Follow the Sun
E. V. Pete Hester
Copyright Pending 2015
Butch Madison told this story to me several years ago and swore that everything he told was true and it happened exactly as he told it to the best of his recollection. I have tried to pass it on to you as close as I could to the way he told the story. His clarity of details in telling this story made me feel as if I was actually on the trip with him.
John David “Butch” Madison was riding into a strong breeze in the late afternoon of October 15, 1875 thinking to himself the temperature felt more like late November. He could tell by the cutting cold of the wind that early snows would be arriving soon. He had pulled his parker from his bed roll a few miles back down the trail. Now he was trying to find a camping spot for the night and was sure hoping for some cover from the wind and also for some fresh water. He had made dry camps the past two nights and needed of a good cup of coffee. He could see that just a mile or two ahead was the start of some hill country. Not mountains by any means, but the tops of the hills were covered in brush and small trees giving Butch hope of a spring being available.
As he made his way into the hills, he was following a dry stream bed. That did a couple of things for Butch. One, it sandy bottom gave him a better and easier trail to follow and two, the hills and brush had cut the strength of the wind allowing Butch to survey the country side better and afforded some measure of protection. The size of the brush was getting taller and greener as he gained altitude and the dark green made him suspect that a spring was nearby. As he was looking the brush over to determine just where water may be located, he saw a thin whisk of smoke just over the top of the brushes. Not a lot, but enough to know someone had a campfire going and they were trying to keep it smokeless. Soon, the whisk of smoke disappeared, but Butch had already dismounted and was leading his horse toward that spot. He proceeded with caution, lifting then dropping his Colt 45 to make sure it was free in the holster in case he needed it. He knew that some lawbreakers used these hills as hideouts.
Butch stopped short of going into the campsite as he knew that was a good way to get shot. He could not see anyone, but he did not want the camper shooting at a noise he may make. He decided he should call out to the person or persons whose camp it was. “Hello, the camp….May I join you at your fire?” shouted Butch. Now Butch could smell coffee brewing, a very welcomed aroma and he hoped they were willing to share.
“You jest come on out, show yo self and I see if I be letting you come on in to my camp.”
Butch led his horse through the brush and out into the cleared area where man’s camp was located. Water was flowing from the spring creating a small stream of about six to eight inches across and three or four inches deep, but it looked very refreshing to Butch. A coffee pot was situated over the camp fire smelling very good. A black man in a worn military uniform was standing with his hand over his six shooter giving Butch a “once over” trying to determine if Butch posed a problem for him.
Butch spoke, “Howdy, friend…. Man, that coffee sure smells good. I hope you have enough to share with me. How about it?”
“Yeah, I reckon I got plenty fer the two of us. Come on in and pour yo’self a cup. You kind of snook up on me, I must be a’gettin old. I’m jest glad you wasn’t one of them old ‘Paches.” He was picking up the coffee pot as he was speaking and Butch was taking his coffee cup out of his pack at the same time. Butch’s horse was determined to get to the small stream for a little drink of water. The horse won. Butch forgot about the coffee until he could get his horse tied up and unsaddled near the stream and at a spot that the grass was green and plentiful. The other man’s horse was teetered nearby.
Butch made his way back to the campsite with his pack and saddle. He was appreciating the smell of the coffee and the break from the wind he had been fighting all day. There were enough trees and brush nearby to give them pretty good cover.
“My name is Butch Madison, how you doing today?” said Butch as he extended his hand to the black man. The man was in a tattered army private’s uniform. He was either at one time a soldier or he had begged or borrowed the uniform from someone. The man took his hand and gave him a very firm handshake. He was a dark colored black man, flared nostril’s, broad shoulders and stood about six foot two or three and he had a very nice smile, and thinning nappy hair.
“My name is Henry Clark. Lately, I be following the sun. I got me a disability discharge from the U. S. Army two years ago and I been hanging out down ‘round Leasburg in New Mexico territory, trying to make a living. Ain’t no jobs for a man round thar, especially a black man. I tried working for that man what ran the saloon. He paid me 5 dollars a month.”
“Now, he did feed me once a day, sometimes twice if business be good, and he let me sleep in the old shed out back. So I can’t say he be mean to me either. You know, one time I be a slave off down yonder in Georgia. So I know what somebody being mean is all about. Course, you probably don’t know nothing ‘bout that kind’a stuff. In them days, they take a whip to you for sassin’ or smart mouthing the old Massa. They really be mean.”
He paused, taking a drink of coffee. “But President Lincoln, he done stopped all that slavery stuff and I am proud of it. We be free now. Just like you be free. I don’t plan on running back down yonder to Georgia just ‘cause we be free. I just as soon stay out heah. This country be rugged but it treats everybody the same. That’s what I like about it.”
Butch had taken his saddle and pack and placed them under one of the taller bushes lining the camp. He had leaned back against it, sitting on the saddle blanket, enjoying the coffee. Some of the blanket covered his legs that had been exposed to the blowing wind for several hours today and having them covered was feeling pretty good. The brush and nearby rock blocked most of the wind and while it was not cozy, it was much better than being exposed to its full measure. He had not had any conversation for several days and he wanted to sip his coffee, so he was ok with letting the talkative black man speak his mind.
“Shoot, I was a private in the Army a ’fore I be discharged. They paid us 13.00 dollars a month and gave us a rations allowance. It wasn’t much, but a fellow could live on it. Now, a ‘fore 1870, they paid us privates 16.00 a month and rations, but you know how the gov’ment works, they be cuttin’ back and all. All us soldiers shore be mad about that cut in pay, but they said, “you be mad if’n you want to, but that’s the way it gonna be.” But it was sure good duty when I was serving the U. S. Army. I had it good them days, onlyest thing was, I didn’t know it at the time. Then they had all them boys been serving in the Civil War coming out west, so they was getting’ too many soldiers. About that time they give me that disability discharge. I shore hated that.” Henry warmed up his coffee again and offer more to Butch before resuming his story, settling back down on his saddle blanket and leaning against a small tree.
“Now, let me tell you about that.”
“My old horse was acting up this one morning, jest out of the blue. Most of the time he was a good horse, he ain’t ever reared up on me befo’. We was getting’ ready to go chase after old Chief Victorio. You know ‘bout him don’t ya. He be the leader of one of them’ Pache tribes. They call’um the Warm Springs Paches cause they live up yonder at them hot springs.”
” Well, anyway, when I climbed on him he throwed me about 15 feet up in the air and I come down on my leg, my right leg, with all my weight on it and my buddy, who be settin’ over yonder about twenty feet away, done heard that bone snap whenever I come down.”
” Lordy mercy, that shore hurt. I never be the same after that. It healed up and all, but it never be jest rite. Onlyest thing good ‘bout that day was I didn’t have to go out chasing old Chief Victorio.” He paused taking a good sip of coffee. ” Laid me up for a good while, too.”
“My leg never was jest right again after that day. I had me a limp, hard to march, and hard to keep up. So Cap’t had me doing clean up details and all and complained ever day ‘bout me being slow moving a’round. Wasn’t no pleasing that man, I tell you.”
“Well, short time later our old Capt’n say they be a cuttin’ back anyway and for me to jest go on and find something else to do. He be givin’ me a disability discharge ‘cause I wasn’t good ‘nough to be a soldier no more. That shore did get me, but it wasn’t nothing a body could do ‘bout it, that’s for sho’. So heah I be.”
Henry was looking this stranger over and wondering about him as he was speaking to him. He was a good looking middle aged man, over six foot tall and he was packing a six-shooter like he knew how to use it. It hung just about where the man’s hand rested when relaxed at his side. He had seen men like him around Leasburg and most of them were always looking for someone to fast draw against. They called them gunfighters and bounty hunters. They were a pretty tough breed so it made Henry wonder about this guy.
“How come you be riding out this heah way, boss. Which way you be headin’?” Henry paused a bit. “Let me pour you some more coffee. I be making another pot. Matter of fact, if you got something to eat in yo’ saddle bags, I be really appreciating if you share with me. I’ll fix some more coffee fer us.”
Butch agreed that he did have some beans, bacon and hardtack in his saddle bags, so he got up, opened his pack and proceeded to cook. He gave a small piece of jerky for the Henry to nibble on until the bacon and beans were ready. The black man poured the rest of the coffee into both their cups and proceeded to make a fresh pot.
The conversation died down while supper was cooking and Henry was munching on the jerky. Butch knew also that tonight was going to be pretty chilly, so he placed several rocks around the fire to be warming up. They would place them into their bedrolls and it sure would make for warmer sleeping.
After the beans and bacon were ready and they had started eating, Henry still did not have his questions answer, so he asked Butch again about what he was doing riding out in these parts. He made no bones about his concerns. He up and asked Butch, “You be running from the law? That how come you way out here in this country? I ain’t gonna be turning you in or nothing like that, but if you be a bad man, I sho’ would appreciate you not beatin’ up on me tonight.” Henry was smiling when he said that but it was a weak smile for sure.
“Well, Henry, I reckon you lucked out tonight. Until a month ago, I was a U. S. Marshall. But I quit that job. I just got tired of chasing crooks, you know what I mean? I just wanted to do something for myself for a change. I heard about California, about the gold diggings and easy money that is to be made out that way…Or so they tell me there is lots of money to be made out there. I don’t really know myself, so I am going to check it out. You said you were following the sun. I guess you could say the same thing about me. Anyway, that’s kind of my story.”
“Well, that makes me feel lots better, I mean, knowing you be a lawman at one time. I can sleep better tonight if’n I don’t have to keep one eye open on you. I been by myself for a long time and I don’t know how to act with somebody else ‘round come sleeping time.”
” You reckon we need to worry ‘bout “Paches” round these here parts? I heah most of them done been put on a reservations out in Arizona. There be a bunch of outlaw Indians that ain’t ever gonna go to no reservation, what I been hearing.” Henry seemed a little concerned about them coming around.
“Probably not tonight, but tomorrow is a different story. They are all around these parts, that’s for sure. We just have to watch out for them. They have been rounded up and put on the reservations, but a lot of them will not stay there. They keep running off when things don’t go their way.” While Butch was talking he was looking things over to determine the cover they might have in case of some attack.
“Hey, Mr. Butch, a’fore you go to sleep tonight, would you be thinking on me and you following the sun together? I heard about California some time ago and wondered about it. And traveling out heah in these parts I get pretty lonesome, time to time, and I kind’a like you. I mean riding together and sharing coffee and jerky and stuff. I be pretty handy round a camp fire and a good hunter…..Well, you jest sleep on it and let me know tomorrow, ok/”
“Henry, no need to wait ‘til tomorrow. Be ready to ride early. I think you will be good company for me. We might need one another crossing this rugged country….. Good night, Henry” said Butch as he was adjusting the warm rocks in his sleeping bag.
“Good night, Mr. Butch. Yes suh, it shore be rugged country, you got that right..” Henry said as he stuffed some warm rocks into his blanket also, his voice already sounding about half asleep.
Butch and Henry awoke just about the same time next morning. Henry stirred the fire, putting on a couple of small logs and proceeded to make the coffee. Butch was busy getting out several pieces of jerky and hardtack for each of them to chew on during the ride that day. They did not plan to stop again until night fall. There were a few beans and bacon left from supper last night so they were warmed and eaten for breakfast. Two cups of coffee for each man to wash down the beans and they were ready to break camp. They had only known each other a few hours but already they were acting like a team. In very short order, gear had been stowed and they were ready to move out. Butch had a deer gut full of water and four canteens full. He knew that water was the most precious commodity they would have traveling in this country. Henry had about the same for water storage so they should be ok for a full day of riding.
“Henry, we did not discuss which route you wanted to take west, but I prefer to follow the Gila River. I reckon it is probably 30 to 40 miles northwest of where we are right now. But it will furnish us water for many miles across this barren land. What is your thoughts on that/”
“Yeah suh, when we be chasing old Cochise back yonder a few years ago, we be following the Gila River for a ways. It had some pretty good dranking water and a fellow could take him a bath pretty regular too. Yas suh, I be thinking jest like you on that. The Gila River be a good way to go.”
The early morning chill wore off the air about mid-morning and both Henry and Butch started shedding some of their clothing. It turned into a warm day so the men stopped pretty often too rest and give the horses a small drink of water.
Nearing sundown the Gila River was still not in sight. They had ridden hard all day and they knew they had traveled more than 30 miles. Butch was sure the Gila was out there in front of them and he wanted to ride as long as possible during daylight to try and find it.
After traveling a few more miles, the horses sensed the river before Henry and Butch did, they flared their nostrils and picked up the pace, ready for a good drink of water. Shortly, they topped a hill and the green valley of the Gila River came into view. They had enough daylight left to pick out a fair camp site for the night. The campsite was nothing special, but there was plenty of water for coffee and a good sponge bath for both of them, and wood for a good fire. The horses were tethered near the plentiful tall grass and water. They seemed to think it was a pretty good place to be as they drank their fill and splashed around in the water before starting on the grass.
The conversation was very brief, probably because they were so late starting the camp and they were both very tired from the extra-long, hard and hot ride of the day. About sun down the cold started setting in again and the temperature drop was very noticeable. After more beans and bacon, the men heated rocks for their blankets, turning in as soon as supper was finished. It looked like and felt like snow was coming to Butch, so he took out his rain gear and covered his sleeping area with it. Both men bedded down under a grove of tall bushes near the river that offered a degree of protection from the weather.
Sure enough come morning there was two or three inches of snow on the ground. Both decided they should move on out without cooking, electing to munch on jerky, hoping the day would warm up some. It didn’t. The snow kept falling. Because of this early snowfall, Butch thought to himself that they may be facing a long hard winter. He thought it would probably be better for them to find a good place to hang out for a time, maybe even all winter, if it was a good, safe and provided protection from the elements.
After a few miles, Henry pointed out an overhang that was six or eight feet higher than the river and looked to have covered area for them and the horses. The opening was 10 feet or so across and it was carved back about fifteen feet into the mountain. Both men could stand with room to spare.
Wood was in plentiful supply, so they decided to make an early camp and do some cooking. They gathered up plenty of firewood and built a bigger than usual fire. They ringed the camp fire with rocks to keep it contained, placing a few rocks around for sitting on. They were hoping they were the only ones out tonight and that the big fire would not bring in any strangers.
Butch decided for tonight that he would use the beans and bacon along with some chipped up jerky, a little flour to thicken it, salt and pepper, and made a soup to help warm them up. He would make plenty so they would have some for tomorrow also. The jerky provided the meat stock the soup needed to give it some stew taste.
Henry said, “Mr. Butch, you be a pretty good cook. That soup sho hits the spot on a cold night like tonight. If we could block that old wind from us, this heah be a pretty good spot. You got any idee’s on how we can do that.”
“Yeah, I looked over the brush around here. I have a pretty good hatchet, so we will build us a front to this overhang and I think it will make a pretty good shelter. We can do it tomorrow and either wait out the storm or maybe hole up here until the worst of winter is over. I think it is going to be an early winter and a hard winter, so we might want to get prepared. Let’s talk it over tomorrow, ok?”
“It sho’ be ok with me. If we can find some deer and rabbits around heah, we can put up a bunch of meat for the winter and dry some for jerky too. We be sleeping on it, I reckon.”
“I reckon,” came the weak response from a sleepy and tired Butch.
Butch had just drifted off to sleep when he heard this screaming, a high pitched voice down by the river, making his skin crawl. The person was surely screaming some words, but was not speaking a language that Butch could understand. He was pretty sure the voice belonged to a female and probably an Indian. Both Henry and Butch grabbed their guns and moved quickly away from the glow of the fire. The fire was still glowing very brightly and is probably why the person came toward the camp.
In the moonlight they could see it was a squaw and she on her knees out near the river, with her hands stretched upward toward the sky. Every so often she would blurt out a few words in a sing song crying voice. She was making a very unsettling, sorrowful and sad sound to Henry and Butch.
“What you reckon be wrong wid that squaw, Mr. Butch. You reckon some of her family done been killed or something? She be carryin’ on something awful,” said Henry as the squealing squaw kept up the racket.
“I don’t know, Henry. You keep me covered from up here and I will go down and see what I can do. I am sure she knows we are here and this may be some type ploy to get us to come out or something. I’ll try and bring her into camp if she doesn’t give me a problem. You keep you gun handy just in case.”
Butch made his way the short distance down the embankment to the river’s edge. The squaw was kneeling in the edge of the water and it was freezing cold. It appeared as though she had been washing her face in the river. As Butch got closer he could see blood on her face. She did not even look in Butch’s direction as he approached her. When he put his hand on her shoulder she jumped and looked startled. Butch tried helping her up with his hands under her arms while keeping a watch on her hands to make sure a knife was not present.
She allowed him to help her and looked at him with a blank stare. While she was looking up he could tell that her nose had been cut pretty bad, not completely off, but nearly so. One nostril had been cut back to about the center of the nose and then the cut turned like it was going across the nose. She had caked blood on her face as well as fresh blood, so her washing had started the cut to bleeding again.
Butch took her on into camp, put some more wood on the fire, and wrapped her in his saddle blanket. The buckskin dress she was wearing was tattered and wet. The firelight allowed Butch to get a good look at the squaw. She was dirty and her hair was matted and she had a dull, emotionless look in her eyes. Butch had trouble determining if there was more blood or dirt on her face. It was hard for him to put an age on the girl but he reasoned she could be anywhere from a young teenager to a twenty year old. Certainly she was not an old squaw.
They warmed some water and Butch found a cloth he could use to wash her face. Her eyes followed him closely, but she allowed him to work on her without fussing. After the washing, he remembered some aloe cactus near the entrance to the overhang. He went out and cut a stalk and applied some of the sap to the wound, gently rubbing it all over her nose and cheek area. She had not made another sound since her last scream down by the river.
“Mr. Butch, you know what that means, don’t you, I mean the way she be cut and all. She done been messin’ round wid some other Buck and her Buck done found out about it and he tried to cut her nose off. That what they do to a squaw what done been screwing round on they old man. Them folks wild. Then they kicked her butt out of the camp ‘cause they don’t want her hanging round messin’ wid somebody else’s buck. This gal be looking for a place to stay. She be marked for life. However, it do look like she didn’t let them finish they job of cuttin’ her nose all the way off. Her hands be cut too, so she be fighting them back looks like to me” said Henry, while Butch continued to clean her up, and nodding in agreement all the while Henry was talking.
After cleaning and dressing her face, he started on her hands. He was cleaning several weeks of dirt off both her face and hands. His wash water was almost black and her complexion had lightened about three shades. He wondered at the time if there could be a real beauty under this bloody and swollen face. The nostril and cheek area had some bruising and swelling also.
“You better be taking them old wet moccasin off her too, boss. That got to be cold on her. She be takin’ her a death of pneumonia if we don’t warm her up some. I get some of them warm rocks and put them under that saddle blanket wid her. You reckon she be lettin’ us take off that wet dress she be wearing. She might thank we be goin’ after her if we do that, you reckon?”
Butch said, “I don’t know, but we do need to try.” He immediately grabbed her moccasins and started tugging them off her feet. She made no protest at all, just looking him over good. “Henry, put the soup back on the fire. I have an extra cup in my stuff and I will pour her a cup. That will help warm her up and also signify to her that we mean her no harm.”
Henry had put some of the warm rocks under the blanket next to her body. She seemed to welcome them and made no efforts to stop him.
While Butch was in his bag he remembered his extra pair of pants and an extra shirt.. They would be too large for this squaw, however they could fashion some straps to keep them up, at least until her skirt dried. The size of the shirt would not matter.
Butch showed the pants to the squaw and motioned to her that he wanted her to take off the buckskin dress. He was met with a blank stare. He felt very awkward taking her dress off her because she had on no underclothing. She stayed partially covered by the saddle blanket and maybe that offered her some degree of feeling covered. Both Henry and Butch, while trying not to stare, noticed the nicely shaped breasts and legs on the girl. However, she did not seem to mind Butch removing her clothing and let him slip the pants on her legs and pull them up. He tied rawhide string to the belt loop and made straps for suspenders. He figured that would do for tonight and tomorrow they would try for something better. He put the shirt over the tailor made pants he had just made her.
By the time he finished that chore, Henry had the soup warmed up and delivered to her. She accepted it and downed the soup in just a few gulps. She handed the cup back to Henry and indicated to him she wanted more. He made a couple of more trips back to the fire for more soup for her. Butch got out a piece of jerky and hardtack and she seemed pleased with that gift.
“Boy, I don’t know how far this girl has traveled but she sho act like she ain’t et nothing in a while. I believe she come up to our fire purposely just to be getting’ some food. She ain’t got nothing that I can see.” Henry started looking around to see if a horse or anything was hitched nearby. He spoke, “Look yonder, Mr. Butch, on the other side of the river. That be her horse over there. You reckon we ought to go fetch it? She got it tied to that bush over yonder so it probably be alright fer tonight.”
“I think it will be ok myself, Henry. We will get it come first light. We might wade off into a deep pool going across the river in the middle of the night. Tomorrow we can go across by picking out our crossing spot. We’ll do it then.”
The squaw had curled up in the blanket near the warm rocks placed close to her and was sound asleep or at least pretended to be asleep.
“Henry, let’s keep watch for tonight. I’ll take the first watch; let’s do about two hours each watch, that way we can both get a little sleep. Ok?”
“Ok, you wake me when it’s my time, Mr. Butch.”
Butch had the 5th and 6th hour watch and it was just getting daylight at 6 o’clock. Butch stirred the fire and added a few logs. After starting the coffee, he decided to cross the river for the squaw’s horse. By now Henry was up stirring around, but the squaw was still sleeping. Apparently, that girl had experienced some difficult times as she had not stirred at all to Butch’s knowledge.
Butch selected a crossing place where he did have to step into the river a couple of times, but the rest of the time rocks provided stepping stones for him. The squaw’s horse was pretty docile and let Butch lead him across the river. Butch noticed that the squaw’s horse tracks were still visible in the snow. He wondered at that time if any of the bucks from her tribe would try and follow her. He doubted that since she had been kicked out of the tribe for her apparent indiscretions.
By the time he got back in camp, the squaw and Henry were having a cup of coffee. Butch went over to the squaw and check out the condition of her nose. She did not make a fuss of Butch looking her face over. The cleaning rag he had used on her last night was nearby and he rinsed it out and proceeded to clean the wound and dress it with more aloe from the cactus stalk. It looked much better than it did last night. He figured had he not cleaned it up some it would have probably gotten infected. He examined her hands and cleaned and put aloe on them also. They looked much better today. This morning her eyes showed more emotion than last night and Butch got the feeling that the squaw did trust them, to a degree anyway.
“Hey, Mr. Butch, how ‘bout us naming this heah squaw? She seems like she gonna be heah wid us a spell and it just don’t seem natural to keep calling her squaw. What you thank?” asked Henry.
“Well, I suppose we could come up with a name. Why don’t we think on it for a while and if she continues to hang around, maybe we will. She may run off before the day is over also,” said Butch.
“Nah suh, I don’t think so. I can see the satisfied look on her face right now. You see how relaxed she be. She look happy. Now some women be like that. They find somebody that do fer them and they sho do like it. I believe she be heah to stay. You know them “Paches let they squaws do all the work. I mean them squaws do ever thang ‘cept fight and they probably do that to if’n they need to. They cook. They gather fire wood. They plant the crops and then they harvest the crops. They make they clothes. They dry they meat. They tan the deer hides. I mean them squaws do ever thang. Them “Paches got’um trained, that’s what I’m saying.” Henry laughed a little bit and looked over at the squaw, who returned the smile at Henry as if she knew what he was saying. “I been branging her coffee this morning and she still laying thar under that blanket, ain’t moved a muscle and she just eat up that ‘tention you be giving her washing and cleaning and doctoring her face. Nah suh, she ain’t goin’ no whar. She ain’t dumb, I reckon that what I be saying.” Chucking some more and now the squaw joins in the laughing. But, Butch reasons to himself that Henry’s laugh is an infectious laugh and that is why the squaw laughs and she does not really know what he is saying. However, he does wonder about it.
Henry continues with the conversation. “I recollect that down yonder where I worked in Leasburg, one of them ‘hoes called another one of them ‘hoes, Lazy Jane, cause she never help out with any of the work them girls had to do. Now, they didn’t want that girl to know that was calling her lazy, so they jest called her L.J. for short. Meaning Lazy Jane. So, I reckon, lest this gal does something one of the days, we can call her Lazy Jane. Then if’n she do get off her lazy ass and do some work, then we can jest call her Jane. What you thank on that?” asked Henry.
Butch had a good laugh on that one and said, “L. J., it is Henry. That will be a good name for her. I think she may help out when she rests up a bit. We’ll see.”
While Henry and Butch had been discussing the name for the squaw, she had gotten up and was looking across the river. At first Butch could not see a thing, then letting his eyes scan the horizon, he noted several Indians on horseback coming in a hurry. He could count six. The squaw walked out a ways from the overhang and crouched down behind a big rock. She never took her eyes off the oncoming Indians. Then she started mumbling something in Indian and the more she talked the louder and more excited she became.
“Henry, do you suppose these bucks could be coming after the squaw. Or do you think they are a hunting party?” asked Butch.
“Nah suh, I don’t think they be no hunting party. They riding to hard fer that and they following right in them tracks what the squaw left. They be coming heah. Now why they want her, I don’t know. But I believe they be coming fer her. Maybe she took one of them buck’s hoss. Now that may be what happened. Now, they can get a squaw anywhere, but its hard to get a good hoss. Then bucks don’t take kindly to folks taking they hoss so that’s what I be favoring.” The Indians were now close enough they were slowing their ponies down and when they saw Butch and Henry were with the squaw, they stopped.
One of the warriors rode out away from the others by twenty or thirty yards and yelled something in Apache. This buck was a big and vicious looking warrior, holding his rifle in his right hand and the reins in the left.
The squaw yelled something back. Whatever she said got his dander up. He yell something back in yet a louder voice. The squaw jumped up, grabbed Butch’s rifle right out of his hand, fired at the buck and hitting him in the chest, knocking him off his horse.
Immediately, the other bucks were off their horses and taking cover and beginning to fire at them. The scattered rocks around the cave entrance were not the best cover in the world, especially for three people. Butch grabbed his rifle back from the squaw and started firing. Henry had already taken up the fight. After a few rounds of firing at one another, Butch spoke up, “Henry, let’s quit firing until we can actually see someone to shoot at. We are wasting ammunition that we cannot afford to waste.”
“I sho do wish I knowed what we be fightin’ bout, don’t you. I jest wonder what that old buck was a hollering at L.J. ‘bout. You reckon he mad ‘cause he didn’t cut that nose all the way off?” Henry laughed. Butch did too.
Henry continued, “Nah, he ain’t gonna be ridin’ out heah in this cold to cut off no hoe’s nose. He ain’t gonna do that I don’t speck. If’n she took something that belong to him, he may chase her for that.” He continued laughing. “I never ‘pected when she came into our camp we gonna be having all this excitement, did you, Mr. Butch?”
Butch had been listening to Henry talk while watching the Indians. He had relaxed somewhat, answered his question, then suddenly the squaw grabbed Henry’s rifle and stood up and started shooting at the Indians. It sounded like every bullet hit the rock they were hiding behind.
Henry grabbed his rifle back and pulled the squaw down all in the same motion.
“Henry, get that squaw back under the overhang. Pile up several of those big rocks until you have a pile she can get behind. You and I will take turns up here firing at the bucks. If they look like they are going to fire at us, you shoot. Otherwise, let’s just have a Mexican standoff. We can last a lot longer in this cold than they can.”
After Henry fashioned a cover of sorts for the squaw, Butch handed Henry a piece of jerky and he also gave a piece to the squaw. He hope this would slow the action down and let the Indians suffer a little more from the cold and maybe leave.
Henry was shooting every few minutes. Butch lay down and crawled over to warm the coffee and put another log on the fire. He was hoping to flush the Indians out to come on toward their position or to become discouraged with the lack of action and leave.
After he had finished a cup, he took Henry a cup and took over the shooting chore. While he was watching the Indians, the warriors loaded the shot Indian across a horse’s back as if he was dead. One of the bucks stood up and shouted something and immediately the squaw stood and yelled back. She tried to take Henry’s rifle and he would not let her have it. She went out in front of the overhang and picked up a rock and threw it at them. It splashed in the middle of the river. Henry yelled, “That’s showing them L.J. That’ll run they butts off. You can tell they be scared.” He was laughing pretty good over that.
The bucks shot at the squaw, hitting the rocks in front of her, spraying rock shards everywhere. The squaw jumped and came running back under the overhand and dove behind the rock pile Henry had built.
The bucks left leading the horse with the dead buck on it. Butch and Henry were glad to see them go. They wondered out loud if they would be back at a later time. “I still don’t thank they be coming up heah for that squaw. I bet you anything she done stole that hoss from one of them and it may have been the one she shot. She sho didn’t seem to have no regrets about shooting that old boy, now did she? You axe me, she shoot you and me jest as easy as she shot that old buck. I don’t know ‘bout you, but I be keeping my eyes on that woman. I thank she be mean as hell if’n you axe me. That’s how I feel ‘bout that and I don’t trust her one bit.”
“You sure may be right, Henry, and we should watch out for each other for a while. I hate to kick her out of our camp, but on the other hand I don’t want her hurting either one of us. Probably be best if we posted a watch every night for a while, 2 hours on and 2 hours off, keeping an eye on her and watching out for Indians sneaking up ‘round the camp. Let’s bring more rocks up here from the river bed to give us a little more cover and bring as much firewood and water as we can keep here in our camp. We need to build a place to picket the horses and provide them a little cover if it starts snowing hard again. We need to plan to be around here a few more days so we might as well make it as safe as possible. You agree?”
“I sho do. Which one we gonna do first?”
“Let’s get the rocks up here for a little more protection. That will help. See if you can make L. J. understand she needs to gather some fire wood.”
Henry was immediately pointing to the fire and the wood piled by it and then pointing out away from the overhang, making the gesture of bringing in firewood for the fire. She jumped up and started right away. Butch was impressed and gave Henry a big smile. Henry was already smiling. “Lazy Jane may get a new name pretty soon, huh?” said Henry.
They piled the rocks a couple of feet high for a six or eight foot span. On the top rocks they left a crack of several inches for placing their guns while firing. By the time Henry and Butch had built the protection wall, L. J. had a stack of firewood placed near the rear of the overhang. Butch had motioned that L. J. should now fill the water guts at the river and bring back into the camp.
Butch and Henry took the hatchet and cut some limbs from the bush and trees and fashioned a corral for the horses. They allowed the corral to extend over the river for a couple of feet to where the horses could get to the water. Grass was plentiful in this area of the river valley so the horses would have plenty to eat.
“We need some deer meat, Henry. One of us need to try for one this evening. I think they will be coming down to the river for water around sundown. One of us needs to watch L. J. and fix supper while the other one does some hunting. Which one do you want to do?” asked Butch.
“Mr. Butch, you be a much better cook than I be. So, I will get us a deer and you stir us up some beans. I figure we can fix us some venison to go wid them beans. I always be a good hunter. You can get ready for you some meat.”
“Well, ok then. You bring it in then, Henry,” said Butch laughing.
The beans were beginning to boil when Butch heard Henry’s rifle. He immediately started making some sticks to cook the venison over the fire. Even L. J. smiled.
Henry skinned the deer after cutting off the tenderloin to be used for the next two or three meals, depending on how hungry the three of them were. After skinning, they hung the deer hide up and stretched it on the back part of the overhang for drying and scraping.
The beans, deer meat. hard tack and coffee hit the spot. L. J. ate just as much as Henry and Butch. While they were eating, Butch got L. J.’s attention and pointed to Henry, “Henry……Henry….” Putting his finger up against Henry’s chest, again repeated, “Henry.” She said something close to Henry, but it sounded more like “Enry”.
Then Butch pointed to himself, “Butch…..Butch.” This time the Butch came out sounding like Butch a little more. Butch then pointed at her. “You?”.
“Tah-dos-ta” she said pointing to herself. “Tah-dos-ta” she repeated. Both Henry and Butch repeated the name trying to pronounce it as L. J. did. Henry remarked that saying that name would be a lot of work. He wanted to continue to call her Jane. Butch allowed that would be ok, but they needed to call her by her Apache name from time to time, just to be nice to her. Henry agreed.
They continued to dry the deer meat just in case they needed to move on. It was cut into strips and put over the fire on branches of wood placed very close together but high enough over the fire to keep the branches from catching fire.
A couple of days had passed and the hard work on the cave had been productive. Jane continued to work on the deer hide. Henry was pretty sure she was going to claim it. That was ok with him. He had blankets and extra clothing while Jane had nothing accept what she was wearing.
Butch and Henry had placed their bed rolls out from the fire a ways, but still under the overhang. They did not want the light from the dying fire to illuminate them to anyone sneaking up on the camp. Jane bedded down behind the rocks that Henry had placed for her to get behind during the shoot-out with her “friends”.
After another tiring day of working on the cave and making it safer, Henry and Butch had gone to bed early. They were snoring when Jane crawled by them on the way to the corral. Butch and Henry’s horse whined as Jane mounted hers and rode away. This woke up both Butch and Henry who saw her cross the river, riding off in the direction that the Indians had left. The full moon was giving off lots of light tonight, helping her find her way.
“Mr. Butch, I reckon she be going back to finish the job with them other warriors. Is that what you be thinking?” asked Henry.
“Man, I have no idea. Looks like she took a couple pieces of meat with her and she took my saddle blanket. Man, I needed that. I hope she plans on coming back. I don’t think that tribe will accept her back, so I don’t know what she has in mind. She could be leaving us to strike out on her own. Who knows the mind of an Indian squaw? She may or may not be back. It is probably a couple of days ride to that tribe’s camp, so we will see I guess.” Butch sounded disappointed that she had left them.
The next day the weather had cleared and most of the snow had melted. The middle of the day temperatures were pretty warm allowing Butch and Henry to wash clothes and bathe. Socks and long johns were hanging all around the camp site. The warm rocks turned out to be a good place to dry their clothes.
The second day after Jane had left Butch decided he would try for another deer in order to have a good supply of meat, either for this camp or to dry to take with them.
He was successful finding a buck coming to the river for water a short ways from camp. Butch had been downwind from the buck and the buck had put enough of his head from out behind a bush allowing Butch to get off a head shot, downing the buck and saving all the meat. Henry arrived in time to help skin the buck. He took the liver to the fire to prepare for supper. The beans had been on the fire all day, Butch reasoned that if Jane came back she would be very hungry. He was beginning to wonder if she was coming back since this was the second day she had been gone. He found that he missed having her around. Her being around changed the feeling of the camp, in his opinion at least, as he really enjoyed having her with them.
The liver and beans, coffee and hardtack had been a pretty good meal. Both Butch and Henry were ready to bed down when they heard a horse crossing the river. The night was pretty dark and both Butch and Henry scattered from the fire, picking up their rifles as they went. Jane spoke up, saying her name,” Tah-dos-ta”, letting them know it was her. They stood, holding the rifles at ready just in case. Jane put her horse in the corral, along with another horse she was using as a pack animal. She had brought up a fairly large bed roll and had to return to the pack animal for more stuff. Butch could see his saddle blanket in with her other stuff.
She went to the area she had been sleeping in before she left and placed her belonging in that area. She had several deerskins robes, buckskin dresses, other odds and ends including some vases and urns, and some food stuffs that neither Butch nor Henry recognized.
Henry and Butch retired to their bedrolls and continued to watch Jane do her thing. She was oblivious to their stares and did not seem to be bothered by their looks at all.
She went down to the river and filled a vase with water which she placed over the fire. After it had heated some she stripped, preparing to bathe in the warm water. As the pants and shirt came off, both Butch and Henry were all eyes.
The clothing Jane had been wearing had hung loose and gave Jane the appearance of being slightly heavy. The first time they had undressed her they were really concerned about the knife wounds and not so much about her body. But not so now and she was not fat at all. She had a flat stomach, small firm breasts that apparently had never been suckled, narrow hips and beautiful long brown legs that were very nicely shaped. They looked at one another and grinned. But they did not look at each other very long as all their attention immediately returned to Jane since they did not want to miss any of the show.
She had a cloth that she dipped into the water and scrubbed her body. As she washed, the light glistened off her body making it all that more attractive and desirable. Henry looked over at Butch and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “This girl has a nice body and this is killing me”. She did have a gorgeous body and she was giving rise to some pleasant thoughts from them both. It was dreaming material for several nights to come.
After her bath, she took out a new or different buckskin dress and put it on. She spread the buffalo robes on the ground to sleep on and others for her cover. Butch’s pants and shirt was placed on the rocks. The show was over for tonight, so both boys could now go to sleep and dream their pleasant dreams. This was a very different Jane than they had seen before.
Neither one of them noticed her cut nose tonight, funny how that worked. Before going to bed, she did take the time to put some of the aloe sap on her nose and hands, applying it as if they were still very tender.
A smiling Butch and Henry snuggled up against the warm rocks, slipping their arms around them pretending it was the warm and beautiful Indian squaw, both expecting pleasant dreams.
At breakfast the next morning, Jane did not have to do anything. Butch and Henry out did themselves fixing breakfast and bringing it to her. Now Butch was thinking that there could have been a fight between the warriors over her attention. Someone may have been spurned and had marked her for life out of spite. She was a beauty and some warrior was not about to give her up easily. Someone would be coming for her, Butch knew that. This squaw was a real beauty.
This morning, Butch doctored her nose and hands again taking great pains looking her over. He admired her as long as he dared and then he figured he better get ready for some more fighting. Butch had told Henry that they should keep the camp stocked with firewood and water, just in case fighting did start.
The next morning Henry was bringing a water filled deer gut up from the river into the camp and was stumbling around on his bad leg, stepped on a rock and turned his ankle, bad. Before Butch could get the shoe off his foot the swelling had already set in. Butch doctored it as well as he could and gave him a drink of his snake bite medicine, which helped the pain somewhat. Butch now felt like this would have to be their home for a while.
Butch asked Henry if he thought if they should move on further west. Henry said, “Well, Mr. Butch, that’ll be ok wid me. I ain’t gonna be no help trying to help us move. And I guess it don’t matter to Jane. Them Indians know we be heah and that don’t help none. On the other hand, we got us a pretty good place heah. We got water, we got deer, and we got plenty fire wood and this heah little half cave makes a pretty good shelter. We gots a good view of the river and the other side case somebody trying to sneak up on us. That all helps. I can’t walk right now, but I be a good guard while you and Jane work and I got this little fort to guard from. We can put some more limbs and bush up heah in front and it give us a lot more protection from the wind. You axe me, we gonna have a long hard winter. I know it ain’t doin’ no snowing rite now, but I got a feeling it’s about to start again in a few days. How you be feeling about it, Mr. Butch?”
Butch was still nursing his last cup of coffee of the morning and was contemplating what Henry had just said. “I think you are right on all counts, Henry, and I think what matters most is having a protected place to put up for the winter. We are not in a hurry to make California. You have a bad foot. Staying here seems to be the answer at the moment.”
“We are short on supplies, especially coffee. It is about a two day ride over to Fort Bowie, Az. I make it about 50 miles south and west of where we are now. Just a little west of where those Indians were riding the other day. If it’s ok with you, I will leave Jane and you here and ride to Fort Bowie stocking up on supplies we will need for the winter and for the spring trip on toward California. I have been told there is a good trading post at the fort.”
“Well, that be just fine wid me. Only thing, could you get us a few bottle of snake bite medicine. My old foot be hurting something awful most days. I figure time to time we all gonna need some, don’t you reckon?’ Henry said, smiling just a little.
“Yeah, I reckon,” replied Butch. “We will work up a list of all we think we will need for our journey, including measuring Jane’s feet for shoes. Her moccasins have seen better days. I might buy a shirt or two extra and let her wear them from time to time, pants, too. Every time we think of something lets write it down on this list. Ok?” looking at Henry when he spoke.
“Now boss, you know I can’t do no reading and I can’t do no writing. Massas didn’t want his slaves knowing how to read and write so that’s something I jest can’t do,” giving Butch a pretty hard look.
Butch looked at Henry for a few seconds and then responded, “Well, Henry, this winter may be a perfect time for me to teach you how to read and write. Maybe Jane can join you in school also.”
“Well, now, that be pretty good of you boss. I be looking rite forward to that. But, for now, I’ll tell you what I want you to write down on that list,” said Henry. “That be ok for now, won’t it? And I am starting out our list wid snake bite medicine.” They both had a good laugh over that.
The next day just after sunrise Butch headed off toward Fort Bowie leading Jane’s pack animal with him. He intended to buy as much in the way of supplies as he could carry and that he could afford. He had several dollars of his U. S. Marshall’s salary on his person and on his horse, hidden in the saddle horn and some more in his saddle bag. So for now, money was not an issue. But on the other hand it was going to have to last him a long time.
He moved along at a pretty good clip, making camp one night and then arriving at Fort Bowie about mid-morning the second day. The troops were being mustered and it looked to Butch like they were about to embark on some campaign, possibly to fight some Indians. The man running the trading post was leaning against the door jamb watching the troops fall in. He was a big burly man who filled the doorway. As Butch approached him, he stepped inside and grunted out a “good morning”.
“What ya needing this morning, mister? I ain’t had a supply train in a few weeks and I am kind of low on supplies, but I might have a few things to help you out with. Still got plenty of beans, bacon and hard tack. Low on cheese, but I do have some left. Still got .44 and .45 shells if you needing ammo. Whiskey ain’t no problem, got plenty of that. Make my own. Got a few bottles of Kentuck’ made, but it’s high dollar stuff.”
Motioning over toward the troops, the store clerk said, ” Damn ‘Paches left the reservation again. That’s what them troops are getting ready to do, go fight a tribe out east of here and bring them back. I reckon its Cochise’s bunch, ain’t sure though. Ever since they ordered all the Apaches west of the Rio Grande River to be out here on the San Carlos Reservation, they been unruly. Chief Cochise of the Chiricahua and Chief Victorio of the Warm Springs Tribe ain’t taking it too kindly to be ordered onto the res.”
The man hesitated a moment then said, ” Well, I keep forgettin’, old Cochise died back last June, so his boy, name of Naiche, took over. But with old Geronimo still as their medicine man, ain’t nothing changed. They are still mean, just plain old mean, and they ain’t about to stay on no reservation, if you ask me.”
Butch spoke up right quick trying to change the subject as he wanted to be getting on the road, “Here’s my list of items I need. Would you see how much of this stuff you have? I see a couple of good , heavy shirts over yonder and I think I would like to have them. You got boots and pants too, I see. Let me check the size.”
Butch moved on over to where the merchandise was and examined all the goods. He picked a pair of boots he thought would fit Jane and a couple of pair of pants that would fit him, but he knew he could make them fit Jane during bad weather if he needed to. He took most of the beans, bacon and hardtack and he got a brick of cheese. The cheese would sure taste good through the winter. The trading post had small amounts of flour and sugar which he took most of, leaving some for others. However, on the coffee, he took all the trading post had. The trading post man said that the fort had some coffee and would share with him, but he was not real fond of coffee anyway, preferring a good healthy shot of whiskey every morning.
“How much for that Henry Repeating Rifle over there,” asked Henry pointing to a rifle on a shelf.
“Well, $12.00 dollars is what I need to get for that. It’s a little used, but it still works good. You want it?” asked the trading post man.
“I’ll give you ten dollars. I got one, but I could always use an extra, just in case.”
“Well, alright, I’ll take the ten dollars, but only ‘cause it’s so slow around here these days,” said the trading post man.
The old man had one silver necklace, with a cross on it, hanging behind the counter. “How much you asking for that necklace?” asked Butch.
“Well, now, that’s a nice necklace, so it’s pretty high. Got a woman with you, do you?” asked the trading post man.
“No, I don’t, but I may see one and if I do, I might want to impress her. So if you price it right I might buy it.” Butch really did not want the trading post man to be talking about him and to know anything about his business or location, so he elected to keep quiet about who was with him.
“I got to have $5.00 for that necklace. I bought it off some travelers coming through here last year that needed some money to get on toward California. That’s what I give them in goods for it. Pure silver. You want it?” as he reached over and picked it up bringing it closer to Butch for examination.
“Well, it is right pretty. I’ll give you $2.50 for it.”
“Naw, I really need at least 4.00 for it.”
Butch said, “Three dollars, that’s the best I can do.”
“Well, ok, three dollars then, but only cause things are so slow now days.”
Butch paid the man for the necklace, rifle and the goods and placed the necklace in his shirt pocket and buttoned it.
He had a pretty good load on his pack animal and on his own horse. He intended to take his time and he hoped he did not run into any of the warring Indians if they were on the warpath.
People traveling alone were always subject to attack by warring tribes and outlaw Indians. The Outlaw Indians were those that had been kicked out of their tribes because they were too mean or despicable even for the Indians. They would form loose bands and the regular Indians often took blame for the outlaws’ tribes’ indiscretions.
Butch made a late start back to his camp that same day. He made a few miles but he felt the heavy load on the horses was really working them. He found a good spring so he decided to make an early camp and then get an earlier start tomorrow morning.
The weather had continued to be warm during the day, but the nights had been very cold. He built a small fire to make coffee and warm some rocks for his bed roll. He also heated up a couple of pieces of jerky to go with his coffee and hardtack. As soon as he had eaten and the rocks were good and warm, he bedded down for the night.
The next morning it took him a while to reload the pack horse, making sure the load was as balanced as he could make it. The horses seemed rested from yesterday’s work. With another long day in front of him he needed to get an early started.
He kept up a steady pace all day and in late afternoon, he was pretty sure he could see the green of the Gila River Valley. It appeared to be several miles away yet but he could tell the horses could already smell the water. About the same time he spotted the green of the river valley, he spotted dust clouds off to his right, and it was moving toward the river valley also. He was felt like this was a tribe of Indians. By the looks of the dust cloud, he would guess a big tribe also. For the first time he looked behind him to see if his horses had been kicking up dust. They had. He immediately started looking for a place for protection. He knew that as observant as the Indians were they had seen him and would be sending out scouts. An individual with a pack horse was a sure target for them. He would need all the protection he could get if they spotted him. He was sure that they had.
He soon noticed a seep hole with a few bushes around it. There was not a lot of water, but if one dug out a hole it would soon fill with water. The horses learned that they could dig a hole with their hoofs and then drink from the hole. He tied them both to a bush and taking both rifles, he climbed some rocks just behind the bush, the horses were just below him in clear view and he had good field of view all around him. He could make out several braves on their way toward him. He decided to let them get within rifle range before he started firing, planning to shoot in front of them as a warning shot to begin with, hoping they would ride off and yet he knew that riding off was not likely to happen.
About the time they got in rifle range the braves started spreading out as if to surround the place. Butch figured he better stop that maneuver right away so he fired two quick shots to the outside of the two widest riders. Dust kicked up near them and all the braves dismounted immediately, heading for the nearest cover. They opened fire but the shots hit closer to the horses than they did to Butch. Butch held his fire to see what maneuver the braves planned next. He was now worried that a bullet may hit his horses and decided he would go ahead and take out the warriors who had insufficient cover. He lined his sights on the most open and fired. The warrior grabbed his lower leg and was withering in pain. There was plenty of jabbering in Apache as the Indians were discussing their plans, is what Butch surmised.
Still, the rest of the warriors made no move to change any of their positions, so Butch fired a round at the next most open warrior. He did not hit him but hit the rock just in front of him sending rock shards into his face and shoulders. To the Indian brave it must have seemed like multiple gun shot wounds. He jumped up and grabbed his horse and started riding toward Butch, full speed. He made about twenty yards when Butch fired again hitting the brave in the chest area. He fell from his horse, unmoving after he hit the ground and the horse continued toward the smell of water.
From a distance, Butch heard the distinct sound of the U.S. Calvary sounding its charge by the company bugler, heading toward the main tribe. The warriors fighting him heard it also. All of them mounted and started back toward the tribe at a gallop. Butch figured that concern for the tribe was the utmost on their minds now and not him. Also, now the fire from many rifles and guns could be heard from across the desert.
Butch lost no time in collecting his horses, checking the tie down of his load and starting his journey on toward the camp site. He could hear the battle raging behind him so he felt pretty safe in his not being pursued by the Apaches. When he was within sight of the cave, he could see that Henry and Jane had their horses ready to ride. He could see them standing in the cave as though they were ready to come to his aid. Apparently they had heard all the shooting. He waved at them to let them know he was ok and to just stay where they were.
Henry waded out into the river to lead the pack horse up near the entrance to the cave. Butch started unloading his horse’s load. They left the packs intact and would use stuff out of the packs as needed. However, Henry was very busy looking through all that he had bought. As soon as he came across one bottle of whiskey, his looking seemed to be over, at least for the present.
“Ah, boss, this is what I wanted. And this be Kentuck’ whiskey, and you can’t do no better than that. I can read when it say “Kentuck Whiskey” on the bottle. I learned that working for that old saloon keeper. He had plenty bottles for me to keep picked up round his place.” He looked at the bottle for a time then said, “You want me to fix you a little drank, boss?” asked Henry.
“Yeah, I could use a little shot. You got any coffee left that we can mix up a drink?”
“Sho’, ‘nough, it be coming right up, boss,” said a happy Henry.
As they were enjoying their drinks, sitting around listening to the sounds of the battle still going on to the south of them, Jane seemed a little unsettled at the battle. Henry had fixed her a drink also and he did not have to tell her to sip it. She was sipping like a knowledgeable drinker.
Jane kept looking off to the south as if expecting to see riders coming in anytime now.
Butch looked at Henry and spoke, “Henry, let’s not get too relaxed as some of those Indians or Soldiers could be coming our way. They may not know we are here, but they know the river is here and the terrain turns travelers this way coming from the south. I think the other side of the river is a sometimes camp area for traveling tribes. That may be why Jane came to this spot. You enjoy your drink, but keep your eyes on the south for Indians. I will cook up some of our new vitals’ for us.”
He decided on venison stew with biscuits from some of the flour he got at the post and some good hot coffee. While Butch was cooking, the sound of the gun fire kept getting louder and louder and seemingly closer and closer.
Henry spoke up, “Mr. Butch, if’n we gonna eat a’fore them Indians get heah, we better get started soon. Them Calvary boys are backing them up and it seems like to me them ‘Paches got plans to get up heah near this river. They believes they got a chance fighting them boys up heah, this being hill country and all. The Calvary likes it open wid good vision and them ‘Paches likes lots of cover, so they got something to hide behind and sneak up on you. I knows bout them ‘Paches. Jest you look over heah at Jane. She ain’t took her eyes off them fighting. I think she knows who it is.”
They did have time to finish eating. The Indians backed up to the river and made a stand against the Calvary. Butch and Henry held their fire as they did not want to have a cross fire going but they did keep their rifles trained on the closest Indians to the river. One came in for a drink, looked up and saw them, but did not fire. He retreated back to the others. Shortly thereafter, the battle seemed to turn to favor the Calvary. The firing soon died down, as the troops had the Indians surrounded. The Calvary was rounding up the tribe, taking up their weapons. Orders were given to the Apache scouts that worked for the U. S. Calvary to tell the tribe to make their supper and bed down near the river for tonight and that tomorrow morning early they would head back to the San Carlos Reservation. The scout that gave the orders to the tribe later walked over to just across the river from the cave location. He looked up at the three that were watching him and motioned that he was going to cross the river and come up to where they were. Butch stood and lowered his weapon and gave the ok to approach their camp.
The scout spoke to them in good English, asking where they were traveling to or did they plan to set up a permanent site at this location. Butch did the talking for the group saying that he and Henry was traveling together and that this Apache squaw had joined them a few days ago. Butch said he also thought that the tribe across the river was the girl’s tribe.
The scout spoke up, “No, she Navajo, not Apache.” Butch explained her condition when she arrived, the cut nose and cut hands and that the next day Apaches came in chasing her and that she had shot and killed on of them.
The scout’s eyes widened slightly and he turned and spoke to the girl for a long time. Her response took even longer. When she had finished the scout turned and told Butch her story.
“This girl was captured by this Apache tribe some time ago”, said the scout, “captured her when they had raided a Navajo camp. She never liked any of the people of this Apache tribe, however, one or two or the warriors were fighting over her since two of them had captured her and laid claim to her. One became very amorous toward her and tried to rape her. She fought him off and during the fight her hands were cut holding him off. She kicked him several times. He had thrown her down, placing his knife in her nose, threating her to cut her nose off. She then kicked him in the groin and the pain made him jerk and his reaction probably caused him to cut her nose. She escaped from the wigwam and stole his horse and rode away after the fight. She found your camp and came in hoping you two would help her. She says you have been very kind to her and she wants to stay with you and not go back to the Apaches. She hates them she says, but she shot the one who cut her nose. The other one told her he will chase her down when he loaded the dead warrior on his horse. She hopes to get back to her Navajo people someday.”
Henry spoke up, “Well, what do you know about that? I figured Jane had been doing some ‘hoeing” around wid them ‘Pache bucks and got two or three of them upset. She be a good girl, fightin’ off the bucks and all. I be rite proud of her. How ‘bout you, Mr. Butch? What you thanking about her now?” said Henry, looking over at Butch to see if he was also surprised by the news.
“Well, Henry, I am surprised with her story. I was like you and had it all figured a little differently.”
To the scout Butch said, “We thank you for telling us Tah-dos-ta’s story. We had no idea what had happened to her.” Butch saw the scout eyeing the food, so Butch offered to feed him.
The scout took him up on the offer. He had several helping and seemed to be enjoying the food and had several cups of coffee.
After eating, the scout pulled the cloth from around his waist, covered himself, leaned back against one of the rocks and went to sleep. Henry and Butch maintained a two hour watch for most of the night but by morning they were both sleeping.
The next morning, he was gone. Neither Butch nor Henry had heard him leave and he did not leave any noticeable tracks. Butch mentioned to Henry they would need to do a better job of keeping watch in the future. He surmised that the U. S. troops nearby had gave them false security and they relaxed too much.
After the Calvary and the Apaches pulled out, things around the camp returned to normal, except the snow started again. The nights were extremely cold and efforts were made to tighten the holes in the campsite. More juniper limbs were brought in and stuffed into the areas that let in the worst of the wind. Newly scraped deer skins had been attached to the outside limbs helping to keep out a lot of the wind. While the efforts helped, the cold was still very bad. Nights were the coldest.
When the wind was out of the north, the cave was at its best in wind protection as the cave faced south. On this night the wind was out of the north and the cave’s warmth could be felt by all three of the occupants. Henry had brewed up a pot of coffee after supper and all three were enjoying a cup. The crackling fire actually gave them some comfort and cheer for a change.
Henry broke the silence. “Boss, having this heah pretty girl to look at sho’ do bring back some good memories for me. I mean, even from down yonder in Georgia, when I be a slave, it bring back good memories.”
Butch spoke up, “How could you have good memories from being a slave?”
“Well, I’ll just tell you how.” Henry settled down into his saddle blanket and leaned back against his saddle. Henry had that comfortable look about him and Butch felt he was in for a long winded story. But, the night was young, the coffee was good and hot, the fire was cozy, so tonight was a good night for a Henry story.
“Well suh, I was in charge of a bunch of field hands for the old Massa. He depended on me to take care of the cotton and corn crops. Now, he say don’t you be messing with the vegetable crops he planted for the white folk and black folks to eat. But, now, from time to time, he would axe me to come up thar and work some. That field be close to the big house and that is where Ber-fa worked. Ber-fa be the one I wanna tell you ‘bout. She be the Massa’s cook and Nanny for his kids and she really be the boss of all us black folk. Now, ‘nuther thing was she be pretty, I’m talking heart stopping, jaw dropping, jumpin’ up and down pretty. When she walk around them black boys and they mouth fly open and they just stop and stare, if’n the old Massa ain’t around, that is. Now, if he be around they kinda cut they heads jest a bit so they can watch her and they hope the Massa don’t take no notice they be looking. Sum’in else too. All them white boys they stop and watch her too and they don’t care if the Massa be watching or not. She be plenty pretty is what I’m saying.
” Well, now you may not believe me on this, but Ber-fa liked Henry. She be liking me a lot. Sometimes she sneaks off from the big house during the middle of the night and come down to my shack, it be an old one room shack, and she crawl in bed wid me. Some days, after one of them nights, I be so plum wore out its all I can do to keep them other field hands working. They know Ber-fa been spending the night, so they slow down they sorry asses on purpose, cause they know I ain’t got no stuff left in me. Now, I’m so happy about it all that if’n the old massa ain’t anywhere around, I jest let them sorry ass field hands be sorry asses. You know what I’m saying, boss?” Henry paused, warming up his coffee.
While he was at a pause, Butch warmed up his coffee also. He asked Henry “Was that girl’s name Bertha? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes suh, that exactly what I be saying. Ber-fa. Matter of fact, I thank her full name be Ber-fa May. Now I jest loved that gal. I mean, Mr. Butch, I was crazy ‘bout that woman. I didn’t like them other boys looking at her neither, but wasn’t a thang I could do ‘bout it. But I believe she be pretty true to me. I don’t thank she be sleeping round wid any of them. Now, the old Massa, he may have took him a turn are two, I don’t be knowing nothing ‘bout that except she had a boy who be kind’a light skinned. I thank the old Massa be crazy ‘bout her too. The reason I say that is one night he come down to my cabin and he hollered at me, “Henry, Ber-fa May in thar wid you?” You could tell he be mad. I spoke up real quick like, “Naw suh, Massa, she ain’t down heah wid me.” He holler back, “Don’t you be lying to me, I know she be in thar and you send her out heah.” I say rite back to Massa, “Naw suh, I ain’t seen Ber-fa for a while. I don’t know whar she be.” Then he say, “You get yo sorry ass out heah and help me look for her then. She be down here somewhere sleeping wid one of them sorry ass field hands.”
“Now, that got me going. She better not be sleeping wid no field hand. His sorry ass be dead come morning if’n she is. Anyway, I got my ass out thar wid the Massa. We looked in ever field hand’s shack and all the old couples shacks. No Ber-fa. We done looked in all the outhouses, smoke houses, black smits shop, barn and tool shed. No Ber-fa. Massa got so mad, he turned so red in his face I could see it by the lantern light. He done made me thank about the old devil that night. Matter of fact, I thank they be brothers.” Henry stopped and chuckled a while at this point and took his time sipping some coffee before resuming the story.
“Massa got mad. He got real mad. He picked up a hoe and hit me cross the back wid the handle axing me what I done did wid her. He say, “I ought to beat yo sorry ass just cause you been seeing her.” I ain’t never seed him so mad. He told me to keep looking for her all night long and if’n I find her come knock on the big house doe. I went down to the creek where we take a baff thanking that may be she be down thar. Naw sur, she was not to be found anywhere. I slept down yonder at that creek all night cause I did not want Massa finding me sleeping in my bed.” Henry turned to his side, thinking some before restarting the tale, sipping some more coffee.
“Now, let me tell you, boss, we never did find that gal. Not that night, not ever. She done run off. I don’t know where she went fer sho, but word got back to the plantation that she went up the “underground railroad” to Canada. Now, jest so you will know, it ain’t really no railroad, but it is a bunch of people what be looking out for slave heading up norf, kind’a helpin’ them out hidin’ them and all. I thank what got her going was, what I hear’d anyway, that Massa gonna sell her boy and that probably what made Ber-fa May take that boy and run off. Now, she sho loved that boy. I never did heah no mo about her. Plum broke my heart, boss, plum broke it. I reckon she done marry up wid somebody by now. Now, that was not a good memory, but them nites she stayed down yonder at my shack, they was good. I run off a short while later, and went up norf and joined up wid them Union boys to fight them rebels. I didn’t use no underground railroad getting’ up thar neither . I jest traveled by night and hid by day. Took me a long time too. I wore out two pairs of pants wid them brairs clawin’ at me. The thicker them old brairs were the better I liked it. When I got up thar, I looked ever gal over good hoping to find Ber-fa. Yes suh, she be a beautiful gal! Nary a sight of her.”
He hesitated again briefly then said, “But Old Massa didn’t get that memory. It still be mine. I thank on it plenty too.”
Henry paused a good long while and Butch was pretty sure the story was over. Henry said, “Well, that be about all that story, boss.”
And Butch thought it was a very good story too. The fire was dying down and the coffee was gone. Henry pulled his saddle blanket up around his neck and seemed lost in some pleasant memories. Jane was already asleep but Butch noted her beautiful face, pulled his blanket up to his neck and thought some pleasant thoughts about her.
Butch thought that everyone needs a memory of someone to warm up the cold nights, someone to take with them on long journeys, someone to give hope of a better day in ones life.
With Henry it was Bertha May, and with Butch it was fast becoming Tah-dos-ta. He wondered if she would continue to stay with them. He hoped to make it so.
Early November turned very cold. The day had been dark and very dreary with heavy clouds hanging around all day long. Nearing dark, the snow started. It was a heavy snow fall, producing almost blizzard conditions, very close to a white out.
Butch could make out the river and he could see the horses when he pushed open the Henry made window. Henry had fashioned a few pieces of wood tied with a draw string that he could pull up and the window would swing out. The horses had a pole roof, covered with bushy limbs over a portion of the corral. Earlier that very day, Henry and Butch had cut some tall grass from up river and piled it in the back of the covered portion of the corral. That should keep the horses in food for a few days.
Firewood had been gathered every day so a good fire should not be an issue. Two more deer had been killed in the last week and the meat was still in the drying process over the fire. The three of them felt secure with what they had available to them.
Henry’s foot had healed and other than his original limp he had no sign of a gimpy leg. Jane’s nose was now completely healed but the cut did leave a scar. It did not take away from Jane’s good looks as the scar looked like a dimple on one side of her face, if you did not look closely.
School was coming along pretty good. Butch had kept the bottle of Kentucky whiskey close by as an aid in the school room teaching process. Every container that had a label or any letters of the alphabet, Butch used it. Jane would make the same sounds as Henry, so much so that Butch was beginning to fear that Jane would end up talking like Henry. So he started working on Henry to improve his speaking skills. He would go along for a while doing pretty good, but if they missed classroom study for a day or two, Henry reverted back to his old way of speaking. Both Jane and Henry had already memorized the alphabet. Butch was hoping he could bring it all together soon and since he had never taught before he doubted his abilities to do so.
“Mr. Butch, I done be liking what you be a teaching us. I’m glad you do’n it. Pretty soon I be talking as good as you,” said Henry.
“Henry, it’s, “Butch, I like your teaching. I appreciate you teaching us and soon I shall be speaking as well as you.” I think you should try saying it that way,” said a smiling Butch.
“Yas sir, that’s the way I ought to be saying it,” said a gloomy, dejected looking Henry. Henry seemed very disappointed that Butch had corrected him and Butch realized it was too early to expect Henry to be changing how he spoke. Butch knew that as old as Henry was and speaking as he had for so many years, that he was not going to be changed in a few badly taught English lessons. Butch never again prompted Henry on how to speak, hoping that some of the lessons would soon be learned. He often asked both Jane and Henry to repeat a phrase after him. One phrase he continually used was, “In spring, we shall continue our journey west, following the sun.” He broke down each word of the sentence, mainly for Jane, but it seemed to help Henry also.
Next morning, after breakfast and after all the chores were done, the sun broke through the clouds and the sunshine entered the small cave via Henry’s window. The sunbeam centered on the whiskey bottle Butch had in his hand. Butch had just resumed teaching his English class holding up the whiskey bottle to show Henry about the “Kentucky” on the bottle was not the “Kentuck” as Henry called it. He was pointing out why and had just pointed at the “y” when the whiskey bottle shattered, followed quickly by the sound of a rifle shot. The whiskey splashed all over, even into the fire causing a large flare-up.
Butch, Henry and Jane went scrambling for their weapons. The rifle Butch had purchased in Ft. Bowie had quietly become Jane’s gun and she had become proficient with it. All of them, laying behind the low lying rocks ringing the cave, pushed aside some of the brush that served as a wind break, trying to get a glimpse of the person doing the shooting. Jane had the best eyes and got off the first shot. Butch and Henry saw the bullet strike the rock that the person was hiding behind. Now all of them could see a portion of several individuals hiding in the same proximity.
Both Henry and Butch just happened to shoot at a foot sticking out from behind the rock that Jane hit. One of them, probably Henry as he had already proven to be the best rifle shot, hit the foot. First, the foot shot up in the air, then the butt became visible as the Indian rolled over screaming, well at least making an awful noise, then he disappeared behind a rock further away, staying still and quiet. All three ducked down as about three Indian rose to shoot at them. Several shots, rapidly fired, began hitting the rock wall. All three stayed low until the barrage let up. When it did let up, Henry raised up in time to see a brave try to advance to a closer rock. That was not a good idea as Henry’s bullet knocked him back into the rocks he had just left. His buddies pulled him down behind the rocks with them.
The Indians began to play a waiting game with them. They would only fire ever now and again to keep them down. Butch, Henry and Jane was doing the same to conserve ammo. It was during this slow time that Jane’s head perked up, ears turned and listening and then pointed up and behind them.
The overhang that gave them their protection was probably fifty to seventy-five feet to the top. It was hard to climb up to the top of the overhang, but if someone had ropes or vines they could hold on to, they could climb down right into the cave area, but outside the enclosed area.
Butch motioned for Jane to continue shooting toward the braves in the rocks across the river and then motioned for Henry to take a peek through the brush enclosure at one end and Butch took the other end.
Just as Butch pushed back a portion of the brush, a tomahawk and hand and arm came through inches from his face. He did not have time to aim, firing from the hip, which wounded but did not kill the Indian. The brave jumped up to finish off Butch, and would have had not Jane turned in time to fire, almost point blank into the Indian’s chest sending him turning and twisting into the back of the cave. Butch had no time to recover from his fall or lick his wounds as Henry had a very similar problem on his end. Jane was quick to help him out as well, shooting and hitting this brave in the head. Butch, Henry and Jane quickly examined the Indians to make sure they were dead.
Since the firing had ceased inside the cave, the Indians across the river must have thought their comrades were victorious as they all stood and started walking toward the river. Butch, Henry and Jane now had a form of target practice. Three of the six remaining braves fell immediately.
The others headed to the cover of the rocks again. Butch had risen up to get a better shot at one of the slower departing braves when a shot rang out from behind the rock across the river, catching Butch in the shoulder, knocking him down behind the rock wall. Henry and Jane put shot after shot into the rocks and they could see the Indians in retreat, getting further and further from them. Soon the braves were out of rifle range and could be seen gathering their horses.
While Butch was still on the ground, he asked Henry to drag the dead Indians out of the cave and down across the river. As soon as he had the first one across, Butch wanted him to fire a shot in the air and hold up the braves body for the departing Indians to see. He was sure they would want to collect the bodies and they would not fight them in their retrieval. Henry followed his instructions and fired a shot in the air when the first brave was dragged across the river. Jane had helped him. Jane had already started pulling the second one down toward the river before Henry had returned. Completing the task, all three hid behind the rocks watching the Indians.
They saw two braves approached the river, watching the three of them closely, before loading the two braves on their horses. Shortly the dead were loaded and they left to join the other warriors in the distance.
Butch got the full attention of both Henry and Jane as soon as the Indians were out of sight. It was just a flesh wound to the upper shoulder, taking a small piece of flesh out, leaving a grove across the upper arm. He was lucky as the shooter missed his heart by several inches and that was probably caused by Butch’s habit of leaning forward each time he shoots. He got in that habit as a boy because of the recoil of the old musket he learned to shoot, leaning forward with each pull of the trigger to keep from getting kicked on his butt.
Some things work out for good.
Henry took over the cooking chore and what Henry didn’t already know about cooking he would ask Butch for direction on how to prepare some of the dishes Butch made. Henry was actually a lot better cook than he let on to be. But that was ok with Butch as he had always liked to cook and had rather cook than to sit around waiting from someone else to prepare a meal.
For several days Butch rested, slept, and ate Henry’s cooking and was waited on by Jane. That part he really enjoyed. She had no button on the deer skin top she normally wore, just having it wrapped and tied around her waist. So when she leaned over Butch to help him, every time he had a good view of the beautiful tan mountains on her chest. She did not seem to mind him looking and really took no notice of his wondering eyes. He tried not to stare but he was sure he did. Anyway, he felt badly about the two of them doing all the work, but on the other hand, he was not all that worried about not being up and around.
He did stand watch. He could prop himself up and keep guard on the place to allow Henry and Jane to keep doing all the chores.
While Butch was healing, winter turned to spring.
The days were getting warmer and there had been no rain or snow for a couple of weeks. Yet the river was rising rapidly. Butch surmised that the snow melt was very heavy this year based on all the snow they had received. The mountains north and east of them had been snow covered all winter and the Gila River Valley was their drainage outlet. He thought their cave being eight feet above the river level would be plenty of room for most years’ runoff, but already the water was beginning to crowd them. Butch suggested they go ahead and load up and continue their journey west and not risk losing any of their goods to flooding. Henry agreed with this decision and Jane seemed to be ok with whatever the two of them wanted to do. They prepared their loads so that the next morning all they had to do would be to load the horses.
Since the water was rising so fast, Butch wanted them to stand watch all night to keep from being inundated with water. Jane took the first watch, Henry the second and then Butch.
When Henry woke up Butch for his watch, they discussed leaving from their cave right away as the water was within two feet of the rock they had added for gunfire protection. Right now they would have to hug the mountain side to stay out of the water and with darkness and all the rocks lining the riverbank it was going to be a perilous journey for several hundred yards.
By the time the horses were loaded the water had gained another foot and was rushing madly by them creating a roar that drowned out normal speaking voices. Butch motioned for Henry and Jane to follow him. Each of them had a horse to ride and a pack horse also, but they were leading both, not wanting to risk a fall. It was darker in the canyon than Butch had thought it was going to be and it was making the trip more difficult. Many rocks cluttered the bank and the darkness made seeing them very hard. Both the horses and Butch were stumbling with each step.
The rushing water was also sucking up the ground causing some areas to cave in and rocks to roll. It was impossible to see the areas that might drop off into the river, so Butch was leading both of his horses as close to the canyon wall as was possible. In the moon light he could see a bend in the river just ahead and he feared that the water was beginning to erode the bank in the curve. He was right, but he had to get right up on it to tell that going further was unsafe. Already there was less than a couple of feet clearance between the canyon wall and the rushing river. Butch decided that he would have to turn around and go back.
Just as he decided to turn around, the bank collapsed, dropping him and his horses into the rushing stream. They were all three swimming but the pack horse was being pulled under by the extreme weight of the load attached to him and was fighting franticly to keep its head above water. Butch managed to swim over to that horse and to cut the straps holding the pack on. It took him a while as he had to saw cut the leather straps and it really sapped his strength holding on to the horse and sawing on the strap. Immediately the pack horse came up completely clearing the water with its head and was able to start swimming with the rushing water. The supplies took a separate journey, bobbing up and down in the river, but remained tied together. Butch figured those supplies would be lost forever. He swam back to his riding horse and held on to the saddle horn during the wildest part of the ride downstream. Butch was fighting for his life just keeping his head above water. His horse was not fairing much better.
Butch could tell his weight on the horse was an added burden so when a big tree limb came floating near, Butch switched from the horse to the tree limb, which turned out to be a big mistake. The tree limb had branches that would hit rocks and the bottom of the stream from time to time causing it to pitch, roll and flip over. As the limb would roll, Butch would get struck by a limb from the other side and get rolled over to the underside of the log. Once Butch, trapped between some branches that became tangled with his shirt, did not think he would be able to hold his breath long enough. The limb was dragging him on the bottom, bouncing from one rock to another. By tearing his shirt loose, but he came up gasping and fighting for breath and had just recovered from the first roll, when it happened again. This time Butch knew that his survival would be in turning loose of the log and swimming free of it. He was very fortunate that no branches trapped him this time. He had swallowed a bunch of water and had some go down his wind pipe. He not only had to swim but he had to catch his breath while doing so.
He swam to mid-stream to avoid more of the rocks, fighting to keep his head above water, trying to spot his horse again as that was really his best bet. He was now breathing some better which helped. He was tiring so fast as he was treading water, fighting to keep his head up, pushing with his arms and shoulders to stay afloat, swallowing lots of water as he fought the current. He felt he had fought about all he could fight.
After a while he had to give up, having extended his last bit of energy, he could not fight any more. Just before he passed out he did see another bend in the river and some flat land in that bend. He had decided if at all possible he would try to steer himself to that flat area and hopefully grab a big rock. That was the last thing he remembered thinking.
He woke up and it was full daylight. The lower half of his body was still in the river while his upper half was resting on a rocky shore, water lapping up to his belly. He struggled to pull himself up to be completely out of the water, but his arms would not work. He sank back down to the half in and half out position and passed out again.
Henry and Jane had witnessed the bank collapse under Butch and saw him and the horses fall into the river. That was as much as they could see due to the darkness. But they knew that they could not go further downstream along the river bank. Henry decided to back track upstream until he could find a canyon that led away from the stream. He had to go about a mile upstream from where the camp was located before finding a canyon leading out of the river valley.
After daylight, Henry or Jane would get as close to the river as possible from the hills above trying to spot Butch or the horses. Each time they did they were not able to see anyone or anything. For the first couple of miles, they were fifty to seventy five feet above the river. Then the bank started a down slope for a mile or so and it led to a meadow where the banks of the river were only a few feet high. They were able to walk near the river in this area.
The pack that Butch had cut loose from his horse had made it to this same area and was lodged between a rock and a tree near the water’s edge. The river level seemed to now be dropping some, but it was still a very angry, rushing stream. The pack was the first thing Henry spotted when he came as he approached the river. He was able to wade close enough to the pack to pull it free and with the help of Jane, drag it out of the water.
Jane, with her sharp eyes, spotted Butch lying with his head and shoulders on the sandy bank and the rest of his body in the water. He was several yards upstream from where they were. Both ran to him and pulled him from the stream. They managed to lug Butch downstream to where they left the horses. While Jane attended to Butch, even though Butch was still out of it, Henry felt some coffee and food would help them all as they left the camp site before eating any breakfast and it was now mid-afternoon. Henry was sure Butch would be up and around before much longer.
The coffee and some of the food were in Henry’s pack. He built a fire and started some coffee first, and then they put on some soup. While he was doing this Jane had undressed Butch and was hanging his clothes in some trees to dry. Butch was trying to sit up but was still totally worn out but managed to have some coffee.
Later that night, after some soup and jerky, all three were having a hot cup of coffee, Henry spoke up. “Mr. Butch, I figure we be about 8 to 10 miles downstream from where we started from this morning. Now, Boss, from where you went into dat river, me and Jane walked back upstream another mile or two, then we climbed up that mountain and trekked all across them hills, up and down them canyons, walked over to look down on the river a half a dozen times trying to spot you, and just plum wore ourselves out getting’ down heah. But you, Boss, you done had it figured out how to get down here in a hurry. You and them hoss’es just jumped in that old river, swam yo selves down heah in a hurry and then took a little nap while you be waiting on us to get heah. Yo’ sho’ does beat it all.”
Butch could not help but laugh at the way Henry told that little story but he had to speak up about it. “Believe me, Henry, I thought I was a goner. I got hung up on a tree limb under water and it just about did me in. I used up all my energy fighting to get loose and I could not swim anymore. I don’t know how I got up on this bank. I think I just washed a’shore like an old piece of driftwood.”
“Naw suh, Mr. Butch, I believe the good Lord wasn’t ready for you just yet and he had one of them angel reach down and grab you by yo shirt collar and he drug you right up on that little island out there. That’s what I believe happened.” Henry paused some, then continued, ” I sho do wonder what happened to yo hoss’es. I ain’t seed hide nor hair of them two critter since we got down here. They may have drown. The pack came off and lodged between that rock and tree right over there. I had to wade over to get it out and now the water is a foot below the tree. It’s dropping fast now. We probably been alright if we had stayed at our cave.”
“Henry, what happened was the bank gave way while we were trying to turn around and get out of that canyon. After we hit the water, the horses and I were struggling to keep from drowning. I cut the load off the pack horse. The weight was pulling it under so I had to cut it off. Then later, I was holding on to my horse’s saddle horn and my weight was pulling it under, so I grabbed this tree limb. That thing nearly killed me. As for the angel pulling me to shore, I don’t know how I got here, but I am very thankful for making it. I don’t know about that Indian pack horse but my horse has been with me a long time. I think he will try to find me. Anyway, I will look for him come morning.”
After a couple of days resting at this camp site, they divided up the packs so it would fit on two fewer horses. They each had a riding horse and one for the bulk of the packs. It would be a little slower going, but they could make it. They were very thankful that they did not lose the pack Butch was hauling.
They made camp one night near the confluence of a clear running creek that came into the Gila River with a grass covered meadow nearby. The meadow was only a foot or two above the river’s level. There was plenty of firewood in the area and deer dropping were abundant. This appeared to be a regular watering hole for wildlife. They decided to spend a couple of days here to try and replenish their meat supplies, rest some themselves and allow the horses time to rest up.
The first afternoon Henry shot a nice buck close to camp and the butchering and meat preserving began. Supper that night was tenderloin, beans and hardtack with plenty of coffee. After a good meal while drinking the last of the tonight’s coffee, Henry spoke up, “Boss, did I ever tell you about that shoot’n down yonder at Fort Selden while I be serving down thar?”
“Naw, I don’t think you did Henry. Was it a shooting between soldiers? What happened to cause it?” asked Butch.
“Yes, between some white soldiers. And, well, it’s a pretty good story, so let me tell you about it. You ain’t ready to go to bed yet, are you?” asked Henry.
“No, I am not Henry and it has been a while since you told us a good story. Let’s hear it.”
“Well, sir, you know some of them high ranking officer down yonder at that Fort had they wives down there wid them. It wasn’t no good idee, as it made all the other men horny just watching them walk around. And this one gal, whenever she got out in the yard of the fort, everybody stopped to look, enlisted men and everybody. Now Mr. Butch, I’m telling you she was sho’ a looker. She had long brown hair, a real narrow waist line, beautiful hips and butt and she knowed she was sum’in. Now, this Captain she was married to, he had to go out looking for ‘Paches pretty regular like and when he was gone, he always be gone for a good spell. And that gal, being young and pretty, did’t help thangs none cause she would priss out across the parade ground hoping all them soldiers left at the fort be looking at her. And they all did . Well, anyway, we had this young Lieutenant, he be what they called the quartermaster officer. Now, he didn’t go out chasing ‘Paches, he jest stay round the fort watching his supplies, some of the time and watching that pretty gal that belonged to that Captain, all the time.” Henry chuckled.
“Now he be a young, handsome dude and he knowed it. He never seed a mirror he didn’t like. You know what I mean, boss. That boy comb his hair forty times a day if’n he not be watching that gal.” Henry started laughing hard at his own joke. He resumed as soon as his laughing died down. ” That boy. he thank he be right pretty. And when it came to that gal, you could see them looking one another over out in the fort yard. Everybody who wasn’t out chasing ‘Paches, knowed who this Lieutenant be chasing. Now, I never did seed him do nothing and as fur as I know, nobody else in that fort ever seed them two together. However, boss, everybody suspicioned that sum’in was a going on between them two or they was a want’in sum’in to start going on pretty quick.”
Henry walks over and pours the last of the coffee into his cup and settles back down on his blanket before resuming the story. “Now, this one time, Captain done been gone a week or so and comes back into camp. I reckon somebody done told him that sum’in was a going on cause in the next few days that Captain ships his wife back yonder in the east somewhere, where ever her home be, and we hears he gonna get hisself a divorce from that woman.” Henry shook his head before restarting the tale. “I reckon he be the onlest soldier who don’t miss her. Ain’t nobody to look at anymore and it ain’t no reason to set out on the parade ground no more watching her parade around. Yes sir, she be real proud of her body, if’n you axe me. I be real proud of of her body, too. I shore missed her.” Again, Henry had a good laugh at his own joke.
“Well, sir, she been gone, er, I don’t know fer sho, maybe two or three weeks and ever body done just about forgot that gal. But, one night, just before we bed down for the night, this Captain I’m telling about walks over to the quartermaster’s office, where that young lieutenant is, walks right in like he gonna check out some supplies or sum’in and they told me he jest pulled out his side arm and shot that man right between the eyes. Then he turned that gun on his self and shoots hisself in the head. Dead’er than a door nail, what I mean! That did beat it all and everybody in the whole fort is surprised by what he done. I reckon he done went crazy thanking on them two doing sum’ cheatin’.”
“Now, the next day we had to bury them two soldiers side by side, right there in that old cemetery at Fort Selden. That old Captain probably didn’t like been buried right by that lieutenant, but that is where his old body is spending eternity. Right next to the old boy who been playing ‘round wid his wife. Well, I don’t know fer sho’ that he ever did get any of that stuff but he sho did pay fer it.” Henry laughed. “I know it ain’t funny, but ain’t it strange how some things works out. Instead of that Captain laying by that woman forever he be laying by that good looking lieutenant. That’s what I’m laughing ‘bout. Well, I reckon that’s about all I remember on that story. Good nite, Boss.”
“Good night, Henry, that was another good story. A little unsettling, but it has a good moral to it. A fellow needs to stay away from another man wife and that story proved that very well.”
After a few days of killing deer and preserving the meat, the three were ready to resume their journey. They were now well rested and ready to make some serious time traveling.
The day before they decided to leave, Butch’s horse came into the camp, still saddled but the saddle had slipped and was on the underside of the horse. It had to be very uncomfortable. Butch immediately unsaddled him and rubbed him down; feeding him a small amount of grain he saved for times when grass or brush was not available. The horse seemed pleased to have his master back. Butch was extremely pleased to have his horse back. He checked him over good and there were no signs of cuts or bruises on the horse. Butch intended to lead him for a few days and ride the other animal for a while.
Several miles downstream they came upon a wagon train, seven wagons and eight or ten men and several women and children. Butch could not tell exactly how many there were. It was a little early for making camp, but it smelled like supper had already been started in this wagon train and that smell was very tempting. Maybe an invitation to supper would be given, but if not, they could always make their own. They announced to these people they would like to come into their camp.
This one man, he appeared to be the oldest one there, invited them into the camp area. He said, “My name is Jeremiah Snow. We are traveling down to Mexico to do some farming and while there we will be doing some Missionary work for the Mormon Church. We are camping here a few days to repair one of our wagons and to prepare some deer meat for traveling.”
“We left our home in Utah a few months ago and our supply of meat is terribly low. We even planted us a crop of corn, beans, and squash. We are hoping to get them harvested before leaving here. How about you folks? You been traveling very long?”
Butch told them their story, to some degree, but not going into details of how they all met up and the battles they had fought getting to this point of their travel. He simply told they were traveling together trying to get to California and maybe doing a little prospecting for some gold. Mr. Snow did invite them for supper. They were very happy to accept the invitation.
Some of the women folks were talking to Henry during supper that night. This one lady said, “Mr. Henry, you are only the second black person I have ever met. We have very few blacks folks where we came from up in Utah. But last year there was the prettiest lady I have ever seen come through traveling with a group going to California. She was black. She and I talked a long time since I was so fascinated by her looks. You told me you had been a slave down in Georgia. This lady was also a Georgia slave at one time.”
That got Henry’s attention, “They be a whole bunch of slaves down yonder in Georgia, all over the south for that matter. And we didn’t get to do a whole lot of socializing ‘round thar, so I probably would not know her, but what was her name?” asked Henry.
“Well, that was easy for me to remember because she had the same name as my momma. It was Bertha. Only Momma’s name was Bertha Lee and her name was Bertha May.”
Henry didn’t even let her finish before screaming out and making everyone around the campfire jump. “Aww, Ber-fa?….My Berfa May? Which way she be going? How long ago was it that you seed her? Who was wid her? She be married? Did she have a dark birth mark up on her neck that kind’a looked like black berry? Tell me all about her.” Henry questions and statements were in an excited high pitched voice, rapid fired series without allowing her the chance to answer each one of them. He moved over close to the lady doing the talking and it seemed to scare her just a bit as Henry was getting too close to suit her. Up to this point, Henry had not said much and had remained very much in the background while Butch did all the talking.
The lady backed up some and said, “Well, I don’t know much, but she was traveling with a white family. Their one wagon was among many wagons in a train heading to California. I am not sure where in California, but most of the folks passing through Utah going to California were heading toward San Francisco. So I just guess that is where they were going, but I don’t know for sure. She seemed to be the Nanny to the white children, or so it seemed to me. She did tell me she escaped her slave owner by taking the underground railroad up north during the war years. She said that was the best thing that ever happened to her, but she had hated to leave all the people she loved back in Georgia.”
“I thank she be talking about me, mam, I sho’ thank she be talking ‘bout me. Did she have a bruth mark about right heah, mam?” pointing to a spot on his neck just under his ear.
“Why, yes, I believe that she did.”
“Aww, that be her. How long ago was it you seed her, mam? And when did she leave for California?” Henry was still pressing the woman causing her concern that Henry was getting so close again and too loud.
“Well sir, I think it was probably about a year ago now. And she left with those people after two or three days around our community. She is probably in California by now.”
Henry moved over close to Butch to talk to him about his situation.
” I’m gonna have to leave in the morning for San Francisco, boss, and by myself. I got’s to travel fast. You gonna be way to slow for me now. I be getting started early, boss, so can we split up our supplies tonight. I be leaving you and Jane most our stuff as I want to travel light. Jest enough to get me by. Let’s go on and get me a pack ready, ok, boss?
Henry was all excited about getting to California in a hurry now that he had an idea that Bertha was there. Butch was trying to reason with him that it was still a good idea for them to travel together on to California. Matter of fact, Butch argued with Henry. After all, it had been a year or so since the lady had seen Bertha and a few more days would not make a difference after a year anyway. That caused Henry to take a cup of coffee, sit by the fire and contemplate on it some.
Henry thought on it a good bit and he finally decided that Butch was right, but he wondered if they could go ahead and get started in the morning for California again. Butch had to convince him that traveling the Gila River Route was the best way to go, but leaving in the morning would be ok. Henry did not have a good concept of the west, little knowledge of map reading and what traveling the higher mountain route would entail. He finally gave in on the southern route preferring to use the route that Butch found to be the best way.
Henry was the first one up the next morning and the first one packed. He was ready to get started to California and a possibly finding his Bertha.
“Mr. Meadows, sir, are you Mr. Butch Meadows?” I asked the tall, well build man who was very manicured and dapper, a few wrinkles, but he looked very fit sitting on the porch of the hotel watching the evening traffic going up and down the street.
“Yes sir, that’s me. What can I do for you, sir?”, he said as he looked me over very carefully and I could see him looking at the notebook and pencil I had in my hand.
“Well sir, I have heard some stories here and there about you coming out to California and some of your exploits. You were at one time a Marshall, or so I hear. Folks back east eat these stories up about lawmen, gunfighters, Indian fighters and the like. I want to write such a story and send it back, hopefully for publication. I have sold a few stories here and there, nothing major, understand, but I have managed to write enough to keep eating. I was wondering if I could write your story or some tales you would share with me. Of course, if they are a big enough hit to where we could get a book out of it, I would be willing to share the revenues that it may bring in.”
He sat there for a long time, looking at me, then looking at the distance mountains as if thinking about what such a story would sound like in written form, and then looked back at me. He finally said, “I would have to think on it some, son. I guess my life has been something of an adventure, even a couple of love stories in it, but I have never thought about having me, family and friends written about. You a good writer, are you?”, looking me over again. As he looked, I remembered I had torn the arm of my jacket a few days ago and had failed to have it stitched up yet. He looked at that tear for a time, kind of stared at it really and I was wondering if he was thinking I must be a very poor writer to dress this badly. After a while he said, “You be back over here tomorrow, just after lunch and I will let you know. I need to sleep on it and think about it some. You have an article that you have written on you?”
“Yes sir, I have this one in my pocket from the New York newspaper a few months ago. I wrote about what the completion of the railroad from the east coast to the west coast had meant to the people west of the Mississippi. I interviewed people from Kansas City, Denver and all the way out here in California hearing what the coming of the railroad had meant to them. I will leave it with you, sir, but I do need it back as that is the only copy I have.” I handed him the folded up, well worn copy of the New York paper.
“Thank you, son. See you tomorrow.”
I was on his porch well before Mr. Meadows showed up. He owned the hotel and café attached to it. It was a busy place, but Mr. Meadows did not do any of the work anymore. He had people to run it for him. Mr. Meadows sat with his wife a lot, a lovely Indian lady, rocking on the front porch of the hotel. He told me in an later interview that he found it easier to live in a couple of rooms in the hotel and take his meals in the café. That way he did not have to pay for staff help around his house. In time I learned that he had owned a ranch, with a large ranch house on it, but it became a little much for him and Jane to run. He had married Jane as soon as they had arrived in California and started investing and reinvesting in just about every thing he could get into. First, he found a little gold just east of Sacramento and it had probably produced about 20,000 thousand dollars in gold before he had a partner offer to buy it. His partner offered him 100,000 thousand dollars for the mine. Butch thought that was a fair offer since it was hard work mining the gold and harder yet to provide security for the property and the mined gold as every hard case in the country was always trying to steal property, especially if it was a producing gold mine. So selling seemed the best thing for him to do. He had consulted with his other partner, Henry, and he was of the same mind set. He was still looking for Bertha and wanted to have more time to devote to that effort. They divided up the money from that venture and Butch had offered to pay Henry all of his share right then and there. Henry had declined that offer and elected to take a small portion to sustain him while searching for his Bertha, and have Butch invest the balance in whatever Butch chose to get into next.
After ten or fifteen minutes, Mr. Meadows joined the writer on the porch. He had a waiter with him and had the man pull over a table between them and ordered iced tea for them both.
“I am sure glad you decided to tell me some of your life’s stories, Mr. Meadows. I was afraid that this old torn jacket of mine may have help you decide against using me as your writer” I said.
“That torn jacket is one of the things that made me decide to use you. There is a lot more to a man than a torn piece of clothing. Your approach and demeanor means a lot to me. Plus I liked the article you had given me was easy reading and not too complicated. I think we will do just fine together. So, let’s get started, what do you say?” looking at me for an answer.
“Sir, I am ready to write,” said Mr. Meadows and after thinking for a few seconds started talking.
“One of the things I invested in a couple of years ago was an ice house. That’s how we have the ice here today for our iced tea. We learned of the ice making technique a few years ago and ordered the equipment from back east. We were one of the first to build a unit of sufficient size to make enough ice for the town businesses and also for the rail cars going back east that need refrigeration. I have a contract with the Union Pacific and a local shipper to supply all the ice for their refrigerated cars. One of the best investments that I have made to date. And I probably have 15 or 20 delivery men inside the city delivering ice daily. Good business and if the customer does not use all we sell him, well, it melts pretty quickly so he still need more ice. But, I am getting ahead of myself. I liked your writing style, young man. Let see if we can come up with some stories. I just started telling of the ice house but that is kind of in the middle of our investments story. Where do you want me to start?”
“Well, sir, I think maybe I would like to start with your early arrival here and if you would like to share the details of your trip out to California, I would love to here that as well.”
And so he did. He shared the entire story about meeting Henry and Jane, the trip out west with the two of them, which I have already written and sent to a publisher was published as a serial story in the New York Daily. My publisher loved it. I’m hoping that the next installment with be as good as the first.
Follow The Sun
So Butch began explaining the happenings since their journey had been completed and their life in California had begun.
Upon their arrival in Sacramento, California, Butch decided that he needed to take care of some urgent business. He immediately asked Jane to marry him. Her English was still somewhat broken, but not bad enough that she did not misunderstand what he was saying. She accepted and as soon as a preacher and a chapel could be found, the deed was done. So, during the honeymoon life continued as normal. He figured they had work to do and he planned to stretch the honeymoon out for a life time anyway.
The second thing he did was rent a small farm with a house, barn, several sheds and several acres of land. The owner stated if Butch liked it they could talk about a selling price as he would like to get rid of that piece of property. He wanted to move away in a few months. Jane liked the place because a garden had already been started and that was something she had done as a little girl. The Navajo were a more settled tribe than the Apaches and did lots of planting and growing. She was very excited when she saw the vegetables growing. This would give her something to do other than housework, which she knew very little about, but Butch was very helpful in getting her used to living in a structured home, very different from a Hogan.
After getting the house into pretty good shape for him and Jane to move in, they went about getting one of the sheds fixed up so Henry could live there on a temporary basis, having a place to call home while he looked for his darling Berfa. He had high hopes that Bertha was still available and had not married nor became involved with another man. And he had equally high hopes that he would be able to find her. He felt sure she had traveled over Donner Pass from Utah into this area of California and it would be only a matter of time until he found her. Every available free hour he had was devoted to looking people and homes over hoping to see her.
Butch and Henry had a long discussion about finances shortly after their arrival in California. Butch let Henry know that traveling and looking for his soul mate was going to take a lot of money. He convinced Henry the two of them should search for gold, even if it was only a few flakes, it would help keep them going until they could determine just what they needed to do full time and it usually was a quick way to earn some money. They purchased tools and supplies for an extended stay up in the hills and set out to find some gold.
So, with Jane staying at the house, Henry and Butch headed up the American River toward Auburn, site of one of the early day gold strikes. Butch happened to meet a rancher on the way up that took a liking to the two men and shared a couple of ideas with them. Mr. John Sanders had been a rancher in this location since 1865, so he was pretty well established. He knew the country well and was a good judge of character. He liked these two immediately and decided to share this information with them in exchange for a small percentage of their find. This information was one of best tips they could have been given. John said that upstream on the American River and about 20 miles south of Auburn, there was a dry stream bed that once fed water into the river from the north, and he told them that it at one time flowed a good sized stream of water. Water that had flowed down from some of the areas that had later had working mines up in those mountains. That flow had continued until folks up stream had diverted the water around a new way to accommodate their placer mining operation. Further, he said since gold was so heavy it would settle in low spots until it was washed out with heavy rains or mined out, so he suspected that gold from eon’s ago had washed down that stream. Since the Auburn operation was going on first, the stream diverted second, the miners had simply by-passed this location forgetting that it was at one time a running stream coming down from the hills. He told Butch if he wasn’t so old he would take a crack at it himself, but he allowed it they would give him a 10% finders fee he would call it good. Both Henry and Butch thought that was a fair offer and shook hands with the man on the spot.
Butch and Henry found the location with the information the John Sanders have given them without any problems. Within a few hours, they set up a mound of rocks with a sheet of paper with their names on it, laying claim to this area for digging gold. This was government land and that was the proper way to lay claim according to the old rancher. He said as long as they were actively mining the site, no one else could claim it, saying that was one of the laws of the state of California. When they came back into town they could file a formal claim on that property. It sounded ok to Butch and Henry, so they decided to give it a go.
Picking a camp site back away from the river on the dry stream bed side meant they had to ford the river. The American was pretty wide at this point, but shallow. The horses did not have to swim getting across. There was ample grazing for the horses near the river and they hobbled them close enough to the river they could drink from it. Plus, there was a small spring that sent its water down the hillside in several small fingerlings of water, keeping plentiful grass growing on the slopes of the river.
Before they even started supper they were eager to get out the picks, shovels and pans and start the mining process. They were excited and had a very good feeling based on what Mr. Sanders had told them. Neither of the two of them knew anything about mining but they did know about gold and what finding some would mean to them and they knew about hard work. So they started digging in the dry stream very close to the water and would later work away from the river.
They would dig a while and then pan awhile. The first few hours were painfully slow and hard work. Blisters had forms on both of the men’s hands, but they hardly noticed. Henry said, “Boss, I don’t know ‘bout you, but my stomach thanks my throat done been cut. It’s growling and carrying on something awful. Don’t you reckon one of us need to rustle us a bite to eat?”
“Yea, Henry, you go ahead a fix us a little something. I’m gonna dig on a bit to see if maybe we can get a little color on our first day.’ He took a pan full of digging over to the water and sloshed water round and round in the pan. He saw color and hollowed. Henry came running and forgetting all about supper grabbed a pan and began sloshing water around his. He too had color.
Butch told Henry, “Henry, you pan and I’ll dig. Let’s see how much we can get in our pockets before dark.”
On day two, not every pan produced color but every fourth or fifth one did. They were not big nuggets, but nice sized flakes. And the weight of the small flakes was beginning to add up. By the end of day two they probably had two or three ounces, not a lot yet, but they knew they were in the right place. Henry said at supper one night, “Boss, you ‘member us talking round our camp fire on our way up he’ar to Californa, how we gonna look for gold and hope we can find some? I never dreams ‘bout us being partners in no mine, but, he’ar we be. Up he’ar with blisters on our hands, a good sized hole in the ground, and a bunch of gold in our pockets and digging for more. Reckon we be doing pretty good so fur, huh, Boss”.
“Henry, I am not the boss. We are partners as you said, so you can drop the boss talk. We are equal in this operation, Henry.”
” Yas suh, I knows that, but I just can’t get used to calling you nothing but boss or Mr. Butch. If’n it’s all the same to you, I’m jest gonna keep calling you Mr. Butch, but I might quit the boss part. That ok wid you?”
“Ok, Henry, what ever you want to do.”
After a week of working the claim, Butch estimated that they had about 25 or 30 ounces ready to be assayed and sold. Butch rode down to the Sander’s ranch and asked if he could come and help Henry guard the mine while he rode into Sacramento to sell his gold. He thought Auburn was to close to their diggings for right now and he needed to check on Jane, also.
The rancher not only kept Henry company, but offered several ideas on getting water to the diggings. As they dug they had gone up away from the stream following the dry stream bed and the further away they went they were that much further from the water. The rancher, John Sanders, suggested they dig a trench from the spring and route it down into the dry stream, right into their diggings. This really speeded up the mining operation and finding the gold by having the water right at the diggings. It was still not real heavy pay dirt, but it was showing color with most every pan now.
When Butch returned, he was amazed at how much gold they had mined while he was gone.
John stayed on with them for a couple of days, giving more valuable tips and lending a strong back with some of the digging. He suggested a sleuth box built right in the stream bed and the water running over it full time. They could shovel the ore right into the box and start picking the gold out from the box. This step and the extra shovel John provided really helped and while they were not millionaires, they certainly would now be able to bank a little money and start saving some for the future.
John mentioned that if the two of them got tired of mining he might like to buy this operation. He felt like it was going to be a big producer. Butch told him he would have first shot at it since he was a partner, but right now they wanted to continue on and put a little something back for hard times.
Butch had the gold hidden in the camp site in the advent crooks or robbers came by. So far they had not had anyone visiting their work site as it was a little hard to get to because of the deep cut of the river through that particular portion of the mountains.
One day, after finding a lot of color that week, Butch told Henry he was going up to Auburn, 20 or so miles away, to sell the next batch of gold. This time he probably had over a thousand dollars worth of gold to be turned into cash. He figured Henry would be ok because it would take less than a day to ride up there and back, so he did not go ask John to come and help this time.
While Butch was gone, Henry was hard at work digging and was stripped down to just his pants and shoes. His pistol and rifle were back inside the tent. He heard some riders coming up behind him and he immediately thought about maybe being in trouble. He slowly turned and realized he was looking at three of the most bad ass men he had seen since he left New Mexico Territory. Those back there were constantly harassing him at the saloon he worked at in Leasburg, a town notorious for harboring hard cases and gun fighters. These looked like they could have been some of that bunch. He was wondering how he could get to his gun and he hoped he could stall them for a while. He thought it may be close to the time for Butch to return, and he certainly hoped that was the case.
“Well, lookee here, a black man working a mining claim, and all by hisself”, said one of the riders. A heavy set, ugly cowboy, who looked to be about as mean as they come, and one who wanted to antagonize Henry a little bit. “Hey, how’s it going there, Blackie? You getting any color at this here location?” Not waiting for an answer, he continued. ” It don’t look like a very good spot to me. How about it Blackie, you hittin’ any color yet?”
Henry had turned slowly around and tried to maintain control of his thoughts and feelings. All three of the men had their gun hands close to their six shooters as if they were ready to reach for them at the slightest provocation. Henry figured it would be better for him to portray a simple miner and not a partner in this stake.
“Nah suh, I ain’t hit a bit of color yet. But I’se hoping I be hitting some a’for to much longer. This he’ar gold mining ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, you axing me. I ain’t found me no gold nugget yet.”
All three of the men had a good laugh over the gold nugget line. The one that was doing all the talking before spoke up again. “You layed claim to these diggings, Blackie? You know if you don’t file a claim, anybody can come along and claim it. I reckon you know that, huh, Blackie?” He dismounted and started over to the pile of rocks where the paper was showing that Butch and him had laid claim to these diggings.
“Nah suh, I ain’t laid no claim, but my boss has. He be back he’ar in just a few minutes. He had some bizness up yonder in Auburn and he be back he’ar directly. He got him a partner too, and that be Mr. John Sanders. You might know Mr. Sanders, he live just down the river a ways. He probably be up he’ar in just a bit too.”
Henry hoped he could fake being very busy and interested in returning to work might send them on their way. “Well, Mister, if’n that all ya’ll be wanting, I reckon I better get back to diggin’. Mr. Butch, he be my boss, and he don’t like no slackers. He ‘speck me to carry my weight and earn my pay. That ‘zackly what he say.” Henry chuckled. “So, if’n you folks ‘cuse me, I be getting back to digging.”
Henry turned his back on the three men and started digging again. The man yell at him, “Hey, get yore black ass back here. I ain’t through talking to you yet. I want you to pan some of those digging you got there and let me see for myself if you hitting any color.”
Henry knew he was in trouble as he had seen several flakes in the last few shovels he had dug. He was not using the sleuth box, choosing to use the pan while John and Butch were gone.
He dug a few more shovels of stuff he had already panned hoping he had not left anything in the pan as he discarded it. The man fired his pistol, kicking up sand from near Henry’s feet. “You better start listening to me, Blackie, cause the next one ain’t gonna be aimed at the sand. You fill up the pan and let me see if I can find any color. You hearing me or am I gonna have to shoot yore black ass?”
Butch was a mile or so upstream when he heard the gun shot. He was not quite sure what to make of it, but he figured it spelled trouble. He rode hard the rest of the way. He came into the camp hard and fast, low in the saddle and fired a couple of shots at the feet of the man with his gun out. The other two immediately went for their guns, firing as soon as they were in position. It had been a while since Butch had been in a gun fight and he missed his first two shoots. But one hit the saddle horn of the man closest to Butch, with shards of the saddle horn peppering the genitals of the man sitting in the saddle. He screamed and dove off the horse seeking cover. The other man had his hat shot off.
The man that had fired at Henry was intent on shooting Butch, taking deliberate aim to get him with one shot. But he was way too slow, Butch’s aim was off, but not his timing. He did not miss with the third shot, catching the man in the left shoulder, spinning him around giving Butch plenty of time to dismount and seek cover.
While Butch was seeking cover, so were the others. Their horses had run off in the direction of their riders, who were hiding behind some waist high rocks. The shooting had slowed as all the men were scrambling to find good cover.
By now, Henry was the forgotten man and he had made it to the tent and had his rifle, found a nice rock to hide behind and commenced firing. His bullets were kicking up rock shards peppering the two men hiding behind them. The rock shards hurt almost as much as bullets so the two cowboys gathered their horses and left the wounded man to fight this battle all by himself. The fighting was over in a matter of minutes, once Butch had ridden up. The wounded man was not nearly so tough now that Butch had his six shooter pointed at his belly.
He went to backtracking to Butch about his comments to Henry, saying he figured the black man was stealing someone’s claim and he was about to go over and check the paper under the pile of rocks. He was just shooting to keep the black man in line just in case he was a robber.
Butch knew a lot better, but he felt that the gun shot was going to keep the man honest for a few weeks while the healing took place. So Butch told him to ride off and not to show his face around this claim any more. He mounted as quickly as his wound would let him and took off in the direction of the other two.
After this, both men kept their pistols on while working even though it slowed them down a little. They figured it would be better to be slow than shot. Both of the men continued digging even after the attempted robbery as Henry told Butch about seeing lots of color in the last few shovels of ore.
Several more trips were made up to Auburn to sell their gold and a lot of folks took notice of him coming in so regular selling off goodly amounts of gold. Miners started following him back toward his digging. Butch would always hold up and let followers pass him by before he headed off the main trail down to his operation.
Always when Butch was gone he worried about Henry having some more surprise visitors. He and Henry had discussed selling the operation to John Sanders to allow them more free time and also the security issues.
Butch was missing his new bride and Henry wanted to do more searching for Bertha. They decided the next time they saw John Sanders they would discuss the sale of the mine. If he would give them a fair offer they had decided they would seek other employment opportunities.
On John’s next trip to the mine some discussions of the sale took place. John Sanders had been around mining enough that he could tell the color was plentiful and he felt like the mother lode was near. He did not want to tell Butch and Henry that, but he knew if that was the case, there were millions of dollars to be made at this site. So, John jumped at the chance to buy the mine and offered 100,000 to buy the mine. He said he would also have a partner who was owner of a mine up in Auburn.
Both Butch and Henry were ready for an immediate departure and as soon as the new miners showed up they would be ready to turn over the operation. All the gold dug until the take over belonged to them. This deal had sounded very good to a home sick Butch and a love hungry Henry. They made a trip to Auburn to sell the gold they had just mined and complete the sale arranging to have their money transferred to a bank in Sacramento.
Within a week of their meeting and selling of the mine to John, they were back in Sacramento.
Butch ended this installment of his story by saying, “It’s getting a little late and close to my eating time. You care to join Jane and I for supper. It will be my treat, if you are willing. Then we will take up some more stories tomorrow. What you say to that.”
“I say, that sounds pretty good,” said the writer with cramping hands from writing so much and so fast, who was needing a break and was excited to have someone buy supper.
TO BE CONTINUED……