Down The Salt River
C.J. stopped in the shade of a cottonwood tree. “Let’s take a little break here, Skewy,” he said to his skewbald mare. “We won’t reach Fort McDowell today.”
He pulled off his boots, stuck his feet in the Salt River, leaned back, and sighed. “This is some country, old girl. Hard rock desert right to the stream. That’s probably the only reason the water managed to get this far along. It’s impossible to soak into the ground.”
He looked over his shoulder at Skewy, grazing under the tree. “Can you believe Eb is staying at Camp O’Connell? He said he loves this land with its hills and deep gullies, and he plans on going right back into the Apaches’ front yard.”
C.J. swished his feet in the water and wiggled his toes. After a moment, he chuckled. “I guess the place does get to you. Eb talks to his Damn Donkey, and I talk to a horse.”
Fort McDowell was easy to find. C.J. followed the directions given him at Camp O’Connell: go down the Salt until the Verde River joins it from the north. Go back up the Verde about seven or eight miles to the fort.
There was no wall around the place, but it was big. Real houses, barracks, and stables formed the outline of a permanent military encampment. As C.J. rode in, he saw children playing tag. It could have been a scene from his own boyhood days, except this schoolmarm keeping watch was a soldier with a rifle.
C.J. caught sight of a sutlers*. Unquestionably, with kids and stores, civilization had come to Arizona Territory.
Inside, he bought a can of peaches—Peaches—and a loaf of bread.
C.J. sat in the dirt under his horse’s nose in an ocotillo ramada, and leaned against the post where the mare was tied. He opened the can with his knife and ate the entire contents of his purchase.
Inspecting the bottom of the can, wishing another half peach would appear, C.J. was startled when a shadow crossed his lap.
“Are you a cowboy, Mister Man?”
The speaker was the shadow owner: a not quite waist-high girl in a faded blue shift dress.
Was he? He’d been riding the countryside for months, used a gun, and fell in with rustlers, but he’d never worked cattle. C.J. belched, leaving a wonderful post-taste of peach with a subtle tin flavor while he tried to think of the best answer.
His visitor continued before he could come up with a response. “My name’s Sally. They won’t let me play with them.”
C.J. looked to where she pointed at the other children.
“They say my pigtails are too short, but they mean I’m too little. Do you think I’m too little?”
All You Need To Know
“My daddy’s a lieutenant. That means he’s an officer, and you’ve gotta do what he says. But maybe not if you’re a cowboy. He says cowboys aren’t in the Army, and they stink. You do smell bad, Mister Man.”
“Sally, stop bothering the man.” The new speaker arrived while C.J. was trying to keep up with Sally’s drumroll conversation.
Here’s Kelly – He Flirts
“That’s my big brother, Kelly,” Sally said. “He’s supposed to be watching me, but he likes to go off and talk to Jeannette.”
“Shut up, Sally.” Kelly pulled her behind him. “If you’re looking for the Pack Master or cargador, they’ll be over to the mule train stables.”
C.J. wasn’t sure if the big meal was giving him visions. He hadn’t heard that much spoken to him at once in … well, forever. He finally found his voice.
“What’s a cargador?”
Will C.J. settle in to life at Fort McDowell, or move on? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Mule pack trains didn’t show up as a civilian owned and operated service to the military until brought in by General Crook in 1871 – four years after C.J. was at Fort McDowell. The pack trains were quite an operation. Read this article about them.
*Sutter’s in the photo. See it.
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