Peter: A Study in Red  (1896) 
by William Wallace Cook

Extracted from Munsey's magazine, in "Storiettes," 1896 May, p. 168.


Peter was a Maricopa—only an Indian, that’s all. He had no sense whatever. He’d allow his squaw to work two weeks weaving a basket which he would finally sell for four bits. Peter, on the other hand, would make a bow and brace of arrows in an hour and sell them for a round dollar; but he turned his hand to no other labor, and rarely to this. The Great Spirit, in His inscrutable wisdom, had created squaws and palefaces for the purposes of toil. In this dispensation He had overlooked the red man.

The philosophy was comfortable. Peter believed it soulfully, and he would let down one suspender, and sit in the shade, and smoke, and watch Mrs. Peter weave, her thumbs all bloody from the awl and the sharp rushes.

Peter’s sensibilities were blunted. If he poured oil on the wounds, it was simply to heal them over so that more baskets could be turned out, and not, particularly, to soothe Mrs. Peter’s pain. In short, in the bright lexicon of the Maricopa brave the definition of the word “squaw” was nil.

As before hinted, Peter smoked. This ennobling habit he borrowed from the white man, thereby getting even with Sir Walter Raleigh for borrowing it originally from the Indian.

Peter also drank whisky. This habit he likewise borrowed from the white man; borrowed it never to return; so, for this particular habit, he got even with nobody.

But why is it that, on the mesa overlooking the Hassayampa River in southern Arizona, there has been reared a great, white cross bearing the name of “Peter,” and sacred to the memory of the Peter of this narrative?

The story is short, and here it is:

The Hassayampa is a modern Pactolus. Its whole bed is a placer mine. A company was formed, two immense dams were thrown across the stream, and a lake covering fourteen acres was artificially made. A terrific “head” of water was thus produced, and the kind of mining known as “‘sluice” mining was successfully prosecuted.

The company had expended thousands, but cent per cent was being returned on the investment, when there came a cloudburst which swept away the dams and sent a tidal wave one hundred and ten feet high rushing down the valley.

The melancholy fates ordained that Peter should be in the track of that onrush of water. He was mounted on a swift pony. For a moment he listened to the low hum of the waves, and then struck spurs into his pony’s flanks and laid the rawhide quirt in stinging lines along his shaggy sides.

The mesa was some distance away, but Peter knew he would win in his race with death. On bounded his horse. A moment later, however, Peter pulled him in with a strong tug at the horsehair bridle. In front of the Indian, her face pallid as death, and her straw hat, spilling full of golden lilies, lying unheeded at her feet, stood a white girl.

She spoke wildly, passionately. Peter understood her not.

She folded her hands and raised them above her head, turning her blue eyes to heaven. Then Peter knew; her peril flashed over his dull mind in an instant.

Two could not ride to safety—one might.

Could he have reasoned, at that critical moment, with the fineness of his white brother, would he have dismounted, assisted the fainting white girl into the saddle, and then cut his pony across the flank with his quirt? This is what Peter did, and whether any one else would have done as well, perhaps it would be better if we do not question.

After the flood had passed, they found the Indian. He was dead, of course, together with some forty others.

It was the father of the blue eyed girl—president of the company whose fortunes had been wrecked—who raised the cross with its carved inscription; and when it was done, the mound was watered with tears from blue eyes, and in the fair heart of one woman, at least, was reared a greater monument to the redskin’s memory, one enduring to the end of time.

Mrs. Peter married again, and wove baskets and made pottery ollas for another lord.

Peter’s children were sent to the Indian school near Phœnix, Arizona.

And some people grumble at the government for such an instance of “misplaced charity”!

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1933, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 89 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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