The laughing water of Aravaipa Creek at Esther May’s campsite was a small stream. But the life-giving liquid provided for green brush, horsetail reeds, and trees: sycamore, ash, cottonwood, and willow.
Esther May thought it was an ideal location, especially since only a few hundred feet away from the stream, the Arizona desert reclaimed the land.
Alejandro, the cook and chuck wagon driver, said downstream would be prettier. But they’d have to walk and ride in the water because the creek ran through a canyon. He hadn’t been there, only heard about it.
Peace and quiet didn’t last long. An argument broke out among the Apache men.
Their leader, Tsúyé, stood with the two horses Esther May gave him. Although the men waved in his direction, they didn’t address Tsúyé, only each other.
Esther May eavesdropped and learned the heated discussion was about the mounts. The warriors agreed that Tsúyé should have the best animal. The difference of opinion was who would get the second one.
Chews Loud, the Apache that stared at Esther May, asserted that he would be the second owner. He was, after all, Tsúyé’s son.
Men dropped out of the conversation until Big Teeth and Chews Loud were left.
Big Teeth said, “All you will do is fall off. I will save Tsúyé’s child from shame and take the horse.”
“Be careful who you call a child, Big Teeth, or you will be called Gone Teeth,” Chews Loud said.
Too Much Wealth?
“Oh, Lord,” Esther May said to Abuela. “What have I done?”
“Not you,” the wiry, old Apache woman whispered. “This is good.”
Chews Loud had long pants. Big Teeth didn’t. He wore a long-sleeved, white shirt tied at the waist, a breechcloth, and knee-high moccasins. Esther May couldn’t tell if this was a status difference or preference, but the men were easy to tell apart. Big Teeth was a head taller.
Tsúyé’s son drew himself to his full height. “I ride to battle. You want a horse to ride away.”
If Big Teeth knew how to provoke Chews Loud, or accidentally stumbled onto it, Esther May didn’t know. But Big Teeth found Chews Loud’s tender spot.
“You aren’t a man yet, tall enough to see a horse’s back. But I’ll let you lift the tail and look there.”
Chews Loud screamed a war cry and drew his knife.
Big Teeth grabbed a hatchet.
Both men crouched, ready to spring.
“Stop!” Tsúyé’s command froze the men in place. “There will be a contest.”
The Apache leader glanced at Abuela. “Bring the Mexican’s hat.”
Tsúyé was wearing a sombrero, but Abuela didn’t question him. She spoke to Alejandro in Spanish. “He wants your hat.”
Esther May didn’t understand some of the words Alejandro spoke. She assumed they were the more colorful side of the language.
Alejandro pulled the rawhide strap from under his beard and surrendered the headgear.
Tsúyé told an Apache to hang the sombrero on a sycamore branch 30 yards away.
The mood in the camp, as far as Esther May could tell, had changed from tense to festive.
Women and children gathered. Each man, in turn, walked to a marker stick laid on the ground, nocked an arrow, and shot at the hat.
What Are The Rules
“How many shots do they get?” Esther may asked Abuela.
“What they decide before they start. This time, four.”
Each man took his four shots except Ear, whose bow broke on his second attempt. Esther May couldn’t decide if his name was Doesn’t Listen or Ear. She decided Ear was easier.
How they were able to keep score amidst the hooting and laughing, Esther May didn’t know. Most of the arrows went all the way through the hat.
Still, Alejandro’s sombrero was a pincushion since every man scored hits except Nose Whistle. He threw down his bow and stomped off.
“Who won?” Esther May asked.
“Next test decides,” Abuela said.
The Second Part
One-by-one, the men returned to the stick. This time, they put a fist-sized rock on the toes of their preferred foot. They were to kick the stone so that it landed under the hat.
“Whoever has the closest rock and the most arrows in the hat is the winner,” Abuela said. “Sometimes, how high the rock goes counts, too.”
This part of the contest was the most fun for the clan as they laughed and scrambled out of the way of misguided rocks. The men joined in the laughter, and all ill will disappeared.
After the last kicker sent a rock straight up, scattering the kids, Tsúyé handed the reins of the second horse to Snake Bite. “It is yours,” Tsúyé said.
The old leader spoke to the clan. “Chews Loud can ride my horse while the Mexican drives me on the tall wagon.” He held out the reins to his son and said, “It’s my horse I let you borrow. If you fall off, Big Teeth will ride instead.”
No one disputed the decision.
A laughing Apache returned Alejandro’s sombrero, still full of arrows.
Esther May grinned at the cook. “Help your passenger up, Alejandro. We’re headed to Camp Grant.”
Is it safe for Esther May to travel the canyon now? Leave your comment.
Aravaipa – laughing water. Here’s a video of the country. Have a look.
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