Chapter XVII A REBEL RIDES

THE lights in the windows of the adobe buildings disappeared one by one. The moon, slightly obscured by clouds, cast a weird silver glow over the rippling greenery of the valley of the Santa Cruz. Tubac, a short time before one of the most bustling mining-camps and trading-posts in the Southwest, but now a partially deserted little hamlet of about thirty souls, sought its collective couch.

In the building which had been the headquarters of the Arizona Mining Company gathered a dozen miners, cattlemen and traders. The war was the main topic of discussion, for this was 1861.

Jinglebells Jordon, so called because of his adoption on his pack-mules of the little tinkling bells used by the Mexicans, expressed the opinion of the majority in his terse summation.

"Hell's delight!" he snorted. "This business of taking all the troops out of here to fight in this war is foolishness. Why the darned scrap can't last over three months. By that time those Johnny Rebs will be run clear to the Gulf of Mexico."

A lean-faced cowman propped against the counter which served as a bar, dining-table and a place whereon to display goods for trade answered in the softened drawl of the Texan.

"Yeh, you may be right, Jinglebells, but you ought to remember that there's right smart of Tejanos mixed up in this fuss and they ain't much given to running."

"Well, anyway, Alamo, it's a darned shame they didn't leave some of those soldiers here," said Jordon. "With old Cochise on the prowl we've got more war here than they have back in the East with two full-sized armies."

Alamo Martin looked over the group. Except for himself all were Yankees, men of the northern states who had found their way into this western land in search of wealth. Hard men and brave men they had to be to live. They had stayed in Tubac after the withdrawal of the troops because of the wealth in the surrounding hills and despite the ever-present danger from Apache raiders.

With a slow smile Alamo said, "Well, with all you Yankees around I'm not going to stir up any war to-night. I wouldn't be surprised if this fuss would stretch out way beyond your three months, however. In the meantime, Jinglebells, you'd better gather up those mules of yours. One of the boys said he saw Apache sign down river this afternoon.  For an Apache those mules would be right tempting."

Jinglebells nodded and with Alamo to help him left the room to pick up the grazing mules and bring them closer to the center of the little town, where the plaza, now bathed in moonlight, was within view of the men in the company's store.

Close-herded into the plaza by their owner and his cowboy friend, the mules soon were contentedly munching the grain in their morrals. Although there was plenty of grass near by Jinglebells realized the wisdom of keeping his live stock close at hand. In a pole corral behind the store eight or ten horses were under guard. Despite the absence of the garrison Tubac, its caution sharpened by necessity, was not an easy mark.

A short time later the light in the store building was blown out and resonant snores told of the soundness of the sleep of the twelve good men and true.

The distant wail of a coyote, soon answered by a number of other little desert wolves, was the only sound outside to break in on the nocturnal dirge of the night birds. Tubac was asleep.

Just before dawn a cool breeze blew through the alders and cottonwoods along the river and rustled the tall reed-like grasses in the little sloughs near the bend. Early risers among the feathered folk sleepily chattered in the trees and in one of the little ocatillo pens behind a Tubac cabin a rooster saluted the first sign of the new day.

The sound of the crowing cock was hardly stilled when from the plaza in front of the company store a discordant bray broke forth, to be joined in angry chorus by others. A husky curse came from the interior of the store, followed by three rapid shots fired into the air from one of the windows.

"Indians!" shouted Jinglebells. "Indians! Everybody wake up!"

Once more he pulled back the hammer of the pistol and fired another shot into the sky. By the time the last shot had sounded Tubac was very much awake. Answering shouts came from the cabins about the plaza, then the sound of running feet as men, most of them armed with rifles, hurried through the gray light toward the company store. When they were inside and had posted themselves at the doors and windows they heard from Jinglebells an explanation of the alarm that had pulled them from their beds.

"That was old Molly that brayed first," he said. "She never makes a sound unless Indians are close. That old mule just hates Apaches. They're here all right."

The drawling voice of Alamo Martin came from across the room. "Jinglebells, that mule of yours has got a right smart nose," said the Texan. "If I get out of this with a whole hide I'm going to teach her to drink whiskey so I can buy her a drink. The Apaches are here all right. Somebody bring me a rifle -- all I've got is a Colt's."

The rifle was quickly shoved into his hand. Alamo, without taking his eyes from the edge of the swale near the river, flipped a shell into the breech and pushed the muzzle through the window. With what seemed to be one continuous motion the butt rose to his shoulder. The crack of the Winchester shattered the stillness of the morning. A cry from the brush told of a hit.

While smoke from the black powder still curled back into his face Alamo snapped another shell into the chamber and remarked, Well, the party's on." A shrill cry, echoed by others and followed by a spattering of rifle fire came from the brush along the river.

Tubac was in a state of siege.

A day and a night passed. In the company store were left twenty-five men, several of them wounded. In a corner three bodies covered by blankets testified to the accuracy of some of the Apache riflemen, while in the plaza near the corner of the building another body lay. Down among the cottonwoods shrill yells and wild laughter told of the fate of the other man who had made up the thirty in camp when the attack began. A prisoner of the Apaches did not die easily.

Taken captive by the Indians as he dashed for the cover of the store, he was now being tortured in typical Apache fashion. Finally a pain-filled scream, followed by the hoots and yells of the Indians, told the stern-faced men in the store that Shorty Sanders had lived too long for his own good.

Muttered curses spread around the ring of men watching at the doors and windows but each man knew that any effort at rescue was futile. In the hours that had passed since the beginning of the attack they had obtained a good estimate of the strength of the war-party against them. There were almost two hundred Indians -- the dreaded Chiricahua Apaches of Cochise.

The long day dragged by. Only occasionally did a rifle speak from the windows of the store. The garrison needed rest and was getting it. With food in plenty and water enough if they were careful the sturdy defenders felt that they could hold out as long as the ammunition lasted.

"How's those horses getting along?" Alamo Martin asked a stockily built miner who was stationed at a window overlooking the corral.

"They're not doing so good," replied the man. "Several of them are hurt and a couple are down. That blue roan of yours is under the shed and seems to be all right."

"I hope the darn fool stays there," muttered Alamo.

"What's the matter, Johnny Reb?” asked Jinglebells.  "Figuring on taking a ride?"

"That's just what I'm figuring," replied Alamo. "Come night I mean to make a try for Tucson. Maybe I can find another rebel or two and get you buzzards out of here."

"Alamo, you'll never get to Tumacacori much less Tucson," said the miner. "They'll have you cut down before you get started."

The others nodded.

"'It's about the only chance we've got left," insisted the Texan. "These butchers are going to stay right here until something happens. As soon as it's dark I'm going to give it a try. They don't prowl so much at night. You keep an eye on that horse. We'll need him."'

His decision made Alamo turned his window over to another man and rolled into his blankets on the floor. Forty-six miles of hard riding lay ahead of him if he could get through the Indians. He needed rest and meant to get it. In a few minutes he was asleep.

The coming of night was preceded by a burst of activity on the part of the Indians. They made a
sortie at the front of the plaza, then another at the rear. They wanted the horses in the corral but they were beaten off by the sharp-eyed men in the company store.

Just before the moon rose Alamo prepared to leave. Stripped of all extra weight except his pistols and canteen he slipped through the window and over to the corral. While he saddled the blue roan Jinglebells stood beside him with rifle ready.

Then while every man in the company store poured a burst of rifle fire into the alder thickets along the river bank to distract attention from Alamo the tall Texan led his horse out into the shadow of the adobe house toward the trail to Tucson.

He moved warily, one hand on the nose of his horse checking each corner before he stepped from the deeper shadow of the building. Finally with the hard-packed earth of the trail beneath his feet he stepped up into the saddle and moved off at a walk through the dark. It was a half-mile farther before he lifted the roan into a trot and later still into a smooth gallop. Wise in the ways of horses, Alamo let his mount warm to his work and then settled down to ride.

Carefully he paced the horse, holding him steadily to a swinging lope, despite his anxiety and desire for greater speed. He knew too well that early haste on a long ride often meant walking home. The miles reeled back of him as with eyes and ears alert he swung on through the dark.

Five hours after he left Tubac he rode into Tucson.  Forty-six miles and the roan still held to his swinging gait and still was unhurt by the steady pace.

At the porch of the Cosmopolitan Hotel Alamo pulled up, left his sweating horse standing in the street and ran into the lobby. There he quickly told his story to a group of men who, led by Grant Oury, rushed out to awaken others to ride to the aid of Tubac.

Alamo went to a near-by stable and told a sleepy hostler how to care for the roan. His instructions were so definite that the hostler was no longer sleepy when Alamo, after looking over several horses, selected one and led it out and threw his saddle on its back.

Within forty minutes after the Texan had reached Tucson he and Oury rode at the head of a group of twenty-five men headed back to Tubac.

It was the Texan who set the pace as the armed riders dashed through the night.

It was again dawn when they rode into the green-carpeted valley near the besieged town. As they approached the scene of the battle they could hear the scattered shots of the rifles of the defenders  and an occasional shrill cry from the attacking Indians. They swung far to the left and under Alamo's guidance came in behind the main body of the Apaches hidden in the alder thickets.

The ensuing battle was quick and sharp. Attacked from the rear the Apaches turned to defend  themselves, only to have the garrison pour out of the company store and rain a raking fire into their lines from the opposite direction. Leaving some of their number dead along the river and carrying others with them, the Apaches withdrew to the Santa Rita Mountains and there escaped through the passes from which they had come.

The rough-and-ready funeral services of the frontier had taken place. The victims of the attack lay in graves on a small hillside. In a common grave near the river bank the Apache dead had been buried.
The white survivors lined up at the counter in the company store with the rescue party from Tucson to talk it over and have a drink. Side by side stood Jinglebells Jordon and Alamo. Once more the war was the topic.

"Well, Jinglebells," said the Texan as he pushed an empty glass across the bar to be refilled, "how do you like our little home war by now?"

"It lasted just about as long as this war in the East is going to last," said Jinglebells, "but it cost me a darn sight more in mules."

"Well," said Alamo as he critically eyed his second drink, "you damned Yanks may shorten it a bit if you'd get a Texan or two to ride out and get you some help. If you don't it's going to be a darned long war. You watch and see."

Jack Van Ryder drawing of Tubac

Continue with Chapter XVIII TWO BONE-HANDLED GUNS