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Arizona Sketches By J. A. Munk Characters: 13133

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

I recall with vivid distinctness my first trip to Arizona and introduction to ranch life in the spring of 1884. The experience made a deep impression and has led me to repeat the visit many times since then, with increased interest and pleasure.

During the previous year my brother located a cattle ranch for us in Railroad Pass in southeastern Arizona. The gap is one of a series of natural depressions in a succession of mountain chains on the thirty-second parallel route, all the way from New Orleans to San Francisco over a distance of nearly twenty-five hundred miles. The Southern Pacific Railroad is built upon this route and has the easiest grade of any transcontinental line.

Railroad Pass is a wide break between two mountain ranges and is a fine grazing section. It is handsomely bounded and presents a magnificent view. To the north are the Pinaleno mountains, with towering Mt. Graham in their midst, that are nearly eleven thousand feet high and lie dark in the shadows of their dense pine forests. Far to the south rise the rugged Chiricahuas, and nearby stands bald Dos Cabezas, whose giant double head of granite can be seen as a conspicuous landmark over a wide scope of country. The distance across the Pass as the crow flies is, perhaps, fifty miles. Beyond these peaks other mountains rise in majestic grandeur and bound the horizon in every direction.

At the time that the ranch was located the Pass country was considered uninhabitable because of the scarcity of water and the presence of hostile Indians. No permanent spring nor stream of water was known to exist in that whole region, but fine gramma grass grew everywhere. Its suitability as a cattle range was recognized and caused it to be thoroughly prospected for water, which resulted in the discovery of several hidden springs. All of the springs found, but one, were insignificant and either soon went dry or fluctuated with the seasons; but the big spring, known as Pinaleno, was worth finding, and flows a constant stream of pure, soft water that fills a four-inch iron pipe.

When the spring was discovered not a drop of water was visible upon the surface, and a patch of willows was the only indication of concealed moisture. By sinking a shallow well only a few feet deep among the willows, water was struck as it flowed through coarse gravel over a buried ledge of rock that forced the water up nearly to the surface only to sink again in the sand without being seen. A ditch was dug to the well from below and an iron pipe laid in the trench, through which the water is conducted into a reservoir that supplies the water troughs.

Again, when the ranch was opened the Indians were bad in the vicinity and had been actively hostile for some time. The ranch is on a part of the old Chiricahua reservation that was once the home and hunting grounds of the tribe of Chiricahua Apaches, the most bold and warlike of all the southwest Indians. Cochise was their greatest warrior, but he was only one among many able Apache chieftains. He was at one time the friend of the white man, but treachery aroused his hatred and caused him to seek revenge on every white man that crossed his path.

His favorite haunt was Apache Pass, a convenient spot that was favorable for concealment, where he lay in wait for weary travelers who passed that way in search of water and a pleasant camp ground. If attacked by a superior force, as sometimes happened, he invariably retreated across the Sulphur Spring valley into his stronghold in the Dragoon mountains.

Because of the many atrocities that were committed by the Indians, white men were afraid to go into that country to settle. Even as late as in the early eighties when that prince of rascals, the wily Geronimo, made his bloody raids through southern Arizona, the men who did venture in and located ranch and mining claims, lived in daily peril of their lives which, in not a few instances, were paid as a forfeit to their daring.

The Butterfield stage and all other overland travel to California by the southern route before the railroads were built, went through Apache Pass. Although it was the worst Indian infested section in the southwest, travelers chose that dangerous route in preference to any other for the sake of the water that they knew could always be found there.

The reputation of Apache Pass, finally became so notoriously bad because of the many murders committed that the Government, late in the sixties, built and garrisoned Ft. Bowie for the protection of travelers and settlers. The troops stationed at the post endured much hardship and fought many bloody battles before the Indians were conquered. Many soldiers were killed and buried in a little graveyard near the fort. When the fort was abandoned a few years ago, their bodies were disinterred and removed to the National cemetery at Washington.

Railroad Pass is naturally a better wagon road than Apache Pass, but is without water. It was named by Lieut. J. G. Parke in 1855 while engaged in surveying for the Pacific Railroad, because of its easy grade and facility for railroad construction.

I timed my visit to correspond with the arrival at Bowie station on the Southern Pacific Railroad, of a consignment of ranch goods that had been shipped from St. Louis. I was met at the depot by the ranch force, who immediately proceeded to initiate me as a tenderfoot. I inquired of one of the cowboys how far it was to a near-by mountain. He gave a quien sabe shrug of the shoulder and answered me in Yankee fashion by asking how far I thought it was. Estimating the distance as in a prairie country I replied, "Oh, about a mile." He laughed and said that the mountain was fully five miles distant by actual measurement. I had unwittingly taken my first lesson in plainscraft and prudently refrained thereafter from making another sure guess.

The deception was due to the rarefied atmosphere, which is peculiar to the arid region. It not only deceives the eye as to distance, but also as to motion. If the eye is steadily fixed upon some distant inanimate object, it seems to move in the tremulous light as if possessed of life, and it is not always easy to be convinced to the contrary. However, by putting the object under inspection in line with some further object, it can readily be determined whether the object is animate or still by its remaining on or moving off the line.

Another peculiarity of the country is that objects do not always seem to stand square with the world. In approaching a mountain and moving on a

n up grade the plane of incline is suddenly reversed and gives the appearance and sensation of going downhill. In some inexplicable manner sense and reason seem to conflict and the discovery of the disturbed relation of things is startling. You know very well that the mountain ahead is above you, but it has the appearance of standing below you in a hollow; and the water in the brook at your feet, which runs down the mountain into the valley, seems to be running uphill. By turning squarely about and looking backwards, the misplaced objects become righted, and produces much the same sensation that a man feels who is lost and suddenly finds himself again.

We immediately prepared to drive out to the ranch, which was ten miles distant and reached by a road that skirted the Dos Cabezas mountains. The new wagon was set up and put in running order and lightly loaded with supplies. All of the preliminaries being completed, the horses were harnessed and hooked to the wagon. The driver mounted his seat, drew rein and cracked his whip, but we didn't go. The horses were only accustomed to the saddle and knew nothing about pulling in harness. Sam was a condemned cavalry horse and Box was a native bronco, and being hitched to a wagon was a new experience to both. The start was unpropitious, but, acting on the old adage that "necessity is the mother of invention," which truth is nowhere better exemplified than on the frontier where conveniences are few and the most must be made of everything, after some delay and considerable maneuvering we finally got started.

The road for some distance out was level and smooth and our progress satisfactory. As we drove leisurely along I improved the opportunity to look about and see the sights. It was a perfect day in April and there never was a brighter sky nor balmier air than beamed and breathed upon us. The air was soft and tremulous with a magical light that produced startling phantasmagoric effects.

It was my first sight of a mirage and it naturally excited my curiosity. It seemed as if a forest had suddenly sprung up in the San Simon valley where just before had appeared only bare ground. With every change in the angle of vision as we journeyed on, there occurred a corresponding change in the scene before us that produced a charming kaleidoscopic effect. The rough mountain was transformed into a symmetrical city and the dry valley into a lake of sparkling water,--all seeming to be the work of magic in some fairyland of enchantment.

In a ledge of granite rock by the wayside were cut a number of round holes which the Indians had made and used as mills for grinding their corn and seeds into meal. Nearby also, were some mescal pits used for baking the agave, a native plant that is in great demand as food by the Indians. The spot was evidently an old rendezvous where the marauding Apaches were accustomed to meet in council to plan their bloody raids, and to feast on mescal and pinole in honor of some successful foray or victory over an enemy.

We next crossed several well-worn Indian trails which the Apaches had made by many years of travel to and fro between their rancherias in the Mogollon mountains and Mexico. The sight of these trails brought us back to real life and a conscious sense of danger, for were we not in an enemy's country and in the midst of hostile Indians? Nearly every mile of road traveled had been at some time in the past the scene of a bloody tragedy enacted by a savage foe. Even at that very time the Apaches were out on the warpath murdering people, but fortunately we did not meet them and escaped unmolested.

The road now crossed a low hill, which was the signal for more trouble. The team started bravely up the incline, but soon stopped and then balked and all urging with whip and voice failed to make any impression. After several ineffectual attempts to proceed it was decided not to waste any more time in futile efforts. The horses were unhitched and the wagon partly unloaded, when all hands by a united pull and push succeeded in getting the wagon up the hill. After reloading no difficulty was experienced in making a fresh start on a down grade, but a little farther on a second and larger hill was encountered, when the failure to scale its summit was even greater than the first. No amount of coaxing or urging budged the horses an inch. They simply were stubborn and would not pull.

Night was approaching and camp was yet some distance ahead. The driver suggested that the best thing to do under the circumstances was for the rest of us to take the led horses and ride on to camp, while he would remain with the wagon and, if necessary, camp out all night. We reluctantly took his advice, mounted our horses and finished our journey in the twilight. Aaron, who was housekeeper at the ranch, gave us a hearty welcome and invited us to sit down to a bountiful supper which he had prepared in anticipation of our coming. Feeling weary after our ride we retired early and were soon sound asleep. The only thing that disturbed our slumbers during the night was a coyote concert which, as a "concord of sweet sounds was a dismal failure" but as a medley of discordant sounds was a decided success. The bark of the coyote is particularly shrill and sharp and a single coyote when in full cry sounds like a chorus of howling curs.

We were all up and out early the next morning to witness the birth of a new day. The sunrise was glorious, and bright colors in many hues flashed across the sky. The valley echoed with the cheerful notes of the mocking bird and the soft air was filled with the fragrance of wild flowers. The scene was grandly inspiring and sent a thrill of pleasure through every nerve.

While thus absorbed by the beauties of nature we heard an halloo, and looking down the road in the direction of the driver's bivouac we saw him coming swinging his hat in the air and driving at a rapid pace that soon brought him to the ranch house. In answer to our inquiries as to how he had spent the night he reported that the horses stood quietly in their tracks all night long, while he slept comfortably in the wagon. In the morning the horses started without undue urging as if tired of inaction and glad to go in the direction of provender. They were completely broken by their fast and after that gave no further trouble.

After a stay of four weeks, learning something of the ways of ranch life and experiencing not a few exciting adventures, I returned home feeling well pleased with my first trip to the ranch.

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