Mexican Joe - The Interview 


This interview is transcribed from the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, Tuesday, 4th June 1889.

THERE is just now in Edinburgh a character to whom the devourers of the “penny dreadful” and the “ha’penny harrower” will hasten to transfer their allegiance when they learn that he has accomplished more “deeds of dreadful note” than all the “Boys of England” heroes that the most imaginative writer could produce. I had the distinction the other day of being presented to this notable personage, and was at once dazzled by the magnificence of his attire, and profoundly interested by his “walk and conversation.” Colonel Shelley, as this gentleman is called, was decked, when I met him, in the gallant trim of a captain in the Confederate army, and he certainly looked very grand and picturesque. As I had never been a Confederate, there was no occasion for the Colonel's indignation when I asked him if he was in the militia. He wore a lot of brass door plates on his vest, which he called official badges, his head and shoulders (and part of the neighbourhood) were covered by a monster hat, from beneath which his moustache bristled with a fierceness becoming the attire; and his heels were armed with a pair of spurs that gave one pains all over the body just to look at. Such were my first impressions of Colonel Shelley, or, as he is more generally known, “Mexican Joe.”

But I was soon to learn that the Texan Ranger and scout was accounted as modest as he was fierce. He was born in America, and he has all the native modesty of the race. He recounts the story of his life with such charming simplicity that his hearers soon lose reckoning of the number of Indians he has scalped, and of the other daring feats he has accomplished, and they can do nothing but gaze at him in wonder and amazement as he “trots out” another “blood curdler” in response to the demand. In his youth he has evidently been a “broth of a boy,” for he began his career by running away from home. At the age of eighteen he joined the command of General Johnston, and later on that of General Pope, under both of whom he had personal experience of war. Afterwards, when the war was over, he travelled across the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, into Texas, where he took to deer-hunting. Once into Texan territory his adventures began, and right onwards from this point we have a thrilling story of scouting, scalping Indians, following trails, hairbreadth escapes, &c. First of all he saved the life of an old Mexican hunter who was in the grips of a grizzly. Soon after that he was organising a band of rangers to put down the cattle thieves, outlaws, and desperadoes who infested the western portion of Texas. For five years he was engaged fighting these gentry, with now and again a brush with the Indians, and then he started a cattle ranche in the south-west, at the same time taking the post of scout under General Ord, who then took command of the Rio Grande district. Then comes more fighting and scalping and unpleasant encounters with Indians, succeeded by his resignation and marriage with a Castillian lady, who brought him 25,000 dollars. He then settled down in the northern part of the State of Chihuahua, where he began life as a rancher. But he was not long allowed to enjoy his domestic bliss. The Apache Indians went out on the warpath in 1876, and in the campaign against them he lent his services as a scout. He was captured by the Apaches, and had to undergo no end of torture before he made his escape. The rangers ultimately crushed the Indians. More fighting with Indians again kept him lively, and he returned home to find his wife carried off by them. He started out in pursuit, and though he never again saw his wife alive, he tells, with a sense of gratified revenge, how he brained the Indian chief who killed her.

After this record it seems rather strange that the hero of so many wild adventures in the wilds of Texas should settle down to the unstirring life of a showman. But that, it seems, was accidental. He has with him some of his cowboys from Texas, some eight or ten Indians, and over a score of ponies. He lost some of his ponies by fire in Manchester, and there also the scalp of the Indian chief who killed his wife was consumed.

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