Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 7: A mountain lion tries to get in

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It was Angie Mitchell’s second week teaching in the Tonto Basin School, and she continued to live at the Vineyard ranch because the house being built as a “teacherage” was not yet ready. On Tuesday, Oct. 5, 1880, she jots a very short and humble entry in her diary. “26 years old today. Tom and Frank Armer came to school today.” We speculate that the Vineyards helped her celebrate if they knew about it, and her unusually brief entry suggests she was tired and not in the mood to write.

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, she recorded a traumatic experience from the night before.

“Last night I was wakened from sleep some time after midnight by a tremendous purring noise. While wondering what it could be, I partly raised in bed and looked through a chink some 3 inches wide at the side of the bed, where a pole was taken out from the wall for ventilation. I was terribly frightened by having the mouth and nose of some animal thrust just opposite my face in an attempt to reach me. As I darted back with a scream, a big, furry paw stuck through the crack evidently trying to catch hold of me! I nearly fell out of bed over Alice in my anxiety to get out of the vicinity of that paw, and roused the family with my shrieks. These were echoed outside by a long, peculiar wail like a woman or child crying. Then I knew what it was for I’ve heard that wail many a time before. It was a cougar or mountain lion or California lion. Vineyard had hung a small piece of beef up in the house close to the roof and on this same side, near a chink or two not as wide as the window over the bed. The lion has scented it and was trying to reach it when my move about attracted his attention and I presume angered him. The sound that awakened me was his purring, which I had never before heard one of them do. Peering cautiously out of a smaller crack, Alice and I could see in the clear moonlight three of them prowling around, a cub and probably the others were its parents. After watching awhile and being certain that no amount of clawing, even if he tried again, would admit the lion reaching me, I fell asleep again and the last sound I heard was one of the big cats climbing up the side of the house to the roof, probably thinking to reach the much desired beef from there.”

They must have enjoyed telling the harrowing “lion story” Wednesday evening to a wayfarer James Cook, who stayed the night. Angie writes, “This evening Jas Cook formerly Hartin’s partner in the blacksmith shop at Ft./ Whipple was here.”

Cook was 28 years old, a pack master with the Army, who was on his way from an assignment at Prescott’s Ft. Whipple to Camp Bowie in the southern part of the territory.  It must have been refreshing for Angie to receive some news from home. She knew Cook’s former partner, John Hartin, who was a blacksmith in Prescott.

That same evening David Harer arrived bringing his 8-year-old son Asbury and 12-year-old daughter Clara to attend school, and presumably to board with their married sister, Mary Elizabeth Vineyard.[1] He brought startling news with him. Angie records, “the astonishing information that Janie Blake had a son who weighed after he was dressed barely 3 pounds, and was born the 4th inst..”[2]

Her diary enter continues, “As this event was not looked for until about Dec. 1st and she had made all her arrangements to go to Phoenix to stay with an old friend who was to nurse her, and expected to start this week so as to have time to make a wardrobe — why of course we were much surprised. The poor child did not have one single dud to wear, not even a diaper, and they rolled him up in an old quilt and went to the nearest neighbors a couple of miles away and borrowed some ancient baby duds. He was not weighed till after they returned with the clothes and dressed him.”

Each day brought its surprises. On Thursday “Mary Vineyard (everyone speaks of everyone else in such a fashion here)[3] taught me to make mistletoe liniment; says it can’t be surpassed for rheumatism and kindred ills.”

Then later that day the county superintendent of schools, William Hancock, arrived to inspect the new Tonto school. We recall that Hancock, when a soldier sighting the Apaches, had come upon and named Greenback Valley, only later to meet the newly arrived Harer family in Phoenix and direct them to Tonto Basin and the lovely valley he had discovered. This visit from Hancock, who had become very prominent in Maricopa County, was a happy reunion of old friends as well as an inspection tour. “He is very pleasant,” records Angie, “but seemed greatly amused at my stylish school house and I didn’t blame him. He ate lunch with me at school. — bread, bacon and dried apple sauce — and we got quite well acquainted on school matters and on one another’s opinions of how young ideas should be taught. He staid (sic) till 1 1/2 [o’clock] and then started to visit a school somewhere in the Globe District.”

The young teacher was still waiting for her own place to live, with the understanding that she would also harbor several of the itinerant children. David and Josephine Harer had planned to come down from Greenback Valley to “repair an old dilapidated brush cabin and camp in it and board the school ma’am.” However, the premature birth of the Harer’s grandchild to Jane and Andy Blake had held up progress.

“The eve a note was sent down by Mrs. Harer saying that Janie was very low and the baby not likely to live, and asking as many of the Vineyard tribe as could ... to come up.”

Alice Harer and Willie Vineyard remained behind at Vineyard’s with Angie to maintain the household and the school. “So we three and old Mr. Persons will run the ranch. Rained hard today.”

We assume it rained all day Friday, and there is no entry that day, but on Saturday the Harers and Vineyards, including the younger children, “started in the rain for Andy Blake’s, 25 long miles.”

After they left, the entry for Saturday continues with a sketch of everyday life. “Alice and I did up the dishes, cleaned up the house and then tackled a good sized washing. This afternoon we ironed all we could get dry between showers, and I baked some dried apple pies while Alice looked after the bread, which Mary ‘V’ set last night. Mr. Persons killed and dressed some quail and we cooked those. This eve Persons brought home a small chunk of beef from Pemberton’s.

NEXT: Apache warriors attack the teacher

[1] David Asbury Harer was born April 8, 1872, never married and died September 13, 1903. His name reflects the Methodist heritage of the Harer family. Clara Belle Harer was born August 13, 1868, and died June 10, 1946. Her married name was Gish.

[2] The use of the abbreviation “inst” was used in correspondence to indicate the present month and year. Janie Blake, we recall, was another daughter of David Harer, a sister to Mary Vineyard. The baby was named William Garfield Blake, born October 4, 1880.

[3] Angie is apparently getting used to informality on the frontier. In formal Prescott even husbands and wives were addressed as Mr. and Mrs.

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