Jack Van Ryder drawing of adobe buildings
Jack Van Ryder drawing of adobe buildings

SAGAS have been sung of the cowboy's devotion to his herd, how he will face danger and even death to protect it. History tells of many instances of officers protecting their men. But none is more jealous of his charge than the old-time conductor in his guardianship of his train. In proof of this witness Old Man Jackson of the Sud Pacifico de México.

Old Man Jackson was so-called to distinguish him from his son Jim Jackson, also a conductor. Jackson the elder came to the Espee de Mex along about 1911 when the National Railway of Mexico was getting rid of its American employees and stayed with the line until his retirement in 1931. In the history of the west coast road the years between  were hectic ones.

Old Man Jackson was in charge of a work train running north to Empalme. Besides the crew, which consisted of the two enginemen, a Negro brakeman and Ed Bock, a water foreman, there was a Mexican soldier guard riding the train as it rumbled along toward the division point. One of the officers of the guard was in the cab of the locomotive, the other in the caboose. On top of the caboose sprawled the six men of the guard itself.

Except for the chugging engine all was quiet as the work train pulled by Mapoli thirty miles south of Empalme. Old Man Jackson, sitting in the caboose, eased himself to the motion of the train and chatted with Ed Bock. The Mexican officer gazed out of the window at the passing scene, while the Negro brakeman hummed to himself as the clicking rail joints tolled off the miles.

A sudden burst of rifle fire was the first signal of the attack from ambushed Yaquis. One bullet struck the train line and as the air went out the train stopped. The Mexican officer in the engine cab pulled the pin behind the locomotive and ordered the engineer to highball for Piedra, the next stop, for help.

As the engine rolled off down the track the rifle fire of the Yaquis redoubled, picking away at the stranded crew of the work train.

The first volley brought action in the caboose. An old hand at the bushwhacking tactics of the Indians, Bill Smith, the Negro brakeman, reached for his rifle and slid from the caboose to find a good firing position under the train. As he hit the ground he stopped a bullet and went out of action before he ever fired a shot. Ed Bock was also wounded as, rifle in hand, he hit for the open. On top of the caboose four of the Mexican guard had been killed, the other two wounded. The Yaquis were having it all their own way.

Old Man Jackson had not been idle. He tried to get the Mexican officer from the caboose to aid his men but the man, stricken helpless with fear, slumped into the corner behind the stove and refused to move. Leaving him curled up in terror, Old Man Jackson took command. He ordered the two soldiers who could still work their rifles to keep up a steady fire to cover him and after seeing that Smith and Bock were not dead but merely wounded he decided that they would have to wait a bit until something could be done about it.

Then with his portable telephone swung over his shoulder he started for the nearest telegraph pole along the right-of-way.

Far down the line a tuft of smoke told the path of the fleeing locomotive. From the top of the caboose came the reports of the two rifles as the wounded soldiers did their best to reply to the sputtering fire of the Yaquis now coming steadily from the ambush. But Old Man Jackson had a job to do. He wasn't bothering about rifles just then.

He made his way to the pole, climbed up and, hooking on to the line, called the dispatcher at Empalme.
"This is Jackson, he said, giving his train's designation. "We're stranded near Mapoli ambushed by Yaquis. The engine has cut loose and headed for Piedra. I've got four men dead here and four more wounded. Guess you'd better send along a little help."

The dispatcher thought so too.

As the engine, running free, arrived in Piedra half of the federal garrison there had been turned out to meet it. The soldiers were loaded quickly into cars and the rescue party started back over the line to where the gallant conductor with his army of two wounded men was standing off the attack of a large party of Yaqui warriors.

For some reason which Old Man Jackson never could figure out the Yaquis did not press the attack.  Perhaps it was too much fun to lie in ambush and peck away at the hated joris who could riot escape. Anyway the score stood the same when the engine returned bringing aid and the Yaquis withdrew.
Old Man Jackson was never scratched.

Among the duties of a conductor is the one of making his report. Nowhere except in the army are reports so often called for as on a railroad. So it was up to Old Man Jackson to chronicle for official eyes the incident of the ambush at Mapoli.

His report was a classic of brevity. It gave time, place and cause of delay. The total of dead and wounded was included. But nowhere in that report was there one word of the chilled-steel courage of Old Man Jackson. The only mention of the conductor in the report was his signature.

The real story had to wait until Smith, the brakeman, and Bock, the water foreman, recovered sufficiently from their wounds to do a little talking on their own accounts. But it was all in the day's work to Old Man Jackson. "Hell," quoth he, "It was my train, wasn't it!"

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