Going to Town for provisions was important to farmers, ranchers, and their workers whether town was near enough for a weekly trip or so far that trips were seasonal. The Lazy L was far across the San Pedro River Valley so that in the early days, trips were rare. At sixteen, Josephine accompanies her father on a spring trip that widens her experience in several ways.
THE TRIP TO BISBEE 1893
Papa and me set out before light. It wasn’t so much the number of miles we had to go but the rough country we had to climb to get there. The road to Bisbee was pretty well laid out by 1893, but our house was set up in our canyon, about three miles off the main track leading north to the fort. From where we entered the road and turned east, the horses could just glide along in the ruts that the cavalry, banditos and ranchers laid ahead of us. Spring had everybody on the move, glad for the winter to be over and eager with the business of new livestock and new plantings. We joined up with Mr. Carlson and two of his boys toward the end of the first day. We camped out with them, up against a mess of tall stickery mesquite and had a good visit over a supper of beans and Mother’s tough old stewing hen. In the morning, we traveled on together.
A troop of Fort Huachuca Buffalo Soldiers caught up with us and stayed almost to Bisbee. The sergeant, with skin the color of black coffee, took Papa off to the side when we made a short stop to eat. The soldiers talked about raiders going back and forth to Mexico making more trouble than usual. Afterwards, Papa told me to roll my hair under his old hat and to loosen my shirt out of my pants, more manly like. I was already wearing the pants Mother and me usually wore when we did heavy chores around the place. A person can’t brand, help birth a calf or even plow the garden near so well if she’s wearing a skirt tho’ most women tried.
We’d gotten about halfway up over the Mule Mountains when the soldiers turned off toward the border. We waved them on and finished our ride into Bisbee at dusk. We could see cooking fires down in the ravine that sheltered the town and hear the shouts and music from the saloons in Brewery Gulch. It was as close as Papa meant to let me get to that part of town.
We put up at Mrs. Cragen’s boarding house where Papa usually stayed if he had one of us womenfolk along. If it was just him and Francisco, they’d camp out on the edge of town. I couldn’t hardly wait for daylight and the chance to see the town and the changes it had taken in the last year. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cragen fed us fried steak and canned asparagus, the only kind I tasted for lots of years, and her fresh baked bread. I was the only other female staying in the house so Mrs. Cragen took me into her bed and left Papa to share his with a drummer of men’s articles.
Morning was clear and sunny when I woke to find the bed empty. I could hear not so soft voices from the kitchen on the other side of the bedroom door.
“My boarders don’t much care what kind of problems keep you to home of a morning, Mrs. Hale.” Mrs. Cragen was put out for sure. “They want their breakfast and most want it early. Now, I don’t want to let you go, but I can’t be kept waiting again.”
“No, ma’am. I’ll not trouble you again,” said Mrs. Hale, midst a clatter of pots and pans.
I dressed quickly in my dingy old brown calico and headed for the outdoor conveniences. Passing through the kitchen, I looked for the mysterious Mrs. Hale and found no sign of her. Once outside, I nearly opened the privy door on a small, dark haired woman just coming out.
“Excuse me,” she said and pushed on by.
Her empty smile must have hurt for an ugly bruise stretched from eye to jaw. Whatever her problems at home, she seemed to have got the worst of it. Mother told me some men handle their women rough and I’d seen it some in travelers who stopped by our place. Wasn’t no way that’d happen to me without I’d be gone and the man regretting it.