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Apaches & Longhorns: The Reminiscences of Will C. Barnes

Will C. Barnes (1941; rpt. 1982)


A few days at San Diego and I was ordered to Fort Apache, Arizona, then about as far out of civilization as it was possible to get. Traveling on the desert in those days was a very primitive matter. The stage ride eastward from San Diego to Yuma was nothing to add to one's enjoyment of life. It was sand and desert, with special emphasis on the sand.
At Yuma everything was booming. The eastern end of the Southern Pacific Railroad was near the station of Casa Grande, some one hundred and thirty-five miles beyond Yuma. Nearly three thousand Chinamen were hard at work, pushing it forward at the rate of about five miles a day. The mines of Tombstone were pouring out their flood of gold and silver. All inbound stages from the railhead near Maricopa Wells, south of Phoenix, were loaded with as many passengers as could find a place on them, either inside or out. I waited at this railhead two days until a seat was vacant in one of the huge, six-horse coaches of the old Butterfield Overland Stage and Transportation Company. The journey from there to Tucson, where I was to report for further orders, took about twenty-four tiresome hours of constant travel day and night. Accommodations along the route were primitive to an extreme. At the first eating-station, I washed my face and hands in an Indian basket set on three sticks driven into the ground outside the station, under a mesquite tree. The water was horribly alkaline, and the woven willow basket—used by each and every passenger—was about as insanitary a piece of furniture as could be imagined. Such baskets or bowls were in almost universal use for household purposes at that day, all over Southern Arizona. (9-10)

A tall, handsome Yuma Indian, naked as the day he was born, except for a cotton breech-clout, or "G string," about his loins, waited on the table. Another, similarly clothed, fought away the myriads of hungry flies that swarmed about the diners' heads and over the food. He was armed with a fly-brush built of newspapers cut into long strips, which were tied to a short stick. This he waved back and forth in a weary, dejected sort of way, as if life were hardly worthwhile. At 110 degrees in the shade, it hardly was. His long hair was wound tight about his head. Over it was plastered half an inch of dried mud. Inquiry as to the object of this peculiar head-covering developed the fact that it was to kill off the lively inhabitants. The cooking was done in plain sight of the table by a couple of barefooted Yuma squaws, who in deference to the prevailing fashion wore long, bright-colored calico skirts that came almost to the ground. And nothing else but. From their waists up they were "a study in the nude." It was a great place to study anatomy. (11)

The old-timers at the table filled their plates with the stew, then spooned a lot of the red, ground material into it. The name chile meant nothing in my young life, but I was willing to try anything once, especially when I was as hungry as I was then. So with the young Irishman next to me, who followed suit after I had helped myself to a plateful of the mess. Taken into one's mouth, the concoction fairly set things afire! The Irishman lifted a spoonful of the stew, plentifully covered with the chile, to his capacious mouth. So did I. Each gasped, gulped, wriggled, and tried to swallow. We wallowed the meat round and round in our mouths, hoping it would cool off. It wouldn't! Liquid fire could have been no hotter. Tears welled from our eyes and dimmed our sight. The old-timers grinned. It was an old story to them. I swallowed my red-hot morsel and it seared its way down my throat. The Irishman, however, was not equal to further torture. He dropped into one hand a huge chunk of the half-chewed beef. Laying it carefully on the table beside his plate, he said saveagely:
"Lay there, damn you, till I'm done, an' I'll light me pipe wid yez!"
Chile was plain red pepper served at every Arizona meal in those lively days, and the newcomers soon got used to it fervid temperature. (12)

Everyone coming to Arizona for the first time provided himself with Spanish lesson-books and dictionaries, for Spanish was then almost the universal language. (13)

On the road, chaparral cocks (road-runners), those long-tailed desert birds, would race ahead of the stage teams, apparently determined not to leave the road, no matter how hard pushed. Huge, floppy-eared jack rabbits went slithering across the road, while lizards, big and little, sunned their skins on the rocks. Desert ravens winged silently above. Occasionally a coyote went slinking through the brush by the roadside. At night, when the stage stopped at a station to change teams, these animals would start a serenade that fairly "woke the dead." (15)

The Tucson of 1880 was a sorry-looking Mexican town, with narrow, crookied streets lined with one-story houses built of sun-dried adobe, and mostly with dirt floors and dirt roofs. As I remember the town, there was but one two-story business building in the place, and that one rejoiced in the somewhat doubtful name, "The Palace Hotel." (17)

The hotel office was in the large bar-room, the only room that boasted a board floor. This room was full of rough-looking men who were patronizing the bar in great style. Soft drinks were then unknown. It was "whiskey straight," or, perhaps, a shot of the Mexican mescal. (18)

The lavatory, or "wash room," consisted of a long wooden sink in the dark hall tht led to the back of the bar-room. This sink was about ten feet long, and was equipped with six or eight tin basins. A barrel of water, fitted with a wooden faucet, stood on a shelf over the sink. The waste water drained off at one end through a pipe which led to the street. The thing fairly reeked with microbes, bacilli, and germs. Happily, no one knew much about such things in those early days. (18)

To me it seemed that every other building on the business street was a saloon—every one packed with a motley crowd of men of many nationalities: teamsters, bull-whackers, soldiers, Army officers, miners, Mexicans, Indians, and common, ordinary citizens. They offered a wonderful variety of humans. Nearly everyone was armed; yet shootings were far from common. Practically everybody used the Spanish language. (19)

The intermediate buildings along the street were occupied by nymphs de pave of every race and color—red, white, and black; old ones, middle-aged ones, and young girls. I knew the tribe on Stockton Street, in San Francisco, but these were quite another lot. It was surely no town for a young man whose immediate forebears traced straight back to the first Puritans. The two classes of business, gambling and prostitution, were evidently on a par as to respectability with the selling of drygoods and groceries. Certainly the faro-dealers and saloon-keepers were far and away the best dressed and most elegant males in the city. In many saloons there were women game-dealers—some very pretty; all as tough as could possibly be. (19)

At the end of a week, orders from San Diego directed me to proceed to Fort Apache, Arizona, and relieve the operator on duty at that far-away, out-of-the-world frontier military post. It was distant about two hundred and twenty-five miles over country more or less infested with raiding bands of Apache Indians. My very soul was thrilled at the prospect. What were a few Indians as against the white man?
"Pish! Tush! and two more tushes," I said to myself, "here's real adventure at last." (22)

Point of Mountain was then merely a lonely stage station. . . . A more lonesome, God-forsaken spot for human habitation never existed even in Arizona, and it had some other fairly good examples of such a place. Two years later, when the railroad reached Point of Mountain, the place was rechristened Willcox, in honor of Major General C. B. Willcox, commander of the District of Arizona. Incidentally, someone suggested digging a well. Wonderful to relate, at the spot from which they had hauled water for the old stage station for years and years, they struck excellent artesian water at a depth of one hundred feet. (23-4)

Working my way toward the tree-top, I found the break, and I was awfully well pleased with myself over my work. Some clever rascal had climbed the tree, tied a rope into the [telegraph] wire on each side of the tree trunk, and had then drawn it in enough to get considerable slack—not a hard thing to do on that line. The ingenious individual had then cut the wire and twisted each end around a limb. Thus it went into the branches on one side of the tree and came out on the other side, but between the ends was a foot-wide gap. Anyone looking for a break was thus completely fooled. (41)

Who played that cute trick of cutting the wire and concealing the break in the foliage of that sycamore tree? That I found out later on. Two renegade white men from Utah, passing through the reservation with a bunch of stolen horses, had taken this method to prevent word being flashed ahead of them. One of the men, I learned, had been a telegraph repairman. None but a skilled repairman could have worked out a job such as that was. I fairly gloated over the way I had smoked out the rascals.
When a band of Apaches started out for a little deviltry, they often cut the wires to prevent news of their movements from being sent ahead of them. To accomplish this, they threw their lassos over the wire and pulled it from the poles. Then, with a heavy rock underneath it for an anvil, and another for a hammer, they easily pounded it in two. They discovered, also, that by cutting it in two places, say fifty or a hundred feet apart, the job would be all the more successful. In such an instance, they would drag the cut-out piece off some distance and throw it into a canyon or hide it in the rocks. The repairman looking for trouble seldom carried more than eight or ten feet of extra wire, and such a break could not be mended until a long piece was brought out from the Post, which took time. They were the wise lads, those unlettered Apaches. (42)

To the Indians [telephones] were the most mysterious things imaginable. I was at [Fort] Thomas at the time, examining the wire. The operator got an Apache in the Thomas office and had his squaw come in to the San Carlos office and talk to him. Such shrieks of astonishment were never before heard. They would talk a little, then drop the receiver and tear out of the door hoping to catch the other person just outside. They called the telegraph operator "baish nalsuse nantan" ("baish," iron; "nalsuse," paper; "nantan," chief)—the iron paper chief. (43)

The Apache squaws were very moral. Prostitution among them was almost unknown. (The few of them who were of that character invariably turned out to be captives from other tribes, often Mexican girls taken as captives when children) They were invariably very good to their children, while the latter were unusually obedient and happy. I cannot remember ever having seen an Apache parent strike or punish a child. This, however, seems to be characteristic of almost all American Indians, at least those I have come into contact with in the Southwest. (46)

The Apaches, men as well as women, all wore moccasins with heavy elk-hide soles. At the toes there was a peculiar turned-up affair about the size of a silver dollar sticking up from the foot. Such an ornament, or finish, is not found on the footgear of any other western Indians. When I asked the white men about this, they said it was to keep from stubbing the toes on rocks. When I asked the Apaches, not one could tell me the way of these adornments. Generally, I was answered, "dah-koo-gah" (because). This was all I got. My own opinion is that the practice began many years ago—perhaps a rite of some medicine man or as a mere decoration, and that its meaning, if it ever had one, has been lost in the passing years. (47)

How disappointed those four women must be. They always hoped—did women. (59)

I noticed my horse as it stood close against the edge of the cliff. The animal had raised his head and was looking intently down the side of the mesa, his ears pointed toward whatever it was he saw—a trick of horses watching moving objects. (59)

Full of youthful enthusiasm, I believed I was able to take care of myself where I was. Anyway, one white man was equal to half a dozen Indians any day. At least that was what folks who thought they knew—but didn't—had always told me. Here was a chance for a scrap. I decided to stick round a while and see what happened. (60)

As I rode out of a little bunch of cedars into an open glade, two shots were fired at me from a point on the slope to my right. They zipped and ricochetted near me in a most nerve-racking way. (62)

Twenty-nine horses and twelve mules escaped from the Indians and came into camp after dark, looking for grain, a trick of grain-fed horses. (64)

Nat Nobles, the chief packer, on his big white horse, first rode into sight. Behind him came a string of pack-mules. The first mule was carrying a human form lashed across the aparejo, the body wrapped in a piece of canvas. The canvas was short, and the poor devil's hands hung idly on one side, while on the other side his feet dragged through the bushes along the trail in a most distressing manner. (64)

Men were scarce, and General Carr asked me to accompany the detail. I was tickled pink by the idea; and was mounted, and ready for any adventure, when Sergeant Smith of D Troop—"Give-a-damn Smith" he was called—rode up to my telegraph office. (65)

The horses, now thoroughly scared and excited by the shooting, were making good time toward the cavalry stables in the fort. We were clear out in the open flat before we realized we were not going to catch them. Meantime, the Indians were having all sorts of fun shooting at us as we hastened on our way. Some shots were awfully close. There wasn't so much as a single soapweed to hide behind. . . . Once I stumbled and fell. Before I could rise, a couple of bullets struck so close to me that they threw dirt into my face. I could almost taste my heart, it had risen so far up in my throat! (67, 68)

Here they felt they were safe. They knew that no Apache Indian could be gotten into a graveyard unless with blinders on his head, and then backed in by a superior force. (70)

The bodies of the slaughtered men were in such horrible condition that they could not be moved. A grave was dug by the side of each man and the body rolled into it. Nothing more was possible. (82-3)

That night as the ranger and I sat by the campfire an old man paid us a visit. He was a miner and prospector, and had a claim above Cooke City which, he felt sure, would some day make his everlasting fortune. Prospectors are all like that. (84-5)

And what of the Indians who committed these atrocities? In my opinion they were far more sinned against than sinning. (85)

I believe sincerely that during the last seventy-five years, or since the end of the Civil War, with perhaps one or two exceptions, there has not been an Indian outbreak when the white man was guiltless. Our policy in handling these unfortunate peoples, up to about thirty-five years ago, was not one of which to be proud. (86)

What troubles those Apache braves did have, training their diminutive ponies to work in harness! But time was nothing to them. What they didn't do today could be done tomorrow. It was rough on the livestock, however. (95)

I watched the squaws as they worked at this big rock for a week. While one party cut wood in the nearby timber, others piled it up against the boulder and kept a great fire burning. About every two hours they would "draw" the fire. Other squaws brought huge wicker ollas of water on their backs, from the river. They would dash the water on the red-hot rock, and so cause the material to flake and split off into large pieces. It was a slow but absolutely sure process—a bit of primitve work, done by a primitive people. And what a good time those squaws did have over their work—laughing and calling to one another, playing with the children, always good-natured and happy. What had they to thank the white man for?
But the process was too slow, the work too hard, to suit me. I told the Post Quartermaster, Captain Kendall, Sixth Cavalry, about it. The result was that next day several soldiers with drills, sledges, and other tools, and a goodly supply of blasting powder, arrived on the ground and soon shot a passage through the boulder, thereby saving the Indians a lot of hard labor. What an organization the old Regular Army was in those days! (97)

A short time before, I had found the skeleton of an Indian in a cave some miles from the Post and had brought the skull into the office as a sort of trophy. There was always a bunch of Apaches hanging around the office to whom the workings of the telegraph line were of surpassing interest. This grinning skull would be an added attraction. My repairman, whowas something of an electrician as well as a mechanical genius, rigged it up with hinges for each jaw, a magnet from an old telegraph relay, a few feet of insulated wire connected with the main line battery, and an electric switch. The skull was fixed on a shelf near the office door. It was in perfect condition, with every tooth in both jaws in place. The repairman begged from the hospital steward two glass eyes, and installed these two staring luminaries in the empty sockets. When the swtich, conveniently placed on the operator's table, was opened and closed the huge goggle eyes would roll back and forth, and the jaws snap together like the jaws of a steel trap. It was certainly a fearsome contrivance, and its effect on the first Apaches to see it in operation was far beyond the fondest expectation of the builders. Their shrieks of horror, amazement, and laughter could be heard all over the garrison. Invariably they ran out of the office as if the Evil One was after them. However, curiosity always brought them back. Again that grinning affair would roll its eyes and snap its teeth, and again there would be a stampede, followed by a slow and cautious return. It was a never-ending object of amusement to the red men; also, quite as interesting to the officers and their families. Some of the ladies would sit in the office for an hour waiting for a proper "set up." It was a regular thing for the Apaches to round up some newcomer to the Post and inveigle him or her to the telegraph office. With all possible solemnity, the skull would be pointed out to the awe-stricken stranger. Then at the proper time the switch would get in its deadly work, and while the frightened Apache tore through the door, not stopping till he was far out in the parade-ground, the rest would shriek with laughter. Over and over again, they played this trick on country friends from the hinterlands of the Reservation. (102-3)

The "Colonel Commanding," Major M. A. Cochran, Twelfth Infantry, rose from the ranks after the Civil War. He was a rattling good Indian fighter, educated in the rough school of the soldier; but his opinion of men who wasted their time wandering over the face of the earth digging up the bones of dead and gone savages, picking flowers and grasses, or catching mice, skunks, toads, snakes and bugs and then carefully preserving their worthless skins, would not be printable. What the C.O. didn't know about such subjects could have filled a big book. Peace to his ashes! (106-7)

Several fights had taken place already between the sheepmen and the cattlemen; sheep herds had been broken up and scattered all over the range; hundreds of sheep had been killed and injured; camps shot up; cattle killed on the range; herders beaten; and men killed on each side. It was a bitter war. Looking back over it, one cannot help wondering what these men were thinking of.
Of course I took a lively part in this struggle. . . . (128)

And yet nobody seemed to sense the disaster that was imminent; to realize the obvious end of such a draft on nature's resources. We thought the range was everlasting; that there was no end to its possibilities. We were all living in a fool's paradise; nor have the cattlemen using these open ranges profited by our experiences or taken heed of nature's warning signs. (132)

He found a rope and picked it up,
And with it walked away,
It happened that a horse was hitched
To the other end—they say.

They found a rope, and made it fast
Unto a swinging limb.
It happened that the other end
Was, somehow, hitched to him. (153)

Like many young fellows who drifted into the wild and wooly West those years, he had a foolish notion that when he had crossed the Rio Grande he had left behind moral ideas of right and wrong, and that most anything would get by in Arizona. His name was James Stott. . . . I liked the young fellow from Boston and tried to warn him of the danger he was running into. But he would not listen.
He would pat the six-shooter which always hung at his hip and say: "I can take care of myself any day. I'd love to see the color of the man's hair who can get the drop on me." (154)

Then the Vigilantes turned to Stott. Unafraid and undaunted, he faced them all and dared them to do their worst. He declared that if they would turn him loose he would fight them all, single-handed and alone. He addressed each one by name, and called down on his head every curse and malediction his trembling lips could utter. As he talked, the horse he was on jumped from under him, and Stott, too, was swinging back and forth with his two comrades—"dancing a dead man's jig," it was called in those lively days. (161)

Things in northern Arizona just at that time were mighty tense. The celebrated Tonto Basin war was in full swing. Men traveling lonely trails were being shot down every day and left to lie for buzzards and wild hogs to tear to pieces. Stockmen in certain sections traveled alone only at night. Two men approaching each other from opposite directions would at once swing off the trail and give each other a wide berth, meantime neither taking his eyes off of the other. (163)

Since that time, according to my tally, every man connected with the affair has "gone across the Great Divide." At least two of them died with their boots on, and nobody mourned their passing. Those were, indeed, perilous days. (163)

On May 4, 1897, we were married in Phoenix, having a church wedding followed by a reception in the home of her parents. At that stage in the wedding ceremony where the bridegroom is called upon to produce a ring. I upset the decorum of the minister when he discovered that I had it tied securely to a buttonhole of my vest by a black silk thread. Not untl the ring was safely on the finger of the bride did I break the thred, with a snap which I later learned was audible to the guests in the auditorium. This idea suggested itself when I recalled a weding which I attended when a youth. The nervous groom dropped the ring; and the pircture of him on hands and knees pawing over the floor in an effort to recover it had remained with me. (169-70)

Then I sold "range delivery" for five hundred dollars cash in hand—fifty cents a head. The Boer War, a little later, made a wad of money for the purchaser. He sold all that he could gather for from five to eight dollars each for shipment to South Africa, to serve as mounts for British soldiers. I have often wondered how those Arizona cayuses handled themselves down that way. Thirteen thousand miles of sea voyage probably knocked a lot of the conceit out of them. (183)

The barb-wired fence did more than any other thing to . . . spell finis for the open range; and, as the cowboy's high-heeled boots, not built for work on the ground, hampered his efforts at posthole digging, his place was gradually taken by a new cowboy, who case aside the chaps for blue overalls and jumpers ("Levi's" they called them, from the name of the manufacturer, old Levi Strauss of San Francisco, a pioneer in the overall business in the Far West). (189)

There has always been a lot of sentimental rubbish about college-bred cowboys—men who held degrees, could read Latin and Greek, who knew intimately Horace and Virgil; men from the effete East who had dropped "the thin veneer of civilization" and had come West to forget it all. In all my life on the range, covering thirty-five full and active years, I never knew but one cowboy who answered to the above description. He was the scion of a great family and bore a name that stands high in the country's history. Personally, he was a scrub. His habits, manners, generally dissolute character, disgusted the most uneducated and hard-boiled cowboy that ever came from the plains of Southern Texas.
I have known many young fellows who drifted West in search of adventure in the early days. Some of them loved the life and made excellent cowhands. Many of these boys, however, had the foolish idea that because it was the wild and wooly West they were privileged to do about as they pleased. Hence they went the average roughneck western boy more than one better and tried hard—and generally with success—to drink more whiskey, make more gunplays, and act the everlasting damphool far beyond anything the local boys would venture. (190-1)

Except for an occasional wanderer, few of the men ever got far from their home range. To the Texas cowboys who cluttered up the Arizona ranges in the early '80's, "Fot Wuth" was the only city in the United States worth visiting. Hence they were extremely provincial—and proud of it at that. Few of them saved their money for a rainy day. As one boy said:
"Rainy day nothin'! Ain't I got a slicker?" (192)

Out of a job in the fall, they "rode the chuck-line all winter." The cares of life sat easily upon their brows. Every last one of them believed sincerely that eventually his "system" would beat the local faro game and make him rich. (192)

As a preliminary to the establishing of the grazing fee, one of the newly created forest rangers, formerly a cattleman, passed around some printed blanks among the stockmen one day, which were to be filled out and mailed back to him at once. These forms gave the ranger information as to the number of horses, cattle, and sheep, each one owned; the annual calf-brandings and lambings; how many years each stockman had used the area he claimed as his range; how many acres of land he owned himself; and—funniest of all—how many tons of hay he fed his stock in the winter. Wow! How we did snort over these questions! We didn't usually tell the county assessor such personal and private matters. Not by a good deal! Much less did we intend to furnish it to this reformed cow-person. . . . Some mighty uncomplimentary things were said about this fresh representative of the Federal Government. These remarks reflected severely upon his ancestry, and his general standing in polite circles in that vicinity. The time seemed ripe for hanging a forest ranger or two. If not, why not? Something simply had to be done to impress these Government officials with the nature of their crimes. However, as I recall it, nobody was ever hung. Instead, we wrathfully filled out the forms with most anything we thought of, lied fluently about our calf-brandings and lambings, and the number of head of stock we owned, and let it go at that. (200-1)

Most men appear to anticipate retirement with dread. It was not so in my case. I always advocated the idea that everyone should have a hobby. Having taken my own advice, I knew exactly how I would spend my time. First, there would be a trip around the world. I had an ambition to see if the earth was round. Starting west from New York and returning to it still headed in the same direction leaves no doubt in my mind that Christopher Columbus had the correct idea. (209)

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