OLD GRINGO

OLD GRINGO

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the editor of the Journal mentioned above, Dr. Earl H. Elam, made a systematic search of records in the Presidio County courthouse and found no trace of anyone with a name resembling Bierce having died there during that period. Importantly, Elam also spent a lengthy period in the military records at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. during 1989. While there he located and recovered reams of documentation concerning military activities on both sides of the Big Bend of the Rio Grande border during the Mexican revolution, but he found no trace of Ambrose Bierce having died at Marfa, or anywhere else for that matter.

Nevertheless, Bierce probably did see Marfa, Texas, one time. It was from a train coach window as he passed through on his way to El Paso during November. Certainly, he never returned.

The most rational explanation for the disappearance of Bierce is that he came north with Villa, arrived near Ojinaga on January 9, and was either slain during the battle on January 10 or that he died of natural causes sometime during that entire time frame. There is even a small piece of information that tends to prove this proposition: after the revolution several groups of investigators went into Mexico looking for Bierce. One method they used in their research was to interview former villistas who were known to have been at Chihuahua and then at Ojinaga during the same time that Bierce was believed to have been there. One officer, a man reportedly named Ybarra, when shown a photograph of Bierce, said that he had indeed seen him at Ojinaga but that after the assault on the federal garrison (which assault we do not know) he never saw him again. So, it is most reasonable to conclude that Ambrose Bierce died at Ojinaga.

Many of the dead at Ojinaga were buried in trench graves. Many others however, were interlaced with dry wood, mostly vigas and wooden planks that had been taken from the wrecked structures in Ojinaga, then doused with kerosene and set afire on the plaza de armas in front of the Nuestra Padre de Jesús church. So, was Bierce’s body burned to ashes, or was he buried in an unmarked grave? It is doubtful that anyone will ever know. Doubtful I said, not certain. For tantalizing clues are occasionally brought to light. There is, for example, that piece of information concerning the execution of an old American journalist by huertista soldiers in an old mining village of northern Zacatecas.

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And, if Roy Morris, Jr. is correct and Bierce never left the United States, there is a yellowed scrap of newsprint about the finding of scattered human remains in the mountains somewhere out of El Paso along with an old key watch, and a United States coin dated 1852, and a rusting old revolver with one shot fired, and most important, a serial number from the firearm! (Try as I have to locate one, a source that can give a description of Bierce’s personal handgun or the all important serial number still eludes me. If anyone out there can help, I promise you’ll be remembered in the story, whether or not it belonged to Bierce.)

Me? I would like to think that yours truly has been mistaken and that logic, in Bierce’s case, must be given a wide berth. His manifest intention had been to take a look at the situation in revolutionary Mexico and then head on farther and farther south into South America. Perhaps, along the way, he was made to
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