It Is Wrong To Steal

Those before me came first from New England and then later from Arizona, where my great-grandfather Edwin and his wife Sarah went broke during the depression of 1890. That was when the Apaches of San Carlos, on the Fort Apache Reservation, east of Globe, began to starve and came and stood in silent lines at Sarah’s back door, where–day after day–in sunlight and drizzle and drifting powder snow she gave away all the food they had, over and over, cooked and served each time in the same few blue enameled dishes until they, she and Edwin, had no money and also began to starve.

The winter of 1890-91 saw the price of silver fall and the winter hard and cold, endless in its duration, with coughs and fever stalking them, finally driving them to their bed, where they huddled and shivered and clung to each other, too weak to go for help. The lines of starving Apaches thinned and disappeared, until there was only the sound of the wind at the back door.

A day passed, then two, and on the third a young Chiricahua sat astride a horse, leaned to look through the window of the bedroom and rapped twice–each time, a rap rap–then silence. The horse stomped and stepped forward, then backward. My great-grandparents heard something hit the ground–a man in moccasins. They heard the door push open, movement in the front room, and then they saw a young face looking through the bedroom door.

Soon a fire was burning in the kitchen stove, and heat–at first just the sound of it–stole cat-like through the door into their bedroom. They heard plates banging, the sounds of cooking, and then the young Indian appeared with two bowls of beef soup with pieces of fried bread floating on top.

The boy helped them sit up, spooned from one bowl into two mouths, then spooned from the second bowl till that too was gone. He lay them back to sleep, covered them with a hide blanket he had brought, put a pitcher of water near the bed–then faded away. They heard the sound of horse’s hooves on frozen ground, and then there was silence again.

On the following day, they heard the sound of more horses. Over the next several days, some say as many as twenty Chiricahua entered the house. They were warmly dressed and snow-dusted. A few of them had come all the way from of Agua Prieta and the mountains to the south–and deeper into Mexico. It was a place where the dangers of the coming hunger had been anticipated and food had been set aside for those in need.

Three grown women–one quite old–stayed with my great-grandparents for a week, nursing them and cooking. They stuffed the open chinks in walls with bits of old blankets to keep out the cold. The young man, whose name was Walks With Snow, also came and went, bringing food–once a calf, which the women rendered and cooked and shared with Sarah and Edwin–and with other Chiricahua.

When Sarah and Edwin could walk again, without the Indians’ help, the women rolled up their sleeping robes and rode away with Walks With Snow. But first there was hugging all around and tears and thanks–from both sides because the Chiricahuas were the relatives of the starving San Carlos Apaches whom Sarah and Edwin had helped survive.

The Chiricahua had not been gone more than a day, two at the most, when the sheriff from Globe arrived, with six heavily armed men, looking for an Indian who had been taking calves from the vast 40,000-section Madison holding on the south bank of the Salt River, twelve miles to the northwest.
Edwin, who had been a brevet colonel in the Civil War, on the Union side, and who was at home on horses, accepted one from the sheriff, and agreed it was wrong to steal. He said he would lead them where he was sure they’d find the thief and took them–even in his weakened state–some fifty miles due north, in the opposite direction from the route the Chiricahua had taken toward the Mexican border.

At some point, my great-grandfather said he was too faint to continue and they would have to go on without him. He told the sheriff he would return the horse as soon as he could. He was sure, he said, they would find their man camped beside a certain stream which meandered vaguely northwest through a land he made sound real and distinct and so plausible that the party rode some twenty miles more before they gave up and took a short cut back to Globe and to the warm fires of their snug and–because they were really mostly shopkeepers and merchants–still fairly prosperous homes.

2 thoughts on “It Is Wrong To Steal

Leave a Reply