Life in the Old West
HELEN LINE was born in the West. Not only is she a west- erner by birth; she has lived in the western spirit. How many persons had a 400-square-mile Western cattle ranch as a childhood playground? That’s 20 miles, in any direction.
How many persons today had a father who was threeyears-old before the Civil War ended? But, more significant, whose father, as a young boy, was shot through the back by the arrow of marauding Indians, yet lived to tell the story?
How many, after the experience their father went through, lived for parts of two years on the Navajo Indian Reservation and counted the Navajos and the Hopis among her choicest friends?
Helen Line’s life was made up of all these ingredients. Many aspects of her life, and of her parents’ lives, reveal the hazards of early frontier western conditions. Her mother, Rose Ann, as a four-year-old child living with grandparents in the remote regions of southern Texas, contracted a severe illness which lingered on. Apparently she “died.” Doctors were not available. Sadly the family started to “lay her out.” “Look,” said a grandmother. “Her eye seems to be twitching. She may not be dead.”
She wasn’t. That four-year-old child recovered, grew to young womanhood, migrated to New Mexico by covered wagon, married, and raised eight daughters. She lived to age 82. The story of Helen’s father being shot by Indians was another frontier tragedy that ended, not in death, but in a widening of human understanding. That too had been in Texas, in the hill country of Kimble County where Helen’s grandparents lived on a ranch by the banks of Bear Creek. This was Indian country but settlers and Indians got along well until some white man killed an Indian. The relationship changed. The men of the ranch were away, driving cattle. The women were outside the small ranchhouse, spinning cloth on a loom. Three young boys, twelve-year-old Jasper, six-year-old Lewis, and five-year-old Albert (who would become Helen’s father) went with their little wagon down the creek bed to gather firewood. It was a homemade affair, the wheels being discs made by slicing the trunk of a pecan tree with a cross-cut saw. The bed was of carefully hewed boards. When the wagon was loaded with good dry hard firewood they began pushing and pulling it up the bank of the creek. The Civil War had but recently ended. Jasper relates what happened, as taken from the book It Occurred in Kimble, and How, by Texas congressman 0. C. Fisher. This is the account, condensed slightly, from that book.
As we came out of Bear Creek with the load, we immediately saw three men on horses coming to meet us in a gallop. We thought they were Civil War soldiers passing through. When they got closer we saw they were Indians.
They stood there a bit, apparently deciding what to do with us. There was a big bend in the creek and we lived in that bend. Finally one of the Indians decided to stay and watch us, and the other two rode toward our house, but soon returned. We could do nothing and just stood there, waiting.
Then one of the Indians reached down and caught one of my hands and tried to pull me up on the horse. I kicked and fought hard. My little brother, Lewis, who was only six years old then, caught my other arm and helped me pull loose. The man then let me go, probably because he changed his plans, because he could have forced me to get on had he tried hard enough.
The Indians seemed undecided about what to do with us. I thought sure I would be killed when one of them put an arrow into his bow and aimed it squarely at my head. I thought I could see another of them shake his head, so the bow was pulled down.
They then let us go ahead of them a ways and we crossed the creek near where the trail forked, one going to Charlie Jones’ and the other being the dim San Saba road. We started to take the trail to the Jones place but they rode in and turned us away, motioning for us to take the other path. That would lead us away from home, so we screamed and started running frantically toward our mother.
As we ran down the hill the Indians sat on their horses and started shooting arrows into us. One arrow struck in my left side near my heart, and plowed along my ribs. Another hit me about the same place on my right side. Both had steel heads, and penetrated the muscles but did not cut into my vitals. Neither of them went through, and were left dangling from my sides. My little brother Lewis was shot in the back, right between his shoulders, but the arrow was a blunt-headed one. Lewis reached back and pulled it out as he ran. Little Albert (Helen’s father) was shot in the back, the steel-pointed arrow going entirely through his body, the head barely emerging in front, but by some miracle did not penetrate his vitals.
We were all running and screaming, and as we were only a short distance from home, the Indians probably were afraid aid might come to us, so they disappeared into the woods.
But our screams were not heard and our mother knew nothing of the attack until we were near the house. She was sitting with our aunt, out at the loom spinning, when we got there with blood streaming from our wounds, and the arrows dangling from our sides. My older sister, Mary, immediately ran, alone, for help, to Rance Moore’s. As she approached the Moore’s, Rance was below the house setting out fish hooks in the creek and looked up to see her fly by and into the front yard. She was overcome and fainted as she entered the front door, but soon revived and sobbed out her story. Mr. Moore did not wait for details. He hurried to Charlie Jones’ and the two of them were at our house in a little while.
They pulled the arrows out of my body. In Albert’s case, Charlie Jones cut the arrow head off and pulled the arrow back out the same way it had entered. They doctored us up the best they could and we were put to bed.
Mr. Moore went on over to Nixon’s on North Llano. Mr. Nixon was regarded as a right good home doctor and he came over to render what aid he could. The first thing he did after looking us over was to prepare what he called “slippery-elm poultice.” To prepare the poultice he would break the elm bark up and beat it into a pulp, then wet it and apply this to the wounds. It was supposed to have great drawing power and Mr. Nixon claimed it would keep the wounds open until they healed from the inside.
After the first aid treatment had been administered, Bill Moore, son of Rance Moore, was dispatched to Mason to carry the news to the father and brother of the victims.
Rose Ann and Albert Gibson with their eight daughters. Albert Gibson, born in 1862, eventually died of Indian arrow wounds. Oldest daughter, Mae, third from left back row, died in 1990 at age of 96. Helen is directly in front of Mae.
By traveling all night he arrived the next morning, and before sunset of that day the anxious father and brother had arrived at their Bear Creek home.
It seems providential that all three of the youthful victims survived. It developed that Lewis, who apparently was the least injured of the three, suffered the most from the blunt-arrow wound in his back. A bone had been chipped and an infection developed many years later. At the time of this writing he lives at Jourdanton, Texas, where he operates a drugstore.
That ended Congressman Fisher’s account.
Albert Gibson grew to manhood in Texas then journeyed by covered wagon to Silver City, in the territory of New Mexico. Rose Ann, the girl who had once been given up for dead, had grown to womanhood and had already migrated from Texas to Silver City by covered wagon. Albert and Rose met at a cowboy dance, married, and had the first of their eight daughters, Mae. The unknown regions still farther west were beckoning again. Father, mother, and baby daughter—again in a covered wagon—made their way through a western wilderness, to a new homestead in Globe, in Arizona Territory.
There in Globe seven more daughters were born to Albert and Rose—the Gibson girls of Globe, they were called. Next to the youngest was Helen, born in 1907.
Their new home was close to Indian country—Apache land. Helen recalls the colorfully clothed Apache women, sitting on the board sidewalks in front of the store where she went with her parents for supplies. Indians! Back in Texas, Indians had shot her father. Helen was apprehensive.
Her father was doing well in this new land. He owned two ranches, the Dripping Springs Ranch, and the V.O., which was the brand for his 10,000 head of cattle that roamed the 400 square miles he leased from the government. Eight daughters and no sons, on a 400-square-mile ranch.
Hard times eventually beset the cattle business. Albert Gibson was outbid on his government lease and had to dispose of his cattle. He bought a small 250 acre ranch near Phoenix. That 250 acres, which he later sold, became part of Scottsdale, Arizona. The old ranch house, a state historical landmark, still stands at 1310 North Hayden Road.
There were more moves. In 1928, Helen and I were married and in the 1950s, in the making of some professional color motion pictures, we spent a large part of two years on the Navajo and the Hopi Indian Reservations.
At first Helen was apprehensive but the genuine friendliness of these Native Americans gradually erased all elements of fear or concern. Or nearly all. There were occasional moments, especially when she would waken at night as we were camped in some remote spot on the Navajo Reservation, that temporary uncontrollable waves of fear assailed her.
Ralph and Sally Gray were our closest Navajo friends, as I mentioned in the last chapter. For years, Sally had had health problems which the doctors in the hospital in Tuba City were unsuccessful in treating. One evening Helen and I drove up to their hogan just as a one-night family sing and healing ceremony was to begin. With their small son acting as interpreter, they invited us to participate.
“But,” said the son, “if you come into the hogan and the ceremony begins, you cannot leave until morning.” A dozen Indians sat on the dirt floor on either side of a small fire which was burning in the center of the hogan. Men were on one side, women on the other, with four medicine men at the end.
The chanting began. As one chant neared its end another would start. One medicine man beat rhythmically on a small tautly stretched piece of leather. Except for a ten-minute cessation at midnight, the chanting and beating on the leather drum continued uninterrupted till dawn. One of the younger medicine men, who spoke good English, translated for us the theme of each new chant as it began.
In the large four-day sing at Dennehotso we had been interested spectators. Here we were emotional and spiritual participants. We did not take part, vocally, in the chanting but our thoughts, our prayers, and our love for Sally and for all these others, flowed to them from our hearts.
My thoughts—and I later found that it was much the same with Helen—were carrying out to all parts of this great reservation which had been our virtual home for so long and where we had been recipients of so many acts of friendship. Our emotions were welling up in strange ways as they had not done at any time since we had first become close friends with Ralph and Sally.
Physically, the steady beat of the drum and the strange rhythmic beauty of the chants pounded into our brains until we were living in a world we had never experienced before.
In the four-day sing, the chanting and the drumming had all taken place in the open, with distractions of cooking, talking, and daily life going on. Here all the sounds were in the confines of that one hogan, with those drumbeats and vocal chants enlarging themselves in our eardrums until we were mesmerized. We were being carried into a world we had never experienced before. We were transported beyond ourselves, beyond the present.
Sally’s face was beautiful—lit up not only by the flickering light of the fire, but seemingly by some intense inner light. Helen said later that she sensed a halo about Sally’s head. Here was a night of rapture, of unspoken but deeply felt waves of communication. Chant after chant, each one a thing of beauty. Hour after hour. And the beating on the drum. Sally’s face radiated with an inner glow.
At 4:30 a.m. the chief medicine man arose from the position in which he had been sitting throughout the entire night. Slowly he began sprinkling some corn pollen around the circle. This was followed by the sprinkling of water. Sally was given a brew to drink, which had been simmering on the fire. The medicine man uttered some verbal instructions which our translator whispered to us: “Pray for Sally.” We did so—and had been doing so much of the night—with an intensity that had seldom before been ours.
Slowly Sally arose. Slowly she stepped to the entrance of the hogan, and walked out to face the dawn of a new day. The rest of us did the same.
Three results accrued from that strange night. Later contacts brought us the news that Sally’s health and physical condition had improved greatly. We do not understand the nature of the healing processes associated with one of these Navajo sings. Whether pyschosomatic, emotional, or physical, in very definite ways real elements of healing occur. In much later years—even in the 1990s—we have read scientific articles telling that modern medical technicians are adopting some of these so-called primitive methods of healing, as aids and adjuncts to more traditional medications. Placebos sometimes have curative effects, not because of any medical reasons but simply because the one taking them thinks they are medically effective. Thought, not medication, provides the cure. Add to that all the emotional conditions attendant on a sing and it can readily be seen why they so often bring healing.
A second result of the strange night—an immediate one—was our almost complete physical and emotional exhaustion. Saying farewell to all our friends, Helen and I drove out to a remote spot on the desert, made up a bed in the Jeep, and slept for the entire day and the next night. The steady rhythmic drumbeating churned in our ears; it was days before its effects departed.
The third result of that experience on the dirt floor of that hogan, surrounding the fire as the chanting and the drumbeats continued, perhaps proved the reality of the healing process that occurred. Never again, in the 35 years since, has Helen ever had even any remote feelings of fear associated with Indians, which had previously sometimes uncontrollably resulted from her father’s having been shot by Indian arrows. Helen as well as Sally was healed that night.