El Indio is a town on the Rio Grande River about 20 miles south of
Eagle Pass. It is one of those places that would have to be on the short list
for the title, "The End of the Earth." It would rank right up there with
Timbuktu, and Perth, and Dutch Harbor. Only it is smaller, and more
obscure than any of those places. In fact, El Indio would have to be on the
short list of towns for the title, "Places at the end of the earth that nobody
ever heard of."
It was one of my favorite places.
El Indio seemed to me to be more of an irrigation network than a town.
There was some sort of legal entity that had built a network of irrigation
canals for miles along the river. This organization controlled the water,
and sold it, and managed it. There probably was some kind of store at El
Indio, but I don't remember one. I never thought of El Indio as a town. To
me, it was always a general location along that part of the river. A little
farming community spread out along a narrow line of asphalt, along the
That little line of asphalt that ran through El Indio fizzled out after six
or eight miles. Over the years, the tail end of that little strip of asphalt
had become the acknowledged landing strip for whatever wandering
crop-duster pilot could be bribed into showing up there for work.
Compared to other farming areas up and down the river, El Indio was
not at all thought of as choice territory for a spray operation. There wasn't
anywhere near enough work there to support even one airplane full-time.
So through the years, for 30 years before my time, other pilots had
come to that little tail end strip of asphalt to work for a day, or two, or a
week. And then they had moved on, perhaps to return at a later time,
I met two or three of those men, the old-timers who had flown those
fields before me. But there had to have been others. Men who had flown
Travel-Airs, or Wacos, or maybe even Jennies. Men who had come there
many years before me. Men whose memories, whose stories, have passed
I was fascinated by the lost stories of those men who had flown those
fields before me. I wondered if their lives had been as varied, as
complicated, and as uncertain as my own. What compulsion, I wondered,
had brought them into the fields along that river.
I will always wonder why those other pilots came to El Indio. Why
would any man come to that little spot along the Rio Grande, set his tires
upon that narrow tail-end strip of asphalt, and play out a few days of his
life flying over those raggedy little fields of cotton, and corn, and grain?
I often wished that I could talk to those men. I wished that I could learn
the barest little bit about their lives. The barest little bit about their
thoughts. The barest little bit about the reasons that had brought them to
that singular place where one day I too would come to use up a few days
of my life.
And in writing this story that I call "El Indio," it is not because I have
anything of particular importance to write about. I have no strange tale to
tell. No big adventure. No story of love, or tragedy, or of human conflict. I
have really no story at all.
But I do have a clear memory flowing in my mind. A memory of many
years ago. A memory of my youth, and that lonely, soul-satisfying strip of
land nestled there along the river. For I left a few days of my life along
that little strip of ground. A few days each year, for several years.
Perhaps someday another man will find his life leading to that place
called El Indio. Perhaps he will fly an airplane across those fields, or walk
along that river, or drive along that little road that loses itself in the wild
country to the south. Perhaps he will come that way, living up the days of
his life, and wonder of the man who might have passed that way so many
And the man he will be wondering about will be me.
And I am writing these stories for him.
I am writing for the man who might someday find himself drawn along
such back roads of the world. Perhaps if he can learn how my life turned
and twisted and somehow led to that forgotten little stretch of river, he
will be better able to understand how he too came to be drawn into that
So my story of El Indio is really no story at all. It's just a memory of
how I used up a little bit of my life in one of those places at the very end
of the earth that nobody ever heard of.