Time for another round of sharing. This time it is the opening to a short story I’m aiming to finish this week. The story was inspired by reading the complete collection of Elmore Leonard westerns and a favorite 60s folk song.
George is based on Hi Jolly, or Hadji Ali. Hadji Ali is a historical figure, as I learned on the linear notes to Ramblin’. He was a camel breeder and trainer, one of eight hired by the US Army for the Army Camel Corps. Prior to coming to the US he had worked for the French Army in North Africa. The US Army program to use camels in the American southwest was not very successful, but Ali remained and for a while ran a caravan service using camels from the program he purchased from the government.
The state of Arizona has a monument to Ali and the camel corps in Quartzsite, where Ali is buried.
The man set at the end of the bar. He still had trail dust on him, but he looked like no ordinary cowpoke or trail driver. Despite his swarthy appearance, he did not look like a vaquero. The failing was his hat, or in this case, lack of one. He wore an over sized kerchief wrapped around a small, snugly fitting cap. The kerchief was long enough it hung down the sides of his head and was wrapped under his chin.
“Do you have wine?” he asked Jack Baker, owner of the Desert Shade saloon. Jack nodded.
“I’ve got some of the stuff the priests bring in. You got a lady friend joining you?”
The man shook his head.
“Wine is a rarity back home. The Muslims frown on it.”
“Who are the Muslims, friend?” That was Joe Pickens, lead hand on the Bar Eight to the south of town. “Are they Indians down in Mexico.”
“I believe you call them Mohammedan and they are not-“
“Joe, Roy, you need to come down the livery. It’s the damnest thing. Someone packed in supplies on camels.” The newcomer was Fred Pickens, Joe’s younger brother.
“Why in the hell would someone do such a fool thing?” asked Roy Barnes, another Bar Eight hand.
“Because when I head out each one will carry more supplies and require less water than a mule,” said the man. Jack had hunted up a highball glass and poured some of the liberated communion wine into it. The man picked it up and sipped.
At this all three of the Bar Eight hands looked at him.
“You thinking of taking up some mining, mister? Hadn’t been many miners in these parts. They all gave up between them finding nothing and Apache finding them,” said Joe.
“Maybe he thinks camels will also frighten Apache,” said Roy in between laughing.
“Is that what you think, mister, that camels will frighten Apache?” Fred’s excitement at the camels hadn’t dissipated and, unlike Roy, he asked in earnest.
The man sat and continued to sip his wine during the questioning. When the glass was half empty he sat it on the bar.
“I have not given it much thought, although when we drove them with the Army before the War the Apache did not give us no trouble. Might have been the cavalry with us, but who knows. It might have been the camels.”
All three men laughed at the joke and the man smiled.
“I am George,” he said offering his hand to the men, “George Tedora.”
The men introduced themselves.
“So, George, jokes about the Apache besides, what makes you think you’ll find gold in these parts after most prospectors have given up.”
“I have a map to a find made by a man I knew from the calvary. When he left for the war he left the map in my keeping, saying afterwords we could split it when the war ended. He never returned and now, having driven enough caravans to afford the supplies, I have come to make a claim.”
Jack, at the far end of the bar wiping dust off glasses that never seemed to stay dust free, smiled at the story.
“Lots of finds with maps to them and almost all were garbage. Are you sure your friend had even been here? He have a name?”
“His name was Thomas Wool, Lieutenant Thomas Wool.”
The room, up to that point full of the laughter and smiles of the five men became stone quiet. George looked at each man for a sign. The three hands from the Bar Eight finished their drinks and headed outside.
“I believe I have said something in error, my apologies.”
“Don’t worry about it too much son. You couldn’t know, but I’d keep the part about knowing Tom Wool quiet. More than a few people were more than a little pleased when he didn’t come back from the war. A couple of them might think they’re entitled to whatever you find at the end of that map.”
George nodded, finished his wine, and stood.
“Thank you, Mr. Baker. I’ll take note of that. I hope haven’t said too much already.