A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society


Arizona Adventurers
by Gordon Eskridge (Sep 2013)

 

All the girls tell me that I am a fine looking specimen of a man. I have Sun streaked blond hair and laughing blue eyes. I am almost six feet tall in my stocking feet and weigh 160 pounds, broad of shoulders and chest, narrow of hips with slightly bowed legs. I have ridden a horse since I was old enough to stay on one. My face has a smile on it and is handsome enough that women often take a second look and smile back.

My Grandfather, Robert Horn, had been a member of the Mormon Battalion that occupied Tucson in 1846. He told me that Brigham Young had planned on moving the Mormons west .From Council Bluffs, Iowa to Utah in the summer of 1846. On the 13th of May 1846, Congress declared war on Mexico. President Young saw several possible advantages for the Saints in the proposed federal service of the Army. Their enlistment would be a public relations victory for the church, demonstrating its loyalty to the United States.

The 500 volunteers were given a uniform allowance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas of $42 each, paid in advance, for their one-year enlistment and because they were allowed to wear their civilian clothing for the march, the unused funds were immediately donated to a general Church fund. These funds were used to purchase wagons, teams, and other necessities for the American exodus.

The Mormon Battalion was mustered into volunteer service on 16 July 1846, as part of the Army of the West. Appointed by General Kearney, Lieutenant Colonel Cooke’s assignment was to march the Mormons with 20 Army supply wagons from Council Bluffs, Iowa to California while building the first military supply road to Sothern California. To complete the trek the road crossed over some of the most difficult country in North America.

The battalion hired a guide in New Mexico, the adventurer and mountain man, Jean Babtiste Charbonneau. He had been the infant who traveled with his mother Sacagawea across the continent with the Louis and Clark expedition. Jean spoke French, English, German, Spanish, Shoshone, and several other western Indian languages. Grandpa remembered how Jean’s hair was long and that he wore buckskin clothing with a feather in his hat. Jean Charbonneau was known as the best man on foot on the plains or the Rocky Mountains.

Grandpa said when they were approaching Tucson, Arizona Territory on the 11th of December 1846 was the only engagement of the Battalion in Mexican War “The Battle of the Bulls”. A large herd of wild cattle were spotted and number of the Bulls charged the wagon train. One man was gored in the leg, and the Bulls damaged a few of the wagons while maiming some of the mules. The Battalion responded by shooting several of the Bulls. The Battalion nearly had another battle five days later with a Garrison of Mexican soldiers on 16 December 1846.When the Mexican garrison commander saw he was outnumbered the garrison retreated as the US Battalion approached. A twenty eight star flag flew over Tucson for the first time.

The Battalion was short on food and bartered with the Mexicans and Pima Indians. Several thousand bushels of grain were left behind by the Mexican garrison. The Battalion took this with them when they departed on the 17th of December. The local O'odham Indians and other Piman tribes along the route were helpful to the American soldiers. The Mormon soldiers learned about many methods of irrigation farming from these native inhabitants. Later as pioneers in Utah and other areas they employed these methods.

Grandpa told me that the battalion arrived in San Diego on 29 January 1847, after a march of some 1,900 miles from Iowa. During the last 1100 miles of the march the battalion built the southern military supply road from Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, to California. When the battalion arrived with eight of the original twenty Murphy supply wagons still intact, the leaders counted the expedition a success. The battalion’s march from Council Bluffs to California was one of the longest military marches in history, Grandpa concluded.

For the next five months until their discharge on 16 July 1847, in Los Angeles, the battalion trained and performed occupation duties in southern California. The construction of Fort Moore in Los Angeles was one thing Lieutenant Colonel Cooke employed to protect legitimate military and civil control under General Kearny. The men of the Mormon Battalion were honored for their willingness to fight for the United States as loyal American citizens. Their participation in the early development of California included building a courthouse in San Diego and making bricks for houses in southern California helped in the building of the west.

After the conflict was over my grandfather decided to return to Tucson and send for his family which included: Sarah his wife, his daughter Rachele nine years old, my father Jack who was seven, and his younger sister Lena who was three years old.

In 1853 the United States purchased Arizona from Mexico as part of the Gadsden Purchase. Three years later the American military took over control of the community. In 1858 Tucson became the headquarters of the Butterfield Overland Mail. The arrival and departure of the stage quickly became one of the day’s major events.

My father 18 year old Jack Horn and his buddy Sean McDaniel were at the stage station to meet Sean’s 16 year old cousin Christene McDaniel, when a lovely young lady stepped down off the stage looking for her uncle Robert McDaniel’s family. “There she is” Sean cried out, and they ran over to meet her. Sean called out her name she turned and when she faced him he gave her a hug, while Jack tripped over her luggage and fell at her feet. Standing up dusting the dirt off his pants and shirt with his hands he looked up into Christene’s face and was struck by cupid’s arrow. It was love at first sight.

Sean tried to introduce them, but Jack with his mouth hanging open could only stare. Christene said “Hello Jack,” reaching her hand out to shake his. Suddenly Jack came out of his shock and holding her hand questioned, “Will you marry me?” She looked into his laughing blue eyes with a big smile on her face responded, “Yes. Six weeks later they were married. Sean was the best man. Sean’s father Robert McDaniel gave the bride away. Debbie, Sean’s mother and his eight year old twin brothers Conner and Dylon were in attendance. My Grandfather Robert and Sarah his wife, Jacks younger sister Lena, and older sister Rachele and her husband Richard Donaldson were there as witnesses.

In 1859 my Father was the Deputy Sherriff in town, and I (Spencer Travis Horn) was born. By the age of three my sister Sarah was born and I was ridding ponies. Mother soon taught Sarah and me to read using McGuffey’s Readers, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon. Math was always easy for me, but Sarah was always better at spelling.

Tucson was the western capital of Arizona Territory. By August 1861 the Confederate Army had taken control of Tucson. The Apache Indian attacks were so bad on the stages and the stations that the Butterfield Overland Mail closed down. 1862 the Union Army out of California drove the Confederate forces out of Arizona. Fort Lowell was built in 1866 and had over 200 soldiers stationed just outside of Tucson so we did not have any further Indian problems.

By 1872, my father was Sherriff of Tucson so at the age of 12 I became his unofficial deputy. I learned how and when to shoot both the rifle and a handgun. By17 I was pretty good with them, I could hit a quail on the wing and not damage the meat. In 1872 the first High School was built in Tucson. I attended public school from age 12 to 17.

In the year 1878 at 18 years of age I joined the Army.at Fort Lowell near Tucson. The Army had chosen the location just east of town to build the fort where the Tanque Verde and Pantano Creeks met and formed the Realto River. There was a year around supply of water. The fort had both Infantry and Calvary units and I was a member of the 5th Calvary for my two year enlistment. During the time of my enlistment the final Apache battles were being fought with Geronimo in Texas and all was quiet in Arizona and we never even saw a hostile Indian. I did a lot of riding and got lots of target practice.

On the 20th of March 1880.the first train reached Tucson from California. By June of that year I was honorably discharged from the Army. I had been offered a good paying job as a guard at the Vizina Silver Mine in Tombstone, Arizona. I said goodbye to the folks and headed south. From Tucson to Tombstone is 50 miles. It is a two day trip riding on Jack my twenty dollar mule who had a mean streak in him (that is why I got him so cheap). Riding Jack was exciting; if you did not watch him close he would take a bite out of you. I also bought Burt a knobby legged Appaloosa yearling with my mustering out pay from the army. I have plans for the future with him.

Tombstone was founded in 1879 and was located only thirty miles north of Mexico and was an open market for stolen beef from the ranches in Sonora, Mexico. The cows were stolen by Outlaws known as, “the Cowboys.” They were led by Ike and Billy Clanton. Because of the silver strikes, within seven years the town grew from 100 persons to a population of nearly 14,000.They had 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, a bowling alley, two banks, three newspapers, four churches, a school, and an ice cream parlor. The miners attended shows at the “Bird House,” the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast. All of these places were located among or above hundreds of hardscrabble mines. During those seven years they mined over 70 million dollars of silver.

I had been a guard at the Vizina silver mine only a short time, when I learned that Wyatt Earp and his brothers were part owners of the mine. The Earp’s also owned a ranch near town. I set out to find the Earps. Wyatt, James, Virgil and their younger brother Morgan, I quickly found them and we were soon good friends. Morgan and I were near the same age and we had a great time working at their ranch. I was living in the bunk house and working part time for room and board for me, my horse, and the mule.

The Earps clashed with the outlaws called the Cowboys. Wyatt, Vigil and their younger brother, Morgan held various law enforcement positions that put them in conflict with Tom and Frank McLaury, and Ike and Billy Clanton, who threatened to kill the Earps.

On October 26, 1881, was the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral, during which the Earps and Doc Holliday killed three of the outlaws, the others got away. I was working at the mine and missed the whole thing. In the next five months, Virgil was ambushed and maimed and Morgan was assassinated. Morgan had taught Burt my fast growing horse and me how to cut cattle out of the herd, rope and brand them. Morgan had been a great teacher and when he was killed, I had lost my best friend. I was with the Earp families when they buried Morgan in the Methodist Church yard out north of town

By January, 1882, I had quit my job as guard at the Vizina silver mine and worked full time on the Earps Ranch. On March 20 1882, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and his family were taking his brother Virgil on the train to California. They found Frank Stilwell lying in wait for Virgil in the Tucson train station, and killed him on the train tracks. Frank Stillwell, Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz, and Frederick Bode were among those responsible for the Earps brother, Morgan’s assassination.

For the next two years the Earps hunted down other outlaws while I ran the ranch for them. Working from can see to can’t see the four ranch hands and I kept very busy. Drifting cattle and two legged varmints made keeping the fences up an everyday job. Making sure the water dams were repaired or pulling the cows out of the mud were both back breaking jobs. The new calves were branded as we found them, which made good practice for Burt my Appaloosa and me. We worked hard every day so that all was in good repair when Wyatt and his brother James returned.

In 1884 the Earps decided to sell the ranch and move to California. At 24 years old I could see all that I owned from the top of the best cutting horse in all of Arizona. Burt was a Appaloosa Morgan stud, standing sixteen hands high, dark grey in color with white spots on his rump. Yesterday I heard there was to be a rodeo at Payson, Arizona sixty miles north east of Phoenix, Arizona. It was my chance to win enough money to build a ranch, settle down and start a family of my own.

Payson was one hundred and eighty miles away or about eight days traveling by horseback. Two nights later west of the Toritilla Mountains between Black Mountain and Gray-back Mountain in the desert hill country near a dry wash I set up camp. As I unloaded my pack from Jack‘s back, he took his usual quick swipe at me as he tried to take a piece out of my left shoulder. Thankfully Jack missed again. He pawed at the Buffalo Grass with his right front hoof and pulled his lips back smiled and tossed his head as if to say “Next time I won’t miss.” I ate a quick meal and hobbled Burt the horse and Jack the mule. Jack could, carry a heavy load, but if he thought the load was too heavy he would buck it off. Jack acted like a big brother to Burt my cutting horse. He was also the best night guard that could be found.

The cold gray dawns early light was chasing the coal black of the night across the heavens as the brilliant white stars faded from view. The burning hot sun would soon be coming up over those hazy brown Arizona Mountains off to the east. Here in the desert it had been a cold night. I had slept in my bed roll of two faded blue wool army blankets wrapped in a tattered ground cloth and I had used my well-worn western saddle for a pillow.

My back had found a rock that I had missed last night. As I moved off of it I felt a bone chilling, slithering movement in my bed that was quickly moving away from me. It was a large gray snake with black diamond markings on his back and he was as thick as my arm and about six feet long. It slid out of my bed roll and coiled into a nasty shape. With his head raised and cocked back looking for what had awakened him, hissing and flicking his black forked tongue quickly in and out of its mouth testing the air for a victim. A rattling sound was made with his tail buds that picked up tempo and it caused my heart to skip a beat.

Not over two feet away I faced death with its mouth now wide open and venom dripping from long white fangs that glisten gold in the first rays of the sun. Behind this formidable shape, I saw Jack my pack mule creeping up on us with his head hung close to the ground and his big lips rolled back showing those large yellow buck teeth that I had dodged many a time in the early morning as I had loaded his back pack.

Jack seemed to be smiling at me saying; now you are going to get it. I could almost feel his hot, moist, grass smelling, breath on my cold, sweat covered face. His dark brown eyes bulged out as he slowly reached out then grabbed the buzzing tail of that harbinger of death in his teeth. Jack whipped the snake hard left then right like a bull whip then tossed the dazed snake into a patch of prickly pear cactus.

Jack threw back his head and bugled his triumphant bray that echoed through those gray rock piles and tuff Buffalo grass covered foot hills. The snake with a kink in his back slithered quickly away through the shiny green spinney leafed cactus looking for a quiet place to recover.

I jumped out of my bed roll, tripped over my saddle then lunged forward to give Jack the biggest hug of his life. I scared him half to death. He jumped back as if to say “What did you do that for?” I tried to hug him again but he would have none of it. He just backed up shaking his head and then stared at me as if to say “I was only doing my job.”

At the Rodeo, Burt and I won first place in the cutting horse contest and it was no contest with me ridding Burt. Calf roping requires timing, speed, agility, and strength. It also requires a highly trained horse. We came in first again, and I took second place in the bull dogging contest. All this was topped off, when I caught the eye of Samantha McBride a cute little red headed cowgirl from a nearby ranch ridding an Appaloosa mare.

 


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