Esther May was pleased with how quickly Liluye took to herding cattle. The Apache woman had a sharp eye, and no stragglers were lost in the creek-side brush.
Abuela drove the wagon, followed by the old, trail-wise brindle cow. The brindle was the bell-cow: the leader of the herd. Where she went, the cattle followed.
The three women took a day to push the herd north up the San Pedro River to the confluence of the Gila.
After another four days driving the cattle along the westward-flowing river, the little town of Florence appeared before them.
Esther May caught up with Abuela. “Let’s hold the herd here. I’ll go to town and see if we can’t sell a few head—maybe get some supplies and news, if there is any.”
Abuela pulled the wagon under the shade of a sycamore tree and went about setting up camp. At the same time, while Esther May rode back to the drag position to tell Liluye the plan.
“I know that place,” Liluye said. “They don’t like Apaches. Use your white woman name, and keep your gun ready.”
Esther May didn’t laugh. Back at Camp Grant, Sergeant Laurey told her about the growing settlement of Florence. He said she could meet military personnel hauling freight from Tucson to Fort McDowell. She should go along with them because Fort McDowell could be in an area where Esther May wanted a ranch.
But Florence was a civilian town made up of prospectors, land-grabbing farmers, road agents, and honest folks desiring to create a home. The military only passed through.
“I’ll be careful, Liluye, and I’ll be back in a few hours. Would you find a good place to move the herd on the other side of the river while I’m gone? Someplace close? A river between us and anyone from town wanting to cause trouble could help.”
It’s Getting Late
Liluye shaded her eyes. “Sun sets in two hours.”
Though Liluye made a statement, Esther May took it as a question and answered. “That should be enough time if I can find a store owner who wants beef. So, I’d better get going.”
A Nice Place To Visit
Florence had a hotel!
The town wasn’t the brawling, lawless place Esther May had expected. There were only a few streets and a saloon—well, two—but the bustle of commerce enthralled Esther May and made her realize how long she’d been on the trail.
She stopped at a tie-post in front of a building with Koch’s Eating House painted over the door. Inside were eight tables with four chairs each. Three tables had red and white checkered oilskin tablecloths reminding Esther May of her grandmother’s warm kitchen.
Diners were being tended by a middle-aged woman in an aproned, full dress.
Suddenly, Esther May felt dirty, dusty, and aware that she probably smelled. Before she could back out, the lady saw her.
“Yes, my dear. Would you like to sit? We plate a good meal,” she leaned forward with a confidential whisper, “and we have pie.”
Esther May kept her voice low. “Thank you, but I’m kinda short of time. I have cattle outside town and was wondering if you’d want to buy some beef.”
“Lordy, yes! Let me get my husband.” She went behind a counter at the rear where a short, thin man with wispy brown hair was boiling something that smelled like honey. She spoke to her husband and gestured at Esther May. He wiped his hands on a limp towel and rounded the counter in a few brisk steps.
“You have beef?”
“Yes, sir. If it suits you, come with me to the herd and pick out what you want.”
“How much do you want for one?”
Esther May hadn’t thought about the price, and she scratched an eyebrow as she considered it. “Well, I’ve had a time getting them here. It could be—”
“I’ll take four at ten bucks a head.”
Now Esther May was on familiar ground. This was haggling. She’d seen her father do it. The next step was to triple his offer. “Well, sir. I’d like to help you, but I need thirty bucks each.”
The man shook his head and turned back to the counter. “Well,” Esther May said, “if I have to sell ’em elsewhere, people won’t be eating here.”
The man returned. “Fifteen.”
He looked at his toes and sighed, but Esther May saw the grin at the corners of his mouth. He dropped his shoulders. “Twenty.”
“Done. Do you want to come pick ’em out?”
“Too busy,” he said. “Cricket can show you a corral by our house where you can pen them.”
“My wife. I’m Karl.”
“I’m Esther May.” She stretched out her hand.
At a nearby table, a man with dirty fingernails caught her attention. He leered at her.
Things have been going well for Esther May. Are they about to end? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
Florence is still thriving. Here are things to do when you visit.
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