NELLIE CASHMAN: FINDING WATER

One of the Arizona Territory’s most colorful women was a feisty little Irish immigrant who settled for a time in Tombstone. She was a rough-and-tumble gal, but there were times when she heard angel’s voices too.

The vitality and inner strength of Nellie Cashman defy analysis. This spunky little dynamo did the toughest of physical work. Long hours meant nothing to her. In times of crisis in Tombstone and the surrounding country, when the morale and spiritual reserves of the people had to be recharged – Nellie was always there – like some mysterious inexhaustible spring of water that appears unexpectedly out of the earth to those about to perish of physical and spiritual thirst.

Actually, that’s more than a figure of speech. There was an event when Nellie seemed to make a spring of water appear where none could possibly be found.

It happened during the gold rush at Guaymas, Mexico. The news of a gold strike always fired up prospectors and miners in the Arizona Territory. A little group of Tombstone prospectors organized a party to go to the newly discovered fields. Nellie Cashman was elected to lead the expedition.   They headed across the desert to Guaymas, Sonora, and then by a small boat across the Gulf of California to Baja California.

After weeks of exploring on foot – up dry washes and over barren saw-toothed volcanic mountains – no gold was found. But it soon became a more importantly search.

The barren desert of the Baja Peninsula is one of the driest places on Earth. In this scorching land, the men soon forgot about gold their water supplies were soon gone. It was life sustaining water they now craved, and they were lost in the arid land. After weeks of searching they began to lose their senses and dig with their hands in the sands of the dry river beds. There was nothing.

To the east the gulf beckoned with its shining blue billows. To the west the Pacific lapped at the rocky shores. But those waters offered nothing but growing anxiety. Even the breezes blowing in from the ocean failed to cool them. Those hot strokes merely added to their drying bodies. As if a symbol of their obvious fate, they finally settled in the bottom of a dry canyon – unable to go on.

Nellie was the one exception to the growing panic. “Don’t worry, boys. I’ll find water. You settle here.”

There were no doubters. They knew Nellie Cashman too well. This woman heard angel’s voices. She had heard them for many years and told anyone who would listen about this gift. Now, she was sure they would lead her to water; it was time to listen for them again.

Nellie disappeared into the hot, lifeless mountains. The men crawled into any cave or under an outcropping to get out of the driving sun. Nothing was heard from Nellie. Two days passed and the situation had become desperate.

Then suddenly, human forms appeared at the top of the canyon. Nellie’s voice called down to the men. She had returned with some Mexican natives drawing burros behind them bearing goatskin containers filled with water from an old mission hidden in a nearby valley.

Nellie had heard the angel’s voices again. She told the men she only had to follow the voices in her mind. When she heard the strong inner whisperings, she never doubted. She merely listened, and then proceeded to follow its course to do the impossible.

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