Tuesday, October 14, 2014

And I thought my life was tough....

I love cemeteries.  The older the better.  They are filled with ghosts of the past.

Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson holds the remains of thousands of gutsy men and women willing to brave the unknown in Territorial Arizona.  A few years back, while wandering through the worn graves I noticed a small, unassuming marker.  I don’t know why it caught my eye, or why I wrote down the name carved into the stone. 

Once home, I did some research.  No one personified the perils awaiting those who ventured into the southwest desert better than the occupant of that plot. 

Larcena Ann Pennington was born in Tennessee and came to Tucson when she was twenty years old.  Two years later, she married John H. Page.  A year after that, she was kidnapped by Apaches while her husband was away doing whatever it was frontiersmen did in 1860.  The day-long march over rough terrain was difficult for Larcena, and frustrated with her inability to keep pace, her captors stripped her to her petticoat, beat, speared, and finally threw her over a ledge.  Some accounts say they also shot her a couple of times for good measure before they left her for dead in a snowbank twenty feet down.  Confident  all the stabbing, punching and plummeting had killed their prisoner, the Apaches distributed Larcena’s clothing and shoes between them, and continued on their way.
Later that day, John returned to discover his wife and many of their provisions missing.  I picture him trying to decide if their homestead had been raided or if Larcena had just gotten fed up with living in the middle of nowhere and took off.  Either way, being a man with mad pioneer skills, he tracked her boot prints to the spot where she had been, just days before, unceremoniously shoved to her death.
However, the plucky Mrs. Page was not so easily dispatched.   Despite her injuries, she was merely knocked out.  When she finally came to, she heard John calling her name.   Three things worked against Larcena:  She was too weak to respond, her husband didn’t peer down into the gully where she laid, and, most importantly, one of the Apaches now wore the boots.  John continued on, following the prints he believed were made by his wife.  

Undaunted by her bad luck and despite the injuries, Larcena eventually managed to get herself moving.  After ten days, subsisting on only native plants and melted snow, she heard the sound of wagon wheel s and climbed to the top of a ridge to get a better look.  Using her petticoat attached to a stick, she tried to signal the people below.  Much to her chagrin, no one noticed and by the time she made it down, everyone was gone.

Did Larcena lose hope?  Of course not!  She was one kick-ass woman; no kidnapping/murder attempt/feeling like crap was going to stop her. A few days later, starving and decidedly under dressed, she crawled into a lumber camp.  At first, the men thought she was a wayward squaw and almost shot her before one of them realized who she was.  Good thing.   How ironic if she’d survived the wounds, the fall, and the wilderness for two weeks only to be cut down because of mistaken identity.

Larcena recovered from the ordeal, but did not escape further tragedy.  When she was three months pregnant with her first child, John Page was killed by Apaches, a fate also suffered by her father and two brothers.  One sister succumbed to malaria, another to pneumonia.  Larcena contracted smallpox but that didn’t kill her either.  In fact, she lived until she was seventy-six, a tremendous accomplishment given the era and her history.

I believe Larcena called out to me that day, knowing I would appreciate her tenacity and indomitable spirit.  Have you ever experienced a message from beyond the grave?  One commenter will win digital copies of the first three books in my Coursodon Dimension series.