Sunset Canyon goldA Story by JW Edwards
With the discovery of gold, many small towns became what folks feared the most.
Daisy opened the firebox door to the old black cast iron stove and lit the tinder stacked inside it, after adding a few good chunks of larger dried wood, breakfast would be ready in an hour. The stove had been given to her as a wedding present from her mother four years ago. The day of that wedding seemed ages ago but then time seemed to have slowed down to a crawl after leaving the Carolina coast for Arizona two years later
Yancy, her just waking husband, poked a foot out of the warm feathered poster bed but quickly withdrew it back under the covers. Their log cabin had only two rooms, a large one that served as a great room and kitchen and a smaller room that held the bed, dresser, vanity with a commode and an armoire, all dragged here from back east. Daisy heard Yancy say to no one in particular. “Dang winters, I just can’t get used to them here.”
Daisy swung open the draft door on the stove a bit more to increase the fireboxes air flow. Making fun of her groaning husband, she replied as if it were she he had been speaking to.”It was all your doing dear husband. Everyone warned us about the cold winters here, but noooo, you all just had to up and move us from Magnolia Springs where palm trees waved in the warm ocean breeze.”
The ‘Here’, was in Strawberry, nestled within the high plains of the Arizona territory. Located just twenty miles north of Payson, Yancy and Daisy had located there in midsummer of 87’. Strawberry was a single road town nestled in a small valley within the pine covered mountains. Many of Strawberry’s houses did set off the main road but you couldn’t say they were on a real road at all. A general store, livery, blacksmith, bakery, clothing and dry goods store made up the bulk of businesses. A saloon also occupied a place but most of its business was due to the excellent food served. To some men’s despair, the w***e house behind the saloon had been turned into a hotel.
“Well how was I to know it got cold here, it’s supposed to be Arizona! Tonto ain’t but a day’s ride south of here and they’s sleepin’ there with the windows opened at night! ”
“It matters little how far north you go dear, it’s the height that we are at that makes it this way. The higher up we go, the colder it gets.”
“Yeah, I’m just used to the South I guess, I mean when we had winter in Magnolia Springs, you’d have to travel all the way to Northern Virginia before you saw any snow. That’s two weeks of travel!”
Daisy made her way over to the bed where Yancy lay. Exposing his feet from under the heavy quilt, she began to rub them. Yancy lay making pleasurable sounding moans as she rubbed yesterday’s cold stiffness from them.
“You sure treat me like a king honey, I don’t deserve the foot rub, after all, it was my own stupidity that got me lost up in the mountains.”
“Nonsense dear, you made me proud going out with the other men looking high and low for the Branson’s little girl. You’re just not used to tracking in the mountains, but you’ll get better at it.
I’m just thankful she was found. Whatever would convince a child wander off in this weather completely confounds me. I was told by Ida that sometimes children aren’t really lost here but get stolen by the Apache’s and are sold down into Mexico. I’m sure glad that wasn’t what happened in this case.”
“I heard that too but was told then that it’s been a number of years since the Apache’s have been a problem.”
Daisy replied, “Still, you can’t take the chance when it comes to young ‘uns.”
“Yeah, I guess. I just wish I hadn’t got lost, I felt foolish when others had to stop lookin’ for the little girl and start lookin’ for me. It wasted a good four hours of searching. Thank God they found her anyway.” Yancy started to say something, stopped then decided to speak anyway. “Daisy, when I was lost, I think I came upon something I’m not sure should be said out loud.”
Halting the foot rub in mid sentence, Daisy’s head tilted back in question, “What are you talking about?”
“Honey, you can’t say a word, not even to your best friend Ida. She’s a wonderful lady but she does have the gift of gab. Anyway, I think I came upon a gold seam up in the mountains near where they found me.”
“Really? Are you sure it wasn’t pyrite like John Perkins found? He sure had his hopes dashed when he brought that big sack to the assayer in Payson. ”
“I’m pretty sure. There’s a big recently broken off piece of cliff that had exposed a wall of white quartz. Thinking it might be something worth looking into, I climbed up to take a better look. That’s when I saw the streaks of gold running through the quartz. I was going to bring it over to Jim Munson and let him take a look.
Throwing back the covers and forgoing any further foot rubs, Yancy rose up and hobbled to where he had set his saddle bags the night before. Opening the one tied with a leather thong, he dug inside and removed a hunk of quartz the size of his fist.
“Here”, he said handing the lump to Daisy, “see for yourself.”
Daisy went over to the only window in the small log cabin’s bedroom and lifted the quarts rock into the streak of sun that had just popped over the mountains to the east. The quartz glittered from a golden streak running through it. “Oh my Land! Daisy exclaimed, “if this is really gold then you’re right, we better keep this under our hats! This could cause a Pandora’s box of problems for the town. The last thing we need is a gold rush.”
After a hot breakfast, Yancy completed dressing and went outdoors to feed the animals. He was proud of his little homestead. He had a mix of farm animals and a small but healthy herd of twenty odd Herford cattle. Daisy had worked side by side with Yancy as he built the log cabin, put up fence rails and built a small board and batten barn with an attached stable on one end.
A roofed structure without walls covered his small black smith shop where he repaired odds and ends.
“So what do you think? Should I go over to Jim’s place and talk to him about the gold?”
“I think that would be prudent, he’s more in love with the town than he is with gold and he’s one for holding a secret.
I heard tell that if he wished it, he could have opened his mine with hammer mills and investors if he wanted too but he decided a small pick and shovel operation served him and the town better.”
“Yep, that’s true. Then it’s decided, I’ll head on over to his place just as soon as I finish putting a new set of shoes on Betsy, they wore down pretty good up in the mountains. Besides, she was already due for new ones even before I left to help look for the Branson kid.”
By noon Betsy was showing off her new shoes and was happy to be back at the hay pile Yancy had put up in her stall. Daisy was busy baking more bread and an apple pie.
A never ending job, the old cook stove never got a rest. A large cast iron kettle placed on top provided hot water whenever it was needed. In most cases, it went for coffee.
The Munson place was less than a mile down the road towards town so Yancy decided to walk it. While walking, he thought of the repercussions if he announced publically that he had discovered a huge gold seam. The newspapers would spread the word like a wildfire. Within a week folks back east would be bucking up and heading west. He’d heard how mining towns had sprung up then died when the ore was depleted. While he was no fan of snow, he’d hate to see anything bad happen to the tiny town.
Strawberry had grown on him. In some ways the town was out of place. When Yancy had been told of Arizona, he imagined desert and cacti covered mountains. True, when he first arrived in Tucson, it sure seemed that way.
Looking for more familiar land like he knew back east, he was told to head north into the interior where he’d find the Mogollon rim, pronounced mug-ee-yun and the deep Ponderosa pine forest that grew there. Being from the east, the two had their confusion between how Arizonians spelled something and how they pronounced it. It seemed they were always being corrected on pronunciation. But as time went on, they started to get a hang of the Spanish language and its way of pronouncing things.
While small gold finds were common and nothing to cause excitement, hitting a vein this size was not. He imagined most of the present townsfolk of Strawberry would move on if a gold rush occurred. Mining towns were known to be rowdy places where sin went hand in hand with breathing. No, to keep Strawberry’s innocence, he’d have to make sure the strike was kept a secret.
He mused on how unusual a town Strawberry is . It just might be that’s what it’s charm was. During the night it could drop near zero and gain six inches of snow. Then, with the help of the afternoon’s sun, it would all melt away in sixty degree sunshine. Winter days like this were repeated over and over again. He’d heard Flagstaff located just fifty miles north would snow in feet while it was still fall, and then not melt until late spring. He wondered why anyone would choose to live there.
As Yancy plodded through the melting slush his legs began to tire from the strain. Yancy wasn’t a slouchy fellow by any means. His powerful frame topped out somewhere near ten inches over five feet. He boasted broad shoulders, a thin waist and muscular arms and legs. As Daisy would secretly tell her friends, “just the right size for smooching.” Approaching his twenty fifth birthday, he still had a difficult time growing any facial hair. It was said that was because he had a lot of Indian in him. High cheek bones, olive skin and jet black hair also gave away his lineage. Both his mother and grandmother were of Catawba decent. To describe him as handsome was an understatement.
Daisy on the other hand was a tiny light haired thing. Her mother jokingly described her as the runt of the family. Her sky blue eyes were framed by light brown eyebrows and straight long wheat colored hair that she kept piled up atop her head. Yancy’s favorite past time would be to sneak up on her and kiss the bare back of her neck…something that always caused her to go into giggles. She had left Magnolia with a heavy heart. Though she loved her husband and would follow him anywhere, she missed her siblings and parents.
Reaching Munson’s ranch, Yancy turned onto the slushy turnoff that led up to the house.
Sitting at Jim Munson’s kitchen table, Yancy held the hot coffee up to his lips and blew on it and told Jim what he had found.
“That’s quite a tale Yance, did you happen to bring a sample?”
Nodding, Yancy put down the delicious hot coffee and reaching into his pouch, he pulled out the chunk of ore.
Turning the quarts rock over in his calloused hands, Jim picked up a knife from the table that he had used during his breakfast. He chipped away then scratched at the rock causing quarts chips to fall away.
Satisfied with his inspection, Jim said, “By God you did find the mother lode, didn’t you?” Chuckling to himself Jim continued, “This is rich stuff here Yance, real rich. I always suspected there was some big finds yet to be found. Everyone says most of that Rim had been prospected. Here you come along a total greenhorn to prospecting and find it by accident, who’d a thunk! Ha ha!”
“ Well, I suspect the cliff face collapsed somewhat recently and exposed the vein.” Looking up at Jim, Yancy asked, “ What should I do Jim? I mean you know what’s gonna happen if it’s found out Strawberry’s settin’ on a load a gold. In no time at all I’d have a hundred squatters tents between your place an’ mine. None of our cattle, kids or women would be safe.”
Placing the rock back into Yancy’s sack, Jim’s face drew up in concern. “Yup, all you said would come true, It’s up to you Yance, It’s your find, what have you been thinking?”
“I wish I hadn’t found it is what I’ve been thinking!”
Placing the sack in front of him Yancy asked, “I wonder if there’s any way we could keep it quiet yet mine some of it out for personal use? I mean, if you and I dug a bit out, just enough to pay off our ranches then left it alone, do you think we’d get away with it?”
“Probably not, let me ponder on this whole thing Yance, I’m sure the Good Lord didn’t let you find it just to ruin the town. No, I’m sure here’s some sort of plan of his. We just gotta’ figure it out. What’s Daisy saying about it?”
“Not much, I think she’s afraid of it ruining Strawberry. We thought you might have some idea of what we should do.”
The two sat in silence sipping their coffee’s. Finally Jim spoke up. “I’m not asking its exact location on the Rim but did this come from close by or what? You never said where you found it except north of the Rim up by Sunset Canyon, and that covers about a hundred miles.”
“I’m not sure how to describe it Jim, I could find it again, that much I know. But I can tell you it’ is about twenty miles into Sunset Canyon, near Chaves Pass, just a few miles from where you found me when I got lost.”
“Dang, that’s close, Strawberry’d for sure be a bee hive of activity if it was found out. I tell you what I think Yance, Let’s not say anything about any of this just yet, don’t even get that rock assayed, and leave it hid. If you want to, you and I can go up and check out the cliffs. Maybe we’ll be lucky and the vein is very limited. In that case it might not be a major strike at all, nothing for folk to get too excited about.”
“That sounds good to me Jim, I’m just happy to unburden some of this onto someone with a cool head. If it’s OK with you, we could plan a trip up there in a couple of weeks to check it out.”
“Sounds good to me too, let’s plan one being gone a week. That’ll give us time to spare. Sometimes these winter snowfalls can slow a fella down and it wouldn’t do to scare your woman by coming back late. We’ll bring a couple of my mules too, we’ll load them up so we ain’t to uncomfortable camping up there. I’d let you take one of yours but they ain’t mountain mules, mine are.”
Three weeks later found Yancy and Jim looking high up in the cliffs overlooking Sunset canyon lit by the dawn’s chilly but bright rising sun. They had reached the area Yancy said the quarts wall was seen and made their camp hidden in a small box canyon close by.
Pointing to a large group of boulders setting alongside the game trail they were on, Yancy spoke up, “I remember this set of boulders. The torn cliff face with the white quarts is just ahead. The section of cliff that gave way is only about twenty feet wide and half the height of the cliff so it’s not real noticeable, especially from down in the canyon.”
Passing the large grouping of boulders, Yancy again pointed. “There she is Jim, it’s in the shadows but she’s in there.”
The two rode up to below the cliff and looked upward. Up this close, the white quarts could be seen when one searched for it
“Well,” said Jim as he dismounted, “It ain’t hard to get to that’s for sure. Still, I can see why no one noticed that wall of quarts before. From fifty feet away, it disappears into the cliffs shadows.”
Yancy and Jim easily found foot and hand holds on the face of the cliff so the way was easy going. After climbing up twenty or so feet, they reached the bottom of the quarts face. Fingering the long spider web ribbons of gold Jim exclaimed, “Dang, this really is a heck of a seam Yance. I bet just chiseling out what we see right here will give us over twenty pounds. This is a true mother lode if I do say so myself.” Turning sideways to look at Yance, Jim said, ”I’d congratulate you Yance but I’m not sure if what you found is going to be a blessing or a curse.”
Yancy withdrew a small pointed hammer he used in smithing and hammered at the largest seam trying to discover how deep it ran. After a half hour, much of the seam was openly exposed. “She looks to be about the thickness of maybe two double eagles laying on top of each other and about the depth of my hand. It fades out after about six or seven feet. That’s one heck of a big ribbon for sure!”
The two men made their way down onto flat ground again. Yancy handed Jim a chunk of the dug out gold ribbon. “Here Jim, have a souvenir. “
Jim tossed the piece up and down in the palm of his hand, “Must be a hundred dollars worth here. I tell you what Yance, if you brought a hunk this big this into to be assayed, they’d know you hit the mother lode. Gold veins are tiny, most barely visible to the eye. I haven’t seen a hunk like this in my lifetime.” Jim turned away from the cliff and started walking back. “ I’ve seen enough, let’s head on out of here Yance, it makes me nervous being this close to a fortune.”
Yance put his arm out to block Jims advance back to the horses and mules. ”Hold up Jim, I believe I saw some sort of movement near the west end of the canyon. It looked like riders and maybe even a wagon.”
“How far distant?”
“Five miles, maybe a bit more.”
“Heading this way?”
“It looked that way but it was a quick glimpse then they disappeared behind a curve in the cliff so I can’t be for sure but yeah, I think so.”
“Let’s get the animals hid over in that old wash over there. If they head this way we got a bit of cover to hide in. Let’s just hope they pass on by.”
The two quickly led the animals into the wash then Jim returned after pulling a shrub from the sandy earth and began wiping clean the animals prints with it.
An hour later two men on horseback were within hollering distance. The third man driving a wagon was still a hundred yards off yet.
The two riders stopped where Jim and Yancy had left minutes before.“This is it Harley, that seam is up there in the cliffs!”
Hiding in a wash across the road in the scrub, Yancy and Jim turned and look questioningly at each other. The rider who was speaking pointed at the quarts wall.
The second rider Harley, sat hard faced behind a scruffy unshaven face.“You better be right Dwight or I’ll be kickin’ your tail all the way back. Of course that ain’t gonna be nothin’ compared to what the boss will do to ya if you was pullin’ his leg about the gold! Hell, He’s pissed enough at ya’ for forcin’ us to camp out up in the mountains freezin’ to death because of your wild gold story!
“Don’t go threatenin’ me Harley, I know it’s there. Soon after me and Haney blew that cliff with dynamite to cause that avalanche atop that Law Dog, I crawled down to make sure he was dead an’well buried. When I had roped myself about halfway down, I saw the seam of gold inside that quarts wall. If that Law Dog hadn’t put a bullet into Haney’s thigh earlier in the day, he’d be here to vouch for me ”
Before Harley could comment on his friend Haney’s dying from blood poisoning from the gunshot, the third rider sitting on top of the buck board wagon rolled up and set the brake yelling at the two riders. ”Hey, I’m freezin’ my cojones off here, one of you idiots git on up there and make sure it’s there!”
Dwight turned and shouted back,“Shut the hell up Charley, and who put you in charge?”
Charley lifted the Winchester and took aim. Dwight’s hat flew away sporting a fresh hole in the crown. “Does that answer your question butt face, or do I need to drop my aim an inch more!”
“Geez, that’s a new hat ya’ skunk! Have it your way then. You wanna’ be boss, have at it but I’ll still need some help climbin’ up there. I ain’t never climbed it from the bottom.
The three walked to where the seam was over their head. Dwight spoke again, “Shoot, never mind the boost up, I think I can make it without you two putting your hands all over my a*s!”
Slowly Dwight inched higher and higher until he was even with the seam. He placed his feet within the cracked face and hung there looking and looking.
“Well?” Yelled Harley, “You froze to death or somethin’? What’s the problem now?”
Dwight yelled down, “Uh, I think we got a problem here boys, someone’s been up here and they dug out a hunk of the gold vein!”
Charley and Harley looked at each other. Charley yelled back, ”What the hell do you mean someone’s been here? You only blew that cliff a month ago, ain’t nobody been through this pass since then, we woulda’ seen ‘em!”
“Sorry Charlie, but somehow they got passed our hideout and the sentries the boss posted at the head of the pass. Someone knows about this here gold and already took some”
Back in the wash, Yancy whispered quietly to Jim, “We must have entered the canyon just beyond their hideout. We came from the south and cut in. I bet the sentries and hideout he’s talking about were placed at the very west end. You and I took that small short cut and they missed seeing us!”
After a moment’s pause Yancy whispered again, “ They must not have anyone watchin the eastern end of the canyon Jim. When I got lost I came from the east and so did the guys that found me. We left heading the same way, east!”
By pure luck, Yancy and the rescuers had entered and left sight unseen by using the eastern end of the canyon while the western end was heavily guarded. They then headed south west toward Strawberry.
Jim whispered back. “Them fella’s look pretty hard Yance, I don’t like this one bit. I’m good with a gun but I sure ain’t no shootist! The one with the Winchester’s a crack shot, I bet the others ain’t no greenhorns. The way I see it, if they see us, and want to dance, then we better open the ball spitting lead. Sometimes surprise is better than firepower. In any case, check your long gun and be ready to unload on ‘em.”
At that moment Jim’s mule bayed.
Dwight lost his footing and fell trying to reach his pistol. Both Harley and Charlie raised their guns to fire, one a Colt and the other the Winchester rifle.
“Drop them guns!” Yelled Jim. It was then Dwight landed on top of Charlie.
What looked like a situation that may end without gunfire suddenly turned bad. Still standing, Harley fired into the brush where Jim had been just seconds before. Having sense, as soon as he yelled, Jim moved sideways ten feet. While the brush was being blasted away with deadly lead where Jim had just left, Yancy lifted his own rifle and fired into Harley’s chest.
Dwight quickly regained his senses and rolled off Charlie. Lifting himself he began running lengthwise to the cliff and started firing down into the wash.
Harley stepped backward and raised his hand to his chest. Slowly removing his bloody hand Harley stood staring at it as if he’d never seen such a hand. Yancy’s second bullet told him not to bother. Harley toppled over backward expelling his breath through the new hole in his throat.
Charlie was slow to rise as Dwight’s landing on him had knocked the breath out of him. Dusty snow covered his face and before he had cleared his vision enough in order to see, Jim had sighted him in and fired three quick shots mid body. Charlie crumpled like a puppet who’s strings had been severed.
“Damn you all!” Dwight shouted as he continued to unload his pistol on the run. With both Jim and Yancy firing away, Dwight had little chance of escaping some of the lead being thrown his way. Before he could reach the safety of a small outcropping of rock, first his thigh was hit then the side of his gut. Limping hard, Dwight tried continuing on to the cover but faltered just before reaching it. Slumping against the outcropping, he started to slide into a kneeling position.
Jim and Yancy both ran from the cover of the wash and over to where Dwight knelt leaning against the boulder. Dwight turned his head in the direction of the two men who now stood above him and shouted, “Damn you two! You done kilt us all dead!”
Reaching out to the kneeling gunman, Jim kicked the man’s empty Colt away and asked, “Who the hell are you and what lawman did you kill here?”
Dwight groaned and asked for water. “My guts blown out, don’t let me see it OK fella’s? I ain’t one to see blood and gore without pukin, an’ I’m hurtin’ too much to puke.” He then slid into a sitting position covering his wound with his forearm so he wouldn’t have to see it. “He was a lawman from Saint John’s, a couple hundred miles east of here. He weren’t really a law Dog, well, he used to be but he turned bounty hunter a few years back. He’s been after us for over a year now. Me an’ my pard Haney caught him camped right here and used dynamite we had to blow the cliff on top of him while he slept. It did a good job. That’s when I found the seam. Haney passed shortly afterward.” Looking up at Yancy, Dwight asked him, “ You the the ones who chiseled away that seam I saw?”
“Yeah,” Yancy told him, “I found it a few weeks back, Seems like it’s brought nothing but grief for any that been trying to get at it. By the way, what gang are you riding with that’s holed up on the west end?”
“How’d you know about the gang? Oh yeah, I guess you over heard us yellin’ at one another. We rode with the Dawson Brothers. Me , Haney an’ Chester, we joined up with the Dawson’s a couple years ago. We did the owl Hoot trail thing with ‘em until after I found the gold. The gang had planned on settin’ up a mining operation all legal like except we all was still wanted in the territory. I guess we over did ourselves.” While Dwight was talking, Jim had run down into the wash and returned with a canteen of water.
“Here, drink this. It ain’t gonna save you none but it’ll help slack your thirst until you go.” After taking a number of swigs from the canteen, Dwight started gasping for air and his eyes began to cross. “Don’t leave me to the critters, I don’t want ‘em pluckin’ my eyes out. Oh, and please fella’s, tie my bandana over my face so the worms won’t go up my nose, would ya’ do that for me?”
Jim corked the canteen and told him he’d be buried back in town proper like, him Charlie and Harley. “I’ll make you a deal, I’ll do all that seeing you ain’t gonna’ bloat and smell on the way back ‘cause it’s so cold but you gotta tell me the names of who all those left riding with the Dawson boys and where the sentries are positioned.”
Dwight looked with glazed crossed eyes at Jim and told him everything he could. “It don’t make no difference to me no more, they was always yellin’ an’ makin’ fun of me anyway. Serves ‘em right.” With that Dwight passed on quietly.
“Yance, let’s get that wagon over here and load ‘em on up. I have an idea about the gold too.”
After moving the body and camp gear loaded wagon down the trail a hundred yards, Jim and Yancy went back and hitched the two spare horses to the rear of the mule drawn wagon. Their own mules and horses stood by quietly having no need to be tied.
Jim said, “We’ll spend the rest of the day digging out as much gold as we can. When we’re finished, we’ll load the gold onto the wagon. When we get back to Strawberry, we’ll notify the Sheriff of the where about’s of the Dawson gang and the sentry’s positions. They’re all wanted and I etched all their names on the inside of Harley’s belt. We’ll tell the Sheriff that this here gold was already in the wagon. It’s ours now by law, finders keepers. That way too, there won’t be a gold rush since no one will ever know where the gold was really dug from”
“Ah ha,” exclaimed Yancy,“ and if any of them others survive their arrest, they’ll deny knowing anything about the gold. The Sheriff would be expecting them to say that anyway. Good thinking Jim!”
By early evening the two were heading east down the trail. They had dug out over eighty thousand dollars in gold, more than enough for Jim and Yancy to now be called rich.
Removing the most obvious and accessible gold left the quarts wall in the cliff almost invisible. “We’ll come back some time and blow the rest of the top off that cliff. It should collapse that quarts wall and bury the rest of the gold seam.”
The two rode in silence for awhile until Yancy spoke up. “Hey Jim, with your split here you can pay off the ranch and find you a wife. Heck she might even rub your feet like mine does!”
“Humph, it’s like I told that Dwight feller before he passed on. I told him, that there gold ain’t caused nothing but grief. And now here you are wanting me to prove I’m right! No Sir, I’ll rub my own feet, thank you very much!”
As they left the Sunset Canyon, somewhere behind them a fortune in gold still remained and with Jim and Yancy's plan, the little town of Strawberry had been spared the golden bullet of death without ever even knowing it.
© 2012 JW Edwards
Port St Lucie, FL
AboutI write short stories of the Old West. I weave the history of its people, places and events into each story. Political correctness was unknown in the Old West so you won't find it here either. You wil.. more..