C.J., Skewy, and a Pack Mule
C.J. left Fort McDowell for Camp O’Connell in the pale, pre-dawn starlight. The cool temperature, probably in the low-to-mid nineties, made traveling the early hour worth it.
June felt to C.J. like full-blown summer, but July and August hadn’t voted yet.
The sun washed the upper atmosphere from inky black to bruised plum, but there wasn’t enough light to determine if that line on the ground was a mesquite branch or a rattlesnake. This time it was a branch, but C.J.’s little skewbald mare would have to choose her footing and find a trail for herself and the pack mule.
Men Don’t Have Horse Sense
All C.J. knew was the general direction of O’Connell since he wasn’t going along the Salt River.
Randall Gates, the sutler, told C.J., “You can shave ten miles off the trip.” With a wave of his arm that covered the whole eastern horizon, Randall said, “Go around the mountains. Stay north of the big one—Four Peaks.”
And With The Given Directions –
C.J. headed toward the Mazatzal Mountains.
Those same mountains kept C.J. in shadows while he skirted the south side of Adam’s Mesa. As he reached open ground, a bright arc of Sol climbed sluggishly over the Mazatzals. The first few scorching rays of sunshine burned C.J. like red-ant bites. Those who slept outside hoping to cool down in the night air were familiar with the ants at Fort McDowell.
At least the bites could be dabbed with calamine lotion. In Arizona, there was no escaping the sun’s blinding glare.
An Engaging Conversation
C.J. found a wash angling northeast. “Let’s follow this one, Skewy. It’s the way we want to go.”
The mare’s ears rotated backward toward his voice.
“Well, you are paying attention, aren’t you?” C.J. wondered if it was an ill omen that he talked to his horse. Perhaps he was spending too much time alone.
Maybe he was turning into a crusty old desert rat like Eb. The prospector spoke to his burro, but all he called the animal was Damn Donkey.
C.J. ran his tongue along his gums for moisture, so he could speak easier. “It ain’t the same, Skewy. You’re a right proud horse, worthy of speaking to.”
He laughed as a thought struck. “I’ll send Sally over to fill you in on all the gossip when we get back.” His dry lips cracked as his grin widened. “I bet you kick her.”
Let’s Call It A Day
C.J. wanted to stop. They had put in a hard day and climbed to higher country. Scattered juniper and pine trees scented the dry air, and oak brush grew thicker along the wash.
But Skewy had her nose and ears up. The pack mule picked up his pace and kept slack in the lead line.
The animals had sensed and found actual wet, drinkable water.
C.J. grabbed his canteen and dismounted. While Skewy and the mule drank at the spring, C.J. gulped the remaining contents of his supply. He wiped the tepid liquid from his mouth, happy the day’s ration was over.
“Enough, for now, you two,” he said, pulling the animals away. “Don’t want belly cramping from too much too soon.”
He stared at the spring in the waning light. “Besides, you’ve ’bout drank it dry, and I haven’t refilled my canteen yet.”
“Hello, the camp!”
The cry came out of the darkness. C.J. pulled his pistol while rolling off his blanket. He crouched behind a juniper. “Who is it?”
“Just me—Will Dunn. Can I come in?”
“Yeah, come on, but keep your hands where I can see ’em.”
Rough living did things to a man. It lined his face, leathered the skin, bowed the body, and aged him beyond his time. C.J. noted that in Will Dunn’s case, clothing was worn hard too.
Will’s swayback gray mare headed straight for the spring, where he dismounted.
“I saw your fire, but man, I’m glad to see that water,” he said, kneeling down to drink cheek-to-cheek with the gray.
C.J. holstered his weapon and returned to his blanket. “There’s cold coffee in the pot. I was saving it for morning, but you’re welcome to it.”
Dunn stood and dragged a sleeve across his mouth. “Thankee kindly,” he said. “I’ve got something for you too.”
He went to his saddlebag and withdrew a .44 caliber Colt Dragoon. He cocked the massive pistol and pointed it at C.J.
“C’mon in Wheezer,” he shouted. “I’ve got him covered.”
C.J.’s outnumbered. What is the likelihood he’ll survive? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
You’ve heard of the massive Colt Dragoon. Here’s a video about it.
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