Alejandro turned the chuck wagon down the canyon, along Aravaipa Creek. Abuela, driving the supply buckboard full of Apache children, followed.
The trail-savvy brindle cow tossed her head and bawled. Pushed by the wagons, she headed downstream. Cows and steers joined her, mooing their displeasure. The herd set the pace, dropped cow-patties, and filled the air with animal musk.
The Black Rock Apache clan moved with a light step. Their children were in Abuela’s wagon, and horses with travois carried the tribe’s necessities.
Get ’em All
Esther May turned back to bring in stragglers—cattle brushed up and content to stay where they were.
She rode her gelding back and forth across the canyon and had picked up three head when she saw Snake Bite riding toward her.
Esther May slipped the rawhide retaining loop from the hammer of her pistol. The little leather noose was to keep her revolver from bouncing out of its holster during rough riding. But she may need to draw the gun in a hurry.
Abuela warned Esther May of the dangers to single women among Apache men, and she was ready. If any of the macho-minded men thought she was vulnerable, they’d get a .44 caliber awakening.
Snake Bite didn’t look directly at her but rode to the opposite side of the canyon. He began working through the brush and soon picked up two steers.
Esther May relaxed. Maybe Abuela’s judgment was harsh. Snake Bite was probably grateful for the horse and wanted to show appreciation by helping.
And he was helping. He kept to his side of the creek, and Esther May stayed on hers. More cattle were being found and moved than if she had to work the whole job by herself.
Most of the combined outfit of cattle, wagons, and Indians on foot had disappeared around a bend when Chews Loud trotted his father’s bay mare toward them. He waited until the four steers in front of Snake Bite passed, then joined his tribesman.
“What are you doing? Are you a boy trying to win a smile from the white woman by acting like you care about cattle?”
Esther May spoke Apache fairly well and understood more, but only Abuela knew. The men’s conversation perked up her ears. Was this a setup that Abuela warned about?
Esther May fell behind a little, so the men would have to turn their heads to look at her. She also edged closer to the creek to hear better.
“The cattle will feed us,” Snake Bite said. “I’ll get all of them. And if the white woman smiles at me tonight, it will show how smart she is.”
Discussion Or Competition
The men rode together and spoke mostly in monotones and without gestures. Esther May couldn’t tell if they were joking or if a rivalry existed.
“If she knows anything,” Chews Loud said, “she won’t share a blanket with a hole-in-the-leg man.”
Esther May looked closer. Snake Bite had a definite indentation in the calf of his right leg. Perhaps that’s where he got his name.
“It’s not my leg that’s important. When you grow up, you’ll understand.”
Chews Loud kicked his horse ahead and spun it around to face Snake Bite. “You will say too much one day. And then you will die.”
“That day is not today.”
Esther May wished she could see if Snake Bite grinned. Whether he did or not, Chews Loud clearly was offended. He made a short flat-handed swipe to emphasize his words.
“When we reach the settlement, the white woman will be mine, the horse you ride will be mine, and you’ll be dead.”
Will Esther May defuse the rivalry? Should she try? We’d like to hear thoughts.
Here’s a short article about tribal hostilities and the underlying reasons.
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