Penelope De La Fuente

I couldn’t believe my ears. Christopher and Manuelito weren’t dead. I spent every day hanging out with them. Eccentric maybe, stuck in the past maybe, but they were real. I wasn’t delusional, was I? I wasn’t crazy, was I?Penelope

Interview of Penelope De La Fuente
Interview conducted by close friend and confidant Bartholemues Bronte. It should be noted that following the advice, recipes, or “how to” instructions of fictional characters is not recommended and could lead to disastrous, unintended results. Proceed with all appropriate caution, buffoonery and balderdash follow.

Bartholemues: I imagine it must be exciting with Curse Breakers, Peace Makers; Book 1 finally being released. What is the most notable thing about being the main character in your own fictional book?

Penelope: That is flattering, but I wouldn’t really say that I am a main character. There is a large cast and crew, a lot of hard work by many people went into pulling this adventure off. You yourself had quite a large role.Penelope De La Fuente

Bartholemues: We’ll talk more about your dashing, heroic co-star in a moment, but first people would like to know more about you. Tell me three facts about yourself.

Penelope: Three facts? Okay.

  1. My father is Dr. Raulo De La Fuente, an archeologist that teaches at the University of Arizona and takes occasional assignments from the Smithsonian
  2. We own a ranch that has been in our family for nearly 500 years.
  3. I love the rodeo, my favorite event is barrel racing.

Bartholemues: We’ve come to the part of the interview where I am supposed to ask you three questions. The first question

  • What was the best day of your life?

Penelope: I know you are probably not looking for a philosophical answer, but here goes anyway.

Today. Today is the best day of my life. You have to feel that way every single day when you get up. I mean, it’s literally impossible to live in the past, whether you are looking back on something that was awesome or something that was horrible, you have to let it go. It would be equally bad if you were living for some future event. If you are spending your time looking forward to some magnificent event that may or may not happen, you are delaying your happiness. So, you have to focus on the now. Enjoy the moment, live in the moment.

Bartholemues: Blah, blah, blah. I knew you would be a horribly boring interview. Here is question two. Please try to be more interesting?

  • Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?

Penelope: Alright besides my parents. Kino, I would say he is a family friend, but really he is more family than friend. He is not the type of person who will sit and lecture you, his influence on me has been more by example. Just being around him, hanging out day to day, his beliefs, his approach to life. It really has had a strong influence on the way I view the world.

Bartholemues: Final question,

  • Can you tell us a story about you and Kino that would illustrate your relationship?

Penelope: Yes, of course. It is rather long though.

Bartholemues: I love a good story. Let’s hear it then.


“Imaginary Friends”

I loved visiting the ranch. My father was the youngest son, he had an older sister and two older brothers. Everyone had built their own houses and now the original adobe hacienda with it’s tile roofs and courtyard had been expanded, it was really more of a compound than a single home. There were cabins for the ranch hands, barns, granaries, smokehouses, a blacksmith for the horses and a mechanics garage for the machinery.  I stuck my head in the barn and yelled a hello to grandpa,  he was shoeing a horse, and had a mouthful of nails, but he still managed a big smile. We had arrived just before dawn, so I knew grandma would be in the kitchen, I ran in and found her busy making tortillas. She tossed me one right off the comal, still hot, but definitely worth burning your fingers for. I sprinted through the house, hugs all around. Since my father was so much younger than his siblings, all my cousins were older than me. It left me as the baby of the family and I always had a lot of attention, the only negative part was there weren’t any playmates my age. I swung back through the kitchen where grandma handed me a hot bowl  of avena, an old fashioned Mexican oatmeal, with lots of milk, cinnamon, honey and walnuts. I slurped it down, thoroughly burning my tongue and sprinted back to the barn.

My grandfather was waiting next to my favorite mare, he watched as I put a bridle on her. I was still too short to throw the saddle on her, so he helped me with that. I was out of the barn and headed into the mountains before my dad had finished parking the truck and taking his bags to his room.

I knew I needed to hurry, so I urged my horse a little faster up the old fire trail, taking the switchbacks up into the Ponderosa pines. I dismounted near the top and slipped silently into the woods. Quiet as a cat, I crested the ridge and looked back into the valley toward the ranch. A lone horseman was following me. Staying low so I wouldn’t make a silhouette on the ridge I scanned the rocks for the most likely ambush spot. Sure enough, there he was, an old flintlock rifle trained on the man riding in the valley. I crept up behind the unsuspecting man and whispered angrily in his ear.

“Christopher Houston Carson! What in tarnation do you think you are doing?”

“You know I don’t like strangers invading my territory.”

“That is not a stranger, that is my dad. He happens to own your so called territory, this is his ranch.”

“A man can not own the air, the land.”

“So what right do you have to point a rifle at him?”

“You know I weren’t gonna hurt him. Just give him a real close shave.”

“Christopher Houston you are not as good a shot as you think you are. Besides you would scare his horse, he could break his neck.”

“What do you mean I’m not the shooter I think I am? I am the undefeated and undeniable black powder champion of these mountains.”

“That is not what Black Reed would say.”

“Manuelito? Manuelito is a fibber, He stretches the truth like taffy. You can’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth.”

“You forgetting I was at the last five rendezvous? He beat you like a second hand mule.”

“I don’t wanna talk about that. That man cheats. I don’t know how yet. But I am telling you, I aim to find out and I will expose him for the scallywag he is.”

He paused for a second.

“I don’t suppose you brought me anything from your grandma’s kitchen?”

I unwrapped a bandana, the tortillas were still warm, steaming slightly and I had filled them with chorizo and eggs. Christopher Houston dug in and continued talking with his cheeks full as a chipmunks.

“I ever tell you I was married to a Mexican woman? Josefa Jaramillo, she was an exceptional woman, god rest her soul. She was a fine cook, but I don’t think she could hold a candle to your grandma.”

He swallowed the food with an audible gulp, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the struggle of accommodating the load.

He could tell I was getting anxious.

“Well, your dad’s doing an acceptable job of tracking you for a change. Guess we better be moving along.”

I smiled.

“How we going to elude him today?”

Christopher scratched the tobacco stained stubble on his chin.

“How ’bout a box canyon bumble? We can lead him up into Hollerin’ Woman Creek?”

I giggled.

“Sounds like fun!”

Christopher didn’t own a horse, so he climbed up behind me. I made sure I left a clear trail for my father to follow. It wouldn’t be any fun if we lost him too early. We headed up Hollerin’ Woman creek, mostly keeping our trail concealed in the water, but occasionally urging the mare onto the banks to leave a clear sign in the mud. As we approached the end of the canyon where the creek tumbled down from a high waterfall I turned to Christopher.

“Everything prepared?”

“Yup, I come up here last week, there was a rumor you was coming in for a visit.”

I dismounted from the mare, careful to stand on a rock and not scuff any moss. I put a vaquero hobble on my horse and urged her further up the canyon, I had brought her here plenty of times and she knew where to go to graze. Christopher was smiling and standing by a rope. The rope was secured to a rock, the other end led up to an Aspen, high up on the canyon wall.

I was impressed.

“That is pretty stout tree, how did you get it pulled over?”

“It weren’t easy. I had to use a block and tackle.”

I had barely grabbed the rope when he cut it free. It launched us like a catapult up out of the canyon and over the edge. I let go of the rope and tumbled through the rocks and dirt.

Christopher was whooping and hollering, I was giggling.

“Shh, shh, my dad will hear us.”

Christopher was still laughing.

“Won’t matter, ain’t no way out of that canyon without a half day of backtracking.”

Christopher finished dusting himself off.

“There is some fine fishing and a pretty decent swimming hole at the top of the falls.”

I smiled.

“Sounds good. Here I brought something for you.”

I reached into my pack and pulled out  my favorite book by Dr. Suess.

Christopher sounded it out

“Fox in Socks – a fox wearing socks? That Doctor fella is a strange bird.”

Christopher was smiling, I had been teaching him to read and he was proud that he had sounded out the title so quickly.

It took us less than an hour to reach the top of the falls. Christopher had stashed some materials in a small hollow between a Ponderosa pine and a rock. He pulled out a spear that we had made on an earlier visit and sent me down to the pool to see if I had gotten any better at using it for catching fish. He was having a pretty jolly time at my expense as he worked on getting a net ready.

“I ever tell you I was married to an Arapaho woman named Singing Grass. I met her at the Green River  Mountain Man Rendezvous. We had two daughters, unfortunately Singing Grass died during child birth. Those years when we were together were the happiest of my life. She came from a plains tribe, I taught her how to fish, she was nearly as bad at it as you are.”

I was stalking a large Brown Trout, the fish watched me pensively and avoided my spear thrust with a casual flick of his tail. I was getting frustrated and struck again before I had secure footing. The results were foreseeable, I slipped and fell head first into the water. Christopher struggled to maintain a straight face but failed and howled with laughter.

“Come over here and help me with this net.”

His net consisted of three poles and what he called a trigger. One side of the net was left open until you pulled the trigger, it would close the net and trap any unlucky fish inside.

“Why don’t we just let this set for awhile? In the meantime you can help me with my letters. Just don’t touch the book, I’d like to keep it dry.”

We had finally caught some fish and after cooking them on sticks over the fire we sat down to eat.

Christopher thanked me for the book and asked.

“You planning on dropping in on Manuelito tomorrow?”

“I’d like to, if I can track him down. He is almost as reclusive as you are.”

“You find him, you arrange a rendezvous for us? It’s my turn to pick the events – you tell him we will be competing at the hoop and pole. I been practicing and I don’t think the Navajo play that game, more of a plains tribe thing. I ought to have pretty good odds of beating the scoundrel.”

It was fun to egg Christopher on, and I was still a little sore about being ridiculed for my spear fishing technique.

“Last time I saw Manuelito he was bragging about whupping you at wrestling 37 times in a row.”

“That cheatin’ lyin’ no good. You tell him it’s on. After the hoops we do a little demonstration of wrestling.”

I smiled, then I heard someone yelling my name.


“Guess my dad finally caught up, see you soon.”

I waved to Christopher as he disappeared into the brush.

My dad came crashing through the underbrush, tripping over a rock as he stumbled into the clearing.

I giggled.

“Saved you some fish.”

He looked around the clearing, the net caught his attention.

He took his time inspecting it, checking out the knots.

“That’s impressive Penelope! Very authentic. Where did you learn to do something like that?”

“Aw dad, you know. I got friends in low places.”

He smiled at the reference to the Garth Brooks song, he loved his country western music.

We got back to the ranch before sunset. After putting the horses up I went and found grandpa out back. He had his BBQ going. He had turned a huge propane tank into the biggest smoker you have ever seen. I knew he had been stoking the fire carefully since the night before and slowly smoking a brisket. I brought him a beer and fetched firewood whenever he signaled  for more with a tilt of his head. After checking the brisket one last time, he finally spoke.

“Tell grandma to get the tortillas ready.”

On my way to the kitchen I stopped by everyone’s rooms to let them know dinner was ready. It is kind of strange, but ever since I could remember I  have had  the weird ability to know when people are talking about me. I don’t know if it is just coincidence, I know I don’t try to eavesdrop, but if someone is saying something about me they don’t want me to hear it seems like I am always there. That is how I ended up outside my dad’s room and heard him talking in a hushed voice to Kino.

“I’m telling you Kino, it is happening again. I need your help.”

I couldn’t hear what Kino was saying, but my dad responded.

“Please, would you mind coming up? It would mean a lot to me.”

There was another pause while Kino spoke and then my dad said goodbye.

“Thank you, Kino. I’ll keep her busy tomorrow, I’ll take her to town. I’ll keep her out of the back country until you get here.”

I could hear relief in my dad’s voice.

“Great, we’ll be looking for you tomorrow evening. Drive safe.”

I didn’t know what my dad was so concerned about, but I was excited Kino was coming for a visit. I scampered down the hall before my dad could discover me snooping, he had talked to me about spying plenty of times. Like I said, it wasn’t something I tried to do, it was just a natural talent.

Another one of my natural talents was waking up without an alarm. If I set my mind to waking up at a certain time, I wake up at the exact minute I need to. I had set my mental alarm for 4 a.m. and rolled out of bed. I waited until I got outside and slipped my boots on. I could hear grandma just getting up, the light from the kitchen window lit up a square in the courtyard. I unhooked the barn door and pulled it closed behind me as silently as possible. I flipped on the light.

“Good morning sunshine!”

It was my dad, he had slept in the barn. His bed roll was arranged in front of the tack room.

“I thought we might go in to town this morning.”

I was disappointed at getting caught, but I admired his determination and planning. Sleeping in the barn had been a devious move.

“Little early for a trip to town…”

“We can wait until after breakfast, why don’t you run inside and give grandma a hand?”

After breakfast we climbed into the truck for the long ride into town. Grandma gave us a list of supplies to pick up and grandpa had a few items he needed from the supply store. I knew that there were enough errands to keep us busy all day. That was fine by me, I enjoyed spending time with my dad and I knew Kino would be here this evening.

Sure enough, as soon as we pulled up to the hacienda we could see Kino’s truck. He was unloading his horse, George from his 8581 Featherlite horse trailer with living quarters, it sure was a sweet trailer. Kino wouldn’t go anywhere without George, and he had that trailer rigged up nicer than most people’s houses.

I was riding in the back of the truck, sitting on a bag of grain. I jumped before the truck had stopped rolling and hopped up into Kino’s arms. He swung me around and deposited me back on the ground, hugged my dad and then asked.

“Can you find George an apple and get him settled in?”

I loved George almost as much as Kino.

“Of course!”

I knew they were trying to get rid of me so that they could talk, but I didn’t really care. I scratched George behind his ears and led him off to a round corral near the barn.

Kino came and found me feeding an apple to George.

“So, you got your dad real worried. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know why he is worried. I know he don’t particularly like Christopher and Manuelito, but they are my friends.”

“You mind if I come up and meet them?”

“Well, that is kind of up to them, they don’t much like strangers. You are welcome to ride up there with me, it’ll be fun!”

“Alright then, tomorrow morning?”

“We need to get an early start, you are going to like Manuelito, he is a real prankster, just like your friend Coyote.”

“How do you know Coyote?”

“I seen you talking to him, sometimes he comes and talks to me. He even shows up at the rendezvous sometimes.”

“Okay then. Think you could get me a brush out of the trailer? George is in need of some attention after that long drive.”

Me and Kino were taking our time getting ready the next morning and I was okay with that. My dad had agreed to let us us spend a couple of days camping, so we had a lot of gear to pack. We were taking a break and leaning on the corral, the sun was coming up behind us and lighting up the peaks of the San Francisco Peaks. Humphrey Peak was the highest mountain in Arizona and marked the boundary of the Navajo reservation. Maybe I was trying to show off my knowledge a little bit so I called it by it’s Navajo name.

Doko’o’osliid is beautiful this morning.”

“So that is where we will find Manuelito?”

“Well, if we head up that way, Manuelito might decide to find us.”

Kino nodded, understanding. George finished his breakfast and signaled he was ready to go. We mounted up and headed out. I was glad we didn’t have to rush, even if we didn’t find Manuelito it would be nice to spend a couple of days hanging out with Kino.

We had been riding all day, it barely seemed like the mountain was any closer. Kino had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly as George plodded on leading the way. I picked up a long lean branch and started using the tip of it to tickle behind Kino’s ear. He snorted himself semi-awake, brushed his ear and fell back asleep. I waited a couple of minutes and tickled behind his other ear. He brushed it away and started snoring twice as loud. I went back to the original ear.

“Hey little one, the flies are biting, heh?”

I switched ears. He whispered something to George. George’s tail swung around with uncanny accuracy and swatted the limb out of my hand. Kino immediately closed his eyes, his chin nodded down onto his chest.

“Hey Kino, there is a nice little stream ahead, maybe we should camp there. I haven’t seen any sign of Manuelito yet.”

“George tells me Manuelito is close. We start cooking dinner, maybe we can lure him into our camp to share a meal.”

“Great, I’m starving!”

I didn’t doubt that George would know. Kino had trained George to track when he was a colt. George could track anything, but his specialty was elk. If Manuelito would reveal himself to anyone it figured it would be Kino. Kino was an elder of the White Apache, and he was one of the shrewdest businessmen in Arizona. He owned a hunting lodge and was one of the most sought after hunting guides during elk hunting season. Kino was Apache, the Navajo and the Apache historically didn’t get along too well, but Kino and Manuelito were spiritual types and could probably find some common ground. They might even become friends, if I could just get them to sit down together over a nice hot meal.

I was tossing together a campfire cobbler from a can of peaches. Kino had boiled up some deer short ribs and made some chigustei, an Apache bread cooked on a hot rock. It was smelling pretty good. Kino had gone to fetch a little more firewood, I turned and called out to let him know the chigustei was starting to burn. When I turned back to the fire Manuelito was sitting there, using a stick to turn the flat bread over.

“Penelope, nice of you to come and visit. I recognize your friend from the White Apache, he is well respected among our people.”

Kino came out of the brush with an armful of firewood. He stacked it neatly by the fire.

I made a formal introduction.

“Kino, this is Black Reed. Most folks call him Manuelito.”

The Apache and Navajo languages are closely related, all a part of the Athabaskan family of languages. So Kino was comfortable using the Navajo greeting.

“Ya’at eeh!”

Manuelito repeated the greeting back.

“Ya’at eeh!”

Kino prepared a tin plate of food and offered it to our visitor.

“Why thank you, smells real good around here.”

Just like that they sat down to eat like old friends.

We spent the next couple of days with Manuelito guiding us to some of his favorite hunting spots and telling us stories of the ancient Navajo, showing us where different battles had happened. He was still real sad about what had happened to Narbona and the events that led up to the long walk. He had real hostile feeling toward Colonel John M. Washington, but he placed equal blame on the Navajo warrior that had stolen the horse.

“I wish I would have been there. Maybe I could have stopped old Long Storm from stealing that horse, maybe nobody would have had to die.”

Kino was sympathetic.

“What happens, happened, you can’t be held responsible for all the world’s misery. It is time you stop blaming yourself.”

Manuelito smiled.

“I wish it was that easy.”

On the morning of the third day it was time for us to head back to the ranch. We said our goodbyes.

“Hey, Manuelito. Christopher wanted me to ask you for a rendezvous. He said it was his turn to pick the events. He wants to challenge you to hoop and pole and I goaded him into challenging you to another wrestling contest.”

Manuelito laughed long and hard.

“Fine, fine. Tell him we will meet at the normal place two days from now. What do you think Kino, can you come by and be a judge? I think you will be amused. Christopher is an interesting character, for a white man.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

We finished our goodbyes, Manuelito faded into the brush and we headed down into the valley.

We got back to the ranch just as the sun was setting. My dad met us at the barn and helped us unpack and rub down the horses. I could tell he was aching to get Kino alone so I followed the smell of cooking ribs to my Grandpa. Grandpa was working the grill, when he saw we were back he sent me to the kitchen to fetch another rack of ribs. Grandma rubbed the ribs down and I carried the heavy platter back toward the grill. I swear I wasn’t trying to snoop, alright maybe I was. I took the long way past the barn and of course I got there just in time to hear Kino and my dad talking.

“Kino, now you sound as crazy as Penelope!”

“I’ve told you many times, Penelope is special. She is not like you. You have been blinded by your preconceived notions of reality. You are a scientist, you study the miraculous every day, but you fail to comprehend what you are seeing.”

“Look, I love you Kino. We’ve been friends forever, but don’t start with your medicine man malarkey on me. I need to find a way to help my daughter.”

“That is not true, Penelope needs to find a way to help you. I suggest she uses a hammer, maybe she can break through that bucket you have stuck over your head and give you a chance to connect to the spiritual world that exists all around you, but you perpetually fail to recognize.”

“Enough! Christopher Houston Carson? Manuelito “Black Reed”? You know Christopher Houston Carson was the given name of “Kit” Carson? Manuelito was a Navajo leader? They have both been dead for over a hundred years. Now you are telling me you want to take Penelope on a camping trip so that you can find out what they want with her?”

“You called me for help, remember? Now are you going to allow me to help? I need to go and talk to these spirits and find out why they have been drawn to Penelope. I suspect I already know the reason, but you need to let us go on this trip so that I can confirm my suspicions.”

“Stop Kino! These are imaginary friends that she has developed to cope with the stress of  the divorce. Any other explanation is nonsense!”

“Nonsense? Really? Then you explain how Penelope learns all these facts about people that are “dead” and skills that no one except mountain men and Navajo have used for over a century. You claim to be a scientist, but you try to force facts into fitting into your biased, jaundiced views of the world. I swear you don’t have as much sense as my horse.”

“You have heard of a little thing called the internet? She is researching and using the facts to embellish her delusions.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Christopher and Manuelito weren’t dead. I spent every day hanging out with them. Eccentric maybe, stuck in the past maybe, but they were real. I wasn’t delusional, was I? I couldn’t listen anymore. I took the platter of ribs to my grandfather and tried to hold back the tears. I wasn’t crazy, was I?

The next morning I slipped down to the barn, if Kino wouldn’t have already been there I would have left without him. I was in no mood for conversation as we headed out for the rendezvous, which was fine, since Kino wasn’t much of a conversationalist.

We had been riding for hours, the sun was beating down as the horses shuffled along kicking up small puffs of dust.

Kino was snoring like a locomotive, George was leading the way. I had no idea how that horse knew which way to go.

“Kino? Am I crazy?”

I was half hoping he wouldn’t hear me. I definitely didn’t want to hear his answer.

“Of course you are crazy, my little Yellow Billed Loon.”

“Oh, Kino. Don’t say that. Not you, too?”

“Why do you assume being crazy is a bad thing? Crazy is a gift, you have been blessed. The spirits only talk to those that have been touched. Some people can sense the spirits, they see faint outlines of ghosts. Some people hear voices. A handful of people have been able to communicate with apparitions like the greatest medicine men of the Apache. I have heard rumors, the wraiths whisper that once in a thousand years a child will come that can help them. These children are called Curse Breakers, they are known as Peace Makers – they can help these spirits find rest from their torments.”

“Kino, Christopher and Manuelito are my friends, they are not ghosts.”

“I know my little Tufted Flycatcher. I know.”

We rode in silence for the next couple of hours. I knew we were making progress, it didn’t seem like the mountain peaks had gotten any closer, but we had started the steeper ascent. I was leaning forward in my saddle and trying to help my horse pick the easiest path. Just as the sun was setting we found the small spring fed creek and followed it into the valley where Manuelito and Christopher met for their rendezvous.

We unrolled our bed rolls and built a small fire and as we sat preparing a small meal of beans and tortillas Christopher and Manuelito joined us in the ring of light.

I slept well, when I opened my eyes at first light I found that we had drawn quite the large audience. Normally we would have three or four people show up and act as judges, this time we had the largest crowd I had ever seen.

Christopher was surrounded by his friends and contemporaries, Jim Bridger, Kootenay Brown, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, Jocko Finlay, Broken Hand Fitzpatrick, Liver Eating Johnson, Doc Newell, Pegleg Smith, and even old John Astor  who had made the trip from back east.

Jim Beckwourth sat down next to me and stirred the fire. He grinned at me.

“You get enough sleep? You ready for mirthing, singing, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, racing, target-shooting, yarning, frolicing, and all the various extravagances that white men or Indians can invent?”

I grinned back at him as I rolled my bedding up.

“Do I have any choice?”

He took a long look around at the chaos that was unfolding all around.

“I reckon not.”

Manuelito had drawn a crowd as well. The Navajo had sent Ganado Mucho, Antonio El Pinto and Manuelito’s brother Cayetanito.  Zarcilla Largo and Sarcillos Largos and at least another dozen warriors had started a Ghost Dance. The Hopi and the Apache had sent some warriors as well.

Haashchʼééshzhiní, the fire god was already arguing with the hero twins Naayééʼ Neizghání and Tóbájíshchíní. Tobadzistsini the Apache god of war was encouraging their argument while Coyote and Spider laughed at their foolishness.

Kino was watching everything impassively.

“Tell me, my little Gilded Flicker, what do you see?”

“Best party… ever.”

He nodded his head.

It was easily one of the best days I ever had. The Apache were showing the Mountain Men how to dance, the Mountain Men were teaching the Apache songs. The Hopi women were helping the Mountain Men make moccasin boots, while the bidding for Navajo blankets often turned into ridiculous eating or drinking contests to determine the winner. There were shooting contests, hatchet throwing contests and wood chopping events. As the long hot afternoon stretched into a pleasant cool evening everyone gathered to watch the main event.

Manuelito was famed far and wide for his competitive nature. “Kit” Christopher Houston Carson had never backed down from a challenge in his life. Manuelito had never lost one single event to Kit. Kit was frustrated beyond reason as he called out the challenge.

“Manuelito, you no good cheatin’ reprobate. I challenge you to a test of skill that will uncover your incompetence at the manly art of spear throwing. When I am finished trouncing you, you will be forced to admit the Christopher Houston Carson is the better warrior. Bring out the hoop n pole!”

There was a pretty good reason Manuelito never lost, he cheated. As he grinned ear to ear, I saw his eyes shift over to Spider. Now Spider and Coyote are both trickster spirits and there wasn’t nothing they enjoyed more than pulling a prank on men. If you suffered from pride or a lack of patience it was pretty certain that they would come by and find a way to frustrate you. Spider and Coyote were both good friends of Manuelito, poor Christopher never had a chance.

Manuelito indicated that Christopher should go first. One of the Apache children came out and got the hoop to rolling, bouncing across the rough ground. Knowing how things worked, I kept an eye on Spider. Christopher watched as the hoop rolled across the field, drew back his arm and with a mighty heave threw straight and true right at the center of the hoop. The spear would have struck dead center, except for one small problem. As Christopher’s arm pulled back, Spider turned himself invisible, snuck up behind Christopher and attached a strand of spider web to the back of the spear. Just as the spear was about to strike dead center, Spider gave the silk strand a yank. The spear missed the hoop and stuck quivering in the ground. Christopher sank to the ground in disappointment. Coyote, Spider and Manuelito laughed and yipped.

Now it was Manuelito’s turn. The hoop bounced and rolled across the clearing. Manuelito pulled back his arm and threw without even pausing to aim. Christopher was whooping and laughing. The throw was obviously high and off target. Coyote faded into invisible and sprinted across the field,  he snapped his jaws around the hoop and threw it high into the air. Manuelito’s spear struck dead center. Everyone cheered wildly as Christopher shook his head, flummoxed by the lucky bounce. Two more times the Apache boy rolled the hoop for the competitors, with the exact same result.

Christopher was pained, but he admitted defeat as gracefully as he could.

“Alright, alright. I accept defeat. You are the finer warrior on this day, you are the hoop n pole champion. Although I know you have somehow hoodwinked me and turned me into your dupe.”

Manuelito was smirking but he accepted Christopher’s surrender.

“You are a great warrior Christopher and even though you can not hit anything with your spear, I am certain if you practice with the children long enough, that someday, if the wind blows just right and you use a very large target, you may perhaps hit the hoop.”

“Manuelito, I hope you are ready to rumble, I am challenging you to a rassling contest. It is time to settle this nonsense once and for all.”

As Christopher stepped to the center of the field, all the spectators formed a large circle. Manuelito smiled at me and sat down. I knew what was coming next. Manuelito never wrestled Christopher, he sent in shash bighą́ąʼgi hadzíbáhí, the spirit of the grizzly bear. As I watched shash bighą́ąʼgi hadzíbáhí transformed himself into the perfect likeness of Manuelito and stepped into the ring.

The wrestling match didn’t last as long as it takes to talk about it. Christopher dove right in and tried to take down the Manuelito doppelganger. Shash bighą́ąʼgi hadzíbáhí roared, swatted Christopher to the ground and sat on him. The Apache, Navajo and Hopi warriors whooped with joy, the Mountain Men laughed at Christopher’s expense. Unable to breath, Christopher struggled to free himself and to his chagrin tapped out just before he passed out.

When Christopher regained consciousness, he found that the party and feasting had continued without him. I was getting sleepy, sitting by the fire listening as Kino and Manuelito spoke in hushed tones. Christopher crawled over and joined us.

“Dang it Manuelito, I think you cracked a couple of my ribs. I can barely draw a breath. I don’t see how a skinny bag o bones like you can best a big strapping man like me. I mean you as strong as a bear.”

Manuelito swatted him on the shoulder, eliciting a wince of pain from Christopher.

“Perhaps next time you can win, continue to practice. I know some Hopi women that might be a good challenge for you.”

Kino indicated a log next to the fire.

“Christopher, can you sit down for a moment? I have something I would like to discuss with you.”

I was dozing in and out of sleep, I only caught bits and pieces of the conversation. I heard Christopher talking about his regrets. Being a part of hunting out the beaver, losing Singing Grass. He wished he had never led Fremont into those virgin territories, but his biggest regrets centered around his military service.

“I was just following orders, but I always felt that if it wasn’t me doing those horrible and ultimately inevitable things it would be someone else. Someone that didn’t care. I really was doing the best I knew how to minimize the impact that the white settlers were having on native culture.”

Christopher had stopped talking to Kino and was directing his words to Manuelito. There were tears silently trickling down the faces of both men.

“The long walk of the Navajo was the worst thing I participated in. I’ve never forgiven myself for the misery my actions brought upon you and your people.”

Manuelito didn’t say anything but he reached out and gripped Christopher’s arm.

When I woke up in the morning the camp was very nearly empty. Kino and Christopher slept by the fire. Manuelito was coming across the clearing leading two ponies.

Christopher heard the horses and roused himself. He went over and helped Manuelito and then came back to help me scramble up some breakfast.

After breakfast Christopher picked me up and swung me around.

“Well, Penelope. Guess this is farewell. Manuelito invited me on ride. We going to follow the trail of the Long Walk, see if we can find any stray souls that might still be trying to find their way home. I don’t know how to thank you, maybe someday we will meet again.”

Manuelito gave me a grin and a wave and just like that my two best friends headed out of the valley on a new adventure.

Kino could tell I was feeling real sad as he helped me up onto my horse he paused, I asked him.

“Kino, how do I know what is real?”

Kino grinned.

“Soon as I figure that out, I’ll let you know.”










notes: imaginary friends are cowboy and indian ghost. they killed each other – originally their hatred had kept them tied to the land, now they are friends and don’t want to leave. they play with penelope and teach her things. kino comes to visit. kit carson and narbona

they pull a trick on coyote that allows the cowboy and indian to cross to the other side together. coyote pulls a veil over her eyes until she is ready to accept her gifts

penelope can see the spirits of mammoths and dinosaurs, but they are trapped in the rock

a second story: coyote vs the baron of arizona

penelope teaches kit carson to read

manuelito and carson are constantly competing, wrestling, shooting, racing. carson doesn’t have a horse in the spirit world, manuelito has two. penelope brings the two together as friends. manuelito is a navajo policeman, son in law of narbona – he wants to justice for narbona. carson wants to make up for his sins against the navajo. they go after Col. John m washington

ranch on the edge of Coconino National Forest

Favorite Quote from a book or a song

Favorite riddle – answer  printed on another page/blog post

If I could be anywhere, doing anything right now, what would it be?

A quiz page – where they have to travel through the blog to find answers to character trivia

Bio Box

How to Article

Short Story additional content not included in book