More from Keep Your Mind on Your Job. This is the stepdaughter, Jenny, thirteen years old. She's remembering when she was six, and her father deserted the family after he couldn't make a go of it out west. They ended up in Camp Verde, Arizona, instead of California.
Her uncle Elijah Harris is one of her captors--her birth mother's brother, out with bad companions. Jenny's relationship to her uncle is one of the things keeping them in good health--and maybe the only thing--except Anne Davison's wits.
We used to live in Camp Verde in our busted wagon. You could hear what anybody said on the dirt outside. I don’t think Uncle Eli would call it a street.
There were Indians down the hill and soldiers across the way. Cowpunchers and settlers would come through and sometimes dead people got carried in. Most nights the bar would tinkle with fancy music. Noah and I wanted to go. But Mr. Flynn told Noah we’d get the whip hand if we disobeyed our Ma.
One night, some fight crashed out of Mr. Flynn’s saloon. Ma must have been listening for it, because she was still dressed, almost to the hat. They yelled and cursed and grunted when they got hit. I covered my ears and cried; I couldn’t help it. Back then, with my father first gone, I was crying scared almost all the time.
Ma said it was the last straw. She opened the front of our wagon cover and stood behind the seat. She raised the shotgun and fired a double blast. We found that out later.
Noah said that he knew it at the time. But he didn’t know in advance.
“Gentlemen, I have young children.” Ma was so scared, her voice cracked. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but please don’t kill anybody where they can hear it.”
Noah doesn’t think they wanted to kill each other. But he only said that long afterward. At the time, he was scared just like me.
The next day, those men and some others started coming over for coffee. Every last one left a nickel a cup. Each one also advised her to shoot at one of them next time, not at the air. Because she was lucky no one shot back.
And that made no sense to me then, and it doesn’t now either.
But that’s how it started: Ma lost her temper. Then she was ashamed because she put herself forward. And then she went to work, fixing things.
She served bean soup and cornbread and strong coffee off of the back of our wagon. Those men would come by to eat a meal or take away a piece of cornbread. Some days after that, Mr. Hough came to taste the soup. He staked Ma so she could expand business into a tent. And Mr. Flynn had our wagon’s wheels repaired, so we could move behind the business.
Ma thanked him over and over. But I think he did it because men liked to fight in his saloon. And no one gets to fight much with Ma around.