!Viva Elfego!: The Case for Elfego Baca, Hispanic Hero
by Stan Sager, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 2008, $24.95.
In October 1884, 19- year-old Elfego Baca earned a distinguished place in the history of Western gunfighters when he stood off some 80 “trigger-happy Texas cowboys” in the town of Frisco (now called Reserve) in southwestern New Mexico Territory. Baca escaped the gunfight—which is said to have expended more than 4,000 shots—unscathed and was acquitted in subsequent trials. He went on to become a lawman, lawyer and politician in New Mexico.
Much of Baca’s life, including the so-called Frisco War, has become controversial. He was arrogant, had a fondness for the bottle and made more than a few poor decisions. Recent writers have debunked much of his story, including the Frisco events. Author Stan Sager sets out to help Baca “reclaim his status as a hero who laid his life on the line in the defense of his people.” The result certainly is not unbiased history.
A retired New Mexico attorney, Sager excels, as would be expected, in analyzing the legal aspects of Baca’s life and career, including the criminal charges Baca beat after the Frisco shootout, and his own career as lawman and lawyer. He’s not quite as compelling, or convincing, as a Western historian and biographer. Still, detractors and admirers of Baca should find plenty of ammunition in Sager’s book. It’s far from a definitive biography of this multifaceted Westerner, who deserves such a book.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.