Boot Hill: El camino del Diablo

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Wells Fargo stagecoach agent Eli Johnson and shotgun messenger Zeke McAdam load a combination-locked metal strongbox in the front boot and perch on the driver's box as U.S. Army troopers, their blue shirtsleeves soaked through with sweat under a high white sun, unceremoniously toss baggage atop the Wells Fargo stagecoach and tie it down tight with rawhide cords. Private Buckley gestures with a thumb swollen by a recent missed hammer blow to Private Steve Anderson astride his Appaloosa and asks Corporal Lewis how Anderson rates riding into town with the mail?

"Maybe 'cause he don't miss every other shot at an Apache; now get back to work, ya goldbricker!"

The late June air dry and still, every movement in the open sun is to exposed skin akin to warming your hands at a woodburning stove.

Corporal Lewis says to Private Anderson and the Wells Fargo men, "Take a good long look at the river, boys, 'cause that Colorado's the last water y'all're likely to see for the next week less'n it's pouring outta your canteen. And remember them Apache, it's when ya can't see none that you got to worry most about them bein' 'round."

Corporal Lewis slaps a horse's hindquarters and the stagecoach rolls out of Fort Yuma, the gates closing ominously behind you as you start downhill to the ferry that will carry you across the Colorado River to Arizona City, where you have five passengers waiting at the Wells Fargo office. From your vantage point you can see across the river and past the city to the desert, wide open and waiting, as hostile to fools as the unvarnished truth.

sets_western.jpg

Meanwhile, in the bustling city of eleven hundred, Marcus Boone and Oliver Lloyd wait at a hitching rail outside the Wells Fargo office for the next coach to Tucson to arrive, bemused by the appearance of a dude* in dark grey broadcloth and a brand-new hat who couldn't look more tinhorn if he had been waxing his mustache. He is accompanied by a rather younger black-eyed, dark-haired woman in modest attire that cannot disguise her shapely form. The dude introduces himself and his wife as Travis and Juanita Beck. Overloaded with luggage held by straps and handles and in the crooks of his arms is an older man who looks salty and no-nonsense.

Wells_Fargo_Silver_Reef_HABS_UT1pv.jpg

*original meaning
 
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Doc Sammy

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Steve mounts up his horse and rides alongside the stagecoach at a slow and steady pace. He has his pistol at his side in case of any sneak attacks by the Apaches, and he turns to Eli and asks him a question.

"So Mr. Johnson, have you ever served in the military? I've been in the Army for a few months. They sent me here right after I finished my training. It's a long way from my home back in Pennsylvania. I can tell you that. My older brothers were in the Army as well, they fought in the Civil War, actually. Saw action at Petersburg and the Wilderness. I was too young to serve at the time."
 
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Eli takes a moment from sweeping the desert for Apaches to eyeing the soldier Anderson. He shakes his head. “No, I really never gave it much serious consideration, although i passed an offer to work as a scout for the Army. Then I wasn’t too familiar with the lay of the territory.” He paused for a moment to take a good look behind them, better safe than sorry. “Once we get to Tucson, I might just take a job as a peace officer.” He put his hat back in place to keep his eyes out of the sun.
 

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"Understandable, I've learned the hard way that the Army life isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Once we get to Tuscon, I might go for some rest and relaxation before reporting back to Fort Yuma. I must say, despite the heat and dusty terrain, I sort of like it out here in Arizona. Wide open spaces and a lot of opportunities compared to back home in Harrisburg. Hell, once my hitch with the Army is up, I might settle down in Tuscon or something. Maybe make a name for myself in mining or land ownership." replies Steve.
 

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Upon arrival at Jaeger's Ferry, you have time to relax while the ferryboat slowly glides across the river from the State of California over to the Arizona Territory. The ferryman goes about his business while disconcertingly tossing back large swigs from a bottle, looking mean enough to steal a coin off a dead man’s eyes and muttering about Wells Fargo paying less than he used to make when Butterfield Overland Mail "ran the show 'round these parts..."
Rope ferry across Colorado River.jpg
 

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Marcus plays with a deck of cards in his left hand while observing the other passengers. ''Looks like we'll have some time to get to know each other. It's my experience having a lady along brings out the best behavior and for that I am grateful Mrs Beck.' Marcus says to Mr & Mrs Beck. 'If you all don't mind me asking how far are you traveling?' he asks the assembly.
 

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Steve looks across the Colorado River, worried about what awaits him on the other side. He turns to Eli and asks him yet another question, hoping the small talk would take his mind off of the possibility of running into Apaches.

Steve heard all about the Apache, and he was scared to death of them. Even if he was the best shot in his platoon, Steve had never experienced direct combat before, only knowing what he read from books and from his brothers' horror stories of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, and Petersburg.

And as scary as the Confederates were, it seemed the Apache were even worse.

"So Mr. Johnson, where do you come from? I'm from Pennsylvania, like I said before. My family lives in Harrisburg, but my parents came to this country from Norway when they were teenagers."
 

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Mr. Beck grins widely and responds, "All the way to Tucson and then a mite past. Got to look over the spread I inherited. How big's a hunnerd thousand acres anyhow? Well, never mind that. This here" --referring to the older man-- "is Reuben Sanford, my foreman. He knows cattle like you know your own ma. You might say I inherited him, too." He appears to find this highly amusing. His wife seems slightly embarrassed.

Sanford just nods and lets the Wells Fargo station manager's Mexican boys relieve him of his baggage and line it up near the hitching rail, keeping a steely cold eye on them at all times.
 

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Eli answers Anderson while keeping his eyes firmly ahead. "I was born and bred in Missouri, near Kansas City. My parents were farmers. By the time I was a button I had a mind that I didn't like it. I stayed there until I was eighteen and headed out. I found my way to Dodge City and stayed there for a time. Got my start as a peace officer there, got the fits to move again and ended up out here in the heat."
 

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Steve smiles and says "Ah, Missouri? Sounds alright. My parents were also farmers back in Pennsylvania, they owned a wheat farm outside of Harrisburg. It was alright, but like you, farming isn't really for me. So I joined the Army."
 

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The boat arrives at the ferry landing on the Arizona side and upon gaining dry land Eli and Zeke resume their posts on the stagecoach and Steve mounts his Appaloosa. The ferryman remarks, "Say g'bye to civilization, boys, you done entered Arizona Territory. Listen, I gots a cousin in Tucson who makes the nicest blamed coffins y'ever did see and he'll even take custom pre-orders if'n ya want to give me your measurements...hee hee hee..."

From atop a riverside hill you can see in the far southeast la Cabeza Prieta, so named by the Spaniards for its "dark head."
5929-7356_1235716677-30.jpg

Zeke consults a tattered, much-used notebook while humming "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," a popular song of the day.
44.png
Placing his tobacco-stained finger mid-page, he reads off the list of passengers to be picked up in only minutes in Arizona City: "Lessee, we got two Becks, Travis and Juanita, them's mister 'n' missus I s'pose, one Reuben Sanford, I knowed him once out Santa Fe way, he kin wrangle like he was born to it, 'n' we got a Marcus Boone, wonder if he might be kin to Daniel, and a Oliver Lloyd, don't know him, I reckon. Well, look at that, we're makin' good time, Eli!"

The stagecoach pulls up in front of the Wells Fargo office, kicking up a small dustcloud and attracting a throng of curious passersby. A pair of young Mexican boys begin to stow luggage securely between the top railings.
 
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Steve checks his weapons and makes sure they are clean and operational shortly before mounting his horse. A sense of nervousness and dread runs through him as he realizes that he's deep in enemy territory the moment he leaves the Wells Fargo office, and that he won't be safe until he completes the long journey to Tuscon.

"I am a long way from Pennsylvania, that's for sure. Well, I wanted adventure and now I got it. I guess the old saying about being careful what you wish for is true." he whispers to himself.
 

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Marcus waits for the Becks to board first before climbing in to take a seat as close to Travis as possible. ''Whales like this don't come along often enough. I think it's best to play it slow with this fella. Don't flirt with the wife and let him come to me for a game.' Marcus thinks to himself. His thoughts continue 'If all goes well I kin get the cards to spread Beck's wealth around to the drivers, that foreman and this other fella so word gets out I'm a good fella to get in a game with. Just gonna have to work my magic with the cards. '
 

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(Sorry guys, I'm new to this PbP stuff and I totally missed this thread. I'll catch up!)

Oliver tips back his bowler hat, alarmed at having dozed off in the hot sun. Circumspectly, he insures the presence of his pistol and rifle, as well as his wallet and any other personal effects.

"Couldja deal me in a hand or two, Mr. Boone. Apparently I need a diversion to maintain my wakefulness. Pardon my manners; would anyone else care for a libation to pass the time?"
 

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(Sorry guys, I'm new to this PbP stuff and I totally missed this thread. I'll catch up!)

Oliver tips back his bowler hat, alarmed at having dozed off in the hot sun. Circumspectly, he insures the presence of his pistol and rifle, as well as his wallet and any other personal effects.

"Couldja deal me in a hand or two, Mr. Boone. Apparently I need a diversion to maintain my wakefulness. Pardon my manners; would anyone else care for a libation to pass the time?"
''None for me sir, but thanks for the offer.' Boone says to Oliver then adds to the whole group ' How would you all feel about a friendly game of Hearts to pass the time?'
 

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"Hearts?" Beck laughs. "There some children riding on this stage? How 'bout a man's game? I got all these twenty-dollar pieces burning holes in my pockets. No bottom dealin' or false cuts, and don't skin me alive. And pass me that hooch, don't mind if I do."

"Pass," says Sanford as he turns to face out at the passing town.

Sanford and Mr. Beck are seated on either side of Mrs. Beck facing the back of the coach, while Marcus and Oliver are facing forward. Sanford and Oliver are on the south side; Travis Beck and Sanford are on the north side. The coach is unusually comfortable due to the minimal number of passengers.

Within minutes the brick and false-front buildings and boardwalks thin out, the last livery stable and corral is west of you, and you've entered the Sonoran Desert. The roadway, such as it is, is rutted and pitted and strewn with small and large stones, resulting in the occasional bone-jarring rattle of the occupants of the stagecoach wherever a wheel doesn't find dirt packed flat and can't roll true.
el_02.jpg
Last-Stand-At-Papago-Wells_a.gif
 
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Oliver's not much of a cardsharp, but he likes to see how people act under pressure, so he readily joins any game he can with the objective of losing as little money as possible. Meanwhile, he keeps an eye on the visible horizon, scanning periodically for movement and silhouettes.

"Remind me, gentlemen: a flush beats a straight, does it not?"
 

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"Well, sir, I reckon a straight flush beats all, but sure a flush does best a straight. And it's only fair to warn you gents that I feel luckier than a two-peckered billygoat and wouldn't be surprised to draw an ace-high straight flush!" Beck replies. He lifts a cloth-covered basket from the floorboards and uncovers a mound of hardboiled eggs. "Anybody want an egg?"

His wife seems embarrassed but Sanford reached over and claims a couple of eggs, proceeding to crack them and peel away the shells. "Ain't seen an egg in a donkey's years."
 

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"Keep your eyes peeled, Zeke. Those Apaches could be hiding behind tumbleweeds for all we know. If they do give us any trouble, my black-eyed Susans will give them all they can handle!" He eases on the reins for a moment to take a drink from his canteen and wipes his mouth with his sleeve.
 

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"Aw, you worry too much, Eli! None o' them hombres can sneak up on Zeke McAdam. I'd smell 'em on the wind even if my lazy eye didn't see 'em first!"
32.jpg
His shotgun, which he seems to dangle casually, swings up suddenly to emphasize his confidence. You can't help but consider him rather slow in comparison to yourself and hope you don't find yourself in a fix dependent on Zeke's alacrity.
 
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"I'm doubly reassured by such watchful gentlemen. I shall aspire to do my part. Here's to alertness!"

Oliver drinks deeply.
 

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"How much can you gents afford to lose?" Travis Beck grins. "A dollar a hand? Three? Twenty?" He casually flips a twenty-dollar piece a few times while raising his eyebrows as if daring you.
1870-s-liberty-head-gold-double-eagle.jpg
 

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"It's a long trip, I suggest we start out easy" Marcus replies.
 

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For the first time, Mrs. Beck speaks: "Travis, that's too much money! Be reasonable." The Spanish lilt of her voice and occasional incorrectly emphasized syllable betray her Mexican background. Regardless, she may well be the prettiest woman you've seen in at least six months, and her manner bespeaks her being accustomed to the better things. Perhaps she is the daughter of a wealthy charro.
 

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"I'm with Boone; let us start modestly at a dollar. That gives us room to make things more exciting when the journey grows dull."
 

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Cards are dealt, discarded, and drawn.

Oliver: QC, QH, 9D, 7C, 5S
Travis: 9S, 5D, 5H, 4C, 2H
Marcus: AH, QS, 10H, 7D, 4S

Oliver wins $2 with a pair of queens. Another hand?
 

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Boone passes the cards to Mr. Beck and puts in a dollar for the ante.
 

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Eastward ho!

As the morning sun rises higher in the cloudless blue sky and the serrated ridges of the Cabeza Prieta loom larger and closer with every turn of coachwheel, the summer desert is a clash of color. The white-and-yellow blooms of the towering saguaro cactus, the yellow-flowering creosote bush, purple-blossoming staghorn cholla, orange-blossoming thorny buckhorn cholla, and the maroon fruit of the prickly pear strain against a backdrop of every shade of green above the tawny earth.
Saguaro5763.jpg 4560993146_69f253904d_b.jpg staghorn_blooms_lge.jpg AZ-61632.jpg 1200px-Opuntia_littoralis_var_vaseyi_4.jpg
You can see that it's true what you've heard, the vegetation of the Sonoran is the most diverse of all the North American deserts.

The Sonoran is also a hot desert. You figure the air temperature to be between 100 and 104°F as the sweat collects at your hairline and the back of your neck and dampens your collar. You've heard tell of monsoons in the summertime, violent thunderstorms resulting from high surface temperatures mixing with cool, moist air in the atmosphere, but it hardly seems possible in such a hot, dry land as this.
 

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Eli pulls one of his spare hankerchiefs out of his back pocket to wipe his brow. “Even if you were born out in this here territory, you still wouldn’t get used to the heat.”
 

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Another hand is played. Cards are dealt, discarded, and drawn.

Travis: AH, JH, 9D, 9H, 5H
Oliver: AC, QC, JD, 5S, 3S
Marcus: QD, JS, 8H, 6S, 2D

Travis wins $2 with a pair of nines.
 

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Oliver takes in the scenery. "Who would imagine that such beauty could thrive in this blasted climate?"
 

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Suddenly the lead horses of the stagecoach and Steve's Appaloosa rear up, startled by a small but noisome herd of javelina abruptly pelting south to north across the trail, apparently spooked...but by what? Or by whom?
ANI015-00003-400x263.jpg

It seems unlikely any Apache or Pima, nor any Papago or Yaqui, could be so lacking in wile as to disturb any animal and make himself known if he wanted to remain hidden. From their perches in front of the stage and atop the Appaloosa, Eli, Zeke, and Steve can see riders, numbering from six to eight, approaching from the south, but the brush and cactus and the sun's glare and the dustcloud kicked up by their horses' hooves make it difficult to determine anything more about them at this range.
 

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Marcus collects the cards and asks "Wonder what's got us stopping so soon?" He opens a window or door and leans out to ask 'What's the holdup gents?"
 

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"Get your guns up, gentlemen! Company's on the way and won't catch us unprepared if they are trouble!" Eli pulls one of his six-shooters out of its holster while pulling the stage to a complete stop to let the dust settle to let them get a clearer look. He also takes a look around at the environs to see what cover may be available.
 

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Almost as soon as Marcus asks the question, he can see the group of riders as they approach. Now can be made out the distinctive shape of the sombrero that they wear. The lead rider removes his sombrero and waves it above his head to get the attention of the stagecoach. The five riders with him all have their rifles held across the front of their saddles as they ride. Their leader can be heard shouting, "¡Alto! ¡Alto! ¡Basta ya!" Clearly he wants the stagecoach to stop.
 

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"Get your guns up, gentlemen! Company's on the way and won't catch us unprepared if they are trouble!" Eli pulls one of his six-shooters out of its holster while pulling the stage to a complete stop to let the dust settle to let them get a clearer look. He also takes a look around at the environs to see what cover may be available.
Off to the right a few dozen yards ahead there are some large boulders that could provide partial cover if positioned between the coach and the approaching horsemen.
Tucson-Mountains14-e1494410065123.jpg
 

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Seeing the boulders ahead, Eli whips the horses into movement so that he can position the stage so they can get cover. "I'm getting us behind the boulders up ahead. When we get there, you two (looking at Zeke and Anderson) find a good spot and wait for them bandidos to get closer." He leans over to yell into the stage. "If you men inside have any shooting irons, get em ready!"
 

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Boone unholsters his pistol. 'Lets get to cover.'

When folks are looking at the oncoming men, he'll check to make sure his Derringer is up his sleeve.
 

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After dismounting his horse and leaving it behind the stagecoach, Steve immediately readies his Henry Rifle and hides behind the boulders, zooming in to see if he can get a clear shot.

"Damn, we're not even a day into the journey and already shit is going down." he whispers to himself.
 
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In response to Eli's orders, Zeke limbers up his shotgun, hits the ground running, drops to the dirt, and snakes over to a gap between boulders from which he can get a decent field of fire without being overly exposed to return fire. He bites the end off a cigar and jams the butt in his mouth, growling, "Reminds me of the Battle of Picacho Pass! We sure learned them blue bellies and that ain't no lie! Ha!"
 
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