In Memberance of Miss Annie

The Arizona Cattle and Land Club was located just off Route 66 near Yampai, that’s a few miles northwest of Seligman which itself is almost due west from Flagstaff.  Not many people get up that way, most stay on the Interstate traveling about seventy or better.  Route 66 is the old round about way to US 98, the road that goes to Las Vegas.  In the spring it is a most scenic drive if one has a mind to go that way, and the time.  One of my old college buddies Arizona State was born and raised up that way.  He grew up on a ranch and learned how to herd cattle as soon as his father placed him on a horse.  The family spread had been passed down from his grandfather, a man with a ramrod for a spine and penetrating eyes, as I recall when I met the old gentleman.  His eyes only took a quick glance to size a man up.  But then he had been an Arizona Ranger back when the automobile was more liability since it needed something of a road on which to travel.  When Zach’s grandfather, for which he was named, quit the Rangers he settled down close to Yampai and ran cattle on the open range.  His legal spread was only five thousand acres but the range was closer to five hundred square miles.  “Weren’t flat land like down there in Tuscon.  No sir.  We had good grass in the spring that lasted through the summer if you moved your herds around like you ought to.”  Zachary Taylor Adkins.  Tough as wang leather and hard as steel.  Not one to speak much but when he did every man and woman in the room paid quiet attention.  I rather envied Zach for having grown up in such a rich environment.  He shrugged it off.  “Twasn’t much, really.  I mean Grandpa wasn’t one to tell tales.  Even Dad was a bit vague on our family history.”

Back in those old days, there had been a dozen ranchers like Zachary Adkins.  Besides running their herds together so that the Navaho wouldn’t make off with more than one of two head at a time, they would bring in the herds together to the railroad yards outside Flagstaff.  The buyers always tried to play one rancher off another.  You know, tempt one with a higher price per head so he could knock the others down a dollar of two.  But Zachary Adkins would have none of it and no rancher would go against him.  The others like John B Cole, Simon Rhodes and his brother Cecile, Colonel Roberts ( a late comer to the group), and the rest formed the membership of their ranch association.  They called it the Arizona Cattle and Land Club.  They even bothered to build a real club house, complete with several bunk rooms for overnight stays.  Once a month the ranchers would get together for some recreation and general good fun.  After a while their wives complained and they renovated the club so that their were private suites, a main dining room, a game room complete with two pool tables and and a wives lounge.  Once better roads were built and cars made the travel faster, more reliable, the meetings became weekly.  I remember Zack’s father carrying on about the place.  “Son, they had a bar with a small stage and card tables and all that.  Why they might have a band come in and play so the womenfolk could dance and feel like women again.  The rule was, card playing only after the performances and no drinking or card playing on Sunday.  A few of the other ranchers, the younger ones didn’t like the rules but dad was strict and would allow otherwise.  I heard one rancher tell me my father was very fast with a 45 colt.  I never heard a cross word from my father to anyone and I never heard anyone ever get cross with him.”  So says Zack’s father, Mr. John Nance Adkins.

Of course as children and grandchildren came along an addition was added so the ‘younguns’ could stay out of the adults hair.  Now all this building meant that they needed a manager to keep the place in order.  Someone who would see to it that there was a barman there Friday and Saturday night.  And that the meals were cooked in the new kitchen.  The cook didn’t need to be too fancy, no one ate haute cuisine.  But it had to be good for the value paid.  Dues were to be collected at first each year and then each month as the depression came along.  Not everyone made it through the hard times.  Four ranchers lost their homesteads to foreclosure.  But the club endured with a few less members.  In the interim the club went through several managers before they found the right one.  A woman, Miss Annie Bethard, proved to be the stable force of that club.  At first the wives tended to resent her, for she was a most beautiful woman.  But with patience and humility she set them straight and made them her friends.  And if any member tried to take any liberty with her, well, she was as fast with a slap as Zachary Adkins was with a gun.  In short order she had their respect and their love.

My friend Zack used to tell me the tales other grandfathers and even grandmothers would tell their grandchildren.  It seems to be a universal in family life that fathers and mothers never fully reveal themselves to their children but will tell the tallest tales and outright lies about their own youth while telling secrets about the child’s own parents.  But the best tales were reserved or Miss Annie, as she was known.  She had come to the club at about the age of twenty five and served faithfully for twenty years, or near abouts.  Then the odd thing happened.  during the depression the WPA sent artists out to invigorate the local population with art.  I believe Thomas Hart Benton painted a couple of murals on post office walls.  As luck would have it, a young artist who would later make a name for himself as a portrait artist came the Flagstaff looking for work.  Well, he was offer a couple of walls in government buildings as was the style.  But he was also offered the opportunity to paint the portraits of a few of the wives of the Arizona Cattle And Land Club.  Now he jumped at that offer since it meant decent commissions.  To tell the truth, I’ve never seen any of his work except one.  that was the portrait of Miss Annie which hangs over the bar in the main room of the club.  Zach says that this artist was so taken with Miss Annie that he had painted a dozen different canvases of her and all but the one were burned in the club fireplace.  “My grandpa bought the remaining portrait and put it up on the wall.  A week later the artist and Miss annie were gone.  Then the war came and the club just went down hill.  With out a good manger they couldn’t keep the place the way they wanted.  Sad, the old men still meet but only once a month.  and all they do is stare at the portrait and toast to Miss Annie.”

I stopped in ten years ago to see my friend Zack.  He had just pulled off a big deal, sold some real estate in Flagstaff for a very tidy sum.  “Zach, I hear you’re filthy rich.”  I was coming through the gate of the airport.  He laughed a bit.

“Bill, I’m not exactly swimming in dough but I’m doing all right.  Still got the ranch and the cattle market is good most years.  But I’m glad you came, got a surprise for you.  We are having a real ball over at the club.  About five years ago we found a person, well, a woman really, to be the new manager.  We’ve opened to membership up to a few select locals and now it’s a going concern.”  Well, one the drive to his ranch we talked about old times and who was left of the original ranchers.  “Grandpa is still alive and kicking, least ways he can put his pants on without help.  And the Colonel still makes the regular monthly meetings.  And the Rhodes brothers still come although they are both in wheel chairs. ”

We arrived at the ranch and Maria, the maid, showed me to my room.  I unpacked and took a shower.  The plane ride had been tiring, it was a nonstop from Chicago.  But I was now feeling refreshed and found myself in the living room.  Zack was there with his grandpa.  His father had dies the previous year, auto accident claimed hi and his wife’s life.  I could feel a tough of sadness in the room.  He poured me a drink.  “Dinner will be in half an hour.  Maria is an excellent cook and her sisters often come in to do the cleaning for us.  They’re Navaho and grandpa says they can be trusted.  Actually, those women adore him.  I think he has a real good reputation with the Navaho.  I looked over to his grandpa.

“Mr Adkins, sir, it’s good to see you again.”  He looked at me very seriously for a moment then he smiled.  “Hello Bill.  Zach said you were coming.  Welcome to my house.”  I felt humbled.  that old man actually remembered my name and had actually spoken to me.  I guess I was coming up int the world.  After dinner we climbed into the GMC Suburban and headed for the club.  the drive took less than an hour due to Zach’s lead foot driving.  The old man turned to me as we sped through the night and spoke. “This young cub doesn’t slow down for anything.  Next thing you know we’ll all be dead.”   Well we arrived at the club and none of us had died in the meantime.

The ball was a grand affair and I found myself matched with a couple of eligible spinsters.  I’m no spring chicken but really, spinsers?  I notices that the four old men were at the bar looking up at the portrait of Miss Annie.  I saw one lift his glass and say, “To Miss Annie.”  and the rest would follow suit.  A lone woman stood a few feet away from them and was shaking her head.  That made me curious.  I was about to go over and introduce myself when Zack came to my side.  “Let me introduce you to our new manager.”  We went over and shook hands with the woman.  “Miss Leah Jones, meet my old friend, William James.”

“Pleased to meet you.” was her reply.  Zach drifted off in search of his wife.  I looked at her for a minute and then I noticed her eyes went towards the portrait.  “Silly fools, as if they really knew that woman.”  I looked at the portrait and I was struck by the likeness.  Miss Leah was older but there was no mistake about the lines in the portrait.

“You are Miss annie, are you not?”  My question caught her off guard.  “May I buy you a drink?”

“Pete, give us two, er, what are you drinking?”

“Scotch would be nice.”

“Give us two scotches.”  Pete brought over two tumblers with a couple of ounces of scotch in each.

“To you, Miss Annie.”

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