Summer weekends are a time to get away from the triple-digit Phoenix heat and head up into cool country. With my sons and grandsons, I went up to the Mogollon Rim. A two- hour drive from the city and you find yourself on top of a mile-high plateau with the mountain lakes and Ponderosa Pine. The Yavapai Indians call this “the top of the world,” and it is also held sacred by the Navajo, Hopi and the Apache.
What could be finer than camping and fishing with my boys for a weekend? Fishing with little girls was certainly easier—the boys forever need to be redirected. They hear nothing the first time, perhaps a word the next time you get their attention, but it’s only by the third time when the volume escalates that they hear an entire sentence. By Saturday afternoon, I needed a couple hours alone in the mountain air to read, write and sip good bourbon.
But nighttime is my time with the boys . . . storytelling time around the campfire. My grandsons love to hear scary ghost stories in the woods. When the night sky begins to sparkle, I tell the stories of unspeakable horrors. I start out with the truth about these sacred cliffs and how the tribes came here to conduct spiritual ceremonies. Then I expand a little and add how sacrifices were sometimes performed here.
“What kind of sacrifices?” the boys want to know. I tell them the facts about the unspeakable violence foisted against Indians over the last 200 years, from forced conversions to monetary payments for Indian scalps and ears. Then I said that sometimes Indian warriors got even. The Apache, for example, often brought back prisoners as slaves, sometimes even sacrificed them.
“That’s so bogus,” my grandsons said laughing. That’s when I told them that not far from where we were sitting Indians used to sacrifice human beings by tying them on an altar and then dropping a huge stone to crush them. That stone is actually on display in the National Museum in Mexico City, which one of my son’s acknowledged seeing there. The boys want to know what happened to the splattered victim. I told them their blood ran down gutters carved directly into the altar and was collected in a silver bowl by ceremonial priests, who later drank it.
This proved too much for my sons, who chimed up about my hypocrisy — I who rails on endlessly about the destructive influence of media violence on children telling my grandsons about crushed prisoners, who sacrificed their blood for priests to drink.
My grandsons wanted to know what happened at the ceremonies conducted here on the Rim. I told them the Apache especially liked capturing young fair-skinned boys.
“Why?” the boys asked. “Because you can watch them grill better over the fire,” I said, adding, “They still conduct ceremonies here.” They say you can’t hear an Apache until he is already on top of you. They can sneak up to a campfire, pluck somebody out, and the only way you’d know it is when you heard a kidnapped boy’s screams disappearing in the night. Just then a gust of wind rustled the trees, and I turned, then screamed, “They’re coming for you now.”
All right, it smacks a bit of cruel torture, but at least it’s not an everyday bombardment. Once a year, alone in a sacred place in the woods, they face their fears, with their Papa.