Perico

Geronimo Naiche Tsisnah

Four of the last, free, fighting Apaches in America's longest, twenty-six-years war, 
at the peace conference in March, 1886, in the "Canyon of the Funnels," in Sonora,
Mexico, with General George Crook. It ended in failure. Again.


"The American Indian commands respect for his rights only as long as he inspires terror for his rifle."
Brigader General George Crook

Lookout on Square Mountain, Winchester Range,
southern Arizona Territory

          He was big for an Indian, especially an Apache. 6'1", loose-jointed with short fingers and narrow, almost feminine features except for his muscles, which ran like steel cords down through his arms and legs. His deep chest was another giveaway, a legacy from generations of his mountain-dwelling ancestors. His bare chest was covered by a buckskin shirt consisting of only sleeves and a shoulder yoke, held down by a blue canvas and leather belt of cartridge loops draped over his shoulder. beneath his navy blue wool headband, small black pupils in eyes sunk into his handsome face didn't move. They were transfixed, watching a small flatbed wagon rattle slowly toward him from the dusty distance.
         
He was Naiche, grandson of Mangus Colorado and the second son of Cochise, the legendary leaders of the Chiricahuas and the greatest Apaches of this nineteenth century, now slowly winding toward its hard end. He was nearly thirty years old.

Trail to the Winchester Mountains

          Shadows cast by giant saguaros lengthened this late afternoon across a rough, two-track trail heading toward the Winchester Mountains ahead. This quartet of rocky peaks rose sixty miles east of old Tucson and seventy miles north of the border, where it formed the northwest side of the hundred-mile long Sulphur Springs Valley, the main southern Arizona corridor for Indians traveling down into Mexico. Jacob Cox was well aware of that ever-present danger as he slapped his two horses' rumps with his long reins, urging them to pick up their tired gait now that they were almost home.
         
A gaunt, bearded mid-westerner on the shady side of forty, Cox turned to his sister riding the plank seat of the wagon beside him.
         
"Another beautiful Arizona spring, sis."
         
Jacob's free hand swept the air, encompassing the palo verde bushes blooming yellow within their view, a patch of lupines and Mexican gold poppies alongside the trail. New plant life in spite of the usual wind, which sucked the winter's moisture right out of the ground and contributed to the annual spring drought in this southeastern corner of the Territory.
         
"Gosh, I love seeing the country this time of year. So clean, fresh. The Apaches, you know, call late spring the season of "many leaves."
         
"Ahh. To the point, just like Apaches." His younger sibling tipped back the narrower brim of her smaller dark brown cowboy hat to take in the whole grand vista of the big valley, thirty miles across at its widest, its 5-10,000 foot peaks of the various small mountain ranges provided borders along both sides of the valley. Deeply tanned and on the sunny side of forty herself, Marta Cox was no woman to wear a sunbonnet.
         
"What was that poem?"

"And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright!"

          Jacob nodded.
         
Her sharp eyes took all the bright land in. Good cattle country were it not for its hereditary caretakers, the Apaches.
         
"I cherish our trips away, Jacob, especially to Tucson for the shopping and someone else's cooking, but the sight of home again after a hard journey always pleases me most."
         
Her older brother nodded again and smiled.
         
"You think these latest raids are as bad as we heard at the trader's?"
         
That wiped off his smile. "Army's been fighting these wild Apaches for twenty-six years now, Martha. Haven't whipped them for good yet, but each time they run off the reservation, seems like there's fewer Indians free and more soldiers chasin' them. Those odds can't last forever. Not enough Apaches left."
         
Atop his pony in the brushy wash lined with desert willow and hackberry, below the fairly flat hilltop over which this rancher's wagon now rolled, a long-haired Apache spit onto his palm. He rubbed the grime off the silver dollar sewn onto the upturned toe of one of his knee-high deerskin moccasin boots, his n'deh b'heh. The turned-up toe was a style distinctive to the Chiricahua and the metal kicker protected his elk-soled moccasin from wearing out in cactus country sooner than every few weeks. Perico rubbed his saliva onto the silver coin, brightening it.
         
Standing nearby, Delkay and Inday-Yi-Yahn passed a willow wood canteen between them, as the former removed his buckskin shirt from under his rawhide belt which held his muslin breechcloth draped down to his knees, and yanked it over his head. Apache warriors stripped before battle, their brown skin blending better with the desert landscape than the white man's colored cloth. These warriors handed their shirts and canteens and extra items to a sixteen-year-old boy, Zhonne, who stood nearby holding the reins of his pony. Besides his smaller size, the teenager was distinguished from these fighters by his headgear, a leather novice's hat, or round skullcap, to which were attached four types of feathers -- hummingbird, oriole, quail, and eagle. His trainee's cap had no "enemies against power," for the youth was not a full-fledged raider yet and wasn't even allowed to fight, unless he had to defend himself.
         
This youngest warrior-in-training was completing the last of his four required raids with these men, acting as their servant and horse-holder, doing what camp chores or errands were required, speaking only when spoken to, before he could finally be invited into the ranks of fighting men. This time the youth had to stay behind, to bring spare horses, weapons, ammunition, or help up to the fight if needed.
          Perico was Geronimo's cousin, which gave him leadership responsibilities in this little band of raiders. He pushed back the derby hat atop his head and held his silver toe toward the sun, adjusting it to aim some bright reflections up at Square Mountain, the lowest peak in the Winchesters.

Lookout on Square Mountain

          From his aerie atop a large boulder halfway up this 5700 foot pinnacle, Naiche caught the bright signal flashes from the men far below in the wash. His warriors were ready! The tall Indian untied a long length of horse intestine slung over his other shoulder and drank sparingly from one end, as he watched the wagon rattling toward the ranch nestled at the foot of the mountain beneath him. Nothing else moved on the hilltop, or in the arroyos rutting either side. Wiping his mouth, Naiche retied his water carrier and slowly raised his big, Sharps hunting rifle over his head and tilted its shiny steel trigger guard and breech back and forth against the sun, answering them. Attack!
         
Down in the wash, the warriors caught the flashes from the mountain and clambered atop their Mexican mustangs. Inday-Yi-Yahn ("He Kills Enemies") adjusted his saddle made from two rolls of rawhide stuffed with grass and tied to his horse's back, while Dahkeya notched a cane arrow onto his mulberry recurved bow, straightened his deerskin wrist guard and tested the tension of his sinew bowstring.
         
These short, tough men, few of them over 5'8" besides their leader, had the smooth faces, small chins and strong jaws of Chiricahuas, to match their smaller feet and hands common to Apaches. Narrow white stripes slashed across each cheekbone under their hard eyes, indicated the Chiricahuas were quite ready for war.
          Perico watched his companions ready themselves as he fingered the buckskin thongs braided into his war charm necklace, which he'd strapped over his right shoulder and under his left arm. Eagle feathers fluttered from this ceremonial strap, fragments of obsidian, pieces of turquoise and coral beans were sewn into it, too. Ussen, the sacred God of all Apaches, would protect them.
          Perico took a deep breath, exhaled the clean desert air slowly, pulled his stolen black derby tighter down over his long hair and nodded to the others. Yanking their hackamores braided from horsetails, the warriors jerked their horses' heads around and kicked them up, up the steep dirt embankment of the ravine.

An adapted screenplay of The Sergeant's Lady is available from Hoodwinks Productions in Los Angeles (310-578-5404) or miles.swarthout@verizon.net

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