Is This The Best Move?
Eb led Damn Donkey, followed by C.J. riding Skewy, farther into the box canyon.
The rock walls, massive and confining, pressed in on C.J. He kept looking over his shoulder in the direction the Indians would come. “Are you sure there’s a way out of here? ’Cause if there isn’t, you’ve got us trapped.”
“I suppose I may be thinkin’ of the wrong place,” Eb said. “After a while, these hills and gullies all look alike.”
C.J. cut loose with several phrases he didn’t learn at his mama’s supper table before noticing Eb chuckling.
“You funning me, Eb?”
“A little. But you just told me what a tenderfoot you are.”
C.J. felt heat on his cheeks. “I’ve been living on the back of a horse for a long time. You can’t call me a greenhorn.”
When Eb shrugged without replying, C.J. asked, “Why did you call me that?”
The prospector had been leading them up-grade, and now, here at the toe of the rock wall, eons of loose material had gathered and compacted into a ramp.
Eb stopped and took deep breaths. Turning to C.J., he said, “Newcomers to these parts say the country don’t change. Just goes on forever lookin’ the same.” He pulled a rag from a back pocket and wiped his brow. “They smirk and say if’n you see one place, you’ve seen it all.”
Plain As Street Signs
Eb waved his rag in a wide arc before returning it to his pocket. “Cain’t nothin’ be longer from the truth. Each bush and rock, hill, and wash—they’s as different as you ’n me.”
He pointed at a split in the southeast corner of the enclosed gorge. “There’s the way out.”
That’s Not A Path
C.J.’s breath left in a whoosh. “That’s too steep! I can’t ride Skewy up there.”
Eb draped an arm around Damn Donkey’s neck and scratched the burro’s throat. “Jist takin’ a wild guess here, but did it ever occur to you to git off?”
“Oh. And lead her? Like you do with that … that …” C.J. fluttered a finger at Eb’s little pack animal and jerked his hand back before the beast could bite him again.
Eb grinned and stuck out his chest like he was bragging about his son. “Well, Damn Donkey can go places only a mountain goat could tread, but your broomtail mare can handle this trail jist fine—long as you’ll git off ’n let her do it.”
C.J. frowned and dismounted. The term broomtail sounded like an insult, but he wasn’t sure, so he pressed his lips together before changing the subject.
The Other Way
“This trail goes the wrong way from where I want to go.”
“Oh?” Eb said. “Where’s that, back to the Apache’s ramada?”
“You lookin’ to join up with the Army?”
“Nah, I’m tired of being out amongst rustlers and Indians. I’d like to fetch up to civilization for a spell.”
“What? No!” C.J. almost shouted his answer. Then quietly added, “Yeah, a little, I guess.”
Both men were breathing hard, trying to keep up with the lunging animals. Their conversation became spotty as they slipped and dug in their heels on their way up the incline.
Reaching the top, C.J. looked out across a juniper and pine tree laden valley ringed on three sides by ridges.
“A good place to take a break,” Eb said. “The critters need it, and we need it.”
That’s Where We’ll Go
“I take it we go thataway?” C.J. pointed to the southwest, downslope and open country.
“Hmm,” Eb grunted and nodded. He took a sip from a canteen and said, “Whyn’t you go to Fort McDowell? It’s closer ’n all you gotta do is foller the Salt ’til the Verde meets it. They’s even wimmin folk and kids there.”
“Really? How far is it?”
“’Bout sixty-five miles straight, but nothin’ in this country’s straight. That old Salt River twists and turns so much they say drinkin’ its water’ll make you dizzy.”
“How far to Fort Whipple?”
Eb scratched his beard. “’Bout a hunnert ’n twenty miles.”
“Well,” C.J. said, “this Fort McDowell it is then. Are you telling me I gotta go back through the canyon we just climbed out of to get back on the Salt River?”
“No siree bob. We’ll cross this valley, climb over a nice, smooth ridge, and the river will have curved back to almost meet us. Less than a ten-mile trip.”
C.J. checked the cinch and made sure the saddle was still in place after Skewy’s climb. “Good,” he said. “Maybe we can catch a fish for supper.”
“Well,” Eb had that correcting tone C.J. was beginning to loathe. “Could be fish tomorry night. It’s a slow-goin’ trip.”
After C.J. spouted a few more cowboy phrases, Eb said, “You’d complain if’n you was hung with a new rope, wouldn’t ya?”
Is Eb a help or a source of delay to C.J.? Don’t forget to leave your comment.
Here’s a modern trip up a box canyon, but they don’t show the dead-end at the top of the trail. But there is some nice Arizona scenery.
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