I’ve been working on the sequel to ‘The Lawman’ now for a couple of weeks, and I’m deep into Chapter Three. This chapter takes place in the small unincorporated community of Las Sauces, Colorado, specifically at the old church there, the La Capilla de San Antonio de Padua.
When I was fourteen, I’d attended a service there. My uncle was a Catholic Priest who spent most of his time in extremely dangerous places like Columbia. I remember him telling me that it wasn’t at all unusual to find someone murdered just outside the walls of the church, and that they had armed security to help keep the place safe.
Every couple of years, he’d come home, and spend a month or two here. Often times he’d give mass, especially at the outlying communities, and talk to the people about what he was doing and seeing. It helped him drum up support for his mission trips, and also to let everyone know we were all in this together.
Anyway, on this particular day, he was holding mass down at the church in Las Sauces. Being both an altar boy and a lector, he asked if I could go down and help him out that Sunday. I agreed, and my dad drove me down that morning.
I remembered the old church. Unlike a lot of the old churches in the South West, this one was small and unassuming. Like the people it served, it was a no frills building, very much like the hundreds of adobe structures I’d seen. It’s small, maybe could hold a hundred people if they got very friendly with each other, and was never designed to have a full time priest. Used as I was to the church we had in Capulin, I couldn’t help but notice that there were few statues, and what there were was new.
I remembered asking about that, thinking that considering the age of the community and heritage, there might have been Penitente art. My uncle explained much of that had been moved to prevent theft. In years to come, I’d learn that there was a thriving trade among collectors for that kind of art, some of which came from thefts.
There is a small rectory in the back which is really nothing more than an efficiency apartment. I remembered going back there while my uncle was getting ready. It had a cot that I’m sure was Army surplus, a small gas stove and heater, and a bathroom that according my uncle was “so small you had to go outside to change your mind”. About the only concession to the 20th century was the place had electric lights, hot water, and a radio that was new in the 1950s.
And so ended my knowledge of the small church and community on the banks of the Rio Grande River.
Flash forward almost 45 years. Now I’m writing ‘Family Secrets’ and I realized I knew almost nothing about the community, the church (which plays a role) and so on.
So, I start reading. First big surprise. Apparently, for years, I’ve been saying the name of the community wrong. While you find it on the map as Las Sauces, it’s supposed to be Los Sauces (Sauces, incidentally, is Spanish for willow). Once upon a time, it was the going concern as it was situated right at a ford for the stagecoaches. It had a general store, a dance hall (which has a story associated with it) and a post office.
All of that is long gone, and about the only thing that marks this was once a larger community is the church. They still have mass there once a month. Most of the faithful drive into La Jara, about 14 miles away to go to services.
But it’s still home to several families. To get there, you have to go through a wasteland of volcanic rock and sagebrush. You come up over a small hill, and bang, there’s this charming little oasis of lush fields, cottonwoods and homes.
Maybe one day I can research it some more, and maybe find out some of the people and events that might have happened there. Some of these little backwater places have history that is worth knowing about.
But before closing this entry, I said the dance hall had a story associated with it. It was told to me by both my uncle and dad, and as there’s numerous instances of a similar story scattered throughout the South West, I take no responsibility of saying it actually happened there or not, or that I’m not just repeating folklore that has had the location changed.
Anyway, here we go.
It seems there was dance going at the local dance hall. The locals and those from the surrounding communities came down to enjoy it. It was right before Lent, a Catholic religious event starting about 40 days before and lasting until Easter. It is marked by a lack of parties, drinking, and so on. So, this is basically everyone’s last big blow out before that begins.
Since the place was a stage crossing, strangers in town wasn’t unusual at all. As the story goes, there was a very handsome man attending the dance. He was supposed to be tall, broad shouldered, perfectly dressed, a light beard and dark eyed. He had a quick smile and was very charming.
He was dancing with a young woman who was most beautiful girl down. It’s said she was dark haired, with flashing eyes, a perfect figure, and had a dazzling smile. I knew some of the young ladies from down that way, and they were lookers. So, it’s easy to imagine that this part of the story is true.
When they danced, people could not keep their eyes off them. They were the perfect couple on the dance floor.
Right up to the point someone noticed something odd peeking out from the bottom of his pant leg. The man had a barbed tail. And when one person noticed it, everyone saw it.
When the girl he was dancing with became aware of it, she is said to have backed away in horror, her eyes wide with terror. She put a hand to her mouth, and had her arm outstretched to keep him away. A nearby cowboy stepped between her and him.
The handsome stranger was, of course, the Devil. Satan himself had shown up to have a drink and a dance with a pretty girl.
It’s easy to imagine the stranger transformed into something from a nightmare, terrifying everyone. But he didn’t. He did something much worse. His cover blown, he remained the perfect gentleman. He is reputed to have smiled slightly, and then said, “Thank you for a wonderful evening,” and vanished in front of everyone to never be seen again.
Like, I said. Take as you will.