Cool Head and Iron Nerve

Cool Head and Iron Nerve November 24, 2018

While studying the Doctrine and Covenants, the amount of times the Lord told the Saints to “Fear not” has really impacted me.  This injunction from the God of Daniel in lions’ dens, men in fiery furnaces, Ammon standing alone against warring Lamanites, David facing Goliath.  I want this sure firmness in mind and soul.

While camped in Winter Quarters, the Lord told Brigham Young and all members of the restored Church

Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies.

I’ve been reviewing family stories for this kind of fearless approach to life.  Many ancestors found themselves called to settle a wild frontier.  I have lots of family stories of men with iron nerves but know the woman had to be just as steely. After all, while the men were recovering stolen horses, sheep, and cattle, the women stayed back defending their homes.

A story of Zachariah Decker shows a man who relied on God and self. With unflinching courage, he maintained composure and the human dignity of himself and a horse thief.

Zachariah Decker
Zachariah Decker

(Samuel F. Smith recorded this story of Zachariah Decker for the family’s history on March 11, 1947.)

In the early days in the settlement of Northern Arizona, the Aztec Land and Cattle Company bought up every odd-numbered section of land and overran it with thousands of head of cattle from Texas.  With the cattle came hordes of rough me as wild as the long-horned steers they were driving.

Having what they called legal possession of the whole range, they became domineering and ugly towards other users of the public domain. This made it unpleasant, if not unsafe, for the honest homesteaders and ranchers.

Zachariah Decker seemed to have an urge to live on the outridge of civilization.  Perhaps it was because of his training as a youthful scout on the frontier in Utah to guard the colonists against the raids of Indian bands who would steal and run off the stock.  Whatever it was that influenced him, Zack was out on the front lines.

He was interested in sheep and cattle and had acquired a homestead and some holdings along the edge of the Mogollon Mountain Forest.  He stubbornly held fast to his claims and protected his stock interests. He persisted in his rights for the use of the public domain (the even sections of the land.) This, of course, placed him at variance with his neighbors, the Aztec wild men. But they were forced to respect him because he stood his ground.

Zack often came in contact with the men on the range with their braggadocio and display of guns. He never manifested any fear but took pains to show them that he was as expert and accurate with a gun or pistol as any westerner. He had been a good marksman from his boyhood.

The men shrewdly began to contrive against him but he was nearly always clever enough to outwit them. Once they drove off a band of his sheep and put them in a corral He followed and forced the men to open the gates and drive them out so he could take them home.

Zack Decker’s Bay Mare Goes Missing

Now the story:

One day Zack missed his bare mare from where she was grazing near the ranch house. He studied the situation and discovered that she had been unhobbled and taken in the direction of his neighbor, Jim Stott’s place, ten miles away.  He determined to follow the tracks and get the bar mare. The tracks led him almost directly to Stott’s ranch. He rode up to the house and shouted “Hello” (a very common practice among ranchers.)

Jim Stott came to the door and said, “Hello, Decker, what are you doing over here?”

“My bay mare got away and I followed her tracks over this way. Have you seen anything of her?”

“No, Decker.” And remembering due courtesy to a rare called, “Come in.”

“Don’t care if I do for a while,” replied Decker.  They visited as neighbors for a good while clashing wits, etc. Finally, Zack said (suspecting all the while that his mare was there about) “It’s a good piece back home. I’ve a notion to stay with you tonight.”

“All right, Decker. Make yourself to home.”

As it began to get late in the evening, Zack thought his host showed a little nervousness. Directly, Stott said, “Decker, I’ve got to get out early in the morning and go out to the pasture and take care of some stuff I have out there. Sleep as long as you want to and you know how to get your breakfast and take care of yourself.”

“Oh sure. All right,” said Decker.

Tracking Stott and the Mare

When morning came, Stott was gone. Zack prepared and ate a light breakfast, got his saddle horse and went out exactly in the direction Stott had gone. Out of sight of sight of the house, he found where Stott had gotten off his horse and there was a stake a horse had been tied to.  The grass was all tramped down and here and there the tracks of the tethered horse showed plainly. He examined them carefully and knew that bay mare’s tracks.

Zack knew the tracks of his horses as well as he knew their color. If the horse was shod, he knew if a nail had loosened and come out. He could tell if a horse was lame and which foot was lame by the print of the tracks. He could tell if a horse was being ridden or worked in a harness or loose by carefully observing the tracks.  A real westerner observes everything.

He saw where Stott had taken up the rope, put it on the bay mare’s neck, mounted his saddle horse and led the mare away. So off he went after them as fast as he could trace the tracks.

The tracks led him away over the mountain rim and into the breaks on the south side. On and on, down and down a ravine.  As he passed, he noted a fork in the trail leading to the left but the tracks led him straight on down.

The day wore on and the sun became hot. Down and down the tracks led on. Way after midday, he came to a sharp angle in the canyon wall and there behind some sticks and limbs of a tree, the old bay mare whinnied for him.

He quickly put his rope on his mare and started back up the trail with eyes and ears keen for the sight or sound of anything.

At the fork of the trail he had noted as he passed on the way down, he now noted that the same horse that led the way down had come up that fork. So Zack knew that by way of detour, Stott had come up and was on his way home and so they had missed meeting.

It would seem very fortunate that these two men, in their respective humor at this moment had missed meeting on this narrow trail. For Stott was repute everywhere as the terror of the forest country. But Zack didn’t consider it just that way.

He rode directly back to Jim Stott’s ranch and shouted, “Hello.”

Stott came out and assuming an air of cleverness returned, “Hello, Decker. Where did you find your mare?”

“I found her right where you left here. And I say, Stott, it’s getting kinda late to go home. I’ll stay with you tonight if you say.”

“All right. Take care of your horses and come in, Decker.”

Stott Recounts the Story

Days afterward when Stott met a group of his pals, he told the story.

One cowboy piped out, “Did you give him a bed?”

“Oh sure.”

“Did he sleep?”

“I guess so, he had a hard day.”

“Why didn’t you shoot him? Best chance you’ll ever have.”

“I thought of that very thing. I carefully lit the candle, but I thought I heard him cock his pistol underneath the bedclothes and I didn’t want a duel with Decker.  I was pretty sure someone would get hurt and I was afraid it wouldn’t be Decker.”


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