“Halver,” Mother called as I sat on our adobe steps pulling cockleburs from my pants. “Run to the corral and open the gate for your father. He’s coming with the horses.”
Glancing toward the field, I saw our two workhorses, Button and Clipper, coming through the tall grass, their harnesses jangling as they walked. Father trudged behind them, holding the reins. He had left the plow in the field. I raced to the corral, jerked back on the wooden latch, and yanked the gate open.
Button and Clipper looked ragged and tired as they clomped slowly into the corral, their heads drooping, their sweating sides heaving, and their hooves knocking up puffs of dust as they walked. I felt sorry for them. They had been working hard all week, pulling the metal plow through the dark, damp dirt.
“It sure looks like they’re tired,” I said as I closed the gate.
“They’re worn out,” Father agreed. He pulled the harness off Clipper and slapped her on the rump, sending her toward the manger where some hay remained from the morning feeding. “At one time these two could have plowed that section of the field before noon. Now it takes all day. They’re getting too old for this kind of work.”
“Does this mean we’ll get a new team of horses?” I asked excitedly.
Father pulled Button’s harness off and hung it on the fence next to Clipper’s. “We can hardly put food on the table to feed ourselves,” he mumbled. “We can’t afford to buy another team. We’ll just have to make do with Clipper and Button.”
My shoulders sagged. Ever since we had moved back to Pacheco, Mexico, life had been tough. Pacheco was in the Sierra Madre Mountains and had been settled by members of the Church 30 years earlier. When the Mexican Revolution started in 1912, we Latter-day Saints had abandoned our ranches, farms, and homes to escape bandits and fighting armies. After the Revolution ended, some were able to return to their old houses, but most of us had to start all over again.
Father sighed as he studied Button and Clipper standing in the corral. “They need a good rest, Halver. How would you like to ride up to Strawberry Canyon with me tomorrow? There’s some good grazing there. Button and Clipper need to take it easy for a week or so, fatten up on that mountain grass, and catch their breath before we do the planting.”
Even though I was only seven, I was the oldest boy in the family and mighty proud that Father had invited me to help. We got up early the next day, put halters and lead ropes on Button and Clipper, and started through the trees.
A trail wound up to the mouth of the canyon, but Father didn’t want to take it. “I’m afraid if we take the horses up the trail, they’ll just wander back to the barn before nightfall,” he explained. “We’ll have to trick them.”
“How do you figure you’ll trick old Button and Clipper?” I asked.
“Strawberry is a long canyon, and the walls are pretty high and rugged. We’ll take Button and Clipper up along the top of the canyon to the far end; then we’ll climb down into the canyon from above. If we take them down that way, they won’t want to climb back out, and they won’t realize that they can just follow the canyon down to our place.”
Father’s plan sounded good, so we turned off the regular trail and rode along the mountain ridge running parallel to Strawberry Canyon. At first it wasn’t too hard, but then it got rocky and steep. The brush was thicker, and there wasn’t a regular trail to follow. Father walked ahead leading Clipper, while I followed riding Button bareback.
I started feeling nervous as Clipper and Button struggled to keep climbing. They were breathing hard, and sometimes Button stumbled over a rock or a root.
“We’re coming to some Johnny-jump-up,” Father called over his shoulder, “so keep your legs as high as you can.” Johnny-jump-up was a thorny bush that grew all along the mountain. It was mean and prickly.
Suddenly I got a dark, frightened feeling inside. I knew I should climb off Button and walk, even if I had to tromp through the prickly bushes. “Father, can I just walk behind Clipper and lead Button?” I asked hesitantly.
Not hearing me, Father kept walking. “Am I just scared?” I asked myself. I pressed my lips together. I wanted to be brave. I looked away from the canyon below and kept my eyes on Button’s long, pointed ears. But the feeling came again, this time even stronger. I didn’t hear a voice, but something told me to get off my horse and walk.
“Father, I want to get off Button and walk,” I called out. My voice sounded strange.
He stopped and looked back at me. “I was just thinking the same thing, Son.” He looked puzzled. “Slide off, but be careful.”
Slowly I slid off Button’s back, keeping him between me and the edge of the canyon. Once my feet reached the ground, I crept in front of the horse, took hold of the lead rope, and followed Clipper and Father. The thick Johnny-jump-up scratched my skin, but the bad feeling inside me went away.
We hadn’t walked more than a few feet when we came to another really steep spot. Just as we were starting to cross it, Button stumbled to the side. He scrambled to keep his balance, but the soft ground gave way. I tugged on the lead rope, trying to help him, but he was already sliding down the steep slope.
“Halver, let go of the rope!” Father called out.
I held on for a moment longer before letting go. As I did, Button’s back legs slipped out from under him and he fell on his hindquarters; then he tumbled and slid toward the canyon’s rocky ledge.
My eyes widened as I stared at poor Button slipping away from me. I hoped he would get his feet under him and steady himself so he could lunge to where Father, Clipper, and I waited. But it didn’t happen. He slid down further and rolled over the ledge, disappearing from sight.
I looked at Father, who still clutched Clipper’s lead rope. His face was white as he stared at the dreadful spot where we had last seen Button.
“I couldn’t hold him,” I rasped, trying desperately to explain.
“I didn’t expect you to hold him,” Father said gently. “That’s why I told you to let go of the rope.”
“Do you think he’s dead?” I croaked.
Father nodded slowly. He came back to where I stood and put his arm around my shoulders.
“How will we do the planting?” I worried out loud.
“We’ll figure that out later. But right now you’re safe—that’s what’s important. If you had stayed on him, you would have gone over the ledge, too.”
“I just knew I had to get off.” I pressed my hand to my chest. “I didn’t hear anything, but I knew in here that I had to get off.”
Father nodded. “I felt it, too. Someone was watching over us today, Halver. The Spirit whispered a warning, and I am thankful we listened.”
Father and I were sad about Button, but as we returned home, I felt warm inside. I knew that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ watched over me and that the Spirit would protect and guide me if I listened to His whispered warnings.