Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Great Train Robbery

Imagine it's 1840. The civil war has not yet begun and railroads are becoming the dominant way of transporting mass quantities of goods across the country. Let's say for the sake of argument that the railroad expanded early into the southwest and they want a more direct southern link between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California. Bear with me, you will see my intentions in a moment.

Soon after opening the railroad line for passengers and supplies to get quickly to the southern west coast, a most unusual occurrance happens. In the middle of nowhere, in the heat of the desert, while slowly traveling up an incline enroute to Los Angeles, masked horsemen with slanted eyes, ponytails and butterfly swords gallop up to the engine. They disembark and take the boilerman, Andrew Smith, and engineer, James O'Callaghan, hostage. One of the strangers cuts the engine off, causing the train to slow. Another one demands the presence of the train's most precious cargo, the young women who happen to be onboard. The crewmen follow the orders of the strangers, and select, blindfold, and separate three women from the rest of the passengers.

Time passes. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Upon returning, the women explain that they were taken from the train and were observed, poked, measured and prodded, from what they could observe under their blindfolds. The odd hijackers have disappeared in the meantime, taking off on their horses while the passengers attended to the women.

For the duration of their journey, the passengers are abuzz about this mysterious hijacking. Who were the strangers? What did they want? What was the purpose of taking the women? Some passengers saw the horses. A few saw these masked strangers themselves. Most saw nothing. All of them knew the train was stopped and they were given orders by the crew to collect themselves in the rear cars.

Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, the crew reports to the mayor to discuss their ordeal. After hearing the story, the mayor laughs and says "That's totally ridiculous! Chinamen do not live in the desert of the American southwest! In Indian country no less! Hahaha! Try your joke on someone else." No matter what the arguments, he refuses to believe the story.

The crew then goes to the US Marshal's office. Surely he would be interested in this crime. He also, however, refuses to believe the story. Andrew and James offer to take the marshal to see the horsetracks next to the rails where the incident occured. "Those tracks could have been placed there by anybody, and it's no proof that your hijacking occured," says the marshal. "More likely, you are just trying to avoid responsibility for being late, and some of the passengers who are probably your relatives are going along with this tomfoolery!"

O'Callaghan and Smith are justifiably miffed, but there is really nothing further they can do, short of taking a dangerous trip out into the desert to search 100,000 square miles in hopes of finding their assailants. They then decided to dismiss it and to ask for transfers to more easterly routes, even though it would mean a cut in pay.

Several months pass. Then the bandits strike again, with the same modus operandi and the same results. More train passengers see the evidence of what is occuring, and step forward to testify of what had occured. They also get the same result. No matter the number of witnesses, no matter any shred of evidence whatsoever, the government officials simply will not admit they are wrong and do something about it.

What does this story mean? Read on to find out.

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