18. EHRENBERG ON THE COLORADO


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UNDER THE burning mid-day sun of Arizona, on May 16th, our six good mules, with the long whip cracking about their ears, and the ambulance rattling merrily along, brought us into the village of Ehrenberg. There was one street, so called, which ran along on the river bank, and then a few cross streets straggling back into the desert, with here and there a low adobe casa. The Government house stood not far from the river, and as we drove up to the entrance the same blank white walls stared at me. It did not look so much like a prison, after all, I thought. Captain Bernard, the man whom I had pitied, stood at the doorway, to greet us, and after we were inside the house he had some biscuits and wine brought; and then the change of stations was talked of, and he said to me, ‘‘“Now, please make yourself at home. The house is yours; my things are virtually packed up, and I leave in a day or two. There is a soldier here who can stay with you; he has been able to attend to my simple wants. I eat only twice a day; and there is Charley, my Indian, who fetches the water from the river and does the chores. I dine generally at sundown.”’’

The house was a one-story adobe. It formed two sides of a hollow square; the other two sides were a


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high wall, and the Government freight-house respectively. The courtyard was partly shaded by a ramáda and partly open to the hot sun. There was a chicken-yard in one corner of the inclosed square, and in the centre stood a rickety old pump, which indicated some sort of a well. Not a green leaf or tree or blade of grass in sight. Nothing but white sand, as far as one could see, in all directions.

Inside the house there were bare white walls, ceilings covered with manta, and sagging, as they always do; small windows set in deep embrasures, and adobe floors. Small and inconvenient rooms, opening one into another around two sides of the square. A sort of low veranda protected by lattice screens, made from a species of slim cactus, called ocotÉa, woven together, and bound with raw-hide, ran around a part of the house.

Our dinner was enlivened by some good Cocomonga wine. I tried to ascertain something about the source of provisions, but evidently the soldier had done the foraging, and Captain Bernard admitted that it was difficult, adding always that he did not require much, ‘‘“it was so warm,”’’ et cætera, et cætera. The next morning I took the reins, nominally, but told the soldier to go ahead and do just as he had always done.

I selected a small room for the baby's bath, the all important function of the day. The Indian, a fine-looking Cocopah, of about twenty-four, brought me a large tub (the same sort of a half of a vinegar


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barrel we had used at Apache for ourselves), set it down in the middle of the floor, and brought water from a barrel which stood in the corral. A low box was placed for me to sit on. This was a bachelor establishment, and there was no place but the floor to lay things on; but what with the splashing and the leaking and the dripping the floor turned to mud, and all the white clothes and towels were covered with it, and I myself was a sight to behold. The Indian stood smiling at my plight. He spoke only a pigeon English, but said, ‘‘“Too much-ee wet.”’’

I was in despair; things began to look hopeless again to me. I thought ‘‘“surely these Mexicans must know how to manage with these floors.”’’ Fisher, the steamboat agent, came in, and I asked him if he could not find me a nurse. He said he would try, and went out to see what could be done.

He finally brought in a rather forlorn looking Mexican woman leading a little child (whose father was not known), and she said she would come to us for quinze pesos a month. I consulted with Fisher, and he said she was a pretty good sort, and that we could not afford to be too particular down in that country. And so she came; and although she was indolent, and forever smoking cigarettes, she did care for the baby, and fanned him when he slept, and proved a blessing to me.

And now came the unpacking of our boxes, which had floated down the Colorado Chiquito. The fine


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damask, brought from Germany for my linen chest, was a mass of mildew; and when the books came to light, I could have wept to see the pretty editions of Schiller, Goethe, and Lessing, which I had bought in Hanover, fall out of their bindings; the latter, warped out of all shape, and some of them unrecognizable. I did the best I could, however, not to show too much concern, and gathered the pages carefully together, to dry them in the sun.

They were my pride, my best beloved possessions, the links that bound me to the happy days in old Hanover.

I went to Fisher for everything—a large, well-built American, and a kind good man. Mrs. Fisher could not endure the life at Ehrenberg, so she lived in San Francisco, he told me. There were several other white men in the place, and two large stores where everything was kept that people in such countries buy. These merchants made enormous profits, and their families lived in luxury in San Francisco.

The rest of the population consisted of a very poor class of Mexicans, Cocopah, Yuma and Mojave Indians, and half-breeds.

The duties of the army officer stationed here consisted principally in receiving and shipping the enormous quantity of Government freight which was landed by the river steamers. It was shipped by wagon trains across the Territory, and at all times the work carried large responsibilities with it.


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I soon realized that however much the present incumbent might like the situation, it was no fit place for a woman.

The station at Ehrenberg was what we call, in the army, “detached service.” I realized that we had left the army for the time being; that we had cut loose from a garrison; that we were in a place where good food could not be procured, and where there were practically no servants to be had. That there was not a woman to speak to, or to go to for advice or help, and, worst of all, that there was no doctor in the place. Besides all this, my clothes were all ruined by lying wet for a fortnight in the boxes, and I had practically nothing to wear. I did not then know what useless things clothes were in Ehrenberg.

The situation appeared rather serious; the weather had grown intensely hot, and it was decided that the only thing for me to do was to go to San Francisco for the summer.

So one day we heard the whistle of the “Gila” going up; and when she came down river, I was all ready to go on board, with Patrocina and Jesusita, * and my own child, who was yet but five months old. I bade farewell to the man on detached service, and we headed down river. We seemed to go down very rapidly, although the trip lasted several days. Patrocina took to her bed with neuralgia (or nostalgia);


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BARNEY'S STORE AT EHRENBERG, 1875


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her little devil of a child screamed the entire days and nights through, to the utter discomfiture of the few other passengers. A young lieutenant and his wife and an army surgeon were among the number, and they seemed to think that I could help it (though they did not say so).

Finally the doctor said that if I did not throw Jesusta overboard, he would; why didn't I “wring the neck of its worthless Mexican of a mother?” and so on, until I really grew very nervous and unhappy, thinking what I should do after we got on board the ocean steamer. I, a victim of seasickness, with this unlucky woman and her child on my hands, in addition to my own! No; I made up my mind to go back to Ehrenberg, but I said nothing.

I did not dare to let Doctor Clark know of my decision, for I knew he would try to dissuade me; but when we reached the mouth of the river, and they began to transfer the passengers to the ocean steamer which lay in the offing, I quietly sat down upon my trunk and told them I was going back to Ehrenberg. Captain Mellon grinned; the others were speechless; they tried persuasion, but saw it was useless; and then they said good-bye to me, and our stern-wheeler headed about and started for up river.

Ehrenberg had become truly my old man of the sea; I could not get rid of it, There I must go, and there I must stay, until circumstances and the Fates were more propitious for my departure.


Notes

*. Diminutive of Jesus, a very common name amongst the Mexicans. Pronounced Hay-soo-sÉ-ta.

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