Howard Bryan, longtime cowboy writer, built this stellar career interviewing some of the most notorious cowboys in New Mexico. One of them was “Salty John” Cox.
In this excerpt from his new book, Bryan and Salty John tell the tale of a saloon brawl in Magdalena in 1910.
“About 75 of us were gathered in Ben Beagle’s saloon after the race when something was said or done that started a bang-up free-for-all,’ Cox said. ‘Bob Lewis, the deputy sheriff, heard the commotion in the bar and came running. He took one look in the door, shrugged his shoulders, and walked off, content to let the boys settle their own differences.’
“During the height of the brawl, Cox continued, one cowboy walked up to another and asked, ‘Didn’t you knock me down a minute ago?’ The other cowboy thought for a moment, and answered, ‘l don’t think so, but I’d be glad to oblige right now,’ at the same time sending him to the floor with a right to the jaw.
“‘The only real casualty was a fellow named Wheeler,’ Cox said. ‘He got his ear bit off.’
Later, prompted by the Cox recollections, Malcom S. Major, another pioneer cattleman from the region, furnished me with some additional details of the brawl, which he said followed a matched race between a horse owned by Charlie Ross of Kelly and a horse owned by Milt Craig of Magdalena. After the race, he said, cowboys and miners gathered in the saloon to settle their differences with their fists.
“‘Somebody locked the door so the town marshal couldn’t get in, and they went to it,’ Major said.
“‘Virgie Wheeler got his ear bitten off, and another cowboy put it in his pocket,’ he continued. ‘After the fight they took Virgie down to see old Dr. Thomas to see if he could sew it back on again. It had Duke’s Mixture tobacco all over it. I don’t know if Doc tried to sew it back on or not, but I think they were all in the mood to try anything.’
“‘After the fight, someone got a billiard cue, put a boot on the end of it, pressed it in some mud, and then put the muddy imprint of the sole on the ceiling. When anyone came into the bar after the fight they would show him the boot print on the ceiling and say, “That’s where one son-of-a-bitch went during the fight.’”