"The Caballero's Way" is a short story by the American author William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pseudonym of O. Henry. It was first published in the July 1907 issue of Everybody's Magazine and was collected in the anthology The Heart of the West later the same year.
The story introduces the Cisco Kid, a fast-shooting caballero who murders for sport. Lieutenant Sandridge, a ranger who is after the outlaw, goes to see Tonia, the beautiful girlfriend of the Kid. They fall in love, and Tonia begs Sandridge to kill the Kid in order to ensure their safety. Unbeknownst to the lovers, the Kid overhears their plan. Although a ruthless killer, the Cisco Kid is proud of being a gentleman who knows how to treat a lady. Since it would be against his code of behavior to lay a hand on a woman, he hatches an appropriate counterplan to deal with the situation.
A silent film adaptation of the story was released on April 1, 1914, in the United States. The first sound Western film In Old Arizona (1929) was loosely based on "The Cabellero's Way." The movie, which was nominated for five Academy Awards, portrayed the Cisco Kid as a likeable and charming bandit. The success of In Old Arizona led to more films and also to radio and TV series. The Hollywood version of the Cisco Kid, known as "the Robin Hood of the Old West," became an American pop culture hero. The character has also starred in comics.
The Cisco Kid has killed many men, especially Mexicans. He is an outlaw fast-shooter who kills for the love of it. The Kid is twenty-five but looks twenty. He rides a speckled roan horse and roams the area between the Frio River and the Rio Grande, the borderland between Texas and Mexico.
Tonia Perez, a beautiful half-Mexican girl, loves the Kid. She lives in a hut with old Perez, a drunk who is either her father or grandfather, near the Mexican settlement at the Lone Wolf Crossing on the Frio. The Cisco Kid comes to visit her through the thicket of tall prickling pear in the back of the hut.
One day, Lieutenant Sandridge, a ranger, receives a complaint from his superiors about the murderers and desperadoes roaming free in his territory. The next morning, Sandridge rides to the Mexican settlement at the Crossing seeking news of the Cisco Kid. He patiently goes from hut to hut, but the Mexicans fear the Kid more than the law. They all shrug their shoulders and deny any knowledge of him. Only Fink, the keeper of a store at the Crossing, is willing to talk. Fink says the Kid has been in his store once or twice. He then tells Sandridge about the girl the Kid comes to see and points him in the direction of her hut.
Sandridge rides down to the hut. He sees old Perez in a stupor on a blanket outside and Tonia standing at the door. Sandridge gapes at the beautiful Tonia. Tonia looks back at Sandridge who is unlike any man she has known. He is tall and blond, with a smile that shines like the sun – so different from the Kid who is dark, no taller than Tonia, and has a cold face. Sandridge asks for some water and dismounts. Within fifteen minutes, he is showing her how to plait a six-strand rope and she is telling him about her lonely life.
Sandridge rides to the Lone Wolf Crossing twice a week to see Tonia, always keeping his weapon ready knowing the Kid may come at any time. Meanwhile, the Cisco Kid, who had been busy shooting up a saloon in a small village, suddenly grows weary of wrongdoing and gets the yearning to see his girl. He turns his trusted roan towards the Crossing. As he rides through the pear flat, he sings the only song he knows: "Don't you monkey with my Lulu girl / Or I'll tell you what I'll do -"
After a long journey, the Kid finally arrives at the back of the hut. He dismounts and, leaving the roan behind, proceeds on foot through the pear. Looking out from the edge of the thicket, he sees Tonia sitting with her head against the broad chest of a tall man. Then he hears her tell the man not to come again till she sends for him because the Kid was seen heading for the area. She asks the man to kill the Kid, for there will be no peace for them otherwise. When the Kid arrives, Tonia says, she will send a message by Gregorio, the small son of the washerwoman Luisa.
After Sandridge leaves, the Kid goes back to his horse and rides away. He does not go far, however, before he stops. He waits for half an hour then returns singing his song. Tonia hears him and rushes out. The Kid, who seldom smiles, looks at his girl and smiles fondly as she springs into his arms. Then, as Tonia begins to tend to his needs, he kisses her affectionately. The Kid prides himself for being muy caballero - very much a gentleman. He is always gentle and courteous to women, so much so that women do not believe the stories men tell about his terrible deeds. Since he would not lay a finger upon a woman, it appears he has a dilemma on his hands.
After supper, old man Perez falls asleep. The Kid helps Tonia with the dishes as she chats about small things that have happened since his last visit. Then they go outside and Tonia, swinging in a hammock, plays the guitar and sings sad love songs. Afterwards, the Kid goes off to Fink's shop for some tobacco. When he returns in half an hour, he seems apprehensive. He tells Tonia he feels there are men behind every bush and tree waiting to shoot him. He thinks he should leave soon because others may get hurt if they come for him while he is at her hut.
At midnight, a horseman delivers a letter to Sandridge at his camp. The messenger identifies himself as Domingo Sales, sent by Luisa whose son Gregorio was too ill to ride. In the letter, Tonia asks Sandridge to come and hide in the wagon shed near the hut. She explains that the Kid suspects her of betraying him. He plans to escape an hour before dawn. To test her loyalty and to make sure there are no men waiting to shoot him, the Kid has told her to ride away first in his clothes. He would leave afterwards wearing her clothes. Tonia begs Sandridge to shoot the Kid and not try to capture him.
Sandridge goes to the shed as instructed and waits. Nearly an hour later, he sees two figures emerge from the hut. Then one, wearing a man's clothes, rides away past the shed. Sandridge decides to face the other, who is dressed in a skirt, before Tonia returns so she will not have to witness the confrontation. He steps out of the shed with his Winchester ready and orders "Throw up your hands." The figure turns quickly and Sandridge shoots five times just to be sure.
The shots awaken old Perez in the hut. Then Perez hears a man cry out in great anguish. Sandridge bursts into the hut with the letter and demands to know who wrote it. The old man mumbles that the Kid wrote it while Tonia slept and asked him to deliver it to Domingo Sales. He asks if there is anything wrong in the letter.
Not being a caballero, Sandridge does not understand the niceties of revenge. All he can think of to do is to throw himself down by the girl's body.
A mile away, the rider who got away begins to sing, "Don't you monkey with my Lulu girl / Or I'll tell you what I'll do -"