Gold Cache - James W. Schultz

Chapter X

The next day we raised the cache and carried the sacks out to a pool of water in the river channel. There Jose poured some of the sand and gravel into the gold pan, and then, immersing the pan, began to rock it with an oscillating motion; occasionally he gave it a forward tilt that gradually tossed out the coarsest and lightest pieces of gravel, until only a pint or so of black sand remained in the pan.

"There is no gold!" I cried despairingly as I looked over his shoulder.

"Oh! Isnít there!" he exclaimed, and gave the pan a sudden uptilt.

The black sand spread evenly over the bottom of the pan, and I saw gleaming in it here and there many a bright yellow grain of gold.

I at once asked Jose how much the gold in the pan was worth. He did not reply for a while, but went on washing out the black sand until nothing except the gold remained little grains from the size of the head of a pin to that of a small pea.

"The value of what you see, younger brother," he said at last, "is about ten or twelve dollars."

"And how much is that?" asked Pi'tamakan.

"The same as five or six beaver-skins," I said. "Let us hurry and wash what we have, and then go back for more gravel."

Jose shook his head. "That we dare not do. Should we start to pack the gravel down here, those Pimas and Mexicans would soon find out what we were doing, and there would be a big scramble for that wash. No. We must wait until the rains put some water up there for us, and then work the richest of the gravel as quick as we can, and get out."

From the three sacks of gravel that we had brought down from the wash we got, according to Jose's estimate, about one hundred dollars worth of gold. The result was more than satisfactory, and I believed that a large fortune lay hidden in the barren wash.

"Now, don't have too big expectations," Captain Wells said to me, when I had shown him the gold and described the place from which we had taken it. "I have done a lot of placer mining in California, and my guess is that your find will prove to be a broken-down pocket. That is, there was perhaps three or four feet of very rich ore in the decomposed quartz cross-formation broken down by the wash. What gold the pocket contained is on the bed-rock close to the cross-vein, and with water you will be able to clean it up in three or four days. If you get a thousand dollars out of the deposit, you will do well."

It was well along in December now. The nights grew more and more chilly, but the days were perfect—neither too hot nor too cool. The river was dry, and the Pimas sorely needed rain for the new crop of wheat that they had sown. Their medicine-men were offering prayers and sacrifices at certain shrines of the rain gods. None of them kept a closer watch on the sky, however, than we did; but day after day passed without our seeing a single cloud.

One day I set out with my partners to visit the Casa Grande—the great ruin of which I had heard so much. No one knows how old the buildings are or who built them; they were in ruins when Coronado came there in 1540.

The sun was not more than an hour high when we emerged from a dense grove of mesquite and confronted the ancient pile, which towered above the plain. It stood in the center of what had once been an immense compound of buildings; most of them were now in ruins, and so, too, was what had evidently been a strong defensive wall.

It was with a strange feeling of awe, even of reverence, that I entered the east doorway and passed from one to another of the five rooms. The plan of each story was the same: a small, central room, surrounded by four rooms, of which those on the north and south were the largest. Fire had destroyed the roof and upper floors, but charred cedar beams that projected from the walls showed that the house had originally had three, and perhaps four, stories. Jose called my attention to a round hole in the outer wall of the upper east room and to several perpendicular yellow stripes on the inner wall.

"It is believed that the priests of the ancient people lived in this house," he said, "and by means of the rays of the rising sun that were cast upon the west wall through the round opening, watched the changing of the seasons. The yellow stripes marked the farthest north and the farthest south of the sun. By that means they could tell when to plant their crops and when the time for other important events was at hand."

Pi'tamakan had refused to enter the ancient ruin, and so when we had examined the rooms in-side we rejoined him and explored the surroundings of the place. We found much to interest us, and the day passed quickly. Sitting on one of the mounds of crumbling debris, we ate the roast beef, hard-tack, and baked beans that we had brought with us.

We had determined to pass the night at the ruin, and Jose and I made our beds in the east room; I wished to see in the morning how near the sun's rays would come to the north yellow stripe on the wall opposite. Pi'tamakan rolled up in his blanket under a low-spreading mesquite just north of the building. Nothing could have induced him to pass the night in that place of ghosts.

In the morning a dull and seemingly far-off boom brought Jose and me to our feet, wide-awake; as we started for the doorway 'there were three more heavy reports close outside. The sun was not yet above the horizon, but there was light enough for us to see three Indians crouching be-hind one of the mounds of debris. As they hurriedly reloaded their guns they peered over the mound toward the tree where Pi'tamakan had made his bed.

"Apaches!" Jose whispered. "Take the right one," he continued. "Now, one, two, three!"

Our shots sounded simultaneously. A blinding cloud of powder smoke filled the doorway. Springing to either side of the opening, we hurriedly began to reload, when boom! went another gun. The report was followed by Pi'tamakan's cry of "Sak-sit! Mat-Ets-tsi kah-mo-ta!" (Come out! None survive!)

Out we went then—but not until we had re-loaded our guns. Pi'tamakan came running from behind the building.

"There were four of them!" he cried jubilantly. "I was just getting up when I saw them coming off there to the east. I fired. One fell, and I crept round behind the building without the others' seeing where I went. Then you fired and two fell. The last one ran toward that mesquite grove; he lies in that low sagebrush this side of it."

While Jose and I went back for our blankets, Pi'tamakan took the scalp locks of the two Apaches that he had killed. Then we set out for the Pima village. When we told the news to Chief Azul, his men immediately rushed for the ruins to gather the weapons of the dead men.

"You three have done us a great service," the chief said. "Except for you we should certainly have lost some of our horses. That is what the black hearts were here for—to steal our animals and to kill any of the people they could find away from the village."

When we awoke on the second day of January, a thick white frost covered the ground. That was a sign of coming rain, said the Indians, and we three made hurried preparations. Captain Wells gave us a pack mule and a small tent, shovels, picks and pans, and a week's rations, and we set out for the placer ground. Rain began to fall before we reached the foot of the wash, where we put up the tent. Then, in spite of the rain and the darkness, P'itamakan went back to the soldier camp with the animals; Jose and I, wet to the skin, rolled into our blankets and shivered and dozed until morning.

At daylight we managed to make a fire of giant cactus piths and to boil some coffee; then, with our tools, we went up to the wash, down which a fair stream of water was already running. Before night Pi'tamakan returned to us on foot, and stood guard while Jose and I worked the deposit of gravel. Urged on by the gleam of gold in every panful of the washings, we toiled as we never had toiled before.

Contrary to our expectations, the rain outlasted the deposit of placer gravel in the wash. As Captain Wells had predicted, the pay streak did not extend more than a hundred feet below the cross-vein of decomposed quartz in which the pocket had been, and in that distance there was not much gravel on the bare bed-rock of the wash. By the afternoon of the fourth day we had cleaned up everything that was worth working, and had a sack of gold dust that was a delight to lift and balance. I thought it might be worth five thousand dollars; Jose said seven thousand.

Just as we had decided to quit work that last afternoon, a Pima Indian who was hunting a stray horse came upon us. He stood for a moment looking at us as we washed the last pan of crevice gravel; then he turned and hurried away. We had no sooner got down to our tent than Chief Azul flopped off from a panting, sweat-dripping horse and wanted to know what we had been doing up in the wash. We told him.

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


"This is my country!" he whined. "All that is in it is mine. And here you of the North come and take from it gold—gold, its greatest value. It is only just that you give me a share of what you have found."

We did not argue with him. Right then and there I measured out to him what I thought was fifty dollars worth of gold dust. Wrapping and knotting it in a corner of his blanket and thanking us profusely, the chief returned to his village.

The next day we were all back in the soldier camp. There Captain Wells weighed the gold dust on a steelyard and, after doing a little figuring, told us that it was worth about eight thousand dollars.

The captain was anxious for us to start North as soon as possible, but no chance came for nearly a month. During our stay at his camp we did some scouting for him, and helped escort as far as Yuma a Government mule train that had brought supplies from California. On February 3, a new command of California Volunteers arrived at the camp, on their way to the Union army in Missouri; Captain Wells arranged for us to accompany them as far as Santa Fe. He gave me three hundred dollars in gold coin for our expenses, and I gave him an equivalent amount of gold dust in exchange.

"Keep that sack of dust well cached," he said to me. "You are going into a country infested with men who hold life as cheaply as do the Apaches."

At Santa Fe we sold our horses and took the stage for St. Louis, where we arrived late one night. At daylight the next morning I roused Pi'tamakan and got him up on the roof of the hotel. He looked off at the roofs of the city and gasped.

"The whites!" he cried. "Why, they are as many as blades of grass! They are more in number than all the different tribes of my country. How often have I heard our chiefs say that we could wipe out the whites if we chose to do so! I wish that they could be with me now to see this sight."

"What you see is nothing," I said. "Off there to the east, the south, and the north are hundreds of white men's towns as large as this and many of them larger."

"Let us go back inside," he said. "I have seen enough. My heart is sick at all this."

Not until we had had breakfast in our room and had gone over to the offices of our Company did he recover his spirits.

It was eight o'clock when we arrived at the offices, but they were open and the employees were busy at their tasks. I had not been in the place for seven years, and meanwhile had grown from a pale, spindling little boy to a fairly robust youth; so it is no wonder that the clerks did not recognize me. All eyes were upon us when I asked for Mr. Chouteau.

"He is in his private office," the head bookkeeper replied. "You wish to see him? What is the name, please?"

"Thomas Fox."

I had no sooner said it than all the old clerks surrounded me, shook my hand, patted me on the back, and asked me a thousand questions. In another moment we stood before Pierre Chouteau, the great man of our Company, who gave me such a kind greeting that, try as I would to prevent it, the tears came to my eyes. He gave Jose and Pi'tamakan, too, a sincere welcome. Then he bade us sit down, and I told him the story of our travels and adventures.

When I had finished, I laid the sack of gold dust on the table before him and asked him to sell it for us and to divide the proceeds equally among the three of us. That was done within twenty minutes, and to my surprise I found that the value of the gold dust was nine thousand and eighty dollars: Captain Wells' steelyard had been incorrect.

Mr. Chouteau told me that, so far as he knew, my uncle Wesley was at Fort Benton, and in good health. He said that a new Company boat, the Mandan, would leave for that point in March, and that we should go on it.

We each took five hundred dollars in cash of our share of the gold dust, and had the balance put to our credit on the Company books. Then we hurried out to buy some clothes. That was easy enough for Jose and me, but Pi'tamakan refused to wear white men's clothing; he spent a whole day in our room converting two fine blankets into leggings and capote. Arrayed in those and in some real Blackfoot moccasins that I got for him from one of the Company clerks, he was happy. We made many excursions into the shops of the town, and bought many presents for relatives and friends.

The morning came when we bade farewell to Mr. Chouteau and all the Company men. The Mandan drew out into the stream and turned her nose northward, and then, in a little while, westward into the Missouri. Fort Benton was by the channel two thousand miles away, and at the best we should be more than two months in reaching our destination.

It was June 10 when we rounded the last bend and sighted Fort Benton, and just below it the lodges of the Blackfeet. The whole tribe had assembled there, awaiting the arrival of the boat with its cargo of trade goods. As usual, flags were flying and cannon booming from the bastions. In the crowd were my uncle Wesley and Tsistsaki, my second mother. It was she who first recognized me. I saw her clutch my uncle's arm; then up went her hands as she gave thanks to the sun for my safe return.

There also in the crowd of waiting people were White Wolf and his women, and Pi'tamakan's eyes were blurred with tears as he looked down upon them from the deck. Jose had also recognized his own: the slender little wife and the children by her side. Before the boat even touched land, we three had leaped ashore and were greeting our loved ones.