[From] Chapter XVIII. The Fast Woman.
THIS pleasant little history of captivity, suffering, and love, so impressively associated with the wild region through which we were passing, will be appropriately followed by the romance of an unprotected American female whom we found at the old Mission of Cocospera. All along the road we heard vague rumors of the adventures and exploits of this remarkable woman, who seemed to be ubiquitous, and to possess at least a dozen different names. Even the Mexicans, when they spoke of her, did so with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders, as much as to say she was "some" even in that country. A party of Americans whom we met at Imuriz, on their way from Hermosillo, prepared us to expect at Cocospera a valuable addition to our transport. They hinted at "a whole team" that was awaiting our arrival there, but warned us to be careful how we undertook to harness that team, as it was rather disposed to kick and bite. I must confess it was with considerable trepidation that I set out from our camp in the valley to make a sketch of the old Mission.
A more desolate-looking place than Cocospera does not perhaps exist in Sonora. A few Mexican and Indian huts, huddled around a ruinous old church, with a ghostly population of Greasers, Yaqui Indians, skeleton dogs, and seedy sheep, is all that attracts the eye of a stranger under the best circumstances. Yet here lives the father-in-law of Pesquiera, Governor of Sonora--a poor old man, with a half-Indian family of children, of whom Pesquiera's wife is one. At the date of our visit the Apaches had just cleaned out the community of nearly all the cattle and sheep it possessed, killed one man, and filled the souls of the remainder with fear and tribulation, so that the place presented a very depressed appearance. To this there was but one exception--that of our heroine, the unprotected American female. I found her sittïng upon a pile of adobes outside a dilapidated Mexican hovel, humming over in a lively strain some popular ditty of the times. Poston seemed disposed to evade the responsibility of his position as commander-in-chief of the party by introducing me to her as a gentleman of a literary turn, who had taken a lively interest in her history. She immediately arose and grasped me by the hand; I was just the man she was looking for. By the way, hadn't she seen me in Frisco? My countenance was familiar. Didn't I keep bar on Dupont Street? No? Well, by jingo! that was funny. She was very glad we had come, anyhow; shook us by the hand again very cordially; had been expecting us for several days; wanted to make tracks from Cocospera as soon as possible; was getting tired of the society; good enough people in their way, but had no snap about them. So liked people with snap. These Mexicans were dead-alive sort of cusses. The men had no grit and the women no jingle. Thought, upon the whole, Cocospera was played out, and would prefer going to Santa Cruz. She claimed to be a native of Georgia, and was strong on Southern rights. Said she had prospected awhile in Australia, and bobbed around Frisco for the last few years. Got tired of civilization, and came down in the steamer to Guyamas last July in company with "a friend," who left her at Magdalena. Another "friend" brought her up here and went "a prospecting." She had claims, and expected they would turn out rich; but, hang it all, she didn't care a cuss about the mines. The excitement pleased her; it was so jolly to be knockin' around among the Apaches! Wouldn't she like to skelp some of 'em; you bet she'd make forked meat of their ears if she once got a show at 'em! She didn't speak Spanish; had been eight days at this infernal place among a set of scallywags who didn't understand her lingo. Was about ready to change her location; didn't care a flip where it was, so there was fiddles around the premises. Was a photographer by profession; that was played out; dull work; didn't pay. Hadn't any instruments at present, and wouldn't photograph scallywags anyhow. Heigh-ho! Rickety Jo! Great country this!
Such was the style of address of this astounding female. She was sharp, thin, and energetic, not very old, and comparatively good-looking. After she had shown us around the town, making various sparkling comments upon the natives and their style of living, she ushered us into the church, smiling contemptuously at the sacred daubs on the walls.
"Look-a-here!" said she, mounting a pile of rubbish and hauling out a couple of grinning skulls from an alcove; "that's what we're all coming to. Them's monks. Don't they look jolly?"
I must confess I was a little shocked at her levity, and mumbled over something about the dust of the dead.
"Bosh!" cried the lively female; "what's the odds, so long as we're happy! Your skull and mine, and the skulls of a dozen more of us, may be foot-balls for the Apaches before a week."
I turned away and signalized Poston that we had better retire to camp. In the evening we had the honor of a visit from our fast friend. She stepped with a grand swagger into camp, nodded familiarly to the soldiers, and said, "Them's the boys I like to see."
Poston's buffalo-robe was spread on the ground close by our ambulance. Without the least hesitation she took possession of it, merely observing, "I like this. It suits me. A fellow can sleep like a top in such a bed as this!"
From time to time, as she gave us the benefit of her ideas touching the world and things generally, she laughed heartily at the figure she would cut in society, sunburnt, freckled, and dressed as she was; and varied the interest of the occasion by singing a few popular songs, and reading choice selections of poetry from a book which she pulled out of a satchel belonging to one of the party.
Having thus cast a glow of inspiration over the younger members of our command, she suddenly jumped up exclaiming, "hurrah, boys! Let's stir up the town! Who's got a fiddle? By jingo, we'll have a fandango!"
Nobody had a fiddle, but there was a guitar in camp, and it was not long before the fandango was under a full head of steam. Greasers, Yaqui Indians, soldiers, and senoritas were at it full tilt, amid all the noise and din and horrible confusion of a genuine Spanish baile. The fast woman jumped and capered and pirouetted in a style that brought down the house; and it was long after midnight when our part of the company began to straggle into camp.
As there was no room in the ambulance even for so entertaining a companion, the proposition to transport her to some point of greater security on American soil was submitted to our gallant young Lieutenant, commander of the escort. The question was debated in camp, Was an American woman to be left by an American party in the midst of an Apache country? Had her character any thing to do with the question of humanity or the duty of placing her at some point where her life would be secure? Of course not. Go she must and go she did, in the baggage-wagon. All along the road, in the wildest and most dangerous places, she popped her head out at intervals to see how things in general were flourishing; twitted the "boys" on their style of riding; sang snatches of Opera, and was especially great on ballads for the multitude.
she would scream at the top of her voice, "You bet I'll go to Frisco, a kiting, a kiting,
Thus she entertained us, and thus she clung to us; taking a grip upon our unfortunate Lieutenant that seemed likely to oblïterate him from the face of the earth. She jolted and jogged along in the baggage-wagon to Santa Cruz, and didn't like the place; she rattled on to the San Antonio ranch, and didn't yearn to stay there; she jingled away to Tubac, and considered it too infernally dull for a coyote or a wild-cat. In fact, she rather enjoyed sloshing around, and manifested a desire to accompany our expedition throughout the entire range of our travels. It was abundantly evident to us all that she was inspired with a romantic attachment for our gallant Lieutenant. The shafts of Cupid began to shoot from her glittering eyes, and their fatal influence became fearfully perceptible. He grew pale and weary; was fretful and impatient; and seemed like a man burdened with heavy cares. After a week or so it became necessary to send the wagon down to Tucson for a fresh supply of provisions. The Lieutenant brightened up; a happy thought struck him; he would shuffle off this incubus that hung upon him like a millstone. What excuse he made I never could learn, but he packed up our enterprising female, addressed a note to the officer in command at Tucson, stating the causes which had induced him to give her transportation, and sent her to that tropical region, which she thought would be congenial to her tastes. The last I heard of her she was enjoying the hospitality of our vaquero.