Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

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An Arizona Cowboy named “El Negro”

 

Forward

Few records of black Cowboys have made it to the present day intact. In truth, most all records of trail driving cowboys are nonexistent. The reasons vary but simply put, the Eastern press was more interested in Dime novel hero’s than every day working cow punchers.

In a past blog, I wrote of Charles Goodnight from the great State of Texas and his contributions to the West. Goodnight not only preserved the cowpuncher life on paper in writings but he used photography (stills and movies) to document it all. While Goodnight preserved history on film, the artist Charles Russel, captured it on canvas. Without these two and others who saw fit to shy away from exploitation, we would have few truthful facts of our Western past.

What is known as fact, is that at one point over 5,000 cowboys out West were black. Many were slaves or sons of slaves that previously escaped the Southern plantations before the war and headed into Mexico. While in Mexico, they learned the art of horsemanship and cattle wrangling from the Mexican cattle ranchers on large haciendas.

While the Mexican Vaquero Cowboys were considered excellent wranglers in Mexico, in Texas and other western States they were looked upon as lazy and inept, too concerned about their wardrobe and not enough on actual labor. In truth, many Mexican wranglers did in fact quit the trail drives before reaching their destination. Why? Possibly the weather, possibly the trail drive life itself. Much more likely though it was a cultural thing. While many were the butt end of jokes for their fancy dudes or their lack of, Mexicans did not need to drive their cattle any great distance to market. In Mexico, a hundred mile drive was considered a long drive while in the Western States, a thousand mile drive was not out of the question. The vaquero was not used to camping out for months at a time.

After the Civil war, many slaves who had escaped slavery by heading into Mexico, headed back into the western states looking for work on the cattle drives. Their experience in wrangling and their willingness to work hard were much appreciated by both the trail boss and their fellow white wranglers. True, there was still discrimination of sorts but it was more a cultural segregation rather than a dislike for the blacks in general. Whites had their way of enjoying their off time as did the blacks.  On the trail, discrimination was not in evidence as much as in town. On the trail, the value of the cowboy was determined by his experience, abilities and willingness to put in a long day without complaint. All hands ate together, rode herd together, entertained each other in song and doctored each other without consideration of race. These values did not transfer to conditions in many towns though. In town, each race generally went their own way and a Black cowboy was pretty much expected to follow many protocols formed by southern values while in town . Blacks were expected to bed black whores, drink in saloons that served “greasers” (Mexicans), Blacks and the town’s less fortunate folk. The more “civilized” the town was, the greater the segregation. Mining camp towns were much more liberal. This might have been due to the fact that many miners were from Europe and China and were considered low lifers anyway.

Before one judges the Western States too harshly though, facts show that those Blacks living in the East experienced much fewer personal freedoms and dealt with more open hostility than those who worked on the Western Trails.

Many a firm bond of friendship was formed on the trail. There are documented examples of cowboys of different race becoming “pards” (best friends for life) and even business partners. Race played little part in their friendship. Each described the other as,”one to ride the river with”. (it was the highest of compliments given in the days of the Old West).

This is a story based on one of those friendships. While I tried my best to discover and tie together  as many facts as possible, I regret that much of it had to be interpreted through the eye of poetic license and my own imagination. Still, the photos and places are real as is the lone Cowboy buried under the sky of Arizona.

Chapter 1

The old Apache Trail corral as it looks today.

The first of the eighty five head of cattle topped the rise on the mountain trail and began their march downhill towards the rickety creosote drenched wooden cattle pen below.  Having scoured the hills and arroyo’s west of Fish Creek in the Arizona Territory for the last three weeks, the three wranglers drove the J_E branded cattle they found down the trail they called the New Wagon Trail (Now named the Apache Trail or State Rt 88 out of Apache Junction just east of Pheonix).

Fifty five of the fattest beeves rounded up would be sent off to the market at Mesa, the rest would be driven a short distance to graze on better grass to fatten up. The fifty five head sold would help pay some of the J Bar E’s ranching bills and put some jingle of coin in everyone’s pocket.

As trail drives went, it was a short one. Once the cattle were rounded up and corralled near the Superstition Mountains, only twenty miles remained. Rounding the beeves up and getting them gathered at the separating corral though was another story.  First, one had to find the beast hidden among the mountainous crags and peaks, then try and convince it to leave the protection of high brush, cacti, rock formations and mesquite trees for the open trail. Second, the Wranglers had to keep them from wondering off on their own as they were driven.

The three J Bar E hands, two brothers and the son of runaway slaves, yipped and howled at the cattle as they made their way downhill to the open gated pen below.  Once the cattle were penned up, the three could pitch a tent, eat a real meal and let down their guard a bit. They knew within a day or two the rest of the J Bar E hands would arrive from the ranch to help drive the cattle into town.

While most Yavapai and Apache Indians had been moved north into the territory near Fort McDowell, enough still remained hidden in the mountains to be cause for concern.

In most cases, the Indians still hidden in the Superstition Mountains kept to themselves. There were however the inevitable run in’s with ranchers and miners. Sometimes a gift of a cow or two given to the band would be sufficient to stave off any violence, other times a few gunshots directed their way would suffice.  And sometimes there was a killing needed.

The two brothers, Cody and Shane Clemans had been hands on the J Bar E ranch for nearly fifteen years. Neither could tell you their exact age but it was known Cody was the oldest by a year. It was thought they were in their early forties. Both brothers were of wiry build. No taller than six inches over five feet, they yet had the strength and endurance that surprised many. Neither were married and had no inclination to ever being so. Like many other area cow pokes, a trip now and then to the copper mining town of Globe or the flat dusty town of Mesa satisfied any carnal needs at the local whore house.

The brothers were simple men with simple needs. To the Clemans, right was right, wrong was wrong and there was no need for the color grey.  While Shane owned the only Bible, both believed it was the word of God and the way to salvation but neither had ever been inside a church. The two accepted their lonely roles in life from atop of a saddle and never complained of their station. They rarely socialized with other groups but had a common friend they called Elly.

Elly was black. As black as coal is to marble. Unlike many Negro’s, Elly had no brown whatsoever in him. His heritage was Mexican, his ancestry African.

Elly’s parents had fled slavery in 1850 from Virginia with their infant son Ebenezer. They made their way on foot to Mexico by skimming the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The trip took two and a half years to complete. In the swamps of Georgia, Ebenezer fell victim to swamp fever and passed away. He was buried alongside the banks of the Ogeechee River.  The parents continued on to Mexico abstaining from intimacy along the way to prevent further pregnancies while on the run.

Elly was born and grew up in Guasave, Mexico where his parents named him El Negro… “The Black One”.  He spoke excellent Spanish as well as English and an African tribal language taught to him by his parents.  He had no siblings and when his parents passed away he was left alone.  At the age of twenty two, the War between the States ended and Elly made up his mind to leave the Hacienda he was employed at and  head north into the United States.

Smartly dressed in the Vaquero fashion he reached the Arizona territory. There he found employment at the recently formed J Bar E ranch. Folks at the J Bar E took to him right off even if they had reservations about calling him, “El Negro”.  To ease their discomfort, Elly told them to just call him Elly. Everyone breathed easier after that. They admired his roping skills and determination to see a job well done. While many cowhands shied away from work off of the saddle, Elly had no such qualms. He appreciated the fact that hard work made him a valuable hand.

Within a year of starting his employment, the owner of the J Bar E ranch built comfortable wooden bunk houses for his hands. No one made a fuss when Elly threw his bedroll onto a top bunk in one of the bunk houses and then told everyone he chose that bed because he was afraid of being pancaked  if the whole thing collapsed. The only comment was from his bunk mate below who asked in good humor if Elly ever wet the bed. “I don’t need no watering, I ain’t no plant!” Elly was easy going and had a quick smile. He took a ribbing and gave it out in equal amounts.

The hands at the ranch were not immune from Elly’s practical jokes nor was Elly immune from theirs. A respect had been formed for the young black man among all the hands. In particular, the two Clemans brothers seemed to gravitate to Elly’s company.

In a short time, the three were inseparable in work and play.  The Ranches in the area got to know Elly too and had no qualms with “ El Negro” showing up at social functions and get together’s thrown by them.

 

Chapter 2

“Shane!” Elly shouted, “Drop back and scoot that brindle cow back onto the trail, she’s lookin’ to head into that high brush over yonder!”

Shane yanked the reigns left to head off the escaping brindle cow.”Yee cow, Yee ha, git on cow!” Shane yelled while twirling his lariat rope in circles to frighten the cow back onto the trail. Once the brindle was back with the heard, Shane pulled up again alongside the cows.  Whacking his lariat loudly against his chaps, he kept the attention of the heard focused in heading to the corral below. “I sure am glad to see that pen!” Cody commented, “I’ll go on ahead and raise the barrier pole to guide ‘em on in.”

Cody spurred on ahead in order to reach the corral and lift the long wooden pine tree pole in place. The pole extended the gates length giving it a funneling effect. “C’mon cow! Git on down there,” Elly and the Shane shouted as the herd picked up speed as they sensed an end to their travels.

Quickly, the herd made it to the trails bottom where a short rock strewn trail led to the corral. Cody held up the rail while Elly and Shane pushed the cattle towards the open gate and into the pen. A small stream not thirty feet from the backside of the corral gave birth to the corrals location alongside the Apache Trail. Once inside the corral, the cattle moved in a clockwise motion calming them down.

An empty wooden water trough and pail stood at the far end of the corral  where the stream was closest. The three waited until the cattle had settled a bit before filling the trough from a small nearby stream fire bucket brigade style. Once watered, the cattle seemed content to stare vacant eyed at the three as the made camp.

That night after a meal consisting of Cowboy beans*, bacon, biscuits and coffee, Elly brought out a small tinned can of buttermilk. The three friends sat across from each other as the campfire dwindled to glowing coals. Sitting cross legged, Elly raised the buttermilk tin as if to make a toast, “Ah…buttermilk,  the true gift of the cow gods! “

Elly removed his left boot and  using the rowel of his spur, he punched a hole in the tin can’s top and lifted the can to his lips. After taking a long swig, Elly put the half empty can down next to where he sat and placed a flat stone on it’s top and told his friends, “…Keeps the scorpions out’a my milk at night.”

Cody pointed to the can and asked, “Y’all gonna finish it off in the morning then? Won’t it be spoilt by then?”

“Shoot, it’s already spoilt Cody. Go ahead, Elly, let’m smell that stuff.”

“It ain’t already spoilt, just smells that way.” Elly responded.

“Then why drink it if it smells so bad,” asked Cody.

“If the two of you hadn’t been raised by a she badger, your Mama would have introduced you to the cow gods nectar when you was young. That’s the thing. You gotta start drinkin’ it young. At your ages, what are you two now, 97…104? Anyway, at your ages that ‘ol slab of leather you two call your tongues couldn’t  rightly tell the difference between a lemon and a cows butt hole!”

“Speaking of butt holes,” Shane said, I can still remember years ago when we met, the trick old John Morrow played on you the first night we all met.”

“What was that? Asked Cody.

“Shoot Code, you remember don’t you? About the North star?”

Elly sat grinning at the fire and chuckled, “Hell, if he don’t, I do! I can’t believe I fell for that one.”

“Be pals an’ remind me.”

Elly looked over at Shane and nodded saying, “You tell ‘em Shane, I ain’t one to add to my own foolishness.”

“Well”, started Shane, When we all set up that first night at the J Bar E, Old John Morrow was ranch boss back then.  You remember Ol’ John don’t you Cody?”

“Sure, he was one man I thought would never die…too tuff. He probably went on down ‘an beat ‘Ol Satans ass then took over hell for himself!”

“Yup,” Elly said, “that was old John all right, but he had a sense of humor too.”

“He sure did. Come time to hand out job duties, ‘Ol John asked Elly here if he knew how to tell the time of night by the stars. Now, Elly here is one smart Mexican transplant but he’d never knowed about readin’ the star clock back in Mexico. So ‘Ol John Morrow says to Elly, “I want you to take first watch.” He then points at the North Star and says to Elly, “When that there star sinks down below the horizon, it’ll be time to change watches. When it does, come and wake me ‘an I’ll take your place. Then you can sleep like a baby till sunrise”.  Well, that sounded just grand to Elly here. If you recall, that first day we all busted butt and was pretty much wiped out.

So, there sat Elly, hour after hour watchin’ an’ waiting for the North Star to sink itself below the horizon when up comes the sun! ‘Ol John come out his bed role yawning like a newborn calf ‘an walks on over to Elly and says, “Well?” Elly responds, “I don’t know what happened Mr. Morrow, I watched that there star all night like you wanted me to but she never moved!”  By now the others was up ‘an movin’about and had heard the conversation. They all fell over laughin and carryin’ on. Elly sat there lookin’ confused when ‘Ol John tells him. “Son, I was yankin’ yo’ leg! That ‘ol star is the North Star ‘an she ain’t never gonna move from that there spot! But thanks for standin my watch, I sure did enjoy getting’ myself a full nights sleep!”

The three sat laughing at the thought as the moon rose over the desert causing the coyotes to yip and yelp and the cattle moo’d contentedly in return.

Chapter 3

Morning broke and Elly was the first to open his eyes. What he saw froze him in his bed role. Indians.

As quietly as he could, Elly spoke through unmoving lips trying to wake and warn his two friends. “Shane, Cody, wake up, wake up but don’t move…Indians!”

Cody popped his eyes open and moving only his eyes looked up the trail where they had come from. There he saw what Elly had been warning them of. Four Indians on horseback sat on the rise looking down on them.

“They look like Apache” Cody whispered to Elly. “Either that or Yavapai. I hope they’re Yavapai, they’s  somewhat friendly to whites.”

“How do they feel about negro’s? “ Elly whispered back.

“Sorry, you know what I meant Elly.”

“Yea, just trying to calm my nerves by bein’ funny. You think we should wake up now?”

Without answering, Cody rose up and stood looking at the group on the rise. When no one reacted to his movement, Cody strode over to Shane and nudged him with his foot. “Shane, wake up bro. We may have some trouble comin’ on. Take a look up yonder at the rise in the trail.”

Shane rose and stood next to the now standing Elly.

“What do you think El?”

“Beats me, that one fella there that looks like he’s had a bad night’s sleep got a nice Henry long gun on his lap though. The others look less aggressive but don’t let that fool nobody.”

“Look, here they come an’ our rifles are still over there by the saddles from last night.”

“Cody”, said Elly, “You’re just full of good news this mornin’ ain’t you?”

The four Indians slowly made their way into the camp. Shane raised his hand in greeting. The four stopped fifteen feet from the trio.

As luck would have it, the one who Elly had said looked as if he had a bad night’s sleep moved forward.

Stopping less than the length of a man away, the foul looking leader pointed his Henry rifle at the cattle and said. “Want cattle.”

Elly stepped forward saying, “Well friend, if you’re interested in buying…”

The rifle moved from the cattle to face Elly. “Chookna want all cattle. Give.”

“They’s J Bar E brand Chookna, they ain’t mine to give or sell.”

The leaders dark face became red with anger. Shane swore later it turned purple.

“Chookna take, you go.”

“I ain’t goin’ no where’s without my cattle friend.” Elly replied,” Now if you had asked nice like I might’a looked the other way while you drove one or two off. But now you’re pissin’ in my boot an’ I don’t take to that.”

Losing face, Chookna quickly turned in the saddle to speak to those behind him. As he did so, his horse took that moment to shift from one front leg to another causing Chookna to partially lose his balance.

He grabbed the reigns and in the process of twisting back to face Elly, began losing the grip on his rifle. The Henry slipped further and as Chookna grabbed for it he hit the trigger.

One can think of a million reactions to seeing their best friend’s life snuffed out before your very eyes but until that day ever happens, whatever you thought you’d do isn’t what’s going happen.

The three Indians behind Chookna sat wide eyed and jaw dropped.

Cody stood staring in unbelief at his friend laying on the ground as Elly’s legs shook violently then stilled.

Chookna realizing his mistake opted to act as if it were all  Elly’s fault. “Teach dirty Nigger give cattle. No anger Chookna”.

Shane went insane.

Without even a pocket knife to attack with, Shane resorted to his hands to avenge his friend’s death. Having been using the corral fence to lean on, Shane now turned to it. Grabbing the old weathered top rail, Shane tore off a six foot splintered piece and ran headlong to where Chookna still sat smugly on his horse. Screaming and pointing the splinter as a spear he ran and yelled, “He ain’t no Nigger damn your heathen ass!” Before Chookna could react, the six foot long splinter entered his throat. As Chookna’s eyes widened in surprise, the pointed splinter continued its journey until over a foot protruded past the back of his head. With only a gurgle, Chookna slid off his horse and lay on the ground.  The smell of blood frightened the horse causing it to stomp onto Chookna’s head. The sound was like a melon being dropped.

Within seconds of Chookna’s death. Shane and Cody were at Elly’s side. Both knew Elly was gone. But that didn’t prevent Cody from lifting his friends head onto his lap. Rocking Elly back and forth as one would rock a baby, Cody grieved. So profound was Cody’s grieving moans, the three remaining Indians dismounted and with looks of shock and tears streaming, joined Cody in his grief. When he could, Shane took Cody by the hand and led him off to regain what composure he could, Shane then turned to the Indians still kneeling alongside Elly.

An old Indian lifted his tear stained face and spread his hands out towards the other two. “No want kill man. Want eat cattle. Hungry. Young hungry. No can buy.  Please. Forgive.”

Shane’s rage cooled as he realized the Indian before him had no intention of causing anyone harm nor had they intended to. It really was just a horrible accident. What he could not forgive was Chookna calling Elly a dirty Nigger. He knew the type of person Chookna was, he’d seen it in whites plenty of times… they were called cowards and bullies.

Having regained some composure, Cody stepped up to Shane and the grieving Indian and asked Shane. “What we gonna do now Shane? Oh God I can’t believe this happened. Oh my God, poor Elly.”

Ignoring the Indian standing next to him for the moment, Shane stepped over and bent down to straighten his friends clothing. Death being what it is does not mean you still can’t be cared for. After fixing Elly’s collar, he removed his own bandanna and placed it over the gaping chest wound. He brushed the dust from Elly’s short kinky hair and using his hand, closed Elly’s eyes.

“Should we bring Elly back to the ranch Shane?”

“No, it’s a two day ride back. Besides, the rest of the hands are headed our way here. No tellin’ who would be left at the ranch when we arrived.”

Cody nodded his head in agreement,” That and it’s well over a hundred out here.  Elly’d never make it back proper like. As far as I know, Elly had no kin. We was his only real friends.”

“True Cody, then let’s bury him right here where we had us a good time tellin’ tales last night. I think He’d like that.”

“Yeah, we did us a bunch of laughing for sure. I know he only knew about cattle, so bein’ near the cow pen’ll be good too.”

Before Shane could answer Cody in agreement, the Indian who had spoken earlier approached Shane.

He held out his two hands as if they had been tied together. “Jail. Fort MaDoowl. Kill man, kill Appapka.

“What are you sayin? You want me to take you to Fort McDowell so they could hang you? You didn’t do nothin’.”

The Indian looked flustered, “Appapka talk sad.” Pointing to his two friends the Indian repeated. “Talk sad. No kill man. Cattle for young.  I trade Appapka for cattle.

“What? You want to trade yourself for a few lousy cow?”

Shane reached over and turned Cody to face him. “Cody, what I think we got here is a group of Indians starving to death somewhere in the hills tryin’ their best to avoid bein’ sent to the Reservation. Appapka here is willing to trade himself to be hung for Chookna’s killin of Elly. He ask that we give him a cow in return. Not for him mind you but for those kids they got starvin’ up there in the hills somewhere. Right is right and wrong is wrong Cody. I can’t set the value of anyone’s life under that of a cow. We can’t do a dang thing for Elly, but we can pass on some good from all this by helpin’ this here group out. Savages or not,  I’m for given ‘em a few head and forgiven ‘Ol dead Chookna here so it don’t weigh upon my soul.”

“We ain’t done nothin’ in our life to be ashamed of, Let’s not start now Shane. I’m with ya’ in this. Let’s tell these folk to haul Chookna on out’a here, give ‘em a few head and let bygones be gone for good. We need to tend to Elly here and it’s gonna be a scorcher come an hour from now.”

Between sign and broken English Cody and Shane conveyed their intentions to the three Indians.  As they were heading off with three cows, one of the Indians that had stayed silent through the entire process stopped his horse, dismounted and ran back to where Cody and Shane stood watching them go.

“Allanipi  speak small your tongue. I have young one. Him Gunaratna, no cattle,Gunaratna die. Me, Allanipi die.” With that he reached out and grabbed Shane by the arm and squeezed it tightly then reached out and placed his hand over Shane’s heart, then placed the same hand over his own heart and smiled.

“You’re welcome Allanipi. Maybe someday we’ll bump on into each other along the trail. If we do introduce me to your son Gunaratna.”

Allanipi looked a tad confused by Shanes long words but smiled anyway, turned and caught up to the others.

Left alone, Shane and Cody suddenly felt the weight of Elly’s death upon them. Without speaking more than a few words, they went about digging a grave near the corral. The desert being what it is, they could dig no more than a couple feet down before hitting bedrock. They spent the afternoon in the intense heat looking for suitable stones to cover Elly’s grave with.

“Well, I think we gathered enough stone Shane, let’s say goodbye to him and cover him up.”

“Yeah, I just still can’t believe all this happened. If only Elly was standin’ a couple more feet right or left, he’d be alive right now.”

“That’s the way it is bro. Both you ‘an I someday will be laid down ‘an if we’s lucky, someone will be sayin’ the same thing over our graves too.”

They placed Elly into the shallow grave, covered him with his bedroll and patted where his head was before placing dirt then the stones on top of him. When it was all done Shane said. “I wish I had my Bible. I feel we should say some words over him or somethin’.”

“You go ahead Shane, you memorized more of the Lords word than I ever did. I got myself another idea though for sayin’ goodbye to him.”

So Shane spoke the Lords words of passin’ through the valley of death as best as he remembered while Cody nodded in agreement.

As Shane turned to walk away, Cody said, “ Not yet Shane, I got somethin’ here I want to give ‘Ol Elly.”

Cody walked over to where Elly had put his can of buttermilk with the rock on top and picked it up.

“Seems only fittin’ that he have somethin’ he liked a lot to be with him.” At that Cody poured the half full warm can of buttermilk into the pile of stones that covered Elly. “Here ya’ go old friend, drink up an’ may you never get thirsty again. May the Good Lord have plenty more of these up there in Heaven.”

The two stood there for a moment before Shane replied, “That was nice Cody, real nice. Elly’d be happy the way we sent him off that way.” After saying that, Cody secured the empty buttermilk can within the stone pile so animals couldn’t dislodge it.

That evening the rest of the J Bar E ranch hands showed up earlier than expected at the corral. Saddened by the news, each paid their respects over Elly. By mornings light the corral stood empty. A cloud of dust a few miles away told any onlooker that the J Bar E ranch had moved the herd out.  Only Elly was left behind to watch over the empty corral.

Before saddling up and heading out. Shane took the time to carve Elly’s name and birthplace in one of the corral’s planks near Elly’s grave for his grave marker. Meanwhile, Cody had thought to add his and Shane’s name on another plank to let folks know that they were El Negro’s forever pards.

Today, that old corral could still hold a herd…with a few minor repairs. Nearby, partially hidden under a small desert tree and scrub lies Elly’s remains along with an old buttermilk can still stuck within the stones. Through internet research, it was determined the construction of that style of can by it’s solder joints and bottom lid  dated between the years 1879 and 1887. Over the years others have found and carved their names into the corral. Those, like the grave of El Negro, Cody and  Shane are still perfectly legible as their knives would etch off the old creosote exposing the still fresh looking yellow Poderosa Pine underneath.

The latest date was carved into the old fence rail was from S. C. in 1938…Shane Clemans?

Elly’s grave as it looks today.

Elly’s buttermilk can. I moved it for the photo but replaced it afterward.

The desert’s dry heat has been good to Elly’s marker.

The only evidence that Shane and Cody Clemans ever wrangled near the Apache Trail.

* The recipe for real Cowboy Beans is now posted on my heritage and trail cooking blog at : http://cookingonthetrail.wordpress.com/