John caught the writing bug in high school after a story he wrote was published. He has written for 10 years on HubPages.
A Raven Sentinel
As they rode southeast across a flat area one could see a hill in the distance. To the right was a lush saguaro cactus, its trunk erect with two strong arms, each with a bit of white fluff at the top, the early signs of spring blossoms. A raven-like bird was sitting at the pinnacle, its neck down riffling in a nearly imperceptible breeze. As they approached, the bird's head jerked to the left and focused on the crest of the hill.
The approach from here was very slow. Nell's horse gave a nicker and raised its head slightly, then paused. Jack paid attention to that.
Both riders scanned ahead and noticed something hanging from a mesquite tree near the top of the hill. Hanging from it were a couple of tan strips shaped like long skinny masks of some sort. They twisted slightly with a small gust.
Reigning in their horses, a dove's coo floated melodiously through the air. Handing his reigns to Nell, Jack slowly dismounted opening a saddle bag; he then took out a Colt pistol.
"Anything boggles you, leave my horse and ride fast," Jack muttered. "Take this - just point and shoot."
A Dusty Approach
Just dust and rocks led up the hill. Jack's boots would occasionally kick up a small cascade of powdery desert soil. With little grass it was easy for this area to become embroiled in dust when the wind really picked up. He signaled to Nell.
She brought the horses up and dismounted tying her horse to the mesquite. She found a thick branch and threw the leather reigns of her horse around it, Jack's steed chained to the horn of her saddle.
Approaching Jack, she inquisitively asked, "What are they?"
He turned and looked her squarely in the eye.
"These are Apache slings.The Apaches hurl stones with them. They can hunt game or crack a man's scull."
Jack raised his arm to imitate the sling swinging motion prior to launch and Nell's eyes followed. At that moment she noticed something near rocks on the right. A small desert thistle with furry purple flowers rose near one end of the box. Loaded with fuzzy thistles, it was a beautiful contrast to what looked to be a coffin.
She gasped in disbelief, "My word!"
An Empty Weapon Chest
Initially, both had been surprised by the wooden-walled chest. As he approached, Jack quickly recognized the rifle crate. He had seen caissons carrying many of them during the war.
That mind of Jack's would play tricks. Traveling back in time to the Battle of Wauhatchie in 1863, he shook his head.
He had always been suspicious a sutler had killed a wagon driver and stolen supplies, including crates of rifles prior to their civil war engagement. This was a repetitive memory. He would tell himself at night that he didn't have to think about bad things - he could tell himself that over and over. Yet once asleep, like a shot- bang - they would return.
He muttered in disgust, "Sutlers."
Under license of the Federal government, sutlers were given exclusive right to sell goods and items that were not considered necessary or supplied by the army. A sutler's inventory often included items such as tobacco, candy, manufactured clothes, hats, yard goods, cigars, tea, sardines, dried fish, alcohol, kitchen items, sewing needles, pins, and buttons.
Enlisted and officers hated the sutlers. They inflated the prices for such items to the point of fleecing soldiers. Yet it took an odd duck to set up a canvas topped lean-to behind the lines of a battlefield before and after the slaughter began.
Even now, Jack hated the concept of sutler.
Generally rifle crates were carried by rail to the nearest station and then loaded onto wagons destined for Arizona forts. Heavy loads, three or four tons over rough road, were moved by oxen and mule wagons frequently unprotected by soldiers. Drivers were supplied with ammunition and expected to protect themselves.
The government preferred a civilian teamster. He would take better care of the livestock and wagon. Soldiers, if required to drive a wagon, considered it beneath them and might be tempted to desert and sell the cargo using the mules for a getaway. It was not that uncommon.
Nell was feeling like she suffered from some kind of thought ailment. She didn't seem to understand much since she got off the coach in Patagonia.
Once again she asked a question, "What is that doing here?"
Jack postured and then tried to answer without causing too much alarm.
"It's hard to tell out here. Sometimes thieves take advantage of a country where soldiers or law enforcement may be many miles away. No telling who took those rifles."
The lid had been pried open and was leaning against the crate. An inscription was burned on the chest. It read:
Henry Repeating Rifle, New Haven Arms Company, .44 rimfire caliber
His mind, again, raced back to a time he fancied he could keep from conjuring up. While the U.S. Army had issued him a Springfield, a few of his comrades had purchased their own weapons. A popular one was the Henry. It was a faster firing weapon, but the military considered his Springfield to have a greater range, accuracy, and reliability. Nevertheless, it was unsettling to think that anyone, let alone Apaches may have come in possession of such firearms.
A Fast Hand
Nell went to drop the lid to the side of the crate thinking there might be more inscription. Scorpions love a shady spot to hide like a discarded crate lid; it had been hiding. At that moment a little critter ran out and crawled onto her boot.
She let out a scream, "Aaaaaaah!"
Victorian ladies false button-up boots were her fortunate choice for riding. The boots ended just above the ankle and gave a modicum of protection from creepy crawlers.
Jack slapped her boot. The scorpion scampered away, no doubt as scared as Nell. She would have to learn about the West, a requirement for living in the desert. Scorpions, spiders, Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, and an assortment of things to understand and become comfortable with.
New Places, New Sights
As if the day had not been remarkable enough. After all, she had seen different colored thistles within a few miles of each other. First they were blue, then purple. What next? Blue and purple?
Then she had seen an Indian weapon she had not known even existed. She pictured a very happy Apache throwing his sling shot onto a scraggly dry mesquite, happy to exchange it for a repeating rifle.
And then again, there was an abandoned rifle crate that housed several Henry repeating rifles, a weapon, again, that she had never heard of.
Nell had always thought of herself as very capable, and she was, but these new environs were not helping to increase that confidence. She couldn't help but feel a little more secure in Jack's presence. Having always loved Jack's honesty, she wondered if he ever had moments of great fear.
Resuming the Journey
It was time for Jack and Nell to continue toward their new home. Riding southeast of Patagonia toward Harshaw, the couple were in high anticipation, anxious to see the homestead Jack had worked on since mustering out of the Union Army. The little ranch was outside the mining town of Harshaw, among the largest producers of silver ore in Arizona.
As they rode south they could see a slight haze on the horizon. Jack grinned. He was thinking that the silver stamping mills in Harshaw were operating at full bore. Business must be good, and that meant opportunity for both Jack and Nell.
The Route Home
Ladies Shoes & Boots, 18th century and 19th century. November 21, 2020. https://www.19th-century-us-history.com/ladies_1800s_clothing/boots-shoes_ladies.shtml . Retrieved on April 11, 2021
Henry History. Henry Made In America Or Not Made At All. No Date. https://www.henryusa.com/about-us/henry-history/ . Retrieved on April 9, 2021
Welty, Raymond L. (May 1938). Supplying the Frontier Military Posts, Kansas Historical Society. https://www.kshs.org/p/supplying-the-frontier-military-posts/12750 . Retrieved on April 13, 2021
© 2021 John R Wilsdon