Roxie’s Treasure

By Helen S. Crane

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    Roxie sleepily raised herself on one elbow. She peered out from under the cover of the wagon that she and her young brothers shared as a bedroom with their father. It was not yet light. But Father was already up, as usual, taking care of the animals.

    The little boys were still asleep. Roxie pulled up their rumpled quilt to protect them from the chilly morning air. Then she snuggled back under her own quilt for a moment. I’ll make it in a few minutes, she silently promised herself.

    She knew that the mothers in their group and most of the older children were already up, busy with all that had to be done. Father didn’t like her to be lazy. But Roxie’s mind couldn’t resist drifting back for a while to the long trip they had taken from the Valley of Deseret to this spot in the northern part of Arizona Territory.

    They had arrived on Roxie’s twelfth birthday. She had written down the date—March 24, 1876. Roxie also recorded the day that her mother and the new baby had both died. She remembered the fear she felt when they crossed the big river at Lee’s Ferry. Then they made the hard climb up over a high ridge called the “Backbone” and the difficult descent down the other side to the arid banks of the Little Colorado River.

    Brigham Young had sent the group to make a settlement there and to befriend the Indians. The Hopis were friendly from the start, and the settlers soon learned that their name meant peaceful people. They helped the settlers build boweries of poles and branches to guard against the summer sun while they worked on more permanent buildings.

    The Navajos were different. Roxie shivered again as she thought back to the early spring days when they first met members of their tribe. Some of the young boys in the settlement had gone out hunting. Seeing what they thought was a wild range steer in the bushes, they shot it. They had no idea that the animal was claimed by the Navajos.

    When the truth was learned, fear ran through the camp. And then into their clearing had come riding Comazzy himself. He was the proud head of this Navajo clan. Roxie had been proud of her father. He was one of the men who finally persuaded Comazzy to sit down for a powwow that lasted most of the afternoon. There was much loud talking and gesturing of hands and heads. Roxie’s father knew enough Spanish to act as a sort of interpreter, since this tribe knew quite a few Spanish words. When the Indians left, they took with them sacks of flour and dried fruit.

    Since that day the Navajos had treated them with respect, but their trust was guarded. Still, they had traded some calves for the feast to be held today in honor of the settlers’ finishing their large common house with its attached bowery.

    Roxie finally dressed under the thick quilts. Then, moving carefully so she wouldn’t waken her brothers, she gathered up her full skirts and stepped from the back of the wagon. A small black lizard scurried away as she stepped down. She noticed the pinkish gray of the sky behind the jagged rocks to the east.

    Across the clearing Roxie saw a group of women and girls entering the new big house. She thought of how Brother Garn had teased her the night before. “See, Miss Roxie,” he had said, “I fixed a special hook here by the new fireplace for that fancy ‘gold’ bucket of yours.”

    Roxie had smiled, for she didn’t mind being teased about her brass bucket. It was one of the few things that her mother had been able to bring from her home in England when Grandma and Grandpa had settled in Nauvoo.

    As Roxie entered the big house and crossed to the doorway of the kitchen beyond, her eye went to her little bucket hanging there on its peg. It does shine like gold, she thought with satisfaction.

    Some of the older women were preparing the veal in roasting pans to go into the big rock oven. A couple of others were kneading the dough that had been slowly rising under its clean folded flour sack through the night. Then Roxie noticed Sister Lewis ladling thick cream, from a pan of milk she had set out the night before, into the big wooden churn. Roxie crossed over to her and picked up the butter dasher without waiting to be asked. Churning gave her time to watch all that was being done to prepare for the feast.

    The sun had reached the cloth-covered windows on the west, and the savory smells of hot meats and vegetables mingled with those of molasses cakes. At last the settlers gathered around the long tables in their new main room. Gratefully they bowed their heads for the Lord’s blessing. This was their first feast.

    Everyone was so busy passing around the big pans of food that no one paid much attention to the dogs’ excited barking outside. Then one of the men near the doorway rose and pushed aside the blanket that served as a door. He caught his breath quickly, and the others crowded around him.

    There in the clearing was a band of Navajos, mounted on their long-maned horses. Standing out from the rest of the group was Chief Comazzy on his fine buckskin pony with its silver-trimmed Spanish saddle. Beside him was a young woman.

    Roxie’s father was among the first of the men to go out to meet the unexpected guests and lead them to the bowery to rest. The women scurried around inside the house now, worrying whether they had enough food and eating utensils to serve the new arrivals. Sister Hatch found a clean sheet in the big chest and told Roxie and Polly to set the worktable in the adjoining kitchen for the Indians. She helped the girls find and wash more tin plates and cups.

    The men led the group of newcomers through the main room into the kitchen, but in the doorway Comazzy stopped. His eyes took in the scene. Then a curious thing happened. Comazzy turned around, jerked his head for the others to follow, and strode out of the room toward his horse.

    The settlers were stunned. It was Roxie’s father who first thought to run out and catch hold of their horses’ bridles as they were whirling them around to leave.

    Roxie and the others watched the excited gestures. They were able to understand Comazzy’s mixture of Spanish and English. He was insulted that he was to eat in the kitchen where women should eat.

    “Comazzy, please believe us!” Roxie’s father said. “We intended no insult by the seating arrangements. Come back. We really are your brothers!” He took out his pocket watch and extended it toward the chief as a peace offering.

    Comazzy stared straight ahead like a statue. The other Indians sat as though made of stone.

    Suddenly Roxie thought of her treasure and ran to fetch it. She felt a pang in her heart as she lifted the precious little brass bucket down from its peg. But she hurried outside with it and went straight to the chief’s young bride and held it up to her.

    A hush fell over the watchers. Then slowly, as if in a spell, the dark-skinned girl stretched out a slender bracelet-spangled arm for the shiny little bucket! At a signal from the chief, one of the braves swung down from his pony, took the offered prize, and fastened it to the young girl’s saddle.

    The tension was broken. Now everyone tried to talk at once. Sister Hatch nudged Roxie and motioned her to come back inside. The Indians were once more led to the bowery. The women and girls hurried to rearrange the tables and reheat the food.

    Roxie’s father escorted Comazzy back inside and ushered him to the head of the main table. Roxie glanced over to where the Indian ponies were tied under the trees. She could see the golden glint of her little brass bucket tied to the saddle. She wished she could go over and just once more rub a finger along its satiny side.

    Before she hurried inside, Roxie paused for a moment. She listened to the joyful cries of the little children playing down the path and to the breeze that was starting to rustle through the leaves by the river. Rays of gold and scarlet were starting to streak across the heavens to the west. Roxie brushed back the tears, took a deep breath of the cooling desert air, and went inside to the feast.

    Illustrated by Barbara Bailey