Alejandro and Abuela pulled their wagons under the abundant shade of thick-trunked cottonwood trees for lunch.
Esther May stopped to join them, but Snake Bite kept driving the stragglers forward to rejoin the herd.
Esther May stepped down from the saddle and rubbed her bottom. “Aren’t the Indians having lunch?”
Get Where They’re Going
“Apaches don’t stop. They eat while moving,” Abuela said.
Proving her point, Tsúyé climbed down from the tall chuck wagon and joined his tribe as they walked.
Alejandro chimed in. “From the confused looks on their faces, they wondered what’s wrong with us.”
“Except for Tsúyé’s son,” Abuela said. “He came riding by in a hurry after going back where you were. What happened?”
“That’s what I want to talk with you about, Abuela. I think you’re right. I may be a target of strutting roosters. Should I just tell them to back off?”
May Make It Worse
“If you talk the talk, they will know you’ve been listening and have fooled them. Never hurt a man’s pride and expect to get away with it.”
The old woman handed Esther May a bean-filled tortilla. “Better to keep your gun handy. They will have more respect for you if you kill one or two.” She chuckled and added, “They will still kill us, but they will respect us.”
Slip On By?
Esther May bit the end off a red pepper and took a sip of water. “Alejandro, is there any way I can move ahead and reach Camp Grant first?”
Alejandro shook his sombrero topped head. “From what I’ve heard, senorita, the canyon walls get taller and closer. So unless you leave the creek now and find your way overland, no. Even riding that way, you’d still have all the side canyons to go up and down. If anything, trying to get around would put you way behind.”
“Well, I’ve got until we stop for the night to figure out something.” Esther May sat cross-legged, alternating bites of tortilla with chili pepper.
Abuela sprinkled corn powder and crushed leaves into a leather pouch the size of her fist and gave it to Esther May. “Keep this with you.”
“What is it?”
“There are many ga’ns here. One of them may like this offering and protect you.”
Esther May understood the Apache belief of mountain spirits, ga’ns, living in the trees, streams, even in rocks and the wind. “Thank you, Abuela. It is a generous gift.”
Stay With Company
Esther May rode close to the wagons all afternoon. She kept her eyes darting from bush to bush but didn’t see anything. Not even a steer falling behind the herd.
The shadows filled the canyon wall-to-wall before Alejandro’s wagon caught up with the tribe.
The Apache women and children gathered wood for their fires. Esther May assumed it was to cook food as Alejandro did.
As she watched, some women did prop up meat on sticks over the flames, but the purpose of the small fires seemed more communal: a dancing light to say, “I’m here. Come join me,” but there was little back and forth visiting.
“Something’s wrong,” Abuela said.
Esther May felt it too. Even for the stoic Apaches, they were quieter than usual.
“Follow my lead,” Esther May said. She removed her hat and walked to the stream near the middle of the Indians’ encampment.
She spread her arms wide and spoke loudly in Apache. “Ussen is the Great Spirit. He gives me power to see into hearts. I see in the Black Rock People a heart burning with envy. Whoever keeps dead ashes of anger in his heart will die by the hand of Riding Woman.”
Will It Stop The Rivalry?
Esther May dropped her arms and shook her head. She screwed up her face into the most bewildered look possible and walked back to the wagon.
Hopefully, her act was convincing but not disrespectful.
Her appearance caused whispers and finally loud voices from the Apaches.
Tsúyé and several warriors came across the creek, Chews Loud and Snake Bite among them.
The clan leader pointed at Esther May. “How can you speak our language?”
Esther May turned to Abuela and asked in Spanish, “What did he say?”
Abuela answered, then with eyes downward, spoke to Tsúyé. “Riding Woman asked me what you said. We talk the tongue of Mexicans.”
Tsúyé lifted his chin. “All the people heard her talk to us.”
Abuela seemed to shrink into herself. “Yes, Chief Tsúyé. Sometimes when the spirit wants her to, Riding Woman speaks our language.”
The men, even Tsúyé, took a step back, but Abuela wasn’t through.
“Only the Black Rock People know if she speaks true.”
Will Esther May and Abuela get away with the ruse? Drop off your comments.
Here’s an interesting article covering food the Apaches might eat while moving.
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