At Dead Mule Crossing

Damon Runyon

“Things certainly look mighty bad for us this night,” my grandpap is saying. “There we are, fifteen of us men with the women and children, behind the wagons and four thousand Injuns pressing in from all sides.”

“What in time are you talking about, anyway?” my grandmaw says, as she comes into the room just as my grandpap makes this crack.

Well, my grandpap seems no little confused for a minute, but he says to my grandmaw like this:

“I am telling my grandson about the fight we have at Dead Mule Crossing with the Comanches back in the early days,” he says.

“How many Injuns do you say are there?” my grandmaw says, looking at my grandpap over her specs.

“Well,” my grandpap says, “I say there are four hundred,” although, of course, what he really says is four thousand.

“Tell him the truth,” my grandmaw says. “There are just four Injuns, and tell him what happens to these four Injuns.”

“It is a very historical fight,” my grandpap says, “anybody knows this.”

“Historical fiddlesticks,” my grandmaw says, “I will tell our grandson just what happens myself. I do not mind your lying to tourists, and the like, but do not corrupt the mind of our youth with misstatements of fact.”

Then my grandmaw draws up a chair and sits down and says to me like this:

“Bub,” she says, “it happens away back when we are coming from St. Joseph, Mo., in wagons, with the women doing all the work, as usual, and a passel of good-for-nothing men like your grandpap walking ahead and behind to keep a lookout for danger, and half scared to death they will find it.

“We come to Dead Mule Crossing on the Arkansaw one evening and make camp for the night. They are maybe a dozen wagons, and ten or fifteen men and twenty-five women and children, more or less, including the Wintergreen family from Fulton, Mo.

“Mis’ Wintergreen has a young baby, Ella May, and Ella May is teething, and raising Ned all the trip. Mis’ Wintergreen sits up with Ella May most of the way from St. Joseph, and any time Ella May dozes off it is a great blessing to poor Mis’ Wintergreen.

“Well, along toward midnight there is a terrible whooping and hollering around the camp, and your grandpap, who is a very brave man, comes climbing into our wagon with his gun and says: ‘My goodness, maw, we are surrounded by Injuns! There are thousands of them outside, and we are gone goslings!’

“From the noise they are making I can tell there are not thousands, although it sounds as if there may be twenty or thirty, because one Injun is like one frog. He can make plenty of racket.

“All the other men are running every which way trying to find some place to hide, and maybe fight after they get hid good, when I hear Mis’ Wintergreen’s voice saying: ‘Please stop the noise, it will wake up Ella May. I just get her to sleep, and I wish to catch a few winks myself.’

“Then somebody tells Mis’ Wintergreen it is the Injuns making all the racket, so all of a sudden I see her run to a campfire where there is a big kettle of water which she is heating in case Ella May wakes up and needs medicine or what not.

“The next thing I see, Mis’ Wintergreen has the kettle by the handle and is headed for the direction of the noises, and by and by we hear Injuns squalling louder than they are whooping a few minutes before. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail these Injuns are tearing up the underbrush getting away, and Mis’ Wintergreen is back looking to see if Ella May is awake.

“What she does to these Injuns is give them a good scalding,” my grandmaw says. “I can show you one of them to this day. He is old Chief Tomato who sells hot tamales, and he has no more hair on his head than a bald eagle. Old Tomato tells me many times there are only four in the bunch, and they are just looking to steal a horse or mule when out hops a crazy woman throwing liquid fire around.

“This is the story of the terrible fight at Dead Mule Crossing which your grandpap tells about,” my grandmaw says.

“It is a very historic battle,” my grandpap insists.

“Ella May Wintergreen grows up and marries this Dods Campbell,” my grandmaw says, paying no attention to my grandpap. “Come to think of it now, she will be a lot better off if the Injuns get her this night at Dead Mule Crossing.

“Furthermore,” she says, looking at my grandpap, “maybe some of the rest of us poor women will be better off if the same thing happens to us.”