Squaw Tom: Jesus’ Birthday

Tom Sanders, 1974In 1922 I worked on this ranch, and they had a man out there worked with sheep. He was a Basko, his name was Jesus. He was born on Christmas Eve, and the Baskos, they give him the name Jesus.

He was blue-eyed and had blond hair — by God, he even looked like Jesus. But he was a Basko and he herded sheep.

I got to be a very good friend of his. And I worked for this outfit quite a while and one day I quit. And this sheep tender, he left too. I never seen him anymore for about ten years. I asked the camp tenders where he was and they said, “Well, he went to Colorado.”

Well after ten years I come back and worked on this ranch again and here was this same Jesus. Well when he was up in Colorado herding sheep for ten years, he made a lot a money. And one day, when his birthday was gittin’ close, gittin’ close to Christmas Eve, he quit and went to Reno, to a Basko hotel there.

Every sheepherder, they carried a little strongbox with ‘em. They was about the size of a cigar box. Some of ‘em would make ‘em out of wood; some of ‘em would buy ‘em and put a lock on it. And of course this strong box had a key too all of its own, but he put a padlock on it too, you know.

He’d brought his bedroll over too, and his suitcase and he had a lot of money in a big roll in his strong box. And he had checks in there too from this big sheep outfit. And big rolls of $20 bills.

Well, he asked this Basko hotel what it would cost if he’d throw a big party, have a big turkey dinner for everybody on Christmas Eve. And then invite a lot of people to eat. And the wine too, ya know. Well they figured out how much they charge him, so much a head, and so much for the bottles of wine.

So one day he invited me to the party. He said he was havin’ a big party in Reno. At the Basko hotel on Christmas Eve. That was in 1932.

I was invited to go up, and I went up.

And ol’ Jesus, he threw a heck of a big party.

And man did he get drunk. And he’d go outside and holler, give a big sheepherder yell, and yell at all these hoboes.

“Come on boys!” he hollered. “It’s Jesus’ birthday! Everybody eats and drinks on Jesus’ birthday.” And he’d give a big sheepherder yell inside that hotel and boarding house, and man, that table was full.

He kept that up all day. He’d get up and go out and give another sheepherder yell and boy; these hoboes come flockin’ in.

There was hoboes and Baskos and Mexicans, Indians – everybody. He’d go out in the street and holler – “Come on boys! It’s Jesus birthday!”

Man, he was havin’ a ball.

Well pretty soon the party was getting’ over. And the guy in the hotel comes over and says, “Hey, you’re runnin’ a pretty big bill here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Jesus has got lots of money.”

They knew he had quite a bankroll in that strongbox, $20 bills strapped to the outside, but they set a bunch of guys to watchin’ him and followin’ him around so he couldn’t get away.

And pretty soon he says, “Well, I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” and he went on back there. And those Baskos and Frenchmen they was a-watchin’ him pretty close. So he went out of the window. Closed the window and locked it.

And he got a taxi, took him to the airport. He must of had it timed just right to get an airplane out.

And by God, pretty soon old Jesus was missin’.

The owner of that hotel he was lookin’ everywhere for Jesus and couldn’t find him. Finally they went to every bootleggin’ place and all over, but he couldn’t hear any sheepherder yells anyplace.

Some feller told them he’d seen him get in this taxi and head off to Sparks. He said, “I’ll be back.” Steered him on the wrong track see.

They looked all over Reno until it was Christmas morning, but they never could find Jesus anymore.

So they pried open Jesus’ strongbox and they looked inside. They found three big rolls of bills with $20s on the outside, but inside the roll they was all ones. And those checks, they was no good. And the bedroll had just about had it — he was plannin’ on buying a new bedroll anyway. All there was in his suitcase was a bunch of old sheepherder’s shoes, looked about like sled runners. They’d about had it too.

Old Jesus, he was long gone. He went back to the Old Country.

I think at one time they snoomered him out of some money, beat him out of a lot of money. Well, he got back at ‘em.