Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 20: A visit with Captain and Mrs. Chaffee

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The trip home to Prescott from Tonto Basin was almost as difficult as her trip over the Rim to Tonto Basin four months earlier. Having reached the Verde River opposite Fort McDowell, the party of two wagons had barely gotten across the raging waters, the teacher and her driver Mr. Harer being almost dragged under when the wagon was pulled downstream by the current.

The other wagon, driven by John Vineyard, had waited patiently and crossed the next morning when daylight made navigation easier.

“Dec 21 [Tuesday] My trunk came over in John’s wagon so of course it was all right. This morning I went up to see Annie Chaffee for an hour or two. The Major is in command at the Post here.”

Cavalry officer Adna R. Chaffee would lead one of several regiments in the Battle of Big Dry Wash, July 17, 1882. It was the last pitched battle between U.S. troops and the Apache Indians in Arizona Territory. A renegade group, primarily Tonto Apaches, broke from the San Carlos and White Mountain Reservations and left a trail of blood and burned ranches until they were met by Army forces on top of the Mogollon Rim.[1]

It had rained Monday night again, and continued Tuesday morning, which delayed her visit to the Chaffees’. However, Angie’s concern to be properly dressed for such a visit also held them up.

Her diary continues, “I had not intended going to Chaffee’s for of course I can’t ‘dress up.’ And tho’ my dress is a pretty, gray wool yet it is rumpled. (I got it out of my trunk this morn, to replace the one the water ruined yesterday and threw the other one into the river!) And of course I’m not so very spick and span that I’m anxious to go calling on the Post Commandant’s wife, but some one told Chaffee about a team crossing the Verde last night and how near the occupants came to drowning. When he asked who they were he said, ‘I don’t know, they’re people from Tonto Basin and one is the school ma’am from there.’ Whereupon the Major said, ‘My goodness!’ And considerably to the other’s surprise came straight to our camp. I had gone over behind a pile of boards and was sitting watching the river, which is rising all the time, when I heard the Major say, ‘Are there some teams from Tonto here?’ (There are about 20 teams camped in and near the corral.) I recognized his voice but decided to keep still. Harer said, “Yes sir, two of us.” 

‘Have you Miss Mitchell with you?’

‘Yes sir!’

‘Well, I’d like to see her. Where shall I find her?’

That they couldn’t answer, so the Major strode round the boards on the way to the river thinking, as he said, ‘I might have gone there, and almost walked over her.’ He stopped, held out his hand & said, ‘What kind of a trick is this you’re playing us? Annie has had me overhaul every granger from the Reno country for two weeks hunting you and now you are going straight through without stopping.’[2] He was shaking hands and smiling while scolding. ‘Now you are coming with me this minute, so give somebody an order to get your luggage and I’ll have a fellow here after it in ten minutes.’

“But Major, I can’t stop at all. I have to get to Phoenix as soon as possible; besides look at my costume. I can’t go to Annie’s this way.”

“He argued well but finally gave up and we compromised by my going to see Annie and staying a couple of hours. I found she expected me to spend Christmas with her and I would have been glad to but knew I was obliged to head home. It seems she had sent me a letter on the subject, which I never received and soon explained matters. I spent two delightful hours and Annie was very kind to Sarah too. Then we started once more and reached Carley’s (or some similar name) ranch about dark and camped. But it began to rain very hard and Mr. C., who is a bachelor and an old friend of the Harer’s, insisted on our coming in and staying inside instead of camping. I claimed it was due to Sarah’s attractive manner, and we had a good deal of fun. It was very pleasant tho’ and tonight we made our beds down on the floor of the big room (some 30 ft x 18) of the house.”

The next day, Wednesday Dec. 22, Angie continued describing their trip to Phoenix where she hoped to catch the stage.

“It rained most of the night, but this morning is pleasant tho’ the mud is absolutely without bottom. Started fairly early but only got to the neighborhood of Tempe and camped tonight near a Mexican’s house, as it is the only place one can get good drinking water, every ditch is so muddy. The Mexican came out to camp and talked to Mr. Harer, and after he went back she (the Senora) sent a message inviting the ‘Senoras’ to come up to the porch which was dry. We went; it was clean and we were muddy, but she insisted, so shedding our rubbers we went up and soon she brought us a brush to brush the mud from our shoes if we wished as we most certainly did wish to. My skirt is quite short and I had had the luck not to get it muddy. Sarah’s had little on it but Mrs. Hazelton’s was pretty wet and drabbled[3], and Mrs. Harer was also. The senora did not appear to care and invited us into the house ... She speaks a little English, I a little Spanish (Sarah doesn’t know any yet) and we pretended to understand. She watched me so closely it was uncomfortable, and paid some attention to Sarah … When we came out to go to camp where the men had supper ready she stepped up & kissed me Spanish style to my great surprise. Sarah and I discussed it and concluded I must resemble some dear friend. I’m tanned enough to resemble any Mexican!

Apparently the Spanish-speaking hostess took a fancy to Angie and sent word by “a fine looking lad” that she was invited to dinner. Mrs. Hazelton, Angie reported, got “in a bad humor” over Angie being preferred. When she did not go to the ranch house, a second young lad was sent to insist she come. The invitation was addressed to “the young lady” and they thought it might be Sarah, but the messenger bowed to Angie and spoke in Spanish. Mrs. Harer helped translate. “‘She wanted the one with the red lips, the eyes & the hands.’ I giggled and so did Sarah, as if we didn’t both possess those! Mrs. H. continued, ‘He says the tall young lady, and she wants her to come up for awhile as she will have some friends arrive soon and she thinks the young lady may enjoy it.’”

“‘Didn’t she ask us both?’ I inquired. ‘No, only you. She has, he tells me, taken a great fancy to you & will be really grieved if you refuse.’ I thought a minute and Sarah urged me to go. I decided I’d see what a Mexican evening party might be like.”

With that Angie went to the wagon and changed her clothes, while Sarah fixed her hair.

“The young fellow had put some boards down from the camp to the walk inside the gate (about 50 ft I guess) and I got there without getting at all muddy. He led me to his mother who kissed me twice, then introduced the boys as Ramon and Manuel. She insisted on my eating some ‘dulcies’ (delicious cookies) and drinking some coffee in spite of my assurance that I was not hungry. Then Ramon took a guitar and played and she showed me a number of curiosities from old Mexico and from Arizona ruins. She seemed delighted to find that specimens were something I delighted in. After that a dozen young senors and senoritas arrived and I found they were celebrating some kind of a fete day; the Senora’s birth, wedding, or something. They seemed surprised to see me and well they might be. But she introduced me to them as kindly as if I were a long lost relative just arrived. I grew bewildered between Senorita Carmen, Senorita Manuela, Senorita Panchita till I thought my head would surely grow dizzy. There was Senor Juan and Senor Francisco and Senor Pedro and Senor Rafael and half a dozen more with unpronounceable names attached. We had music, singing also, dancing and games till we were all tired. Then refreshments of all sorts of dulcies (sweets of any kind)[4], preserves, bread, chicken tamales, and some sort of Mexican liquor, coffee and chocolate. At last I said I must go and they came over and bade me goodnight, or ‘Buenos noches,’ one by one and wished me a pleasant journey and a speedy return to Tonto (as I had promised to stay a day on my way to the Basin if I could). And the girls kissed me Spanish style, and the young men shook hands. Then the Senora went on the porch with me and kissed me again and Ramon took me home. I certainly had had a jolly time. I crawled in, after getting into my flannel gown, beside Sarah & was soon sound asleep.”

NEXT: A Wild Ride Home

[1] At the time of the Battle in 1882 Chaffee was listed as a Captain, so it is likely that Angie, two years earlier, has mistakenly given him the rank of Major. The location of the battle was called “Big Dry Wash” in Major Evans’ official report, but later maps called the location “Big Dry Fork.”

[2] A “granger” was a farmer. Mrs. Chaffee welcomed passing civilians, and enjoyed their company and news from “the outside.” It is clear here that the Chaffees had met Angie or heard of her before, and knew she was coming this way.

[3] To become wet and dirty.

[4] The Spanish word for “sweet.”

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