Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
The start of a camping trip, the getting a big outfit together and packed, and on the move, is always a difficult and laborsome job. Nevertheless, for me the preparation and the actual getting under way have always been matters of thrilling interest. This start of my hunt in Arizona, September 24, 1918, was particularly momentous because I had brought my boy Romer with me for his first trip into the wilds.
It may be that the boy was too young for such an undertaking. His mother feared he would be injured; his teachers presaged his utter ruin; his old nurse, with whom he waged war until he was free of her, averred that the best it could do for him would be to show what kind of stuff he was made of. His uncle R.C. was stoutly in favor of taking him. I believe the balance fell in Romer's favor when I remembered my own boyhood. As a youngster of three I had babbled of "bars an' buffers," and woven fantastic and marvelous tales of fiction about my imagined adventures--a habit, alas! I have never yet outgrown.
Anyway we only made six miles' travel on this September twenty-fourth, and Romer was with us.
Indeed he was omnipresent. His keen, eager joy communicated itself to me. Once he rode up alongside me and said: "Dad, this's great, but I'd rather do like Buck Duane." The boy had read all of my books, in spite of parents and teachers, and he knew them by heart, and invariably liked the outlaws and gunmen best of all.
We made camp at sunset, with a flare of gold along the west, and the Peaks rising rosy and clear to the north. We camped in a cut-over pine forest, where stumps and lopped tops and burned deadfalls made an aspect of blackened desolation. From a distance, however, the scene was superb. At sunset there was a faint wind which soon died away.
My old guide on so many trips across the Painted Desert was in charge of the outfit. He was a wiry, gray, old pioneer, over seventy years, hollow-cheeked and bronzed, with blue-gray eyes still keen with fire. He was no longer robust, but he was tireless and willing. When he told a story he always began: "In the early days--" His son Lee had charge of the horses of which we had fourteen, two teams and ten saddle horses. Lee was a typical westerner of many occupations--cowboy, rider, rancher, cattleman. He was small, thin, supple, quick, tough and strong. He had a bronzed face, always chapped, a hooked nose, gray-blue eyes like his father's, sharp and keen.
Lee had engaged the only man he could find for a cook--Joe Isbel, a tall, lithe cowboy, straight as an Indian, with powerful shoulders, round limbs, and slender waist, and Isbel was what the westerners called a broncho-buster. He was a prize-winning rider at all the rodeos. Indeed, his seat in the saddle was individual and incomparable. He had a rough red-blue face, hard and rugged, like the rocks he rode over so fearlessly, and his eyes were bright hazel, steady and hard. Isbel's vernacular was significant. Speaking of one of our horses he said: "Like a mule he'll be your friend for twenty years to git a chance to kick you." Speaking of another that had to be shod he said: "Shore, he'll step high to-morrow." Isbel appeared to be remarkably efficient as camp-rustler and cook, but he did not inspire me with confidence. In speaking of this to the Doyles I found them non-committal on the subject. Westerners have sensitive feelings. I could not tell whether they were offended or not, and I half regretted mentioning my lack of confidence in Isbel. As it turned out, however, I was amply justified.
Sievert Nielsen, whom I have mentioned elsewhere, was the fourth of my men.
Darkness had enveloped us at supper time. I was tired out, but the red-embered camp-fire, the cool air, the smell of wood-smoke, and the white stars kept me awake awhile. Romer had to be put to bed. He was wild with excitement. We had had a sleeping-bag made for him so that once snugly in it, with the flaps buckled he could not kick off the blankets. When we got him into it he quieted down and took exceeding interest in his first bed in the open. He did not, however, go quickly to sleep. Presently he called R.C. over and whispered: "Say, Uncle Rome, I coiled a lasso an' put it under Nielsen's bed. When he's asleep you go pull it. He's tenderfoot like Dad was. He'll think it's a rattlesnake." This trick Romer must have remembered from reading "The Last of the Plainsmen," where I related what Buffalo Jones' cowboys did to me. Once Romer got that secret off his mind he fell asleep.
The hour we spent sitting around the camp-fire was the most pleasant of that night, though I did not know it then. The smell of wood-smoke and the glow of live coals stirred memories of other camp-fires. I was once more enveloped by the sweetness and peace of the open, listening to the sigh of the wind, and the faint tinkle of bells on the hobbled horses.
An uncomfortable night indeed it turned out to be. Our covers were scanty and did not number among them any blankets. The bed was hard as a rock, and lumpy. No sleep! As the night wore on the air grew colder, and I could not keep warm. At four a.m. I heard the howling of coyotes--a thrilling and well remembered wild chorus. After that perfect stillness reigned. Presently I saw the morning star--big, blue-white, beautiful. Uncomfortable hours seemed well spent if the reward was sight of the morning star. How few people ever see it! How very few ever get a glimpse of it on a desert dawn!
Just then, about five-thirty, Romer woke up and yelled lustily: "Dad! My nose's froze." This was a signal for me to laugh, and also to rise heroically. Not difficult because I wanted to stay in bed, but because I could hardly crawl out! Soon we had a fire roaring. At six the dawn was still gray. Cold and nipping air, frost on everything, pale stars, a gold-red light in the east were proofs that I was again in the open. Soon a rose-colored flush beautified the Peaks.
After breakfast we had trouble with the horses. This always happened. But it was made worse this morning because a young cowboy who happened along took upon himself the task of helping Lee. I suspected he wanted to show off a little. In throwing his lasso to rope one, the noose went over the heads of two. Then he tried to hold both animals. They dragged him, pulled the lasso out of his hands, and stampeded the other horses. These two roped together thundered off with the noose widening. I was afraid they would split round a tree or stump, but fortunately the noose fell off one. As all the horses pounded off I heard Romer remark to Isbel: "Say, Joe, I don't see any medals on that cowboy." Isbel roared, and said: "Wal, Romer, you shore hit the nail, on the haid!"
Owing to that stampede we did not get saddled and started till eleven o'clock. At first I was so sore and stiff from the hard bed that I rode a while on the wagon with Doyle. Many a mile I had ridden with him, and many a story he had related. This time he told about sitting on a jury at Prescott where they brought in as evidence bloody shirts, overalls, guns, knives, until there was such a pile that the table would not hold them. Doyle was a mine of memories of the early days.
Romer's mount was a little black, white-spotted horse named Rye. Lee Doyle had scoured the ranches to get this pony for the youngster. Rye was small for a horse, about the size of an Indian mustang, and he was gentle, as well as strong and fast. Romer had been given riding lessons all that summer in the east, and upon his arrival at Flagstaff he informed me that he could ride. I predicted he would be in the wagon before noon of the second day out. He offered to bet on it. I told him I disapproved of betting. He seemed to me to be daring, adaptable, self-willed; and I was divided between pride and anxiety as to the outcome of this trip for him.
In the afternoon we reached Lake Mary, a long, ugly, muddy pond in a valley between pine-slopes. Dead and ghastly trees stood in the water, and the shores were cattle-tracked. Probably to the ranchers this mud-hole was a pleasing picture, but to me, who loved the beauty of the desert before its productiveness, it was hideous. When we passed Lake Mary, and farther on the last of the cut-over timber-land, we began to get into wonderful country. We traveled about sixteen miles, rather a small day's ride. Romer stayed on his horse all through that ride, and when we selected a camp site for the night he said to me: "Well, you're lucky you wouldn't bet."
Camp that evening was in a valley with stately pines straggling down to the level. On the other slope the pines came down in groups. The rim of this opposite slope was high, rugged, iron-colored, with cracks and holes. Before supper I walked up the slope back of our camp, to come upon level, rocky ground for a mile, then pines again leading to a low, green mountain with lighter patches of aspen. The level, open strip was gray in color. Arizona color and Arizona country! Gray of sage, rocks, pines, cedars, pinons, heights and depths and plains, wild and open and lonely--that was Arizona.
That night I obtained some rest and sleep, lying awake only a few hours, during which time I turned from side to side to find a soft place in the hard bed. Under such circumstances I always thought of the hard beds of the Greeks and the Spartans. Next day we rode twenty-three miles. On horseback trips like this it was every one for himself. Sometimes we would be spread out, all separated; at others we would be bunched; and again we would ride in couples. The morning was an ordeal for me, as at first I could scarcely sit my saddle; in the afternoon, however, riding grew to be less severe. The road led through a winding, shallow valley, with clumps of pine here and there, and cedars on the slopes. Romer rode all the way, half the time with his feet out of the stirrups, like a western boy born to the saddle, and he wanted to go fast all the time. Camp was made at a place called Fulton Spring. It might have been a spring once, but now it was a mud-hole with a dead cow lying in it. Clear, cold water is necessary to my pleasure, if not to my health. I have lived on sheep water--the water holes being tainted by sheep--and alkali water and soapy water of the desert, but never happily. How I hailed the clear, cold, swiftly-flowing springs!
This third camp lay in a woods where the pines were beautiful and the silence noticeable. Upon asking Romer to enumerate the things I had called to his attention, the few times I could catch up with him on the day's journey, he promptly replied--two big spiders--tarantulas, a hawk, and Mormon Lake. This lake was another snow-melted mud-hole, said to contain fish. I doubted that. Perhaps the little bull-head catfish might survive in such muddy water, but I did not believe bass or perch could.
One familiar feature of Arizona travel manifested itself to me that day--the dry air. My nails became brittle and my lips began to crack. I have had my lips cracked so severely that when I tried to bite bread they would split and bleed and hurt so that I could not eat. This matter of sore lips was for long a painful matter. I tried many remedies, and finally found one, camphor ice, that would prevent the drying and cracking.
Next day at dawn the forest was full of the soughing of wind in the pines--a wind that presaged storm. No stars showed. Romer-boy piled out at six o'clock. I had to follow him. The sky was dark and cloudy. Only a faint light showed in the east and it was just light enough to see when we ate breakfast. Owing to strayed horses we did not get started till after nine o'clock.
Five miles through the woods, gradually descending, led us into an open plain where there was a grass-bordered pond full of ducks. Here appeared an opportunity to get some meat. R.C. tried with shotgun and I with rifle, all to no avail. These ducks were shy. Romer seemed to evince some disdain at our failure, but he did not voice his feelings. We found some wild-turkey tracks, and a few feathers, which put our hopes high.
Crossing the open ground we again entered the forest, which gradually grew thicker as we got down to a lower altitude. Oak trees began to show in swales. And then we soon began to see squirrels, big, plump, gray fellows, with bushy tails almost silver. They appeared wilder than we would have suspected, at that distance from the settlements. Romer was eager to hunt them, and with his usual persistence, succeeded at length in persuading his uncle to do so.
To that end we rode out far ahead of the wagon and horses. Lee had a yellow dog he called Pups, a close-haired, keen-faced, muscular canine to which I had taken a dislike. To be fair to Pups, I had no reason except that he barked all the time. Pups and his barking were destined to make me hail them both with admiration and respect, but I had no idea of that then. Now this dog of Lee's would run ahead of us, trail squirrels, chase them, and tree them, whereupon he would bark vociferously. Sometimes up in the bushy top we would fail to spy the squirrel, but we had no doubt one was there. Romer wasted many and many a cartridge of the .22 Winchester trying to hit a squirrel. He had practiced a good deal, and was a fairly good shot for a youngster, but hitting a little gray ball of fur high on a tree, or waving at the tip of a branch, was no easy matter.
"Son," I said, "you don't take after your Dad."
And his uncle tried the lad's temper by teasing him about Wetzel. Now Wetzel, the great Indian killer of frontier days, was Romer's favorite hero.
"Gimme the .20 gauge," finally cried Romer, in desperation, with his eyes flashing.
Whereupon his uncle handed him the shotgun, with a word of caution as to the trigger. This particular squirrel was pretty high up, presenting no easy target. Romer stood almost directly under it, raised the gun nearly straight up, waved and wobbled and hesitated, and finally fired. Down sailed the squirrel to hit with a plump. That was Romer's first successful hunting experience. How proud he was of that gray squirrel! I suffered a pang to see the boy so radiant, so full of fire at the killing of a beautiful creature of the woods. Then again I remembered my own first sensations. Boys are blood-thirsty little savages. In their hunting, playing, even their reading, some element of the wild brute instinct dominates them. They are worthy descendants of progenitors who had to fight and kill to live. This incident furnished me much food for reflection. I foresaw that before this trip was ended I must face some knotty problems. I hated to shoot a squirrel even when I was hungry. Probably that was because I was not hungry enough. A starving man suffers no compunctions at the spilling of blood. On the contrary he revels in it with a fierce, primitive joy.
"Some shot, I'll say!" declared Romer to his uncle, loftily. And he said to me half a dozen times: "Say, Dad, wasn't it a grand peg?"
But toward the end of that afternoon his enthusiasm waned for shooting, for anything, especially riding. He kept asking when the wagon was going to stop. Once he yelled out: "Here's a peach of a place to camp." Then I asked him: "Romer, are you tired?" "Naw! But what's the use ridin' till dark?" At length he had to give up and be put on the wagon. The moment was tragic for him. Soon, however, he brightened at something Doyle told him, and began to ply the old pioneer with rapid-fire questions.
We pitched camp in an open flat, gray and red with short grass, and sheltered by towering pines on one side. Under these we set up our tents. The mat of pine needles was half a foot thick, soft and springy and fragrant. The woods appeared full of slanting rays of golden sunlight.
This day we had supper over before sunset. Romer showed no effects from his long, hard ride. First he wanted to cook, then he fooled around the fire, bothering Isbel. I had a hard time to manage him. He wanted to be eternally active. He teased and begged to go hunting--then he compromised on target practice. R.C. and I, however, were too tired, and we preferred to rest beside the camp-fire.
"Look here, kid," said R.C., "save something for to-morrow."
In disgust Romer replied: "Well, I suppose if a flock of antelope came along here you wouldn't move.... You an' Dad are great hunters, I don't think!"
After the lad had gone over to the other men R.C. turned to me and said reflectively: "Does he remind you of us when we were little?"
To which I replied with emotion: "In him I live over again!"
That is one of the beautiful things about children, so full of pathos and some strange, stinging joy--they bring back the days that are no more.
This evening, despite my fatigue, I was the last one to stay up. My seat was most comfortable, consisting of thick folds of blankets against a log. How the wind mourned in the trees! How the camp-fire sparkled, glowed red and white! Sometimes it seemed full of blazing opals. Always it held faces. And stories--more stories than I can ever tell! Once I was stirred and inspired by the beautiful effect of the pine trees in outline against the starry sky when the camp-fire blazed up. The color of the foliage seemed indescribably blue-green, something never seen by day. Every line shone bright, graceful, curved, rounded, and all thrown with sharp relief against the sky. How magical, exquisitely delicate and fanciful! The great trunks were soft serrated brown, and the gnarled branches stood out in perfect proportions. All works of art must be copied of nature.
Next morning early, while Romer slept, and the men had just begun to stir, I went apart from the camp out into the woods. All seemed solemn and still and cool, with the aisles of the forest brown and green and gold. I heard an owl, perhaps belated in his nocturnal habit. Then to my surprise I heard wild canaries. They were flying high, and to the south, going to their winter quarters. I wandered around among big, gray rocks and windfalls and clumps of young oak and majestic pines. More than one saucy red squirrel chattered at me.
When I returned to camp my comrades were at breakfast. Romer appeared vastly relieved to see that I had not taken a gun with me.
This morning we got an early start. We rode for hours through a beautiful shady forest, where a fragrant breeze in our faces made riding pleasant. Large oaks and patches of sumach appeared on the rocky slopes. We descended a good deal in this morning's travel, and the air grew appreciably warmer. The smell of pine was thick and fragrant; the sound of wind was sweet and soughing. Everywhere pine needles dropped, shining in the sunlight like thin slants of rain.
Only once or twice did I see Romer in all these morning hours; then he was out in front with the cowboy Isbel, riding his black pony over all the logs and washes he could find. I could see his feet sticking straight out almost even with his saddle. He did not appear to need stirrups. My fears gradually lessened.
During the afternoon the ride grew hot, and very dusty. We came to a long, open valley where the dust lay several inches deep. It had been an unusually dry summer and fall--a fact that presaged poor luck for our hunting--and the washes and stream-beds were bleached white. We came to two water-holes, tanks the Arizonians called them, and they were vile mud-holes with green scum on the water. The horses drank, but I would have had to be far gone from thirst before I would have slaked mine there. We faced west with the hot sun beating on us and the dust rising in clouds. No wonder that ride was interminably long.
At last we descended a canyon, and decided to camp in a level spot where several ravines met, in one of which a tiny stream of dear water oozed out of the gravel. The inclosure was rocky-sloped, full of caves and covered with pines; and the best I could say for it was that in case of storm the camp would be well protected. We shoveled out a deep hole in the gravel, so that it would fill up with water. Romer had evidently enjoyed himself this day. When I asked Isbel about him the cowboy's hard face gleamed with a smile: "Shore thet kid's all right. He'll make a cowpuncher!" His remark pleased me. In view of Romer's determination to emulate the worst bandit I ever wrote about I was tremendously glad to think of him as a cowboy. But as for myself I was tired, and the ride had been rather unprofitable, and this camp-site, to say the least, did not inspire me. It was neither wild nor beautiful nor comfortable. I went early to bed and slept like a log.
The following morning some of our horses were lost. The men hunted from daylight till ten o'clock. Then it was that I learned more about Lee's dog Pups. At ten-thirty Lee came in with the lost horses. They had hidden in a clump of cedars and remained perfectly quiet, as cute as deer. Lee put Pups on their trail. Pups was a horse-trailing dog and he soon found them. I had a change of feeling for Pups, then and there.
The sun was high and hot when we rode off. The pleasant and dusty stretches alternated. About one o'clock we halted on the edge of a deep wooded ravine to take our usual noonday rest. I scouted along the edge in the hope of seeing game of some kind. Presently I heard the cluck-cluck of turkeys. Slipping along to an open place I peered down to be thrilled by sight of four good-sized turkeys. They were walking along the open strip of dry stream-bed at the bottom of the ravine. One was chasing grasshoppers. They were fairly close. I took aim at one, and thought I could have hit him, but suddenly I remembered Romer and R.C. So I slipped back and called them.
Hurriedly and stealthily we returned to the point where I had seen the turkeys. Romer had a pale face and wonderfully bright eyes; his actions resembled those of a stalking Indian. The turkeys were farther down, but still in plain sight. I told R.C. to take the boy and slip down, and run and hide and run till they got close enough for a shot. I would keep to the edge of the ravine.
Some moments later I saw R.C. and the boy running and stooping and creeping along the bottom of the ravine. Then I ran myself to reach a point opposite the turkeys, so in case they flew uphill I might get a shot. But I did not see them, and nothing happened. I lost sight of the turkeys. Hurrying back to where I had tied my horse I mounted him and loped ahead and came out upon the ravine some distance above. Here I hunted around for a little while. Once I heard the report of the .20 gauge, and then several rifle shots. Upon returning I found that Lee and Nielsen had wasted some shells. R.C. and Romer came wagging up the hill, both red and wet and tired. R.C. carried a small turkey, about the size of a chicken. He told me, between pants, that they chased the four large turkeys, and were just about to get a shot when up jumped a hen-turkey with a flock of young ones. They ran every way. He got one. Then he told me, between more pants and some laughs, that Romer had chased the little turkeys all over the ravine, almost catching several. Romer said for himself: "I just almost pulled feathers out of their tails. Gee! if I'd had a gun!"
We resumed our journey. About the middle of the afternoon Doyle called my attention to an opening in the forest through which I could see the yellow-walled rim of the mesa, and the great blue void below. Arizona! That explained the black forests, the red and yellow cliffs of rock, the gray cedars, the heights and depths.
Lop? ride indeed was it down off the mesa. The road was winding, rough full of loose rocks and dusty. We were all tired out trying to keep up with the wagon. Romer, however, averred time and again that he was not tired. Still I saw him often shift his seat from one side of the saddle to the other.
At last we descended to a comparative level and came to a little hamlet. Like all Mormon villages it had quaint log cabins, low stone houses, an irrigation ditch running at the side of the road, orchards, and many rosy-cheeked children. We lingered there long enough to rest a little and drink our fill of the cold granite water. I would travel out of my way to get a drink of water that came from granite rock.
About five o'clock we left for the Natural Bridge. Romer invited or rather taunted me to a race. When it ended in his victory I found that I had jolted my rifle out of its saddle sheath. I went back some distance to look for it, but did so in vain. Isbel said he would ride back in the morning and find it.
The country here appeared to be on a vast scale. But that was only because we had gotten out where we could see all around. Arizona is all on a grand, vast scale. Mountain ranges stood up to the south and east. North loomed up the lofty, steep rim of the Mogollon Mesa, with its cliffs of yellow and red, and its black line of timber. Westward lay fold on fold of low cedar-covered hills. The valley appeared a kind of magnificent bowl, rough and wild, with the distance lost in blue haze. The vegetation was dense and rather low. I saw both prickly-pear and mescal cactus, cedars, manzanita brush, scrub oak, and juniper trees. These last named were very beautiful, especially the smaller ones, with their gray-green foliage, and purple berries, and black and white checkered bark. There were no pine trees. Since we had left the rim above the character of plant life had changed.
We crossed the plateau leading to the valley where the Natural Bridge was located. A winding road descended the east side of this valley. A rancher lived down there. Green of alfalfa and orchard and walnut trees contrasted vividly with a bare, gray slope on one side, and a red, rugged mountain on the other. A deep gorge showed dark and wild. At length, just after sunset, we reached the ranch, and rode through orchards of peach and pear and apple trees, all colored with fruit, and down through grassy meadows to a walnut grove where we pitched camp. By the time we had supper it was dark. Wonderful stars, thick, dreamy hum of insects, murmur of swift water, a rosy and golden afterglow on the notch of the mountain range to the west--these were inducements to stay up, but I was so tired I had to go to bed, where my eyelids fell tight, as if pleasantly weighted.
After the long, hard rides and the barren camp-sites what delight to awaken in this beautiful valley with the morning cool and breezy and bright, with smell of new-mown hay from the green and purple alfalfa fields, and the sunlight gilding the jagged crags above! Romer made a bee-line for the peach trees. He beat his daddy only a few yards. The kind rancher had visited us the night before and he had told us to help ourselves to fruit, melons, alfalfa. Needless to state that I made my breakfast on peaches!
I trailed the swift, murmuring stream to its source on the dark green slope where there opened up a big hole bordered by water-cress, long grass, and fragrant mint. This spring was one of perfectly clear water, six feet deep, boiling up to bulge on the surface. A grass of dark color and bunches of light green plant grew under the surface. Bees and blue dragon-flies hummed around and frogs as green as the grass blinked with jewelled eyes from the wet margins. The spring had a large volume that spilled over its borders with low, hollow gurgle, with fresh, cool splash. The water was soft, tasting of limestone. Here was the secret of the verdure and fragrance and color and beauty and life of the oasis.
It was also the secret of the formation of the wonderful Natural Bridge. Part of the rancher's cultivated land, to the extent of several acres, was the level top of this strange bridge. A meadow of alfalfa and a fine vineyard, in the air, like the hanging gardens of Babylon! The natural bridge spanned a deep gorge, at the bottom of which flowed a swift stream of water. Geologically this tremendous arch of limestone cannot be so very old. In comparatively recent times an earthquake or some seismic disturbance or some other natural force caused a spring of water to burst from the slope above the gorge. It ran down, of course, over the rim. The lime salt in the water was deposited, and year by year and age by age advanced toward the opposite side until a bridge crossed the gorge. The swift stream at the bottom kept the opening clear under the bridge.
A winding trail led deep down on the lower side of this wonderful natural span. It showed the cliffs of limestone, porous, craggy, broken, chalky. At the bottom the gorge was full of tremendous boulders, water-worn ledges, sycamore and juniper trees, red and yellow flowers, and dark, beautiful green pools. I espied tiny gray frogs, reminding me of those I found in the gulches of the Grand Canyon. Many huge black beetles, some alive, but most of them dead, lined the wet borders of the pools. A species of fish that resembled mullet lay in the shadow of the rocks.
From underneath the Natural Bridge showed to advantage, and if not magnificent like the grand Nonnezoshe of Utah, it was at least striking and beautiful. It had a rounded ceiling colored gray, yellow, green, bronze, purple, white, making a crude and scalloped mosaic. Water dripped from it like a rain of heavy scattered drops. The left side was dryest and large, dark caves opened up, one above the other, the upper being so high that it was dangerous to attempt reaching it. The right side was slippery and wet. All rocks were thickly encrusted with lime salt. Doyle told us that any object left under the ceaseless drip, drip of the lime water would soon become encrusted, and heavy as stone. The upper opening of the arch was much higher and smaller than the lower. Any noise gave forth strange and sepulchral echoes. Romer certainly made the welkin ring. A streak of sunlight shone through a small hole in the thinnest part of the roof. Doyle pointed out the high cave where Indians had once lived, showing the markings of their fire. Also he told a story of Apaches being driven into the highest cave from which they had never escaped. This tale was manifestly to Romer's liking and I had to use force to keep him from risking his neck. A very strong breeze blew under the arch. When we rolled a boulder into the large, dark pool it gave forth a hollow boom, boom, boom, growing hollower the deeper it went. I tried to interest Romer in some bat nests in crevices high up, but the boy wanted to roll stones and fish for the mullet. When we climbed out and were once more on a level I asked him what he thought of the place. "Some hole--I'll say!" he panted, breathlessly.
The rancher told me that the summer rains began there about July, and the snows about the first of the year. Snow never lay long on the lower slopes. Apaches had lived there forty years ago and had cultivated the soil. There was gold in the mountains of the Four Peaks Range. In this sheltered nook the weather was never severely cold or hot; and I judged from the quaint talk of the rancher's wife that life there was always afternoon.
Next day we rode from Natural Bridge to Payson in four and a half hours. Payson appeared to be an old hamlet, retaining many frontier characteristics such as old board and stone houses with high fronts, hitching posts and pumps on sidewalks, and one street so wide that it resembled a Mexican plaza. Payson contained two stores, where I hoped to buy a rifle, and hoped in vain. I had not recovered my lost gun, and when night came my prospects of anything to hunt with appeared extremely slim. But we had visitors, and one of them was a stalwart, dark-skinned rider named Copple, who introduced himself by saying he would have come a good way to meet the writer of certain books he had profited by. When he learned of the loss of my rifle and that I could not purchase one anywhere he pressed upon me his own. I refused with thanks, but he would not take no. The upshot of it was that he lent me his .30 Government Winchester, and gave me several boxes of ammunition. Also he presented me with a cowhide lasso. Whereupon Romer-boy took a shine to Copple at once. "Say, you look like an Indian," he declared. With a laugh Copple replied: "I am part Indian, sonny." Manifestly that settled his status with Romer, for he piped up: "So's Dad part Indian. You'd better come huntin' with us."
We had for next day to look forward to the longest and hardest ride of the journey in, and in order to make it and reach a good camping site I got up at three o'clock in the morning to rout everybody out. It was pitch dark until we kindled fires. Then everybody rustled to such purpose that we were ready to start before dawn, and had to wait a little for light enough to see where we were going. This procedure tickled Romer immensely. I believed he imagined he was in a pioneer caravan. The gray breaking of dawn, the coming of brighter light, the rose and silver of the rising sun, and the riding in its face, with the air so tangy and nipping, were circumstances that inspired me as the adventurous start pleased Romer. The brush and cactus-lined road was rough, up hill and down, with ever increasing indications that it was seldom used. From the tops of high points I could see black foothills, round, cone-shaped, flat-topped, all leading the gaze toward the great yellow and red wall of the mesa, with its fringed borderline, wild and beckoning.
We walked our horses, trotted, loped, and repeated the order, over and over, hour by hour, mile after mile, under a sun that burned our faces and through choking dust. The washes and stream-beds were bleached and dry; the brush was sear and yellow and dust laden; the mescal stalks seemed withered by hot blasts. Only the manzanita looked fresh. That smooth red-branched and glistening green-leafed plant of the desert apparently flourished without rain. On all sides the evidences of extreme drought proved the year to be the dreaded anno seco of the Mexicans.
For ten hours we rode without a halt before there was any prominent change in the weary up- and down-hill going, in the heat and dust and brush-walled road. But about the middle of the afternoon we reached the summit of the longest hill, from which we saw ahead of us a cut up country, wild and rugged and beautiful, with pine-sloped canyon at our feet. We heard the faint murmur of running water. Hot, dusty, wet with sweat, and thirsty as sheep, we piled down that steep slope as fast as we dared. Our horses did not need urging. At the bottom we plunged into a swift stream of clear, cold water--granite water--to drink of which, and to bathe hot heads and burning feet, was a joy only known to the weary traveler of the desert. Romer yelled that the water was like that at our home in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and he drank till I thought he would burst, and then I had to hold him to keep him from wallowing in it.
Here we entered a pine forest. Heat and dust stayed with us, and the aches and pains likewise, but the worst of them lay behind. Every mile grew shadier, clearer, cooler.
Nielsen happened to fall in and ride beside me for several miles, as was often his wont. The drink of water stirred him to an Homeric recital of one of his desert trips in Sonora, at the end of which, almost dead of thirst, he had suddenly come upon such a stream as the one we had just passed. Then he told me about his trips down the west coast of Sonora, along the Gulf, where he traveled at night, at low tide, so that by daytime his footprints would be washed out. This was the land of the Seri Indians. Undoubtedly these Indians were cannibals. I had read considerable about them, much of which ridiculed the rumors of their cannibalistic traits. This of course had been of exceeding interest to me, because some day I meant to go to the land of the Seris. But not until 1918 did I get really authentic data concerning them. Professor Bailey of the University of California told me he had years before made two trips to the Gulf, and found the Seris to be the lowest order of savages he knew of. He was positive that under favorable circumstances they would practice cannibalism. Nielsen made four trips down there. He claimed the Seris were an ugly tribe. In winter they lived on Tiburon Island, off which boats anchored on occasions, and crews and fishermen and adventurers went ashore to barter with the Indians. These travelers did not see the worst of the Seris. In summer they range up the mainland, and they go naked. They do not want gold discovered down there. They will fight prospectors. They use arrows and attack at dawn. Also they poison the water-holes.
Nielsen told of some men who were massacred by Seris on the mainland opposite Tiburon Island. One man, who had gone away from camp, returned to hear the attack upon his companions. He escaped and made his way to Gyamus. Procuring assistance this man returned to the scene of the massacre, only to find stakes in the sand, with deep trails tramped around them, and blackened remains of fires, and bones everywhere. Nielsen went on to say that once from a hiding place he had watched Seris tear up and devour a dead turtle that he afterward ascertained was putrid. He said these Seris were the greatest runners of all desert savages. The best of them could outrun a horse. One Seri, a giant seven feet tall, could outrun a deer and break its neck with his hands.
These statements of Nielsen's were remarkable, and personally I believed them. Men of his stamp were honest and they had opportunities to learn strange and terrible facts in nature. The great naturalist Darwin made rather stronger claims for the barbarism of the savages of Terra del Fuego. Nielsen, pursuing his theme, told me how he had seen, with his own eyes--and they were certainly sharp and intelligent--Yaqui Indians leap on the bare backs of wild horses and locking their legs, stick there in spite of the mad plunges and pitches. The Gauchos of the Patagonian Pampas were famous for that feat of horsemanship. I asked Joe Isbel what he thought of such riding. And he said: "Wal, I can ride a wild steer bare-back, but excoose me from tacklin' a buckin' bronch without saddle an' stirrups." This coming from the acknowledged champion horseman of the southwest was assuredly significant.
At five o'clock we came to the end of the road. It led to a forest glade, overlooking the stream we had followed, and that was as far as our wagon could go. The glade shone red with sumach, and surrounded by tall pines, with a rocky and shady glen below, it appeared a delightful place to camp. As I was about to unsaddle my horses I heard the cluck-cluck of turkeys. Pulling out my borrowed rifle, and calling Romer, I ran to the edge of the glade. The shady, swift stream ran fifty feet or so below me. Across it I saw into the woods where shade and gray rocks and colored brush mingled. Again I heard the turkeys cluck. "Look hard, son," I whispered. "They're close." R.C. came slipping along below us, with his rifle ready. Suddenly Romer stiffened, then pointed. "There! Dad!--There!" I saw two gobblers wade into the brook not more than a hundred and fifty feet away. Drawing down with fine aim I fired. The bullet splashed water all over the turkeys. One with loud whirr of wings flew away. The other leaped across the brook and ran--swift as a deer--right up the slope. As I tried to get the sight on him I heard other turkeys fly, and the crack-crack of R.C.'s gun. I shot twice at my running turkey, and all I did was to scatter the dirt over him, and make him run faster. R.C. had not done any better shooting. Romer, wonderful to relate, was so excited that he forgot to make fun of our marksmanship. We scouted around some, but the turkeys had gone. By promising to take Romer hunting after supper I contrived to get him back to the glade, where we made camp.