Ft. Bowie. April 1, 1886. A courier arrived from Lt. Mans, at San Bernardino last evening stating that on the night of the 29th. Geronimo, 21 bucks and 13 squaws deserted and escaped back to the mountains in Sonora. They abandoned everything but their arms and ammunition. Lt. Mans and a party of scouts are in pursuit but there are little hopes of overtaking them. This agains opens the campaign unless the Indians reconsider their action and return. The Indians are said to have indicated to leave by a man named Tribolet, who has been persistently selling them liquor and, when drunk, working on their fears. He was remonstrated with, but without avail. He is located in Sonora, on the San Bernrdino Ranch. The friendly Chiefs Alchisay and Kewennay asked permission to General Crook to destroy the place, but as he was over the line this could not be granted. The feeling here is exceedingly bitter against him, as he is regarded as the source of the present Indian troubles. The remaining Indians, fifty-eight, including Chief Chihuahua, are expected in here soon. The escape of Geronimo and Natches is a severe blow to General Crook. - Phoenix Herald, March 30, 1886"

"I'm really sorry, Ma'am. Please don't you worry. We're not too far from town now. I can walk in and pick up a buckboard and be back for you in no time at all. Won't be but a couple of hours. You just try and make yourself comfortable and don't worry. As long as you stay in the coach you won't have to be concerned about rattlers and scorpions and such like. I'll be back before you know it, Miss Langtry."

The driver peered into the coach, squinting his eyes in an attempt to clearly see the woman inside. Even in this heat she was a wonder - thick dark, hair pulled up in a bun, luminous blue eyes, perfect skin, dignified erect posture. Even the silly little hat that women wore these days looked good on her. He thought that she must be baking, bound up in that long white dress and all those undergarments. Despite all that she was an unbelievably beautiful woman. He couldn't believe his luck. To be able to escort the legendary Lillie Langtry from Prescott to Jerome was beyond any notion he had of honor.

And now this broken wheel.

"Are you alright, Ma'am?"

She smiled at him and wiped the perspiration off her forehead with a white lace handkerchief.

"Yes, Travis, I'm fine. You go ahead. I'll be alright."

"I'm going to make it as quick as I can. Here, take this canteen. I'll be right back. You'll see."

Lillie watched as the driver turned and started running down the rocky canyon road toward Jerome. She knew that he would probably run all the way to town. She wiped the handkerchief around her lace collar. It was hot. One of those spring days in Arizona that reminded you of just how hot it could be by the time summer came around. She knew that she should have waited for Jack to arrive from San Francisco, but she just couldn't resist the idea of coming over the mountain in a stagecoach. She realized that soon there would be no more stagecoaches, and since it was only a day trip from Prescott to Jerome . . . well . . . She just hoped that the booming mining camp was all that it professed to be - the luxurious Hotel Montana, the spectacular view, the Opera House.

Lillie leaned her head out of the coach and surveyed her surroundings. They had just come down from the pass where they had been surrounded by pine woods and meadows. Then abruptly the terrain had changed. She was now in a small rocky canyon. Instead of pine forest, it was highland desert - red rock, manzanita, cactus, and desert flowers. Her eyes ran down the canyon to where it opened into the valley a couple of thousand feet below. She could see all the way across the valley to the massive red rock cliffs on the other side. Lazy white clouds drifted across the blue sky. The sun was growing hotter in the canyon.


On her right side, the canyon fell away in a steep slope. Looking down into its bottom, she saw a stream. At certain places she could see how the stream dropped down into what appeared to be large pools. She loosed the collar button on her dress and wiped away the sweat at her throat. She looked around quickly, smiled, and stepped easily from the coach. Without as much as a second thought, she started heading down the steep slope toward the stream. The going wasn't very difficult. Initially, she had to scramble over the loose earth and rock that had been thrown over the side during the making of the road, but after that it was fairly easy to make it down the rest of the way to the pools she had seen.

By the time she reached the bottom of the canyon, her dress was wet on her back. It hung on her, thick and heavy. Ridiculous, she thought, impractical women's costumes. She didn't take the thought any further. Whatever light breeze she had felt up on the road was now replaced by an even more intense heat from the sun. Her hair had come undone, and a few small tendrils were curled on her cheek with sweat. As quickly as she made her decision to come, she stripped out of the hot dress and under clothes and dove into the deep pool.

When she hit the water her whole being was shocked by its icy coldness. There was no time to think only to act. She pushed herself up from the sandy bottom, exploded from the surface of the pool, and slipped up onto a large smooth round boulder all in one motion. She was laughing as she lied down on the warm sun-baked surface of stone. It felt exquisite. She ran her hand through her hair, shook it free, and stretched out on the boulder.

*      *      *       *

Natches smiled to himself. He watched a small green lizard scratch across a rock to safety, its eyes rolling in its head, not letting the man out of his sight for an instant. The Apache looked up into the sun and let its life-giving warmth seep into his being. The deep blue sky stretched out in all directions. Natches loved the Spring. He never tired of experiencing life's yearly renewal. He could feel it in his blood. Looking at the mountain around him, Natches was secretly pleased that he had an excuse to venture this far north. It was a beautiful land - bold, strong, and nourishing.

He was enjoying the cat and mouse game he was playing with his pursuer. It had been seven days now,and the Apache calculated that in another seven he could return to his people. The women, children, and old ones needed a rest. They had been running from and fighting with the white calvary for too long. They had grown sick and weary. Geronimo and he had talked and created a plan. Geronimo realized that the battle had actually narrowed down to two men, himself and the leader of the whites. Without their leader, the whites could never find where he had hidden his people. They decided that Natches must draw the white man away from their people. He knew that the white's proud leader would not be able to resist the temptation to follow Natches alone, one on one. The Apache had waited for a time when the white man was out with his Lieutenant on a hunting excursion. At a choice moment, he had shown himself to the soldier, knowing just what would happen. The white man dispatched his Lieutenant back to the main unit to get reinforcements and then took off after his old enemy.

That had been a week ago. Now, here they were up in what used to be Yavapai territory before the whites had come. Natches knew that his hunter was not far behind, but that did not concern him either. He knew that there was no question as to who was the superior man in this contest.

He came up over a ridge that fell away into a small canyon. Across the canyon, on a road built by the whites, was a stagecoach with a shattered front wheel. The door of the coach was wide open. He looked quickly around the area and almost immediately located the woman down below. She was lying comfortably on a large boulder in the sun. The Apache was startled. This was not normal behavior for a white woman. He was intrigued.

He slipped down the face of the canyon from rock to rock until he was within twenty feet of her. The sound of the small waterfall dropping into the pool drowned out any sound he might have made. There, hidden behind a large boulder, he realized how beautiful she was. He watched as she stood and dove gracefully into the pool. He was enchanted. He watched as she came out of the water. Her eyes were the color of the sky, her hair the color of the sunset itself. She shook her head and her long red hair cascaded down her back. She came up once again and lied down on the rock. Natches had never seen anything like this woman. He was hypnotized.

*      *      *       *

General Crook looked out on the hot, dry desert terrain from underneath the shade of his pith helmet. His mule picked its way easily among the rocks. The soldier cradled his shotgun across his lap. He wished that he had appropriated the Lieutenant's Winchester so that he would have a longer range killing ability, but there was no use crying over spilt milk now.

Things had finally come down to basics. He and Natches, one on one. He appreciated this. With Natches out of the way, it would just be a matter of time before he captured Geronimo, and the Arizona Territory would finally be stabilized. As in all previous encounters, the strength, intelligence, and moral superiority of the white race would prevail. It was as sure and inevitable as the sun rising. None the less, he loved the chase, and with Natches he knew that he was dealing with an exceptionally shrewd and cunning adversary. It was like a chess match. He appreciated that.

Coming up over the nearby ridge, he saw the stagecoach and then, presently, the unlikely tableau spread out below him. Natches, hidden by a boulder, was spying on the unsuspecting woman not twenty feet away from him. Crook did not take time to ponder the strangeness of the scene. What he saw was his opportunity. His opening. Tying the mule to a manzanita bush, he slowly made his way down the canyon, utilizing stealth the way he had learned from the Apaches themselves. As with Natches, the noise of the waterfall helped to cover up the sound of his movements. When he came within range of his enemy, he slowly raised his shotgun, rested its barrel on the rock in front of him, and took careful aim.

A sudden unpleasant sensation swept over Natches and, without even thinking, he sprang away from his hiding place. As he did, he heard the shotgun blast, and a large section of rock where his head had just been exploded into dust. He leapt in the direction of the white woman, and before she could do anything at all, he had put her in between himself and the General. He grabbed her long red hair with his right hand and, with his left, placed the flat of his knife against her throat. For a few seconds all three people were still.

"Don't move, Miss, whatever you do!" yelled Crook over the sound of the waterfall. "Just don't make a single move!"

Then in Apache, the General yelled to Natches, "I don't know who she is or what she is doing here, but she is not part of this. Let her go!"

Natches didn't hear Crook. He was taken by Lilly's beauty. His eyes drifted over her still wet body.

"Natches!" The General's voice brought him back. Crook enunciated each word as if it were a sentence. "Let . . . her . . . go!"

"I think not, my enemy. I think I will take her with me. I know how you white men put your women on pedestals. As long as she is with me then I am safe. Your fear of harming her accidentally is too great. Besides, look at her. Is she not a wonder? I want her. I will take her into the hills with me. I will make her my woman!"

"Your woman?! She'll never be your woman. Be realistic. If you take her with you into your world you'll kill whatever beauty you see in her now. How long could it last?!"

This last unexpected remark startled Natches and made the Apache stop and look again at the woman. Slowly, almost gently, he turned her head so that they were looking eye to eye. He looked directly at her and then asked, with his eyes only, the question that men have always asked women. Lillie Langtry returned his gaze. She was startled and frightened but she recognized, by the way he held her - by the way that he looked into her eyes, what he was asking. He held her like a lover. For the briefest fraction of a second, part of her responded to the call. It was wild, untamed, primal. Unlike anything she had ever experienced. She had seen that look in the eyes of many men, but never had she seen it so deep, so direct, so intense. The moment passed. Lillie knew where she belonged and she slowly shook her head. As she did, understanding flowed between them, and she saw a small smile on his lips. Then Natches turned to Crook and yelled.

"Throw me your shotgun, and I will let her go!"

"How do I know that you won't kill me and take her anyway?" asked the General. "How do I know I can trust you?!"

"If your kind didn't break its promises so often maybe you would be able to believe another's!"

Crook looked back and forth between the two of them, and then slowly and reluctantly raised the shotgun and tossed it over to the Apache. Natches let go of Lillie's hair and caught the gun with his right hand. With a quick look at her, he turned and disappeared down the canyon. For the first time, the General regarded Lillie's beauty. He had never seen anything like it. Catching himself staring at her, he quickly turned around and yelled over his shoulder.

"You can get dressed now, Miss, and I'll make sure that you are safely escorted the rest of the way into Jerome."

As he was turning, he caught his last glimpse of her as she bent over gracefully to pick up her dress, and a sudden shocking thought came to him. He realized that if the situation had been reversed - if he, in fact, had been Natches - he would have emptied the remaining charge in the shotgun into the crazy white General's head and run with the beautiful woman into the wild hills . . .

Meeting in Mescal Canyon      by Terry Molloy       Copyright 2000      All Rights Reserved

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