Arizona Nights by Stewart Edward White
Chapter Two. The Emigrants
After the rain that had held us holed up at the Double R over one day, we discussed what we should do next.
"The flats will be too boggy for riding, and anyway the cattle will be in the high country," the Cattleman summed up the situation. "We'd bog down the chuck-wagon if we tried to get back to the J. H. But now after the rain the weather ought to be beautiful. What shall we do?"
"Was you ever in the Jackson country?" asked Uncle Jim. "It's the wildest part of Arizona. It's a big country and rough, and no one lives there, and there's lots of deer and mountain lions and bear. Here's my dogs. We might have a hunt."
"Good!" said we.
We skirmished around and found a condemned army pack saddle with aparejos, and a sawbuck saddle with kyacks. On these, we managed to condense our grub and utensils. There were plenty of horses, so our bedding we bound flat about their naked barrels by means of the squaw-hitch. Then we started.
That day furnished us with a demonstration of what Arizona horses can do. Our way led first through a canon-bed filled with rounded boulders and rocks, slippery and unstable. Big cottonwoods and oaks grew so thick as partially to conceal the cliffs on either side of us. The rim-rock was mysterious with caves; beautiful with hanging gardens of tree ferns and grasses growing thick in long transverse crevices; wonderful in colour and shape. We passed the little canons fenced off by the rustlers as corrals into which to shunt from the herds their choice of beeves.
The Cattleman shook his head at them. "Many a man has come from Texas and established a herd with no other asset than a couple of horses and a branding-iron," said he.
Then we worked up gradually to a divide, whence we could see a range of wild and rugged mountains on our right. They rose by slopes and ledges, steep and rough, and at last ended in the thousand-foot cliffs of the buttes, running sheer and unbroken for many miles. During all the rest of our trip they were to be our companions, the only constant factors in the tumult of lesser peaks, precipitous canons, and twisted systems in which we were constantly involved.
The sky was sun-and-shadow after the rain. Each and every Arizonan predicted clearing.
"Why, it almost never rains in Arizona," said Jed Parker. "And when it does it quits before it begins."
Nevertheless, about noon a thick cloud gathered about the tops of the Galiuros above us. Almost immediately it was dissipated by the wind, but when the peaks again showed, we stared with astonishment to see that they were white with snow. It was as though a magician had passed a sheet before them the brief instant necessary to work his great transformation. Shortly the sky thickened again, and it began to rain.
Travel had been precarious before; but now its difficulties were infinitely increased. The clay sub-soil to the rubble turned slippery and adhesive. On the sides of the mountains it was almost impossible to keep a footing. We speedily became wet, our hands puffed and purple, our boots sodden with the water that had trickled from our clothing into them.
"Over the next ridge," Uncle Jim promised us, "is an old shack that I fixed up seven years ago. We can all make out to get in it."
Over the next ridge, therefore, we slipped and slid, thanking the god of luck for each ten feet gained. It was growing cold. The cliffs and palisades near at hand showed dimly behind the falling rain; beyond them waved and eddied the storm mists through which the mountains revealed and concealed proportions exaggerated into unearthly grandeur. Deep in the clefts of the box canons the streams were filling. The roar of their rapids echoed from innumerable precipices. A soft swish of water usurped the world of sound.
Nothing more uncomfortable or more magnificent could be imagined. We rode shivering. Each said to himself, "I can stand this--right now--at the present moment. Very well; I will do so, and I will refuse to look forward even five minutes to what I may have to stand," which is the true philosophy of tough times and the only effective way to endure discomfort.
By luck we reached the bottom of that canon without a fall. It was wide, well grown with oak trees, and belly deep in rich horse feed--an ideal place to camp were it not for the fact that a thin sheet of water a quarter of an inch deep was flowing over the entire surface of the ground. We spurred on desperately, thinking of a warm fire and a chance to steam.
The roof of the shack had fallen in, and the floor was six inches deep in adobe mud.
We did not dismount--that would have wet our saddles--but sat on our horses taking in the details. Finally Uncle Jim came to the front with a suggestion.
"I know of a cave," said he, "close under a butte. It's a big cave, but it has such a steep floor that I'm not sure as we could stay in it; and it's back the other side of that ridge."
"I don't know how the ridge is to get back over--it was slippery enough coming this way--and the cave may shoot us out into space, but I'd like to look at a dry place anyway," replied the Cattleman.
We all felt the same about it, so back over the ridge we went. About half way down the other side Uncle Jim turned sharp to the right, and as the "hog back" dropped behind us, we found ourselves out on the steep side of a mountain, the perpendicular cliff over us to the right, the river roaring savagely far down below our left, and sheets of water glazing the footing we could find among the boulders and debris. Hardly could the ponies keep from slipping sideways on the slope, as we proceeded farther and farther from the solidity of the ridge behind us, we experienced the illusion of venturing out on a tight rope over abysses of space. Even the feeling of danger was only an illusion, however, composite of the falling rain, the deepening twilight, and the night that had already enveloped the plunge of the canon below. Finally Uncle Jim stopped just within the drip from the cliffs.
"Here she is," said he.
We descended eagerly. A deer bounded away from the base of the buttes. The cave ran steep, in the manner of an inclined tunnel, far up into the dimness. We had to dig our toes in and scramble to make way up it at all, but we found it dry, and after a little search discovered a foot-ledge of earth sufficiently broad for a seat.
"That's all right," quoth Jed Parker. "Now, for sleeping places."
We scattered. Uncle Jim and Charley promptly annexed the slight overhang of the cliff whence the deer had jumped. It was dry at the moment, but we uttered pessimistic predictions if the wind should change. Tom Rich and Jim Lester had a little tent, and insisted on descending to the canon-bed.
"Got to cook there, anyways," said they, and departed with the two pack mules and their bed horse.
That left the Cattleman, Windy Bill, Jed Parker, and me. In a moment Windy Bill came up to us whispering and mysterious.
"Get your cavallos and follow me," said he.
We did so. He led us two hundred yards to another cave, twenty feet high, fifteen feet in diameter, level as a floor.
"How's that?" he cried in triumph. "Found her just now while I was rustling nigger-heads for a fire."
We unpacked our beds with chuckles of joy, and spread them carefully within the shelter of the cave. Except for the very edges, which did not much matter, our blankets and "so-guns," protected by the canvas "tarp," were reasonably dry. Every once in a while a spasm of conscience would seize one or the other of us.
"It seems sort of mean on the other fellows," ruminated Jed Parker.
"They had their first choice," cried we all.
"Uncle Jim's an old man," the Cattleman pointed out.
But Windy Bill had thought of that. "I told him of this yere cave first. But he allowed he was plumb satisfied."
We finished laying out our blankets. The result looked good to us. We all burst out laughing.
"Well, I'm sorry for those fellows," cried the Cattleman. We hobbled our horses and descended to the gleam of the fire, like guilty conspirators. There we ate hastily of meat, bread and coffee, merely for the sake of sustenance. It certainly amounted to little in the way of pleasure. The water from the direct rain, the shivering trees, and our hat brims accumulated in our plates faster than we could bail it out. The dishes were thrust under a canvas. Rich and Lester decided to remain with their tent, and so we saw them no more until morning.
We broke off back-loads of mesquite and toiled up the hill, tasting thickly the high altitude in the severe labour. At the big cave we dumped down our burdens, transported our fuel piecemeal to the vicinity of the narrow ledge, built a good fire, sat in a row, and lit our pipes. In a few moments, the blaze was burning high, and our bodies had ceased shivering. Fantastically the firelight revealed the knobs and crevices, the ledges and the arching walls. Their shadows leaped, following the flames, receding and advancing like playful beasts. Far above us was a single tiny opening through which the smoke was sucked as through a chimney. The glow ruddied the men's features. Outside was thick darkness, and the swish and rush and roar of rising waters. Listening, Windy Bill was reminded of a story. We leaned back comfortably against the sloping walls of the cave, thrust our feet toward the blaze, smoked, and hearkened to the tale of Windy Bill.
There's a tur'ble lot of water running loose here, but I've seen the time and place where even what is in that drip would be worth a gold mine. That was in the emigrant days. They used to come over south of here, through what they called Emigrant Pass, on their way to Californy. I was a kid then, about eighteen year old, and what I didn't know about Injins and Agency cattle wasn't a patch of alkali. I had a kid outfit of h'ar bridle, lots of silver and such, and I used to ride over and be the handsome boy before such outfits as happened along.
They were queer people, most of 'em from Missoury and such-like southern seaports, and they were tur'ble sick of travel by the time they come in sight of Emigrant Pass. Up to Santa Fe they mostly hiked along any old way, but once there they herded up together in bunches of twenty wagons or so, 'count of our old friends, Geronimo and Loco. A good many of 'em had horned cattle to their wagons, and they crawled along about two miles an hour, hotter'n hell with the blower on, nothin' to look at but a mountain a week way, chuck full of alkali, plenty of sage-brush and rattlesnakes--but mighty little water.
Why, you boys know that country down there. Between the Chiricahua Mountains and Emigrant Pass it's maybe a three or four days' journey for these yere bull-slingers.
Mostly they filled up their bellies and their kegs, hoping to last through, but they sure found it drier than cork legs, and generally long before they hit the Springs their tongues was hangin' out a foot. You see, for all their plumb nerve in comin' so far, the most of them didn't know sic'em. They were plumb innocent in regard to savin' their water, and Injins, and such; and the long-haired buckskin fakes they picked up at Santa Fe for guides wasn't much better.
That was where Texas Pete made his killing.
Texas Pete was a tough citizen from the Lone Star. He was about as broad as he was long, and wore all sorts of big whiskers and black eyebrows. His heart was very bad. You never could tell where Texas Pete was goin' to jump next. He was a side-winder and a diamond-back and a little black rattlesnake all rolled into one. I believe that Texas Pete person cared about as little for killin' a man as for takin' a drink--and he shorely drank without an effort. Peaceable citizens just spoke soft and minded their own business; onpeaceable citizens Texas Pete used to plant out in the sagebrush.
Now this Texas Pete happened to discover a water hole right out in the plumb middle of the desert. He promptly annexed said water hole, digs her out, timbers her up, and lays for emigrants.
He charged two bits a head--man or beast--and nobody got a mouthful till he paid up in hard coin.
Think of the wads he raked in! I used to figure it up, just for the joy of envyin' him, I reckon. An average twenty-wagon outfit, first and last, would bring him in somewheres about fifty dollars--and besides he had forty-rod at four bits a glass. And outfits at that time were thicker'n spatter.
We used all to go down sometimes to watch them come in. When they see that little canvas shack and that well, they begun to cheer up and move fast. And when they see that sign, "Water, two bits a head," their eyes stuck out like two raw oysters.
Then come the kicks. What a howl they did raise, shorely. But it didn't do no manner of good. Texas Pete didn't do nothin' but sit there and smoke, with a kind of sulky gleam in one corner of his eye. He didn't even take the trouble to answer, but his Winchester lay across his lap. There wasn't no humour in the situation for him.
"How much is your water for humans?" asks one emigrant.
"Can't you read that sign?" Texas Pete asks him.
"But you don't mean two bits a head for humans!" yells the man. "Why, you can get whisky for that!"
"You can read the sign, can't you?" insists Texas Pete.
"I can read it all right?" says the man, tryin' a new deal, "but they tell me not to believe more'n half I read."
But that don't go; and Mr. Emigrant shells out with the rest.
I didn't blame them for raisin' their howl. Why, at that time the regular water holes was chargin' five cents a head from the government freighters, and the motto was always "Hold up Uncle Sam," at that. Once in a while some outfit would get mad and go chargin' off dry; but it was a long, long way to the Springs, and mighty hot and dusty. Texas Pete and his one lonesome water hole shorely did a big business.
Late one afternoon me and Gentleman Tim was joggin' along above Texas Pete's place. It was a tur'ble hot day--you had to prime yourself to spit--and we was just gettin' back from drivin' some beef up to the troops at Fort Huachuca. We was due to cross the Emigrant Trail--she's wore in tur'ble deep--you can see the ruts to-day. When we topped the rise we see a little old outfit just makin' out to drag along.
It was one little schooner all by herself, drug along by two poor old cavallos that couldn't have pulled my hat off. Their tongues was out, and every once in a while they'd stick in a chuck-hole. Then a man would get down and put his shoulder to the wheel, and everybody'd take a heave, and up they'd come, all a-trembling and weak.
Tim and I rode down just to take a look at the curiosity.
A thin-lookin' man was drivin', all humped up.
"Hullo, stranger," says I, "ain't you 'fraid of Injins?"
"Yes," says he.
"Then why are you travellin' through an Injin country all alone?"
"Couldn't keep up," says he. "Can I get water here?"
"I reckon," I answers.
He drove up to the water trough there at Texas Pete's, me and Gentleman Tim followin' along because our trail led that way. But he hadn't more'n stopped before Texas Pete was out.
"Cost you four bits to water them hosses," says he.
The man looked up kind of bewildered.
"I'm sorry," says he, "I ain't got no four bits. I got my roll lifted off'n me."
"No water, then," growls Texas Pete back at him.
The man looked about him helpless.
"How far is it to the next water?" he asks me.
"Twenty mile," I tells him.
"My God!" he says, to himself-like.
Then he shrugged his shoulders very tired.
"All right. It's gettin' the cool of the evenin'; we'll make it." He turns into the inside of that old schooner.
"Gi' me the cup, Sue."
A white-faced woman who looked mighty good to us alkalis opened the flaps and gave out a tin cup, which the man pointed out to fill.
"How many of you is they?" asks Texas Pete.
"Three," replies the man, wondering.
"Well, six bits, then," says Texas Pete, "cash down."
At that the man straightens up a little.
"I ain't askin' for no water for my stock," says he, "but my wife and baby has been out in this sun all day without a drop of water. Our cask slipped a hoop and bust just this side of Dos Cabesas. The poor kid is plumb dry."
"Two bits a head," says Texas Pete.
At that the woman comes out, a little bit of a baby in her arms. The kid had fuzzy yellow hair, and its face was flushed red and shiny.
"Shorely you won't refuse a sick child a drink of water, sir," says she.
But Texas Pete had some sort of a special grouch; I guess he was just beginning to get his snowshoes off after a fight with his own forty-rod.
"What the hell are you-all doin' on the trail without no money at all?" he growls, "and how do you expect to get along? Such plumb tenderfeet drive me weary."
"Well," says the man, still reasonable, "I ain't got no money, but I'll give you six bits' worth of flour or trade or an'thin' I got."
"I don't run no truck-store," snaps Texas Pete, and turns square on his heel and goes back to his chair.
"Got six bits about you?" whispers Gentleman Tim to me.
"Not a red," I answers.
Gentleman Tim turns to Texas Pete.
"Let 'em have a drink, Pete. I'll pay you next time I come down."
"Cash down," growls Pete.
"You're the meanest man I ever see," observes Tim. "I wouldn't speak to you if I met you in hell carryin' a lump of ice in your hand."
"You're the softest I ever see," sneers Pete. "Don't they have any genooine Texans down your way?"
"Not enough to make it disagreeable," says Tim.
"That lets you out," growls Pete, gettin' hostile and handlin' of his rifle.
Which the man had been standin' there bewildered, the cup hangin' from his finger. At last, lookin' pretty desperate, he stooped down to dig up a little of the wet from an overflow puddle lyin' at his feet. At the same time the hosses, left sort of to themselves and bein' drier than a covered bridge, drug forward and stuck their noses in the trough.
Gentleman Tim and me was sittin' there on our hosses, a little to one side. We saw Texas Pete jump up from his chair, take a quick aim, and cut loose with his rifle. It was plumb unexpected to us. We hadn't thought of any shootin', and our six-shooters was tied in, 'count of the jumpy country we'd been drivin' the steers over. But Gentleman Tim, who had unslung his rope, aimin' to help the hosses out of the chuckhole, snatched her off the horn, and with one of the prettiest twenty-foot flip throws I ever see done he snaked old Texas Pete right out of his wicky-up, gun and all. The old renegade did his best to twist around for a shot at us; but it was no go; and I never enjoyed hog-tying a critter more in my life than I enjoyed hog-tying Texas Pete. Then we turned to see what damage had been done.
We were some relieved to find the family all right, but Texas Pete had bored one of them poor old crow-bait hosses plumb through the head.
"It's lucky for you you don't get the old man," says Gentleman Tim very quiet and polite.
Which Gentleman Tim was an Irishman, and I'd been on the range long enough with him to know that when he got quiet and polite it was time to dodge behind something.
"I hope, sir" says he to the stranger, "that you will give your wife and baby a satisfying drink. As for your hoss, pray do not be under any apprehension. Our friend, Mr. Texas Pete, here, has kindly consented to make good any deficiencies from his own corral."
Tim could talk high, wide, and handsome when he set out to.
The man started to say something; but I managed to herd him to one side.
"Let him alone," I whispers. "When he talks that way, he's mad; and when he's mad, it's better to leave nature to supply the lightnin' rods."
He seemed to sabe all right, so we built us a little fire and started some grub, while Gentleman Tim walked up and down very grand and fierce.
By and by he seemed to make up his mind. He went over and untied Texas Pete.
"Stand up, you hound," says he. "Now listen to me. If you make a break to get away, or if you refuse to do just as I tell you, I won't shoot you, but I'll march you up country and see that Geronimo gets you."
He sorted out a shovel and pick, made Texas Pete carry them right along the trail a quarter, and started him to diggin' a hole.
Texas Pete started in hard enough, Tim sittin' over him on his hoss, his six-shooter loose, and his rope free. The man and I stood by, not darin' to say a word. After a minute or so Texas Pete began to work slower and slower. By and by he stopped.
"Look here," says he, "is this here thing my grave?"
"I am goin' to see that you give the gentleman's hoss decent interment," says Gentleman Tim very polite.
"Bury a hoss!" growls Texas Pete.
But he didn't say any more. Tim cocked his six-shooter.
"Perhaps you'd better quit panting and sweat a little," says he.
Texas Pete worked hard for a while, for Tim's quietness was beginning to scare him up the worst way. By and by he had got down maybe four or five feet, and Tim got off his hoss.
"I think that will do," says he.
"You may come out. Billy, my son, cover him. Now, Mr. Texas Pete," he says, cold as steel, "there is the grave. We will place the hoss in it. Then I intend to shoot you and put you in with the hoss, and write you an epitaph that will be a comfort to such travellers of the Trail as are honest, and a warnin' to such as are not. I'd as soon kill you now as an hour from now, so you may make a break for it if you feel like it."
He stooped over to look into the hole. I thought he looked an extra long time, but when he raised his head his face had changed complete.
"March!" says he very brisk.
We all went back to the shack. From the corral Tim took Texas Pete's best team and hitched her to the old schooner.
"There," says he to the man. "Now you'd better hit the trail. Take that whisky keg there for water. Good-bye."
We sat there without sayin' a word for some time after the schooner had pulled out. Then Tim says, very abrupt:
"I've changed my mind."
He got up.
"Come on, Billy," says he to me. "We'll just leave our friend tied up. I'll be back to-morrow to turn you loose. In the meantime it won't hurt you a bit to be a little uncomfortable, and hungry--and thirsty."
We rode off just about sundown, leavin' Texas Pete lashed tight.
Now all this knocked me hell-west and crooked, and I said so, but I couldn't get a word out of Gentleman Tim. All the answer I could get was just little laughs.
We drawed into the ranch near midnight, but next mornin' Tim had a long talk with the boss, and the result was that the whole outfit was instructed to arm up with a pick or a shovel apiece, and to get set for Texas Pete's. We got there a little after noon, turned the old boy out--without firearms--and then began to dig at a place Tim told us to, near that grave of Texas Pete's. In three hours we had the finest water-hole developed you ever want to see. Then the boss stuck up a sign that said:
PUBLIC WATER-HOLE. WATER, FREE.
"Now you old skin," says he to Texas Pete, "charge all you want to on your own property. But if I ever hear of your layin' claim to this other hole, I'll shore make you hard to catch."
Then we rode off home. You see, when Gentleman Tim inspected that grave, he noted indications of water; and it struck him that runnin' the old renegade out of business was a neater way of gettin' even than merely killin' him.
Somebody threw a fresh mesquite on the fire. The flames leaped up again, showing a thin trickle of water running down the other side of the cave. The steady downpour again made itself prominent through the re-established silence.
"What did Texas Pete do after that?" asked the Cattleman.
"Texas Pete?" chuckled Windy Bill. "Well, he put in a heap of his spare time lettin' Tim alone."