One Against Many by Frederick R Bechdolt

Story type: Literature

Maybe you will get an insight into certain traits of the old-timers and so will find it easier to believe the facts set forth in this chronicle, if I begin with the tale of “Big Foot” Wallace.

Away back in the days before the Mexican War this Big Foot Wallace, lusty then and in his prime, was taking part in a bushwhacking expedition into Northern Chilhuahua; and his little company was captured by the soldiers of the southern republic. No one was losing any sleep in those parts over the laws of nations, and the officer commanding the victorious enemy was in a hurry to be moving on. Wherefore, like many another handful of Americans, the prisoners soon found themselves surrounding a jar within whose hidden depths were white and black beans, in number corresponding to their own.

The idea was that each man must draw his bean, and he who got a white one lived, while he who picked a black kernel was lined up with his luckless friends before the nearest wall and shot within an hour. Thus the Mexican commander intended to reduce by one-half the number of his prisoners, and at the same time afford his troops a little entertainment in witnessing the drama of the bean-picking.

There was in Big Foot Wallace’s company a young fellow with a wife and children waiting for him back in Texas, and as the tattered group crowded around the jar to thrust their hands within and draw forth their different fates this soldier broke down. The thought of the woman and the babies was too much for him.

Big Foot Wallace had just plunged in his hand when the man began to sob. He glanced down at the white bean which his fingers clutched and turned to the stricken youth.

“Here,” he whispered with an oath thrown in to show his indifference to the heroics, “take this, I’m feeling lucky to-day.”

With which he turned over his precious bean and–proceeded to draw another white one.

The tale is told to this day by white-bearded men who maintain that it came to them from the lips of Big Foot Wallace. It has been used as the basis for at least one bit of fine fiction, but in its original form it illuminates for us of a later generation the characters of those extraordinary men who won the great Southwest away from the Apaches. They were, whenever occasion came, perfectly willing to take a long chance against ugly death. That willingness made every one of the old-timers a host in himself.

During the decades between the end of the Mexican War and the coming of the railroads these men drifted westward from the Rio Grande and the Pecos. A lean and sunburned crew, they came by saddle-horse and wagon, by thorough-brace Concord stage-coach and by bull team, dribbling into the long, thin valleys which reach northward from the Mexican border to the Gila River.

They found such spots as suited them; there they built their cabins, gouged their prospect-holes from the rocky hillsides, and dug the irrigation-ditches for their ranches. There were few settlements and these remote from one another; the military posts were so insufficiently garrisoned that the troopers had all they could do to look out for themselves; and the Apaches roamed unhindered whither the lust for plunder led them.

These savages had owned the valleys and the ragged mountain ranges between them. They saw the white men drifting in, in twos and threes; they saw the lonely camps and cabins, tenanted by little groups of settlers, beyond all reach of help; they saw the wagon-trains and stages traveling without convoys. Their chiefs were wily, their warriors past masters of the art of ambush. They started in to kill off the new-comers; and they undoubtedly would have succeeded in depopulating most of New Mexico and Arizona if it had not been for that one trait of which Big Foot Wallace furnishes an example.

Therein lies the key-note to the incidents within this little chronicle; the contemptuous disregard for danger, the willingness to take the supreme risk, which made those old-timers perform exploits that were seemingly impossible; which made them outface their naked enemies–who were always looking out for their own swarthy skins–and come forth unscathed from situations wherein death seemed the only means by which they could emerge; which made them win in many a grim fight where the odds were one man against many.

One man against many. That was the case with Uncle Billy Rhodes. Back in the early sixties he and his partner had taken up some land down in the Santa Cruz valley near the pueblo of Tubac. If you drive southward in your car to-day from Tucson you will pass the spot where Tubac stood until the Apaches laid waste the town during Civil War times, and go within a stone’s throw of the place where Uncle Billy Rhodes ran one of the biggest and finest bluffs in all the history of Indian-fighting.

It was the custom of the Apaches to raid southward from their reservations into Mexico, scooping up such loot and lives as they could during their journeys. Usually at this particular time they traveled by way of the Santa Catalina Mountains, keeping well to the heights until they reached the Pantano Wash, where they frequently swooped down on the Butterfield stage-station before climbing to the summits of the Whetstones and the Huachucas. Clinging to the rocky ridges, they went on southward and watched the lowlands for signs of victims.

Such a war-party descended into the Santa Cruz valley one afternoon and found Billy Rhodes’s partner alone at the ranch. When they got through with him there was little left in the semblance of a man, but they took good care to postpone burning the ranch-buildings, contenting themselves with promiscuous looting.

The idea was that smoke creates a warning signal and Uncle Billy Rhodes would never come within rifle-shot of the spot once he got sight of the ascending cloud. He was their meat; they possessed their souls in patience and settled down to await his home-coming.

Afternoon was waning and the first long shadows of early evening were beginning to steal across the plain from the base of the mountains when Uncle Billy rode his jaded pony down the faint wagon-track toward the ranch-house. He was weary from the saddle, for he had come a long distance that day–so long a distance that the horse was unfit for much more travel.

He passed his first rude fence and was within two hundred yards or so of the cabin when something made him pull up. He did not know what that something was; but the bronco added to his suspicions by its behavior. And then, while he was reconnoitering, an over-eager brave took a pot-shot at him.

The bullet missed, as most Apache bullets had a habit of doing. Next to the courage of the old-timers the utter inability of the North American Indian to grasp the necessity of pulling down his front sight was perhaps the largest factor that helped the white man to win the country west of the Mississippi River. Uncle Billy Rhodes whirled his pony and started back in the direction he had come from.

But the ponies of the Apaches were fresh from the rest they had enjoyed while their masters were prolonging the death agonies of Uncle Billy’s partner. It took but a short time for the Indians to catch them up and within a minute or two something like fifty warriors, turbaned, naked from the waist up, were crowding their frenzied mounts in the wake of the fugitive.

The chase, as might have been expected, was a short one. Before he had gone a half-mile Uncle Billy saw that he was going to be overtaken. Already the savages were spreading out, and he could hear the yells of those who were drawing up on each side.

It was the proper time for a man to despair; but Uncle Billy was too busy looking about him for a point of vantage to indulge in any such emotion as that. He had an old-fashioned cap-and-ball revolver, all of whose chambers were loaded; and it was his intention to make those six bullets if possible account for six Apaches before he resigned himself to unkind fate.

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The river-bed was close at hand; in places the road skirted the willow thickets which lined the stream. Before the fugitive a particularly thick clump of the green shrubs showed; all about it the ground was open. Uncle Billy hardly bothered to check his pony’s lame gallop before casting himself bodily into the midst of this shelter. And thereafter the affair took on a different complexion.

The Apache was never foolhardy. Possessed of marvelous patience, he was willing to wait when waiting was the more prudent course of action. And in the beginning the pursuers, who had encircled the willow thicket, contented themselves with shooting from a distance where they could keep to cover.

But evening was growing on, and these savages were imbued with more superstitious fears of the dark than the members of most Indian tribes. It became evident that they must rush matters if they would go to camp before the night enwrapped them.

So the forty-odd came wriggling down the surrounding slopes toward the willow thicket, keeping as close to the earth as possible, striving to close in before they made their open charge. Uncle Billy waited until he got a good shot, and “turned loose” for the first time. A spattering of bullets answered his, but he had the satisfaction of seeing one naked form lying motionless on the hillside.

There came a yell, and now the Apaches showed themselves as they ran forward. The old revolver spoke again and then the third time. The charge broke in its inception; and the retreating enemy left two more of their number behind them when they went back to cover.

There followed an interval of silence. It was succeeded by another rush. Uncle Billy fired twice from the depths of his thicket, and both shots scored. The Apaches sought the rocks once more; but the old-timer lay among the willows with a broken elbow from one of their bullets. There was no time, nor were there means, for dressing the wound. He gritted his teeth, dug the elbow into the soft sand to stanch the flow of blood, and waited for the next onset.

It came within a few minutes, and Uncle Billy fired his last shot. The good luck which sometimes helps out a brave man in time of trouble saw to it that the ball from his revolver found the chief of the party. When they saw him fall the Indians retired in bad order.

And now, where force had failed them, the Apaches resorted to diplomacy. All they wanted was to get their hands on the white man, and a little lying might be the means to help them to it. In Spanish one of them called from his cover, bidding Uncle Billy give himself up as a prisoner. He had, the herald said, been so brave that they would observe the amenities of the white man’s warfare; they would not harm a hair of his head. But if he refused they surely would come on this time and kill him.

To which Uncle Billy Rhodes replied profanely inviting them to make the charge.

“Because,” he ended, “I’m plumb anxious to get some more of you.”

And then he sat back biding their coming–with his empty revolver. But the silence continued uninterrupted; the shadows merged to dusk; twilight deepened to darkness. The Apaches had stolen away, and Uncle Billy Rhodes crept forth from the willows to catch up his horse and ride with his broken arm to Tucson, where he told the story.

Now there is no doubt what would have happened to Uncle Billy had he been gullible enough to believe that statement of the Apaches as to his personal safety in case of surrender. As a matter of cold fact neither Indian nor white man had any particular reason to look for favor or expect the truth from his enemy during this long struggle.

Just to get an idea of the relentlessness of their warfare it is worth while noting this incident in passing–one of those incidents which were never reported to Washington for the simple reason that Washington could never understand them.

A band of renegade Apaches had left the reservation to go a-plundering down in Mexico. A certain troop of cavalry was riding after them with the usual instructions from Washington to bring them back without bloodshed.

The captain of the troop was a seasoned Indian-fighter, and he managed to keep the fugitives moving so fast that they got next to nothing to eat. When you are traveling without rations along the ridges during an Arizona summer and there is no time to stop for hunting, no time to bake mescal roots; when you need every pony for riding and you have eaten the last lean dog; then bellies draw in and the ribs begin to stand out.

There were a number of squaws and children in the Apache outfit, and by the time the chase had been going on for two weeks or so with back-trackings, twistings and turnings, and every march a forced one, why then the pace of the fugitives began to slacken. And the troopers overtook them one fine day right out in the open where there was no opportunity for stand or ambush.

According to his instructions from the men who ran our Indian affairs in Washington, the captain of the troopers must bring these renegades back unharmed or face the necessity of making a great many explanations. So he drew up his men in formation and rode forward to parley with the half-starved savages. He rode right up to them, and their chief came forth to have a talk with him.

This captain was a fine figure of a man, and those who watched him say that he made a noble picture on his big troop-horse before the frowzy band whose gaunted members squatted in the bear-grass, their beady eyes glinting on him under their dirty turbans. And he was a good, persuasive talker. He promised them safe-conduct to the reservation and assured them that their truancy would be overlooked, were they to come back now.

He went on to tell of the rations which would be issued to them. He dwelt on that; he mentioned the leanness of their bodies and described at length the stores of food that were awaiting for them in the reservation warehouse.

And the words of the captain were beginning to have an effect. There was a stirring among the warriors and a muttering; men glanced at their squaws and the squaws looked at their children. The captain went on as if unconscious that his eloquence was bearing fruit.

All the time he was speaking a girl just grown to womanhood kept edging toward him. In the days when food was plenty she must have owned a savage sort of beauty; but her limbs were lank now and her cheeks were wasted. Her eyes were overlarge from fasting as they hung on the face of the big captain.

So she stood at last in the very forefront of her people, quite unconscious that other eyes were watching her. And behind her her people stirred more and more uneasily; they were very hungry.

Under the hot, clear sky the troopers sat in their saddles, silent, waiting. The lieutenant who had been left in charge watched the little drama. He saw how the moment of the crisis was approaching; how just one little movement in the right direction, one word perhaps, would turn the issue. He saw the half-starved girl leaning forward, her lips parted as she listened to the big captain. He saw an old squaw, wrinkled and toothless, venom in her eyes, crouching beside the hungered girl.

Suddenly the girl took an eager step forward. As if it were a signal a full half of the band started in the same direction.

And just then with the turning of the scales, just as the captain’s eloquence was winning, the old squaw sprang to her feet. She whirled an ax over her head and brought it down upon the girl. And before the body had fallen to the earth a warrior leveled his rifle and shot the captain through the heart.

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The lieutenant started to turn toward his troopers. But he never had a chance to give his order. The whole blue-clad band was charging on a dead run. What followed did not take long. There was not a single prisoner brought back to the reservation.

When men are warring in that relentless spirit, no one who is blessed with the ordinary amount of reasoning power looks for mercy even if it be promised. And Uncle Billy Rhodes did well to run his bluff down there in the willows by the river.

Sometimes, however, the Apaches felt themselves forced to show respect for their dead enemies. There was, for instance, the short-card man from Prescott. Felix was his name; the surname may be chronicled somewhere for all the writer knows; it ought to be. A short-card gambler, and that was not all; men say that he had sold whisky to the Indians, that he was in partnership with a band of stock-rustlers, and that on occasion he had been known to turn his hand to robbery by violence. In fact there is no good word spoken of his life up to the time when the very end came.

In Prescott he owned none of that friendship which a man craves from his fellows; respect was never bestowed upon him. He walked the streets of that frontier town a moral pariah.

Those who associated with him–those who made their living by dubious means–looked up to him with an esteem born only of hard-eyed envy for his prosperity. For he was doing well, as the saying goes; making good money.

Felix had managed to find a wife, a half-breed Mexican woman; and she had borne him children, two or three of them. He had a ranch some distance from the town, and many cattle.

And on the great day of his life, the day when he became glorious, he was driving from the ranch to Prescott with his family: a two-horse buckboard and Felix at the reins; the woman and the children bestowed beside him and about him.

Somewhere along the road the Apaches “jumped” them, to use the idiom of those times. A mounted band and on their way across-country, they spied the buckboard and started after it. The road was rough; the half-broken ponies weary; and the renegades gained at every jump. Felix plied the whip and kept his broncos to the dead run until their legs were growing heavy under them and the run slackened to a lumbering gallop.

Prescott was only a few miles away. They reached a place where the road ran between rocky banks, a place where there was no going save by the wagon-track.

Felix slipped his arm around his wife and kissed her. It was perhaps the first time he had done it in years; one can easily believe that. He kissed the children.

“Whip ’em up,” he bade the woman. “I’ll hold the road for you.”

And he jumped off of the buckboard with his rifle and sixteen rounds of ammunition.

In Prescott the woman told the story and a relief party rode out within a half-hour. They found the body of the short-card man and stock-thief with the bodies of fourteen Indians sprinkled about among the rocks. And the surviving Apaches, instead of mutilating the remains of their dead enemy as was their custom on such occasions, had placed a bandanna handkerchief over his face, weighting down its corners with pebbles lest the wind blow it away.

It was near Prescott–only four miles below the village–that a woman fought Apaches all through a long September afternoon. The Hon. Lewis A. Stevens was in town attending a session of the Territorial Legislature and his wife was in charge of the ranch near the Point of Rocks that day in 1867. A hired man was working about the place.

One hundred yards away from the house an enormous pile of boulders rose toward the nearer hills. Beneath some of the overhanging rocks were great caves, and the depressions between the ridges gave hiding-places to shelter scores of men.

Shortly after noon Mrs. Stevens happened to look from the window of the kitchen where she was at work. Something was moving behind a clump of spiked niggerheads between the back door and the corrals; at first glance it looked like a dirty rag stirring in the wind, but when the woman had held her eyes on it a moment she saw, among the bits of rock and the thorny twigs with which it had been camouflaged, the folds of an Apache warrior’s head-gear.

Now as she stepped back swiftly from the window toward the double-barreled shotgun which was a part of her kitchen furnishings and always hung conveniently among the pots and pans, she caught sight of more turbans there in her back yard. With the consummate patience of their kind some twenty-odd Apaches had been spending the last hour or so wriggling along the baked earth, keeping to such small cover as they could find as they progressed inch by inch from the boulder hill toward the ranch-house.

The majority of the savages were still near the pile of rocks when Mrs. Stevens threw open her kitchen door and gave the warrior behind the niggerheads one load of buckshot; and the more venturesome among them who had been following their luckless companion’s lead broke back to that shelter at the moment she fired. Fortunately the hired man was out in the front and the roar of the shotgun brought him into the house on a run. By this time more than twenty Apaches were firing from the hill; the tinkling of broken glass from the windows and the buzzing of bullets was filling the intervals between the banging of their rifles.

Like most Arizona ranch-houses in those days, the place was a rather well-equipped arsenal. By relaying each other at loading Mrs. Stevens and the hired man managed to hold down opposite sides of the building. Thus they repelled two rushes; and when the enemy made an attempt to reach the corrals and run off the stock, they drove them back to their hillside a third time.

The battle lasted all the afternoon until a neighbor by the name of Johnson who had heard the firing came with reenforcements from his ranch. That evening after the savages had vanished for good Mrs. Stevens sent a message into Prescott to her husband.

“Send me more buckshot. I’m nearly out of it,” was what she wrote.

During the late sixties and the seventies the stage-lines had a hard time of it, what with Apaches driving off stock and ambushing the coaches along the road. There were certain stations, like those at the Pantano Wash and the crossing of the San Pedro, whose adobe buildings were all pitted with bullet-marks from successive sieges; and at these lonely outposts the arrival of the east or west bound mail was always more or less of a gamble.

Frequently the old thorough-brace Concord would come rattling in with driver or messenger missing; and on such occasions it was always necessary to supply the dead man’s place for the ensuing run. Yet willing men were rarely lacking, and an old agent tells how he merely needed to wave a fifty-dollar bill in the faces of the group who gathered round at such a time to secure a new one to handle the reins.

In those days an Indian fight wasn’t such a great matter if one bases his opinion on the way the papers handled one of them in their news columns. Judge by this paragraph from the “Arizonian,” August 27, 1870:

On Thursday, August 18, the mail buggy from the Rio Grande had come fifteen miles toward Tucson from the San Pedro crossing when the driver, the messenger, and the escort of two soldiers were killed by Apaches. The mail and stage were burned. Also there is one passenger missing who was known to have left Apache Pass with this stage.

You are of course at liberty to supply the details of that affair to suit yourself; but it is safe to say there was something in the way of battle before the last of these luckless travelers came to his end. For even the passengers went well armed in those days and were entirely willing to make a hard fight of it before they knuckled under; as witness the encounter at Stein’s Pass, where old Cochise and Mangus Colorado got the stage cornered on a bare hilltop with six passengers aboard one afternoon. The writer has given that story in detail elsewhere, but it is worth mentioning here that it took Cochise and Mangus Colorado and their five hundred warriors three long days to kill off the Free Thompson party–whose members managed to take more than one hundred and fifty Apaches along with them when they left this life.

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But drivers were canny, and even the Apache with all his skill at ambush could not always entrap them. In the “Tucson Citizen” of April 20, 1872, under the heading “Local Matters,” we find this brief paragraph:

The eastern mail, which should have arrived here last Monday afternoon, did not get in until Tuesday. The Apaches attacked it at Dragoon Pass and the driver went back fifteen miles to Sulphur Springs; and on the second trial ran the gauntlet in safety.

Which reads as if there might have been considerable action and much manoeuvering on that April day in 1872 where the tracks of the Southern Pacific climb the long grade up from Wilcox to Dragoon Pass.

There was a driver by the name of Tingley on the Prescott line who had the run between Wickenburg and La Paz back in 1869. He had seen much Indian-fighting and was sufficiently seasoned to keep his head while the lead was flying around him. One February day he was on the box with two inside passengers, Joseph Todd of Prescott and George Jackson of Petaluma, California.

Everything was going well, and the old Concord came down the grade into Granite Wash with the horses on the jump and Tingley holding his foot on the brake. They reached the bottom of the hill, and the driver lined them out where the road struck the level going.

And then, when the ponies were surging into their collars, with the loose sand and gravel half-way to the hubs, somewhere between thirty and forty Apaches opened fire from the brush on both sides of the wagon-track.

The first volley came at close range; so close that in spite of the customary poor marksmanship of their kind the Indians wounded every man in the coach. A bullet got Tingley in the wrist. He dropped the reins, and before he could regain them the team was running away.

The six ponies turned off from the road at the first jump and plunged right into the midst of the Indians. Tingley could see the half-naked savages leaping for the bridles and clawing at the stage door as they strove to get hand-holds; but the speed was too great for them; the old Concord went reeling and bumping through the entire party, leaving several warriors writhing in the sand where the hoofs of the fright-maddened broncos had spurned them.

By this time Tingley had drawn his revolver, and the two passengers joined him in returning the fire of the enemy. Now he bent down and picked up the reins, and within the next two hundred yards or so he managed to swing the leaders back into the road.

From there on it was a race. The Apaches were catching up their ponies and surging along at a dead run to overtake their victims. But Tingley, to use the expression of the old-timers, poured the leather into his team, and kept the long lead which he had got.

The stage pulled up at Cullen’s Station with its load of wounded; and word was sent to Wickenburg for a doctor, who arrived in time to save the lives of the two inside passengers, although both men were shot through the body.

Stage-driver and shotgun messenger usually saw plenty of perilous adventures during the days of Mangus Colorado, Cochise, Victorio, Nachez, and Geronimo; but if one was hungry for Indian-fighting in those times he wanted to be a mule-skinner. The teamsters became so inured to battling against Apaches that the cook who, when the savages attacked the camp near Wickenburg one morning before breakfast, kept on turning flapjacks during the entire fight and called his companions to the meal at its conclusion, is but an example of the ordinary run of wagon-hands. That incident, by the way, is vouched for in the official history of Arizona.

Bronco Mitchel’s experiences afforded another good illustration of the hazards of freighting. In the latter seventies and the early eighties, when Victorio, Nachez, and Geronimo were making life interesting for settlers, he drove one of those long teams of mules which used to haul supplies from Tucson to the military posts and mining camps of southeastern Arizona. Apparently he was a stubborn man, else he would have forsaken this vocation early in the game.

At Ash Springs near the New Mexican boundary a wagon-train with which he was working went to camp one hot summer’s day. They had been warned against the place by some one who had seen Apaches lurking in the vicinity; but the animals needed water and feed, and the wagon-master took a chance. Bronco Mitchel, who was young then, and a foreigner who was cooking for the outfit were placed on sentry duty while the mules were grazing.

The heat of the early afternoon got the best of Bronco Mitchel as he sat on the hillside with his back against a live-oak tree; and after several struggles to keep awake, he finally dropped off. How long he had been sleeping he never was able to tell, but a shot awakened him.

He opened his eyes in time to see the whole place swarming with Apaches. The cook lay dead a little way from him. The rest of his companions were making a desperate fight for their lives; and a half-dozen of the Indians, who had evidently just caught sight of him, were heading for him. There was one thing to do, and no time to lose about it. He ran as he had never run before, and after a night and day of wandering was picked up, all but dead, by a squad of scouting cavalry.

One evening two or three years later Bronco Mitchel was freighting down near the border, and he made his camp at the mouth of Bisbee canyon. The mules were grazing near by, and he was lying in his blankets under the trail-wagon, with a mongrel puppy, which he carried along for company, beside him.

Just as he was dropping off to sleep the puppy growled. Being now somewhat experienced in the ways of the Territory, Bronco Mitchel immediately clasped his hands over the little fellow’s muzzle and held him there, mute and struggling.

He had hardly done this when the thud of hoofs came to his ears; and a band of Apaches appeared in the half-light passing his wagon. There was a company of soldiers in camp within a mile or two, and the savages were in a hurry; wherefore they had contented themselves with stealing the mules and forbore from searching for the teamster, who lay there choking the puppy as they drove the plundered stock within three yards of him.

Now it so happened that Bronco Mitchel’s team included a white mare, who was belled; for mules will follow a white mare to perdition if she chooses to wander thither. And knowing the ways of that mare, Bronco Mitchel was reasonable certain that she would seize the very first opportunity to stray from the camp of her captors–just as she had strayed from his own camp many a time–with all the mules after her. So when the Indians had gone far enough to be out of earshot he took along his rifle, a bridle, and canteen, and dogged their trail. He did not even go to the trouble of seeking out the soldiers but hung to the tracks alone, over two ridges of the Mule Mountains and up a lonely gorge–where, according to his expectations, he met his stock the next day and, mounting the old bell mare, ran them back to Bisbee canyon.

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Other encounters with Victorio’s renegades enriched the teamster’s store of experience, but his narrowest escape remained as the climax of the whole list during the days when old Geronimo was off the reservation. One torrid noon he had watered his mules and drawn his lead and trail wagons off the road over in the San Simon country.

At the time it was supposed that no renegades were within a hundred miles, and Bronco Mitchel felt perfectly safe in taking a siesta under one of the big vehicles. Suddenly he awakened from a sound sleep; and when his eyes flew open he found himself gazing into the face of an Apache warrior.

The Indian was naked save for his turban, a breech-clout, his boot-moccasins, and the usual belt of cartridges. Even for an Apache he was unusually ugly; and now as he saw the eyes of the white man meeting his, he grinned. It was such a grin as an ugly dog gives before biting. At that instant Bronco Mitchel was laying flat on his back.

An instant later, without knowing how he did it, Bronco Mitchel was on all fours with the wagon between him and the renegade. In this posture he ran for some distance before he could gather his feet under him; and to stimulate his speed there came from behind him the cracking of a dozen rifles. He rolled into a shallow arroyo and dived down its course like a hunted rabbit.

Once he took enough time to look back over his shoulder and saw the turbaned savages spreading out in his wake. After that he wasted no energy in rearward glances, but devoted all his strength to the race, which he won unscathed, and kept on teaming thereafter until the railroad spoiled the business.

Such incidents as these of Bronco Mitchel’s, however, were all in the day’s work and weren’t regarded as anything in particular to brag about in those rough times. As a matter of fact the “Weekly Arizonian” of May 15, 1869, gives only about four inches under a one-line head to the battle between Tully & Ochoa’s wagon-train and three hundred Apaches, and in order to get the details of the fight one must go to men who heard its particulars narrated by survivors.

Santa Cruz Castaneda was the wagon-master, an old-timer even in those days, and the veteran of many Indian fights. There were nine wagons in the train, laden with flour, bacon and other provisions for Camp Grant, and fourteen men in charge of them. The Apaches ambushed them near the mouth of a canyon not more than ten miles from the post.

Somehow the wagon-master got warning of what was impending in time to corral the wagons in a circle with the mules turned inside the enclosure. The teamsters disposed themselves under the vehicles and opened fire on the enemy, who were making one of those loose-order rushes whereby the Apache used to love to open proceedings if he thought he had big enough odds.

Before the accurate shooting of these leather-faced old-timers the assailants gave back. When they had found cover they sent forward a warrior, who advanced a little way waving a white cloth and addressed Santa Cruz in Spanish.

“If you will leave these wagons,” the herald said, calling the wagon-master by name, “we will let all of you go away without harming you.”

To which Santa Cruz replied:

“You can have this wagon-train when I can’t hold it any longer.”

The Apache translated the words and backed away to the rocks from behind which he had emerged. And the fight began again with a volley of bullets and a cloud of arrows. At this time there were about two hundred Indians in the ambushing party, and they were surrounding the corral of wagons.

Occasionally the Apaches would try a charge; but there never was a time on record when these savages could hold a formation under fire for longer than a minute or two at the outside; and the rushes always broke before the bullets of the teamsters. Between these sorties there were long intervals of desultory firing–minutes of silence with intermittent pop-popping to vary the deadly monotony. Once in a while the surrounding hillsides would blossom out with smoke-puffs, and the banging of the rifles would merge into a sort of long roll.

Always the teamsters lay behind the sacks of flour which they had put up for breastworks, lining their sights carefully, firing with slow deliberation. Now and again a man swore or rolled over in limp silence; and the sandy earth under the wagons began to show red patches of congealing blood.

By noon the forces of the enemy had been augmented by other Apaches who had come to enjoy the party until their number now reached more than three hundred. And the afternoon sun came down hot upon the handful of white men. Ammunition began to run low.

The day dragged on and the weary business kept up until the sun was seeking the western horizon, when a squad of seven cavalrymen on their way from Camp Grant to Tucson happened to hear the firing. They came charging into the battle as enthusiastically as if they were seven hundred, and cut right through the ring of the Apaches.

Under one of the wagons the sergeant in charge of the troopers held counsel with Santa Cruz Castaneda. Cartridges were getting scarce; the number of the Apaches was still growing; there was no chance of any other body of soldiers coming along this way for a week or so at the least.

“Only way to do is make a break for it,” the sergeant said.

The wagon-master yielded to a fate which was too great for him and consented to abandon the train. They bided their time until what seemed a propitious moment and then, leaving their dead behind them, the sixteen survivors–which number included the seven soldiers–made a charge at the weakest segment of the circle. Under a cloud of arrows and a volley of bullets they ran the gantlet and came forth with their wounded. Hanging grimly together, they retreated, holding off the pursuing savages, and eventually made their way to Camp Grant.

Now the point on which the little newspaper item dwells is the fact that the Indians burned the entire wagon-train, entailing a loss of twelve thousand dollars to Tully & Ochoa and of twenty thousand dollars to the United States government. On the heroics it wastes no type. It seems to have been regarded as bad taste in those days to talk about a man’s bravery. Either that, or else the bravery was taken for granted.

In that same canyon near Camp Grant two teamsters died, as the berserks of old used to like to die, taking many enemies with them to the great hereafter. James Price, a former soldier, was the name of one, and the name which men wrote on the headboard of the other was Whisky Bill. By that appellation you may sketch your own likeness of him; and to help you out in visualizing his partner, you are hereby reminded that the gray dust of those Arizona roads used to settle into the deep lines of the mule-skinners’ faces beyond all possibility of removal; the sun and wind used to flay their skins to a deep, dull red.

Whisky Bill and Jim Price with an escort of two cavalry troopers were driving two wagons of Thomas Venable’s, loaded with hay for Camp Grant, when fifty Apaches ambushed them in the canyon. Price was killed at the first volley and one of the soldiers was badly wounded in the face.

The three living men took refuge under the wagons and stood off several rushes of the savages. Then the soldier who had been wounded got a second bullet and made up his mind he would be of more use in trying to seek help at Camp Grant than in staying where he was. He managed to creep off into the brush before the Indians got sight of him.

Now Whisky Bill and the other soldier settled down to make an afternoon’s fight of it, and for three hours they held off the savages. Half a dozen naked bodies lay limp among the rocks to bear witness to the old teamster’s marksmanship when a ball drilled him through the chest and he sank back dying.

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There was only one chance now for the remaining trooper, and he took it. With his seven-shot rifle he dived out from under the wagon and gained the nearest clump of brush. At once the Apaches sallied forth from their cover in full cry after him.

Heedless of their bullets, he halted long enough to face about and slay the foremost of his pursuers; then ran on to a pile of rocks, where he made another brief stand, only to leave the place as his enemies hesitated before his fire. Thus he fled, stopping to shoot when those behind him were coming too close for comfort; and eventually they gave up the chase.

In Camp Grant, where he arrived at sundown, he found his fellow-trooper, badly wounded but expected to live, under care of the post surgeon. And the detachment who went out after the renegades buried the two teamsters beside the road where they had died fighting.

One against many; that was the rule in these grim fights. But the affair which took place on the Cienega de Souz, fifteen miles above the old San Simon stage-station and twenty-five miles from Port Bowie, tops them all when it comes to long odds. On October 21, 1871, one sick man battled for his life against sixty-odd Apaches and–won out.

R. M. Gilbert was his name; he was ranching and for the sake of mutual aid in case of Indian raids he had built his adobe house at one end of his holding, within two hundred yards of his neighbor’s home. The building stood on bare ground at the summit of a little rise near the Cienega bottom, where the grass and tulles grew waist-high.

Early in the month of October Gilbert was stricken with fever, and Richard Barnes, the neighbor, moved into his house to take care of him. The patient dragged along after a fashion until the early morning of the twenty-first found him wasted almost to skin and bone, weak, bedridden. And about six o’clock that morning Barnes left the house to go to his own adobe.

The Apaches, according to their habit when they went forth to murder isolated settlers or prospectors, had chosen the dawn for the hour of attack, and they were lying in the tall grass in the Cienega bottom when Barnes emerged from the building. They let him go almost to the other adobe before they opened fire; and he dropped at the volley, dying from several wounds.

Then Gilbert, who had not stirred from his bed for many days, leaped from his blankets and took down a Henry rifle from the cabin wall. He had been weak; now that thing which men call “sand” gave strength unto him; and he ran from the house to rescue his companion.

The Apaches were rushing from the tulles toward the prostrate form. He paused long enough to level his rifle and fire; then came on again. And the savages fell back. It was easier to bide in the shelter of the tulles and kill off this mad white man than to show themselves and run a chance of getting one of his bullets.

They reasoned well enough; but something mightier than logic was behind Gilbert that morning. With the strength which comes to the fever-stricken in moments of supreme excitement he reached his friend, picked him up, and while the bullets of his enemies kicked up dust all about him bore him on his shoulders back into the cabin. There he laid him down and proceeded to hold the place against besiegers.

The Apaches deployed until they were surrounding the house. Then they opened fire once more, and as they shot they wriggled forward, coming ever closer until some of them were so near that they were able to place their bullets through the rude loopholes which the settler had made for defense of his home.

All the morning the battle went on. Sometimes the savages varied their tactics by rushes and even thrust the barrels of their rifles through the windows. The room was filled with smoke. During lulls in the firing Gilbert heard the groaning of his companion; he heard the moans change to the long, harsh death-rattle.

Some time during the noon-hour as he was standing at a loophole shooting at a bunch of naked, frowzy-haired warriors who had appeared in front of the building, an Apache brave who had stolen up behind the adobe took careful aim through a broken window and got him in the groin. But the sick man bound a handkerchief about the wound and dragged himself from window to window, loading his rifle, firing whenever a turban showed.

About midafternoon a venturesome group of warriors rushed the side hill, gained the cabin wall and flung bundles of blazing fagots on the roof. And within ten minutes the inside of the place was seething with smoke-clouds; showers of sparks were dropping on the floor; flaming shreds of brush were falling all about the sick man.

He groped his way to the bed and called Barnes. There was no answer. He bent down and peered through the fumes at the other’s face. Death had taken his friend.

Gilbert loaded his rifle and a revolver. With a weapon in either hand he flung open the door, and as he ran forth he saw in the hot afternoon sunshine the shadow of an Indian who was hiding behind a corner of the building. He leaped toward the place and as the warrior was stepping forth shot him in the belly. Then he fled for the tulles in the Cienega bottom.

Under a shower of bullets he gained the shelter of the reeds. And during all the rest of that afternoon he lay there standing off the Apaches. When darkness came he crawled away. All night and all the next day he traveled on his hands and knees and finally reached the hay camp of David Wood, sixteen miles away.

Wood dressed his wounds and sent word to Camp Bowie, and a troop of cavalry chased the renegades into the Chiracahua Mountains, where they eventually escaped, to make their way back to the reservation in time for next ration-day.

These tales are authentic, and are but a few examples of the battles which the old-timers fought during the years while they were winning the Southwest away from the Indians. Some of those old-timers are living to this day.

There is one of them dwelling in Dragoon Pass, where the mountains come down to the lowlands like a huge promontory fronting the sea. Uncle Billy Fourrs is his name; and if you pass his place you can see, on a rocky knoll, the fortress of boulders which he built to hold his lands against the renegades back in the seventies.

Not many years ago some Federal agents had Uncle Billy up in Tucson on a charge of fencing government land, for according to the records he had not gone through the formality of taking out some of the requisite papers for proper possession. That case is one instance of a man pleading guilty and getting acquittal.

For Uncle Billy Fourrs acknowledged the formal accusation and still maintained the land was his own.

“How,” asked the government prosecutor, “did you get it?”

“I took it away from the Indians,” was the answer. And the jury, being an Arizona jury, promptly acquitted him. Which, was, when you come to think over such incidents as the foregoing, only simple justice.

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