He rode across
the plains on his appaloosa. Dust trailed and swirled in the air
as they galloped away. The sun would soon be setting and he drew
a deep sigh of relief as he made his way across the open range.
It seemed he had once more eluded the law and now with the gold
and money he had stolen from the bank in El Paso he was set for
life. All the years of bank robberies would come to an end. He
pointed his horse toward the Mexican border and the two pushed on
racing to freedom.
The horse and
rider made their way effortlessly across the desert swiftly. Hot,
acrid air seemed to try to steal his breath as they made the trek
to Mexico where Rosa would be waiting for him. Still feeling
uneasy about his narrow escape Tom took a moment to turn in the
saddle and look behind him. He could see nary a trace of a
he said to his horse pulling in the reins and dropping the pace
down to a canter, "Seems we outdistanced them fella."
Tom grabbed his
canteen and took a long swallow of water. Taking off his kerchief
he saturated it sparingly with some of the water and wiped the
sweat from his forehead. It would be a short ride to the Rio
Grande and he paced his horse so they would be there sometime by
the next day.
As the pair
traversed their way across the wasteland of sand, rock, and
cactus plants Tom reflected on his life. He remembered the
beatings his father had subjected him to and his mother who was
part Apache watching in silence until the act was completed. She
would never interfere while the beatings took place and even
afterward when Tom tried to extract comfort his mother remained
cold and distance.
"Better dry it
up, son," she would say to him, "Your Pa will get you good if he
sees you crying."
Tom had grown up
tough and hard. The white children could never accept him,
because he was after all part Apace, and his mother's tribe
offered no welcoming arms. So he had lived a life of solitude
and isolation always feeling he was no one. Tom once he reached
the age of sixteen ran away from home. He hooked up with a gang
of outlaws and soon became a part of their clan. They robbed and
pillage every small town within a twenty mile radius. Even though
Tom joined them and they taught him how to ride and shot, he
never felt comfortable around the group of bandits.
He left the
group after a hold up at a small bank in Laredo. Up until that
fateful day no one had ever been killed. An over zealous banker
took it upon himself to shot and wound one of the gang members.
Chaos ensued and soon three people including a woman and the
banker lay dead or dying. Two days after the incident Tom left
his comrades and with his share of the money headed for Mexico.
He found all a man could want in Rosa. She was his heart's desire
and more. They took some of Tom's booty and bought a small ranch
just outside of Juárez
planned on raising a family. Money soon got tight and short, so
Tom would from time to time cross the border and holdup a bank.
He was never greedy or careless and Tom never saw the need in
injuring or killing anyone.
This had been
his last trip across the border to steal. Soon Tom and Rosa would
be able to live off what the land provided once he bought a few
head of cattle and some other livestock. He could see his woman's
smile and feel the silkiness of her long dark hair tickling his
nose. Her scent rose up from the desert he was riding through and
a sense of peace and longing overcame him.
"Ah Rosa," Tom
sang to his horse and the desolate terrain he traveled through,
"It will be so good to hold you again."
approached and the cool night air sent a shiver up Tom's spine.
He would make camp just ahead and cross the river at dawn.
Thoughts of Rosa and their life together caused a flood of
emotions to run through him. As the day waned and nightfall
advanced, Tom saw the glow of a campfire just ahead.
"Let's go take a
look," he said to his ride, "Wonder who would be out here this
time of the evening?"
As Tom neared
the fire he heard chanting and even though he had not spent much
time among his mother's tribe, he knew well the sound that he was
hearing. It was the song of the dead, a ritual performed for the
dead or dying by the Apache. He could see the Apache warrior as
he drew closer to the fire's glow. Though the desert air had
grown colder the warrior adorned with a traditional black mask,
chanted and danced around the blazing fire his brown skin beaded
with sweat. Just as suddenly as the chanting had started it
stopped and the warrior turned in Tom's direction.
trouble ahead," Tom whispered to his horse, "Maybe this was not
such a good idea after all."
instead of reaching for his weapons, which lay next to a blanket
spread on the desert sand, motioned Tom forward in a friendly
go Te'," the warrior called to Tom, "Come rest here by the fire,
at first to approach Tom studied the Apache with a keen eye. He
did not appear to pose a threat, but with the Apache one never
knew. Although Tom's mother was part Apache, Tom still felt out
of place among her people. The night air continued to get colder
as stars began to fill the heavens and the moon spread its
ghostly mantle across the wasteland.
assessing the situation and deciding the Indian posed no real
danger Tom raised his hand and returned the greeting, "Da go Te'!
I come in peace."
warrior motioned for Tom to come closer to the fire. An aroma of
fresh meat roasting enticed Tom's growling belly. Slowly, still
keeping a wary eye on the Apace, Tom dismounted and inched toward
the fire's warmth.
the Indian warrior said in broken English, "I have rabbit
cooking. Join me, brother."
you kindly," Tom replied as the warrior handed him a good portion
of his kill.
meat though not quite done tasted heavenly. Tom wolfed down what
the Apace had handed him with gusto. His new friend handed Tom a
gourd used for carrying water and Tom took a long deep
name's Tom," he said to the warrior wiping some of the liquid
from his chin, "Much obliged for sharing your supper."
am Nantan Lupan, the grey wolf,"
he replied taking a drink as well, "It is good to have a
companion for supper."
Tom stared into
the fire and for a moment it felt as if the world had
disappeared. A lone coyote howled to the moon in the distance. An
odd sort of feeling began to manifest itself in Tom's brooding
"What brings you
here to this spot?" Tom asked looking at the Apache warrior with
"I am here to
help you on your journey," Nantan Lupan replied with a wry smile
on his face, "I have been waiting for you."
A feeling of
panic gripped Tom and he started to reach for his revolver.
Nantan Lupan waved his hand as if to say there was no need for
his intended act of self defense. Tom relaxed slightly though his
hand remained on his pistol's handle in the event the Indian
"Help me on my
journey?" Tom replied standing up and glaring at Nantan Lupan,
"What are you talking about? I think I can find my way
to Juárez just fine. I don't need
"You won't be
going to Juárez," the Apache said under his breath, "You see
brother, you are dead. They shot you in the back as you left El
Paso. I am here to take you with me."
The earth seemed
to drop out from under him and with a thud Tom found himself back
in a sitting position.
"Are you crazy?"
Tom screamed at the Apache, "How can I be dead? I am sitting here
with you not an hour from the Rio Grande. We just ate supper
together. If you mean to kill me, good luck, I'm pretty good with
"They shot you
in the back and got your horse when you were riding out of El
Paso," Nantan Lupan replied
empathically, "Take your shirt off and you'll find the bullet
hole. Then go and check your horse. They shot him through the
In disbelief Tom
removed his shirt and there he indeed spotted the tell tale black
markings of gunpowder residue and a hole where a bullet had
pierced his clothing. He stared at the Apache with a quizzical
look as if he still did not understand what was
motioned for Tom to inspect his horse. Tom reluctantly made his
way to where he had left his horse. With his right hand he
brushed across the animal's chest and there just as the Apache
had said was the bullet hole. His horse whinnied as Tom traced
the spot with his right forefinger. Tom stood motionless. His
face had gone an ashen grey color as he thought about the things
he had just learned.
"Is this death
then?" Tom asked Nantan Lupan still not sure if all he had told
him was real.
the Apache answered a tone of sadness in his voice, "You will
remain here with those who would not accept you in life. We will
ride the plains eternally."
"I can't be
dead," Tom chocked out the words and shook his head, "What about
Rosa? She needs me and this money. She's waiting for me in
"It will be
taken care of," Nantun Lupan reassured Tom, "Come, we must go
their horses and rode westward into the desert.
Two days later a
young Apache boy knocked on a door at the small ranch just
outside of Juárez. He had a saddlebag
slung across his shoulder which he handed to the woman who opened
the door. The boy offered no explanation of how the saddlebag had
come into his possession.
"He is with his
people in the desert and won't be coming back," the boy stated to
the woman and then the Apache boy left as quickly as he
married after she found out Tom was dead. His body was never
recovered and his horse never turned up anywhere. Rosa used the
money to maintain the ranch the two of them had hoped to live
The town folk of
Juárez stayed clear of Rosa as much as they could. They thought
she was a witch, because many a night up until the day Rosa died,
she would ride into the desert late at night and cross the Rio
Grande. The town's citizens were not sure why Rosa did what she
did, but they believed she went to visit the spirits that roamed