This special edition of Tam’s tall tales is dedicated to the memory of Jose Guerena. On May 5, 2011, the former Marine was gunned down in his own home during a Tucson area S.W.A.T. raid. There was everything wrong and nothing right about that raid and the ensuing blatantly obvious coverup.
Fellow online writer Elenin, as determined that Guerena shall not have died in vain as I am, recently published the first-ever piece of “Jose Guerena memorial fiction “. This is the second.
The three of us made fer decent trail partners, wending our way back on down to Texas after the trail drive paid off in Abilene. Clem never did talk much, I had things on my mind, and Tam as usual blew up enough wind fer the three of us without even trying. We made camp early, close enough to the stream to fill our canteens and water the horses easily, far enough away to let wild critters slip in fer a drink without worrying about us overmuch.
It was Clem’s turn to make supper that night, and the man could cook. Mebbe it was his Indian frybread that done it, got me all stuffed and contented-like, so’s my mental musings kind of jist busted out into the open air on their own hook.
“Tam,” I said suddenly, cutting hm off in the middle of a tale about ants or grasshoppers or crickets or–I dunno, some kind of danged bugs, “You ever heard of a fella got himself gunned down in his own cabin by a bunch of Sheriff’s deputies? Somewhere in Arizona Territory, place called Pima, this woulda been. Jose something or other, started with a G–”
“Guerena.” The tall tale teller’s voice came out flat. Grim. Cold-like. “Jose Guerena. One of the dirtiest deeds and darkest mysteries ever recorded.” He paused to relight his pipe, which had gone out. “Never heard of him.”
He waved his pipe, a never-mind-me sort of gesture. “What I mean is,” he said, his voice–much to my relief–warming up a bit, “About all I know is the song. Don’t know how accurate that might be, songwriters being notorious liars at times.”
“Home on the Range.” He pointed his pipe stem at me. “Lies, lies, and more lies.”
“Uh, I guess–”
“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam. You seen any bufflers these last few years? They’re gone, jist about all of ’em, slaughtered fer their hides and left to rot.”
Okay, I got it. But Tam was warmed up now.
“Where never is heard a discouraging word. Cowboy, we don’t hear nothing but discouraging words, specially on a drive. Lying danged songwriters. Even so, my hunch is, The Ballad of Jose Guerena is mostly on the truthful side. Clem, you still got that old mouth harp in yer saddlebags? You do? Good. Iffen you’d be so kind as to dig that out and fire up the spookiest, saddest, evilest kinda slow tune you can manage, I’d be grateful.”
Clem was nothing if not an obliging sort. As it turned out, he could also make that battered harmonica sound like danger on the wind and horror in the canyons, all rolled up in one. From the first notes, chills started running up and down my spine. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up, and I had to fight hard to keep from turning to see what might be sneaking up on me, out there in the moonless black of a south Kansas night.
Then Tam begun to sing. I hadn’t even known he could sing, but he had a rich, deep voice that made you see what he was singing about. I listened. I heard.
I never been quite the same since.
The Ballad of Jose Guerena
by Fred Baker
Jose Guerena was a soldier, and he served his country well
Till he came back home to Pima where they blew him straight to Hell
But Diablo would not take him; “Nope,” he said, “Not one of mine.”
So Jose now walks the Heavens, making sure his family’s fine
No one knows jist why they did it; no one ever understood
But there’s a Sheriff out in Pima whose kill ratio is not good
On the day they killed Guerena, when his fingers had gone slack
They found the Colt right there beside him never had the hammer back
Some say it was assassination when they gunned Guerena down
An entire squad of Sheriff’s deputies fired more than sixty rounds
He left behind a pretty widow and two young sons who to this day
Wonder why they lost their Daddy in such a cruel and violent way
Jose Guerena was no outlaw; he never robbed a single bank
Every newsman in the country knew Guerena’s killing stank
Yet the people out in Pima, they ain’t talking very much
You can feel the fear they’re feeling under Sheriff’s scary touch
There are those who live in Pima who jist shrug and say he’s gone
But again there are those others who grimly smile and say that’s wrong
He’s living on in every soldier, every husband, father, sons
Standing up for fallen heroes felled by Sheriff’s hired guns
The final note from Clem’s instrument trailed off into the darkness like some wailing, wandering wraith lost in the distance. Though it had never happened before in all the years I’d known him, Tam had fallen as silent as the tomb. The fading campfire snapped once, sending a small shower of sparks skyward.
Without another word, we turned in, briefly–but carefully–checking our revolvers before closing our eyes. Jist this once, I flipped open the loading gate, adding a sixth round; no empty chamber under the hammer this night. I carefully did not look at the others, nor did they look at me, but they done likewise.
None of us, I think, slept well that night.
Lyrics Released to Public Domain
The songwriter has officially released the lyrics of The Ballad of Jose Guerena to the public domain. Musicians are encouraged to produce their own versions of the song and kick ’em right out there on YouTube. This one has the power to be a game changer. Plus, at least one version will go viral or I’ll eat the nasty sweatband out of my old straw hat.
Closing note: I did finally get myself a new camcorder, recorded the song, and released it to YouTube. Here’s my version.