Gold Cache - James W. Schultz




Chapter IX

As the six Apaches advanced up the canon they spread out, in order to cover all the ground between the two cliffs. They traveled very slowly, and carefully examined every patch of scrub oak and cottonwood. One of the savages passed almost directly below us. He was a tall, powerfully built man, as black as a negro. On his back was a quiver of arrows and he carried in his hand the longest bow that we had ever seen. Jose, who was looking through the glass, announced that only two of the Apaches carried guns.

We anxiously watched the six men advance toward the grove where our horses were hidden. Night was coming on, but there was still light enough for the Indians to find our camp and then our trail.

"Oh, these mountains; the timber and canons!" groaned Pi'tamakan. "Here they can have everything their own way. If it were only the desert, now, I would show them how a Blackfoot can fight."

"Well, it isnít the desert," said Jose. "We are trapped."

"Of course we are," Pi'tamakan agreed. "Nothing else could be expected after what was done in that place of ghosts."

"Look! Look!" Jose whispered.

One of the men had startled a bunch of four big mule deer. A moment later there was a puff of smoke down near the creek, and the heavy boom of a gun echoed and reechoed from wall to wall of the deep canon. One of the deer fell, and all six Apaches hurried to the animal. They made quick work of the butchering, and in the gathering dusk we saw each man shoulder his portion of the meat and start down toward the camp-fires. For the time being we were safe.

As soon as it was dark we slowly felt our way down the steep path and made straight to the grove. We watered the horses and hurriedly ate a meal of dry meat. Jose was of the opinion that the Apaches would not come up the canon again; but we could take no chances. The one thing for us to do was to strike out for the desert.

We all agreed that our chance of safely passing the Apache camp would be best while the Indians were talking and laughing and feasting round the evening camp-fires. In a short time we had got the ammunition out of the cache and had saddled the horses. Leading his horse and feeling his way in the moonless night, Jose went ahead. Pi'tamakan and I rode, and followed close behind in single file. A faint glow in the distance revealed the position of the Apache camp.

After traveling very slowly for what seemed hours, we came so near the camp that we could see the dozen small fires and the hundred or more people sitting round them. But, contrary to our expectations, the campers were very quiet; there was no laughter, no hum of talk, not even the squalling of a baby or the barking of a dog.

"Surely, these must be an unhappy people," Pi'tamakan whispered, when we had dismounted and joined Jose to watch the scene. "Anyhow, they havenít the light hearts of my Blackfoot kindred."

"Noise or no noise we must go on," Jose declared. "Now, grasp your bridle close up to the bit, and if your horse starts to whinny to the Apache herd, yank his mouth; if necessary, close his nostrils; do anything to keep him quiet."

We started on. Even though we kept close to the farther edge of the canon, we should still have to pass within three hundred yards of the blazing fires. At that distance there was, of course, no danger that the light from them would reveal our presence. What we feared most was that guards might be stationed here and there round the camp; in that case we were sure to be discovered.

When we were no more than opposite the camp, there came from the darkness ahead the sharp, questioning whinny of a horse, then that of another, and still another. It was what Jose had prepared us for; but quick as I was, I only half shut off my horse's answer to the Apache herd, and again three or four of the animals made their call. Worse still, what was apparently the whole herd soon gathered about our animals, sniffing them and taking bites at their flanks.

Here and there several men rose up from beside the camp-fire and stood listening to the commotion; but they made no move to investigate it. At last we passed out into the valley, and in a few minutes the Apache horses dropped back one by one until we were finally rid of them. We paused only once to look back at the Apache fires.

"Well, we got out of that safe enough," I said, with a long sigh of relief.

"Yes, we are safe enough just now," Jose replied, "but we have left a trail behind us; don't forget that. If the Apaches notice it, we shall hear from them some time to-morrow."

It was rough country that we traveled the rest of that black night—a network of steep hills, dense thickets and groves, and deep washes, through which we slowly felt our way. When morning came we were not more than fifteen miles from the canon; but now we made up for lost time by keeping the horses at a lope wherever possible. After their long rest they were eager to go, and by the middle of the morning we were well down in the wide and beautiful valley of the Tonto, and fully forty miles from the Apache camp.

Here, for the first time, we really felt that we had come into the always-summer land. The day was as hot as the hottest days of the Northern summer, and the groves of cottonwood and willows were still in full green leaf, although, as Pi'tamakan was careful to inform us, this was the first of the winter moons (November).

Pleasant as it was in the shade of the huge cottonwoods beside the rippling waters of the Tonto, we dared not tarry there long; in order to rest at all we must find some elevated place of concealment from which we could obtain a good view of the country. After crossing a quarter of a mile of bottom land we climbed the steep rim of the east mesa, and found at once a good cache for ourselves and our horses in a patch of mesquites near the edge. The place commanded a fine view for miles up and down the valley. After unsaddling the horses, we all sat on watch while we ate the last of our dried deer meat.

No enemy appeared; the valley seemed deserted by man and beast alike. In the gathering dusk we mounted and rode on down the valley, determined to travel until midnight. Three different times that evening rattlesnakes sounded their warning as we passed them. Although we were glad enough when Jose at last told us to unsaddle and make camp, Pi'tamakan and I both hesitated when it came to spreading our blankets upon snake-infested ground.

"Well, you neednít fear them," Jose said. "Fifty thousand Indians sleep on the ground here in this country, and sleep sound."

"Then so will we," I said, and made the bed.

All the next day and the two following days we traveled steadily southward, over rough, cactus-covered hills and ridges of black lava. The third day was the hottest we had yet experienced, and about noon Pi'tamakan and I in the same breath asked Jose where water was to be found.

"Water? You want water so soon?" he asked, as if surprised. "Well, if you must have some I will get it for you; there is plenty close at hand."

Pi'tamakan and I looked at each other; we thought he had gone mad. Jose dismounted before a cactus that was about three feet high, and with his big knife lopped off the sharp spines of the plant all round the top; then he neatly sliced the top off in one piece. Inside was a white and somewhat woody pulp, and that he slashed and chopped until it was a fine hash. He squeezed a handful of the hash over my open mouth, and a stream of soapy-looking fluid—tasteless and cool—trickled into my parched throat. When we had all quenched our thirst at the "niggerhead cactus," as Jose called it, we 'started on our way again.

The next morning Pi'tamakan and I had a pleasant awakening.

"Rise, my younger brothers, rise!" Jose shouted.

"This night you shall drink of Gila water and sleep in the Pima camp."

"You jest," said Pi'tamakan.

"I speak the truth," the Spaniard answered. And then we knew that it was indeed the truth, and we rolled out of our blankets, all excited. Jose had chosen to surprise us.

We made quick work of the morning meal, and then set out on the last stage of our journey. Pi'tamakan started the Blackfoot victory song, and Jose and I took it up with good will.

We headed for a small, cone-like butte that was just visible in the distance. Jose said that it was the Casa Grande Butte, and that the great Casa Grande ruin was not more than two miles south of it. Some miles still farther south and west a low, black, short range of mountains squatted on the desert; at the north end of them, Jose said, lay our placer ground. We had to stop and have a look at the place with the glass.

The sun was still an hour high when we came to the river Gila.

All we could see was a waste of sand and gravel, half a mile wide, with huge piles of white, bleached driftwood scattered here and there. Upon riding out on the sandy waste, however, we found water standing in holes. Lining the banks were groves of cottonwood, mesquite, cat's-claw, and palo-verde.

When we had passed through the grove on the south side of the channel, we came to a wide and dusty trail in which were tracks of men and horses. Riding fast now, we turned down the trail, and within a couple of miles came to the upper edge of the Pima village.

In all our travels Pi'tamakan and I had never seen such queer structures as were the houses of that tribe. They were made of rush and arrow-weed thatch-work; the roofs, which projected over the sides for about two feet, made them look like huge mushrooms.

As we approached the houses, naked little children came running from all directions to see the strangers; their elders were no less curious. The men and women were amazingly fat, but they all had intelligent and kindly faces. Many had greenish tattoo lines running down the chin from each corner of the mouth.

"Where is your chief?" Jose asked in Spanish as we drew rein before the little crowd.

"Come. I will show you his house," one of the men answered in the same language.

I learned later that most of the Pimas were fluent linguists, and that several of them had Mexican wives.

When we came to the chief's house, we found the chief himself standing outside.

"Why, this is Antonio Azul, is it not?" Jose asked, and, springing from his horse, advanced and shook his hand. "You do not remember me, but I recognize you by that scar on your cheek. Many winters ago I used to come from Santa Fe to trade with you all here."

"You and your friends are welcome to our village," the chief replied gravely. "Let my people take your horses. I beg you to make my poor home your own."

That evening, after a good meal of bean soup and tortillas, Jose told all about our travels and adventures. The chief and others who had come in listened with deep interest. When Jose had finished, it was our turn to hear some strange and startling news. The chief told us that war had broken out among the whites the summer before; battles had occurred right on Pima land, and soldiers from the west were even then encamped at the lower Pima village. Moreover, as soon as the whites had begun fighting among themselves, the Apaches and Navajos had attacked all white settlers and miners, and had almost exterminated them. So frequent were the Indian raids that the overland stage had ceased running.

The chief said, among other things, that the soldiers made a prisoner of every white man they found, unless he agreed to join their army and fight for their cause. That looked bad for me, and I resolved to keep out of sight of the soldiers. I did not want to fight any white men's battles; I did not even know what they were fighting about. Strange as it may seem, up to the time that we left Fort Benton no news had reached us of the outbreak of the great Civil War, and we had heard no mention of it from the emigrants on the over-land trail.

When we were alone for a few moments, Jose told us that he would go over to the soldiers' camp in the morning to learn whether what we had heard was true; also he wanted to find out whether we could procure tools there with which to work our placer ground. From one source or another we had to get shovels, picks, and gold pans.

Jose started the next morning, before Pi'tamakan and I were awake. He returned in the afternoon, and the instant we saw his face we knew that he had good news.

"Listen," Jose said. "I went to that soldier camp. There were many Indians and a few Mexicans there. I asked questions, and I learned that the soldiers did not seize travelers. So I went to the soldier chief, who could speak Spanish.

"'We are from the Far North,' I said to him; 'from Fort Benton, the post of the American Fur Company on the Missouri. We ask a little help. Will you give it?'

"'Who are you—and what do you want?' the chief asked. I told him all. When I gave him the name of your uncle, he jumped up and shook my hand and said, `Tell the nephew of Wesley Fox to move down here at once. Come, all of you, and be my guests as long as you remain in the country."'

I was so much excited over our good fortune and so eager to meet one who knew my uncle that I slept little, and got my partners up at the first signs of day. The women of the lodge gave us an early breakfast, and before we started Jose presented them and the chief with a few of the turquoise beads that we had taken from the cliff dwelling.

The trail wound down the valley of the Gila, through cool groves of cottonwood.

At noon we passed a place called Sacaton, where the Santa Fe-California trail left the river and ran out across the desert to Tucson. Seven or eight miles below Sacaton we found the soldier camp, and I was soon shaking hands with Captain Wells. When he had ordered some one to care for our horses and to get quarters ready for us, he led me into his tent.

"God bless us!" he said, clapping me on the shoulder. "And so this is the nephew of my old friend, Wesley Fox! Well, well, well!"

When we had sat down, he asked me a thousand questions about my uncle and about our long journey from the north.

"And now, what is your object in coming down here!" he asked presently.

After a little hesitation, I replied: "Jose knows where there is some placer ground near here. We have come down to work it."

He laughed. "This is not a placer country," he said. "However, you can never tell; gold is where you find it. Anyway, you can count on me to help in the way of tools, and anything else we have here."

Then he told me about the war; his command was a part of Carleton's, three thousand California Volunteers. They aimed to drive the Confederates out of New Mexico; part of his regiment were now fighting the Apaches. He asked which side I would take—that of the North or the South?

"I guess neither," I replied. "You see, we Company men away up there on the Missouri are not interested in the States. We don't care what the people do, so long as they keep out of our buffalo country and the Indian trade."

"Spoken like a trader!" he exclaimed, smiling. Then he asked, "How are you going to get back to Fort Benton?"

"Why, by the route we came," I answered.

The captain shook his head. "You shall not attempt that. When you get ready to leave, I'll send you and your comrades from here to St. Louis, and there you can take one of the American Fur Company boats home."

When I told the others of the captain's plan, Pi'tamakan nearly went wild with joy. "What happiness that will be!" he exclaimed. "I have always wanted to see the white men's country, and now here comes the chance to do so. Surely, our medicine is strong."

We could not work the placer ground until some rainy weather came, and there was nothing for us to do except to loaf round the soldier camp. At last, one day when we could no longer stand the monotony, we took a day's supply of food, 'a gold pan, three grain sacks, and set out to have a look at our placer ground.

After passing Sacaton we left the river and, riding along the foot of the range, at last reached the mouth of the wash in which Jose had found the gold so many years before. There we picketed the horses, and, after a long look round to make sure that no Pima or Mexican was watching us, we started up it. When at last we arrived at the place in the wash where the cross-formation was broken down, the sun was near setting.

We had feared that some prospector might have found the deposit and cleaned it up, but Jose said that as far as he could see there was no change in the place. There was no time for us to do more than to scrape hastily into the sacks as much gravel and sand as we could carry. Then with our loads on our backs we hurried down to our horses and set out for the river.

We reached the river not far below Chief Azul's village. Caching the sacks and the gold pan in the brush, we went to the chief's house for the night. By washing the gravel the next day in the river water we should know whether our fortunes were made.