Last updateFri, 29 Apr 2016 3pm

“Riña”=Family Feud. A deadly way of settling accounts practiced among too many Mexicans in the ‘50s, early ‘60s

Nemisio — Nesio — Ortiz became an orphan when he was sixteen. He witnessed the murder of his mother. To help keep him out of the line of feudal gun fire, I temporarily pitched an old Army field tent where no one would look: a gringo-owned boulder-pocked mountain pasture. While farmers in the pueblo below cheered and hooted at soccer games, Nesio and I used the noise to disguise his marksmanship practice, using a rifle — a family relic of Revolution-era firearms — and a pistol of mine. Intense practice made Nesio a good shot. He was best when picturing the man who had killed his mother.   

In the 1950s and ‘60s, harsh relations between families were often settled with  riñas —(family feuds). As a gringo, such entanglements didn’t involve me. My killing centered on eight-foot-long mountain cascabelas (rattlesnakes). I sold the meat to a man who concocted medicines from it, and the whole snakes to brujas who used rattler “power” to cure and change lives. 

Riñas erupted frequently in scattered pueblos tracing the ragged southwestern end of Jalisco’s huge lake. Small communities formed a dispersed line running from the tail-end edge of Jalisco well into Michoacan.

The social milieu of remote two- and three-street villages was often made up of just a few, sometimes bristly, families. The small pueblo that Felipe and Sara Ortiz lived in, San Luciano, was Nesio’s birthplace. I knew him and his parents because they bought supplies each week in pueblos near Jocotepec.

Felipe and Sara were driving a small herd of sheep along the south side of their village’s  plaza when a pendajo named ‘Nando Perez, stepped off his bicycle (few cars in such villages then), pulled an ancient pistol and shot at Felipe Ortiz but hit Sara. Felipe, unarmed, ducked across the cobbled street to a portales table where domino players had ducked out of the way.  He plucked a butcher knife off the bar and came after ‘Nando Perez. The villain escaped on his bike.  

{access public}

Please login or subscribe to view the complete article.


{access !public}

With Sara dead, Felipe disappeared to plan his revenge.  The Ortiz family fearfully took in Nesio, though the Perezes promised peace. Nesio wasn’t allowed to go out at night.

Buses often stopped running when blinding darkness set in.  There were few if any street lights in such pueblos, none on highways. That’s when I took Nesio in my car on a rough mountain route, much of it with no car lights. He was nervously prattling when I stopped. We were on the densely forested edge of an old cattle trail. Nesio grinned at being away from the pueblo and its gossips. “Don’t,” I said. “You want to stay alive, breathe quietly,” He nodded, holding the pistol I’d given him under his serape but aimed at the car door window.   

I continued the rough uphill drive with lights out. When I stopped again, he helped fill our trail, imitating my example of using loose rocks — not to disguise our path, but to make it noisy to follow.   

As a weak preview of sun touched the eastern sky, we were in a tunnel of easy forest.  Nothing revealed our path. I parked on the bank of a steep brush-rich arroyo that survived rainy season floods and stayed firm during the dry season.  Getting out, we looked beyond a grown-over brecha. I pointed at what he couldn’t see: three shadowed, abandoned chosas (cabins) .

“I know this place,” Nesio announced. “My mother said the people went to the ‘other side’.” He meant the United States. “Some say they dug up boxes of gold coins hidden during the Revolution.”

Sueños (dreams),” I said.  “People always dream of hidden treasures in the mountains.   They find nothing.”

“Are we looking for treasures?”

“Of course not,” I scoffed.  “We’re finding you a place safe from any more idiot riñas.”

His misconception was discouraging. “These chosas are forgotten. Nobody has been up here for more than a year. We’re going to get rid anything that looks valuable.The stuff you need we’ll hide. Think about that. About staying alive. They say you are smart. Think of saving your ass, not imaginary treasures.”

I got out two machetes, a hammer and a pry-bar. “We’re getting rid of anything you don’t need, or we can’t hide.”

All the windows in the chosas were smashed. 

At the first chosa, Nesio tapped on the door. 

“Don’t do that. They’re all empty.” I banged open the door. “Get the electric lines. There’s never been any service up here.” I handed him a new hammer. “Carefully pull off the electric lines. (They were nailed to plaster covering adobe walls.)  “Carefully. We want to sell those copper lines. Copper is expensive. You’re going to need that money.”

In just a short time the first-chosa rolls of copper wire were impressive. We were going to make some money. The kid was going to be well heeled. If he didn’t attract a lot attention. 

Nesio was sweating and thirsty. He turned on the dead kitchen faucet.  

Oye, the government would never put service this far up the mountain. They can’t even get service to most of the pueblos below”

We worked hard for more than an hour. The kid was sweating and swearing. Finally, he dropped the hammer. He belched like he was going to throw up. 

“Didn’t you work hard for your mamå and papå?”

“Not this much. Not so long.”

Pos, then you weren’t working for your life. That’s the difference. I’m working to help save your ass. What do you think you’re working for?”

“You really think that Perez bastard will come after me?’”

“It doesn’t matter what I — or you — think. It’s what he thinks. And we don’t know that.  You want to stop and wait until he tells you?”

 “I  have to throw up.”

“Do it. Then go back to work.” 

He found a corner of a window that was smashed. He hit it until it broke more.

It had been absolutely quiet since we arrived. Now I heard something. I waved danger at him. He froze. Whatever it was stopped. I put away my tools.

“Do you think..., he began.

I covered my mouth with one hand, made a gesture slitting my throat with the other. Killed the candle. Outside a pretty girl re-arranged her skirt and got into a pickup. It backed as if leaving,  We needed it to leave. With motions I got Nesio to step into my cupped hands. I boosted him to the roof’s edge. He motioned there was nothing to see.  A motor revved up, and he slid off the roof and stayed stretched on the ground. The pickup left.

“She was my girl friend in Joco sometimes.” 

I didn’t answer. I was listening for other things.

“She could stay here with me,” he said. 

I was speechless. “You’re suicidally loco,” I told him

“That’s my girl friend.”

“Riding in somebody else’s pickup at five in the morning.  And you about to throw your life away, and not a single idea of what to do about the killer of your mother.” 

At that moment, the pickup returned. Nesio took out my pistol. I shook my head. When the pickup stopped, the girl appeared and got in. The pickup drove quickly away.

“Stay away from her, you’ll be safe. Somebody intends to kill you. I”ll kill you first for your presence sicking the Perezes after my hide.” I spat. “And I don’t want to kill you. Hide.Inside. Don’t use this.” I meant the pistol. “Use discipline,  I’ll check every day.” 

He said yes. I wanted to believe him. And “wanting” worked long enough.


Conjunctions and the past rear up to deal with concussions produced by being knocked out by stuttery recovery

Conjunctions thrive. The past rears up.  The media blossoms with brittle concussion stories.  Echoes stir of peripatetic childhood days.  Eight and a half of one’s first years adopting ways of living with different ranch\farm families.  A young mother simultaneously experiencing divorce and giving birth.  A young campesino rancher friend is wrecked by a mean-spirited gelding falling on him.  A reader sends a concussion query, apologizing if that implies an intimate experience with that condition.  

Starting anew: Dealing with predators silently eddying downhill toward prey sleeping in frail protection

“You go out early, when dawn is coming but it is still dark, or just after an off-season rain.” 

A neighbor, and Lake Chapala pescador\campesino, Paco Rios was putting together a new fishing canoe.  I was helping, learning a new craft, while waiting for my wife to arrive with an updated copy of building plans.