Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back and Other Tales from the Raton

Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back and Other Tales from the Raton

Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back and Other Tales from the Raton

Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back and Other Tales from the Raton


Much of the literature about northeastern New Mexico depicts range wars, bandits, labor union strife, and Indian depredations. This collection of twelve modern folktales describes events that never made headlines and people who never had a building named after them, evoking the rich tradition of storytelling that flowed through the coal camps and ranches of the Raton region during the early twentieth century.

The tales in this collection are about everyday life with some fantastic elements. An African American mother and daughter confront a German prisoner of war in one story, while in another a coal miner's gift for braying leads to a war between coal camps. Here are chronicles of a Mexican barber who extracts a ghoulish revenge for being forced to shave the beard of a killer; of the terrible fate that awaits boys who are lured into a dancehall during the Lenten season by the Devil and his beautiful cowgirls; and of an old coal miner who attempts to control his young wife by pretending to be the voice of the Lord. In other stories a lion who is accidentally caught and caged teaches a coal miner a lesson; two crusty cowboys come to understand the purpose of gnats and tumbleweeds and why rattlesnakes have rattles; and the Angel of Death is told to collect Hispanic souls or else. The account of a rootin'-tootin' cowboy and his wife who use a pitch-baby to trap a pesky jack rabbit and a fish story round out this multiethnic collection of tales. Recounted in a lively, humorous style, the stories show how ordinary people managed to conduct dignified and happy lives- with occasional help from the spirit world- in a difficult social and physical environment.


If you’re going to the Raton region, be sure to toughen up before you go. the men are rowdy and rough, and the women are tepid and tough. You’d better prepare and be loaded for bear, planting plenty of thistles in your hair, or they’ll chew you up with cactus and spit you out, just for practice.

That’s what we used to tell strangers to keep them away from the Raton region, mostly Colfax County and parts of Union in northeastern New Mexico. Actually, Raton folks are pretty much like others, hardworking, fun-loving, and honest, most of the time. They are plain people, but they are not ordinary.

Life is old there. Over the centuries, the region served as a confluence for people from sundry ethnic groups and most races, dating back at least eight thousand years to the Folsom people, who lived in the region after the last Ice Age. in the 1700s and 1800s, Kiowas and Comanches hunted and camped in the region, leaving place names such as Kiowa Mesa and Chicorica Creek. Their pottery shards and arrowheads are still found on the prairie, and beads traded from Spaniards are found on anthills.

The Spaniards explored the region in the late 1700s, leaving many place-names, including the region’s name, Raton, Spanish for “rodent,” so-named due to the large number of mice, bushy-tailed squirrels, and other rodents the Spaniards noticed in the region. (Locally, the name has been anglicized and is pronounced ‘rah-TONE.’) the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail (1822–1880) bisected the region, and another, the Cimarron Cut-off, skirted the region southeasterly. Another Spanish place-name, Cimarrón, referred to . . .

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