The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama

Author: John Murray

Chapter I the Cactus Cross

Down an old trail in the Ghost Range in northwestern Mexico, just across the Arizona border, a mounted prospector wound his way, his horse carefully picking its steps among the broken granite blocks which had tumbled upon the ancient path from the mountain wall above. A burro followed, laden heavily with pack, bed-roll, pick, frying-pan, and battered coffee-pot, yet stepping along sure-footedly as the mountain-sheep that first formed the trail ages ago, and whose petrified hoof-prints still remain to afford footing for the scarcely larger hoofs of the pack-animal.

An awful stillness hung over the scene, that was broken only by the click of hoofs of horse and burro upon the rocks, and the clatter of the loose stones they dislodged that rolled and skipped down the side. Not a breath of air was stirring, and the sun blazed down from the zenith with such fierce and direct radiation that the wayfarer needed not to observe the shadows to note its exact position in the heavens. Singly among the broken blocks, and in banks along the ledges, the cactus had burst under the heat, as it were, into the spontaneous combustion of flowery flame. To the traveler passing beside them their red blooms blazed with the irritating superfluity of a torch-light procession at noonday.

The trail leads down to a flat ledge which overlooks the desert, and which is the observatory whither countless generations of mountain-sheep have been wont to resort to survey the strange world beneath them—with what purpose and what feelings, it remains for some imaginative writer of animal-stories to inform us. From the ledge to the valley below the trail is free from obstructions, and broader, more beaten, and less devious than above, indicating that it has been formed by the generations of men toiling up from the valley to the natural watch-tower on the heights. Reaching the ledge, the prospector found that what seemed from the angle above to be an irregular pile of large boulders was an artificial fortification, the highest wall being toward the mountains. Entering the enclosure the prospector dismounted, relieved his horse of its saddle and his burro of its pack, and proceeded to prepare his midday meal. Looking for the best place where he might light a fire, he observed, in the most protected corner, a flat stone, marked by fire, and near it, in the rocky ground, a pot-hole, evidently formed for grinding maize. The ashes of ancient fires were scattered about, and in cleaning them off his new-found hearth the man discovered a potsherd, apparently of a native olla or water-jar, and a chipped fragment of flint, too small to indicate whether it had formed part of an Indian arrowhead or had dropped from an old flintlock musket.

"Lucky strike!" observed the prospector. "I was down to my last match." And, gathering some mesquit brush for fuel, and rubbing a dead branch into tinder, he drew out a knife and, rapidly and repeatedly striking the back of its blade with the flint, produced a stream of sparks, which fell on the tinder. Blowing the while, he started a flame. When the fire was ready the man shook his canteen. "Precious little drink left," he said. "I wish that potsherd carried water as the flint-chip does fire. However, there’s lots of cactus around here, and they’re natural water-jars. My knife may get me a drink out of the desert’s thorns, as well as kindle a fire from its stones. And right here’s my watermelon, the bisnaga, the first one I’ve found in months," he exclaimed, going over to the edge of the cliff, above the level of which peered the fat head of a cactus covered with spines that were barbed like a fish-hook. Its short tap-root was fixed in a crevice a few feet below the parapet. Lying on the edge of the cliff, the man sliced off the top of the cactus, and began jabbing into its interior, breaking down the fibrous walls of the water-cells, of which the top-heavy plant is almost entirely composed. In a few moments he arose.

"Now I can empty my canteen in the coffee-pot, sure of a fresh supply of water by the time I am ready to mosey along."

He filled the pot, set it on the fire, and then pressed the uncorked and empty canteen down into the macerated interior of the bisnaga.

While his coffee was boiling, the prospector continued his examination of the fortification, beginning, in the manner of his kind, with the more minute "signs," and ending with what, to a tourist, would have been the first and only subject of observation—the view. On the inner side of the large boulder in the wall he discerned, the faint outline of a cross, painted with red ochre.

Scraping with his pick beneath the rock, to see if the emblem was the sign of hidden treasure or relic, he unearthed a rattlesnake.

Before it could strike, with a quick fling of his tool he sent the reptile whirling high in the air toward the precipice. But from the clump of cactus growth along the parapet arose a sahuaro, with branching arms, and against this the snake was flung. Wrapped around the thorny top by the momentum of the cast, it hung, hissing and rattling with pain and hatred.

The prospector looked up at the impaled rattlesnake with a smile.

Reminiscences of Sunday-school flashed across his mind.

"Gee, I’m a regular Moses," he ejaculated. "First I bring water from the face of the rock, and then I lift up the serpent in the wilderness. The year I’ve spent in the mountains and desert seem like forty to me, and now,, at last, I have a sight of the Promised Land. God, what a magnificent view!"

Dropping his pick, he stretched out his arms with instinctive symbolization of the wide prospect, and expression of an exile’s yearning for his native land.

"Over there is God’s country, sure enough," he continued, giving the trite phrase a reverential tone, which he had not used in his first expression of the name of Deity. "Thank Him, the parallel with old Moses stops right here. Many a time I thought I would never get out of the mountains alive, and that my grave would be unmarked by so much as a boulder with a red cross upon it. But now, before night, I’ll be back in States, and in three more days at home on the ranch. I promised to return in a year, and I’ll make good to the hour. I sure did hate to leave that strike, though, after all the hard luck I had been having. Sixty dollars a day, and growing richer. But the last horn was blowing. No tobacco, six matches, and nothing left of the bacon but rinds. Well, the gold is there and the claim’ll bring whatever I choose to ask for it. And Echo shall have a home as good as Allen Hacienda, and a ranch as fine as Bar One—yes, by God, it’ll be Bar None, my ranch!"

Out of the sea of molten air that stretched before him, that nebulous chaos of quivering bars and belts of heated atmosphere which remains above the desert as a memorial of the first stage of the entire planet’s existence, the imagination of the prospector created a paradise of his own. There took shape before his eyes a Mexican hacienda, larger and more beautiful even than that of Echo’s father, the beau-ideal of a home to his limited fancy. And on the piazza in front, covered with flowering vines, there stood awaiting him the slender figure of a woman, with outstretched arms and dark eyes, tender with yearning love.

"Echo—Echo Allen!" he murmured, fondly repeating the name. "No, not Echo Allen, but Echo Lane, for Dick Lane has redeemed his promise, and returns to claim you as his own."

As he gazed upon the shimmering heat waves which distorted and displaced the objects within and beneath them, a group of horsemen suddenly appeared to him in the distance, and as suddenly vanished in thin air.

"Rurales!" ejaculated Lane. "I wonder if they are chasing Apaches? That infernal mirage gives you no idea of distance or direction. If the red devils have got away from Crook and slipped by these Greaser rangers over the border, they’ll sure be making straight for the Ghost Range, and by this very trail. If so, I’m at the best place on it to meet them, and here I stay till the coast is clear." Turning to the red cross on the rock, he reflected: "Perhaps, after all, it’s a case of ’Nebo’s lonely mountain.’"

Lane had hardly reached this conclusion before he found it justified by the sight of a mounted Apache in the regalia of war emerging from a hidden dip in the trail below the fortification. Lane dropped behind the parapet, evidently before he was observed, as the steadily increasing number and loudness of the hoof-beats on the rocky trail indicated to the listener.

Crawling back to his horse and burro, he made them lie down against the upper wall, and picketed them with short lengths of rope to the ground, for he foresaw that danger could come only from the mountainside. Taking his Winchester, he returned to the parapet, and, half-seated, half-reclining behind it, opened fire on the unsuspecting Apaches. The leader, shot through the head, fell from his horse, which reared and backed wildly down the trail. Other bullets must have found their billets also, but, because of the confusion which ensued among the Indians, the prospector was unable to tell how many of them he had put out of action. In a flash every rider had leaped off his horse, and, protecting himself by its body, was scrambling with his mount to the protecting declivity in the rear. The prospector was sorely tempted to pump his cartridges into the group as it poured back over the rim of the hollow, but he desisted from the useless slaughter of horses alone, knowing that he could be attacked only on foot, and that every one of his slender store of cartridges must find a human mark if he would return to the States alive. "They’ve got to put me out of business before they can go on," he ruminated. "An Apache is a good deal of a coward when he’s fighting for pleasure, but just corner him, and, great snakes and spittin’ wildcats, what a game he does put up! I must save my cartridges; for one thing’s sure, they won’t waste any of theirs.

They’re not as good shots as white men, for ammunition is too scarce with them for use in gun practise; so they won’t fire till they’ve got me dead to rights. Let me see; there’s about a dozen left in the party, and I have fifteen cartridges—that’s three in reserve for my own outfit, if some of the others fail to get their men. Those red devils enjoy skinning an animal alive as much as torturing a man, and you can bet they won’t save me any bullets by shooting Nance and Jinny."

Reasoning that the Indians would not dare to attack by way of the open trail in front, and that it would take some time for them to make the detour necessary to approach him from above, since they would have to leave their ponies below and climb on hands and knees over jutting ledges and around broken granite blocks, Lane coolly proceeded to drink his coffee, and eat his lunch of hard bread and cold bacon-rind. After he had finished, he gave a lump of sugar to each of his animals, and pressed his cheek with an affectionate hug against the side of his horse’s head.

"Old girl," he said. "I’m sorry we can’t take a parting drink, for I’m afraid neither of us will reach our next water-hole. But you can count on me that the red devils won’t get you."

Then, going to his pack, he undid it, and took out a double handful of yellow nuggets and a number of canvas bags. These he deposited in the pot-hole, and, prying up the flat stone of the fireplace, laid it over them, and covered the stone with embers.

"It’s a ten to one shot that they finish me," he reflected; "but the wages I’ve paid for by a year of hard work and absence from her side, stay just as near Echo Allen as I can bring them alive, and, if there’s any truth in what they say about spirits disclosing in dreams the place of buried treasure, with the chance of my getting them to her after I am dead."

Taking the useless boulders from the edge of the cliff, but carefully, so as not to expose himself to the fire of the Apaches, he piled them on top of the upper wall in such a fashion as to form little turrets. He left an opening in each, through which he could observe, in turn, each point of the compass whence danger might be expected, and could fire his Winchester without exposing himself. Then he began going from post to post on a continuous round of self-imposed sentinel duty. "If I could only climb the sahuaro," he thought, "and fly my red shirt as a flag, to let the Rurales know I’ve flanked the enemy, it might hurry them along in time to put a crimp in these devils before they get me. But it’ll have to be ’Hold the Fort’ without any ’Oh, Say Can You See?’ business. Anyhow, I’m flying the rattlesnake flag of Bunker Hill, ’Don’t Tread on Me!’ Whether the Rurales see it or not, I’ve saved their hides. If the Apaches had got to this fort first, gee, how they would have crumpled up the Greasers as they came along the trail!"

Rendered thirsty by his exertions, Lane remembered the canteen in the bisnaga, which he had forgotten among his other preparations for defense. He cautiously reached his hand over the ledge, and secured the precious vessel, but, as he was withdrawing it, PING! came a bullet through the canteen, knocking it out of his hand. As it fell clattering down the side of the ledge, he groaned: "Damned good shooting,! They’ve probably left their best marksman below with the ponies. No hope for escape on that side.

Well, there’s some consolation in the thought that they’ll undoubtedly finish me before I get too damned thirsty. Glad it wasn’t my hand."

Although the period he spent waiting for the attack was less than an hour by his watch, it seemed to last so long that he had hopes that the Rurales would appear in time to rescue him. His spirits rose with the prospect. Looking about him at the walls, the fireplace, and the red cross, he reflected: "I am not the first man, or even the first white man, that has withstood an attack in this place." In imagination he constructed the history of the fort. Here, in ages remote, a tribe of Indians, defeated and driven to the mountains had constructed an outpost against their enemies of the plain, but these had captured the stronghold, and fortified it against its former occupants. Later, a band of Spanish gold-seekers had made a stand here against natives whom they had roused against them by oppression. Or, perhaps, as indicated by the cross, it had afforded refuge to the Mission Fathers, those heroic souls who had faced the horrors of the infernolike desert in their saintly efforts to convert its fiendish inhabitants.

With the symbol of Christianity in his mind, Lane turned toward the giant cactus, which he had heretofore regarded chiefly in the aspect of a flagpole, and saw in its columnar trunk and opposing branches a distinct resemblance to a cross. The plant was dead, and dry as punk. Suddenly there flashed into his mind a hideous suggestion. More cruel than even the Romans, the inventors of crucifixion, the Apaches are wont to bind their captives to these dead cacti, which supply at once scourging thorns, binding stake, and consuming fuel, and, kindling a fire at the top, leave it to burn slowly down to the victim, and, long before it despatches him, to twist his body and limbs into what appear to the Apache sense of humor to be exquisitely ludicrous contortions.

With his mind occupied by these horrible apprehensions, Lane looked at the rattlesnake upon the sahuaro whose struggles by this time had diminished to a movement of the tail.

"Poor old rattler," he thought. "I wish I could spare a cartridge to put you out of your misery."

At length, as Lane peered up the mountainside, he saw a bush on a ledge a little to the left of the trail quiver, as if stirred by a passing breath of wind. He aimed his Winchester through a crack in the wall at the spot, and when a moment later an Apache rose up from the ground and leaped toward the shelter of a rock below, Lane fired, and the savage fell crumpling. Like an echo of the explosion a rifle on the right spoke, and a bullet struck the rock by Lane’s head. He marked the spot whence the shot came, and quickly ran to another part of the wall. From here he saw the edge of an Indian’s thigh exposed by the side of the boulder he had noted. CRACK! went Lane’s Winchester; the leg was suddenly withdrawn, and at the same moment a head appeared on the other side of the rock, as if the Indian had stretched himself involuntarily. CRACK! again, and Lane had got his man.

"Two shots to an Indian is expensive," thought the prospector, "otherwise this game of tip-jack would be very interesting."

There was a cry in the Apache tongue, and suddenly nine half-naked bodies arose from behind rocks and bushes extending in an irregular crescent above the fort, and rushed forward ten, fifteen, and even twenty, yards to the next cover. Lane did not count number or distance at the time, but he figured these out in his next period of waiting from the photograph flashed on his subconscious mind. At the time of the rush he was otherwise occupied. CRACK! CRACK! and two of the Indians fell dead in mid-career. CRACK! and a third crawled, wounded, to the cover he had almost safely attained. CRACK! and an eagle-feather in the head of the fourth Indian shot at was cut off at the stem, and fell forward on the rock behind which its wearer had dropped just in time to save his life. There was an answering volley from the rifles of the remaining Apaches, which was directed against the lookout of loose stones from which the prospector’s fire had come. One of the bullets penetrated the opening and plowed a furrow through Lane’s scalp, toppling him to his knees. He scrambled quickly to his feet, and, hastily pressing his long hair back from his forehead, to stanch the bleeding wound, sought the protection the middle lookout. He congratulated himself.

"Lucky for me they didn’t follow the first rush immediately with a second. Now I know to wait for their signal. Six, and possibly seven of them, are left, and they will storm my works in two more attempts. Here they come!"

The call again sounded. Six Apaches leaped forward, and from the rock that concealed the wounded warrior, a shot rang out in advance of the first discharge from Lane’s Winchester. The Indian’s bullet scored the top of the turret, and filled the eyes of the man behind it with powdered stone. The prospector, already dazed by his wound, fired wildly, and missed his mark. Quickly recovering himself, he fired again and again, severely wounding two Apaches. These lay clawing the ground within twenty yards of the wall. The four remaining Indians were safely concealed at the same distance, protected no less by the fortification than by the loose boulders behind which they crouched for the final spring. Lane realized the fact that his next shots, to be effective, must be at a downward angle, and to fire them he must expose himself.

"This is my finish," he thought to himself. "Better be killed instantly than tortured. I hope all four will hit me. Good-by, Jinny"—CRACK! went his rifle. "Good-by, Nance"—CRACK! again.

At the two shots, surmising that the prospector had shot himself and his horse, the Apaches did not wait for the signal, but sprang forward and climbed upon the wall before Lane had had time to mount it. Two of them he shot as they leaped down within the enclosure. As he reversed his Winchester to kill himself with the last cartridge, he noted that the two remaining Apaches had dropped their rifles and were leaping upon him to take him alive.

He brought his clubbed weapon down upon the head of one of them, crushing his skull. At the same instant Lane was borne to the ground by the other Apache, who, seizing him by the throat, began throttling him into insensibility. In desperation, Lane bethought himself of the cliff, and, by a mighty effort, whirled over upon his captor toward the precipice. The ground sloped slightly in that direction, and the combatants rolled over and over to the very edge of the cliff, where the Indian, for the first time realizing that the prospector’s purpose was to hurl both of them to destruction, loosened his hold upon the prospector’s throat that he might use his hands to brace himself against the otherwise inevitable plunge into the valley below. In an instant Lane’s hands were at the Indian’s throat, and in another turn he was uppermost, and kneeling upon his foe at the very verge of the precipice.

Both combatants were now thoroughly exhausted. Lane concentrated all his remaining strength in throttling the savage. But, just as the tense form beneath him grew lax with evident unconsciousness, and head fell limply back, extending over the edge of cliff, his own head was jerked violently backward by a noose cast around his lacerated neck.

When Lane recovered consciousness he found himself lying on his back, bound hand and foot by a lariat, and looking up into a grinning face that he recognized.

"Buck McKee!" he gasped. "This is certainly white of you considering the circumstances of our last meeting. Did you come with the Rurales?"

"Hell, no! I come ahead of ’em. In fact, Dick Lane, you air jist a leetle bit off in your idees about which party I belong to. When you damned me fer a thievin’ half-breed, and run me off the range, an’ tole me to go to the Injun’s, whar I belonged, I tuk yer advice. I’m what you might call the rear-guard of the outfit you’ve jist been havin’ your shootin’-match with. Or I was the rear-guard, for you’ve wiped out the whole dam’ battalion, so fur as I can see. Served ’em right fur detailin’ me, the only decent shooter in the bunch, to watch the horses. I got one shot in as it wuz. Well, as the last of the outfit, I own a string of ten ponies. All I need now to set up in business is to have some prospector who hain’t long to live, leave me his little pile uv dust an’ nuggets, an’ the claims he’s located back in the mountains. You look a leetle mite like the man. It’ll save vallible time if you make yer dear friend, Buck McKee, administrater uv yer estate without too much persuadin’. You had some objection oncet to my slittin’ a calf’s tongue. Well, you needn’t be scared just yet. That’s the last thing I’ll do to you. Come, where’s your cache? I know you’ve got one hereabouts, fer I foun’ signs of the dust in your pack."

Lane set his teeth in a firm resolutions not to say a word. The taunts of his captor were harder to bear in silence than the prospects of torture.

"Stubborn, hey? Well, we’ll try a little ’Pache persuadin’." And the renegade dragged his helpless captive up to the thorny sahuaro, and bound his back against it with the dead horse’s bridle. McKee searched through Lane’s pockets until he found a match.

"Last one, hey? Kinder ’propriate. Las’ drink from the old canteen, las’ ca’tridge, last look at the scenery, and las’ will an’ testyment. Oh, time’s precious, but I’ll spare you enough to map out in yer mind jes’ where them claims is located. The Rurales won’t be along fer an hour yet, if they hain’t turned back after our other party."

McKee pulled off Lane’s boots. "It ’ain’t decent fer a man to die with ’em on," he said. He then kindled a fire on the stone, beneath which, if he but knew it, lay the treasure he sought. He returned with a burning brand to the captive. For the first time he observed the snake impaled on the sahuaro, writhing but feebly. "Hullo, ole rattler," he exclaimed; "here’s somethin’ to stir you up;" and he tossed the brand upon the top of the cactus.

Taking another burning stick from the fire, he applied it to the soles of his victim’s feet. Lane writhed and groaned under the excruciating torture, but uttered no word or cry. McKee brought other brands, and began piling them about his captive’s feet.

In the meantime the sahuaro had caught fire at the top, and was burning down through the interior. A thin column of smoke rose straight above it in the still air. The Rurales in the valley below, who had reached the beginning of the ascending trail, and were on the point of giving up the pursuit, saw the smoke, and, inferred that the Apaches, either through overconfidence or because of their superstitious fear of the mountains, which they supposed inhabited by spirits, had camped on the edge of the valley, and were signaling to their other party. Accordingly the Mexicans renewed the chase with increased vigor.

As McKee bent over his captive’s feet, piling against them the burning ends of the sticks, the rattlesnake on the sahuaro, incited by the fire above, struggled free from the impaling thorns by a desperate effort, and dropped on the back of the half-breed. It struck its fangs into his neck. McKee, springing up with an energy that scattered the sticks he was piling, tore the reptile loose, hurled it upon the ground, and stamped it into the earth. Then he picked up one of the brands and with it cauterized the wound. All the while he was cursing volubly—the snake, himself, and even Dick Lane, who was now lying in a dead faint caused by the torture.

"Damn such a prospector! Not a drop of whisky in his outfit! I’d slit his tongue fer him if he wasn’t already done fer. I must keep movin’—movin’, or I’m a dead man. I must hustle along to the mountains, leadin’ my horse. Up there I’ll find yarbs to cure snake-bite that my Cherokee grandmother showed me. The Rurales will have to get the other ponies but some day I’ll come back after Lane’s cache."

A half-hour later the Mexican guards appeared upon the scene, and unbound Lane’s unconscious form from the sahuaro, which the fire had consumed to a foot of his bowed head. They deluged his face and back, and bathed his tortured feet with the contents of their canteens, and brought him back to life, but, alas! not to reason.

Six months later there limped out of Chihuahua hospital a discharged patient, wry-necked, crook-backed, with drawn features, and hair and beard streaked with gray. It was Dick Lane, restored to old physical strength, so far as the distortion of his spine, caused by his torture, permitted, and to the full possession of his mental faculties. He mounted one of the captured ponies, and rode off with the proceeds of the sales of the others in his pocket, to purchase provisions for a return to his prospecting.

Before plunging into the wilderness he wrote a letter:

Chihuahua, Mexico

"Mr. John Payson,
"Sweetwater Ranch,
"Florence, Arizona Territory, U.S.A. "Dear Jack: I have been sick and out of my head in the hospital here for the last six months. Just about the time you all were expecting me home, I had a run in with the Apaches. And who do you think was with them? Buck McKee, the half-breed that I ran off the range two years ago for tongue-slitting. After I had done for all the rest, he got me, and—well, the story’s too long to write. I rather think McKee has made off with the gold I had cached just before the fight. I’m going back to see, and if he did, I’ll hustle around to find a buyer for one of my claims. I don’t want to sell my big mine, Jack. I tell you I struck it rich!—but that story can wait till I get back. Your loan can’t, though, so expect to receive $3,000 by express some time before I put in an appearance. I hope you got the mortgage renewed at the end of the year. If my failure to show up then has caused you trouble, you’ll forgive me, old fellow, I know, under the circumstances. I’ll make it up to you. I owe you everything. You’re the best friend a man ever had. That’s why I’m writing to you instead of to Uncle Jim, for I want you to do me another friendly service. Just break it gently to Echo Allen that I’m alive and well though pretty badly damaged by that renegade McKee and tell her that it wasn’t my fault I wasn’t home the day I promised. She’ll forgive me, I know, and be patient a while longer. It’s all for her sake I’m staying away. Give her the letter I enclose.
"Your old bunkie,
Dick Lane"


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Chicago: John Murray, "Chapter I the Cactus Cross," The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1906), Original Sources, accessed April 17, 2024,

MLA: Murray, John. "Chapter I the Cactus Cross." The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1906, Original Sources. 17 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Murray, J, 'Chapter I the Cactus Cross' in The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama, ed. . cited in 1906, The Round up: A Romance of Arizona Novelized from Edmund Day’s Melodrama, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 April 2024, from