A Blaze on Pard Huff by Florence Finch Kelly

"And I 'm free to say that the grand results
                of my explorations show
That somehow paint gets redder the farther
                out West I go!"
                                --EUGENE FIELD.


One summer night I was on a train that was speeding eastward across southern New Mexico. It was one of the white nights of that region, when the full moon, shining like sun-lighted snow and hanging so low in the sky that it seems to be dropping earthward, fills the clear, dry air with a silvery radiance and floods the barren plain with a transfiguring whiteness, in which the gray sands glimmer as if with some unearthly light of their own.

The day had been long, wearisome, and unspeakably hot and dusty; and with the coming of this beautiful night and its cool breezes most of the passengers betook themselves to the car steps and platforms, where they lingered until we reached the little town of Separ, late in the evening. As the train stopped, we saw that apparently the entire population of the village was crowded inside the station house. One after another, men came cautiously out upon the platform, carrying guns in their hands and casting long, anxious looks across the plain. Their set faces and ready revolvers and rifles showed that it was no ordinary matter which had sent the whole town to find protection in the railroad depot.

They told us that a man had come running into town a little while before, and, falling headlong, exhausted, at the feet of the first person he met, had cried out that the Apaches were coming. Hastily revived and cared for, he explained that the Indians had attacked the cattle camp, ten or twelve miles south of Separ, where he and some other cowboys had been making a round-up, and killed all but himself. He had managed to creep out undiscovered and had run at the top of his speed all the way to Separ to bring the warning. He said that the Apaches, in a large band, numbering at least a hundred, had surprised the camp, killing the men as they lay in their blankets and committing horrible atrocities upon the dead bodies, and had then fallen upon the horses and cattle, killing and maiming the poor beasts in mere lust of cruelty. He was sure they were following him—he had heard their yells several times during his desperate race, and each time he had redoubled his speed. His shoes were gone, his stockings hung in shreds from his ankles, and his feet were a mass of raw and bleeding flesh, pierced by hundreds of cactus thorns. He had hurried away on an Eastern-bound freight train to Deming, the next station, to rouse the citizens and help to raise a militia company, whose coming was expected in a few hours. And telegrams had been sent to Fort Bayard giving news of the outbreak and asking for a troop of cavalry.

Every soul in Separ—men, women, and children—with all the arms and ammunition in the town, had huddled into the station house, where they hoped they would be able to make a successful resistance, and, as one man said, "make as many good Injuns as the Lord would let them." For in those days the hearts of the bravest in the Southwest knew terror, and with good reason, when the Apache went on the war path.

The train sped on into the radiant white night, but the car steps and platforms were deserted. The passengers all sought their berths as soon as possible, there to lie below the level of the windows and pile all the pillows they could get between themselves and the side of the car. When we reached Deming we found the place in an uproar. Every bell in town, from the gong of the railroad restaurant to the church bell, was ringing its loudest and wildest. Men in varied degrees of undress were running up and down the streets calling loudly upon all citizens to come out at once. The people were assembling at the depot, where two or three of the cooler-headed had taken the place of leaders and had begun to organize the excited mass into an armed and officered company and get it ready to go quickly to the assistance of beleaguered little Separ.

Then our train sped on again through the wondrous night, and I knew no more about the Indian war at Separ until I sat on the kitchen doorstep at Apache Teju, one evening some years later, and beguiled Texas Bill into telling me yarns of his long and checkered experience as a cowboy.

The cool, soft breath of evening filled the air, the alfalfa field glowed its most vivid emerald in the yellow rays of the setting sun, and in the same rich light the gray, barren hillside beyond shone like beaten gold. And Texas Bill, just in from a week's trip on the range, soothed and inspired by the civilizing influences of the ranch-house, a shave, clean clothes, and his supper, unbent from his usual bashful dignity and talked.

Texas Bill was tall and big and loose-jointed, and he spoke always in a long, soft, indifferent drawl. He held two articles of belief which no man might dispute without getting sight of the knife in his bootleg or the revolver on his hip. One was that Texas was the biggest and best State in the Union; and the other, that the cow business was no longer fit for a gentleman to follow. He lounged on a bench beside the door and told me tales of the range and the round-up, of herds of cattle stampeded by the smell of water, of long rides in blinding sand storms, of the taking in of the tenderfoot, of centipedes and side-winders, of Indian fights and narrow escapes.

"Were you ever in one of these Indian attacks yourself?" I asked, for his Indian yarns had been about other men.

Texas Bill solemnly considered the heel of his boot a moment, and then just as solemnly replied:

"Yes, I was killed by the Apaches oncet."

He turned a serious face off toward Cooke's Peak, which towered, a mighty, sculptured mass of purest sapphire blue, against a turquoise sky; and I, seeing that his countenance bore just such an expression of inscrutable solemnity as it might have done had he been acting as chief mourner at his own funeral, answered just as soberly:

"That must have been very interesting! I wish you would tell me about it."

His gaze returned to his feet, his face relaxed into a smile, a chuckle began somewhere in his throat, wandered down his long frame and lost itself in his boots, which were high-heeled and two sizes too small for him. Then he spoke again:

"That was the time we run a blaze on Pard Huff."

Then he relapsed into silence, contemplation of his boots, and several successive and long-drawn chuckles. But at last he began his story.

"You see, Pard Huff, he was a tenderfoot, and there was n't nothin' he was n't afraid of a-tall. You could n't convince him that coyotes ain't dangerous; and he thought it was sure death if a tarantula looked at him; and you could make him jump out of his boots any time by just buzzin' your tongue behind his ear. I reckon he 'd have sure died of fright if he had ever seen a live rattlesnake spittin' its tongue at him.

"And Injuns! Well, he watched for Apaches all day long a durn sight more 'n he did for cattle, and he could n't sleep nights for bein' afraid they 'd catch him. He did n't seem to think of anything but Apaches, and he had n't been with us very long till the boys did n't give him a chanst to think of anything else a-tall.

"We was makin' a round-up down below Separ then, and there was ten of us and the chuck wagon when we made camp at night. Well, one night, Pard Huff, he was scareder than ever, and the boys struck his gait right off and kep' him a-runnin'. I did n't know they was goin' to blaze him quite so bad or I 'd have done my best to stop the thing. Well, and they would n't, either, if he had n't been the meanest sort of a coward that ever laid awake nights. He asked each of us separate, and then all of us in a bunch at supper, if there was any danger of Apaches down there, and we-all told him there was, lots of it. One of the boys said he 'd seen signs over toward Hatchet Mountain that very day that sure meant Apaches, and another said he 'd heard that a little ranch about forty mile away had lately been cleaned out by them and everybody killed. Then we-all talked about it and agreed that they might come on us any minute, that most likely they 'd attack us that very night and that we ought to be ready for them.

"Well, sir, that Pard Huff, he never said another word. He just set there with his eyes getting bigger and his face whiter every minute. We kep' it up and told stories about the way them devils do—everything we 'd ever heard of—how they hold you and pull out your tongue, or cut off your ears, or run a stake through you and pin you to the ground, or smash your face to a jelly with a rock, or burn you alive, till Pard Huff did n't know which end he was a-standin' on a-tall.

"We got out our blankets and turned in, but just kep' a-talkin' about the Apaches till that Pard Huff, he was shakin' as if he had a fit. One of the boys said he 'd bet if the Apaches did come, Pard Huff would get his ears cut off the first rattle, because they was so big the Injuns could n't see nothin' else a-tall in camp till they got them out of the way. And then bang! bang! bang! went some six-shooters, the boys yelled 'Injuns!'—'Apaches!' as loud as they could, and the feller on the other side of Pard Huff (Pard was layin' next to me) yelled out. 'Boys, I 'm killed!' says he, and he rolled over on his face and kicked and yelled and groaned. Then bang! bang! bang! went the six-shooters again; and then you ought to have seen that Pard Huff! Well, sir, he was sure buffaloed! He jumped out of his blankets and let out one yell. The chuck wagon was right behind us, and he give one jump and went clean over it and lit out across country like an antelope. You-all just ought to 've seen that tenderfoot pull his freight!

"The boys come up a-laughin' and watched him run. They was a-bettin' he would n't stop till he got to Apache Teju, but I said it was n't right to buffalo him that bad. So we-all yelled and called him to come back, but he only run the faster. The durn fool tenderfoot thought it was the Apaches chasin' him! We-all thought he 'd soon find out there was nothin' wrong a-tall and come back, and so we went to bed again. But he did n't.

"The next day I had to come to Apache Teju and I found Pard Huff's bloody tracks most all the way to Separ. He 'd run right over stones and cactus and prairie dog holes and everything else in his way. And them fool people at Separ was all huddled up in the depot, and a company of men with Winchesters and six-shooters was there from Deming, and everybody was watchin' the country all 'round with spyglasses, for Injuns! Well, sir, that durn fool tenderfoot, that Pard Huff, had told them a fool yarn about the Apaches surprisin' our camp and killin' everybody but him, and they was sure buffaloed!"

"Yes," I said, "I know they were."

"You! How did you know anything about it?"

"Oh, I was there that night. I passed through on the train, and Separ and Deming were the worst scared towns I ever saw."

Texas Bill chuckled, pleased at this verification of his story, and went on:

"Then you know what I 'm tellin' you is sure true! I thought mebbe you-all mightn't believe it, a-tall, for it sure don't look reasonable that folks could get so buffaloed over a durn fool tenderfoot's yarn. They looked at me with mighty big eyes when I rode into Separ.

"'Why,' says they, 'how did you-all get out alive? We sure thought you was dead!'

"'Well,' says I, 'as far as I know, I 'm sure alive; and I don't know as I 've been into anything to get out of a-tall.'

"'Why,' says they, 'Pard Huff—'

"'Oh,' says I, 'damn Pard Huff! He 's a tenderfoot and afraid of his shadder! He dreamed about Apaches and jumped up with a yell and lit out for God's sake. We tried to call him back, and he thought it was the Apaches after him. I reckon he 's scared you-all half to death with his yarn. You 're as bad as tenderfeet yourselves!'

"But they 'd got the notion scared into them so bad they could n't believe anything else, and they sure thought there must be Injuns around somewheres; and so I left 'em and rode on for Apache Teju. Pretty soon I met a troop of cavalry from Fort Bayard on the trot for Separ. The captain rode up to me and says, 'Have you been near the scene of the Indian depredations?'

"'No, sir,' says I, 'I hain't seen no Injun depredations, nor Injuns neither, this summer.'

"'Humph!' says he, 'that's queer!'

"'Yes, sir,' says I, 'I think likely. I heard there was some trouble with 'em last night down below Separ, but if there 's been any Injun depredations I hain't seen 'em a-tall.' And then I rode on, for I had n't time to be bothered with no more of his questions, and, too, I reckoned likely him and his soldiers needed some exercise.

"And they got it, too. They just kep' on the trot for the Mexican line, and kep' a-goin' for three months. They 'd started out for Injuns, and Injuns they was bound to have. They jest wound around through all that country south of Separ, and over into old Mexico, and back again, and up into the mountains and across the plains, and did n't even see an Apache the whole three months. And they did n't find out it was all nothin' but a blaze on Pard Huff till after they 'd come back. I reckon about that time they concluded there ain't no bigger fool on earth than a tenderfoot, a-tall. And there ain't, neither.

"Well, I tell you, that Pard Huff was sure mad when he found out we-all had been running a blaze on him! I don't know as I blame him much, for that ten-mile run of his to Separ in his sock feet over cactus and stones was n't much of a joke, a-tall. But he was an all-fireder fool tenderfoot than we s'posed, or we would n't have done it."