The Fight of Paso Del Mar

The Fight of Paso Del Mar (1849)

by Bayard Taylor

Gusty and raw was the morning,
A fog hung over the seas,
And its gray skirts, rolling inland,
Were torn by the mountain trees;
No sound was heard but the dashing
Of waves on the sandy bar,
When Pablo of San Diego
Rode down to the Paso del Mar.

The pescadòr, out in his shallop,
Gathering his harvest so wide,
Sees the dim bulk of the headland
Loom over the waste of the tide;
He sees, like a white thread, the pathway
Wind round on the terrible wall,
Where the faint moving speck of the rider
Seems hovering close to its fall.

Stout Pablo of San Diego
Rode down from the hills behind;
With the bells on his gray mule tinkling,
He sang through the fog and wind.
Under his thick, misted eyebrows,
Twinkled his eye like a star;
And fiercer he sang, as the sea-winds
Drove cold on the Paso del Mar.

Now Bernal, the herdsman of Corral,
Had traveled the shore since dawn,
Leaving the ranches behind him —
Good reason had he to be gone!
The blood was still red on his dagger,
The fury was hot in his brain,
And the chill, driving scud of the breakers
Beat thick on his forehead in vain.

With his blanket wrapped gloomily round him,
He mounted the dizzying road,
And the chasms and steeps of the headland
Were slippery and wet, as he trode;
Wild swept the wind of the ocean,
Rolling the fog from afar,
When near him a mule-bell came tinkling,
Midway on the Paso del Mar.

“Back!” shouted Bernal, full fiercely,
And “Back!” shouted Pablo, in wrath,
As his mule halted, startled and shrinking,
On the perilous line of the path!
The roar of devouring surges
Came up from the breakers’ hoarse war:
And “Back, or you perish!” cried Bernal —
“I turn not on Paso del Mar!”

The gray mule stood firm as the headland;
He clutched at the jingling rein,
When Pablo rose up in his saddle
And smote till he dropped it again.
A wild oath of passion swore Bernal,
And brandished his dagger, still red,
While fiercely stout Pablo leaned forward,
And fought o’er his trusty mule’s head.

They fought, till the black wall below them
Shone red through the misty blast;
Stout Pablo, then struck, leaning farther,
The broad breast of Bernal at last;
And, frenzied with pain, the swart herdsman
Closed round him with terrible clasp,
And jerked him, despite of his struggles,
Down from the mule, in his grasp.

They grappled with desperate madness
On the slippery edge of the wall;
They swayed on the brink, and together
Reeled out to the rush of the fall!
A cry of the wildest death-anguish
Rang faint through the mist afar,
And the riderless mule went homeward
From the Fight of the Paso del Mar!

As published in the Placer Times, Volume 1, Number 28, 17 November 1849

Historical Note: It was this poem that served as inspiration for the naming of the City of Del Mar by Ella Loop in 1882.