Country of the Bad Wolfes

Country of the Bad Wolfes by James Blake Read Free Book Online

Book: Country of the Bad Wolfes by James Blake Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Blake
was among those who received their punishment in front ofhundreds of witnessing American soldiers in the main plaza of San Angel, a village on the outskirt of the capital. In the center of the plaza stood a newly erected gallows consisting of a single long crossbeam from which dangled sixteen noosed ropes—the others of the condemned would be executed over the next three days. Set in a row under the crossbeam were eight small mule-drawn carts, and in each one stood a pair of San Patricios with their hands bound behind them. The carts faced a line of trees along one side of the plaza where the men to be flogged were stripped bare to the waist and each one tied to a tree trunk. The officer in charge kept loud count as the whippings were laid on. Samuel Thomas locked his jaws to keep from crying out but he passed out on the thirty-ninth lash. After the fiftieth, he was revived with a pail of water so he would be conscious for his branding. Two men held his head fast while another applied the glowing iron directly below his eye and he smelled his own searing flesh and bone and screamed in violation of his vow that he would not. It went even worse for Riley, who was the most hated of the deserters for being their leader. His brand was applied upside down, purportedly by accident, and so, to the loud approval of the spectating troops, the officer in charge ordered that it be burned correctly into his other cheek. Riley had managed to hold silent the first time but could not stifle himself the second, and his screams roused a great and happy chorus of derision.
    Then the hangings. White hoods were drawn over the heads of the condemned and the nooses snugged round their necks. At an officer’s signal, the muleteers’ whips cracked and the carts rumbled out from under the crossbeam and the plaza rang with cheers. A fortunate few of the gibbeted died instantly of snapped necks but most of them, including Lucas Malone, strangled to death, choking with awful sounds as their hysterical feet sought purchase on the empty air and their trousers darkened with piss and shit. The flogged and branded were then made to dig the hanged men’s graves and bury them, Samuel Thomas scooping at the earth with a trowel in his one good hand.

    With the fall of Mexico City, the war was over in every sense but officially. It was another five months before the signing in early 1848 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which compact Mexico ceded to the United States an enormous portion of land that extended the American border to the Pacific coast. But it was still another month before the treaty was accepted by the American Senate, and then another two and a half months before it was ratified by Mexico. And all that while, the captive Saint Patricks labored daily with picks and shovels in a garbage pit a quarter-mile wide at the edge of the city, a monstrous crater writhing with rats and swarming with flies and aflutter with great flocks of carrion birds. Into this pit were emptied daily wagonloads of every sort of refuse and organic rot, including carcasses of animals large and small, the discard of miscarriages and abortions. The fetor madetheir eyes water and stung their throats even through the bandanas they wore over nose and mouth, and every man of them had bloodshot eyes and a chronic cough.
    They were at first incarcerated in the Acordada Penitentiary, near the center of the capital, and every morning before going to the pit they unloaded dead bodies from the municipal wagons that each dawn collected them off the streets and alleyways, as many of them victims of murder as of exposure and malnutrition and alcohol poisoning and disease and total exhaustion of the will to live. These dead were displayed on the prison’s front steps all day and night for anyone to claim. Those still there the next morning were then removed to make room for the new day’s corpses and were taken for burial in the potter’s field adjoining the

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