T here is an old saying in Texas: “He’ll do to ride the river with.” This is the epitaph on the headstone of my old friend Bill Waldrop. Bill was a Texas game warden and a man that I would have followed into hell, should the need have arisen, or if Bill had simply wanted to take an evening stroll in warmer climes.
“He’ll do to ride the river with,” has deep, deep meaning. It is not a trivial statement to be spoken lightly or in jest. It means that the person being spoken of is fearless, honest, deeply loyal, and willing to go to any length to protect his loved ones and friends, and in the case of many such men I have known, to enforce the law. In my long life among the lawless and the law enforcers of the State of Texas and the United States, I have known only, maybe, 10 such men. That is, I have only known that many that I was dead certain it would apply. There were others that may be such men, but I did not know them well enough to attach such a weighty statement to their names.
To give you an idea of why this is such an incredibly substantive statement, let me tell you how it came about.
The Rio Grande River is the division between Texas and the sovereign nation of Mexico. The area on either side of this not so impressive ribbon of water is and has been for the last 200 years, the most lawless, crime-ridden real estate in North America. If a person commits a crime in the U.S., all he has to do to escape the officers of the law in the U.S. is to cross into Mexico. I have seen it at least a dozen times or more in the last 30 years. In several instances I was the officer in pursuit. In one instance a now retired state game warden and I chased the suspects all the way onto the Mexican bank of the river before we gave up and returned to the U.S. I have invaded Mexico several times for various reasons, and I make no apologies for it.
Now in this nasty old ball of mud, there are many wannabes. That is, people who pretend to be something they are not. This is particularly prevalent now because of the extended war in the Middle East. There are hundreds if not thousands of men (I use the term loosely) wandering around claiming to be war veterans who have never been closer to combat than the closest television. The only sound of gunfire they ever heard was in old war movies, and the only combat training they ever had was on the Military Channel. Sad but true.
In the field of sports hunters there are far too many people who claim to have been Marine Scout Snipers. It takes only a couple of seconds of watching them handle a weapon to see that they are liars.
Sadly enough, there are also wannabes in the business of training people to shoot handguns. With the immense increase in the number of people wanting a concealed handgun license, there has been an equivalent increase in the number of “Combat Handgun Trainers.” Many of these people are very good at their jobs, but as in all things, there are also a few poseurs and just plain fakes. Choose carefully before you decide to seek training. Check out the person very, very carefully, and ask the tough questions. If they claim to be too much, be suspicious. A very young instructor with unbelievable credentials is probably a fake. Most retired Navy SEALs and Marine Scout Snipers are at least in their mid-30s. I said, most. There are a very few who are younger. Again, be careful. If you find the real thing, like my old friend Greg Murphy, retired SEAL instructor, you can be very certain that he will do to ride the river with. Greg and I worked the river together a few times over the years and I was inconceivably happy to have him for a partner. He is one of the ten I spoke of.
My father Kenneth is another such man. He is still living and is one of the few completely fearless men I ever met. Many of us were frightened to death when we went into a dangerous situation. We wanted to be almost anywhere else, but we overcame our fear and did the job anyway. Dad never showed fear. He was careful, but I never once saw any indication that fear was within him.
If there is one epitaph that I would like to see on my own headstone, it would be that old Texas saying, “He’ll do to ride the river with.” This one sentence carries with it more meaning and more deep understanding than any other that I have ever heard. It is much more eloquent than the oft quoted, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am.) That is just a simple statement of being, pronounced by the speaker of himself. The former, however, is pronounced of someone by someone else, and is a flat statement of trust and faith far beyond the normal or ordinary. It means that the speaker has sufficient faith in the one spoken of to place his very life in the other’s hands.
My own personal definition of friendship is somewhat the same. I believe that a true friend is one who when called for help never says, “why?” but only, “Where, when, and will I need a gun?”
I got my tail in a wringer once over a load of smuggled marijuana. This was on the banks of the Rio Grande just south of Laredo. I was separated from my partner when I jumped three bravos carrying suitcases full of marijuana; all three were armed. In the ensuing melee some shots were fired and confusion reigned. When my partner, Joe Martinez, and I got back together we had one doper under arrest, three big suitcases full marijuana, and a gang of well armed smugglers just on the other side of the Rio Grande, which at that point seemed much too narrow.
We called for backup and forted up with the dope and the handcuffed prisoner to wait for help to arrive. I found out later that one agent, who I will not name, was less than a mile from us during the whole time, but he never did show up or respond to our calls for assistance, at least not until after the coast was clear. Such men are not to be trusted. He knows who he is, and what he is. I have forgiven him, but I will never trust him, and whatever respect I ever had for him was destroyed that day.
On the other hand, my friend, Gene Meeks, is a man of uncommon valor and unquestionable honesty. Had Gene been near that day, you can bet the bank that he would have busted his hump to get to us, as fast as whatever he was driving would run. Gene is one of those rare men who inspire unquestioned trust. When working with Gene, I knew that if we got into a noisy scuffle I would not have to look to see where Gene was. He would have been right there, shoulder to shoulder, with a smoking gun in his steady hand.
All these men and more are cut from a different cloth than many today, and that is sad. Truth, justice, and the American way are almost jokes today, but I still hold all three in high regard. There are, definitely, things worth fighting for, and even dying for, if that becomes necessary.
I have two sons-in-law. I am proud of my sons-in-law and happy that my daughters were wise enough and lucky enough, or should I say blessed enough, to find such men and marry them.
Both of them have decided to go into law enforcement. I actually tried to talk them out of it; law enforcement is not what it was a few decades ago when I started my career. Today if you have to use force, and at some point in your career, you will, the incident is not just investigated; it is dissected and studied under a microscope. The action the officer had to decide on, or rather, react with, in a split second is studied by a committee of men and women—none of whom ever had to walk the walk—for months to decide if the officer reacted properly. In my opinion, it just is not worth it any more. However, good men, and women, still put their lives on the line every day, in spite of the drawbacks. God bless them. My sons are both agents of the United States Border Patrol, and they are both men who will do to ride the river with. I would place my life in their hands any day, without a second thought. Not only do I respect them, I admire them, and since we are being honest here, I love them.
The old saying is more than an epithet of bygone days. Those who do not believe this are badly mistaken. It speaks of courage, of course, but it also speaks of honor, wisdom, veracity, faithfulness, and many more qualities that modern society has deemed unnecessary or antiquated. Business today requires long and involved contracts and teams of lawyers, where the business of yesteryear required nothing more than a word and a handshake. I still believe in the old ways. My word is my bond, no contract is needed.
I cannot mention all the men I admire, and I will name none of the women, although there are some that I do admire very much. This is not a list of those I wish to thank, like actors when they are given an academy award. It is just an explanation, written in a way that I hope you can understand. If you do not understand, well, then you are not one who would do to ride the river with.
Email Steve LaMascus at
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]