By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne want to earn money to help their parents come from England to America. As they are traveling with their uncle and aunt from Salt Lake to Arizona, a great storm comes up and they find shelter in an old house with a group of people who are going to the rich mines at Tombstone, Arizona.
After supper Prudy sings some hymns. Mr. Gilbert Treuman is so impressed with her faith and her singing that he offers her a large sum of money to come to Tombstone and sing in the hotel he is planning to conduct. Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon turn down the offer, but Prudy plans to accept it.
“Mr. Treuman,” Prudy said, wrapping her hand in the full skirt of her best pinafore.
Mr. Treuman turned from supervising the harnessing of his sorrel mares to his highly polished carriage. “Why, it’s my little hymn singer. I hope you have come to tell me that your uncle and aunt have changed their minds and are allowing you to come on to Tombstone with us. Or better yet, that they can see the opportunities there and are going to head along with us.”
Prudy shook her head and the morning sun glinted on her golden brown curls. “No, sir. They haven’t changed their minds. Last night I decided that I would go on with you no matter what they said.”
Mr. Treuman’s face broke into a smile and he turned the curled end of his mustache with long white fingers. “That’s the spirit. I’m –”
Prudy hurried to say, “But this morning I’ve changed my mind. I came to tell you that I thank you for your kind offer but that I can’t do it.” She looked up into the man’s kind face. “You see I wanted the money very much. My father and mother are still in England and they haven’t enough money to come to America. The money you offered me would bring them here, but –”
“Yes, go on.”
“But after all, Sir, we’re Latter-day Saints and money can’t come first with us even when we need it terribly. So – I thank you.”
Mr. Treuman still smiled, but his smile was more than kind. It was one of admiration. “And you just ten,” he said. “I know men and women who don’t think as straight as you do.” He twirled his mustache, then said thoughtfully, “Not that I don’t think you’re foolish. God gave you that voice and He expects you to make something with it.”
Prudy spoke slowly. “I know that. But I think He will tell me when.”
She didn’t see Mr. Treuman again for many days. The two wagon trains ran along together, making a twisting cavalcade over the red and yellow desert; but the Treuman carriage and the other light vehicles were in the lead and the heavy wagons of the Saints were at the very end of the line.
At night the groups camped separately. Sometimes as Prudy lay in her bed she could hear Sam playing his guitar in the evening cool and the voices of the prospectors singing their doleful love songs were almost as clear as if the two camps were close together. Prudy wished something would happen to bring the two groups together again. Traveling was very dull through the never changing scenery, and she and John were both disappointed in the muddy, slow flowing Colorado.
When they reached Lee’s Ferry, her wish came true. When the first vehicles pulled up at the river’s edge the ferry man called, “I’m sorry. You folks’ll have to take the upper ferry.”
“Upper ferry? Nonsense,” one of the men yelled. “It’s your business too –”
The whole cavalcade rumbled to a stop and someone came running back to the rear wagons calling for Brother Roly. Prudy and John, tingling with excitement, jumped from their places in the wagons and ran forward, close on Brother Roly’s heels.
Brother Roly was out of breath and red faced when he reached the ferry, but the look of importance changed his jolly features to a dignified mask. “What’s wrong here, Brother?” he asked without impatience.
“Ferry’s out of order. You can either camp here for five or six days when I’ll more than likely be able to take you over, or you can go on up to the upper ferry.”
“Upper ferry.” Brother Roly scratched his head. “Why, yes, I’ve been across there several times when the floods have made this ferry impassable.” He turned to the large crowd congregating on the river’s edge. “I vote for the upper ferry. What do you all say?”
Mr. Treuman got out of his carriage. “Is it safe?” he asked. “Mrs. Treuman is a very nervous person and I’d rather wait here indefinitely than–”
“Safe enough – the ferry’s safe enough. The only risk you’d run at all would be going up over Lee’s Backbone.”
Brother Roly raised his shoulders in a shrug. “Oh, that. It’s hard work for man and beast and I’ve seen loaded wagons hitched to good teams go end over end down the mountainside, but –”
“Then we shan’t try it,” Mr. Treuman said. “That is, if we can provision here for the extra time we’ll be on the road.”
“No chance of that,” the ferryman said. “We haven’t yet freighted in our winter supplies.”
“We’ve plenty,” Uncle Simon said, stepping into the growing circle of travelers. “But if the road is passable at all I think God would see us through.”
Mr. Treuman looked at Uncle Simon. “You Latter-day Saints speak as if God were just around the next bend in the road.”
“He’s closer than that,” Uncle Simon said.
“Mr. Treuman shook his head. “I wish that the rest of us could feel that way.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” one of the rough miners questioned rudely.
Brother Roly took charge. “All those for Upper Ferry signify it by raising the right hand.”
Nearly every hand went up and the drivers went back to their vehicles. Every one looked to Brother Roly for leadership.
“You don’t want all this light stuff up front,” he said, signaling some of the carriages to move out of the line and make room for the heavier wagons of the Saints. When the line moved again there was a carriage, then a wagon, then another carriage, and another wagon. Directly behind Uncle Simon’s wagon was the carriage of Mr. Treuman, and behind that was the wagon with John holding the lines and Aunt Aggie sitting firm-lipped beside him.
“What’s a back-bone?” Prudy wanted to know.
“Well, I know what a real backbone is, don’t you?” Uncle Simon laughed. “Don’t you remember the weather bleached skeleton of the rabbit that you and John saw several days ago?”
“Of course I do.” Prudy thought of the knobbed spine and the ribs curving from it. “But I don’t see –”
“I don’t either. Perhaps we shall in a minute.”
But the cavalcade moved on and nothing like a backbone came into view. The seldom-used road was rough and narrow, but it was not unusually dangerous. When the first wagon driver saw the ferry in the distance, he fired a shot to call the ferryman. The ferryman took his time about coming out of his cabin. Several of the wagons were waiting at the river’s edge when he appeared. He threw up his hands when he saw the long cavalcade. “This ferry’s for emergency only,” he cried. “I can’t take care of a crowd like this.”
Several of the Tombstone group began to shout. “Why did they send us here, then?” “We aren’t going back now.” “You take us across, or–”
Uncle Simon got out of the wagon and called to John to come and hold the horses. Prudy climbed down, too, and put her hand in her uncle’s. “We’ll go up front and see what’s what,” he said.
Brother Roly was talking to the ferryman. “I’ve been over this road lots of times before,” he said, putting his hand on the ferryman’s shoulder. “The first time was when I was just married and was headed for Mexico. The Colorado was in flood then, and trees as big as barges were sailing down. My wife whispered that it would be romantic to die together, but–”
“Let’s get on,” one of the miners interrupted rudely.
“But I didn’t want to die, romantically or otherwise. You remember us, don’t you? She was a little thing with –”
The ferryman’s face broke into a broad smile. “I remember, all right. Sure I do. How many of these folks are your friends?”
Brother Roly’s short arm made a sweeping gesture.” All of ’em.” The ferryman’s face creased into a frown and Brother Roly hurried on. “Oh, we’re willing to take our time. And we’ll take care of tearing down our vehicles and putting them back together ourselves. You just get us over. I wouldn’t be surprised if we could float the horses.”
“See here,” one of the men shouted. “I’m not ripping my rig to pieces. I’m –”
Brother Roly spoke quietly, but with authority. “Then go back to the lower ferry and wait for repairs on it. Those who cross here are doing as I say.”
“Where shall we begin?” Uncle Simon asked and Prudy danced with impatience.
“I’ll pick out some men who are good with horses from our crowd,” Brother Roly said. He turned to Mr. Treuman. “You do the same from your crowd. If we’re going to swim the horses over we’ve got to have men that can handle them.”
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Treuman said as politely as if Brother Roly were a king or something. “But I’d like someone to sit with my wife. She’s terribly nervous. I don’t like to leave her alone.”
Uncle Simon put his hand on Prudy’s shoulder. “You go and tell your aunt to come and sit with Mrs. Treuman. You’ll have to hold the horses until they’re sent for. Tell John to stay with the other team.”
Prudy was reluctant to leave the scene of excitement, but she was away on the run to do as Uncle Simon had asked. Outwardly everything seemed quiet, but inside of her she felt the thrill of approaching excitement. Aunt Aggie hurried away to sit with Mrs. Treuman and Prudy climbed into the wagon to hold the horses. For a time she sat on the spring seat, holding loosely to the lines; then she got out and stood at the animals’ heads. It seemed ages before two of the men, Brother Simmons and Brother Peterson, came for the horses. The two men were wet from head to foot and Prudy’s eyes widened. “How–? what?” she stammered.
“Come see for yourself, Sissy,” they advised her.
Uncle Simon hadn’t given her anything to do after the horses were taken, so she followed them to the river’s edge. The muddy water was filled with swimming horses. Some had riders on their backs. Brother Simmons rode Bonny into the stream. As the water lifted her from her feet she shivered and plunged. For a second or two Brother Simmons held on, then he was unseated. With a great shout he took after Bonny with long even strokes of his powerful arms. When he could touch her, he took hold of her tail with both hands and floated after her, singing a funny song. Everybody was laughing and shouting, and the river looked like a carnival.
“My, I’d like to be in the water!” Prudy said to no one in particular.
“You may be yet,” John answered. He had been freed from his job with the horses when the men came to swim them across.”You should see how small the boat is. Doesn’t look too safe to me.” He was silent for a minute, then he said wistfully, “I wish some day I could learn to ride like those men. Doesn’t it look fun!”
“Yes, it does,” Prudy said practically. “But since we can’t, we might find something else to do.”
They turned from the river and went over to where a group of men were taking the carriages and wagons to pieces. Uncle Simon put John to work at once. “Stand by, Prudy,” he said. “Maybe some errands for you.”
She watched the vehicles taken apart, loaded on to the small ferry boat and carried across. Mr. Treuman had taken off his beautiful flowered waistcoat and coat and was busy supervising the loading.
At last the horses were all on the other side, shaking themselves to dry their thin summer coats. It took a much longer time to get the vehicles over, but the men fell at once to reassembling them. Last of all, a few at a time, the women and children were ferried across in the little boat. Aunt Aggie, calm and cheerful, stood with Mrs. Treuman’s trembling hand between her two strong capable ones. “Well, I guess we’re the last, Mrs. Treuman. Our turn now.”
Mrs. Treuman looked out over the river and the shadows were purple under her faded gray eyes.”You go on.” She tried to draw away from Aunt Aggie’s encouraging grasp. “I’m not going to cross. I’m afraid of water, I tell you.”
Aunt Aggie’s voice was patient. “I’m not going to leave you. You’ll feel better in a few minutes.”
“I’m afraid of the water. I hate it. I –” Mrs. Treuman was crying hysterically and Aunt Aggie’s eyes sent a message to Prudy. She slipped away and hurried down to where the ferryman was filling his boat for the last trip.
“Have you seen Mr. Gilbert Treuman?” she asked him.
“On the other side,” he answered laconically.
“I just must see him.”
“Well, climb in and I’ll bring you back.”
Prudy climbed into the boat with some misgivings. It looked so very small. But when the little flat bottomed skiff left the shore, she was surprised at its steadiness. “Almost like land,” she thought. “What has Mrs. Treuman to be afraid of?”
As soon as the boat touched shore she ran to find Mr. Treuman. A dark shadow of worry crossed his face when Prudy gave him the message. “Thank you,” he said briefly and strode away. Prudy didn’t go back with the boatman, but went to look for John. Mr. Treuman and the ferryman crossed alone.
Prudy didn’t find John at once so she returned to the shore to wait for Aunt Aggie. It seemed a long time before the boat came. Both Aunt Aggie and Mr. Treuman were holding fast to Mrs. Treuman. Prudy could hear her excited crying above the noise of the men assembling the vehicles. She was still saying, “I’m not going to cross. I’m afraid of water, I tell you.”
The men worked rapidly at putting the wagons together and reloading them, but it was sundown before the task was finished. “We better wait until morning to cross the backbone,” Brother Roly told the crowd. “It’s bad enough by day. It would be a nightmare by night.”
The next morning Brother Roly again assumed the leadership. “Most of you folks better walk,” he ordered.”It’s safer that way, and it helps the horses.”Then, when the first teams had started up the impossible grade, he came down the line saying, “Unload the wagons. We’ll get the vehicles over then we’ll bring the horses back, strap the stuff on their backs and lead them up again.”
The wagons lurched to a stop, and while the men worked at unloading Prudy studied “Lee’s Backbone.” It was easy to see how it got its name. The backbone, itself, was the high ridge of a rocky mountain. The canyons, instead of cutting through the mountain as they did in Utah, were deep gullies that cut far into the mountainside, but didn’t cut through the ridge at all. They were really gorges that made the high rocky places between them seem like the ribs of a naked skeleton. The road they were to travel went up over one of these ribs and there was a deep gorge at each side of it. Prudy remembered what Brother Roly had said about wagons going end over end down the gorges. She could see how that would be very, very easy!
Uncle Simon touched Prudy on the shoulder. “I’m going to take the head of the horses. You come along behind. The road is so steep most of the way that we’ll have to block the wheels with rocks every time the horses pull the wagon a foot or two forward.” His steady eyes studied Prudy. “It will be heavy work. Do you think you can do it?”
“Of course I can,” Prudy answered. Behind her she could see Aunt Aggie at the head of the second team and John preparing to carry the rocks that were needed.
Then the climb began. Uncle Simon urged the team to a special effort. The wagon moved forward less than a yard. Prudy lugged at a great rock and pushed it against a back wheel while the horses rested for the next pull. Over and over again this was repeated. Perspiration ran from Prudy’s forehead and into her eyes until she was almost blinded. She tried not to look below, even when she was placing the rocks. The road was barely wider than the wagon, and a misstep on either side would mean a long, long fall.
“Want to rest a minute, Prudy?” Uncle Simon called, concern in his voice.
“No. I want to get to the top,” Prudy called back.
Then someone ahead called, “Stop!”
Uncle Simon echoed the word. “Stop!”
Somebody behind them took it up. “Stop!”
The word echoed down the line. There was much shouting as the people, red faced and puffing with exertion, blocked the wheels to keep the vehicles from rolling backwards. Uncle Simon ran toward the head of the line to find out what was the matter. “I wonder what’s the matter,” John called to Prudy.
“A broken wagon,” someone guessed.
“Maybe a carriage has gone over the ridge.”
“An injured horse. Once when we were–”
But Uncle Simon came running back. “It’s that woman again,” he said with disgust in his voice. “She won’t ride and she won’t walk.”
All at once Prudy knew what she must do. When Mr. Treuman had told her that morning after the blizzard on Boat Mountain, “God gave you that voice and He expects you to make something with it,” she had answered, “I know. And I think He will tell me when.” Now it was as if Heavenly Father’s spirit had spoken to her. “Uncle Simon,” she said, her chin lifting with determination,”I’ll be back in a minute. I’ve got to see Mrs. Treuman.”
The feeling that she had some thing she must do helped her to pick her way around the vehicles that took all of the narrow precipitous road. At last she came to the Treuman carriage. Mrs. Treuman, crowded into one corner of the seat, looked something like a badly frightened child, something like a very old woman.
Prudy touched her hand, and the woman opened her eyes. “I came to sing for you,” Prudy said softly.
Prudy climbed into the carriage and sat down beside her. She didn’t know why she chose the song she did. She wasn’t even sure that she could remember all the words; but her voice, filled with perfect faith and confidence, rang out clear and sweet:
“Come unto Jesus, ye heavy laden,
Careworn and fainting, by sin oppressed;
He’ll safely guide you unto that haven
Where all who trust Him may rest.
Pray unto Jesus, He’ll surely hear you,
If you in meekness, plead for His love;
Oh, know you not His angels are near you
From His bright mansions above?”
For a moment, Mrs. Treuman didn’t speak. She reached out, took Prudy’s hand and held it tightly between her own thin, blue veined ones. “Do you believe that, child? That Jesus will take care of us, I mean.”
Prudy’s clear gray eyes looked into the woman’s red-rimmed, faded ones. “Of course I do. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus are always close to us, taking care of us.”
“Stay with me, then,” Mrs. Treuman said, and she climbed from the buggy. Holding tightly to Prudy’s hand she started walking up the road, her eyes straight ahead, trusting entirely to Prudy’s guidance.
“I’ll send a man back to help your uncle,” Mr. Treuman called. The vehicles creaked to a start and soon the cavalcade was moving again.
Going down the other side was as difficult as the climb had been. The wheels had to be blocked at every step to keep the wagons from rolling down upon the horses, and the way was just as dangerous for those on foot; but Mrs. Treuman didn’t seem to worry at all.
After the vehicles were safely over the backbone the men had to take the horses back several times to pack the loads across, so it was night before Mr. Treuman sought out Prudy. “You know what you did for Mrs. Treuman today, don’t you, child?”he asked. “I am not offering to pay you for bringing faith back into her life. But you said you needed money very much. This gold piece is a gift. I want you to keep it as sort of a ‘nest egg’ to gather treasure around.”
Prudy looked into the man’s face. “Thank you. I understand,” was all she said; then she turned and ran to find John.
Breathlessly she told John about Mr. Treuman’s gift, and showed him the shining coin.
For a moment his face was alight, then he said, “Prudy, I was talking to Brother Roly today and he says that times are terribly hard at Tuba. He doesn’t think either of us will be able to earn a penny. He says there just isn’t any money there.”
Prudy’s face fell, then she put our her determined little chin. “Well, we’re not going to give up now. There’ll be something. Just see how we were all taken care of today.” She held the coin up to catch the first white moonlight. “Sometime we’ll have enough of these to send for Father and Mother!”