Valdez is a bandit king from Swede's epic poem. As Sunny Sundown’s adversary, he first appears as a greasy villain: obviously evil, but also sure to lose to Sundown. Following Swede's kidnapping by Tommy and Israel, however, Valdez takes a horrifying turn for the worse and transforms into a bloodthirsty monster. Through Valdez, Swede processes her fear and grapples with the unfortunate realization that bad people don't just exist in stories. Interestingly, while Swede never comes close to matching Reuben's maturity and understanding of Davy's actions, Swede reaches her own surprisingly mature conclusions about evil and justice through writing about Valdez. Sundown isn't ever able to capture and properly kill Valdez, despite how hard Swede tries to write the event. Valdez thus comes to represent Swede's uncertainty and fear that the world doesn't always observe an easy and obvious system of justice. Reuben even compares Jape Waltzer to Valdez, as Waltzer slips away after shooting Reuben and Dad and never appears again. Like Valdez, he's a horrifying yet compelling villain, and his innocent victims are left to deal with the knowledge that he's never brought to justice for his actions.
Valdez Quotes in Peace Like a River
"Just because I write it doesn't mean it really happened."
I feared the outcome of honest speech—that it might reach forward in time and arrange events to come. If I told Swede I wanted Davy back, even at the cost of his freedom, might that not happen? And if I said what I sensed was the noble thing... might that not bring despair on this whole crusade of ours?