The West - it had been Loralee’s dream for as long as she could remember, and Indians were the most fascinating part of the wildly beautiful frontier she imagined. But when Loralee arrived at Fort Apache as the new schoolmarm, she had some hard realities to learn..and a harsh taskmaster to teach her.
Shad Zuniga was fiercely proud, aloof, a renegade Apache who wanted no part of the white man’s world, not even its women. Yet Loralee was driven to seek him out, compelled to join him in a forbidden union, forced to become an outcast for one slim chance at LOVE FOREVERMORE.
He sat astride a big dun stallion, watching her hang a load of wash on a line stretched between two scrawny pine trees. She was young for a schoolmarm, only twenty-two or twenty-three, and more beautiful than any woman he had ever seen. Her hair was the color of sun-ripened wheat. Her face was oval-shaped, the skin smooth and clear, unblemished by freckle or mole. Her nose was small and delicately formed, her mouth as pink as a wild rose, her brows slightly arched above eyes that were a deep, deep brown. She was tall and thin, but not too thin. Her breasts were high and proud, her waist narrow, her hips nicely rounded.
In the old days, he would have ridden into the yard, grabbed the woman, and taken her to his lodge in the hills. He would have kept her there until he tired of her, and then he would have given to another warrior, or sent her back to her own people.
But not now. His people were no longer warriors and fighters, but farmers and drunkards, their once proud spirit subdued by too many years of living on the white man's reservation and too much firewater. Often, he yearned for the old days, the days his grandfather spoke of, days when the red man rode wild and free across the vast prairies and plains. But those days were gone, and the world was changing.
Rapidly changing. At the fort, he had heard talk of two men in a place called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, who had built a machine that could fly like an eagle. There were horseless carriages that could go an incredible ten miles an hour. He himself had seen one such motor car at the Indian Agency and had been amazed by the odd-looking contraption. It had clattered loudly as it rolled down the dusty street, smelling of oil and smoke, spooking every horse and cow it passed.
He could see no advantage in such a machine. It was useless in the hills. It could not navigate a narrow, twisting deer trail through a forest, or swim a river, or climb a steep arroyo, or forage off the land. You could not use such a thing for hunting, for the noise alone would scare away every deer and rabbit within miles. No, he could not imagine why anyone would want such a loud and ugly thing, and yet it was said that the people in the East were buying them by the hundreds.
Yes, he mused ruefully, life was changing, and he was not ready to change with it.
He sighed heavily as he turned his horse for home. In the old days, he would have ridden into the yard and taken the woman who had sparked his desire and fired his imagination.
But the old days were gone...
Loralee Warfield sat behind the large oak desk, her fingers absently stroking the smooth wood. She was here, she mused, really here. Even after a month, it was hard to believe it was true. Her friends back East had been appalled when they discovered she was going to teach school to Apache children at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona territory. Crazy, they had said. Ridiculous. Dangerous. But Loralee had ignored their dire predictions and warnings and eagerly packed her bags. She was going West!
In preparation for her trip, she studied numerous books and maps, learning about the history and geography of the territory of Arizona, reading about cities like Tucson and Yuma and Tombstone, cities rich in history and folklore. She learned about the flora and fauna, and how to identify the prickly pear and the cholla, and the saguaro cactus, which could reach a height of over fifty feet and was said to live for two hundred years.
She read and studied right up to the minute she stepped onto the train in Philadelphia, all her earthly belongings packed in a single black satchel, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She was going West!
The trip had been long, arduous, the last few miles seeming the longest of all. Would she ever get there?
She had shared the cost of a rented coach with a young couple on their way to Globe on the last leg of the journey. Meals and lodging en route to the reservation had cost an exorbitant two dollars a day.
They had traveled thirty miles the first day, staying overnight at a little Mormon town called Snowflake. It had seemed a pleasant enough town, the streets neatly laid out, the brick houses well cared for, the people friendly. She had gone to bed early that night, hoping to sleep away the long hours before they would be traveling again. But sleep had been a long time coming, and she had lain awake for hours, her mind racing with excitement at what lay ahead.
After breakfast the following morning, Loralee and her traveling companions continued on their journey, passing two small Mormon towns called Taylor and Shumway. Some twenty miles from Snowflake, Loralee and her companions had gazed in awe at huge lava beds and rock formations. There was nothing like that in the East, Loralee had mused. Nothing at all.
The next day, they covered the last twenty miles, as Loralee’s excitement grew stronger with the passing of each minute. The coach seemed to be traveling so slowly, she was certain she could run faster than the horses were moving. She wanted to shout up at the driver and urge him to hurry. Didn’t he realize how long she had waited for this day, how many miles she had come to be here?
And now she was here, Loralee mused. A schoolteacher. She had a large schoolroom to teach in. There were twenty-eight desks in four neat rows. The east wall had three large windows, open wide to admit the late afternoon breeze. The west wall also had three windows for cross ventilation, and below the windows were long shelves filled with books and stacks of paper, boxes of pencils and chalk and erasers, slates, an encyclopedia set, a dictionary.
There was a chalkboard on the wall behind her desk, as well as a large map of the United States. The boundaries of the Apache reservation were outlined on the map in red ink.
Loralee sighed heavily as she cradled her chin in the palms of her hands. She had books, she had maps, she had a vast store of knowledge, but no bright-eyed children eager to learn. It was most discouraging. She had gone from lodge to lodge in the last four weeks, introducing herself to the people of the tribe, trying to persuade the Indians to send their children to school, but to no avail. The Apache were polite. They offered her food and drink. They listened attentively to what she had to say. But they did not send their children to school.
When possible, Loralee had talked directly to the children. But no matter how she coaxed or cajoled, she could not convince the boys and girls to come to school. She promised them treats, she promised to make them laugh, she even told them they could come just once to see what it was all about and that, if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t have to come again. But it was all in vain.
Moving about the reservation, Loralee had been surprised to see a number of small log cabins. When she questioned one of the soldiers, she learned that the cabins had been built back in 1895 in an attempt to encourage the Indians to move out of their wickiups and into more modern homes. The attempt had failed. Most of the log cabins had been abandoned after a day or two, the Indians preferring their wickiups to the square wood houses of the white man.
There were both Mescalero and Chiricahua Apaches living on the reservation. The Chiricahua lodges were brush-covered, dome-shaped structures, while the lodges of the Mescalero were tipis similar to those made by the Sioux and Cheyenne.
Loralee sighed again. She had not expected teaching to be easy. She knew the Indians clung stubbornly to their old ways, resisting the Army’s efforts to turn them into whites. In 1901, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs had instructed all Indian Agents to direct their male charges to cut their hair. Men and women were to adopt the white man’s form of dress. Traditional feasts and dances were to be abolished, and the Indians would instead celebrate the white man’s holidays. But the Indian men had refused to cut their hair. A few took to wearing cotton shirts and trousers, but for the most part, they refused to change.
Holding to traditional ways and values, the women continued to do most of the work. An Apache squaw gathered nuts and berries, acorns and sunflower seeds, pine nuts and mesquite beans. She drew the water from the river. She did the sewing and the cooking and the washing and the mending. She took care of the lodge and raised the children. If there was a garden, she prepared the ground, planted the seeds, weeded and watered, and harvested the crop.
Loralee had been shocked to discover that the women did not eat until after the men, and that if the husband had guests and they ate all the food, the wife did without.
Loralee gazed out the window. The Indians had so much to learn. How could she teach them if they would not come to school? On the reservation, they were living as they had a hundred years ago. The grandfather still instructed the young boys in the ways of the tribe, teaching them the ancient songs and rituals. An Apache man still avoided contact with his mother-in-law, turning his back when she passed by, never going to her lodge, leaving his own home if she came to visit.
And yet, there was hope. The young men were not so averse to change as their fathers, and the women were in favor of anything that would make their lives easier. The women liked the brightly colored skirts and blouses sold at the general store. They appreciated being able to buy flour at the trading post instead of having to grind their own.
But the future belonged to the children. If only she could find a way to get them to school…
With a shake of her bead, Loralee stood up and walked out of the school house. Lifting her skirts, she wandered across the yard, her eyes unconsciously moving toward the distant man. He was there again, sitting astride a dun-colored horse. An invisible current seemed to flow between them, and Loralee felt a shiver along her spine, of apprehension or excitement, she could not say. Who was he? Did he mean to do her harm? Or was he merely curious about the new white woman who had come to live on the reservation? She had seen him many times, always from a distance. He seemed always to be there whenever she stepped out of the schoolhouse. Once, while walking along the shallow river, she had made an abrupt about-face and saw him following her, from ii goodly distance, of course. Boldly, she had started toward him, determined to confront him face to face and discover who he was and what he wanted. But before she had gone a dozen steps, he had vanished from sight behind a tangled muss of brush and cactus.
The man never came near enough for her to see his face, hut she knew it was the same man each time by the horse he rode, and by the way he sat the dun, proud and regal, almost haughty. His skin was the color of old copper and he had long black hair—more than that she could not discern at such a distance.
Who was he? The thought haunted her like a mystery she could not solve, and she had taken to looking for him whenever she went to the fort to purchase supplies, or when walking through the reservation trying to make friends with the Apache children.
She had seen many men—young and old, tall and short—yet she knew intuitively that none of the men she had met was the man she was looking for.
The sound of hoofbeats drew Loralee’s attention and she glanced over her shoulder to see Sergeant Michael Schofield riding toward her. Glancing back at the hill, she saw that the Indian was gone. Would she ever find out who he was, she wondered absently, and then forgot about him as she turned to watch Mike Schofield dismount.
Mike was tall and blond, with dark blue eyes, a deep tan, and a winning smile. He looked wonderfully handsome in his Army uniform. Mike had warned her weeks ago that she was wasting her time on the reservation. The children would never come to school, he had told her, not in a million years. No doubt he had come today just to say, “I told you so,” Loralee thought, but she didn’t care. She was glad to see him, and it showed in her smile of welcome.
Mike removed his hat as he stepped toward Loralee. Damn, he mused, but she made a pretty picture standing there with the sun shining in her hair and the hills stretched behind her. Her golden hair was a perfect frame for her lovely face, and when she smiled up at him like she was doing now, it warmed him clear through.
“Hi.” He glanced toward the empty schoolhouse. “Still no luck, I see.”
“They’ll come,” Loralee said, but her voice lacked conviction. She wouldn’t have admitted it for the world, not to Mike, not to herself, but she was getting discouraged. She had tried everything she could think of, and everything had failed.
Mike shook his head ruefully. “I admire your determination, Loralee, but I think you’re butting your head against a brick wall. Most of the Indians don’t want any part of the white man, or his teachings.”
“Don’t try to discourage me, Mike,” Loralee replied wearily. “I’m discouraged enough as it is.”
“Sorry.” He was instantly contrite. She did look a little downhearted today, he thought, and immediately put himself in charge of cheering her up. “Would you care to go for a ride? I brought along an extra horse, just in case.”
“Thanks, Mike,” Loralee said, smiling again. “I’d like that.”
A short time later they were riding side by side across the sandy ground. Loralee hadn’t ridden much back East, though she knew how to sit a horse, but Mike had taught her how to ride Western-style, and she had taken to it like a fish to water.
Riding for pleasure was a wonderful way to the blues, Loralee had discovered, and had started save money to buy a horse of her own.
Usually, riding took her mind off her troubles, but not today. “If I could just get one or two of the children to come school, I know the others would come, too,” Loralee mused aloud. “I just know it.”
Mike shrugged. He didn’t particularly want to spend the talking about the Apaches and their problems, but it a subject dear to Loralee’s heart. “You could be right,” Mike allowed.
“I know I am. Isn’t there someone the children admire?” Loralee asked as an idea began to form in the back of her mind. “Someone they all look up to?”
“One of the older kids, you mean?”
Mike let out a long breath, opened his mouth to speak but abruptly changed his mind.
“You were going to say something,” Loralee coaxed. “You know someone, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“But?” Loralee leaned toward Mike, suddenly excited. “Who is it? Tell me, Mike, please. This is so important to me.”
“Forget it, Loralee,” Mike said with a shake of his head. “He’s nothing but trouble. Bad clear through.”
“Who?” She almost shouted the word.
“Is he a leader? A chief?”
“Zuniga!” Mike laughed derisively. “He’s a rebel, an outlaw of sorts, but all the Indian kids look up to him like he was some kind of hero.”
“Beats me. Why did people admire Frank and Jesse James?”
“Where is he, this Zuniga?”
Mike gestured at the hills rising to the south. “He lives up there with his grandfather. Refuses to live on the reservation with the other Indians. Refuses to take what he calls charity from the whites. Won’t accept a beef ration, or clothing, or blankets, or anything else he’s legally entitled to. He refused to give up his rifle when he came in.”
Mike grinned good-naturedly. “The Army has searched his place for weapons at least a dozen times, but we can’t find a thing. We know he’s got at least one rifle, maybe more, and we know he steals ammunition from the sutler’s store, but no one’s been able to catch him at it. Yet.”
Mike let out a sigh of exasperation. Sooner or later, he was determined to catch Shad Zuniga breaking the law and then he was going to put the man behind bars where he belonged.
Loralee looked thoughtful. Zuniga did not sound like the sort of character she would want to associate with, but she was at her wit’s end, and if Shad Zuniga could help get the children to school, she was desperate enough to let him try.
“Perhaps I could persuade this boy, Zuniga, to come to school,” Loralee mused aloud. “Perhaps if he would come, the other children would come, too.”
Mike laughed, genuinely amused at the idea of Shad Zuniga attending the white man’s school, and then he grew sober. “Don’t you go near Zuniga,” he warned. “Shad Zuniga is not a kid. He’s a man full grown and not one to mess with. Rumor has it he killed his own father in cold blood.”
“Yes. You stay away from him, Loralee.” Mike shook his head, not wanting to think about Loralee even getting near Shad Zuniga. The man was no damn good.