The Lead Cow
Esther May glanced back to make sure the brindle cow followed. All of the cattle were trail-broke, but the brindle was their leader. Where she went, the rest followed.
When the path was clearly defined, the lead cow walked steadily along. Now, though, coming downslope to the Aravaipa valley, Esther May had ridden ahead, and the brindle followed.
The round-up had gone surprisingly well; the vaquero’s herd hadn’t spread out much. Abuela and Esther May mounted up and moved in on them.
The two women pushed the cattle across the ford, followed by Alejandro in the chuck wagon.
Only a few steers were lost at the Gila River. Not during the crossing—the river was shallow enough to wade—but some were in the dense brush and couldn’t be driven out.
Once across, Abuela hitched the mule to her buckboard, and the little company was trail-ready.
Over The Ridge
Not quite two days later, here they were, about to bottom out in a pleasant valley, and Esther May couldn’t be happier.
This valley was much prettier than the barren desert the Gila River sliced through, and it cut days, maybe weeks, off their journey to Camp Grant.
All these benefits just for crossing a small mountain range.
Then, Again …
But Alejandro warned there could be a price. From what he’d heard, the Apaches were well aware of this valley and used it often.
Esther May leaned forward and patted her horse’s neck. “Looks like a different world, doesn’t it, old boy? Lots of green brush, even trees. I bet we’ll find standing water. And it’s all downhill to Camp Grant from here.”
She looked behind once more.
They were all there coming on: the lead cow, the small herd, Abuela, and way back, Alejandro.
Her horse twisted one ear backward to hear Esther May. “We did it, fella. One of the easiest hills we’ve crossed. And with a herd to boot.” Esther May stood in the stirrups and took in the valley. “And we’ve got it all to ourselves.”
“Let’s stop here.” Esther May talked to her gelding as he waded into the waterhole and stuck his muzzle in.
The brindle cow came trotting up with the rest of the cattle close behind.
Abuela pulled the wagon next to a juniper tree and unhitched the mule. She held the animal on a lead rope as he shoved his way through the cattle to water.
Alejandro arrived and copied Abuela’s action. Esther May helped by taking one mule to water while he took three.
With their thirst satisfied, the animals were picketed where they could graze.
“We should bring them in tonight,” Abuela said. “The people are close.”
Esther May laughed. “Relax, Abuela. Or have you forgotten how? For the first time in a month, we get to have an early supper in a nice, quiet place. Let’s enjoy it.”
Esther May stretched and yawned. She’d slept well, and the aroma of coffee and bacon promised an excellent start to the day. This was a good valley, cooler here than the other side of the range.
She rose and stretched again. Taking note of her companions’ locations, she went behind bushes in the opposite direction.
When she returned, Alejandro had a hot tin cup of coffee and a pewter plate with biscuits soaked in bacon grease waiting for her.
Abuela Looks For A Change
Abuela harnessed her mule and came to Esther May. “I go first today, Riding Woman.”
Esther May grinned and wiped her chin. “There’s no need, Abuela.” She swung her hand in an arc. “There’s no one here except … Uh, oh! Indians! Lots of Indians!”
What’ll happen now? Chime in with your thoughts and ideas.
Here’s a short article about the Apaches of Aravaipa Canyon
To read the series, click here for the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.
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