“We was told not to cross the Carson,” the old man said. “I was a youngin’ then, younger than you are today. That ol’ war Chief said he couldn’t control them warriors on the other side.”
‘Captain’ Asa Bledsoe, born in 1880, was nearly 102-years old. He wasn’t usually awake during the graveyard shift at the nursing care facility he now called home.
“Come, sit down and talk to me,” he had complained. Though I knew I had things that needed to be done, I couldn’t resist the old man’s plea – besides he told wonderful tales about how it was in the ‘olden days.’
“If my figgerin’s any good still, I think I’s ’bout twelve,” he coughed and I handed him his glass of water. After taking a sip, he continued, “We were a party of ten and Captain Young was the boss, a head strong cuss, not willin’ to listen to no one ‘specially an Injun.”
He paused, seeming to look off into the distance, perhaps remembering, seeing the day in his mind’s eye. “We set up camp not too far off from the river bank. After, I went down and sat behind a clump of willows near the water thinkin’ about doin’ some fishin’. Chief said there was lots of fish. ”
He cleared his throat and reached for the water-glass. I intercepted him, handing it to him so he didn’t have to lean too far off the bed’s side.
“Never did get to find out on that there day as I watched as the most handsome Paiute squaw came waltzin’ down to river and begin to disrobe. Kinda glad I didn’t get to fish after them science-folk said them fish were poisonous with mercury and all. Anyways, mind you, I’d never saw no nekked womens in my life at the time, so I was kinda surprised but mostly curious.”
“She was elegant in her way of folding up her skirts and blouses. Then slowly she stepped in the water, which even though it was summer and hot as hell, was freezin’. But she entered and like a Goddess, bathed herself right there.”
I simply sat and listened, not wanting to break the Captain’s reverie or concentration, for fear he’d forget what he was saying and I’d never learn what happened.
“It didn’t take too long fer t’others to take notice of this brazen woman and soon they’ve was settin’ along the bank watchin’ her, too. She looked up and smiled, so I know she know’d we was there, gawkin’ at her particulars.”
“It was all started by Young, hisself. He proceeded to wade into the river towards the maiden. Soon the other eight was waist deep in the stream.”
Bledsoe shook his head and sighed. “Shoulda listened, ‘cause all too soon, them warriors stepped out of the bushes on the opposite side and let loose with gun’s a-blazin’ and arrows flyin’, killin’ ever man-jack of the party, ‘cept me – I never went in the river.”
“The amazing thing is that the woman — I always called her ‘She Braids Her Hair,’ ‘cuz I never did know’d her name or seen her again — amazin’ how even as there was killin’ goin’ on all ’round her, she never flinched or nothin’. I’d remember that little lesson while a-fightin’ in Cuba a few years later and then in France another few years beyond that.”
“And after all’s done, I continued to watch half ‘fraid to move, but curious as any boy’d be, as she rose up, step-by-step from the river, then got down on her knees facing the river, back rod straight, head held high and braided her wet hair into a long tail, kinda like the Chi-nee Coolies used to do.”
“I sat there and watched till she was dressed and disappear’d into the thicket behind’er. Only then did I crawl back to the camp and lite out for Dayton, the closest place I could think of at the time.”
Bledsoe began to cough again and again I offered him his glass of water. After taking a drink, the Captain leaned back on his pillow and I waited to see if there were another story coming, but no — the old man slipped off to l sleep and I returned to my nursing duties.