Mexican Peter Arrago

A train of wagons was making its way to Montana, in June, 1866, and one night they camped by my place and put two Mexicans on night guard. Late in the night one of the Mexicans mistook the other for an Indian and fired at him. The shot nearly tore his arm off and severely lacerated his chest. The commander of the train asked me to take him and care for him and make him as comfortable as I could and see that he was properly buried, for none of us expected to see him recover.

After offering to pay me for my trouble, the commander went on his way to Montana. On the second day I had the wounded Mexican, I thought he might recover, so sent for the army physician at Lath rum; he would not come, but sent a lot of directions for me.

Five miles below my place was the Home Station, run by Foster. One day, six months previous to Arrago’s accident, a misunderstanding arose between four or five of the men, more so between the stage driver and Chub (the only name we knew for him). Chub was shot, and they sent for me. I went down and did all I could for him, but on the second night he died. As I opened the door to go in and see the corpse, a large cat sprang through the door and onto the corpse. He was just beginning to chew it, when I got hold of him and threw him out. It was the only cat in the country for a hundred miles around.

Having had some experience in caring for Chub, I was more able to nurse the wounded Mexican, Peter Arrago.

The fourth day after he was shot another train went by and there were three doctors on it, who had heard of the accident, and stopped to see Arrago. After carefully examining his wounds and holding a consultation, they said that gangrene had set in and he could not live till twelve o’clock that night, and for us to have a grave ready so we could bury him immediately after death.

I got out some tallow dips for candles and took up my post by the Mexican, while Jordan, my partner, went to bed. About eleven o’clock I noticed Peter slowly failing and began to think the doctors’ verdict was being fulfilled. Suddenly something happened that made me quite sure of it. As a rule I was not superstitious, but there had been so many strange events on the frontier and I was nearly worn out with my steady watch, night and day, over Peter, and so was easily startled, especially this night, when I expected every breath to be the last.

My house had thick side walls and where the roof came over them, it left an opening. Around the ridge poles at the gable end, I had shelves where I kept my canned goods. A little before midnight, when I thought Peter was dying, I heard a noise on the shelf over the head of the bed, and looking up, I saw the cat from the Home Station sprawled out and looking down as though ready to spring.

I was determined that it should not get at Peter like it did Chub, so I tied it up in a gunnysack and put it out doors. I did not want to kill a neighbor’s cat, but I was uneasy, for that was the first it had ever come to my place. Thinking that the cat knew by natural instinct that death was near, I was more sure than ever that Peter was dying. Arousing Jordan, I sent him out to dig the grave, while I did my best to ease the dying Mexican. Again I heard the noise on the shelves and discovered the cat in the same place and position as before. It had got out of the sack, crawled in between the wall and roof, walked across the wall above the bed and crouched down right above Peter’s head. This time I nailed him up in a box and put him outside. Jordan finished the grave and went back to bed. I remained by the Mexican, expecting to have to call Jordan at any time to help me. In the early morning Peter came to himself again and asked me to cut his arm off, it was paining him so. I decided that I could not make it any worse and would do as he wished. I sent to the physician at Lathrum and told him, since he would not come and attend the wounded Mexican; why not send the necessary articles and medicine to amputate an arm. The physician made up his mind to come when he thought there might be a chance to save the Mexican. They put Peter in an ambulance and took him to the army hospital at Lathrum.

Six months later Peter came back to my place and said I saved his life. I told him how we had given him up; about the superstition over the cat and the three doctors’ advice, ending by saying, “Peter, there is a grave dug out there for you; better go nil it up.”

He just answered, “Me no dig; me no fill.”

Some of the Pioneers of Colorado

Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909

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