We could smell water. Large cottonwood trees formed a green line above the tan landscape disclosing the winding path of a hidden stream. This was exactly what we were looking for. We ducked behind the ridge to avoid being seen. We talked with excitement and gave thanks. We were one of several scouting parties sent to find a new home suitable for our people. Despite years of prayers, the water and game in our ancestral territory were growing scarce. Our families were slowly perishing in the hot country seven days’ walk to the south.
Suddenly, an arrow slammed into my back. It’s sharp flint punched through my ribs and lodged in my sternum. I fell forward, gasping in shock. I heard shouts and the sound of bodies falling. My hands raked the ground, uselessly seeking my bow, uselessly seeking escape. Shadows moved over me, but I couldn’t see their sources. I thought urgently of my wife and young son until a second arrow tore through my heart.
I could smell water as I approached Skull Valley. Before moving to Prescott, I had never smelled water nor imagined that it had a smell. Surprisingly, it does, and every desert dweller from raccoon to rattlesnake knows it. After twenty miles of sweeping pavement west of Prescott, I was reluctant to slow as Iron Springs Road dropped into Skull Valley. The 25 mph entry sign flashed ’48’, so I slowed a bit more.
I stopped at Skull Valley Station–a gift shop, formerly gas station–in the center of town. For the first time in many visits, it was open. I went in, curious to discover why any responsible town council would choose the name ‘Skull Valley’. Butch, the owner, said that the town was named for the large number of human skulls and other bones that white settlers found here. Evidently, many skirmishes had occurred–perhaps spanning centuries–contending over the area’s water. Nobody had made an effort to tidy up.
Life today may not be perfect in this tiny Arizona town that celebrates Halloween year-round…but life’s a lot better than it used to be (see The Rational Optimist, July 30, 2017 post).