Chapter XVI PUDDIN

THERE'S a little graveyard beneath the weeping-willow trees on the CU Ranch. It's a quiet restful sanctuary on a little knoll which overlooks a tanque, or pond, on the shores of which the years-old willows water their deep roots.

A number of grave-stones rear their heads above the rank growth of flowers and grass but the most imposing of all is a rough-hewn block of granite on the side of which is a metal plate. The inscription
reads:  

PUDDIN
THE BLACKEST MAN BUT
THE WHITEST HEART
THAT EVER CAME TO
TEXAS
1849-1919

In that short paragraph, cast in bronze and holding a place of honor in the family plot, is the story of a faithful slave -- Puddin of the CU Ranch.

It was in 1865 after General Lee had surrendered his sword and the men in confederate gray had turned their weary feet homeward that Puddin, then a youth of sixteen, followed his master, who was only slightly older, back to the Mississippi plantation. For in that last year of the conflict the South had called even her children to the colors and Puddin's young Marse Phil had not yet seen his eighteenth birthday when he rode off to aid in the defense of the Stars and Bars. Puddin had ridden with him as his valet.

Their return to the plantation was a sorrowful one. The final year of the war had been a bitter year there for death had twice entered the halls of the old home amid the cypress and willows. Young Marse Phil returned to visit two graves, those of his father and mother, and to think of a third, that of his brother, near Vicksburg. Aside from the Negroes on the place young Phil was alone.

Several years later when the full fury of Reconstruction swept the South Marse Phil, with only those few belongings he had been able to salvage from the general wreckage, looked for the last time on the old home and turned his face westward.  Riding by his side, as they had ridden since childhood, was Puddin.

Young Phil's funds were sufficient to give him a start in the Pecos country. His roots were deep in the soil but in this new land the soil was a hard and rugged one. He turned to horses and cattle and the CU Ranch was born. It was still a small and rough home with the CU herds growing slowly when he returned to Mississippi to seek his childhood sweetheart and bring her to his new home as its mistress.

Puddin, who adored his master and who could not be convinced that he was free despite all his master could tell him, met his new mistress and divided his worship. Miss Agnes became his second deity.

Freedom he did not even try to understand; always he described himself as "Marse Phil's boy."

Not long after young Phil's marriage the sweep of Indian wars scattered the Apaches from many of their strongholds in New Mexico and Arizona and renegade bands crossed the Texas country into the Pecos region. They raided and killed as they moved and many an isolated ranch suffered from them. The CU through some good fortune was not molested.

Yet the stories of the outrages committed by the Indians which Puddin heard so often brought out the only fear that the black man was ever known to show. In the war he had been under fire with his master and had behaved handsomely, but now the stories of Apache outrages struck cold terror to his heart.
And then the Apaches came.

They came in the year after little Phil was born. By this time the CU had become a real ranch and Marse Phil a real cattleman. He loved the western country as did his young wife. Together they used to listen to Puddin sing the songs which they all liked best, songs not of the cotton-fields but of the range. His deep voice, tender and true, wove for them a spell that told of home.

On the day that the Apaches appeared at the happy CU Marse Phil was away with his men handling the round-up. Aside from a girl that worked in the house and Puddin, Miss Agnes and the baby were alone.

It was Puddin, his face a ghastly gray, who first saw the Apaches -- eight dirty sinister figures mounted on beaten-out horses. Their fearless approach to the ranch spoke of their knowledge of its defenselessness. Puddin, quaking with fear, dashed to his mistress with the news. Every tale of Apache warfare that he had heard he recalled.

With her baby, the girl-servant and Puddin Miss Agnes retreated to the center of the ranch house, where strong adobe walls offered the best shelter. There from their fortress-like room they watched the eight Indians arrive, loot the corral of fresh mounts and then, with but little wariness, advance upon the house.

Puddin, his knees shaking, slid his rifle-barrel through a shutter, aimed point blank at an Apache and fired. The Indian dropped and Puddin hastily reloaded.

Again he fired but with less luck and the seven Indians gained the edge of a building where he could no longer see them. Suddenly a scream from the maid told Puddin and his mistress of a new danger. The Apaches, wrenching a heavy shutter loose from its bars, had forced their way into the ranch-house.

Puddin forgot his terror. His beloved Miss Agnes and her baby were in peril; his own scalp no longer counted. As the Indians, finding only one man against them, tried to overpower him by force of numbers Puddin went into action.

Pushing the two women and the baby into a big closet and slamming the door, the Negro, a pistol in one hand and his master's cavalry saber in the other, quit waiting for the Indians to charge, but charged himself.

The tale of that battle can only be told in its aftermath. The cries of the Indians, the shots and the thumps of blows carried to the women in the closet, and above these sounds rang out the voice of Puddin raised in the shrill Confederate yell of the Butternut Cavalry. Then silence. The women, huddled in the dark, waited and prayed.

Miss Agnes found him on the floor, his clothing wet with blood, his face slashed and gory. In the long hall and the room in which the battle had raged she saw the bodies of all seven Apaches. Puddin had killed them to the last man.

Weeks passed and during those weeks there were several times when it seemed as if Puddin must follow the Apaches he had sent before him, but at last his rugged constitution won its fight for him and he so far recovered that for days he could sit in a chair in the sunshine while the baby played about him.
But Puddin never again would ride with his master. An Apache knife had been slashed across his eyes destroying his sight. He was forever blind.

With the passing years Young Phil became Old Phil and Little Phil a grown man. Miss Agnes, looking on her men, was pleased because the son and the father were as one. And to these three there was no one closer than Puddin, grown gray of hair and seamed of face as a result of his wounds and the long illness that followed.

In 1919 Little Phil, who had often heard this story from the lips of his father or mother, hurriedly left Washington where he was representing a portion of the state of Texas at the Capitol to go to the death-bed of Puddin on the old CU. It was Little Phil who caused him to be buried beneath the willows near the graves of Young Phil and Miss Agnes and who placed above the new grave the rough-hewn granite block inscribed to:

PUDDIN
THE BLACKEST MAN BUT
THE WHITEST HEART
THAT EVER CAME TO
TEXAS

Jack Van Ryder drawing of Puddin's gravesite

Continue with Chapter XVII A REBEL RIDES