Andrew Garcia, a True
Frontiersman in Indian Country.
Andrew Garcia was one of the first American pioneers of Hispanic descent
to write his own story. After writing volumes of script and thousands
of pages, he resisted all efforts to put his work into publishable form
for fear that the accuracy, facts, and writing style might be compromised
and fall victim to the western fiction market. He was born in the Rio
Grande Valley in the El Paso, Texas / Las Cruces, New Mexico area in 1853,
and schooled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His book, Tough Trip Through
Paradise, was edited by Bennett H. Stein who found several thousand pages
of Garcia's manuscript stored in dynamite boxes packed in the heavy waxed
paper that explosive power comes in. Thanks' goes to Bennett Stein, who
must h ave labored many long hours condensing and consolidating those
thousands of pages into a more conise 460-page book, first printed by
the Rock Foundation in 1967.
The Hollywood movie, Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, was based
not on an Anglo muleteer, as the movie suggests. Rather, it was actually
based on the true story of Hispanic pioneer, Vaquero rancher, farmer and
trader, Andrew Garcia, during the time of the 1877 Nez Perce war. He was
not known as Little Big Man by the Indians, rather he earned the name,
The Squaw Kid, derived from the 9 years he lived in Indian country with
three Pend d'Oreille Indian wives named, In-who-lise, Squis-squis, and
Mal-lit-tay-lay. Little Big Man was actually the name of an Indian warrior.
At the age of 23 in 1876, he ventured north to Montana where he was first
employed by the U.S. government as a herder and packer. He scouted for
the U.S. military throughout Yellowstone and Musselshell country when
the Cavalry was, as he put it, pursuing horse stealing and plundering
Indians. He served with Sturgis' Boys in Blue out of Fort Ellis. There,
he met a hunter and trapper called Beaver Tom in 1878. Beaver Tom, being
middle-aged and more worldly than Garcia, easily lured Garcia into going
with him to Musselshell on a trapping and trading expedition. Having been
through that area with the U.S. Cavalry, Garcia knew there was, indeed,
plenty of game for furs and no shortage of Indians to rob and kill.
As Bennett Stein writes, "...his teepee days occurred at the very
time when the free life of the Plains Indians was on the brink of extinction.
He witnessed that extinction and had a story that no one else could tell."
Garcia tells the true story of the end of an era of vast open ranges before
barbed wire fences, a time when the Indians were just beginning to appreciate
the new resources brought to America by the Spanish. They had the best
of both Indian and Spanish / Mexican worlds. Horses gave them tremendous
mobility and speed in the wild and untamed open country. After having
myself, enjoyed and crossed the beautiful expanse of mountains and tribes,
during my tenure with the Bureau Of Indian Affairs - after hearing the
voices of the Tiwas of New Mexico, to the utterances of Salish of Montana
during the 20th century, and after having viewed such places by land and
air - I can only imagine how a phenomenally panoramic picture this vast
land much have appeared to Garcia before the landscape was cut up by endless
ribbons of highway and railroad lines, and the sky divided by miles of
telegraph, electric, and telephone wires.
The sense of justice taught him in his formative years by the Catholic
Padres in New Mexico, helped him transcent the wide-spread hatred of Indians
and gave him common cause with the tribest of the Northwest, even during
those intense years of warfare. Garcia was different from other writers
of this time, not just because he was self-taught, oreover, because his
was a, "tell it like it is - no sugar added," account of those
times. This was in opposition to other writers who romanticized, embellished,
and took artistic license in corrupting the truth. Garcia himself explains
in one passage, "The novelist always manages to cover up the trail
on the Indian or villains who are pursuing the hero with the red-headed
maiden in his arms on horseback. I never had such luck. They could always
find my trail dead easy and run the hell out of me. It was always a matter
of speed with me. We all like to see the hero and fair damsel make their
get-away from the villain and for her to live happily with the hero....
I am sorry to have to dispel the beautiful hallucination and tell, in
most cases, that is b___ s___. In the many years that I have lived, I
have seen more heroes get it in the neck from the villain than were left
to go around. If it was not for the strong arm of the Law and the brave
men who enforce it, there would not be a hero left to tell the tale, and
the woods would be full of grass widow heroines. Many flourishing jails
and penitentiaries will bear me out on this."
Over the next six years in Musselshell, Montana, he observed the last
wave of Buffalo extermination and final throes of effort by the Plains
Indians to resist their own extermination at the hands of the new Americans.
His nine years with Indian wives, mentioned above, were his most meaningful
and final connection to the wild and beautiful, natural order of his world
that apparently centered him. Although the second half of his life was
spent in what many people would describe a western paradise with his white
wife, Barbara Voll, raising four healthy sons on his 667 acres of beautiful,
forested Montana ranchland, what prompted him to begin writing was the
fact that he was never again quite so happy as when he lived amont the
Indians in the open wilderness. He died in 1943, having resisted efforts
to publish his work out of fear that the true history of his time would
be corrupted. His greatest fears were realized a quarter-century later,
when Hollywood indeed, changed and distorted his story and actual history
in the movie, Little Big Man.
Source: Donald Gilbert