I first met Pecos Higgins under the Prayer Tree. If I had known his background I would have thought that an odd place to find him.
He was born Eugene Higgins, Sept. 3, 1883, in Texas. He worked as a cowboy and by the age of 23 he had drifted to Arizona.
The nickname "Pecos" had been given him after the name of the place his family had lived when he was a boy. He rode for the Chiricahua Cattle Company on the San Carlos Reservation and became well-known as a roper in the Wild West shows that were popular around the turn of the 20th century.
Pecos Higgins had a series of five marriages, each one failing because of his heavy drinking. As an alcoholic, he bounced between jobs in Springerville, Taylor, McNary, Show Low and New Mexico.
He went to prison for selling liquor to the Indians, and after he was released he tried to settle down on a little ranch he bought near Lakeside, called The Buckhorn. However, he lost that ranch in his next divorce and earned a living breaking mustangs. During this time he became known as a cowboy poet, and made some money entertaining the dudes.
So the episodes in the life of Pecos Higgins accumulated, in and out of marriages and prison, drifting, drinking, raising Cain, cattle rustling and riding the range.
One day he met a couple from his home state of Texas who in turn introduced Pecos to Joe Evans, also of Texas. Evans was the founder of the Southwest Cowboy Camp Meeting movement, a tough old cowpoke who was a devout Christian. The two cowboys began a correspondence and Pecos learned to highly respect Joe Evans.
Evans contacted friends in Springerville, asking them to pick the old coot up and take him to church. Pecos tried to refuse, but when he found out they were representing Joe, he agreed to go.
Joe had been sending him books along with his letters, and Pecos had begun to think about what they said.
The day the couple picked Pecos up for church, he was recovering from a three-week drunk. He stuffed a pint of whiskey into his boot and took it with him to worship, consuming it all right after the service.
The couple was persistent and got Pecos involved in Cowboy Camp Meetings being held in New Mexico and Arizona. He would recite poetry and tell stories so that he became quite an attraction.
It was an evening in 1955 when the message of God's love got through to Pecos. At the age of 71 he hobbled down to the front of the tent and confessed that he believed and Christ could be his boss from now on.
Higgins soon became a familiar sight at laymen's retreats and camp meetings. One magazine described him as "looking like a wizened, leather-skinned character from a TV western, walks half-bent, head down, jerking with each step, as if his cowboy boots are too tight. He dresses the part of an Arizona ranch hand, including a big Stetson, bright neckerchief and boots."
I met Pecos in 1962, a few months after he had taken up residence in the Pioneer Home in Prescott. My family and I were attending the eight-day Camp Meeting in Chino Valley, and that afternoon all us men were gathered around the Prayer Tree on that ranch, as is the custom.
While the men met there, the women all met under the big tent.
It was Thursday, and every afternoon that week, one old cowboy had spoken the same prayer, "Lord, sweep away the cobwebs from our hearts and minds." By this time Pecos Higgins had heard the unanswered prayer long enough, and interrupted with a prayer of his own. "Lord, never mind the cobwebs. Kill the spider!"
Obviously that prayer had been answered for old Pecos. The spiders were gone from his mind and with them the cobwebs of a troubled life. There was sweetness showing through the trail-weary renegade. About 60 of us stood holding hands in a circle around a big juniper tree as the time of testimony and prayer came to an end. Cowboys and ranchers were lifting their voices in prayer. Their skin must have been tougher than mine because the mosquitoes were attacking my neck and arms and there was no escape from the calloused hands that gripped me on either side.
Then Pecos prayed again. "Lord," he said, "I ain't askin' ya for nothin' I'm jist thankin' ya for ever'thing."
Four years later, short of his 88th birthday, Pecos Higgins died and was laid to rest on a Prescott hillside. His marker reads, "He made a good hand."