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For All Nails #249: Trouble Brewing

By Johnny Pez



"In March, 1849, General David Homer led a large C.N.A. force westward from Fort Webster. At first it seemed his destination would be Conyers, and Running Deer deployed his troops to meet the expected attack on the Mexico del Norte capital. But Homer did not turn southward, instead he continued until he reached Mendoza, one hundred miles within the Arizona border, where he made winter camp in October."
--Robert Sobel, For Want of a Nail . . ., p. 129.


Mendoza, Mexico del Norte, USM FN1
30 October 1849

General David Homer looked at his second in command in disbelief. "Serjeant Wickham wants to what?"

"He wants to marry one of the local girls," said Major Barnabas Gumbel.

"D'oh!" exclaimed Homer. Being a pious man, Homer made a conscious effort never to swear or take the Lord's name in vain. His exclamation served as a substitute, because there were times when a man, be he never so pious, just had to cry out in dismay. And this was definitely one of those times. "Doesn't this man know," Homer continued, "that there's a war on, and that he's supposed to be fighting it?"

"Well, you know, Dave, the girls here are awful nice," Gumbel pointed out. "Living out here in the middle of the wilderness, they're bound to be attracted to sophisticated men of the world like us." Gumbel belched; he had, Homer knew, a stomach condition that led him to do so fairly frequently.

"It doesn't matter how nice they are," Homer complained. "We've got to keep the men focused on the job at hand. If we let them marry local girls, they're going to want to settle down here, and we've got to march on California come spring."

"So tell the men that the local girls are off limits," suggested Gumbel.

Homer glared at his subordinate. "If I did that, I'd have a mutiny on my hands in ten minutes."

"Well," said Gumbel thoughtfully, "if we can't keep the men away from the girls, maybe we can keep the girls away from the men."

Homer felt his mood grow lighter as he considered the idea. "That's pretty good thinking, Barney."

"That's why they made me an officer," said Gumbel smugly, before belching again.

"I'll go see Elder Escobar today," Homer decided. Elder Escobar was the spiritual leader of Mendoza, which made him the town's political leader as well. The people here were all adherents of a peculiar Mexican sect called the Community of All Saints. Homer had never heard of it before arriving here at the head of his army two weeks before. In fact, Homer had been unaware of the existence of the Saints' settlement here before his arrival. The CNA knew precious little about conditions in these northern Mexican states, including details of the geography. According to Homer's map, the Great Salt Lake, which the Mexicans called Lagote Amargo, was supposed to be five hundred miles farther west.

Relations between the North Americans and the people of Mendoza had been surprisingly cordial so far. Homer was well aware of the fact that this was due mainly to the presence of the pay chests in his waggon, which insured that his troops had enough money to buy food and other necessities from the Mexicans. His 90,000 men were bivouacked in a semicircle north of the town, and a brisk commerce had taken place between the two groups. Not all of it financial, either, as the example of Serjeant Wickham showed.

Mendoza was located on the north bank of a stream that flowed west from the mountains to the Great Salt Lake. Homer's tent was set atop a bluff that looked down onto the town, as well as onto the orderly ranks of tents that marked his own army. Saddling his horse, Homer made his way down what was becoming a well-worn path leading into the town. There were salutes and greetings from his men as he passed, and Homer returned them.

For now, the men were still recovering from their arduous seven-month trek from Fort Webster. The last supply train from the fort had reached them three months before, and since then Homer had watched with growing concern as his army's stocks of food and herd of cattle dwindled. If the Great Salt Lake really had been five hundred miles further west, and hadn't had a necklace of thriving Mexican settlements around it, they would have reached it a starving, ravening horde rather than a disciplined army.

Unlike frontier settlements in Indiana and Vandalia, the town of Mendoza lacked a wooden stockade. The Mexicans seemed to get along much better with their Indians than the North Americans did, and apparently neither wanted nor needed protection from them. As Homer passed by the neatly kept wooden houses of the town, he saw its inhabitants going about their daily business. They too waved and greeted him, usually in Spanish, but often in English. He was astonished by the physical variety of the townspeople, not only whites and Negroes, but also the mixed-race people they called Mexicanos, and even full-blooded Indians. Although slavery was still legal in the USM, there were no slaves to be found in the Community of All Saints; most of the Negroes Homer had spoken to in the town were escaped slaves from Jefferson and Arizona.

The spiritual as well as physical center of Mendoza was the Temple, a large but plain whitewashed building. There were no crosses in evidence, though the Saints seemed to be Christians of a sort. Homer left his horse tied to a post outside without concern; the Saints were scrupulously honest. The Temple was empty at this time of day -- morning services were over, and the evening services would not begin until after sundown. Homer entered through a door on the building's west side, and found himself in a sparsely decorated room. Seated at a desk was the Elder's assistant, a middle-aged Indian named Hector Benevides. His clothing was perfectly ordinary, except for a yellow-and-black pendant that hung from a chain around his neck. The pendant was a cross that had been fashioned to resemble a large honey bee.

Benevides smiled at Homer as he entered. "Brother David," he said in accented English, "it is good to see you again. What brings you to us this day?"

Homer nodded pleasantly at Benevides. "I wish to see the Elder," he said. "Is he in?"

"He is with Brother Manuel and Sister Linda at this time," said Benevides, "but I do not believe they will be closeted with the Elder for more than half an hour further. Will you wait?"

"Thank you, I will," Homer responded. He and Benevides exchanged small talk, Benevides talking about the doings of the Saints of Mendoza, and Homer about the men in his army. Homer always avoided talking about the war between their two countries; although the Saints seemed to be exiles of sorts from Mexican society, he felt it was better not to risk inflaming patriotic passions on either side.

Finally the door to Elder Escobar's office opened, and two Saints -- one white, the other Mexicano -- emerged in the company of the Elder. The two were smiling and holding hands. They exchanged farewells in Spanish with the Elder, greeted Homer in the same language, then left the room.

"Good day to you, Brother David," said the Elder to him in English. Like his secretary, Escobar was dressed in ordinary clothing, with the same honey bee pendant. Despite his title, the Elder was actually in his mid-30s, like Homer himself. A white man with brown hair and a short beard, his accent made him sound Virginian to Homer's ears. The general had learned that Escobar's parents were Jeffersonians, his father a Tejano (as the Hispanos of that state called themselves) and his mother the daughter of a Virginia couple who had made the Wilderness Walk sixty years before.

The two men entered the Elder's office. As he had on the two previous occasions Homer had met him, he offered Homer refreshments. "We have fruit juice, cider, and some beer just in from California," said the Elder.

"Beer?" said Homer in surprise. The army's beer supply had run out one month after leaving Fort Webster, and Homer had sorely missed it. Like many nonconformist North Americans, Homer's family disdained hard liquor, limiting themselves to sasparilla, cider, and beer.

Escobar indicated a box in the corner of his office, within which a tapped barrel nestled among sawdust and wood shavings. Opening a cabinet above the box, the Elder removed two glass mugs, and deftly filled them with the foamy, amber liquid. One sip, and Homer was instantly transported to heaven. It was a variety of the cold-brewed 'lager' beer that had become popular in recent years in Manitoba and northern Indiana. "Mmmm, beer," he murmured to himself.

"There is a brewing industry growing in San Fernando," Escobar explained. "If you would like, I can have some delivered to you."

His heart breaking, Homer shook his head. "I have to set an example for my men. If they see me enjoying luxuries that are unavailable to them, they'll become discontented. Of course," he added, "it would be different if they all had beer. How much can you sell me?"

There followed an enjoyable few minutes as he and the Elder dickered over quantities and prices. When the bargain had been struck, Homer asked, "Are you expecting any more shipments?"

Now it was the Elder's turn to sadly shake his head. "The snows will have closed Williams Pass by now," he said. "We won't be getting any more in until May at the earliest."

Homer sighed. In a couple of months, the California lager would run out, and he and his men would be out of luck. "Stupid snow," he said.

"I am always pleased to see you, Brother David," said Escobar. "I assume, though, that you have some other reason for coming to see me than to pass the time enjoying this excellent beer."

"I do, Elder," said Homer. "I was hoping to persuade you that it would be in the best interests of both our peoples if you were to discourage your, um, young ladies, from becoming familiar with my men." He explained about Serjeant Wickham, and the trouble he expected to face if his men began marrying female Saints.

Elder Escobar frowned. "Brother David," he said sternly, "what you seek to do here is contrary to the laws of nature, and of nature's God. He made men and women different, and gave them their desires, for a reason. If your men seek out my women, and my women your men, it is in fulfillment of His Divine Plan. Let us not speak of seeking to thwart His will for the sake of our own mundane affairs."

"D'oh!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm sorry, Elder," said Homer miserably, "but I've got a job to do. My superiors have ordered me to take San Francisco, and I can't do that if all my men are here in Mexico del Norte settling down and raising families."

"I sympathize with you, Brother David," Escobar assured him. "You have your vocation, just as I have mine, and I can see that you are a conscientious man who seeks to fulfill the commandments he has been given. Nevertheless, I cannot help you in this matter, for to do so I would have to disobey the orders given me by my own superiors."

With another sigh, Homer took his leave of the Elder and rode back to his tent.

One look at Homer's face was enough to tell Major Gumbel the story. "No luck?" he said.

Homer shook his head. "He said keeping his girls away from the men would be thwarting God's will. Whatever happened to the good old days when preachers used to warn against fornication?"

Further conversation was interrupted by the growing sound of creaking waggon wheels. The two men left the tent in time to see a waggon from the town pull up in front. There were half a dozen barrels stowed in the back.

Homer's spirits lifted again. "The beer!" he exclaimed.

"Beer?" said Gumbel with interest.

"The Saints just got a shipment in from a brewery somewhere in California," Homer explained. "Someplace called San Fernando. Unfortunately, there's only enough here to last until December, and they won't be getting any more in until May."

"You know, Dave," said Gumbel, "this gives me an idea. The men are going to be getting awful thirsty around about March. If you tell them there's plenty of beer to be had in California, that just might be enough to persuade them to resume the march."

"Barney," said Homer in amazement, "you're a genius!"

"Naturally," said Gumbel, before belching again.


Proceed to FAN #250: Guy Walks Into a Bar.

Proceed to 16 April 1850 (Rocky Mountain War): Rocky Mountain Low.

Return to For All Nails.

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