Po Campo – ‘Character in the Spotlight’ – Mysterious, Mystical, Almost Biblical

His complexity begins to unfold at his first meeting with Gus and Woodrow in the dusty streets of San Antonio.  A street vendor selling his wares to the locals, he intrigues the captains with his appetizer of fried grasshoppers.  Even though Gus likes them and Call is a bit disgusted by the fare, they are impressed with this man and the possibility of him cooking for the Hat Creek boys.

His air of mystery deepens as he refuses to ride, but instead, walk beside his burro–asking the captains, “would you like to be ridden?” (this is his almost Biblical persona,–a man in flowing robes, walking across the vast plains beside his little burro).  The philosophical side of Gus was probably given momentary pause at this statement, but clicked on to something else immediately.

Po and his cooking are quickly accepted by the men and it soon becomes obvious that they gain a lot of respect for him.  He is confidant, cook, musician, fortune teller, and friend.  At one point they even offer him the last sips of water in a particularly dry part of the journey, (which is grabbed and lapped up by the carny-like Lippy, with glee).  He reveals little about himself , but says, at one point, that “I don’t sing about myself, I sing about life.  I am happy, but life is sad…….” He does share that his ‘wife is in hell, where I sent her’ and, when the murderous half-breed Blue Duck, is encountered by Gus, he tells them that his sons had been killed by him years before.  This leads us to wonder what violence, sadness, and loss has led him to his lonely life as a street vendor.

He seems to foretell the death of Deets, ( although we don’t see this till later), when he carves him the little saint-like figure and gives it to him in an ominous way, before Deets goes off on his last expedition with the captains, saying it is ‘for luck’.  They are looking for some stolen horses, but find a starving little band of Indians and the little wooden figure soon comes into play.  After some shots to scare off the Indians from the horses, a little blind boy is left behind.  Deets runs down to comfort him, even giving him the little saint.  There he is killed by a young Indian who misinterprets his intentions.

Once again, his foretelling of doom comes into play, as Gus asks him to tell his fortune as to whether he will ever marry again, by reading his ‘spit pattern’.  At first Po is happily engaged in the request, along with the rest of the boys gathered around, but as the pattern is revealed, his demeanor changes as he walks off saying that Gus will never remarry.  Gus picks up on this subtle shift , as he stands there spitting into the wagon a few more times.

Po Campo walks the whole distance to Montana with the drive and continues to cook as the new Hat Creek Cattle Company is established.

He was, to me, one of the many  interesting characters that Larry McMurtry is so famous for introducing into his story lines.  He gives us enough to intrigue us and want to try to figure them out, but not enough to reveal them totally.  This inevitably leaves us wondering,  pondering, but never really knowing them.

What are your thoughts on Po Campo?


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