On the Trails of the Old Kaibab
By Elsie C. Carroll
As the day of the rodeo drew near, more and more contestants gathered on the Buckskin mountain. Tents sprang up along the tree-bordered foothills of Pleasant Valley. Russell ordered extra supplies. Eating stands were erected at various points near the roping corrals. Additional waitresses and hotel lackeys were hired.
Then spectators began to arrive. Families from towns in northern Arizona and southern Utah had come to make the annual rodeo the occasion for their yearly outings. They came prepared to stay for several days or weeks. Rangers and road workers drifted in from various points of the mountain. Sporting fans from near and far gathered. There were lively betting and speculations.
Detailed programs of the affair had been posted for weeks, and each day new entrants signed up. Besides the usual contests such as roping, milking, bronco-busting and so on, there were to be novelty features and spectacular exhibitions by experts barred from the regular contests.
Three events were scheduled for women, and Steve encouraged Helen to enter the contest for roping and tying calves.
The day before the celebration, cars streamed into the park at all hours. Others came early the next morning. By noontime thousands of people filled the wide flat in front of the V.T. hotel.
It was all new to Helen. She was as excited as a child.
On the evening preceding the rodeo, Russell staged a special program. Entertainers form the Grand Canyon Lodge and from Bryce Canyon came with unique stunts. He had imported a band and two dance orchestras, and served free refreshments.
When Helen went into the hall that evening, she saw Bernice Hawley sitting by Fred Grosbeck. They were talking earnestly, and, Helen surmised, about her.
She remembered Bernice’s inquiry about Lon Dean, and her statement that her father had been looking for him. Helen had told Steve of this, but she had not confided to him her suspicion that Hawley himself was in some way connected with the cattle stealing. She was unable to understand just how this could be, but her feeling persisted.
Hawley had been absent from the Park for several days. He’d gone to Salt Lake City, presumably, for his wife. But tonight he was back again without her. Helen couldn’t recall having seen him since that night he had gone away with the red-haired stranger.
Seating herself in a corner, she watched the gathering crowd. Presently Mrs. Carter came and sat beside her.
“Have you heard the latest news about Tess Morley? They say she’s bought silk shirts for all the contestants. So everybody will get a prize whether they win or not. And after the rodeo she’s going to have everybody out to her place – that means the men, of course – for a big bonfire party with drinks and sandwiches – and,” Mrs. Carter leaned nearer and cupped her hand more closely about her mouth, “they say she’s having a lot of girls come out – to help her.”
Such gossip was so distasteful that Helen excused herself on the pretext that she had promised the waitresses she would help them make up for a stunt they were to give on the program.
As she passed Wood Russell, she commented upon the crowd.
“Yes,” he beamed, “this is the big time of the year for us. We don’t get so much of the regular tourist trade as they do at the Lodge, but this sort of evens things up in a business way, and it’s great fun besides.”
As they stood talking, Steve entered. He was handsome in new boots, trousers, and bright shirt. Helen tried to imagine how he would look in evening clothes. He would be splendid, she thought, with his striking dark face, and his tall well-built body; but he wouldn’t seem quite the same as in his picturesque cowboy costumes. No wonder Bernice was infatuated.
He crossed to her as Russell went to greet some incoming guests.
“Have you seen Uncle Billy?” he asked.
“No. Is he here? It’s ages since I saw him. Did your thieves declare a moratorium?”
“Nobody would miss the rodeo for the sake of a bunch of cattle,” Steve laughed. “Now the calves have disappeared there isn’t so much danger, though some years, I have lost bunches of young steers, and I have a good bunch there at the ranch all rounded up. I’ve left Lon and two other boys out there, but of course Wood couldn’t get along without Uncle Billy tonight. I may ride back after a while.”
“Lon? Is he able to be at work? What did he tell you?”
“Nothing. He can’t remember what happened before he was sick. Isn’t that irony, when he might be able to clear up this mess?”
“But won’t his memory come back?”
“Possibly. Doc says it happens sometimes – with a shock or something that connects with the accident that caused the lapse. But it seems so hopeless. I wish I could forget the whole darned business.”
“There’s a great crowd here, isn’t there?” Helen said; “and everyone seems happy and excited. Doesn’t Bernice Hawley look sweet?”
“Oh, yeah.” He was totally indifferent.
“I can’t understand why you treat her as you do. Everyone knows how wild she is about you. It’s too bad she doesn’t spunk up and make you jealous by flirting with someone else. If she’d do that, maybe you’d be falling over yourself to be with her, like that young flier.”
“I wish she’d try it.” Steve’s eyes rested on Helen’s profile as she stood watching the scene before them. She turned and caught a glance she had never seen in his eyes before. It sent her own pulses racing. He quickly shifted his gaze to a group near the fireplace. Just then she caught sight of Uncle Billy and rushed to him.
In another moment Wood Russell mounted the platform and the program commenced. As the great crowd in the long room sang “Out Where the West Begins,” and “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies,” Helen thrilled with a feeling that she belonged here; that these were her people. She recalled occasions in her childhood when she had experienced terrible alien sensations – feelings of homesickness for something she had never known. She used to think it was a longing for her mother, or for her father who was not much more than a dream in her life. But tonight she felt that she must have been hungering in those desolate moments for the perfect satisfaction of this moment.
After the program there was dancing. One orchestra remained in the hall. The other went to an improvised outside pavilion.
Uncle Billy drew Helen aside.
“I’m worried about Steve. He’s letting things get him down. I’ve never seen the boy so quiet and hard to get next to. He won’t talk things out like he used to. If I didn’t know him so well, I’d think maybe on top of everything else he’s in love. Last night I woke up and found him settin’ out on the steps gazin’ off into the sky. When a feller can’t sleep after bein’ on the go all day, they’s somethin’ wrong. I’m glad the rodeo has partly taken his mind from his troubles lately. But if we can’t clear this mystery up pretty soon, I don’t know what’s goin’ to happen to him.”
The music started and couples began to dance. Wood Russell led Helen to the floor and called out, “This will be a cut-in dance.”
Tess Morley, as usual, was the center of attraction. She was dressed in a striped sport suit, her dark hair bound with a band of silk blending with colors in her dress. Helen thought she had never seen a more striking figure. No wonder she was popular with the men.
Tess started the dance with Ted Reeves, drunk as usual. He was always following Tess as closely as she would allow. Presently Mr. Hawley “cut in” on Reeves. Helen noticed that they left the middle of the floor and went to a window where they stood in earnest conversation.
Wood brought her back to Uncle Billy. He pointed to Hawley and Tess, then nodded to Bernice who was watching them, anger and shame in her eyes.
“Something serious may happen in that family,” Uncle Billy said, “if Hawley don’t quit makin’ a darned fool of hisself. That nice little girl of his is mortified to death. She thinks Tess is a bad woman – like all the rest of the females around here does.”
Helen was sure that Hawley was not making love to Tess. Another link in the chain of her theory began to form. If only she might know the subject of that subdued conversation!
When the second dance started, Helen was confronted by three partners – Steve Heyden, Fred Grosbeck and Pete Rockwood.
“Thank you all,” she said laughing. “I think I’ll dance with Mr. Rockwood. I want to see when he and Pegasus will take me for a ride over the canyon.” She saw Fred and Steve talking for a moment, then Fred and Bernice began to dance and Steve disappeared.
He did not come back to the hall. Helen decided that he must have returned to the ranch. The party seemed suddenly dull, and she soon went to her cabin.
By ten o’clock the next day the rodeo was in full swing. One after another, to the stir of music and the shouts of the spectators, the scheduled events were pulled off. Helen had never witnessed such swift, sure movements, such cool daring. Each moment it seemed that some man must meet his death. The corrals were a turmoil of plunging horses, bellowing cattle, and singing ropes.
Provision had been made for possible accidents. A cabin had been fitted up for an emergency hospital, and Fred Grosbeck was on the job. Helen heard comments about accidents of previous years. Two years ago one rider had been instantly killed. Every year someone was hurt.
Tess was busy with her movie camera. She moved from place to place about the corrals, accompanied by her corps of volunteer assistants, in an effort to get the best views.
A short time after the contest started, Helen was standing not far from Mr. Hawley and Bernice when she saw Hawley walk quickly from the crowd. Alert as she had come to be of his movements, she watched him. Looking back to see if he had been observed, he moved to a clump of trees a short distance back of the hotel. Helen could see two horses, and she was sure that one was mounted. Hawley took the other horse and the two men rode into the woods. Helen couldn’t be sure, but she felt that the other rider was the sandy stranger.
Between the various types of contest events, the exhibitions by professionals were staged.
Helen did not see Steve until he rode into the corral to exhibit fancy roping. How romantic he looked circling round and round on his plunging horse, sending the long lasso whistling through the air with sure aim to the horns or hoofs of his victim. Though his maneuvers brought shouts of applause from the crowd, she found herself in an agony of fear lest he would be hurt.
During the contest which followed Steve’s exhibition, one man was hurt. He was dragged for rods by his horse and one of his hands was mangled. The sight of it made Helen ill.
Finally the roping contest for women was announced. She had wished all morning that she hadn’t entered. But now she must go through with it. There were two girls besides herself and Tess Morley. Each was to give a short demonstration of rope manipulation, then they were to compete in a calf-tying contest.
They drew for places. Helen drew second, and Tess fourth. The girl who preceded Helen did only fairly well with her rope exercises, but she was warmly cheered by the crowd.
Helen felt smothered and almost faint as she rode into the corral. How grotesque this would all seem to Aunt Nettie, to George, and to everyone she had known until two months ago! It seemed she was no longer Helen Latimer. She was Sammy Huntsman, a child of these mountains. That thought cleared her mind. She sat erect and steady, waiting. Then came the signal.
She was performing for her father whose blood surged in her veins. She was performing for Steve Heyden who was somewhere out there in that surrounding throng watching her. One after another she went through the intricate manipulations he had taught her. As she rode back to the gates, she caught sight of him standing by the judges’ platform, shouting his approval with the crowd.
Though the applause for her and for the other girls had been satisfying, when Tess rode into the enclosure, there was a wild clamor. Before she was through, however, Helen found herself cheering with the rest. The movements of the others had been true, but mechanical. Tess’s every motion was grace and poetry. She swung one coil after another as if it were play. Helen watched Steve and saw the admiration in his eyes. No wonder! They were kindred artists. When Tess finished, with the other men in the crowd Steve threw his hat into the air and shouted.
And why shouldn’t he? Helen tried to fix her mind on the roping contest which was now to begin.
Calves were turned into the corral, and at the sound of a pistol shot the four women rode in at opposite gates and each picked from the wild melee a bellowing victim. The horses plunged and reared. Helen threw her rope at one calf and missed. She wheeled and threw again. The instant her rope sailed through the air, she saw another coil coming toward the same calf. With chagrin she realized that she and Tess had lassoed the same animal. The pistol shot was heard as the two women leaped to the ground and ran to the victim to loosen their ropes. For a moment their eyes met above the struggling calf. Helen read anger and hate in the other’s black eyes. She shuddered. The thought flashed to her that this woman believed she had come to the mountain as a rival …
Burning with humiliation at the unfinished thought, Helen rode from the corral.
The judges wanted the two to contest again, but they both refused.