From the foothills, Easterly viewed the valley holding the settlement. This wasn’t the home of the notorious city. It couldn’t be. Atá Halné had to be mistaken. “Are you sure this is Santa Fe?”
“Yep. You’ve been on the Santa Fe Trail all day. Didn’t you notice?”
“Well, yeah, I saw when we climbed out of grassland and got on this wagon road. But we’re the only ones on it. How can it be the real Trail?”
“Not what you expected, huh?”
Easterly didn’t reply. They rode past a large speckling of low mud houses called adobe. They were bordered by fences of the same material. Wooden posts, which poked through the mud here and there, strengthened the clay brick structures. Farther along, in the center of the community, plastered and whitewashed buildings with boardwalks made up the main part of town.
There were no cattle herding through the streets, no gunfights, no mourners wringing their hands over a quick-draw pretender. He didn’t even see a cemetery.
Easterly’s stomach emulated his lasso swinging a loop. He and his chestnut stallion had drudged west for four months hoping to find the land of opportunity, romance, and adventure. Here were freight wagons, mules, sheep, and well-dressed people. His pulse pounded hot in his neck. He’d never waste money on those dime novels again.
What’s Your Label?
Easterly was on his own for the first time since leaving Little Black Water. Atá Halné had gone off to do whatever Indians did in Santa Fe. Before leaving he gave Easterly advice on job hunting, “… and remember to call me Arthur around other Anglos.”
“I don’t see what the difference is,” Easterly said. “A name is a name.”
“A name is a label,” Atá Halné/Arthur said in return. “Being labeled can be bad. Do you want to be called a tenderfoot?”
Using Your Label to Fit In
The surprise of Santa Fe was the old and the new blended into one dynamic mixture, creating a society where parasol-toting women stepped around ox carts as their citified sisters might promenade around fountains.
The stables were modern. The owner had a bona fide office inside. It may have been a converted stall, but it was all business with a roll-top desk against the wall. The floor, however, was glaring evidence of the nature of his business. The wood was stained with ground-in horse manure and alfalfa. Dust motes sparkled in the air currents and imparted the heady smell of equine musk. Easterly loved it.
He stood with his hat in hand. The owner took his time, then grabbed the arms of his chair and banged it up and down until he faced Easterly. “So you want a job, eh?”
More time elapsed. It seemed to Easterly to be hours. Why couldn’t the man say “yes” or “no?” There was no need to drag it out.
“Are you a cowboy?”
“Yes, sir.” There was no hesitation. The answer slid out of Easterly’s mouth.
“All right, then. I’ve got a horse needs breaking and I ain’t got the time to do it right now. You get the critter saddle broke and I’ll see what I can do with you.”
He led Easterly to the corrals and pointed out a skewbald mare with sunken flanks, at least two hands shorter than most of the other horses. “That little gal is your job. I’ll show you where the tack is and you come get me when she’s broke. Can you do that?”
How hard could it be to saddle and ride a small mare when he’d been mounting a stallion almost every day for the last third of a year?
“Yes, sir. I’m your man.”
How long will it take Easterly to train the skewbald to saddle? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Thank a veteran.