Not Gathered At The Table
Silas, Eugene, and Harold took turns eating. Two of them stood guard outside the camp at a time while one satisfied his hunger. It seemed to be a seamless rotation without discussion.
C.J. took note of the casual way the men kept their weapons near, wondering if they were putting on a show the way some folks liked to buffalo newcomers, or if their actions were something he should emulate. Either way, he was excluded, and it was like sitting on a boil. They made him feel like a visitor in his own camp: a boy not yet trusted with grown-up work.
Harold cut a piece of meat and doled out boiled beans onto a blue enamel plate that Esther May provided. He sat with his back against a juniper tree and sopped the plate with sourdough before swallowing the mixture in three mouthfuls. He sliced the venison and tapped the end of his hunting knife against the enamel, ping, ping, ping, and shifted a wad of food into a cheek. “Better get rid of the tin stuff.”
It was the first Harold spoke to him, and C.J. wasn’t expecting it. “What? Why?”
“Oh, really?” C.J. grinned. It was all a joke they were pulling on Esther May and him. “You’d rather eat with your hands?”
Harold cut another of deer meat. “Use wood.”
“Wooden plates? Just toss out Esther May’s table setting, huh? She’d love that idea.”
Harold finished, rubbed the heel of his hand across his mouth, and stood. He appeared ready to say something else, shrugged, slipped his knife back into its scabbard, and returned his plate and spoon to where Esther May and Miriam tended the meal.
Learning The Lay Of The Land
As Harold disappeared through the brush, Silas emerged to eat. He filled a plate and sat near C.J. Like the young man he relieved, Silas jammed in a mouthful of food before talking. “You going down to the mines, boy, or are you looking to homestead?”
“Copper. Lots of copper the way you’re headed.”
“Don’t reckon so.” C.J. glanced at Esther May. “Thought we’d get a ranch over to Arizona Territory.”
Silas grunted. “Man wasn’t created to be a prairie dog. It’s mean work; men die at it all the time, but it’s safer than living alone in this country.”
C.J. frowned. These men talked in circles.
Silas wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I heard Harold tell you about keeping quiet. He was warning you.”
“About what? You’re all carrying on like there’s a big mystery that I ain’t heard of yet. What is it?”
“No mystery, boy. It’s Apaches. It’s their land, and they don’t want us here.”
“The Apache war is over, ain’t it? Wasn’t their big chief killed?”
“Mmm, yes. Mangus Coloradus killed three years ago, but nobody told the Apaches they was whipped.”
“Can’t be that bad.”
Silas sighed and suddenly looked older. “Why do you think we’re traveling east? Me and Miriam had a nice place north of the copper workings. Good country—water. We never bothered nobody. Had a garden and beef cattle.” He ducked his head. One day, not ten steps from the door, Apaches killed my daughter and youngest son. Me and Eugene was out with the cattle and heard the ruckus. By the time we got back, Miriam was the last alive, barely. Our neighbors were Harold’s parents three canyons over. They were killed while Harold was off after a mountain lion. He’s the last of their family.”
The older man shook his head. “We gave Apaches their victory and left everything to ’em. You’d think it’d be enough, but some still want to make us pay for settin’ foot on their land.” His lips tightened. “We’ve had skirmishes.”
Blood pounded in C.J.’s ears. “Still?”
Silas beat the fist of one hand in the palm of the other. “Three days ago. They’re still out there. Maybe stopped to hunt or smoke. I won’t relax on this side of the Rio Grande. You’d best turn around and come back with us.”
Are the risks as bad as he’s told? What will they do? Leave a comment now.
Here’s an article mentioning how the Apaches shut down a rich copper mine, the Santa Rita del Cobre, for years.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
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