Dolan Springs, Arizona. What a place of contrasts. Almost one hundred miles from my home in Las Vegas and twenty or so from my place of employment on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. During the day it was a grubby little collection of shacks and mobile homes. It was mystifying why anyone would choose to live in this desolate spot in Mohave County.
A few bored teenagers could always be seen lounging in front of the local mini-mart, and a large portion of the population seemed to consist of long-haired black leather-vested biker types. They were always present, usually sitting in the shade of sickly-looking Palo Verde trees, either sucking on a longneck beer bottle or working on their Harleys. They were beer-bellied and grayed, and had the look of someone who would pick your property clean if anything was left out in this unfenced, unincorporated rural smattering of trailers. Signs on all the little cafes read, “No guns permitted. Check them as you enter.” They were posted because of the hermit twins who wore loaded pistols in Roy Rogers holsters.
The evenings, however, were magical. The night sky in the desert has to be experienced to be believed. One could easily imagine that the elongated, crystal-glowing-orange tails of the low-flying jets from Nellis Air Force Base moving at just under the speed of sound were Navajo skin walkers. Then there are the night vibrations from the Black Mountains that only coyotes or the neighborhood dogs can hear, making every one of them howl at once for miles around, precisely at 11:19 p.m. And there is nothing like lying the back of a pickup truck on a clear night and drinking in the millions of stars in the sky. Even so, at times I had to remind myself why I was living in this apparent God forsaken place instead of my comfortable home in Las Vegas. I was a contract school teacher, and for two years I had been working at the nearby Hualapai Indian Reservation.
My landlord was Robert. The only thing available when I arrived was a spacious six-bedroom trailer of add-ons that his parents had left him. Even after two winters, however, I had not become adept at starting the kindling in the little stove. It worked well when—through dumb luck—I did manage to coax a flickering match into a roaring fire. Robert kept me well supplied with fine mesquite for the cast iron potbelly, but I wanted something less complicated, and with lower rent.
Eventually Robert refurbished a camper for me, the kind usually mounted on an F-250 Ford pickup. It sat on its own concrete pad next to Robert’s house, and the manual-flush RV toilet was connected to his septic system. My house-warming gifts included ten starter malt liquor bottles filled with water to use for flushing. The faucet and hose were located immediately outside my door and the water source was his own deep well, possibly the purest water in the Southwest. My new abode was wired for electricity, so heating was easy and inexpensive with a small space heater. I could heat bath water in a family-size crock-pot. One part simmering to two parts hose water produced a perfect relaxing bath. The galvanized portable tub hung by its handles of the way on an outside wall when not in use. What a bargain that had been at the local feed store.
“But, Mom,” my oldest daughter had argued indignantly, “You just can’t! I don’t want anyone to know my mother bathes in a horse trough!”
I told her it was brand new. She just didn’t understand.
Although warm and toasty inside, it was also small and confining. Isolated from town, I became lonely. Next door, though, in a reinforced, solid-rock, saber-decorated house with a bulletproof glass entry, were my landlord, his wife, and usually several assorted friends. They said I was always welcome to come over.
I was pleased with my new living quarters, but I immediately discovered that there was a downside. Most of the locals had a watch dog or two, but Robert had a big red rooster. Only here, surely, could someone have talked him into acquiring this mite-infested evil fowl for a watchdog. It seemed to regard the path to his door as forbidden territory. Taking the dirt path through the 200-foot remilitarized zone had become increasingly stressful.
“Just throw him some corn. That’s all he wants,” Robert told me the first time I encountered his creature. Once I tricked that walking obstacle by dashing around the house from a different direction. He remembered. Since then he had run around the other way to hold me off from either direction. I never considered feeding the thing. It was beneath my dignity to bribe the despicable creature in order to exert my inalienable rights as a free citizen.
Who in the world bartered with Robert to rid himself of this foul herdsman of two wary, nervous hens? At least it wasn’t the man with the foul-smelling billy goats, though that might have been a better deal. It must have been a family from up in White Hills, where Joshua trees grew tall enough for night roosting. They built stick houses there instead of pads for trailers, with coyote-proof fencing. Whatever convinced Robert this was the answer to the protection of his property instead of a dog?
The big red rooster was no ordinary feathered farmyard friend. This one was miserably mean. He struck with his beak and clawed with his spurs. His eyes flicked from side to side, staring, watchful, while his neck jerked like a mutant pigeon, calculating his attacks with black belt timing. All I wanted to do was talk to Robert, my landlord, but this territorial sack of feathers wouldn’t let me pass. I approached and retreated twice. Hey! Who’s in charge here? I was going through. No stupid rooster was going to stop me. He was only a bird, at most, a couple pounds of auburn, arrogant filth.
This time I picked up a two-by-four from one of the junk piles and gave that vicious fowl a dignified adversarial nod. I stood up tall, flexed my knees, and readied for battle. I was coming through his gauntlet that day, and that’s all there was to it.
I advanced. He attacked. Three times he flew at my feet. Each time I vigorously shook him off with an easy kick. Still he wouldn’t move. Now I was incensed. I didn’t care if he was someone else’s personal property. I was going to kill him. He needed it, he deserved it, and the world would be a better place without him. I’d smash in his head, pound him flat, free his harem, and leave him for the coyotes or nightwalkers—whichever came along first.
When he was in range, I swung. I hadn’t been that bad
with a bat back in elementary school. One connection and he’d be blasted into left field. The wooden stud was an awkward weapon. A full swing took so long that I moved in slow motion while he flap-hopped about with lithe gusto. I swung repeatedly, but he easily sidestepped me. Once I laid him flat. I thought it was over, simple as that, but he popped back up again. It would take a little longer.
I eyed his stance and planned a fatal blow. Prepare to die, you filthy drumstick, you two-legged hen-rammer. But now he knew my approach, my weapon. He knew the worst I had to offer. Coming at me under the swoosh of my swing, he made his target. I felt his sharp delivery deep through my jeans and the sweatpants I wore under them. So this is what an adrenaline rush feels like. Suddenly the meaning of that expression, “fight or flight,” became clear. “You . . . you!” I was livid. One of us was going down. The final moment had arrived.
The next thing I knew I was standing inside Robert’s entry, too hyperventilated to talk, lifting my forefinger to warn, “Wait, just wait!”
“Sorry I didn’t hear you,” Robert said, as his wife turned off the television and looked on with startled concern. “The TV was blasting away.” I stared at him blankly with a dropped jaw, trying to breathe. Hear me? Hear me what? I shrugged my shoulders with non-comprehension.
“You were yelling, ‘Robert! Robert!’ over and over,” he explained, carefully. “I thought something terrible had happened. Why didn’t you just give him some food?”
Robert walked me home, discarding some yellow litter he’d withdrawn from a pocket on his fatigues. It scattered and tinkled like gravel as it hit the ground. I never took my eyes off that rooster as long as it was in view, turning my head to watch it as we passed. It offered only a dull-eyed glance in return. Then it ratcheted its neck, haughtily turned its back to me, and jerkily walked away, pecking up the yellow corn.
To this day, I still carry the mark of that creature. There were two other spots on my foot, but they cleared after a few weeks. Three doctors have looked at the shin blotch. No one knows what it is. Sometimes it looks like a birthmark, sometimes a new grease burn, and sometimes like Day One of the flesh-eating virus. They’ve given me all kinds of ointments. I’ve even covered it with airplane glue, a sure cure for ringworm. I crossed it with duct tape. Nothing helps. Those city doctors. Not one believes I got it from a killer rooster attack, and so it remains, much like a combat ribbon. »»»
Jo Anne Plog is the daughter of Mary Erwin Plog, and the granddaughter of Odes and Hazel Erwin. For a number of years she was a contract teacher on various Indian reservations in Nevada and Arizona. -Ed.