Dashing Don Carlos
Remembering the life and adventures of Welsh Historical Long Rider Charles Thurlow-Craig
By Lynn Hughes
Though the Long Riders’ Guild hosts a pantheon of legends, few could equal the dangerous adventures which “Don Carlos” Thurlow-Craig survived. After have left his native Wales, the footloose youth ventured to South America, where mounted on his trusty Criollo gelding, Bobby, he rode in Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and the Gran Chaco jungle during the early 1920s. The following recollection of Don Carlos’ blazing life was written by his close personal friend, Lynn Hughes. It recalls a man who rode as hard as Tschiffely and wrote as much passion as Hemmingway.
That the Wild West moved south to South America at the turn of the last century will be known to anyone who saw the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Mad on guns and horses, a young lad from Dyffryn Meifod, near Oswestry, Charles Craig, later to become the celebrated author and Sunday Express Up Country columnist, C. W. Thurlow Craig, had one burning ambition – to ride the range as a cowboy, or as they are known from Venezuela to Argentina, a gaucho.
And so it came about that, following Naval College and war service as a midshipman out of Scapa Flow, he found himself on a train steaming from Buenos Aires into the wild west of Argentina.
His naval experience towards the end of the Great War had included action in the North Sea on HMS Téméraire, as part of the Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet.
The arid pampas of Argentina were a far cry from the steely-grey Arctic waters where, in 1919, he had witnessed further action in support of the White Russian cause.
Action was what he thrived on, and his years in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil would provide him plenty. Or so you would have thought. But, having been persuaded to become a writer after 14 years on the open range, he sought further “adventure” by joining in the Paulista, one of Brazil’s many revolutions. Unfortunately on the losing side.
Travel and adventure books about South America were very much in vogue in the 1930s. Trader Horn’s best-selling autobiography became an MGM film of that name, Peter Fleming (brother of 007 Ian, and a much better writer) scored notable success with his Brazilian Adventure and Julian Duiguid’s Green Hell featured the very swamp marsh country near where Craig lived “the wild life.”
In time, he became foreman then manager of foreign-owned cattle stations with herds of up to 80,000 head, roaming over a million unfenced acres, destined as tinned corned-beef. In charge also of wild bunches of knife-wielding, gun-toting desperadoes, Carlos Craig (as he liked to be called), a superb horseman and crack shot, quickly learned to look out for himself. His subsequent first-hand account of these years, Black Jack’s Spurs, is a much-neglected classic.
Don Carlos Thurlow-Craig fought in civil wars in South America and Spain, rode through Paraguay’s infamous Gran Chaco jungle and raised hell on a number of continents.
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After two years in the Spanish Civil War, he returned to Wales and began a series of nine novels which, despite his gift for storytelling and natural ear for dialogue, are alas pulp fiction. His last and best novel, Bitter is the Harvest, rose without trace – though today it would walk the Booker!
As war loomed again, Carlos was called up and, given his combative self-reliance and fluency in languages, he was enlisted in Naval Intelligence. While working incognito in Belgium, he met and subsequently married a beautiful French undercover agent of the Deuxième Bureau, Anne-Marie Crevecour, known as Mitzi. A recipient of the Croix de Guerre and a smashing cook, she was everything a woman should be.
Post-war, they came to live on a remote farm, Cefn Blaenau, in Rhydcymerau, in north Carmarthenshire, and, by an accident of fate, I became C. W. Thurlow Craig’s literary agent in my first job after leaving university.
The story of an encounter between us following a semi-business meeting at The Ram, that lovely but now sadly defunct in at Cwm Ann, near Lampeter, has entered local folklore.
Carlos and I often discussed folklore, and how stories, like Chinese whispers, change colour and even characters. In Black Jack he recalls a passive sort of ambush in Paraguay, whereby some traders in a Model T intercept him, allegedly to negotiate for a bunch of horses. Ever the Edwardian officer and gentleman, he offers them a sup of his flask, only to have the blaggards drain it, throw it and verbally abuse him.
Attempting what’s now called “a runner”, they failed to take account of the deadly marksmanship behind his Frontier .44 Colt revolver. Pursuant on their guffawing departure their four tyres were accurately punctured before he demurely rode by, the Ford ditched.
Thirty years later, this incident reappeared involving teenagers seeing Carlos riding home on Patience, his piebald cob, from the monthly horse fair at Llanybyther, monocled and Stetson lowered against the rain.
It was tacitly known that Thurlow Craig was always covertly armed – from his MI5 days. So, apparently, was Mitzi. He was an expert shot, a ballistics specialist and a licensed gun trader. His armoury of muzzle-loading weapons was fascinating to me. And I was to experience his marksmanship at very close quarters.
My witnesses to this tale are all alive. And our host that night, Walter, married to a cousin of mine, still farms up on Ffald y Brennin.
After the pub, we were invited for coffee to his farmhouse on the hill. We were ushered in to the front room, smelling of new carpet.
I stood by the new-tiled fireplace. There was a slack moment while Carlos and I challenged one another about something beyond recall, but out of the tussle and bustle I got hold of his sleeve-sheathed, long throwing knife, and we faced one another.
His Spanish eyes and gypsy blood suddenly blazed, and, faster than eyes could follow, a double bang spat from the drawn shoulder-holstered Colt, missing both my hips by .44. in the ensuing smoke I heard someone whimper, unhurt. Not me.
Carlos was a damn fine shot. They tell me that the new-tiled fireplace remained bullet-pocked for a good while. And I’ve heard the story many times recycled, involving figures such as Free Wales Army Commandant Caio Evans. But that’s the true story.
Our lovely Mitzi was mysteriously murdered on a visit to Belgium in 1970. At her funeral, Carlos jumped into the grave where there was a harvest mouse he was bound to rescue. They loved God’s creatures with a passion.
later years, Thurlow-Craig used his extraordinary knowledge to teach and
influence a younger generation of Long Riders. Welsh Long Rider Garry Davies
was mentored by the old master before Thurlow-Craig passed away.
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This article originally appeared in the Carmarthen Journal, Wednesday, October 13, 2010 and is featured courtesy of its author and Graeme Wilkinson.
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