Lava Flow of Cattle
Esther May, and young Nitis with his arms around her waist, rode her gelding in a crush of cattle.
The herd jostled and bawled their anxiety as they were pushed from behind into a natural squeeze chute in narrow Aravaipa Canyon.
Forward motion downstream was a few steps at a time. Cattle lifted their heads and bellered their displeasure. Swinging horns poked, but so far, hadn’t gored.
A Way Out?
On horseback and higher than the cattle, Esther May saw the creekbed turn north from its western journey. At the bend, on top of a bank perhaps 10 feet tall, sat a plateau filled with large cottonwood and sycamore trees. A game trail scarred the bank face from the upper-left to the creek at lower-right.
For Esther May to reach the trail, she’d have to pivot momentarily against the push of cattle to ride up out of the tide of hooves and horns.
She undid the short rope Alejandro made for her. He called it a dogal, meant to keep a calf off its mama while milking, but the size was right for swatting cattle while herding them.
Esther May yelled and swung the rope, working her way to the edge of the river of cattle. At the foot of the trail, the herd balked, pressed against the bank.
“Hold on,” she told Nitis and spurred the gelding against the steer she needed to move.
Already on the prod, the reluctant beef wanted nothing to do with Esther May’s yelling and rope swats. He lowered his head.
She couldn’t allow her horse to be the target of those horns. Esther May drew her Colt and shot the cow in front of the steer.
The pistol’s report seemed magnified threefold in the tight space between the canyon walls. It was a gamble, and Esther May aimed at the pigheaded steer if it didn’t work.
But the noise and space in front of him encouraged the steer to leap forward, and Esther May applied spurs to the gelding. He lunged up the trail to the top of the bank.
She took a deep breath and relaxed for the first time since letting herself get caught in the press of beef. She rode forward through the trees until she reined up short.
An Apache warrior stood with an arrow pulled back for launch. The missile was aimed at her chest, where an odd tingling signaled the suspected impact area. A second man stood near a bighorn ewe he had apparently been cleaning. He still held his bloody skinning knife.
Esther May raised both hands and started to speak when she noticed the eyes of the Apaches shift behind her. Turning, she saw the cattle coming.
They had followed her up the trail.
“Get in the trees. Quick,” she said in Apache. She rode forward to the man with the bow. “Take Nitis with you.”
“No!” the boy cried and held on tighter. “I stay with Riding Woman.”
With no time to talk, Esther May spun the horse and galloped back to the bank. A steady stream of cattle plodded up the trail.
She shot two of them. One fell off the path and back down the bank. She hit two more, effectively plugging the way up. She was reloading when the warriors joined her.
“As soon as the herd passes, you can have the meat,” Esther May told the Apaches. “Leave the cattle for now, so others don’t come up here.”
“How do you talk the tongue of The People?” one said.
“When the Power is on me. I am Riding Woman.” She hoped a bit of bravado would stop any more questions.
Esther May turned and rode through the trees, across the little plateau until she ran into more cattle.
The creek had curved back, and she was on a spit of land that sloped to the water. But it didn’t matter. The whole canyon widened, and the herd spread to fill the entire area.
Heat rose up her neck and face as she realized all she had to do was follow the creek around the bend, and none of her theatrics would have been necessary.
What will the Apaches think of Riding Woman now, will she lose her mystique? Leave a comment, we’d like to hear what you think.
What’s it like walking in the Laughing Water today? Here’s a short article with a video. Watch.
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