Apache women came out of their wickiups and waved blankets to keep the cattle moving down Aravaipa creek and out of their camp.
Alejandro hauled the chuck wagon to a stop under spreading sycamore branches. Brush huts of the Black Rock People sat among the trees. Cool shade made this verdant oasis an ideal camp site.
Esther May was amazed that only yards away was the Arizona desert—bare and burning, mile after mile, yet here at the creek was life-giving water, plants, and wildlife.
Tsúyé turned his back on Alejandro, stepped from the seat onto the wheel, the hub, and finally stood on his home ground.
With a closed-mouth grin, Abuela drew her buckboard under nearby trees. Her cargo of Apache children stood, making sure others saw them getting a ride before leaping off with yells to join in the general chaos of homecoming.
Young Nitis still rode behind Esther May, his arms around her waist. He seemed to be in no hurry to play with the other children.
Sorting It Out
Tsúyé spoke with a couple of women who nodded and disappeared. He waved Snake Bite over and said something to him.
Esther May pulled her gelding up next to Abuela’s wagon. “What’s going on now?” she asked the older woman.
Abuela said, “Tsúyé told the women to go back, skin and butcher the cattle you shot. Then he told Snake Bite to stay with Chews Loud and drive the cattle to Camp Grant. He told Snake Bite to return the horse in good condition.”
To Say “Thanks”
Esther May felt a connection to the band after travelling with them. “Tell Tsúyé, for his help, he can have the two horses that are now pulling the travois. That won’t insult him, will it?”
Abuela had a twitch at the corner of her mouth. “I think he’s expecting it.”
“Good. How much farther to Camp Grant?”
“He says about five miles.”*
“Here’s where you get off, Nitis,” Esther May said. She gripped the boy’s wrist and gently, firmly pulled his grip apart. It felt like she pulled a piece of herself off.
He stepped on the buckboard and pulled a knife.
Where had he kept the blade? Esther May didn’t even know he had one. Were all Apache children born breathing and ready to fight?
Nitis cut off a lock of his shiny, black hair and handed it to Esther May.
She tucked it behind her belt and held her hand out for the knife.
He hesitated before giving it to her blade first.
She gripped a wad of hair below her hatband and sliced off a finger’s length. The edge was surprisingly sharp, and her hair severed without pulling or snagging.
She returned Nitis’s knife along with her snippet.
Nitis gave her a gap-toothed grin and left to show off his prize.
What Did It Mean?
“Was there a significance to that, Abuela?” Esther May asked.
“You’re close friends now.” Abuela studied the younger woman. “How did you know to give him your hair back?”
Esther May shrugged. “I don’t know. It seemed right.”
Abuela nodded. “That’s why you’re Riding Woman.”
When Esther May and her father left Texas, she’d seen Fort Bliss, an impressive military post at El Paso. She didn’t expect Camp Grant to be as well-regimented.
The parade ground was a flat acre, beaten bare. Any sparse vegetation was long ago stomped down or burned away in the Territorial sun.
Low adobe houses with ocotillo-thatched roofs were grouped together like fallen dominos without regard to straight military lines.
As soon as the cattle reached the open space, both Snake Bite and Chews Loud turned away and left.
Esther May let the herd find their way to the creek. The trail-weary steers would stay nearby, hemmed in on two sides by the Aravaipa and San Pedro streams.
Where’s The Spit and Polish?
With Abuela and Alejandro, Esther May looked over the few men standing in the shade of porches. “They don’t look like soldiers,” she said. “I don’t see real uniforms—their clothes are threadbare.”
“And yet,” Alejandro said, “here they are, in the middle of Apache country. They’re dangerous.”
Has Esther May reached safety? Leave your comment, let us know what you think.
- When Esther May rode down Aravaipa Canyon, the route was well-known and used by Apaches. But their main camp wasn’t where it’s stated in the blog—artistic license. Five years later, though, it was there and was the site of the Camp Grant Massacre. Read about it here.
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