Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 13: A typical weekend in Tonto Basin


After the excitement of the Apache attack and the cattle stampedes, life for the teacher and her students’ families returned to mundane events. On Thursday evening “David’s (Harer) oldest brother arrived unexpectedly from Oregon and says a lot more of their relatives will be here in a few days.”

The next day, on Friday Oct. 29, the teacher‘s small house was quite full. Angie writes, “We’re thick here this evening. David Harer and wife, Blake and wife and baby, James Harer, Alice, Clara, Abbie and myself in this tiny house.”

On Saturday morning Angie took Alice for the 20-mile trip to “old Camp Reno” where they would pick up the mail and purchase needed items. She was driving a buckboard wagon owned by James Harer, and pulled by a team including one of Vineyard’s horses and a mule belonging to the Hook family. It was a good instance of the several families all working together for survival in this out of the way place. “Cline’s old billy goat followed us to Reno.” They got to the trading post at 1:20 in the afternoon, stayed an hour, and then began the trek home. However, it was dark when they reached the Crabtree’s Tonto Basin ranch, and since “some bad creek crossings” lay ahead they decided to stay overnight.

Her entry for Sunday, Oct. 31 records her trip home, and the fact that they “brought Mattie Crabtree home with us to go to school this week…” Mattie is the nickname for Margaret Alice Crabtree. “I brought home from Reno for the folks some candles, coffee, sugar, combs and several other needfuls. Haven’t had either coffee, sugar or tea for a week except a little tea that we saved for Jane and the combs have all been missing since the Indians visit, and perhaps they took them tho’ what for I cannot guess, for I don’t believe they ever use one”

Upon reaching home, she discovered that during her absence Mrs. Harer had an accident chopping wood. A “stick flew up and hit her on the nose and upper lip and blackened her eye. Her nose bled profusely and today it and her lip are swelled to three times their usual size and her eye is nearly closed and black and blue around it. She looks like a prize fighter in petticoats… Mrs. Harer presents an amusing appearance though we are all sorry for her.”

That afternoon the community gathered for Sunday worship at Angie’s house. She writes, “Mr. James Harer (who is an old preacher) delivered a very good sermon today at our house to an audience of 21 people. But I regret today that I had extreme difficulty in repressing a smile at his appearance. His beard and hair are rather long and very gray, but nicely combed, and he has one very sore foot, caused by some accident enroute from Oregon. He cannot wear a boot, so he, like ‘my son John’ in the fable of the stockings, had ‘one boot off and one boot on.’ He wore a dark calico shirt rather short as to sleeves, and a pair of overalls, and wore no coat. His queer costume was about all I could think of.”

The “old preacher” James Harer may be the senior Harer, father of David and born in 1818 according to an 1880 census. He had come to Arizona with the family. One of his sons was also a Methodist minister. LeCount in his History of Tonto (page 68) writes, “At intervals some of the brothers of David lived on the Tonto, including Nathaniel Green Harer, a Methodist minister. He was a widower and his four children were reared by David and Josephine along with their own family.”

After the service Angie took six of her students and “went over and dug into some old Aztec graves and got several specimens of carved bone, ornaments, beads etc.”

She reflects the common opinion of setters that the prehistoric ruins and artifacts throughout Tonto Basin were left by Aztec people from Mexico.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2 Angie refers in passing to “election day today,” without any details. It would be interesting to look at the politics of Tonto Basin folks those days, though she does not speak of such. The presidential election that year was held up in the Electoral College until finally James A. Garfield was elected as a compromise candidate. He took office the following March. but served only until July 2, 1881 when he was assassinated.

The week passed without incident until Thursday night, when another encounter occurred with Mr. Skunk. The frequent invasions of critters must be attributed to the loose construction of the pole houses in the Basin, like the one the Harers built for Angie. She writes, “Thursday Nov. 4, More excitement last night. Alice, Mrs. H. and I retired about 10. Mattie, Belle and Clara were asleep much earlier in the back room. About 12, I who was sleeping uncommonly sound, was awakened by something warm and moist licking the little finger and the one next to it on my hand, which hung down on the side of the bed. I drew it up with a jerk and raised, and looked down on the floor and beheld a pretty little spotted skunk — nothing more nor less than one of the dreaded ‘hydrophobia cats’ of Arizona. My, but did I scream. Mrs. H. sprang up barefooted on the floor in the other part of the room, but I told her to look out for we had a little skunk in the house. Then striking a light before she crossed the room, she saw the skunk sitting close to the head of my bed with our chicken beside it, dead. The chicken had been roosting in an uncovered box under the bed. She threw me my shawl, into which I scrambled quickly and got out at the foot of the bed. We each got a long stick and standing at a respectful distance we urged his departure. He took the hint and moved to the door, stopped every second or two to face us and pat, the way they move their forefeet on the ground when angry. Finally, we got him outside and we had the good luck to kill him, but our chicken was useless to us now so we flung it away too. The younger ones had watched this performance from the safe shelter of their beds.”

The teacher continues with her narrative. “No Arizonan attacks a ‘hydrophobic cat’ unless it is necessary, for their bite is almost certain death. It is not long since two men living up the creek away, died in the terrible agonies of hydrophobia induced by the bite of one of these pretty looking little animals under circumstances similar to ours. We examined my finger and found it was not bitten. He had only lapped it kitten fashion and wasn’t I grateful.”

Next: An invasion of Harer family members


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