Mystery, romance, and outdoor adventure follow Helen as she explores the old southwest region beloved by her long-deceased father.
From the Relief Society Magazine, 1936-37 –
On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
For miles the bus had scudded along the oiled road stretching like an endless black snake through the Arizona desert. Then it began to climb up the Colorado Plateau. As the heat of the desert was left behind, Helen Latimer began to feel the lure and mystery of this new country. It was pushing into the background of her consciousness that spectre of disillusionment and domestic tragedy which had so recently come into her life, and it was bringing back forgotten stories of the West her father had told her long ago.
She leaned forward and touched the bus-driver’s arm.
“Is this the Kaibab Forest?”
“Not yet, Miss. We’re going up La Fever Ridge now. The Kaibab is on top, near the rim of the Grand Canyon. This your first trip?”
“Yes. But I’ve heard so much about the country – the Buckskin Mountains, Jacob’s Lake, V.T. Park, House Rock Valley, Kaibab trails, that it seems I should know it. It means more to me than to the ordinary tourist.”
“Yes?” The young drive turned to look at her. “You’re from Chicago, aren’t you? Some of your friends been out?”
“Ye-e-s–.” she offered nothing more, recalling a determination of her childhood to come West incognito when she was grown and search out puzzling things about her father’s life – and death. Aunt Nettie had pretty well squelched those romantic plans, and had convinced her of the foolishness of her vague belief that she might be the owner of the lands and cattle. Still the lure of the old desires had remained, and when she had faced the wreck of her matrimonial venture and the need to find a new perspective on life, those forgotten dreams had beckoned her.
Now she was actually coming into her father’s world – the only world, she had long known, that had ever really meant anything to him, even during the years he had abandoned it after that cattle-selling trip to Chicago which had culminated in his romantic meeting with her mother and their impetuous marriage.
The details of this part of his story she had heard frequently from Aunt Nettie.
She also had thrilling memories of visits from her father, after her mother’s death, happy hours when sitting on his knee, she had listened to songs and stories about campfires, dogs, coyotes, and great stretches of blue sky which she would see when she was old enough to go with him.
There had always been a glamour for her in the mere thought of the West. She often tried to picture the life she would have led in this land, had her father lived. She recalled that day nearly twelve years ago, which brought the brief message of his tragic death. He had been riding along a trail of the Grand Canyon when his horse had slipped and they had both crashed to instant death.
She had begged Aunt Nettie to bring her out to see if they could not recover the body and take it back to rest beside her mother’s. Now she realized that the canyon he had loved was a more fitting resting place.
It was all just as her father had pictured: endless stretches of blue sky, oceans of pines and quaking aspens, and over all a brooding presence which seemed to enfold her with a vague sweet mystery.
The bus turned into the clearing at Jacob’s Lake and the passengers hurried to the lodge near the filling station for sandwiches and drinks. As they were about to get into the bus again, the driver spoke to Helen.
“You see that point over there? It’s just this side of V.T. Park. We are in the Kaibab Forest now.”
She thrilled as they passed through the cool shade of the tall timber, catching frequent glimpses of deer bounding among the trees. No wonder her father had returned like a homing pigeon to this land which had produced him.
Engine trouble delayed the party so they did not reach V.T. Park until after dark, though they were scheduled to be there at five o’clock and to reach Bright Angel Point for dinner at six.
As they rolled down into Pleasant Valley, the lights from the V.T. Hotel gleamed in the distance and Helen became excited. Perhaps at this very place she might meet someone who had known her father.
“The schedule calls for a short stop here,” said the driver, “but it’s too late now to see anything. Maybe you’d rather go on to Bright Angel after I get some gas. You can stop here on our way back.”
“How far is it to Bright Angel Point?” the fat man on the rear seat wanted to know. “I’m starved.”
“It’s only eighteen miles.”
“Isn’t it here they have such interesting programs?” one of the lady pedagogues behind Helen asked.
“They have swell programs at all the stopping places,” the driver replied. “You can’t beat the show they put on at Bright Angel. Most of the hash-slingers and garage fellows are professional entertainers.”
“But it isn’t professional entertainment we’re interested in,” objected one of the school teachers. “We can get that at home. Someone told us that at this V.T. place they have genuine cowboys who sing and tell stories and that there’s a quaint old mountain scout who knows wonderful Indian legends.”
“Uncle Billy Crossly,” the driver laughed. “He’s – what you call it – quaint enough. And what he doesn’t know about the Indians and the early cattle kings he lets his imagination fill in. He used to pal around with Uncle Jim Owens and other interesting characters of the old days.”
Jim Owens. Helen was sure she had heard that name from her father.
“I should like to stop here, too,” she said quickly.
“If you’d all like to, we could stop for the V.T. program and then drive on out to the lodge.”
There was general assent and the driver pulled over near the hotel.
“What’s your program tonight, Wood?” he called to a man who opened the door. “Uncle Billy on?”
The name Crossly had been tantalizing Helen, and now she remembered: that was the name signed to the letter about her father’s death.
“Yes, and we have some special numbers from the Kaibab Buckaroos who are going to play for the dance. Then there’s a talk from a university prof on the botany of the Buckskin, and a stunt or two. Afterwards of course, the usual hoedown.”
The tourists began to climb out.
“The Buckaroos are just tuning up,” Russell added as the company came into the lobby. He nodded toward a door at their left.
Helen looked into the immense log room from which came the sound of voices mingled with the strumming of banjos and guitars. Most of the bus party crowded around the lunch counter, but she was fascinated by this entertainment hall.
A log fire burned in a great open fireplace. The walls were hung with bright Navajo rugs, deer heads and cougar skins. Over the mantel was a painting of the Grand Canyon; in one corner was a cabinet filled with Indian relics.
Groups of people laughed and chatted. On a platform five young men in leather chaps, bright flannel shirts and silk neckerchiefs, sat on tree stumps, singing cowboy ballads to banjo accompaniment.
A group of tourists near the fireplace was absorbed in a wiry little man with white hair and mustache, brown leathery skin, and darting black eyes. Helen’s breath quickened. Even before Wood Russell spoke, she knew this man was Uncle Billy Crossly, a comrade of her father’s.
“Would you like to go in and meet some of these people?” the genial young proprietor asked. “The rest of your party will come when they have finished eating.”
“Is that animated old man there by the fire your Uncle Billy Crossly?”
“Good guess,” laughed Russell. “Uncle Billy’s getting a great rep. You tourists are spoiling him through. He almost feels that it was him instead of God that made the Buckskin Mountains and the Grand Canyon.”
He led her to the group by the fire.
“Uncle Billy, here’s a young lady who’s heard of you from afar and has come miles to meet you. Uncle Billy Crossly, the famous mountain scout, Miss – excuse me, I didn’t get your name.”
“Mrs. Latimer.” Helen extended her hand.
The old man got to his feet and peered at her. Helen thought his expression changed. Did she remind him of her father? Her red hair and her mouth were like his, but the likeness must be stronger than she had thought, if this old man who didn’t know she was Sam Huntsman’s daughter noticed it.
“Uncle Billy,” Russell continued, “is a man of two generations. He knows all that’s going on now, and he knows more about Indians and cowpunchers of the past than any man in the West.”
“You don’t want to pay no attention to what Wood says,” the old fellow chuckled. “I ain’t half as notorious as he makes out. But I do enjoy spinnin’ yarns about this great old country. Won’t you join our circle, Miss?”
He introduced her to the others in the group and drew a chair for her.
The Buckaroos suddenly began singing about “Rattlesnake Joe and his Strawberry Roan,” and all eyes were turned in their direction.
“Did I understand Wood to say you was Mrs. Latimer?” Uncle Billy asked Helen when the song ended.
“Yes. Mrs. George Latimer.” She wasn’t yet ready to make known that she was also a Huntsman.
“You look young to be a missus, and I thought – well, for a minute you reminded me of someone I used to know.”
“That’s interesting. I’ve never in my life been mistaken for another person.” She was trembling with excitement.
“Oh, I didn’t really take you for somebody else. You just made me think of someone. Your red hair and something about your eyes and chin.”
Then he had known her father.
“You’ve been here on the mountain a long time, haven’t you?” She must keep him talking.
“A long time as you young folks reckon it. I used to ride the trails of old Kaibab with my father fifty years ago – long before anybody had discovered that the Grand Canyon was anything but a big crack in the earth. And I used to spend weeks at a time with Uncle Jim Owens, and more’n once when I was a kid, I helped him tree his cougars. When I was older, he got to depending on me quite a lot. I had some mighty interesting experiences at his camp. I recollect one that happened about forty years ago when me and a youngster a little younger’n me – by the way, it was the chap you made me think of –w as stayin’ with Uncle Jim for a few days. This other kid, Sam Huntsman, had just come out from Texas.”
Helen leaned forward breathlessly, but the story was cut short by Wood Russell’s announcement, “Uncle Billy Crossly will now tell one of his famous Indian legends.”
Excusing himself the old scout walked to the platform. His short legs were stiff with age and bowed from long years in the saddle; yet he walked with as much of a swagger as did the young buckaroos who were coming down into the hall.
“Wood here said I’d tell a Indian story,” he began, “but instid I’m goin’ to tell a cougar story that has jist come to my mind. You’ve all heard of Uncle Jim Owens who used to live out here in Wooley’s Canyon with his blooded dogs and do the unbelievinest things that ever happened out of books. Well, I used to stay with Uncle Jim and help him. One time, another feller and me was at his camp when something happened that proves that all that’s been wrote and told about the old trapper ain’t stretched none. The day I’m thinkin’ about, this pal, Sam Huntsman, and me went out with Uncle Jim to look for cougar tracks near some of his snares. We found two set of tracks, and Sam and me begged Uncle Jim to let us foller one of ‘em. He warned us not to go far, and told us what to do in case we met up with a cougar.”
Helen followed eagerly. Uncle Billy made his narrative dramatic, heroizing the old trapper who came to the rescue of the amateurs just in time to save them from death.
As the old scout came down from the stage, he was intercepted by a group of tourists at the other end of the room from Helen. She was disappointed, but soon became interested in other people about her.
There were besides the tourists, little groups of young people – cowboys, waitresses, road workers, forest rangers. Her own bus party were sitting near the door which led to the lobby. Presently one of them, a Miss Fitzgerald from Utica with whom Helen had become friendly during the trip, crossed to her.
“Isn’t this interesting?” she gushed. “I’ve never seen such a quaint, unusual gathering before in my life. the bus driver was just telling us that people come here from all over the mountain for these entertainments. Such unique characters! See that handsome young giant over there in the beaded buckskin vest. He’s a young cattle owner, Heyden, the best bronco-buster on the whole plateau. And that little blonde by the fat woman the other side of him is crazy about him. She’s the daughter of another rich cattle owner, Mr. Hawley, whose wife comes out here every summer to keep him from flirting with pretty young tourists.”
“Well, you have been getting the news,” laughed Helen.
“And see there’s a lady Walter Winchell, the long-faced woman with her hand up to her mouth sitting by one of our school moms. She’s been giving us the lowdown on everybody. Look at that exotic woman in the striped riding habit. She’s an expert horsewoman and has a place of her own out a little farther on the mountain which, according to Mrs. Grundy, is all too popular with the men. She keeps blooded dogs and polo horses and goes all over the mountain taking movie pictures of different things going on. I don’t blame the men for being interested in her, do you? She’s charming. But according to the gossip lady, she should be barred from the mountain.”
“How interesting.” Helen was still watching Uncle Billy.
“Why, I’ve heard enough human interest stories already to make a book,” Miss Fitzgerald continued. “I wish I could stay right here all summer. Romantic, isn’t it?”
A thought flashed suddenly to Helen. Why not stay? She’d come with only two definite ideas in mind: to get away while she was adjusting to her break with George, and to see the country her father had loved. She’d do it: stay right here, learn all she could about her father, and until she was absolutely sure about her feelings toward George.
The program ended and the buckaroos went back to the platform. A waitress took her seat at the piano; a bell-boy appeared with a saxophone. As their music filled the room, couples on all parts of the floor started to dance.
The bus driver came to Helen and Miss Fitzgerald.
“Are you ready to go on to the Lodge now?”
Before they could answer, Wood Russell and the tall young cattle owner Miss Fitzgerald had pointed out, stood before Helen.
“Mrs. Latimer, may I present Mr. Steve Heyden and recommend him as a dancing partner?”
“I believe we are just leaving.” she looked at the bus driver.
“Oh, go on and dance with Steve. Old man Vandyke can snooze out there in the dining room five minutes longer.”
“I had almost decided not to go on to the Lodge tonight anyway,” she said. Her eyes wandered toward Uncle Billy again. “I’m not going back with the bus this trip, and I might as well stay here in the park a while before going on to the canyon – if Mr. Russell has room for me.”
“Sure thing,” assured Russell. “There are chances every day to get out to Bright Angel.”
“Are you cancelling your return ticket, then?” the driver asked.
“Yes. When I left home my plans were somewhat uncertain; but now I have decided to stay here a while.”
“You lucky thing,” sighed Miss Fitzgerald. “How I envy you!”
“Go on and dance,” Russell told her. “I’ll see about your luggage.”