you'd probably really enjoy hearing about the time Natches Murphy tried to surrender in the middle of a daring getaway because a butterfly landed on the brim of his hat and he didn't want it to get hurt... well, as luck would have it, that true story can be found right here.)


At 8:45 AM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Do you know how Natches is pronounced? Na-cheese', that's how. Do you know how Murphy is pronounced? Bed.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Blog ho said...

Natches? We don need no stinking Natches. I had a much better one but ... ok, i didn't really.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Trevor Record said...

I was a tad miffed when I came here today to find you had failed to post a tale of staircases and the myths that surround them. However, I cannot stay mad at you after reading a story of the infamous Natches Murphy.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger tabitha jane said...

i've always thought "an" should be used before words that begin with "h" as well as vowells. "an hombre" "an apple" "an history professor". . .

At 12:27 AM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

I remember this now Old Hoss. In my grinning dementia I had forgotten, but it has passed.

I don't mind Ho. If we never did poorly, how would we ever do better?

It will take a better man than I, Trevor, to actualize the myths of staircases. I'm very glad you enjoyed hearing about Natches Murphy, the infamous Fresno outlaw and pistoleer. His true tales bring me joy.

It is stunning that you mention this Tabitha Jane. Just between you and me, I agonized over that far longer than I should have. But the letter "h" didn't factor in. You know what it is for me? It's the second letter that follows a silent one, for when I speak out loud it simply demands an "an".

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Wow, I had no idea the art of evasion could be traced to that event. Great story.

At 8:48 PM, Blogger Ari said...

When, o when, are you gonna make a feature film, sir?


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