He was known as “El Gato,”
the cat who lived nine lives.
He was sheriff Elfego Baca
whose legend today survives.
When Elfego was but a teen
his lawman father was attacked.
He shot two in the unruly mob
but was convicted contrary to fact.
Elfego sprang his dad from jail
and spirited him out of state
“I will fight for truth!” he said,
“even if death will be my fate.”
Then he heard in tiny Frisco
cowboys were shooting up the bar –
the deputy even tossed his star.
Elfego said, “This is going too far!”
He declared himself a deputy
and arrested a drunken carouser
then missed a man but shot his horse
whose fall killed its rider.
Fifty cowboys howled revenge
as they crouched behind a wall
by the people’s church while
Elfego into a cabin crawled.
Bullets to the left of him
bullets to the right of him
how they splintered and whined!
His pistol got hotter and hotter
as many more shots he made
but still he kept on firing
even as hope began to fade.
But El Gato had yet more lives.
The cabin’s sunken floor
put him below the volleys –
They say 4,000 rounds or more.
On the second day of shooting
a lawman rode into view.
“I’m taking you to Socorro
where they’ll try to hang you.”
The jury saw the splintered wood
that once was the cabin door.
They awarded Elfego another life
and he was a people’s hero once more.
© 2021 Larry Kilham
Author’s notes: There are various versions of this story. It takes place when Elfego Baca (1865-1945) lived in Socorro in central New Mexico. Frisco, scene of the great shootout, was 130 miles to the west and is now named Reserve. This story takes place over 1883-1884. After the battle of Frisco, Baca became a U.S. Marshal and later practiced law in New Mexico and Texas. He was also active in politics and ran unsuccessfully for Congress.