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The Ole Virginia







Part of: ARIZONA NIGHTS
From: Arizona Nights

The ring around the sun had thickened all day long, and the turquoise
blue of the Arizona sky had filmed. Storms in the dry countries are
infrequent, but heavy; and this surely meant storm.

We had ridden since sun-up over broad mesas, down and out of deep
canons, along the base of the mountain in the wildest parts of the
territory. The cattle were winding leisurely toward the high country;
the jack rabbits had disappeared; the quail lacked; we did not see a
single antelope in the open.

"It's a case of hole up," the Cattleman ventured his opinion. "I have a
ranch over in the Double R. Charley and Windy Bill hold it down.
We'll tackle it. What do you think?"

The four cowboys agreed. We dropped into a low, broad watercourse,
ascended its bed to big cottonwoods and flowing water, followed it into
box canons between rim-rock carved fantastically and painted like a
Moorish facade, until at last in a widening below a rounded hill, we
came upon an adobe house, a fruit tree, and a round corral. This was
the Double R.

Charley and Windy Bill welcomed us with soda biscuits. We turned our
horses out, spread our beds on the floor, filled our pipes, and
squatted on our heels. Various dogs of various breeds investigated us.
It was very pleasant, and we did not mind the ring around the sun.

"Somebody else coming," announced the Cattleman finally.

"Uncle Jim," said Charley, after a glance.

A hawk-faced old man with a long white beard and long white hair rode
out from the cottonwoods. He had on a battered broad hat abnormally
high of crown, carried across his saddle a heavy "eight square" rifle,
and was followed by a half-dozen lolloping hounds.

The largest and fiercest of the latter, catching sight of our group,
launched himself with lightning rapidity at the biggest of the ranch
dogs, promptly nailed that canine by the back of the neck, shook him
violently a score of times, flung him aside, and pounced on the next.
During the ensuing few moments that hound was the busiest thing in the
West. He satisfactorily whipped four dogs, pursued two cats up a tree,
upset the Dutch oven and the rest of the soda biscuits, stampeded the
horses, and raised a cloud of dust adequate to represent the smoke of
battle. We others were too paralysed to move. Uncle Jim sat placidly
on his white horse, his thin knees bent to the ox-bow stirrups, smoking.

In ten seconds the trouble was over, principally because there was no
more trouble to make. The hound returned leisurely, licking from his
chops the hair of his victims. Uncle Jim shook his head.

"Trailer," said he sadly, "is a little severe."

We agreed heartily, and turned in to welcome Uncle Jim with a fresh
batch of soda biscuits.

The old man was one of the typical "long hairs." He had come to the
Galiuro Mountains in '69, and since '69 he had remained in the Galiuro
Mountains, spite of man or the devil. At present he possessed some
hundreds of cattle, which he was reputed to water, in a dry season,
from an ordinary dishpan. In times past he had prospected.

That evening, the severe Trailer having dropped to slumber, he held
forth on big-game hunting and dogs, quartz claims and Apaches.

"Did you ever have any very close calls?" I asked.

He ruminated a few moments, refilled his pipe with some awful tobacco,
and told the following experience:


In the time of Geronimo I was living just about where I do now; and
that was just about in line with the raiding. You see, Geronimo, and
Ju [1], and old Loco used to pile out of the reservation at Camp
Apache, raid south to the line, slip over into Mexico when the soldiers
got too promiscuous, and raid there until they got ready to come back.
Then there was always a big medicine talk. Says Geronimo:

"I am tired of the warpath. I will come back from Mexico with all my
warriors, if you will escort me with soldiers and protect my people."

"All right," says the General, being only too glad to get him back at
all.

So, then, in ten minutes there wouldn't be a buck in camp, but next
morning they shows up again, each with about fifty head of hosses.

"Where'd you get those hosses?" asks the General, suspicious.

"Had 'em pastured in the hills," answers Geronimo.

"I can't take all those hosses with me; I believe they're stolen!" says
the General.

"My people cannot go without their hosses," says Geronimo.

So, across the line they goes, and back to the reservation. In about a
week there's fifty-two frantic Greasers wanting to know where's their
hosses. The army is nothing but an importer of stolen stock, and knows
it, and can't help it.

Well, as I says, I'm between Camp Apache and the Mexican line, so that
every raiding party goes right on past me. The point is that I'm a
thousand feet or so above the valley, and the renegades is in such a
devil of a hurry about that time that they never stop to climb up and
collect me. Often I've watched them trailing down the valley in a
cloud of dust. Then, in a day or two, a squad of soldiers would come
up, and camp at my spring for a while. They used to send soldiers to
guard every water hole in the country so the renegades couldn't get
water. After a while, from not being bothered none, I got thinking I
wasn't worth while with them.

Me and Johnny Hooper were pecking away at the old Virginia mine then.
We'd got down about sixty feet, all timbered, and was thinking of
cross-cutting. One day Johnny went to town, and that same day I got in
a hurry and left my gun at camp.

I worked all the morning down at the bottom of the shaft, and when I
see by the sun it was getting along towards noon, I put in three good
shots, tamped 'em down, lit the fusees, and started to climb out.

It ain't noways pleasant to light a fuse in a shaft, and then have to
climb out a fifty-foot ladder, with it burning behind you. I never did
get used to it. You keep thinking, "Now suppose there's a flaw in that
fuse, or something, and she goes off in six seconds instead of two
minutes? where'll you be then?" It would give you a good boost
towards your home on high, anyway.

So I climbed fast, and stuck my head out the top without looking--and
then I froze solid enough. There, about fifty feet away, climbing up
the hill on mighty tired hosses, was a dozen of the ugliest Chiricahuas
you ever don't want to meet, and in addition a Mexican renegade named
Maria, who was worse than any of 'em. I see at once their hosses was
tired out, and they had a notion of camping at my water hole, not
knowing nothing about the Ole Virginia mine.

For two bits I'd have let go all holts and dropped backwards, trusting
to my thick head for easy lighting. Then I heard a little fizz and
sputter from below. At that my hair riz right up so I could feel the
breeze blow under my hat. For about six seconds I stood there like an
imbecile, grinning amiably. Then one of the Chiricahuas made a sort of
grunt, and I sabed that they'd seen the original exhibit your Uncle Jim
was making of himself.

Then that fuse gave another sputter and one of the Apaches said "Un
dah." That means "white man." It was harder to turn my head than if
I'd had a stiff neck; but I managed to do it, and I see that my ore
dump wasn't more than ten foot away. I mighty near overjumped it; and
the next I knew I was on one side of it and those Apaches on the other.
Probably I flew; leastways I don't seem to remember jumping.

That didn't seem to do me much good. The renegades were grinning and
laughing to think how easy a thing they had; and I couldn't rightly
think up any arguments against that notion--at least from their
standpoint. They were chattering away to each other in Mexican for the
benefit of Maria. Oh, they had me all distributed, down to my
suspender buttons! And me squatting behind that ore dump about as
formidable as a brush rabbit!

Then, all at once, one of my shots went off down in the shaft.

"Boom!" says she, plenty big; and a slather of rock, and stones come
out of the mouth, and began to dump down promiscuous on the scenery. I
got one little one in the shoulder-blade, and found time to wish my ore
dump had a roof. But those renegades caught it square in the thick of
trouble. One got knocked out entirely for a minute, by a nice piece of
country rock in the head.

"Otra vez!" yells I, which means "again."

"Boom!" goes the Ole Virginia prompt as an answer.

I put in my time dodging, but when I gets a chance to look, the Apaches
has all got to cover, and is looking scared.

"Otra vez!" yells I again.

"Boom!" says the Ole Virginia.

This was the biggest shot of the lot, and she surely cut loose. I
ought to have been half-way up the bill watching things from a safe
distance, but I wasn't. Lucky for me the shaft was a little on the
drift, so she didn't quite shoot my way. But she distributed about a
ton over those renegades. They sort of half got to their feet
uncertain.

"Otra vez!" yells I once more, as bold as if I could keep her shooting
all day.

It was just a cold, raw blazer; and if it didn't go through I could see
me as an Apache parlour ornament. But it did. Those Chiricahuas give
one yell and skipped. It was surely a funny sight, after they got
aboard their war ponies, to see them trying to dig out on horses too
tired to trot.

I didn't stop to get all the laughs, though. In fact, I give one jump
off that ledge, and I lit a-running. A quarter-hoss couldn't have beat
me to that shack. There I grabbed old Meat-in-the-pot and made a climb
for the tall country, aiming to wait around until dark, and then to
pull out for Benson. Johnny Hooper wasn't expected till next day,
which was lucky. From where I lay I could see the Apaches camped out
beyond my draw, and I didn't doubt they'd visited the place. Along
about sunset they all left their camp, and went into the draw, so
there, I thinks, I sees a good chance to make a start before dark. I
dropped down from the mesa, skirted the butte, and angled down across
the country. After I'd gone a half mile from the cliffs, I ran across
Johnny Hooper's fresh trail headed towards camp!

My heart jumped right up into my mouth at that. Here was poor old
Johnny, a day too early, with a pack-mule of grub, walking innocent as
a yearling, right into the bands of those hostiles. The trail looked
pretty fresh, and Benson's a good long day with a pack animal, so I
thought perhaps I might catch him before he runs into trouble. So I
ran back on the trail as fast as I could make it. The sun was down by
now, and it was getting dusk.

I didn't overtake him, and when I got to the top of the canon I crawled
along very cautious and took a look. Of course, I expected to see
everything up in smoke, but I nearly got up and yelled when I see
everything all right, and old Sukey, the pack-mule, and Johnny's hoss
hitched up as peaceful as babies to the corral.

"THAT'S all right!" thinks I, "they're back in their camp, and haven't
discovered Johnny yet. I'll snail him out of there."

So I ran down the hill and into the shack. Johnny sat in his
chair--what there was of him. He must have got in about two hours
before sundown, for they'd had lots of time to put in on him. That's
the reason they'd stayed so long up the draw. Poor old Johnny! I was
glad it was night, and he was dead. Apaches are the worst Injuns there
is for tortures. They cut off the bottoms of old man Wilkins's feet,
and stood him on an ant-hill--.

In a minute or so, though, my wits gets to work.

"Why ain't the shack burned?" I asks myself, "and why is the hoss and
the mule tied all so peaceful to the corral?"

It didn't take long for a man who knows Injins to answer THOSE
conundrums. The whole thing was a trap--for me--and I'd walked into
it, chuckle-headed as a prairie-dog!

With that I makes a run outside--by now it was dark--and listens. Sure
enough, I hears hosses. So I makes a rapid sneak back over the trail.

Everything seemed all right till I got up to the rim-rock. Then I
heard more hosses--ahead of me. And when I looked back I could see
some Injuns already at the shack, and starting to build a fire outside.

In a tight fix, a man is pretty apt to get scared till all hope is
gone. Then he is pretty apt to get cool and calm. That was my case.
I couldn't go ahead--there was those hosses coming along the trail. I
couldn't go back--there was those Injins building the fire. So I
skirmished around till I got a bright star right over the trail head,
and I trained old Meat-in-the-pot to bear on that star, and I made up
my mind that when the star was darkened I'd turn loose. So I lay there
a while listening. By and by the star was blotted out, and I cut
loose, and old Meat-in-the-pot missed fire--she never did it before nor
since; I think that cartridge--

Well, I don't know where the Injins came from, but it seemed as if the
hammer had hardly clicked before three or four of them bad piled on me.
I put up the best fight I could, for I wasn't figuring to be caught
alive, and this miss-fire deal had fooled me all along the line. They
surely had a lively time. I expected every minute to feel a knife in
my back, but when I didn't get it then I knew they wanted to bring me
in alive, and that made me fight harder. First and last, we rolled and
plunged all the way from the rim-rock down to the canon-bed. Then one
of the Injins sung out:

"Maria!"

And I thought of that renegade Mexican, and what I'd heard bout him,
and that made me fight harder yet.

But after we'd fought down to the canon-bed, and had lost most of our
skin, a half-dozen more fell on me, and in less than no time they had
me tied. Then they picked me up and carried me over to where they'd
built a big fire by the corral.


Uncle Jim stopped with an air of finality, and began lazily to refill
his pipe. From the open mud fireplace he picked a coal. Outside, the
rain, faithful to the prophecy of the wide-ringed sun, beat fitfully
against the roof.

"That was the closest call I ever had," said he at last.

"But, Uncle Jim," we cried in a confused chorus, "how did you get away?
What did the Indians do to you? Who rescued you?"

Uncle Jim chuckled.

"The first man I saw sitting at that fire," said he, "was Lieutenant
Price of the United States Army, and by him was Tom Horn."

"'What's this?' he asks, and Horn talks to the Injins in Apache.

"'They say they've caught Maria,' translates Horn back again.

"'Maria-nothing!' says Lieutenant Price. 'This is Jim Fox. I know him.'"

"So they turned me loose. It seems the troops had driven off the
renegades an hour before."

"And the Indians who caught you, Uncle Jim? You said they were
Indians."

"Were Tonto Basin Apaches," explained the old man--"government scouts
under Tom Horn."



[1] Pronounced "Hoo."





Next: The Emigrants

Previous: Harry Lossing



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