The Last Hundred
The Apache call the Sierra Madre the Blue Mountains.
The range of nine thousand foot peaks runs for a hundred miles from the Sierra el Tigre south to the Basvispe Valley. Three rivers bisect it: the Rio Aros, the Rio Bavispe, and the Rio Yaqi. The Rio Bavispe guards the isolation of the Sierra Madre. The continental divide flanks the range on three sides. The mountains mark the border between Chihuahua and Sonora.
Hidden deep in the mountains are small fertile plateaus. It is hot in summer, but the temperature can fall to freezing when the sun slips behind the ridges. It is not a landscape for timid men-a vast, menacing land dominated by mountains and sharp rocks, precipitous cliffs, snakes, jaguars, and wild cats. It is a place for retiring armadillos and badgers; the benign white-tailed deer, brightly plumaged parrots. It was a killing ground where Apaches fought Mexicans and Americans with no quarter asked or given.
And it was home to the last free, independent Apache, who dovetailed with this wild place, snugger than a mortice lock.
Jock MacNeil, formerly of the Confederate Navy and Stand Watie’s Mounted Rifles, stood at the cliff edge of the rancheria, raised his arms to the sun and sang the Morning Song. He was giving thanks to Ussen, the God of the Apache, for the heavenly gift of the love that he’d known with his wife, Miriam, and for the lives of their son and daughter.
Jock was not a man who received divine grace on his knees. Ussen had given the land to the Apaches, even though the White Eyes took it from them, and their Government broke its promises. Ussen had also given Jock back his spirituality, replacing the primitive Catholicism that had slipped away when he was in his early teens, now nearly six decades past. Jock’s voice, strong in the low registers, wavered on the higher notes, but strengthened as he offered his gratitude to Ussen for his protection from enemies and the bounties of the rancheria.