A Near Disaster


Andy’s bare feet kicked at his reflection in the water. He bit his tongue to keep himself from talking, but it didn’t stop his thoughts. Why can’t I go? I’m twelve now. I could help!

Slowly Andy put his moccasins on and sauntered up the footpath to the house. Disgustedly he kicked into the dirt. The flying pebbles sent the chickens squawking in every direction.

“Andy,” his mother asked, “are you still pouting about your father’s decision?”

“I’m not pouting.” Andy stuffed his hands deep in his overall pockets and leaned against the porch post. “I’m just wishing I could go on the hunt.”

“Maybe next time,” Mother said.

“That’s what you said last time.”

“I know, but the bobcat hunt is not just a game. You’ve heard of the damage that old cat’s done. If the cat wasn’t killing the sheep, the men wouldn’t go either. It’s dangerous! Now come on in, your father’s already washing for lunch.”

“Andy,” Father said as they finished eating, “I’m sorry you can’t go on the hunt. I hope you understand.”

Andy sat back down in his chair. His eyes were glued to his empty plate. “Is Billy going?” he asked.

“No. Mr. Longrun and I decided together that you are both too young. Maybe next time, Son.”

Andy went back out to the porch and sat on the step. At least Billy isn’t going either, Andy thought. But still I wish I could go. I’ve listened to all the men talking at the trading post and I know almost everything there is to know about that cat.

His thoughts were interrupted as a wagon pulled up in front of their house. Billy Longrun jumped out of the wagon and started toward him. He didn’t smile and Andy knew why. Without a word Billy sat down on the steps.

After a long silence Billy finally spoke. “My mother said you could come stay with me while my father is gone.”

Andy began to smile. He remembered what fun it was to stay in a Navajo hogan. If he couldn’t go hunting, this was the next best thing.

“I’m sure Mother will let me go,” he said.

“Let’s ask her now. I don’t want to watch them leave,” Billy said as he pushed his black hair out of his eyes.

Andy’s mother said that he could stay with Billy, and in a few minutes he had a small blanket roll of his belongings collected.

“I’m ready!” he shouted as he ran out the door. “I’ll race you to the black rock.”

Both boys ran as fast as they could to the rock then slowed to a walk, laughing between deep pants as they tried to catch their breath.

“I have an idea,” Andy said when he had his breath back. “While the men are on the hunt, let’s go trapping.”

“That’s a great idea,” Billy said. “Then when they get back we’ll have some pelts to show them.” His black eyes began to shine.

“That way staying home won’t be quite so bad,” Andy said.

Mrs. Longrun was sitting just outside the hogan weaving. Her long black hair was tied back with a piece of bright cloth and her arms and fingers were covered with beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry.

Billy sat down beside her. “Can we go trapping?” he asked.

“If you don’t go for long,” she answered.

“We’ll be back before the sun sets,” Billy promised.

Inside, the hogan was very warm. The fire in the coal stove was still smoldering. There was not a lot of furniture, but Andy recognized the bedrolls stacked against the wall. While he put his bedroll by the others, Billy gathered up the traps.

“Now be careful,” Mrs. Longrun called after them. “Don’t forget the time.”

Andy and Billy tramped through the bushes and grass into the hills, then they followed a large stream into the forest. It did not take long to find several good places to set the traps. Just as the boys started back, Andy suddenly grabbed Billy’s arm and said, “Hey, wait!”

“What is it?” Billy asked.

“What’s that between those two trees way over there?” Billy looked in the direction where Andy was pointing.

“I can’t tell.”

“Let’s go see. We have time,” his friend suggested.

Billy looked at the sun and then nodded in agreement. Quickly the boys made their way over to the trees.

As they came closer Billy grabbed Andy’s arm. “Stop! It’s a shindee hogan.”

Andy had heard his father talk about the Navajo customs, and he knew that when one of them died a new door was cut in the north wall of the hogan for everyone to leave and then the hogan was destroyed. But if for some reason the hogan was not destroyed, it was considered haunted. The haunted hogan was called a shindee and under no circumstances would any Indian go near it.

Slowly the boys found their way back to the stream and started for home. Billy’s mother had supper ready. “Tell your mother about the shindee hogan,” Andy whispered as he took a bite of fry bread. Mrs. Longrun stopped short.

“It was near the river in the forest,” said Billy. “I’ve never seen it before.”

“Was it near the high ledge?” Mrs. Longrun asked.

“Yes, and it was almost hidden by the trees,” Andy told her.

Mrs. Longrun began to smile. “It is not a shindee. It was Littlewolf’s hogan, but it was built in a very bad place. Instead of building on the warm mesa he built in the forest where the sun could give it no warmth. He had to move.”

Very early the next morning Andy and Billy were up and off to check their traps.

The first trap had been sprung, but nothing was in it. However, a skunk odor was so strong that it was almost impossible for the boys to get near enough to reset the trap.

“Wow, that animal left a strong message!” Andy said as they wiped their stinging eyes.

“Let’s get out of here!” Billy motioned for Andy to follow.

They hadn’t gone far when they heard a strange, weak bleating sound.

“Oh no!” Billy pointed to the left. “One of the lambs is caught in our trap.”

The lamb’s front leg was not seriously cut, however, and carefully Andy opened the trap while Billy tried to comfort the frightened animal.

“She’s just scared. She’ll be fine,” Andy said as he patted the lamb’s head.

“We’re not far from that abandoned hogan. Let’s take her there until we finish checking the traps,” Billy suggested.

The boys were almost to the hogan when they heard a noise. Carefully they crept behind a dirt bank so they could see what was causing it. Two bobcat cubs were playfully rolling in front of the hogan.

Quickly the boys ducked down! “The big cat must be near,” Andy whispered. “The man at the trading post said she’d never go far from her cubs.”

They looked again just as the mother cat appeared with her ears pricked, as if she sensed intruders. Then the lamb began to bleat. The hungry old cat tensed and held very still. Billy grabbed for the lamb’s mouth, but it was too late. The cat had heard.

“What will we do now?” Billy asked softly.

“Put the lamb down!” Andy cautioned.

“But we can’t let the cat get her,” Billy protested.

“We won’t,” said Andy. “We’ll just use her for a decoy. Hold the lamb down in that crevice where it will be hard for the cat to see her and I’ll circle around behind the hogan.”

Andy took the downwind side and quickly, but very quietly, circled behind the hogan to where the cubs were still playing. The big cat continued to search for the lamb.

Carefully Andy crawled up behind the cubs and then, when the old cat was out of view, he grabbed one of the cubs by the tail. The cub started squalling.

Andy leaped behind a rock just as the mother cat ran to see what was wrong. She pushed the cubs into the hogan and then came out again, her head erect and alert for intruders.

Andy’s heart was beating so hard that he was afraid the cat could hear it. But she soon disappeared into the hogan. Andy moved cautiously toward the opening of the hogan, slammed the door shut, and put all his weight against it.

“Hurry, Billy, and bring the biggest rocks you can carry,” Andy shouted.

The angry cat growled and pawed furiously at the other side of the door. Andy’s heart was racing faster than ever while he waited for Billy to bring rocks to barricade it. Afterward both boys quickly carried heavy rocks to make the barricade secure. Then they ran home, stopping only to pick up the lamb.

Breathlessly they told Mrs. Longrun what had happened. She listened quietly and then said, “The men were just here. They’ve been hunting the cat all night, but they could not find it. I’ll see if I can catch them and tell them where it is.” And she hurried from the hogan.

In a few minutes Billy’s mother returned. “I told them where to go,” she reported. “You boys did a very dangerous thing. You could have been slashed to ribbons.”

“But I know all about that cat,” Andy insisted. “And we’ve helped everyone by catching it! I’m just glad I listened to the men talking about her at the trading post.”

“Bobcats are smart,” Mrs. Longrun explained. “There is only one thing that really saved you from being attacked. The cat must have thought the intruder was a skunk because that is what you both smell like!”

“Is that why she didn’t come after us?” Andy asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Longrun answered. “And it’s lucky for you or you might have been in real trouble.”

“I’d be in trouble if I went home smelling like this,” Andy said. Then turning to Billy he added, “I’m glad for that stinky old skunk, but we better wash up good, so my mother will let me in the house tonight or I’ll have to start living in that shindee myself.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post