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- Tales of Aztlan - 4/17 -


rolling on the grass, expired. "Carajo! a dead shot, for Dios!" exclaimed Don Emilio. "That will teach the heathen Indians to keep their distance; they will not be over-anxious to meet these two Christians at close quarters!"

We were not molested on this day nor on the next, but on the day thereafter we were in terrible danger. The Indians fired the dry grass, and if the wind had been stronger we must have been burned to death. As it was we were nearly suffocated from traveling in a dense smoke for several hours. Then, fortunately, we reached the bottom lands of the Arkansas River and were safe from fire, as the valley was very wide and covered with tall green grass which could not burn; and no sooner was the last wagon on safe ground than the fire gained the rim of the green bottomland. Our oxen were exhausted and in a bad plight, so we fortified and camped here for several days to recuperate before we forded the river. This took up several days, as the water was quite high and the river bottom a dangerous quicksand. To stop the wheels of a wagon for one moment meant the loss of the wagon and the lives of the cattle, perhaps. The treacherous sands would have engulfed them. Forty yoke of oxen were hitched to every vehicle, and we had no losses. On the other side we found the prairie burned over, and we traveled all day until evening in order to reach a suitable camping place with sufficient grass for our animals. As there was no water and the cattle were suffering, we were compelled to drive our herd back to the river and return again that same night. The rising sun found us under way again, and by noon we came to good camping ground with an abundance of grass and water.

CHAPTER III. THE MYSTERY OF THE SMOKING RUIN. STALKING A WARRIOR. THE AMBUSH

Now we were past the most dangerous part of our journey, leaving the Comanche country and entering the domain of the Ute Indians and other tribes, who were not as brave as the Arapahoes and Comanches. Here our caravan-formation was broken up and each outfit traveled separately at its own risk.

The next day we witnessed a most horrible and distressing sight. Willingly would I surrender several years of my allotted lifetime on earth if I could thereby efface forever the awful impression of this pitiful tragedy from my memory. Alas I that I was fated to behold the shocking sight! For days thereafter we plodded on, a sad-looking, sober, downhearted lot of men, grieved to distraction, and there I left the innocence of boyhood--wiser surely, but not better! We neared the still smoking ruins of what had once been a happy home. As I approached to gratify my curiosity, I met several of my companions, who were returning and who implored me not to go nearer. An old Mexican, ignorant, rough, and callous as he was, begged me, with tears streaming down his face, to retrace my steps. Alas, when would impulsive youth ever listen to wise counsel and take heed! I entered the ruins and saw a dark telltale pool oozing forth from under the door of a cellar. Oh, had I but then overcome my morbid curiosity and fled! But no! I must needs open the door and look in. I saw--I saw a beautiful whiskey barrel, its belly bursted and its head stove in!

The trip across the plains was a very healthful and pleasant experience to me. During the greatest heat and while the moon favored us, we often traveled at night and rested in daytime. By foregoing my rest, I found opportunity to hunt antelope and smaller game. I was very fond of this sport and indulged in it frequently. One day I sighted a band of antelope--these most beautiful and graceful animals. I tried to head them off, in order to get within rifle-shot distance, and drifted farther and farther away from camp until I must have strayed at least five miles. Like a rebounding rubber ball, their four feet striking the ground simultaneously, they fled until at last they faded from sight on the horizon, engulfed in a shimmering wave of heat, the reflection from a sun-scorched ground. Reluctantly I gave up the chase, as I could by no means approach the game, although they could not have winded me.

In order to determine the direction of our camp, I ascended a little hill, when I suddenly espied an Indian. He was in a sitting posture, less than a quarter of a mile away. Apparently he was stark naked and his face was turned away from me, for I saw his broad back where not covered by his long hair glisten in the hot rays of the sun. His gun was lying within reach of his right hand, but I could not see what he was doing. On the impulse of the moment I dropped behind a flowering cactus for concealment. Then I took counsel with myself and decided that it would be too risky to return to camp as I had intended to do. In that direction for a long distance the ground was gently rising and most likely the Indian would have seen me. I thought it probable that he had staked his horse out in some nearby gulch, and if seen I would have been at his mercy, as perhaps he was also in touch with other Indians of his tribe. I reasoned that I could not afford to make the mistake of incurring the risk to stake my life on the chance of escaping his observation. I had started out to hunt antelopes, but now I coolly prepared myself to stalk an Indian warrior instead. I went about it as if I were hunting a coyote. First of all, I ascertained the direction of the wind, which was very light. It blew from the quarter the Indian was in toward me. Next, lying on my stomach, I dug the large flowering plant up, and holding it by its roots in front of myself, I crawled toward my quarry, as a snake in the grass. Cautiously, stealthily, avoiding the slightest noise, and always on the lookout for snakes and thorns, I crept slowly on, making frequent halts to rest myself. Twice the Indian turned his head and looked in my direction, but apparently he did not perceive me. In this manner I came within easy gunshot distance. Now I took my last rest, and with my knife dug a hole in the ground and replanted my cactus shield firmly. Then I placed my rifle in position to fire and drew a fine bead on the nape of his neck.

"Adios, Indian brave, prepare thy soul to meet the great Spirit in the ever grassy meadows of the happy hunting grounds of eternity, for the spider of thy fate is weaving the last thread in the web of thy doom!" My finger was coaxing the trigger, when a feeling of intense shame rose fiercely in my breast. Was I, then, like unto this Indian, to take an enemy's life from ambush? Up I jumped with a challenging shout, my gun leveled, ready for the fight. "Por Dios, amigo, amigo!" cried the frightened Indian, holding up his hands. "No tengo dinero!" (I have no money. Don't shoot!) he begged, speaking to me in Spanish. Then I went to him and learned that he belonged to a wagon train, traveling just ahead of us. He was a full-blood Navajo, who had been made captive in a Mexican raid into the Navajo country. The Mexicans used to capture many Navajo pappooses and bring them up as bond servants or peons. This Indian told me that he had been following the same band of antelopes as myself, and on passing a beautiful hill of red ants, he yielded to temptation and thought he would have his clothes examined and laundered by the ants. These little insects are really very accommodating and work without remuneration. At the same time he likewise took a sun bath on the same liberal terms. This episode made me famous with every Spanish freighter over the Santa Fe trail, from Kansas into New Mexico.

Just before we reached the Cimarron country, which is very hilly and is drained by the Red River, and where we were out of all danger from Indians, I had a narrow escape from death. I was in the lead of our train and had crossed a muddy place in the road. I drove on without noticing that I was leaving the other teams far behind. A wagon stuck fast in the mire, which caused my companions a great deal of labor and much delay. At last I halted to await the coming of the other teams. Suddenly there fell a shot from the dense growth of a wild sunflower copse. It missed my head by a very close margin and just grazed the ear of one of the mules. I believe that if I had attempted to rejoin the train then I would have been killed from ambush. Instead, I quickly secured the brake of my wagon, then I unhooked the trace chains of the mules and quieted them and lay down under the wagon, ready to defend myself. I was, however, not further molested and my companions came along after a while. They had heard the shot and thought it was I who had fired it.

CHAPTER IV. A STRANGE LAND AND STRANGER PEOPLE

We were now within the boundaries of the Territory of Colorado and approaching the northern line of New Mexico. When we passed through Trinidad, which was then a small adobe town, we met Don Emilio Cortez again. He was at home in this vicinity and came for the express purpose of persuading me to come with him. "My good wife charged me to bring her that little gringo," he said; "she longs for an American son." "Our daughter, Mariquita, is now ten years of age, and has been asked in marriage by Don Robusto Pesado, a very rich man. But the child is afraid of him, as he is a mountain of flesh, weighing close on twelve arrobas. Now we thought that two years hence thou wilt be seventeen years old and a man very sufficient for our little Mariquita, who will then, with God's favor, be a woman of twelve years. She will have a large dowry of cattle and sheep, and as the saints have blessed us with an abundance of land and chattels, thou art not required to provide."

I thanked Don Emilio very kindly, but was, of course, too young then to entertain any thought of marrying. I was really sorry to disappoint him, as he seemed to have formed a genuine attachment for me and was seriously grieved by my refusal.

Rumor spreads its vagaries faster among illiterate people than among the enlightened and educated. Therefore, it was said in New Mexico long before our arrival there that Don Jose Lopez's outfit brought a young American, the like of whom had never been known before. He was not ignorant, as other Americans, for he not only spoke the Spanish, but he could also read and write the Castillan language. It was well known that most Americans were so stupid that they could not talk as well as a Mexican baby of two years, and that often after years of residence among Spanish people they were still ignorant of the language. And would you believe it, but it was the sacred truth, this little American, albeit a mere boy, had the strength of a man. He made that big heathen Navajo brute Pancho, the mayordomo of Don Preciliano Chavez, of Las Vegas, stand stark before him in his nakedness, with his hands raised to Heaven and compelled him, under pain of instant death, to say his Pater Noster and three Ave Marias. Others said that Don Jose Lopez was a man of foresight and discretion and saw that the Indians were on the warpath and very dangerous. Therefore, he prayed to his patron saint for spiritual guidance and succor. San Miguel, in his wisdom, sent this young American heretic, as undoubtedly it was best to fight evil with evil. And when the devil, in the guise of a coyote, led the Indians to the attack, then he was sorely wounded by the unerring aim of the gringito's rifle.

Others said that Don Jose Lopez had set up a shrine for the image of his renowned patron saint, San Miguel, in his provision wagon, which was being driven by the American boy, and the boy took the bullet which wounded the coyote so sorely out of the saint's mouth, who had bitten the sign of the cross thereon. And the evil one, in the likeness of the coyote, rolled in his agony on the grass when he was hit by the cross-marked bullet. Of course, the grass took fire and very nearly burned up the whole caravan.

Other people said they were not surprised to hear of miracles


Tales of Aztlan - 4/17

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