Vanished Arizona

Author: Martha Summerhayes

Chapter XXI Winter in Ehrenberg

We asked my sister, Mrs. Penniman, to come out and spend the winter with us, and to bring her son, who was in most delicate health. It was said that the climate of Ehrenberg would have a magical effect upon all diseases of the lungs or throat. So, to save her boy, my sister made the long and arduous trip out from New England, arriving in Ehrenberg in October.

What a joy to see her, and to initiate her into the ways of our life in Arizona! Everything was new, everything was a wonder to her and to my nephew. At first, he seemed to gain perceptibly, and we had great hopes of his recovery.

It was now cool enough to sleep indoors, and we began to know what it was to have a good night’s rest.

But no sooner had we gotten one part of our life comfortably arranged, before another part seemed to fall out of adjustment. Accidents and climatic conditions kept my mind in a perpetual state of unrest.

Our dining-room door opened through two small rooms into the kitchen, and one day, as I sat at the table, waiting for Jack to come in to supper, I heard a strange sort of crashing noise. Looking towards the kitchen, through the vista of open doorways, I saw Ellen rush to the door which led to the courtyard. She turned a livid white, threw up her hands, and cried, "Great God! the Captain!" She was transfixed with horror.

I flew to the door, and saw that the pump had collapsed and gone down into the deep sulphur well. In a second, Jack’s head and hands appeared at the edge; he seemed to be caught in the debris of rotten timber. Before I could get to him, he had scrambled half way out. "Don’t come near this place," he cried, "it’s all caving in!"

And so it seemed; for, as he worked himself up and out, the entire structure feel in, and half the corral with it, as it looked to me.

Jack escaped what might have been an unlucky bath in his sulphur well, and we all recovered our composure as best we could.

Surely, if life was dull at Ehrenberg, it could not be called exactly monotonous. We were not obliged to seek our excitement outside; we had plenty of it, such as it was, within our walls.

My confidence in Ehrenberg, however, as a salubrious dwelling-place, was being gradually and literally undermined. I began to be distrustful of the very ground beneath my feet. Ellen felt the same way, evidently, although we did not talk much about it. She probably longed also for some of her own kind; and when, one morning, we went into the dining-room for breakfast, Ellen stood, hat on, bag in hand, at the door. Dreading to meet my chagrin, she said: "Good-bye, Captain; good-bye, missis, you’ve been very kind to me. I’m leaving on the stage for Tucson—where I first started for, you know."

And she tripped out and climbed up into the dusty, rickety vehicle called "the stage." I had felt so safe about Ellen, as I did not know that any stage line ran through the place.

And now I was in a fine plight! I took a sunshade, and ran over to Fisher’s house. "Mr. Fisher, what shall I do? Ellen has gone to Tucson!"

Fisher bethought himself, and we went out together in the village. Not a woman to be found who would come to cook for us! There was only one thing to do. The Quartermaster was allowed a soldier, to assist in the Government work. I asked him if he understood cooking; he said he had never done any, but he would try, if I would show him how.

This proved a hopeless task, and I finally gave it up. Jack dispatched an Indian runner to Fort Yuma, ninety miles or more down river, begging Captain Ernest to send us a soldier-cook on the next boat.

This was a long time to wait; the inconveniences were intolerable: there were our four selves, Patrocina and Jesusita, the soldier-clerk and the Indian, to be provided for: Patrocina prepared carni seca with peppers, a little boy came around with cuajada, a delicious sweet curd cheese, and I tried my hand at bread, following out Ellen’s instructions.

How often I said to my husband. "If we must live in this wretched place, let’s give up civilization and live as the Mexicans do! They are the only happy beings around here.

"Look at them, as you pass along the street! At nearly any hour in the day you can see them, sitting under their ramada, their backs propped against the wall of their casa, calmly smoking cigarettes and gazing at nothing, with a look of ineffable contentment upon their features! They surely have solved the problem of life!"

But we seemed never to be able to free ourselves from the fetters of civilization, and so I struggled on.

One evening after dusk, I went into the kitchen, opened the kitchen closet door to take out some dish, when clatter! bang! down fell the bread-pan, and a shower of other tin ware, and before I could fairly get my breath, out jumped two young squaws and without deigning to glance at me they darted across the kitchen and leaped out the window like two frightened fawn.

They had on nothing but their birthday clothes and as I was somewhat startled at the sight of them, I stood transfixed, my eyes gazing at the open space through which they had flown.

Charley, the Indian, was in the corral, filling the ollas, and, hearing the commotion, came in and saw just the disappearing heels of the two squaws.

I said, very sternly: "Charley, how came those squaws in my closet?" He looked very much ashamed and said: "Oh, me tell you: bad man go to kill ’em; I hide ’em."

"Well," said I, "do not hide any more girls in this casa! You savez that?"

He bowed his head in acquiescence.

I afterwards learned that one of the girls was his sister.

The weather was now fairly comfortable, and in the evenings we sat under the ramada, in front of the house, and watched the beautiful pink glow which spread over the entire heavens and illuminated the distant mountains of Lower California. I have never seen anything like that wonderful color, which spread itself over sky, river and desert. For an hour, one could have believed oneself in a magician’s realm.

At about this time, the sad-eyed Patrocina found it expedient to withdraw into the green valleys of Lower California, to recuperate for a few months. With the impish Jesusita in her arms, she bade me a mournful good-bye. Worthless as she was from the standpoint of civilized morals, I was attached to her and felt sorry to part with her.

Then I took a Mexican woman from Chihuahua. Now the Chihuahuans hold their heads high, and it was rather with awe that I greeted the tall middle-aged Chihuahuan lady who came to be our little son’s nurse. Her name was Angela. "Angel of light," I thought, how fortunate I am to get her!

After a few weeks, Fisher observed that the whole village was eating Ferris ham, an unusual delicacy in Ehrenberg, and that the Goldwaters’ had sold none. So he suggested that our commissary storehouse be looked to; and it was found that a dozen hams or so had been withdrawn from their canvas covers, the covers stuffed with straw, and hung back in place. Verily the Chihuahuan was adding to her pin-money in a most unworthy fashion, and she had to go. After that, I was left without a nurse. My little son was now about nine months old.

Milk began to be more plentiful at this season, and, with my sister’s advice and help, I decided to make the one great change in a baby’s life i.e., to take him from his mother. Modern methods were unknown then, and we had neither of us any experience in these matters and there was no doctor in the place.

The result was, that both the baby and myself were painfully and desperately ill and not knowing which way to turn for aid, when, by a lucky turn of Fortune’s wheel, our good, dear Doctor Henry Lippincott came through Ehrenberg on his way out to the States. Once more he took care of us, and it is to him that I believe I owe my life.

Captain Ernest sent us a cook from Yuma, and soon some officers came for the duck-shooting. There were thousands of ducks around the various lagoons in the neighborhood, and the sport was rare. We had all the ducks we could eat.

Then came an earthquake, which tore and rent the baked earth apart. The ground shivered, the windows rattled, the birds fell close to the ground and could not fly, the stove-pipes fell to the floor, the thick walls cracked and finally, the earth rocked to and fro like some huge thing trying to get its balance.

It was in the afternoon. My sister and I were sitting with our needle-work in the living-room. Little Harry was on the floor, occupied with some toys. I was paralyzed with fear; my sister did not move. We sat gazing at each other, scarce daring to breathe, expecting every instant the heavy walls to crumble about our heads. The earth rocked and rocked, and rocked again, then swayed and swayed and finally was still. My sister caught Harry in her arms, and then Jack and Willie came breathlessly in. "Did you feel it?" said Jack.

"Did we feel it!" said I, scornfully.

Sarah was silent, and I looked so reproachfully at Jack, that he dropped his light tone, and said: "It was pretty awful. We were in the Goldwaters’ store, when suddenly it grew dark and the lamps above our heads began to rattle and swing, and we all rushed out into the middle of the street and stood, rather dazed, for we scarcely knew what had happened; then we hurried home. But it’s all over now."

"I do not believe it," said I; "we shall have more"; and, in fact, we did have two light shocks in the night, but no more followed, and the next morning, we recovered, in a measure, from our fright and went out to see the great fissures in that treacherous crust of earth upon which Ehrenberg was built.

I grew afraid, after that, and the idea that the earth would eventually open and engulf us all took possession of my mind.

My health, already weakened by shocks and severe strains, gave way entirely. I, who had gloried in the most perfect health, and had a constitution of iron, became an emaciated invalid.

>From my window, one evening at sundown, I saw a weird procession moving slowly along towards the outskirts of the village. It must be a funeral, thought I, and it flashed across my mind that I had never seen the burying-ground.

A man with a rude cross led the procession. Then came some Mexicans with violins and guitars. After the musicians, came the body of the deceased, wrapped in a white cloth, borne on a bier by friends, and followed by the little band of weeping women, with black ribosos folded about their heads. They did not use coffins at Ehrenberg, because they had none, I suppose.

The next day I asked Jack to walk to the grave-yard with me. He postponed it from day to day, but I insisted upon going. At last, he took me to see it.

There was no enclosure, but the bare, sloping, sandy place was sprinkled with graves, marked by heaps of stones, and in some instances by rude crosses of wood, some of which had been wrenched from their upright position by the fierce sand-storms. There was not a blade of grass, a tree, or a flower. I walked about among these graves, and close beside some of them I saw deep holes and whitnened bones. I was quite ignorant or unthinking, and asked what the holes were.

"It is where the coyotes and wolves come in the nights," said Jack.

My heart sickened as I thought of these horrors, and I wondered if Ehrenberg held anything in store for me worse than what I had already seen. We turned away from this unhallowed grave-yard and walked to our quarters. I had never known much about "nerves," but I began to see spectres in the night, and those ghastly graves with their coyote-holes were ever before me. The place was but a stone’s throw from us, and the uneasy spirits from these desecrated graves began to haunt me. I could not sit alone on the porch at night, for they peered through the lattice, and mocked at me, and beckoned. Some had no heads, some no arms, but they pointed or nodded towards the grewsome burying-ground: "You’ll be with us soon, you’ll be with us soon."


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Chicago: Martha Summerhayes, "Chapter XXI Winter in Ehrenberg," Vanished Arizona, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Boswell, Robert Bruce in Vanished Arizona (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022,

MLA: Summerhayes, Martha. "Chapter XXI Winter in Ehrenberg." Vanished Arizona, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Boswell, Robert Bruce, in Vanished Arizona, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Summerhayes, M, 'Chapter XXI Winter in Ehrenberg' in Vanished Arizona, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Vanished Arizona, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from