Esther May nodded to herself. Meeting the Black Rock Apaches turned into an advantage for her, Abuela, and Alejandro. For the gifts of two horses and a few head of beeves, her little company was granted permission to travel with the Indians to Camp Grant.
The Apaches would stop at their semi-permanent settlement on Aravaipa Creek five miles from the confluence with the north-flowing San Pedro River.
Esther May and her companions would travel the extra few miles to the military post itself. If she arrived there with cattle, she’d sell the remainder. Her first choice was to let the Indians have them, along with two more horses, but Abula said no.
“Give too much is showing pride. Besides, a man has honor if he can steal by stealth. It is taught and practiced. I’ll be surprised if you reach the end of the canyon with your tłʼaajįʼééʼ.”
Abuela had spoken in Spanish. Esther May didn’t want the clan to know she understood and could speak their language. But the last word Abuela said wasn’t Spanish.
“I thought I was getting pretty good talking Apache,” Esther May whispered, “but I don’t know what tłʼaajįʼééʼ means.”
Be Aware, Woman
Abuela had a stern-eyed grin. “Pants! You’d better hitch your belt tight the way some of the men are looking at you.”
“Oh, Abuela. They’re interested in animals and the chuck wagon. I haven’t noticed anyone glancing my way.”
“They’re interested in wives, too. You start now, looking without looking, watching without watching. Always know who’s around you and where you can go if you have to run.”
A Diversion, Then
“All right, Abuela. I trust you, and I’ll do what you say. What if we loan them horses to pull travois sleds? That should keep them busy, or will that offend their leader, Tsúyé?”
“I’ll ask him.”
Tsúyé’s agility belied his years; he was already perched on the high wagon seat. Abuela kept her eyes on his feet while she spoke with him.
“What did he say?” Esther May had stood back during the exchange between the two elderly Apaches.
“Get the horses,” Abuela said. “He agreed.”
The Plan Flopped
Esther May’s plan to keep the men busy failed. She clamped her teeth together and noticed the Apache women did all the work of cutting poles and making the travois.
She should have known.
The men were lounging around except for Snake Bite and Chews Loud. They sat on horses ignoring everyone else.
Esther May dug around in the buckboard and found extra harnesses. She gave the leather straps to the women for attaching the skids to the horses and went back to saddle her gelding.
She swung a leg over the saddle as the women loaded the homemade sleighs. Esther May stopped a moment. How did the women break camp so fast? They had accomplished everything needed to move out while Esther May fiddled around. No wonder Tsúyé was already in his seat.
Esther May waved to Alejandro. “Let’s go!”
The Mexican popped the reins on the four mule team and hollered vulgar phrases at them. He’d told Esther May profanity was the only language mules understood.
Order of March
Alejandro turned the chuck wagon, with its two-wheeled trailer, alongside the stream. Abuela fell in behind, driving the buckboard. A bunch of Indian children had already scrambled onto the wagon. Esther May grinned as Abuela pretended not to notice.
She grinned even bigger when she saw that Apache women had mounted the travois-pulling horses. The women ignored the dark looks cast their way by men on foot.
Get The Strays Moving
Time to go to work. Esther May headed her gelding back to round up straggling cattle.
Winding through the brush, pushing the trail-savvy steers along, she noticed Snake Bite riding her way.
Does Esther May shoot or run? What do you say?
Travois were a way of life, especially for plains tribes. Often, dogs were the animal power. Here’s an article with pictures.
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