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IN THE REAL OLD WILD WEST
The story of Charles Chester Towner - 1883 - 1956
by Delah Jo Ann Towner Aiman
From the September 2009 issue
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John Clum in 1898   "Chet," as he was called, was born in Arizona Territory in February of 1883. His birth- place was somewhere between Willcox and the San Carlos Indian reservation area. The exact location of the ranch his parents owned has not been located to date.

   In 1889 Chet was 6 years old and his sister Gladys was 10. White men dressed as Indians came to their ranch after sunset one day and murdered their parents and all the other children. Chet and Gladys survived because they were away from the house in the root cellar cleaning vegetables for their mom. No one saw them but they noticed that the "Indians" were wearing cowboy boots and had blankets thrown over their saddles.

   Later they tried to tell the sheriff who really killed their parents but no one would believe them. They were sent to San Carlos to the Lutheran pastor. He was going to send both Chet and Gladys back east to an orphanage. My Aunt Gladys was not going!!! She had already heard enough horror stories about "those places!"

   She packed up their few belongings and they slipped away and went to live with Apache Indians in the Superstition Mountains. Their family had befriended the Apaches and helped them for many years. Chet and Gladys knew they would be welcomed and taken care of by some of the remnants of Geronimo's family that were still living in these mountains near the Lost Dutchman's gold mine.

   Chet stayed with the Indians for 10 years. At the age of 13 he and 8 Indian boys were sent out into the desert with only a knife, water flask and bow and arrows. Each boy had to be on their own, as they were not allowed to help each other. For 3 months they had to survive the desert conditions during the spring.

   The ultimate test for each boy was to bring back 3 tail feathers from a female eagle knowing she had baby chicks in her nest. Only Chet and 3 Indian boys survived and returned to camp. These 4 young men became official Indian braves.

   Chet, as he was called, lived with the Apache Indians up at the Superstition Mountains in the 1890's for about 10 years. Not knowing the month in 1889 that his family was killed by white men dressed as Indians, we will continue our story as of 1890.

Chet and his sister Gladys were well taken care of by the remnants of Geronimo's family. They were hiding out in those mountains and knew very well how to evade the Army Troops. Chet learned how to hunt for food, how to really ride a horse well and how to tame one also. The Indians had a very special way of taming horses. Chet learned how to make arrows, holders for his arrows and he also learned how to make the points. He learned to make a very sharp point. And also the different sizes that were necessary for different types of wild game. He was taught how to track animals and people and how to walk very softly in the surrounding terrain. I remember as a child of about 6, Granddad walking up so quietly behind my Grandma that he was able to startle her. Of course she yelped!! That was the whole idea!!

Chet learned the importance of never killing an animal unless it was needed for food. And you always gave back to Mother Earth some of what you took as a thanks offering. The Indians never killed just for sport; nor did they cut off the head and leave the rest to rot!!! That was the "White Man's Way."

Gladys learned how to use the hides of the animals to make clothing and other things that were needed. She also learned how to cook and prepare the various types of game that were brought in to their camp. She learned how to use every part of the animal's body so that nothing was wasted. She learned how to make the shelters they lived in and how to make the bundles that were used to move from one camp to the next. She also had fun just being a child and knowing that she and her brother were loved and well taken care of.

When Chet left the Indian family, he traveled to west Texas and sought work at the big King ranch. The day that he got there the foreman was in town getting supplies for the ranch. And Chet came up on the other cowboys in a circle around the horse corral. In the middle was one of the ranch hands whipping a horse!!! Apparently he was trying to tame it. This made Chet very mad, because he was taught to NEVER WHIP A HORSE!! Chet got into the corral and grabbed the whip and proceeded to whip the ranch hand. At that point the other ranch hands jumped in and proceeded to beat up Chet.

The foreman arrived while all of this was going on, and wanted to know just what they were doing. One of the men that had stayed on the fence told the foreman what all had happened and why. Then he (the foreman) went over to Chet and carefully turned him over and tried to talk to him.

Mrs. King came running and told the foreman to bring Chet into the house to see if he would live. He was really badly beaten and could not walk on his own. Mrs. King nursed Chet back to health and this took at least two weeks of her constant care. During this time Chet was able to tell Mrs. King and the foreman why he jumped into the corral that day. The ranch hand that was whipping the horse was fired and told never to come back there again. The foreman had given strict orders the NO horse was ever to be whipped and they all knew it. And because this ranch hand did it anyway he got fired.

Chet told Mrs. King that he knew the right way to tame wild horse and would really like a job there on the ranch. Chet was hired and for about two weeks all he could do was help Mrs. King around the ranch house; because he was still recovering for all of his injures. Finally Chet was able to move into the bunk house and start his regular job. The foreman told him about the contract that they had with the Army to break and get ready for riding about 35 wild horses that had been rounded up. Chet said that he would be glad to get them broke for riding.

Chet waited until the full moon and then took the horses out to the big lake at midnight (3 at a time) and would then lead them into the deep water, one at a time and get on their back and ride them until they "flat" wore out. This was the way the Indians had taught him, and the horse can not tread water and buck you at the same time and very soon they just give up because they become very tired and want back on dry land.

Chet did this as many nights as the moon remained bright and full. Working with about 6 horses a night. When he got up in the morning he would saddle them, one at a time, and work them in the corral and get up and ride much to the surprise of the foreman and the other ranch hands. They had no idea how Chet was able to ride these horses especially when none of the others could even get close to them. The only person Chet told about the way he broke the horses was Mrs. King. And he made her promise to keep his secret.

After Chet left the King ranch in Texas, He went on to Montana, hearing that there was plenty of work. On his way he and his horse got caught in a very bad snow storm. One of those white-out kind. Finally after going around in circles for quite a while, Chet finally just dropped the reins and let the horse lead him. And low and behold the horse found their way to a safe place to get out of the storm. Good lesson for a person to remember.

After working in Montana for awhile Chet went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad laying telegraph wire across the west. Granddad told my brother and me that it was really strange, but whenever he was working with the crews the Indians didn't bother them. But when he wasn't working, the Indians raised havoc with all of the lines and went after some of the workers too.

Around 1910 my Grandfather eventually went back to Iowa where he had some relatives and five years later married my Grandmother, Vivian Bell, who was part Sioux Indian. They had two boys and one daughter (Uncle Joe, Aunt Helen and my Dad, Charles Chester Towner, Jr.) In 1940 after my dad got married the whole family moved out to San Diego, Calif. and on the 14th of December, 1941, I was born. My brother Craig was born in August of 1944.

During WWII, Granddad worked at Consolidated Air Craft plant doing security work and Grandma worked on the line helping to put new planes together. Back then everyone did something to help the war effort!! (I still have one of the coupon books that were issued for groceries, tires and basic household items. Each book was made out for each member of the family.)

From 1948 until 1959 my brother and I spent every week-end with my Grandparents, so that my Dad and his new wife could have that time together. It was during those wonderful week-ends that we were told all about Granddad's life as a young child to adulthood.

In 1956, when I was in Jr. High, my Granddad passed away. The year before he had gotten the Apaches to extend the land use agreement to another 99 year lease up in McNary, Az. for an uncle and aunt that had a logging mill and had been in business for about 35 years.

A whole group of Apaches from San Carlos, Az. came by horseback to San Diego for Granddad's funeral. Third grade classes all across San Diego were invited to attend. It was really something to see and a real honor given to my Grandfather. Memories that have stayed with me all of these years. These stories I have told to my children and they along with many other people have encouraged me to finally set down and write about "Chet Towner's Life."

What is really amazing to me is that in 1999 I moved out here to Willcox Az. and I just knew that this was the area I had heard about from my Grandfather. It all came alive in Oct. 2007, when a friend discovered, thru researching my ancestors, the information about the Joseph Towner Family (Granddad's family) having a ranch up in Bonita (25 miles north of Willcox) from 1883 to 1889 when their ranch house was burned and everything stolen from the family, including my Granddad and his sister Gladys. I hope that all who read this story will be entertained and also learn something about our wonderful county of Cochise. After all we are "In the real OLD WILD WEST." Where all it really happened.

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