Juan Camison

By Master Storyteller Joe Hayes

from his book "The Day It Snowed Tortillas"

There was once a poor woman who had a lazy son. The hardest thing he did each day was to decide whether to stay in bed late or get up early so that he'd have more time to lie around and do nothing.

On winter mornings the old woman would wake up cold and call to her son to see if the fire was still burning: "Juanito, levantate, por favor. Mira ver si hay lumber."

Lazy Juan would call the cat, "Pssst, pssst." And when he felt that the cat's side was warm, he'd know that the fire was still burning. "Si, Mama," he would yawn. "Si, hay lumber." And he'd roll over and go back to sleep.

On summer mornings, the poor woman's first thought was of her garden, where she raised what little food they had to eat. As soon as she awoke she'd ask her son to go see if it had rained during the night. "Juanito, mira ver si cayo agua."

But Juan wouldn't get up. He would just whistle for the dog and feel its fur. When he felt that the fur was wet: "Si, Mama, cayo agua."

So you see how lazy Juan was. But in spite of that, and even though there was little in the house to eat, he grew to be a very large boy. He grew so large, in fact, that his mother couldn't afford to buy him proper clothes. She dressed him in a long shirt that hung to his knees, and that was all he wore.

Because of his strange clothes, people started calling him Juan Camison-Big Shirt Juan. Whenever he walked out the children would dance along behind him chanting:

            "Juan Camison, te falta pantalon!"

            "Big Shirt Juan, you've got no pants on!"

Finally Juan got so big that his mother couldn't feed him any longer, and she sent him out into the world to earn his own living.

Juan started down the road, and when he had been walking for about an hour, he saw an old sombrero that someone had thrown away by the side of the road. Juan picked up the hat and put it on his head, thinking he looked quite fine in it.

A short way farther down the road Juan saw a spring by the side of the road and thought he'd get a drink. But when he stooped down to drink, he saw several flies in the mud by the water's edge.

"Ho!" said Juan. "I'm not going to share my water with flies." And he took off his hat and swatted those flies.

What a good hit! Juan counted the flies he had killed and there were seven of them! He felt very proud of himself and wanted the world to know how great he was. So he took some of the mud and wrote on his sombrero:

            Soy Juan Camison

            que mata siete de un empujon!

            I'm Juan Camison

            who kills seven at a blow!

After all that work Juan was tired, and decided to take a nap. He leaned against a tree, and pulled his sombrero down over his face and went to sleep.

While he was asleep the King's messenger happened to come riding by. He saw Juan sleeping against a tree and thought that he had never seen such a big man. Then he read the words on Juan's sombrero. "What's this?" he said to himself. "A man who kills seven with one blow! That's just the sort of man I'm looking for."

For you must know that the King was fighting a bitter war with an enemy king, and his only hope of victory had rested on a strong man named Macario. But the enemy had found a way to poison Macario's food, and the champion died. Before Juan knew what was happening, he found himself at the battlefield being dressed for combat.

The General sent for a suit of armor for Juan, but the only armor big enough to fit him was that of Macario. And the only horse strong enough to carry him was Macario's own charger.

So Juan Camison was dressed in Macario's armor and hoisted into the saddle. Poor Juan Camison! He had never ridden a horse before. He swayed back and forth in the saddle and clung to the horse's mane with both hands.

And that horse was so fierce and battle-crazy that when he saw the enemy army, he reared up and then charged at full gallop.

Juan bounced up and down in the saddle, flopping from one side of the horse to the other. All the while he was screaming to his companions that he was falling. "Me caigo yo! Me caigo yo!"

"I'm falling! I'm falling!" he continued to scream as the horse raced across the battlefield toward the enemy. Juan's arms and legs thrashed wildly in the air.

When the enemy saw him, they couldn't believe their eyes. They thought they had killed Macario, but here was this wild man charging furiously toward them with horse and armor they recognized as Macario's. When he drew near, they could hear his screams: "Me caigo yo! Me caigo yo!"

To them it sounded as though he was shouting, "Macario! Macario!"

"Do you hear that?" they said one to the other. "He's saying 'Macario! Macario!' Macario has returned from the dead. He wants us to know he's coming for revenge. Who can fight a man who overcomes death itself?"

They started to retreat. And just then Juan's horse took him past a small tree. Juan reached out and grabbed the trunk to pull himself from the saddle, but the tree had shallow roots and came out of the ground in his hands. He charged on, flailing the tree madly about his head.

"Look!" cried the enemy soldiers. "He's pulling the very trees up by the roots. Run for your lives!" And they all turned and fled.

When the enemy king got word of what had happened on the battlefield, he sent messages of peace immediately and returned to his own country.

Juan Camison was presented to his own king and was richly rewarded with gold. He took all his money home to his old mother, and she danced up and down in her joy.

But as for Juan Camison-he went back to bed, and he's probably sleeping there still.

Copyright © Joe Hayes
Order Joe Hayes Books at Cinco Puntos Press

Joe Hayes, Storyteller

Joe Hayes, professional storyteller and SFAOL contributor, has performed in hundreds of schools, libraries, museums and parks. He tells folktales from many cultures, and among his favorites are the local cuentos, the Hispanic tales of New Mexico. A highlight of every summer in Santa Fe, for children and adults alike, are his storytelling sessions outside the tepee at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe.

In 1982, Mariposa Printing and Publishing company in Santa Fe presented 10 of these stories in "The Day It Snowed Tortillas." Now in its ninth printing, the book has become a regional favorite and has brought delight to readers throughout the country.

From the melodic song of "La Hormiguita"to the classic lament of "La Llorana," "The Day It Snowed Tortillas" is a collection that will captivate hearts for years to come. If you enjoy the stories of Joe Hayes on SFAOL, you can order this book or others he has written by visiting Cinco Puntos Press.

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