A CHAIN STRETCHING BACK ACROSS CENTURIES



            The small band picks its way through high grass and thorny catclaw. The youngest of the group is an 11 year old boy, his right shoulder is getting tired so he switches his German made Mauser rifle to his left and shifts his pack; the bandelier of ammunition rattling against his chest. It’s a cool winter morning and the group is both happy and anxious to return home. They’ve labored in the blazing hot cotton fields and citrus orchards of Arizona to buy the rifles and ammunition they are carrying, and they’re glad to be done with the brutally hard work. But they know that in Sonora they will be hunted. As soon as they cross the border they are entering a warzone, and if they are caught they know the consequence. One of the older men adjusts his new sandals. The night before they had cut the skin from a cow to make them. The man put his foot on the cow’s hide and cut the form from the flesh, then made a small slit to string rawhide through for a strap. It was dangerous for them to do this, and any rancher who came across the cow would know exactly what the sandal shapes cut from it meant. But it was better than walking barefoot, and they’d seen no one when they crossed north three months before. The boy cast his gaze back towards Atascosa Peak rising above the valley, and wondered how far they were from Sonora. As his mind drifted, a sharp whisper suddenly went through the group. Somebody spotted soldiers. Had the Mexican army crossed the border to find them? The group quickened its pace, moving off the ridgeline and down into an oak lined draw where they’d be harder to see. The leader of the group told them to abandon their packs and take only the weapons and ammunition.

            They moved as silently as possible, but behind them they could hear the sound of horses whinnying as they approached closer, and then the noise of the soldiers dismounting and advancing towards them. The leader of the group told 20 of the 30 men to take most of the ammunition and head south as fast as possible. 10 stayed behind, including the boy. He hid his small frame behind an oak tree and waited, trying not to exhale too loudly. The crunching of fallen leaves under cavalry boots was getting louder. With a shout the men around him began firing. This was his first fight. He levelled his rifle, almost as tall as him, as blue coated soldiers dove behind boulders and trees, and pulled the trigger. His shot went high and the recoil hurt his shoulder, but he worked the bolt and fired again. The leader of his group was sprinting from a tree to a large rock, when a bullet struck one of the rounds he carried in a belt around his chest. He was temporarily engulfed in a flash of light but held to the granite stone to keep his footing. The men fired and moved, slowing the pursuit of the cavalrymen. It had been long enough for the others to get away, so one man popped up and began waving his hands in surrender. The blue coats cautiously moved in, weapons raised. As they got nearer the boy saw that these were not Mexican soldiers, they were mostly black, with one or two white men who looked like officers. These were U.S. cavalry. The now surrounded Yaquis breathed a collective sigh of relief. At least capture by the Americans meant prison or labor, and not instant death.





Mark