“Concerning the minor vaquero character who is one of three men to die in an attempted mutiny against John Wayne’s “Dunson” and his cattle drive in Howard Hawks’s Red River” is a semi-fictional vignette imagining a deeper life for a minor Chicano character in a major motion picture.
The cattle were settling in for the night, and the men were weary. The Tejano was far from Texas. He used to be Mexican, but the war changed his technical nationality and now he is here, with these American cowboys, his hat brim wider than theirs. His face darker. This is a movie somewhere. The cowboss was a general among bovine and equestrian soldiers. This odyssey was great with dust and hooves. The vaquero has friends here, comrades, and three of them have had enough of this mad drive. And if they were not friends, they were at least common in their trade and in their decision. They had spoken together, devised their retaliation. They were going to leave. He felt as though his death was prefigured on this expedition, but thought maybe, maybe if I ride as if on the wind, I can make it back to my home. He hoped he could at least make it close. They were going to leave, and it would be by challenge, that ancient art of combat. Suddenly, the words have been spoken and he moves his hand towards his pistol in the moonlight that is an overhead studio light to the audience watching this film from the flickering light of the projector. The cowboss is a killer, older. The three that are his challenge: minor characters. The vaquero says but one finality before the cracks of lead: “If I’m going to die, I go south to die. At least my people can find my grave and maybe put flowers on it.” He realizes upon saying this that he has spoken his own eulogy. He is shattered by a bullet, which punches through him and embeds itself in the sand beyond. On the film set, the bullet is a blank and does not contain lead to go anywhere. The other two die beside him. He falls to the sand, his eyelids wrapping themselves around his eyes, and he sees that Great River of his home. His mother making tortillas on the comal, the sun heating his nephew’s black-haired head. Then he is back in his dying place, and the blood flows and he hears the cowboss, who is also John Wayne at the film premiere, speaking to the remaining cowboys. He dies then, and he never knows that it is an actor who portrays him.