Read CHAPTER IX of Tales of Aztlan, free online book, by George Hartmann, on ReadCentral.com.

IN ARIZONA

I left New Mexico with the intention of making Los Angeles in the golden State my future home, and now, thirty years later, I have not reached there yet. Vainly have I tried to break the thraldom of my fate, for I did not know that here I was to meet face to face with the mighty mystery of an ancient cult, the God of a long-forgotten civilization, a psychic power which has ordered my path in life and controlled my actions.

As its servant, at its bidding, I write this, and shall now unfold, and in the course of this narrative give to the world a surprising revelation of the power of ancient Aztec idols, which would be incredible in the light of our twentieth century of Christian civilization if it were not sustained by the evidence of undeniable facts.

Our road led through a hilly country toward the Little Colorado River. In the distance loomed the San Francisco Mountains, extinct craters which had belched fire and lava long, long ago at the birth of Arizona, when the earth was still in the travail of creation. We forded the Little Colorado at Sunset Crossing, a lonely colony, where a few Mormons were the only inhabitants of a vast area of wilderness. We were headed due west toward a mesa rising abruptly from the plateau which we were then traversing. This mesa was again capped by a chain of lofty peaks, one of the Mogollon mountain ranges. We ascended the towering mesa through the difficult Chavez pass, which is named after its discoverer, the noted Mexican, Colonel Francisco Chavez, who may be remembered as a representative in Congress of the United States, for the Territory of New Mexico. A day’s heavy toil brought us to the summit of the mesa, which was a beautiful place, but unspeakably lonesome. This wonderful highland is a malpais or lava formation and densely covered with a forest of stately pines and mountain juniper. Strange to say, vegetation thrives incredibly in the rocky lava; a knee-high growth of the most nutritious grama grasses, indigent to this region, rippled in the breeze like waves of a golden sea and we saw numerous signs of deer, antelope, and turkey. Our road, a mere trail, wound over this plateau, which was a veritable impenetrable jungle in places, a part of the great Coconino forest. Think and wonder! An unbroken forest of ten thousand square miles, it is said to be the most extensive woodland on the face of the globe. This trail was the worst road to travel I have seen or expect ever to pass over. The wagons moved as ships tossed on a stormy sea, chuck! chuck! from boulder to boulder, without intermittence. We found delicious spring water about noon and passed a most remarkable place later in the day. This must have been the pit of a volcano. A few steps aside from the road you might lean over the precipice and look straight down into a great, round crater, so deep that it made a person dizzy. At the bottom there was a ranch house, a small lake and a cultivated field, the whole being apparently ten acres in area. I looked straight down on a man who was walking near the house and appeared no larger than a little doll and his dog seemed to be the size of a grasshopper, but we heard the dog bark and heard the cackling of hens quite plainly. On one side of this pit there was a break in the formation, which made this curious place accessible by trail.

We had been advised that we would find a natural tank of rain water in the vicinity of this place and camped there at nightfall. We turned our stock out, but our herders did not find the promised water. Our cook reported that there was not a drop of water in camp, as the spigot of his water tank had been loosened by the roughness of the road and all the water was lost. Now this would have been a matter of small consequence if Don Juan had not been taken ill suddenly. He threw himself on the ground and cried for water. “Agua, por Dios!” (Water, for God’s sake) he cried, “or I shall die.” “Why, Don Juan,” I said, “there is no water here. I advise you to wait till moonrise when the cattle are rested and then leave for the next watering place, which is Beaver Head, at the foot of the mesa; we ought to reach there about ten o’clock to-morrow morning. Surely until then you can endure a little thirst!” “Amiga, I cannot, I am dying,” moaned Don Juan, in great distress. As I suspected that he had lost his nerve on the Navajo reservation, I felt greatly annoyed, and when he became frantic in his cries I promised to go down to Beaver Creek to get him a drink of water, for I recalled to mind his little daughter who bid me farewell with these words: “Adios, Senor Americano, I charge you with the care of my padrecito. If you promise me, I know that he will return to me safely.”

I set out on my long night-walk, stumbling over rocks and boulders in the darkness. It was a beautiful night, the crisp atmosphere was laden with the fragrant exhalation of the nut pines and junipers and there was not a breath of air stirring. I got down to water at midnight, the time of moonrise, filled my canteen and started on the return trip. Slowly I reascended the steep mesa, and when I reached the summit I sat down on a rock in a thicket of junipers. The moon had now risen above the trees and cast its dim light over an enchanting scene. The sense of utter loneliness, a homesickness, a feeling of premonition, stole over me, and weirdly I sensed the presence of I knew not what. From the shadows spoke an owl, sadly, anxiously, “Hoo, hoo! Where are you? You!” and his mate answered him tenderly, seductively, “Tee, hee! Come to me! Me!”

In the west, far, far away, clustered a range of mountains, spread out like an enormous horse-shoe and in its center arose the form of a solitary hill. In the heavens from the east drifted a white, ragged cloud. The solitary hill seemed to rise high and higher and all the mountains bowed before it. The spectral cloud resolved itself into a terrible vision which enveloped the central hill. Great Heavens! Again I saw the phantom dog and fancied that I heard shrill screams of “Perro, perro, gringo perro!” A crackling noise, a coming shadow, and forward I fell on my face, ever on the alert, ever ready. An unearthly yell and a great body flew over, fierce claws grazing me. Two balls of fire shone in the bush, but my rifle cracked and a great lion fell in its tracks. I expected my companions to meet me soon, coming my way. Instead, I found them, after my all-night’s walk, snugly camped where I had left them. Don Juan explained that with God’s favor they had found the water soon after I had left them. He said that they had called loud and long after me, but I did not seem to hear.

This day we descended the mesa and entered the valley of the Verde River, one of Arizona’s permanent water courses. This valley is cultivated for at least forty miles from its source to where it enters precipitous mountains. We forded the crystal waters of the river at Camp Verde, an army post, and crossed another range of mountains and several valleys into a comparatively open country, and on the night of a day late in November we camped on Lynx Creek, and were then within a half day’s travel of our destination.