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Trail of the Apache
Original title: Apache Agent
Argosy, December 1951
Under the thatched roof ramada that ran the length of the agency office, Travisin slouched in a canvas-backed chair, his boots proppedagainst one of the support posts. His gaze took in the sun-beaten, grayadobe buildings, all one-story structures, that rimmed the vacant quadrangle.It was a glaring, depressing scene of sun on rock, without a singleshade tree or graceful feature to redeem the squat ugliness. Therewas not a living soul in sight. Earlier that morning, his White MountainApache charges had received their two-weeks' supply of beef and flour.By now they were milling about the cook fires in front of their wickiups,eating up a two-weeks' ration in two days. Most of the Indians had builttheir wickiups three miles farther up the Gila, where the flat, dry landbegan to buckle into rock-strewn hills. There the thin, sparse Gila cottonwoodsgrew taller and closer together and the mesquite and pricklypear thicker. And there was the small game that sustained them whentheir government rations were consumed.
At the agency, Travisin lived alone. By actual count there wereforty-two Coyotero Apache scouts along with the interpreter, BarneyFry, and his wife, a Tonto woman, but as the officers at Fort Thomaslooked at it, he was living alone. There is no question that to mostyoung Eastern gentlemen on frontier station, such an alien meansof existence would have meant nothing more than a very slow way todie, with boredom reading the services. But, of course, they were notTravisin.
From Whipple Barracks, through San Carlos and on down to FortHuachuca, it went without argument that Eric Travisin was the bestApache campaigner in Arizona Territory. There was a time, of course,when this belief was not shared by all and the question would pop up often,along the trail, in the barracks at Fort Thomas, or in a Globe barroom.Barney Fry's name would always come up then -- though most discountedhim for his one-quarter Apache blood. But that was a time in the pastwhen Eric Travisin was still new; before the sweltering sand-rock Apachecountry had burned and gouged his features, leaving his gaunt face deepchiseledand expressionless. That was while he was learning that it took anApache to catch an Apache. So, for all practical purposes, he became one.Barney Fry taught him everything he knew about the Apache; then he beganteaching Fry. He relied on no one entirely, not even Fry. He followedhis own judgment, a judgment that his fellow officers looked upon as pureanimal instinct. And perhaps they were right. But Travisin understood thesteps necessary to survival in an enemy element. They weren't included inCook's "Cavalry Tactics": you learned them the hard way, and your beingalive testified that you had learned well. They said Travisin was more of anApache than the Apaches themselves. They said he was cold-blooded,sometimes cruel. And they were uneasy in his presence; he had discardedhis cotillion demeanor the first year at Fort Thomas, and in its place wasthe quiet, pulsing fury of an Apache war dance.
This was easy enough for the inquisitive to understand. But therewas another side to Eric Travisin.
For three years he had been acting as agent at the Camp Gila subagency,charged with the health and welfare of over two hundred WhiteMountain Apaches. And in three years he had transformed nomadichostiles into peaceful agriculturalists. He was a dismounted cavalry offi-cer who sometimes laid it on with the flat of his saber, but he was completelyhonest. He understood them and took their side, and theyrespected him for it. It was better than San Carlos.
That's why the conversation at the officers' mess at Fort Thomas, thirtymiles southwest, so often dwelled on him: he was a good Samaritan with aSpencer in his hand. They just didn't understand him. They didn't realize that actually he was following the line of least resistance. He was acceptingthe situation as it was and doing the best job with the means at hand. ToTravisin it was that simple; and fortunately he enjoyed it, both the fightingand the pacifying. The fact that it made him a better cavalryman never enteredhis mind. He had forgotten about promotions. By this time he wastoo much a part of the savage everyday existence of Apache country. Helooked at the harsh, rugged surroundings and liked what he saw.
He shuffled his feet up and down the porch pole and sank deeperinto his camp chair. Suddenly in his breast he felt the tenseness. Hisears seemed to tingle and strain against an unnatural stillness, and immediatelyevery muscle tightened. But as quickly as the strange feelingcame over him, he relaxed. He moved his head no more than twoinches, and from the corner of his eye saw the Apache crouched onhands and knees at the corner of the ramada. The Indian crept like ananimal across the porch, slowly and with his back arched. A pistol and aknife were at his waist, but he carried no weapon in his hands. Travisinmoved his right hand across his stomach and eased open the holsterflap. Now his arms were folded across his chest, with his right handgripping the holstered pistol. He waited until the Apache was less thansix feet away before he wheeled from his chair and pushed the longbarreledrevolving pistol into the astonished Apache's face.
Travisin grinned at the Apache and holstered the handgun. "Maybesomeday you'll do it."
The Indian grunted angrily. With victory almost in his grasp he hadfailed again. Gatito, sergeant of Travisin's Apache scouts, was an oldman, the best tracker in the Army, and it cut his pride deeply that hewas never able to win their wager ...The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. Copyright © by Elmore Leonard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard by Elmore Leonard
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