Gold Cache - James W. Schultz

Chapter VIII

The night after we left Oraibi, we camped on the desert near a small pool of water that we had found in the bed-rock of a deep wash. There was just enough water for ourselves and the animals, and we left the pool dry.

Before the sun came up the next morning we were again on our southward way, and by ten o'clock we had come to the deep canon in which run the waters of the Colorado Chiquito. Jose had unerringly brought us to the very trail by which he had crossed the canon years before, and we were soon slaking our thirst in the cool water of the little river. When the horses had drunk all they could, we started up the trail on the south side of the canon, and within half an hour were once more traveling in the open.

From this side of the canon the desert sloped sharply up toward a long, black mountain range thirty or forty miles distant—the Mogollons, Jose told us. Achill wind had sprung up from the northeast.

"We travel ever higher; the days grow ever colder," Pi'tamakan complained. "I begin to doubt that there is any such place as the always-summer land."

Jose smiled. "Have patience. From the top of those mountains you shall see it."

The horses would not trot except when we urged them; and they kept their heads close to the ground—a sure sign that they were nearing the limit of their endurance. The grassless desert, the long, waterless marches, together with the strange fodder they had eaten while at Oraibi, had stripped them of flesh and spirit. During the closing hours of the day we dismounted and led them.

Early the next morning we found water, and the horses got a few mouthfuls of grass that grew at the edge of the pool. About noon we entered the outer edge of a belt of oak trees; the trees were very small and scrubby at first, but as we ascended they increased steadily in size. Soon we came to little parks of green grass and halted for an hour or so to let the horses crop it.

In the middle of the afternoon we reached the top of the mountain range; it was rather flat, covered with pine and other timber, and seamed with swift-running little streams. Soon afterwards Jose shot a mule deer; we immediately made camp and prepared for a good meal of fresh meat—our first for many a day.

For ten, perhaps fifteen, miles the next morning we rode southward across the flat-topped mountain range. Jose liked to give Pi'tamakan and me pleasant little surprises, and he had one in store for us that day. When we asked him about the route ahead, he merely replied that we should cross the flat-topped range and then go down the south side of it. But about three o'clock in the afternoon he brought us suddenly to the southern rim of the Mogollons, and there we beheld a scene so vast and grand that we almost recoiled from it.

"Oh! oh! What far distances!" cried Pi'tamakan. "What grand mountains! Look! there to the south! The plains run, as it seems, to the very edge of the world. Why, nowhere in our country is anything so big, so truly wonderful, as is this look into the heart of the Southland!"

I agreed with him. We stood on the edge of a cliff that was at least two thousand feet high and that ran east and west as far as we could see—a cliff broken by so many deep canons that its general front was merely a succession of sharp points. In the near distance began two distinct mountain ranges that ran southward; the range on the east had a bold front of red-rock cliffs that glowed in the sunlight; the rock of the other range was gray and yellow in color. Our route, Jose explained, was down the valley between the two ranges to the river Salado and the great desert.

"Where is the trail—where do we descend this cut rimmed range?" Pi'tamakan asked.

"I missed the way some distance back, but now I see it. We go into the head of that second canon to the east," Jose answered.

Riding to the head of the canon, we started down from the rim of the range. After two hours' travel we emerged from the mouth of the canon and found that the drop of two thousand feet or more had brought us into a much warmer climate. We were now out of the pines. The rolling hills that sloped from the foot of the great cliffs down to a stream a mile or more ahead of us were studded with groves of cedar, scrub oak, and a small tree with red bark that Jose called manzanita.

The little stream ran toward the southwest. We turned up it, and after a mile or so entered a tremendously high-walled, wide-floored canon. Unsaddling our horses in a large cottonwood grove through which the stream ran we picketed them in a grassy park. Then we hurried to build a small war lodge.

"We can't be too careful," said Jose; "we are now in Apache country."

"Are they many—are they brave fighters?" Pi'tamakan asked.

"There are thousands of them, but except when going to war they are never together in any great numbers," Jose replied. "No, they are not brave; they never attack until they believe they can win without losing a man. Pray to your gods that they never get sight of us."

We kept our fire going until a late hour that night, and had several little feasts of delicious deer meat. Well fed, and warm enough in our snug shelter, we naturally were light-hearted; and because of that we talked much and laughed much and made light of all that had happened to us on the long trail from the northland. We agreed that we had chosen a good place of concealment, and a heavy downpour that came in the evening gave us a still deeper feeling of security, for it completely washed out our trail. The condition of the horses was the only thing that troubled us. Not only were they thin, but they were becoming foot-sore. Before going to sleep we decided to remain in the canon eight or ten days and give them a chance to recuperate.

Before many days had passed, the grove of cottonwoods became to Pi'tamakan and me a veritable prison. There was nothing for us to do except to lie round camp. We spent hours with the telescope at the borders of the grove, examining the soaring heights of the canon. Occasionally a few deer appeared on the top of the cliffs, and now and then big birds, which dose said were turkeys, sailed swiftly across the 'deep gorge.

One day Pi'tamakan and I were sitting at the edge of the grove, looking up at the top of the canon walls. I had the glass and, seeing no kind of life along the rim, began to examine the face of the wall; thus by mere accident I made a strange discovery. In a sort of long cave about a hundred feet above the foot of the cliff and half a mile down the canon were several stone-walled houses. I handed the glass to Pi'tamakan, who, after taking one glance at the houses, hurried to camp to get dose. The Spaniard soon joined us.

"They are houses, and in good condition, too," he said, as he looked through the glass. "In the long ago they were the home of some of the people of the cliffs."

"We must climb up to that place and have a look at them!" I exclaimed.

"Why, so we will!" Jose answered. "We can easily do that without much risk."

It was barely daylight the next morning when we arrived at the foot of the cliff, right under the big cave. After picketing the horses in a thicket we searched for a way of getting up to the houses. The wall above us was perpendicular and smooth. Pi'tamakan ran southward for some distance and, returning, reported that there was no means of reaching the cave from that direction. So we went northward along the foot of the wall, and about two hundred yards farther on found a crevice in the face of the cliff. The crevice was several feet wide, and ran upward toward the cave at an angle of perhaps forty-five degrees.

We lost no time in starting up it. The ascent was not hard, for in several places steps and hand-holes had been gouged in the rock. We soon reached the head of the crevice and stepped out on a narrow, level shelf in front of the cave. Halting to get our breath, we looked down first at our little grove, and then at the cliffs opposite us.

"Oh, see! See that!" Pi'tamakan cried, and pointed at a slender black column of smoke that rose from the top of the cliff on the west side of the canon.

"Apaches! That is one of their smoke signals!" Jose exclaimed. "It means that all who see it are to come to that place."

As the fire was fully two miles away there was a chance that the signal-makers had not seen us; sinking slowly down on the shelf we crawled along it to the cave. At first we barely glanced at the six houses it contained. They stood at irregular intervals along the back wall of the cave, the roof of which formed the roof of the second stories of the houses. A long stone wall ran along the edge of the shelf, and crouching behind it we examined the canon and the small area of country that we could see beyond its mouth. The signal smoke continued to rise—a thin black column that neither increased nor diminished in size.

"Yes, I am quite sure that we have not been seen," Jose said. "I know the Apache smoke signals. This one, rising straight, and steadily, calls for a gathering of all the bands of the tribe. When the smoke rises in puffs, it is a signal not only for a gathering, but that the fire-builders have discovered enemies somewhere in the country."

Laying down our rifles, Pi'tamakan and I crept into the deep shadow of the cavern, where we could walk about freely without risk of being seen. Admiring the well-laid walls of sandstone blocks and adobe mortar, we hurriedly passed from house to house. When we had made the round of the buildings, we returned to the first house and stepped in through its low, narrow doorway. We found ourselves in a fairly large room with door-ways leading into rooms on either side; at the rear was another doorway that had been carefully sealed with a single stone slab. All the other rooms were empty; but in that sealed room we thought we might find some interesting or valuable relic of the past.

The moment that we had stepped into the outer room, we had realized how ancient those ruins were; a musty odor was in the air and the walls were thickly coated with gray dust. The stuff was so light that, when I scraped off some of it, it did not fall, but mixed with the soft air currents in the room and made us sneeze. At that, a myriad of bats that had been clinging to the ceiling became alarmed and, fluttering wildly about, loosened a stifling cloud of dust that drove us, gasping, to the open air.

It was half an hour or more before the dust cloud had cleared enough for us to enter the place again. The slab of rock in the rear doorway was sealed in place with a rim of very tough mortar. We had only some unwieldy and soft sandstone rocks for tools, and so did not progress very fast in battering off the mortar; but with every inch of the stuff that fell our interest in the task increased, for we hoped to find a rich store of things in that old room. Often we glanced out at Jose, who was keeping watch; always, with a low, outward sweep of hand and arm, he signaled back, "Nothing. No news."

When we had all the mortar off I pounded the slab here and there with a large rock, and at last it fell out. Pi'tamakan knelt in the doorway.

"Ha! It is all dark in the room!" he exclaimed. "I can see nothing."

"Of course you can't see anything when you shut out all the light with your big body. Go into the room, and then you'll be able to see what is there."

He hesitated for a moment, and then slowly crawled through the opening.

"I am sure this is a place of ghosts!" he called. "I don't like to be in here."

A moment later he passed out to me a long, slender bundle of matting wrapped with strands of a fibrous rope; he then came to the passage to see what the find contained. With one slash of my knife I ripped the brittle covering from end to end, and, parting it, disclosed the skeleton of a half-grown person. That was enough for my partner.

"A ghost place! A ghost place!" he cried, and went by me on the run for the outer doorway. Needing fresh air myself, I followed him.

Jose reported that no one had come in sight. But still the black signal smoke continued to rise as it had been rising for hours, straight up in the still air.

"I can tell you this much about it," Jose said. "The call for a gathering of the Apache bands is very urgent; something is to be done that will require a force of many men. I think that a big raid is planned against the desert peoples; against the Pima tribe, perhaps; maybe against the white men who work rich mines away off there in the south.

"No, not against the Pima tribe," he added. "They are too many and too brave for the black-hearted, snake Apaches."

At many a camp-fire Jose had told us of the Pimas, six to eight thousand strong, true friends to the white men. We were eager to visit their villages on the Gila River.

As I told Jose about the sealed room and what we had found there, Pi'tamakan sat very still, with a troubled expression on his face. When I said that I was going back to see what else the place contained, he objected.

"We are in trouble enough now with the enemy close by. Let us not bring more bad luck upon ourselves. Go and put back for me that—that thing, and then quickly replace the stone slab and come away."

Jose went with me. "We must do what we can to humor Pi'tamakan," he said, "but nevertheless we must not overlook anything of value that may be in that room, for we are very poor."

On either side of the neck of the skeleton we found no less than eighteen small, thin, disk shaped beads of light-blue stones, which Jose said were of turquoise.

"If we don't find another thing," he exclaimed, "these necklace beads repay us for the work you have done! In the Pima villages they are worth more than gold."

We crawled into the inner room and sat still for a time until our eyes became accustomed to the dim light; then we saw that there were two other bundles of matting in the place. There were also several clay jars filled with shelled corn, two pairs of woven fiber sandals, and three finely polished axes of hard, green serpentine. We moved the two bodies into the better light of the outer room and opened the wrappings one by one.

In the inner wrappings we found more beads of turquoise; they had evidently formed necklaces, the strings of which had long since rotted away. There were also two turquoise earrings or pendants that were triangular in shape.

As we were examining the beads, Pi'tamakan appeared in the doorway of the room.

"I thought that was what you were doing!" he cried. "Take my word, you will be sorry for what you have done. At least put back in its place the body that I tossed out. I call the gods to witness that I knew not what lay within the grass-cloth wrapping."

Jose and I put the bodies and the ollas of corn back into the inner room, and set the stone slab in the doorway as firmly as we could. Then, with the turquoise ornaments safe in our pockets, we returned to the parapet wall and resumed our watch. By that time it was mid-afternoon, but still the column of black smoke continued to rise. As we sat there waiting for night to come, Jose told us the story of how he had happened to find the placer ground for which we were heading.

"Years ago," he said, "I was making a trip as packer for traders; we carried all kinds of goods that miners and Indians need, and exchanged them for gold dust and silver. On this trip we went to the Gila River, near Casa Grande ruin, where the Pima Indians were camping, and in the course of three or four weeks made a good trade.

"One day I went out hunting in the mountains not far west of the Casa Grande. I had climbed the roughest part of the range and had nearly reached the summit, when I fell and broke my water bottle. In a little while I was choking from thirst, and so I turned back.

"As I was passing down a wash I noticed a break in the rock formation—a vein of yellow and red soft rock, about two feet wide, that ran northwest and southwest in the dark-brown lava. I began to examine the gravel and, sand gathered here and there in the bottom of the wash, for the vein had every appearance of bearing gold. Of course I didn’t stop there long, for the heat was terrific; but before I went on I had found three small grains of gold in the sands, and in a crack in the bed-rock two rough-shaped pieces as large as kernels of corn—enough to prove that the place was rich in gold.

[Illustration] from The Gold Cache by James W. Schultz


"When I returned to camp I decided to say nothing to my comrades about my find. The place could be worked only when water was running down it, and the rainy season was many months off; I said to myself that I would later return to the country with one good man. But I never did go back to the Gila. I was young, I had gold enough for my necessities, and there were always exciting times in Santa Fe and on the different trading expeditions to far places. And then, one winter, I was sent to St. Louis with a band of horses for Pierre Chouteau—and I never went back. I am not sorry, for I have had great adventures, great happiness, in our North country. It is the best country in all the world."

"There you speak the truth!" Pi'tamakan exclaimed. "I wouldn’t trade ten head of our countless buffalo for all this Southland."

"About how far is it from here to the Casa Grande—and how many nights' travel?" I asked.

"It's all of two hundred miles," Jose answered, "but how long it will take us to reach the place is more than I can tell. We must go much of the way from here to the desert in the daytime, for there is now no moonlight and in places the trail is very dangerous."

As evening came on, Pi'tamakan became restless; every few moments he snatched up the glass and searched the country with it.

"There! I guess you'll 'believe that you've brought trouble on us now!" he exclaimed suddenly. "The enemy comes!"

"Where? Where?" Jose and I asked.

But there was no need for Pi'tamakan to answer. On horseback and afoot a long procession of men, women, and children came into the broad mouth of the canon, wended their way a short distance up the bank of the creek, and prepared to camp. Worse still, half a dozen men at once left the others and started up the canon, evidently to hunt deer.

"They are Apaches," said Jose gloomily. "They will soon find our horses. Pi'tamakan is right; we are certainly out of luck."