Boots on the Ground: A Day in the Life of a Border Sheriff


| March-April 2010



Border Sheriff

image by Eugenio del Bosque

“Y’all got here just in time.  We’re going to look for a body. Are you up for it? It’s gonna get rough out there, but I can have you back by lunch.”

It’s 7 a.m. I’ve already driven two hours from El Paso with my husband, whom I’ve convinced to shoot photographs for my story. If it hadn’t been for the Border Patrol checkpoint just outside of this dusty, half-abandoned town on Interstate 10, we might have missed Sierra Blanca altogether. Smack in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, we’ve arrived at the office of Arvin West, sheriff of Hudspeth County.

“Sure, I’m up for it,” I say. My husband nods gamely.

West leads us out to his white SUV. He doesn’t fit my celluloid idea of a Texas sheriff. He wears a white Stetson and Wrangler jeans, but is short, with a paunch. Instead of cowboy boots, he wears brown suede Wallaby boots.

“I used to wear these in high school,” he says, “and hell, they’re comfortable. I’m getting too old for cowboy boots.” West is 44. Half-Mexican, he jokes about growing up a “GMC,” or “Gringo-Mexican combo,” when Texas shops still displayed signs that read “No dogs, no Mexicans.”

We set off south for the Rio Grande. The river has made West more than just a small-town sheriff. With 3,300 residents, his county straddles 98 miles of the Rio Grande. At 4,572 square miles, Hudspeth is twice the size of Delaware.