San Francisco Peaks

Moving On

Smitty led the way, C.J. and Clem following close behind, their horses keeping a comfortable pace. The ever-present scent of ponderosa pine, clear air, and leaving the scene of hostilities set C.J. at ease.

“This Webster’s got him a nice ranch,” he said.

Smitty’s hat bobbed indicating he heard the remark. He commented while fiddling with his shirt and pants pockets. “It’s a big spread, all right. Where we are now is over a mile high. There’s deer, elk, bear, turkeys, a mountain lion or two, but cattle up here need special places like meadows or that canyon you was rustlin’ them down.” He ducked his head. “No offense, Mr. Indian Fighter.”

A Derringer, Maybe?

Clem caught up with Smitty and grabbed his horse by the reins. “What’re you looking so hard for, Pardner? Got a lady’s gun behind your belt somewhere?”

“What? No. I got a pipe and tobacco pouch some’ers. I hope I didn’t lose ‘em in the fracas back there.”

“A pipe?” Clem laughed but kept hold on Smitty’s horse. “You’re sayin’ you smoke a pipe?”

Smitty got a half-crooked grin and shrugged. “Shame to say, I never could roll a cigarette. I tear the paper and scatter the makin’s. Just can’t do it.”

“It’s in his saddlebag,” C.J. said. “I saw it.”

Smitty pushed his hand into the bag closest to Clem and withdrew a cloth pouch. “Thank goodness.”

Bad For You

Clem released the reins. “That’s a nasty habit. Ain’t healthy. You ought’a quit it.”

For a moment, C.J. pondered the comment from a man who rustled and killed, then returned to the subject of the ranch.

“If he don’t need the game for meat, why does the rancher want to bother with this country?”

Smitty scooped tobacco into the pipe’s bowl. “Water.”

“What water? I’ve only seen a few ponds of red, dirty lookin’ stuff.”

“Up here is where it snows and rains. Water runs downhill, Mr. Indian Fighter.” (Did that sound sarcastic?) “Cattle need water. Drop down off the hill a little way and that’s where the grass grows and water dams up.”

Smitty struck a match on his saddle horn and puffed at his pipe. After two big clouds of smoke, he blew out the match and wiggled his fanny in the saddle. He could have been settling in a comfortable chair. “Water’s what ever’body fights over mostly. The outfits, anyway. They go face-to-face. Rustlers is the sneaky ones.”

Slip of the Tongue

If Smitty realized he had called Clem and C.J. sneaky, he didn’t show it. He seemed content to enjoy his smoke.

C.J. took note of the country. True, pine trees were everywhere, and they rode over decades of fallen needles acting like a cushion, quieting the horse’s steps. Then there were patches of hard, red dirt or granite soil—a beautiful and contrasting land.

They topped a rise and the view between the trees caused a lump in C.J.’s throat. The land sloped away past canyons and meadows to a broad plain. On the horizon, rising above everything in sight, stood a snow-capped mountain.

A Sacred Mountain

Smitty poked his pipe stem at the spectacle. “That’s the San Francisco Peaks.”

C.J. gulped, and took in the splendor – the vastness – of this new Arizona Territory. “And old Webster owns all of this?”

“Yep. Or thinks he does. The Apaches and Navajos think different.”

What does this mean for C.J.? Leave a comment now.

Did the early settlers think they could see San Francisco from the tall mountain, or is there another reason for its name? Here’s a short article about it.

To read the series click on the down arrow in the Archive list, start with Tales Old Roy Told and work up.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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