The breeze is whispering in the bush,
And the dews fall from the tree.
All sighing on, and will not hush
Some pleasant tales of thee.
1881âThe Arizona Territory
The sun was just rising behind the distant mountains. Billows of smoke were pouring from the smokestack of a train. rolling upward into the sky as the locomotive rumbled onward on new gleaming rails.
Stephanie Helton sat at the window of the train, gazing at the beauty of the landscape outside. Red buttes towered above the soft, gray-green sagebrush on the valley floor, and the endless sky was the only roof in sight.
Stephanie was a photographer for the Santa Fe Railroad and had traveled by rail many times, but never before had she felt such an anxiousness to arrive at her destination. She had developed a passionate interest in Indian culture after her stepbrother had spoken of his childhood friend so often.
“Adam?” she said. She turned her eyes from the window to look at her stepbrother, who sat across the aisle from her in their private car. “How can you remember Runner so vividly? You were only five when you last saw him. Surely your recollections are not as accurate as you make them to be.”
Adam took a cigar from between his lips and smiled over at Stephanie. “I remember quite well all about my friend, who is now sometimes called the White Indian,” he said. His smile faded into a frown. “Trevor was his real name. He was my best friend when we lived at Fort Defiance. Our friendship became even closer when we were taken captive by the Navaho. I'm sure we would still be loyal friends had his mother not died. When she did, everything changed.”
Eager to know more, Stephanie moved closer, into the seat closest to the aisle. “Tell me more, Adam,” she said, running her fingers through her hair, drawing it back from her face. “I know you must tire of telling me about your experiences with the Navaho, but I don't. I'll be among them soon, myself. The more I know, the better it will be for me. I'm determined to photograph them, but I must draw them into accepting me first. So tell me, Adam, how your friend's name was changed from Trevor to Runner, and how it was that he adapted to the changes so quickly.”
Tall and long-legged, Adam shifted in the small seat. He drew a gold watch from his pocket, studied the time, then slipped it back inside his pocket.
“We should be arriving soon,” he said somberly, “where the work gang is laying the rails closer and closer to Fort Defiance. My dream come true: my new spur. I'm glad Father and the rest of the Santa Fe shareholders allowed me to have my private spur to Fort Defiance, but I've got to go farther into Navaho territory. I want a town all my own. I want it to have my name.”
He paused, then feeling impatient eyes on him, turned his gaze to Stephanie. “All right,” he said with a grumble, “I'll tell you more about my experience while I was held captive in the Navaho stronghold with the others from the stagecoach attack, even though you must have heard this all before.”
He paused again and looked at his stepsister. “It was because of someone like you that everything changed for Trevor,” he said thickly. “As I recall, Leonida was as beautiful and alluring.” He kneaded his chin thoughtfully. “But that was as far as the resemblance went. She was tall and willowy; you are petite. Her hair was golden; your hair shines like copper wire in the sun.”
“Oh, Adam,” Stephanie said with a deep sigh. “Will you go on with the story instead of comparing me with another woman? What on earth does that have to do with anything?”
“It's because of Leonida's loveliness that Sage, the Navaho chief, took captives from the stagecoach, and Trevor became involved with the Navaho,” Adam said, closing his eyes, recalling it now as though it was being reenacted before him. “Leonida was also one of the captives. The day that Trevor's mother died, Leonida took him under her wing. From that point on, everything for Trevor changed, for soon after, he also became a part of Sage's life. When Leonida and Sage fell in love and were married in a Navaho ceremony, Trevor became their adopted son.”
“It was then that his name was changed?”
“No, it was a short time later. Sage named Trevor Runner because of his ability to run so fast, after Trevor outran all of the Navaho and white children in foot races.”
“You do remember it well, don't you, Adam?” Stephanie said, gently placing a hand on his arm. “Is it painful to recall? Were the Navaho cruel to you?”
“They were never cruel,” he said, patting her hand. “In fact, I believe it's because of their kindness that I'm able to remember everything as though it happened only yesterday. It was an interesting experience. I shall never forget it. And Runner? Hopefully soon our friendship can be rekindled.”
“If Sage was so kind, why did he take white captives?”
“He was fighting for his people's survival,” Adam said, a frown furrowing his brow. “Like now. I'm sure the Navaho hate like hell that the railroad keeps inching farther and farther into their homeland.”
“Yet, even knowing that, you are still determined to move your spur farther into Navaho land, for your own selfish ideals?” Stephanie said, feeling somewhat guilty for her own reasons for being on the train today.
When Adam did not answer her, Stephanie returned to her seat by the window and became lost in thought as she watched the land flitting past outside. Not only was she anxious to meet this white man who now lived as though he were an Indian, she was in quest of the marvelous photographic opportunities this land offered. Scenes of grandeur were luring her to the Arizona Territory made accessible by the opening of the railroads. The quality of native life with its bond to the earth and elemental primitiveness was a palpable force she found hard to resist.
The Santa Fe Railroad had also employed her. She was to get the most intriguing photographs of the land and people to be used on calendars and postcards, to lure tourists to the Arizona Territory on the Santa Fe.
Her father was a major shareholder of the Santa Fe. She knew that because of him the railroad had been overgenerous to her. She was traveling lavishly in a specially equipped car, which included a front parlor, a fully-serviced darkroom, and living quarters. She would be paid five dollars a photograph.
Stephanie understood why the railroad was so eager for the photographs. The men in sole charge of the Santa Fe had discovered a new culture in the wilderness, and recognizing its potential, had taken up at once the task of exploiting it. America was promise. The West was a jumping off point, a fable waiting to be told. It was still a new frontier in the minds of many who sought new vistas and quick fortunes.
The West was unfolding with the Santa Fe. It fulfilled a longing for adventure and discovery. The Santa Fe was already advertising promises of holiday excursions. It proffered a new world, simple and exotic, in the wilderness of the American West.
Stephanie felt lucky that the golden era of railroading had overlapped with the golden era of photography. Both were setting the stage, paving the way for tourists. The Santa Fe was extending its campaign for a monopoly of the tourist market by circulating grand and enchanting images of Indian life and the scenery of the Southwest.
A sudden shiver rose along her spine at her realization that she was ignorant of the Indians. And since she didn't know them, except for what she had read in books, and what Adam had told her about the Navaho, she feared them somewhat. Yet she was determined to know how they lived and what they did. She had traveled to a distant place, not only to photograph the people and the land, but also to learn.
She was recalling how fondly Adam spoke of the Navaho, again feeling guilty for what she had planned for them. The railroad was, in truth, planning to exploit the Indians. Adam, who seemed hell-bent on furthering his private spur past Fort Defiance, was going to be exploiting his childhood
. Stephanie could not imagine the Navaho wanting to have another town spring up, especially one which would bring more white people into their land, gambling, drinking, and raising hell.
“Do you actually believe you can talk the Navaho into agreeing with you about having more tracks run along their land?” Stephanie blurted out as she looked quickly over at Adam.
“I don't have to have their permission,” Adam said, shrugging. “Out of politeness and old friendships, I'm only meeting with them to seek some sort of acceptance of my plans.”
“My father has spoiled you rotten, Adam,” Stephanie said, flashing angry eyes at him. “Don't expect the Indians to give in to you as easily.”
“Look who's spoiled!” Adam retorted. “Who's got a private darkroom all their own on this train? And God, Stephanie, your private car is far more lavishly furnished than mine.”
She said nothing in return, realizing that what he said was true; but her reason for being on the train was much more important than Adam's. Having his very own private spur was a folly granted by a stepfather who was going far beyond what a true father would allow.
Stephanie knew that her father did everything to please Adam, in order to please his wife, Sally. She had been widowed twice. He wanted her life to be sweet and comfortable, even if that included having to do more than tolerate her greedy, spoiled son.
In truth, Stephanie knew that her father had agreed to the private spur to get Adam out of his hair. If it meant going on past Fort Defiance, so be it.
“The farther, the better,” her father had voiced aloud to a railroad associate one night, when he had not known that Stephanie had overheard.
That had been the night of the board meeting of all of the shareholders of the Santa Fe, when her father had introduced the idea of Adam's private spur to them. He had explained that it would be a spur that would run from Ferry Station, New Mexico, to Fort Defiance, and even then somewhat farther, on land occupied solely by the Navaho.
She knew that her father had only gotten the men to agree to his son's folly, knowing that they were afraid that if they didn't agree, and her father would withdraw his shares in the Santa Fe, the railroad might come close to bankruptcy.
Stephanie glanced over at Adam, who was smoking another cigar and thumbing through a magazine as the train continued rumbling along. He was now twenty-three, five years her senior, yet in many ways he was less mature than herself.
It was this immaturity that she feared when he became acquainted with the Navaho again. If they didn't bend to his wishes, he would take what he wanted anyhow, ignoring the danger in which he might be placing himself
Stephanie. When he went into council with them, flashing his diamond rings and sporting the most fashionable suits that could be purchased, revealing his arrogant nature to them, who knew what to expect?
Stephanie's thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt when the train blew its whistle in three long blasts. Wondering why the engineer had the need to make such a racket, she lifted the window and leaned out to take a look outside.
Up ahead, hundreds of sheep were slowly crossing the tracks. The locomotive shuddered, slowed, and shuddered again, its whistle shrieking.
But to no avail. The sheep walked no more quickly, nor did the sheepherder, who had now stepped into view, hurry his pace as the train came finally to a screeching halt.
Adam moved over and crowded in next to Stephanie, peering out the window with her. “Damn sheep,” he grumbled. “But I guess I'd better get used to them. They are the Navaho's bread and butter. There'll be plenty roaming the land.”
He lifted a frustrated hand into the air. “Just look at 'em,” he stormed. “The dumb animals. They don't even know to be afraid. And look at the Indian. He's not paying the train any heed, either.”
Stephanie was hardly hearing anything that Adam was saying. Her full attention was on the sheepherder. She had imagined she would see the Navaho in poor clothing. Instead, this man was dressed in brightly colored pants and shirt, and the sun was reflecting onto his turquoise necklace. His long, raven-black hair was held back by a red velveteen band, and his knee-high moccasins were intricately decorated with silver buttons.
“Adam,” Stephanie said, giving her stepbrother a quick glance, “do you expect these Navaho to be poor? It doesn't appear to me thatâ”
Adam interrupted her. “The Navaho do not measure their wealth by material things,” he said, moving back to his seat. “As for Sage, he said often that he measured his wealth in the respect his people gave him.”
The train lurched, shuddered, and slowly began picking up speed as the tracks were cleared. Stephanie settled back down onto her seat and started to lower the window, but she had waited too long. Billows of smoke wafted inside, bringing with it sprinklings of stinging soot as it settled onto her face.
Coughing and spewing, Stephanie finally got the window down. A low, teasing laugh drew her eyes around. She glared at Adam while he chuckled at her appearance.
Taking a mirror from her purse, she gazed at herself and moaned. Muttering beneath her breath as the train continued huffing and puffing along, she began wiping her face clean with a handkerchief. She was glad that she was dressed in a charcoal-gray suit: the soot blended in well enough with the fabric.
Adam turned his thoughts from his stepsister and gazed from the window at the rugged, lovely landscape. He wanted like hell to be a part of this setting and would fight fire with fire if he was forced to, to achieve his final dream. The chore of convincing the Navaho that what he wanted to do would not cause them any harm would not be easy. He would be asking to take more reservation land from them, for his own private purposes. There was already more than one white ranch on land allotted to the Navaho.