The Black River

Arizona summers can be brutal with their heat, July especially and this particular one in 1973 was really brutal! Temps in the hundred and twenties to twenty-five, not much wind and frequent, swirling, dust storms. The dust storms led to the chore of cleaning out our pool, too.

Thursday morning I got a call from Jake Schroder and he said, “Beech, this summer’s too hot for this ol’ Texas boy. Let’s take our families up to the Black River, camp out, fish and enjoy the seven to eight thousand foot temperatures!” Needing no prompting, I obliged him and we agreed, in order to get the camp set up before dark, to leave just after lunch on Friday.

The Black River, one of our favorite camping spots, was on the Ft. Apache Indian Reservation and already having permits to fish, hunt and camp on the Apache Indian’s land helped to make the three hour, drive an easy one. South of Ft. Apache, the Black River joins the White River to form the Salt River and the chain of lakes that leads down the Salt’s canyon to Phoenix. By the time the Salt reaches Phoenix, except for periods of heavy rain, it is just a dry river, bed, flowing on until it meets up with Quiotosa Wash and forms the Gila River that flows on until it meets the mighty, Colorado at Yuma.

Enough geography! Camp setting was easy too with each of our total of six children having their assigned chores. Jake and I planned our next days fishing trip while our wives started the preps for dinner. He and I would grill the steaks on our special, two by three foot, piece of steel, expanded metal. In 1971 we found this great, grilling, tool beside the road and used it whenever we camped out. During our move to Atlanta in 1974 every item of our goods was delivered, but for the piece of expanded metal and I’m sure that some moving hand acquired him a great grilling tool also.

As the sun was coming up Saturday morning there was no breakfast in bed as we gobbled a hurried snack and started our descent down into the canyon of the Black River. The canyon sides went from a pleasant walk, to a slide, with a misstep meaning a fall of some distance. Jake, our boys and I made it safely down to the river. The boys explored, like the girls above, looking for artifacts that were illegal to remove from the reservation, while Jake and I began fishing for the plentiful small mouth, bass.

Our lure of choice was a Mepps, Number 2, spinner a great choice for the small mouths and any lurking trout. I have used this spinner in several places along the Colorado River in Arizona, in the Big Thompson River in Colorado and in Georgia on the Chattachoochie, all with great results!

We were both armed with whippy rods, spinning reels with eight pound, line and we were also armed with .22 pistols, that later, led to an interesting development. We carried along our pistols, not using them once, for self defense, against the many rattlers.

We saw no one else during our two day stay, fished all day Saturday and Sunday morning, kept enough for a good mess for a two family fish fry and, needless to say, the fishing was great! After a quick meal of fish sandwiches, we gathered up everything, packed our trucks and, with Jake and his family in the lead, headed back to our homes, better said as ovens, in Paradise Valley.

After a several mile, four wheel drive only, jaunt we finally hit the blacktop and waiting for us, it seemed, was a White Mountain Indian Policeman. These have always been tough guys, the same Policeman that helped subdue the mighty Apache Nation and forced most of them on to the San Carlos Reservation. An ironic note to this sad chapter in our Nation’s treating of all Indians, was that after rounding up the Apaches, the White Mountain Apache Policeman were also herded on to boxcars and shipped off to Florida, returning years later to their mountain home.

The Policeman pulled us both over, checked the Shroder’s papers, no racial profiling then, then came running back to our truck shouting, “Where’s the pistol, out of the truck?” We unloaded everyone and I showed him the unloaded, pistol, a Ruger Bearcat, quite expensive now, he took it and said, “This is illegal on the Reservation and I’m going to keep it!” Offering a barrage of reasons why he should just give us the gun back and send us on our way, he finally relented, but forcefully said, “I don’t ever want to see either of your families on this Reservation again!”

We never went back, but Jake, his son, the same son that told the Indian Policeman about our gun, his son-in-law and grandson went back two years ago, but he never told me about any police encounters.