Lost in the Petrified Forest by Will C. Barnes
When the stockholders of the "Lazy H" outfit met annually in solemn conclave
to receive the report of their range manager and find out how much more the
expenses for the year had been than the receipts, they called it the "Montezuma
Cattle Company," but as their brand was an H lying down on the sides of their
cattle thus, everyone on
the range called it the "Lazy H" outfit.
We were in the Lazy H winter horse camp looking after a hundred and
seventy-five cow-ponies that had seen a hard summer's work, and the job
was a snap. Two men rode out every morning and saw that none of the
animals strayed too far, bringing them all in for water down the trail
in the caņon, salting them once a week, and keeping a sharp lookout for
horse thieves, both white and Indian.
The camp was a dugout in the side of a hill, part logs, part hill, with
a dirt roof a foot thick. A grand fireplace in one end served alike for
heating and cooking purposes, and at night with a fire of pine knots you
could lie in the "double decker" bunks and read as if the place was
lighted with an arc lamp. There was a heavy door in the end, while half
a dozen loopholes cut in the logs served for windows and for defense if
Two of the boys were playing a solemn game of "seven-up" to decide which
of them should build the fire in the morning, and the balance were
smoking or reading some two-weeks-old newspapers that had come out from
town with the last load of grub.
Outside the wind was whistling around the corner, and the coyotes,
attracted by the scent of a freshly killed yearling hanging in a cedar
near the dugout, were howling and shrieking like a lot of
school-children at play.
"Just about such a night outside as the night old man Hart's wife and
kids got lost two years ago," remarked Peg Leg Russel, who was busy with
leather strings and an awl plaiting a fancy quirt.
"Didn't you help hunt for 'em?" queried a voice from one of the bunks.
"Sure thing I did," answered the quirt maker, "and, what's more," he
continued, "I hope I never get another such job as long as I live."
"Tell us about it Peg Leg. You know I was over in Kansas looking after a
bunch of company steers that fall and never did get the straight of it."
The speaker turned from his game of solitaire toward the one-legged
cow-puncher. With his knife Russel clipped the end of a leather string
from the finished "Turk's head," laid the quirt on the floor and rolled
it back and forth under the sole of his boot to give it the proper "set"
and finish, finally hanging it on the wall. Then he filled and lighted
his pipe, and after a few preliminary puffs, began his story.
"We was camped over in the petrified forest"
"Well, boys, that was one of the toughest nights I've seen in Arizony.
We was camped up near the 'Peterified' Forest on our way back to the
headquarter ranch. We'd been down to the railroad with a bunch of
steers, and expected to bust the outfit up for the winter when we got
back to the ranch. It were late in November, an' you all know how
everlastin' cold it gits 'long in November an' December.
"Well, 'long comes one of them tearin' howlin' sandstorms 'bout two
o'clock in the afternoon, and the wagon boss camped us under the lee of
a hill and wouldn't go any furder. And 'twas well he did, too, fer the
wind blowed a gale, snow begin to fall, and ag'in sunset it was as
ornery a piece of weather as I ever seen anywheres. You all know wood's
pow'ful skeerce up thar, too, and all the cook had was sage brush an'
"We put in a mis'able night. The wind blowed every way, an' drifted sand
an' snow into our beds in spite of all a feller could do. Me and Sandy,
the horse-wrangler, slep' together, an' Sandy he lowed, he did, that the
Lord mus' have it in fer us pore ignorant cow-punchers that night,
shore. About daylight I heard a shot, then another, an' another.
Everybody 'most in camp waked up, an' Wilson, the wagon boss, he takes
his six-shooter an' fires a few shots to answer 'em.
"We all speculated as to what it meant at such a time, an' Wilson he
says he'd bet a yearlin' ag'in a sack of terbaccer that it were some
derned tenderfoot bug-hunter who'd been out to the Petrified Forest an'
gone an' lost hisself, an' now was a bellerin' around like a dogie
calf. The cook he lowed 'twan't no bug-hunter, 'cause that was the
crack of a forty-five, an' them bug-hunter fellers ginerally packed a
little short twenty-two to stand off the Injuns, an' we all laughed at
this, fer the night we got the steers shipped the cook went up town an'
got full as a goat, an' tried to run a 'sandy' over a meek-looking
tenderfoot, who wan't a harmin' nobody; but he wan't near so meek as he
looked, an' fust thing the cocinero knowed he war a gazin' in to one
of them same little twenty-twos, an' I'm blessed if the stranger didn't
take his forty-five away from him an' turned him over to the sheriff to
cool off—but I guess you all know about that.
"We could soon hear the 'chug chug' of a pony's feet, an' then a voice a
hollerin'. We all gave a yell, and in a few minutes a man named Hart
rode into camp. We all knowed him. He was a sheep man with a ranch over
on the 'tother side of the Petrified Forest. He was nearly froze an'
half crazy with excitment, an' 'twas some minutes afore we could git him
to tell what was a hurtin' him.
"'Boys,' he says, 'for God's sake git up an' help me find my wife an'
"An' then he told us he had been away from his ranch all the day before,
at one of his sheep camps over on the Milky Holler. When he left in the
mornin' his wife tole him she'd hitch up the hosses to the buckboard
after dinner an' take the kids an' drive down to the railroad station
an' git the mail, an' git back in time for supper. You know it's 'bout
eight miles down to the station at Carrizo.
"Comin' home at night in the wust of the storm, Hart had found the shack
empty, his wife not home yit an' the hosses gone. Thinkin' that the
storm had kept 'em, he waited an hour or two, when he got so blamed
oneasy he couldn't wait no longer, but saddled up his hoss an' drug it
for the station. When he got there they told him his wife had left 'bout
an hour by sun, an' they hadn't seen nothin' of her sence, although they
had begged her not to start back, an' the wind a-blowin' like it was.
'Twas then about as dark as the inside of a cow, and leavin' the men at
the station to foller him, Hart struck out across the prairie, ridin' in
big circles, and tryin', but without no luck, to cut some 'sign' of the
buckboard and hosses. You know, fellers, how them sandy mesas are about
there, and, between the driftin' sand and the snow, every mark had been
wiped out slick and clean. Then he pulled his freight for the ranch,
thinkin' mebbeso she'd got back while he were away; but nary a sign of
them was there about the place. He struck out agin, makin' big circles,
and firin' his six-shooter and hollerin' like an Apache Injin, all the
time a-listenin' an' a-prayin' fer some answer. Then he heerd our shots
and thought sure he'd found her, fer she always carried a gun when she
went out alone, and he jist hit the high places till he ran onto our
camp and he war sure disappointed when he seen us an' not her.
"'Tain't no use for to tell you that we got a move onto ourselves.
You've all seen the Cimarron Kid git a move on an' tear round and just
bust hisself to get out to the herd in the mornin' to relieve the last
guard, along in the fall when the boss was pickin' out men for the
winter work. Well, that was the way we all tore round, an' as everybody
kep' up a night hoss (you all know what a crank that feller Wilson was
'bout night hosses; he'd make every man keep one up if he had the whole
cavyyard in a ten-acre field), we soon had a cup of coffee into us an'
was ready to ride slantin'. Pore Hart was so nigh crazy that he couldn't
say nothin', an' 'twas hard to see a big, strong feller as he was all
broke up like.
"By this time 'twas gettin' daylight in the east an' we struck out,
scatterin' every way, but keepin' in sight an' hearin' of each other.
'Bout two miles from camp I ran slap dab onto the buckboard, with one of
the hosses tied up to the wheel, an' 'tother gone. The harness of the
other hoss laid on the ground, an' from the sign, she had evidently
unharnessed the gentlest hoss of the two, an' got on him, with the kids,
an' tried to ride him bareback. I fired a couple of shots, which brought
some of the other boys to me, an' we follered up the trail, step by
step, 'cause 'twas a hard trail to pick out, owin', as I said, to the
sand an' snow.
"Pretty soon we come to where she had got off the hoss an' led him for a
ways; then we found the tracks of the kids; an' we judged they'd all got
so cold they had to walk to git warm; an' all that time my fingers an'
ears was tinglin' an achin', they was so cold, an' what was them pore
kids an' that little woman goin' to do, when a big, stout puncher like
me was shiverin' an' shakin' like a old cow under a cedar in a norther?
"Bimeby we struck the hoss standin' there all humped up with the cold,
the reins hooked over a little sage bush. I sent one of the boys back
with the hoss, an' tole him to hitch up to the buckboard an' foller on,
fer I knowed shore we'd need it to put their pore frozen bodies on when
we found 'em.
"Here we saw signs where she'd tried to build a fire, but, Lord
A'mighty, you know how hard it is to find anything to burn round that
there Petrified Forest country, an' she only had three or four matches,
an' nothin' to make a fire catch with. Then she started on ag'in, an' I
judged she'd got a star to go by, 'cause she kep' almost straight north
to'ds the railroad. By the trail, she was a-carryin' the youngest kid, a
boy 'bout two years old, an' leadin' the other, which was a little gal
"Right here, fellers, she showed she was fit to be the wife of a man
livin' in such a country. She knowed mighty well that she'd be follered,
an' that her trail would be hard to find, so what does she do but tear
pieces out of the gingham skirt she had on, an' hang 'em along on a sage
brush here, an' a Spanish bayonet there, so's we could foller faster.
When we struck this sign an' seed what sh'd done, one of the boys says,
says he, 'Fellers, ain't she a trump, an' no mistake?' An' so she shore
"We jist turned our hosses loose along here, an' one of us would lope
ahead an' cut for sign, an' as soon as he found it, another would cut in
ahead of him, an' in that way we trailed her up, right peart. We soon
ran the trail down to the edge of the big mesa back of the Carrizo
"If you remember, it's quite a cliff there, mebbeso two hundred feet
down; sort of in steps, from two to six feet high. We seen where she
jumped over the fust ledge an' helped the young ones down. She worked
her way down the rocky cliff that way, step by step, an' it must 'a'
been a job, too, in the dark, an' as cold as she was. Two of us went on
down the cliff, an' I sent the other boys around with the hosses, to a
break, where there was a good trail.
"Right here I began to think that p'raps she's been saved, after all.
'Twas only a mile from the foot of the mesa to the station at Carrizo,
an' in plain sight from where we were.
"Me an' Little Bob, who was with me, was so sure that she was all right
that we quit follerin' the trail an' jist got down the cliff anywhere we
could. When we got to the bottom an' clear of the rocks, we set out to
cut for her trail ag'in, when Little Bob says, says he, 'There she is,
"Lord, how my heart jumped into my mouth. Seemed as if I could most
taste it. I looks where Bob was a-p'intin', and shore enough, there she
were a-sittin' on a rock with the little boy in her lap, an' the little
girl a-leanin' up ag'in her an' a-lookin' into her face.
"We both gave a yell an' started to'ds her, but she never paid no
'tention to us, which seemed to me mighty queer like. But we were a
little to one side of her, an' I thought mebbe she were so tired she
didn't notice us. Bob he got up to her fust, an' walked up an' put his
hand on her shoulder to shake her, but, fellers, you all know how 'twas,
the pore little woman an' the two young ones were dead.
"Little Bob was so skeert that he couldn't do nothin', but I fired all
the shots in my six-shooter, an' the balance of the outfit soon came up
"Wilson he had a little more savvy than the rest of us, an' rode back
an' met pore Hart, who had got off to one side, an' tells him sort o'
kindly like, what we'd found; an' I reckon that Jim never had no harder
job in all his life.
"Hart says, says he, 'Jim, old man, you take 'em inter town as tenderly
as you kin, an' make all the arrangements for the funeral, an' I'll
follow you in tonight.'
"'Course Jim swore we'd all do everything we could, an' Hart rode off
to'ds his ranch without comin' nigh the place where his little family
was a restin' so peaceful an' quiet.
"Say, fellers, that was the pitifullest sight I ever seed, an' I've seed
some sad work in the days when old Geronimo an' his murderin' gang of
government pets used to range all over the country.
"'Twas easy enuff to read the whole thing now. She'd come to the edge of
the mesa an' seen the lights in the station house, for they get up 'bout
four o'clock every mornin' to get breakfast for the section men.
Climbin' down the cliff had used her up, an' knowin' she was so clost to
help, she had set down on a big flat rock at the bottom to rest a minute
before starting to walk the mile from the foot of the mesa to the
station. To set down, as cold and tired as she was, meant sleep, an' to
sleep was shore death that night, an' she went to sleep an' never woke
up no more.
"The little boy was cuddled up ag'in her under her shawl, with the
peacefullest look on his little face you ever see, an' the little girl
was a-leanin' on her lap an' a-lookin' up into her face, with the big
tears frozen on her cheeks, an' so natural that it was hard to believe
she was dead.
"One of the boys went over to the station an' got two wagon sheets and
some blankets, an' when the buckboard came we rolled 'em up as carefully
an' softly as we could. They was so stiff we had to leave the little
feller where he was, but the girl we rolled up separate.
"Now, say, boys, that was a hard thing to do, for a bunch of rough
cow-punchers, if you hear me. Hookey Jim he'd been through a yellow
fever year down in Memphis once, an' he was more used to such things, so
he sort of bossed the job.
"I ain't ashamed to say I bawled like a baby, fellers. Mrs. Hart was
awful good to us boys, even if her husband was a sheep man. No puncher
ever went there without gettin' a good square meal, no matter when it
was; an' when Curly Joe got sick over at the 'Rail N' ranch, she jist
made the boys fetch him over to her place, an' she nussed him like his
own mammy would have done.
"After we got 'em packed on the buckboard, Wilson sent the rest of the
outfit back to camp, an' him an' me rode on into town, leavin' Shorty
French to drive the team in. We met everybody in town out on the road to
hunt for Mrs. Hart, for the word had got round that she had got lost;
an' everyone that could leave had turned out on the search.
"'Twas a sorrowful place that day, an' the next. Everybody in town knew
an' loved the little woman, an' her awful death made it seem more
pitiful an' sad. They made one coffin an' put her an' the two chillun
into it, one on each arm, an' they looked so sweet an' peaceful, like
they was only asleep—an', anyway, that's what he read from the book at
the grave—that they was only asleep.
"You fellers all know how everybody in town was at the funeral, an' how
one of the men in town had to say a little prayer at the grave, 'cause
there wasn't no parson, they all bein' away off in Afriky an' Chiney
a-prayin' an' a-singin' with niggers an' Chinees, an' not havin' no time
to tend to their own kind of people to home, who p'raps needed prayin'
for jist as much as the heathen in Chiney.
"Then two sweet little girls sung a hymn 'bout 'Nearer my God to Thee,'
an' when they got to the second verse everybody was a-cryin' an' the
little girls jist busted out too, an' couldn't finish the song for a
"An', boys, that's about all there is to tell."
I glanced around the dugout. The fire had burned low and I guess the
most of them were glad; for, in the uncertain light, I could see
moisture on more than one sunburned cowboy cheek, and my own eyes were,
as one of them quaintly put it, "jist a-spillin' clean over with tears."