Hell found me. That thought was running around my head as I lay in a small gully on the Mexican border with part of an Apache arrow sticking out of my leg, listening to the screams of four of my fellow troopers being tortured about 100 yards away.
Earlier that day, the five of us were looking for a break in the telegraph line between Lordsburg and Gila Bend, when we were ambushed by twelve Apaches who had left the reservation at San Carlos. The fort wasn't aware of the breakout, since the wire had been cut the previous night, so we weren't being especially cautious about the possibility of an ambush. There had not been any Apache trouble in weeks.
Our first warning of the attack from the surrounding rocks was when I got an arrow in my leg, as we rode around a bend in the trail. We galloped away, trying to reach the rocks at the end of the dry wash, not knowing there were six more Indians in those rocks. I fell off my horse, and scrambled into a bush just before the attacking Indians came into sight, chasing my fellow troopers. Half the arrow has broken off when I fell. The remaining Apaches were waiting about 200 yards down the draw, and captured the other four troopers. As yet, they hadn't seen me, but as soon as they saw a fifth horse, they would come looking.
I had crawled over some sharp rocks for about fifteen feet to a juniper bush, hurting every bone in my body, but I knew that wasn't a sufficient hiding place, and I frantically looked for a better place to conceal myself. About fifty feet away was a large stand of buffalo grass about two feet high, but I knew that if went directly there, I would leave a trail a blind Apache grandmother could follow. I had to stay on the sharp rocks. I figured I had about five or six minutes to get hidden before they saw me, so I crawled across the rocks around the grass, dragging my wounded leg behind me. I tried my best not to leave any blood drops that they would see.
As I crawled into the edge of the grass from the side of the field, I noticed a small wash, caused by the runoff from some of the annual flash floods. I crawled into the almost invisible wash, hoping to get far enough to be hidden by the buffalo grass growing on the flat ground. Luckily, I was completely hidden after I had gone about thirty feet up the shallow ditch. I could hear three or four Apaches riding back up the wash to find the owner of the fifth horse. I was afraid to move, lest one of them would see the grass move. I waited, hardly breathing, for three hours, until dark, while four Apaches walked within twenty feet of my shallow ditch, scouring the area for me. They finally decided I was in the rocks, and moved about a hundred yards away. That's when I started to hear the screams. They searched about thirty minutes, and went back to join in the fun.
As the wind shifted, I began to smell the burning flesh. I knew that if they found me, I would join the others in Hell before I died a horrible death. I had to ignore the pain in my leg and wait quietly, completely still, until they left, but I had no idea when that would be. I began to hear an occasional rattle from a snake's tail. Until then, I hadn't had time to think of the rattlesnakes, or scorpions, or fire ants, or Gila monsters that I was sharing my space with. I began to wonder if they would be attracted to my sweat. Since it was over a hundred degrees in the Arizona desert most of the time in July, I was soaking wet in my wool uniform. I've never been so uncomfortable and terrified in my life; not even in a fight where troopers around me were shot. At least, I had been able to shoot back. This time, the only weapon I had was to hide. I had no control. Maybe this is what Hell is; no control over what will happen. Maybe the Apaches would leave in the morning for the safety of Mexico. The border was only twenty miles away. Since my canteen was still tied to my saddle, I had no water, but I was determined to stay hidden until tomorrow night. I felt I could find water in a barrel cactus within a couple of miles. It was only twelve miles to the fort. Maybe I could make it back in the dark, if the Indians would leave for Mexico tomorrow.
My leg began to throb, and I thought it probably was becoming infected. I started to try to turn over, but I felt something rub my foot for about fifteen seconds. I couldn't see anything in the dark, but about a minute later, I heard a loud rattle coming from just the other side of my foot. I didn't sleep the rest of the night.
At first light, I could still smell the burned flesh of the captive troopers. I had to really make an effort to keep from throwing up, trying to imagine what my friends went through before they died. It did no good to waste my diminishing energy hating the Apache. That was just the way they were. They just wanted to see how brave their enemies were before they died. Each Apache probably expected the same treatment for himself if he happened to be captured. What good would it do to hate the Gila monster if you got bitten when you accidentally sat down on one? That's what they do. This is the desert. Everything you find in the desert will either cut you, or stick you, or sting you, or bite you, or kill you. That's just the way it is.
I gently parted a little bit of the grass, and saw several buzzards circling the area where the Indians had camped. I couldn't hear any noise at all. The desert was completely silent. I decided to wait until about noon before I left my hiding place. About two hours passed, and I heard a single horse snort as it passed about fifty yards from my hiding place. A single Indian had stayed behind, in case I showed up. I waited another hour, all was quiet. I crawled into the rocks above the dry wash, and eased my way toward the camp. It took me over an hour to crawl through the rocks until I could look down on the camp. The Apaches were gone, but I was sickened by the sight of my friends' burned bodies. They had been hung upside down from poles, their heads about two feet above the still smoldering fires. The tracks of about a dozen horses showed the Indians had gone south, toward the Mexican border. I finally convinced myself that they hadn't left one of the braves behind to wait for me to appear, and limped toward a barrel cactus about two hundred yards away. I needed water real bad.
I sat under a small tree, savoring the juicy pulp from the cactus, replenishing some of the fluid my body had lost, and trying to get comfortable. I was hoping the colonel would send a patrol to find out why we hadn't returned from our wire-mending trip yesterday. In the middle of the afternoon, I saw a dust cloud about two miles away, I crawled behind some large rocks and waited. Twenty minutes later, I saw the men of C Troop round the bend in the trail. I had never been so happy to see these dirty, smelly soldiers as I was now. I made my report to the lieutenant, and drank a whole canteen of water while a couple of troopers made a travois to carry me back.
As I was lying on the newly-made travois, I thought about the Devil finding me. I decided that he just gave me a taste of Hell for a few hours as a joke, and moved on to my friends for the serious fun. Their Hell was much worse than mine. I still remembered every detail of that incident when I retired from the army, twenty-five years later. I even became friends with a couple of Apache scouts a few years later, but I never forgot that night in the buffalo grass.