The Old Mine Gleaner

Reads: 107  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 1

Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Old Mine Gleaner

 

 

A bright light was in my eye when I started to wake. My head hurt like it had been knocked off.  What happened? Where was I?

 

It must be daylight, the bright light is the sun shining through the cracks between the boards of wherever I was. I felt some sticky stuff mixed with hard crust. Moving a little I found the sticky stuff was my own blood on the hard crusty ground. looking around I was beginning to remember something of what happened. I was digging in this old abandoned mine when something hit me behind the ear, hard. Looking around me without moving any more than possible, the mine is still intact. A pile of timbers is now thrown over the entrance, with rocks on top of them.

 

I was hit on the head by somebody for whatever reason. First, get out of this prison without being seen, then figure out who and why. Turning over it felt like my head was about to explode. Whoever hit me hit hard, he knew what he was doing. In the quiet of the old mine shaft there should have been some sound to alert me, I don’t remember hearing any sound at all.

 

I was prospecting near a month ago in the Huachucas, down Arizona Way. Looking in every mine that was abandoned to see if the was any sign at all. Little is left when a mine is left for good unless there is news of a big strike somewhere else, and everyone leaves for richer ground in a hurry. Gleaning the diggings has produced enough for my needs for a long time. Sometimes there is a small amount left scattered in a shaft, most times not.

 

One mine a couple of years back had enough left in it to keep me digging there for nigh unto six months. Easy pickings almost at the first of it. Two, maybe three hours poking around in the main shaft didn’t show me any sign, but near the end of a side shaft there was some glitter. Little to start, but more worked out of it’s hiding place with a little picking. Settling into the work of cleaning the mine gave me a lot of excitement many days mixed with a lot of it’s all gone days. One hundred forty ounces all totaled. Keeping it secret was the best thing I ever did there. Not to say that I ever told anyone where I found any strike before it was cleaned out good and proper. When I went into town to get supplies I always used the money I already had when I started looking in the mine. Never spend dust until you are done in the area.

 

Well here I am with sunlight coming through the cracks along with the fresh air. Looking around some, things look different somehow. Was I hit that hard, or was I someplace else. Something looked vaguely familiar, but where I am, is not where I was digging when the lights went out. Pulling some of the timbers into the shaft might be done but most of them have both ends outside the entrance. The rocks won’t push or pull easily.

 

Starting with the first timber I thought could be pulled inside, I found out how bad my head could hurt. Just to move these timbers and rocks now seemed like an impossible thing to do. Would I die in the prison walls of this mine. Leaning back down against the side of the shaft to ease the pain, something made me think again. This was a mine I worked in years back when it was a working mine. Crowder’s old mine, Crowder had a good vein of gold running in the rotten quartz. Easy to pick, but you had to keep things timbered up every foot of the way until the solid rock took over. This is the main shaft, goes straight for about fifty feet, branches to the left hard and runs straight but uphill for another thirty feet and dead ends. The right branch goes level for thirty feet then slopes down into the mountain following the winding vein. Safe enough, solid rock walls all the way since all the quartz was picked out. Something else, an air shaft once was made into the right branch somewhere on the down slope, come out near the trees on the hillside a little ways and below the main shaft. Was it still open, how big is it?

 

I remember the day when the old Crowder mine was working fifteen men hard. Town was full of people then too. The town never had a name, went with the miners. Two wood shacks, the rest was tents. The tents came down and the shacks have been torn down for firewood by the last to leave.

 

Working for Crowder was not easy. Every day was long. Picking the quartz from the mine took most of the men. They picked the rotten white rock loose and threw it into a ore car that ran on rails out the entrance. Hey, the rails were gone too. Well more men pushed the ore car out and dumped it where it was crushed to get the gold out. I worked the crushing to start then worked the mine proper. Lots of good men worked the mines hereabouts. We had a good town even if it didn’t have any name. Eating and cards filled our nights when the sun went too low to separate the gold from the rotten quartz. Crowder played with us nights and sometime he worked with us during the day. Most days he would watch over us, careful like.

 

Careful like, no lamp or candle to find my way down the passage in the growing dark. I had to try, or die trying. No food or water in here. In this sore  weakened body from the loss of blood from my head wound, time is becoming more important fast. Get out of here, then find the man who did this to me and why. Ouch! Something hurt my knee. Might have been a small rock or anything. Crowder did not make the shaft tall enough to stand in so crawling is the only way to move in here. Sure gotta be careful not to bump my head.

 

Going round the curve into the right shaft I lost the last of the sunlight. Inching forward, feeling ahead of me for any rocks to hurt my knees and falling or loose timbers makes for slow going. Moving a few feet seems like a hundred. A small breeze is moving past from behind me, back at the entrance. There must be a place for the air to go in front of me. I hope when I get where it is going it will be a hole large enough for me to crawl through. Something soft and round on the floor. Smells like wax, a candle! Fumbling through my pockets for a match I almost fall as I bump my head. Twisting onto my side I try the pocket again. A match, two no, three. Finding the wick end of the newly found candle and striking the match to it the light brightens up the dusty picked out shaft. Shielding the breeze from the fragile flame to keep it from flickering I see the down slope twenty feet ahead of me. Some glitter from specks of gold that was missed when the strike played out caught my eye. Thinking, some prison, with gold in the walls and no way out.

 

Moving faster now I reach the air shaft. I almost passed it with the rubble and uneven cuts in the side wall. The flame stood straight up as I passed the small opening on my right where the breeze was headed. Too small for me to go through I thought at first, but how did a man dig the shaft without being able to reach the end somehow. Looking into the darkness ahead of me and trying to remember the shaft and how I might get out left me feeling hopeless. The air shaft must be full of loose rock and dirt that I can dig out with my hands. Starting to dig the fallen rock and dirt with my hands proved to be more work than normal. Using a shovel or pick was my choice, but there wasn’t any here.

 

It must be well into the night, judging from my exhaustion. Deep in the darkness of a mine, time of day cannot be seen. Again digging with my hands and struggling for my life, I am becoming aware that the candle I have might not last much longer. Taking a good look at my surroundings so I may dig in the dark I snuff the candle out. Again the darkness quickly takes over as the light from that little candle goes out. Putting the candle in my pocket with the matches so it can be found, digging resumes. Pushing the dirt and rock behind me until it begins to pile up, then crawling backward to move it out of the small air shaft is extra work, but I must leave a way out behind me.

 

Constant darkness does something to a man. It leaves him not knowing day from night or even sometimes up from down. Time is hard to judge, seconds seem like minutes and minutes like hours. A constant weakness from the effort of swinging a hammer or digging with a shovel gets worse every day. The light from the candles or coal oil lamp is not enough help. Darkness like no night has seen, is what it’s like when the candle blows out in a deep mine. Then there is the coolness below ground, a good cool until you get deep, real deep. After a hundred or so feet it warms up some and more after that. The stale air is another thing to live with. Hot sweaty men stink up the air fast. The dust from chipping, or if you have it, blasting rock with dynamite fouls the air bad.

 

Ten feet into the shaft I hit solid rock, so clearing all the loose diggings behind me I got out the candle. Lighting up the air shaft, the small light showed a vertical opening to the night sky.

 

Stars were just beginning to show in the night. The hole was small and almost straight up. Large enough to wiggle up wedging my body between the sides of the shaft if I have the strength. Resting for a few minutes and sucking on a small rock to put moisture in my mouth, gave the strength needed to start the climb.

 

Standing for the first time since wakening up in this mine was wobbly. If the shaft my head and shoulders were in was much larger I would have fallen back to the floor, but my shoulder hit the wall keeping me upright. After a few minutes spent steadying myself it was time to go up. Grabbing some hand holds cut into the rock above me and pulling upward I began to strain all the arm muscles to move up into the shaft. Once I started up, with my knees wedged against the sides of the shaft, climbing became easier. Fifteen feet to the top of the shaft, felt like fifty.

 

Outside, breathing fresh air, and plenty of it. The coolness of the night feels good. Now for food and water. A stream is downhill about three hundred feet if it has not dried up. Streams around here flow below ground and surface at their own whim. This time I am lucky, the water is here, cool and sweet. Where there is water there is usually food of some kind. No animal tracks can be seen with such little starlight, maybe after the moon rises something might be seen. I am about five miles from my outfit, and where I was digging when all this happened to me. Why did I get slugged? Is the outfit still there? Are they still there? No fire tonight for me .

 

Some prickly pear cactus grows near here. Got to find something to eat, might as well be cactus. Finding my way through the dark with little starlight seems easy after the dark of the mine. The pulp was refreshing even though it was not tasty. I must rest until morning and see if there is some other food nearby.

 

Daybreak came with clear skies lit by a bright sun. I did not think I would ever see the sun again. Another drink first then look for tracks. First animal tracks for something to eat, then man tracks. Whoever did this must have left tracks. Nobody knew where I was working, so whoever did this would not worry enough to try to hide his tracks.

 

Some field mice left fresh tracks on the stream bank that lead to a hole not far away. The hole is under the edge of a rock that looked like it was deep in the ground, so the hole is short. Poking a stick in the entrance brought a squeal telling me that the mouse was in there. Pushing harder to spear it with the stick gave me the food I needed. Using my last match to start a smokeless fire to cook with, I thought it would be nice to have some coffee. There is some in my outfit only five miles away, if they didn’t take it or throw it away. Thinking I was dead they would take it for their own use. There might be hope, they might not have found it behind the rocks outside the entrance. The old Jackson mine is where I made camp. Field mouse is not my favorite food, but it is food. Cooked long and hot even mouse or rat can be eaten when hungry enough.

 

Rested, with some food in me, I’m ready to go get my outfit and find out what is going on. Getting to my feet was easier this time, the little food helped give me strength. Staying to the brush and tumbleweeds to keep hidden from view will make a longer way to get there. Another mile or so to keep alive will be worth the extra walk. The rough ground in the Huachuca mountains must be where God dumped all the leftover rock and dirt when he made the earth.

 

Stumbling along for the first mile or two was downhill for the most part, then up and down small hills the rest of the way. Jackson made his strike low in the foothills below Crowder. Jackson’s diggings were mostly shallow and level into the mountain a short way. It played out quickly and the men moved up the hill to Crowder’s, and other higher mines.

 

Nearing the entrance of Jackson’s, I am moving slow with extra caution. Nobody in sight, horses either. I better sit and watch for a while. Someone might be nearby or be coming back. Why? Time to sit and think, Why did I get slugged and why did they haul me away to Crowder’s. Was there something hidden inside Jackson’s or nearby that I might have come close to finding. Was someone using the old mine for a hiding place and my being there in the way a problem. No, there were no signs of anybody using the mine since it closed, I would have seen some sign when crawling around and picking rocks. I am not just passing through, I am looking hard, for gold.

 

Two hours have passed since getting here, still no signs of life. Wait, there is something moving in the shadow near the entrance. No it is someone coming out. Where is his horse, are there more of them in there? He is moving off to the east, carefully looking all around. There must be some no good going on at the Jackson. I gotta find out who and what. Rounding a pile of boulders he disappeared from sight. The horses might be there. Better wait a few more minutes before moving. About ten minutes later he came back the same route he took out. When he went back into the mine I slipped around the rock and moved off in the direction he went before. Rounding the boulders and some brush there was a corral with three horses eating some feed from a bucket. Saddles were hanging on a rail. There are probably three men here. Carefully moving away from the horses staying downwind, I rounded the hillside to get above the mine entrance.

 

Looking down from the rocks about thirty feet from the opening, they could not only be seen but also heard if they talk loud or call to each other. The rocks and brush on the hillside make good cover. All that had to be done now is sit and wait for their next move. Waiting is a hard thing to do unless you are an Indian. They can sit motionless for hours, days if need be. The Indians here are friendly unless, he is a renegade or Apache. These men were not Indians. First, they rode with saddles on shod horses. Second, Indians don’t wear boots. Third, the man I saw had two guns tied down.

 

Thinking while waiting helps pass the time. What more can be read from the sign? The man who fed the horses was young, eighteen maybe nineteen. He is fast with a gun, or wants to look that way. Hiding out in these hills near this ghost town might mean they are after something in a nearby town, or they just got it. Towns out here don’t have much worth taking. Few ranches with  small numbers of cattle kinda rule out rustling. Most mining played out years ago. The biggest shops are the general stores and most of their customers have tabs as long as your arm. The saloons have a shotgun behind the counter and a bunch of men standing at the bar with guns. That leaves the Express office, or the Bank. Now there’s a thought, the Express, freight and mail offices are about twenty five miles east, some west of here, and fifteen miles north. Two towns, the ones east and west have banks. Not large but still Banks. A gang that would hold up the Express office would also rob a Bank. Those boys might just be after both.

 

My being in the old Jackson mine looking for gold when they wanted a hideout might just have bad timing for me. The Jackson is a mine with a shaft large enough to be a room a short ways in, where there was a pocket of quartz waiting to be picked out, that was the only pocket to be found so it was closed shortly after that. I was looking for some sign there was another hidden pocket of gold to be found. The short time spent in the mine produced little, mostly some dust mixed in the dirt covering the floor. More was found digging through the tailings outside. I was going to spend another week looking before leaving it forever. If these bandits came after I left, my head would not hurt so bad now. They are going to pay for it. I would be dead by now if it weren't for my thick skull and knowing the layout of the Crowder.

 

A movement below me caught my eye before the sounds of two men leaving the mine. They were heading in the direction of the horses kinda lazy like. So far they had no idea I was here, or even alive. Keep it that way I thought, as the urge to rush them passed through my mind. I wanted to get them quick in a moment of hate. Caution took over, reminding me there was another horse, meaning another man inside. He might be wounded or just sitting there alert, waiting for someone to walk in, gun at the ready. Life for me would end quick and all the pain of getting out of the Crowder and walking here would have been lost. No, I needed a plan.

 

I found them, that was the first thing. Now to make a plan. There may be more than three of them, maybe just two. First, how many for sure. Second find out if my outfit is still there. Third, how can they be caught apart, one at a time. To start, catch one of them. Fourth, figure out what to do when one is caught. My outfit is near and if the two don’t come back I might could get to it. There is a double barreled twelve gauge with a half dozen shells and some piggin strings I use to tie the gold sacks that could be used to tie their hands and feet. No taking their boots is a better idea. They don’t look like they are much for walking, if the boots are cut up with my knife they won’t be used. I almost forgot in all this excitement, there is some jerky in the sack.

 

Slowly moving in the direction of my outfit, each step expecting some unseen person to call down on me. Crouching and walking like an Indian, careful not to step on anything that might make a noise. A twig snapping or a rock kicked loose to roll downhill could make me a dead man. Sweat from the tension was streaming down my forehead. This seemed to take hours, it was only ten minutes. Having them so close and still having to wait always makes me mad, fuming mad. Calm, I must keep calm or they will get the best of me.

 

 

With the double barrel shotgun in my hand, shells in both barrels and six in my pocket, I grabbed some jerky and the canteen. The outfit is small but there is not enough cover for me to hide in. Too weak to carry it now. Head for the cover over the entrance to the Jackson to see if the other two come back. Where are they? Plenty of time to saddle up and ride off. The horses have been fed already, What are they doing, and where are they now? On my way back to the place over the opening I spotted the hole. Plenty of cover here, I thought, this is the air hole that was drilled into the roof of the big room. If I was to sit here and listen, I might hear what they say inside and I can still see the mine entrance they pass through.

 

Settling in next to the air hole was easy because of the brushy cover. If it weren't for the extra caution used trying to be silent, it would have been passed up easily. This hole was drilled with a long drill on a pipe through maybe ten feet of rock. The leaves and dirt must keep the light from entering the shaft, but I will stay on the north side of the hole so my shadow will never pass over the hole where it might give me away.

 

Almost midday and still no sign of the two men who went to the corral and never came back. There is only one way in or out of the Jackson that I have found in all my time prospecting here. Sitting for another hour, then two, started to get me worried. Were they out walking around looking for someone like me? Too quiet, not even the wind stirring today. The loudest sound I’ve heard in the last hour is a snake sunning on a rock. Pushing flatter to the ground to keep hidden and sliding deeper into the shadows was the only thing that could be done.

 

Sunset coming on, lengthening shadows all around me making my patience wear thin. Gotta find out what happened to those two. All afternoon they have been gone. Why? Where? Making my way to the boulders where their horses are, in the long shadows and deepening dark as softly as I can, takes only a few minutes. Time is becoming more real as the hurt in my head starts to go away. A few more feet and the horses can be seen around the boulder. Step after cautious step, three, two, one more. Peking past the rocks, the horses are there but where are the men? Smoke from the circle of boulders. The mine must be the hiding place for the loot and the camp is here in the rocks. Should have checked for this before. Slipping to where I can see inside the circle of rocks has to be slow. First because they might discover me and second my head is beginning to hurt again. Well here goes, every step might bring me suddenly into their sights. Two barrels, short range only. That’s all I have ready. Gotta make the best of it.

 

The fire is straight ahead, it’s glow dancing on the rocks. Slowly raising my head to see above the rocks there are three heads around the fire. Raising a little more lets me see them better. The first two along with one more, a couple of years older. The stew in the pot smells better than any other stew has ever smelled before. Before I do something to get myself killed, I better slide back down the boulder. At the bottom of the pile making their protective circle again, I decided that I must have a new plan.

 

Three at the campfire now, maybe more to come later. The sooner I move the better the odds of catching them by surprise. With three of them sitting around a circle they can look over the others shoulder and see me coming up on them. If they stare into the fire and I wait until it is dark they won’t see me until I am close enough to touch their noses. Doing this might be my best chance. Staying downwind so the horses won’t whinnie will better my chances.

 

Click, Boom!  The shot startled everyone sitting around the fire. Hey, what's going over there Jack, one of the men by the fire shouted, as the sound echoed off the rocky canyon. Shot at a snake, turned out to be a twig. Every night sound went quiet with the explosion. The shot came from the top of a boulder pile on the far side of the fire. So there are four at least to deal with. One as jumpy as a jackrabbit, hihing somewhere high in the rocks. That made me glad that my movement had not been seen. He must be watching towards the east for someone, maybe a posse. It is beginning to look like they hit the Express office or the Bank early today and just hid the loot in the Jackson when I came up. If the loot is hidden in the mine and they are out here there might be somebody guarding inside the mine. Or maybe they have hidden it so good they don’t need to. They don’t want to get trapped inside the mine by a posse, so they camped in a circle of rocks with a guard up high. If they were caught by the campfire a posse would not find the loot and might have trouble proving they did it.

 

If a posse comes soon it would be good for me. Once caught I could tell them what happened to me, Since the Jackson is where I was working it should be easy to find the loot quickly. What if there is no posse? Four armed men, one a lookout, jumpy as a jackrabbit. I’m no man with a gun, just use it to shoot a snake or rabbit now and then. Can’t sit and wait much longer, I must move tonight. The night sounds are coming back again so there is nothing out there to keep them quiet. No posse or other movement. The shot could be heard for miles this night, little wind and less to rustle with it.

 

The moon will be coming up soon making it dangerous to crawl around on these rocks. Gotta make my move now. climbing back up the rocks to where I was earlier I found all four men siting, staring into the fire. Is there a fifth? Gotta cut that out. They feel safe enough to not need a guard all night. Have to take my chances or forever hold my peace unless I want to walk to town for a posse myself. No I gotta move now.

 

Carefully climbing down behind one of them is more work than I thought. No moon makes the going slow, very slow. Speeding up could make noise and the moonlight could give me away. Only a few more minutes, will the moonlight hold off.

 

Light is coming too soon, any minute now one of them will spot me on the face of the rock. Slowing to almost a stop so movement won’t give me away makes me sweat. Getting a little darker. A cloud is passing covering the moon. Make some ground while it is dark, then slow down as the cloud passes. Rain would be good now to hide in. They would duck for cover in the mine and I could trap them there. No such luck tonight. As it begins to get lighter my speed slows again. The night sounds are getting quiet now. Something or someone is out there. The men at the fire did not seem to notice the quiet like they should. They are too busy talking in low voices, I’m still too far away to understand what they are saying. They must be planning another holdup or something. Another cloud, I hope it is a big one this time. What made the night sounds get quiet? Can’t seem to hear anything except the mumbling of the four. There it is, the scratching of a boot on rock. The sound was close, maybe twenty feet away. A man was sliding down the same slope I was on. There are more men sliding down the other sides, their sounds were loud to someone who was listening. The men around the fire were not listening except to each other.

 

A gun barrel pressed into my side. I froze as stiff as ice. A man whispered in my ear, keep it quiet if you know what is good for you. I nodded, my hands were in his sight with the double barreled shotgun pointed downhill. He tapped my right arm to signal he wanted the shotgun. Slowly I passed it to him. I whispered I was here for the same reason. He replied, we’ll see about that later, quiet. The hills were alive with men sliding down them. Things suddenly got quiet. All the men must be in position.

 

A loud voice boomed, “Sit where you are, grab some sky, careful like”. The man behind the voice was the sheriff of Gold City. The man behind me prodded me with the barrel of his colt. I finish sliding down the hill and stand by the fire. At the bottom of the hill I stood where I was told, as the sheriff came over to us. The four already had their hands tied. The sheriff asked what my part of this was. When he heard the story he nodded and asked me to show him around the Jackson.

 

We went over to the old mine and struck a match to the lantern from my outfit. In the back of the main shaft there was a fresh pile of powdered rock, just large enough to cover a saddlebag. digging the loose cover with our hands, we found a saddlebag heavy with the money and gold from the bank. With my story of getting hit over the head, carried off, and buried alive in the Crowder, and the bank robbery, these me would be guests of the Territory for a long time.

 

The Old Mine Gleaner

 

 

A bright light was in my eye when I started to wake. My head hurt like it had been knocked off.  What happened? Where was I?

 

It must be daylight, the bright light is the sun shining through the cracks between the boards of wherever I was. I felt some sticky stuff mixed with hard crust. Moving a little I found the sticky stuff was my own blood on the hard crusty ground. looking around I was beginning to remember something of what happened. I was digging in this old abandoned mine when something hit me behind the ear, hard. Looking around me without moving any more than possible, the mine is still intact. A pile of timbers is now thrown over the entrance, with rocks on top of them.

 

I was hit on the head by somebody for whatever reason. First, get out of this prison without being seen, then figure out who and why. Turning over it felt like my head was about to explode. Whoever hit me hit hard, he knew what he was doing. In the quiet of the old mine shaft there should have been some sound to alert me, I don’t remember hearing any sound at all.

 

I was prospecting near a month ago in the Huachucas, down Arizona Way. Looking in every mine that was abandoned to see if the was any sign at all. Little is left when a mine is left for good unless there is news of a big strike somewhere else, and everyone leaves for richer ground in a hurry. Gleaning the diggings has produced enough for my needs for a long time. Sometimes there is a small amount left scattered in a shaft, most times not.

 

One mine a couple of years back had enough left in it to keep me digging there for nigh unto six months. Easy pickings almost at the first of it. Two, maybe three hours poking around in the main shaft didn’t show me any sign, but near the end of a side shaft there was some glitter. Little to start, but more worked out of it’s hiding place with a little picking. Settling into the work of cleaning the mine gave me a lot of excitement many days mixed with a lot of it’s all gone days. One hundred forty ounces all totaled. Keeping it secret was the best thing I ever did there. Not to say that I ever told anyone where I found any strike before it was cleaned out good and proper. When I went into town to get supplies I always used the money I already had when I started looking in the mine. Never spend dust until you are done in the area.

 

Well here I am with sunlight coming through the cracks along with the fresh air. Looking around some, things look different somehow. Was I hit that hard, or was I someplace else. Something looked vaguely familiar, but where I am, is not where I was digging when the lights went out. Pulling some of the timbers into the shaft might be done but most of them have both ends outside the entrance. The rocks won’t push or pull easily.

 

Starting with the first timber I thought could be pulled inside, I found out how bad my head could hurt. Just to move these timbers and rocks now seemed like an impossible thing to do. Would I die in the prison walls of this mine. Leaning back down against the side of the shaft to ease the pain, something made me think again. This was a mine I worked in years back when it was a working mine. Crowder’s old mine, Crowder had a good vein of gold running in the rotten quartz. Easy to pick, but you had to keep things timbered up every foot of the way until the solid rock took over. This is the main shaft, goes straight for about fifty feet, branches to the left hard and runs straight but uphill for another thirty feet and dead ends. The right branch goes level for thirty feet then slopes down into the mountain following the winding vein. Safe enough, solid rock walls all the way since all the quartz was picked out. Something else, an air shaft once was made into the right branch somewhere on the down slope, come out near the trees on the hillside a little ways and below the main shaft. Was it still open, how big is it?

 

I remember the day when the old Crowder mine was working fifteen men hard. Town was full of people then too. The town never had a name, went with the miners. Two wood shacks, the rest was tents. The tents came down and the shacks have been torn down for firewood by the last to leave.

 

Working for Crowder was not easy. Every day was long. Picking the quartz from the mine took most of the men. They picked the rotten white rock loose and threw it into a ore car that ran on rails out the entrance. Hey, the rails were gone too. Well more men pushed the ore car out and dumped it where it was crushed to get the gold out. I worked the crushing to start then worked the mine proper. Lots of good men worked the mines hereabouts. We had a good town even if it didn’t have any name. Eating and cards filled our nights when the sun went too low to separate the gold from the rotten quartz. Crowder played with us nights and sometime he worked with us during the day. Most days he would watch over us, careful like.

 

Careful like, no lamp or candle to find my way down the passage in the growing dark. I had to try, or die trying. No food or water in here. In this sore  weakened body from the loss of blood from my head wound, time is becoming more important fast. Get out of here, then find the man who did this to me and why. Ouch! Something hurt my knee. Might have been a small rock or anything. Crowder did not make the shaft tall enough to stand in so crawling is the only way to move in here. Sure gotta be careful not to bump my head.

 

Going round the curve into the right shaft I lost the last of the sunlight. Inching forward, feeling ahead of me for any rocks to hurt my knees and falling or loose timbers makes for slow going. Moving a few feet seems like a hundred. A small breeze is moving past from behind me, back at the entrance. There must be a place for the air to go in front of me. I hope when I get where it is going it will be a hole large enough for me to crawl through. Something soft and round on the floor. Smells like wax, a candle! Fumbling through my pockets for a match I almost fall as I bump my head. Twisting onto my side I try the pocket again. A match, two no, three. Finding the wick end of the newly found candle and striking the match to it the light brightens up the dusty picked out shaft. Shielding the breeze from the fragile flame to keep it from flickering I see the down slope twenty feet ahead of me. Some glitter from specks of gold that was missed when the strike played out caught my eye. Thinking, some prison, with gold in the walls and no way out.

 

Moving faster now I reach the air shaft. I almost passed it with the rubble and uneven cuts in the side wall. The flame stood straight up as I passed the small opening on my right where the breeze was headed. Too small for me to go through I thought at first, but how did a man dig the shaft without being able to reach the end somehow. Looking into the darkness ahead of me and trying to remember the shaft and how I might get out left me feeling hopeless. The air shaft must be full of loose rock and dirt that I can dig out with my hands. Starting to dig the fallen rock and dirt with my hands proved to be more work than normal. Using a shovel or pick was my choice, but there wasn’t any here.

 

It must be well into the night, judging from my exhaustion. Deep in the darkness of a mine, time of day cannot be seen. Again digging with my hands and struggling for my life, I am becoming aware that the candle I have might not last much longer. Taking a good look at my surroundings so I may dig in the dark I snuff the candle out. Again the darkness quickly takes over as the light from that little candle goes out. Putting the candle in my pocket with the matches so it can be found, digging resumes. Pushing the dirt and rock behind me until it begins to pile up, then crawling backward to move it out of the small air shaft is extra work, but I must leave a way out behind me.

 

Constant darkness does something to a man. It leaves him not knowing day from night or even sometimes up from down. Time is hard to judge, seconds seem like minutes and minutes like hours. A constant weakness from the effort of swinging a hammer or digging with a shovel gets worse every day. The light from the candles or coal oil lamp is not enough help. Darkness like no night has seen, is what it’s like when the candle blows out in a deep mine. Then there is the coolness below ground, a good cool until you get deep, real deep. After a hundred or so feet it warms up some and more after that. The stale air is another thing to live with. Hot sweaty men stink up the air fast. The dust from chipping, or if you have it, blasting rock with dynamite fouls the air bad.

 

Ten feet into the shaft I hit solid rock, so clearing all the loose diggings behind me I got out the candle. Lighting up the air shaft, the small light showed a vertical opening to the night sky.

 

Stars were just beginning to show in the night. The hole was small and almost straight up. Large enough to wiggle up wedging my body between the sides of the shaft if I have the strength. Resting for a few minutes and sucking on a small rock to put moisture in my mouth, gave the strength needed to start the climb.

 

Standing for the first time since wakening up in this mine was wobbly. If the shaft my head and shoulders were in was much larger I would have fallen back to the floor, but my shoulder hit the wall keeping me upright. After a few minutes spent steadying myself it was time to go up. Grabbing some hand holds cut into the rock above me and pulling upward I began to strain all the arm muscles to move up into the shaft. Once I started up, with my knees wedged against the sides of the shaft, climbing became easier. Fifteen feet to the top of the shaft, felt like fifty.

 

Outside, breathing fresh air, and plenty of it. The coolness of the night feels good. Now for food and water. A stream is downhill about three hundred feet if it has not dried up. Streams around here flow below ground and surface at their own whim. This time I am lucky, the water is here, cool and sweet. Where there is water there is usually food of some kind. No animal tracks can be seen with such little starlight, maybe after the moon rises something might be seen. I am about five miles from my outfit, and where I was digging when all this happened to me. Why did I get slugged? Is the outfit still there? Are they still there? No fire tonight for me .

 

Some prickly pear cactus grows near here. Got to find something to eat, might as well be cactus. Finding my way through the dark with little starlight seems easy after the dark of the mine. The pulp was refreshing even though it was not tasty. I must rest until morning and see if there is some other food nearby.

 

Daybreak came with clear skies lit by a bright sun. I did not think I would ever see the sun again. Another drink first then look for tracks. First animal tracks for something to eat, then man tracks. Whoever did this must have left tracks. Nobody knew where I was working, so whoever did this would not worry enough to try to hide his tracks.

 

Some field mice left fresh tracks on the stream bank that lead to a hole not far away. The hole is under the edge of a rock that looked like it was deep in the ground, so the hole is short. Poking a stick in the entrance brought a squeal telling me that the mouse was in there. Pushing harder to spear it with the stick gave me the food I needed. Using my last match to start a smokeless fire to cook with, I thought it would be nice to have some coffee. There is some in my outfit only five miles away, if they didn’t take it or throw it away. Thinking I was dead they would take it for their own use. There might be hope, they might not have found it behind the rocks outside the entrance. The old Jackson mine is where I made camp. Field mouse is not my favorite food, but it is food. Cooked long and hot even mouse or rat can be eaten when hungry enough.

 

Rested, with some food in me, I’m ready to go get my outfit and find out what is going on. Getting to my feet was easier this time, the little food helped give me strength. Staying to the brush and tumbleweeds to keep hidden from view will make a longer way to get there. Another mile or so to keep alive will be worth the extra walk. The rough ground in the Huachuca mountains must be where God dumped all the leftover rock and dirt when he made the earth.

 

Stumbling along for the first mile or two was downhill for the most part, then up and down small hills the rest of the way. Jackson made his strike low in the foothills below Crowder. Jackson’s diggings were mostly shallow and level into the mountain a short way. It played out quickly and the men moved up the hill to Crowder’s, and other higher mines.

 

Nearing the entrance of Jackson’s, I am moving slow with extra caution. Nobody in sight, horses either. I better sit and watch for a while. Someone might be nearby or be coming back. Why? Time to sit and think, Why did I get slugged and why did they haul me away to Crowder’s. Was there something hidden inside Jackson’s or nearby that I might have come close to finding. Was someone using the old mine for a hiding place and my being there in the way a problem. No, there were no signs of anybody using the mine since it closed, I would have seen some sign when crawling around and picking rocks. I am not just passing through, I am looking hard, for gold.

 

Two hours have passed since getting here, still no signs of life. Wait, there is something moving in the shadow near the entrance. No it is someone coming out. Where is his horse, are there more of them in there? He is moving off to the east, carefully looking all around. There must be some no good going on at the Jackson. I gotta find out who and what. Rounding a pile of boulders he disappeared from sight. The horses might be there. Better wait a few more minutes before moving. About ten minutes later he came back the same route he took out. When he went back into the mine I slipped around the rock and moved off in the direction he went before. Rounding the boulders and some brush there was a corral with three horses eating some feed from a bucket. Saddles were hanging on a rail. There are probably three men here. Carefully moving away from the horses staying downwind, I rounded the hillside to get above the mine entrance.

 

Looking down from the rocks about thirty feet from the opening, they could not only be seen but also heard if they talk loud or call to each other. The rocks and brush on the hillside make good cover. All that had to be done now is sit and wait for their next move. Waiting is a hard thing to do unless you are an Indian. They can sit motionless for hours, days if need be. The Indians here are friendly unless, he is a renegade or Apache. These men were not Indians. First, they rode with saddles on shod horses. Second, Indians don’t wear boots. Third, the man I saw had two guns tied down.

 

Thinking while waiting helps pass the time. What more can be read from the sign? The man who fed the horses was young, eighteen maybe nineteen. He is fast with a gun, or wants to look that way. Hiding out in these hills near this ghost town might mean they are after something in a nearby town, or they just got it. Towns out here don’t have much worth taking. Few ranches with  small numbers of cattle kinda rule out rustling. Most mining played out years ago. The biggest shops are the general stores and most of their customers have tabs as long as your arm. The saloons have a shotgun behind the counter and a bunch of men standing at the bar with guns. That leaves the Express office, or the Bank. Now there’s a thought, the Express, freight and mail offices are about twenty five miles east, some west of here, and fifteen miles north. Two towns, the ones east and west have banks. Not large but still Banks. A gang that would hold up the Express office would also rob a Bank. Those boys might just be after both.

 

My being in the old Jackson mine looking for gold when they wanted a hideout might just have bad timing for me. The Jackson is a mine with a shaft large enough to be a room a short ways in, where there was a pocket of quartz waiting to be picked out, that was the only pocket to be found so it was closed shortly after that. I was looking for some sign there was another hidden pocket of gold to be found. The short time spent in the mine produced little, mostly some dust mixed in the dirt covering the floor. More was found digging through the tailings outside. I was going to spend another week looking before leaving it forever. If these bandits came after I left, my head would not hurt so bad now. They are going to pay for it. I would be dead by now if it weren't for my thick skull and knowing the layout of the Crowder.

 

A movement below me caught my eye before the sounds of two men leaving the mine. They were heading in the direction of the horses kinda lazy like. So far they had no idea I was here, or even alive. Keep it that way I thought, as the urge to rush them passed through my mind. I wanted to get them quick in a moment of hate. Caution took over, reminding me there was another horse, meaning another man inside. He might be wounded or just sitting there alert, waiting for someone to walk in, gun at the ready. Life for me would end quick and all the pain of getting out of the Crowder and walking here would have been lost. No, I needed a plan.

 

I found them, that was the first thing. Now to make a plan. There may be more than three of them, maybe just two. First, how many for sure. Second find out if my outfit is still there. Third, how can they be caught apart, one at a time. To start, catch one of them. Fourth, figure out what to do when one is caught. My outfit is near and if the two don’t come back I might could get to it. There is a double barreled twelve gauge with a half dozen shells and some piggin strings I use to tie the gold sacks that could be used to tie their hands and feet. No taking their boots is a better idea. They don’t look like they are much for walking, if the boots are cut up with my knife they won’t be used. I almost forgot in all this excitement, there is some jerky in the sack.

 

Slowly moving in the direction of my outfit, each step expecting some unseen person to call down on me. Crouching and walking like an Indian, careful not to step on anything that might make a noise. A twig snapping or a rock kicked loose to roll downhill could make me a dead man. Sweat from the tension was streaming down my forehead. This seemed to take hours, it was only ten minutes. Having them so close and still having to wait always makes me mad, fuming mad. Calm, I must keep calm or they will get the best of me.

 

 

With the double barrel shotgun in my hand, shells in both barrels and six in my pocket, I grabbed some jerky and the canteen. The outfit is small but there is not enough cover for me to hide in. Too weak to carry it now. Head for the cover over the entrance to the Jackson to see if the other two come back. Where are they? Plenty of time to saddle up and ride off. The horses have been fed already, What are they doing, and where are they now? On my way back to the place over the opening I spotted the hole. Plenty of cover here, I thought, this is the air hole that was drilled into the roof of the big room. If I was to sit here and listen, I might hear what they say inside and I can still see the mine entrance they pass through.

 

Settling in next to the air hole was easy because of the brushy cover. If it weren't for the extra caution used trying to be silent, it would have been passed up easily. This hole was drilled with a long drill on a pipe through maybe ten feet of rock. The leaves and dirt must keep the light from entering the shaft, but I will stay on the north side of the hole so my shadow will never pass over the hole where it might give me away.

 

Almost midday and still no sign of the two men who went to the corral and never came back. There is only one way in or out of the Jackson that I have found in all my time prospecting here. Sitting for another hour, then two, started to get me worried. Were they out walking around looking for someone like me? Too quiet, not even the wind stirring today. The loudest sound I’ve heard in the last hour is a snake sunning on a rock. Pushing flatter to the ground to keep hidden and sliding deeper into the shadows was the only thing that could be done.

 

Sunset coming on, lengthening shadows all around me making my patience wear thin. Gotta find out what happened to those two. All afternoon they have been gone. Why? Where? Making my way to the boulders where their horses are, in the long shadows and deepening dark as softly as I can, takes only a few minutes. Time is becoming more real as the hurt in my head starts to go away. A few more feet and the horses can be seen around the boulder. Step after cautious step, three, two, one more. Peking past the rocks, the horses are there but where are the men? Smoke from the circle of boulders. The mine must be the hiding place for the loot and the camp is here in the rocks. Should have checked for this before. Slipping to where I can see inside the circle of rocks has to be slow. First because they might discover me and second my head is beginning to hurt again. Well here goes, every step might bring me suddenly into their sights. Two barrels, short range only. That’s all I have ready. Gotta make the best of it.

 

The fire is straight ahead, it’s glow dancing on the rocks. Slowly raising my head to see above the rocks there are three heads around the fire. Raising a little more lets me see them better. The first two along with one more, a couple of years older. The stew in the pot smells better than any other stew has ever smelled before. Before I do something to get myself killed, I better slide back down the boulder. At the bottom of the pile making their protective circle again, I decided that I must have a new plan.

 

Three at the campfire now, maybe more to come later. The sooner I move the better the odds of catching them by surprise. With three of them sitting around a circle they can look over the others shoulder and see me coming up on them. If they stare into the fire and I wait until it is dark they won’t see me until I am close enough to touch their noses. Doing this might be my best chance. Staying downwind so the horses won’t whinnie will better my chances.

 

Click, Boom!  The shot startled everyone sitting around the fire. Hey, what's going over there Jack, one of the men by the fire shouted, as the sound echoed off the rocky canyon. Shot at a snake, turned out to be a twig. Every night sound went quiet with the explosion. The shot came from the top of a boulder pile on the far side of the fire. So there are four at least to deal with. One as jumpy as a jackrabbit, hihing somewhere high in the rocks. That made me glad that my movement had not been seen. He must be watching towards the east for someone, maybe a posse. It is beginning to look like they hit the Express office or the Bank early today and just hid the loot in the Jackson when I came up. If the loot is hidden in the mine and they are out here there might be somebody guarding inside the mine. Or maybe they have hidden it so good they don’t need to. They don’t want to get trapped inside the mine by a posse, so they camped in a circle of rocks with a guard up high. If they were caught by the campfire a posse would not find the loot and might have trouble proving they did it.

 

If a posse comes soon it would be good for me. Once caught I could tell them what happened to me, Since the Jackson is where I was working it should be easy to find the loot quickly. What if there is no posse? Four armed men, one a lookout, jumpy as a jackrabbit. I’m no man with a gun, just use it to shoot a snake or rabbit now and then. Can’t sit and wait much longer, I must move tonight. The night sounds are coming back again so there is nothing out there to keep them quiet. No posse or other movement. The shot could be heard for miles this night, little wind and less to rustle with it.

 

The moon will be coming up soon making it dangerous to crawl around on these rocks. Gotta make my move now. climbing back up the rocks to where I was earlier I found all four men siting, staring into the fire. Is there a fifth? Gotta cut that out. They feel safe enough to not need a guard all night. Have to take my chances or forever hold my peace unless I want to walk to town for a posse myself. No I gotta move now.

 

Carefully climbing down behind one of them is more work than I thought. No moon makes the going slow, very slow. Speeding up could make noise and the moonlight could give me away. Only a few more minutes, will the moonlight hold off.

 

Light is coming too soon, any minute now one of them will spot me on the face of the rock. Slowing to almost a stop so movement won’t give me away makes me sweat. Getting a little darker. A cloud is passing covering the moon. Make some ground while it is dark, then slow down as the cloud passes. Rain would be good now to hide in. They would duck for cover in the mine and I could trap them there. No such luck tonight. As it begins to get lighter my speed slows again. The night sounds are getting quiet now. Something or someone is out there. The men at the fire did not seem to notice the quiet like they should. They are too busy talking in low voices, I’m still too far away to understand what they are saying. They must be planning another holdup or something. Another cloud, I hope it is a big one this time. What made the night sounds get quiet? Can’t seem to hear anything except the mumbling of the four. There it is, the scratching of a boot on rock. The sound was close, maybe twenty feet away. A man was sliding down the same slope I was on. There are more men sliding down the other sides, their sounds were loud to someone who was listening. The men around the fire were not listening except to each other.

 

A gun barrel pressed into my side. I froze as stiff as ice. A man whispered in my ear, keep it quiet if you know what is good for you. I nodded, my hands were in his sight with the double barreled shotgun pointed downhill. He tapped my right arm to signal he wanted the shotgun. Slowly I passed it to him. I whispered I was here for the same reason. He replied, we’ll see about that later, quiet. The hills were alive with men sliding down them. Things suddenly got quiet. All the men must be in position.

 

A loud voice boomed, “Sit where you are, grab some sky, careful like”. The man behind the voice was the sheriff of Gold City. The man behind me prodded me with the barrel of his colt. I finish sliding down the hill and stand by the fire. At the bottom of the hill I stood where I was told, as the sheriff came over to us. The four already had their hands tied. The sheriff asked what my part of this was. When he heard the story he nodded and asked me to show him around the Jackson.

 

We went over to the old mine and struck a match to the lantern from my outfit. In the back of the main shaft there was a fresh pile of powdered rock, just large enough to cover a saddlebag. digging the loose cover with our hands, we found a saddlebag heavy with the money and gold from the bank. With my story of getting hit over the head, carried off, and buried alive in the Crowder, and the bank robbery, these me would be guests of the Territory for a long time.

 

 


Submitted: October 28, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Tom Rosenbeck. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

Serge Wlodarski

Good story. He used his brains to avoid trouble.

Fri, October 28th, 2022 4:38pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for the kind comment
Tom

Fri, October 28th, 2022 10:41am

Facebook Comments

More Westerns Short Stories

Other Content by Tom Rosenbeck

Short Story / Westerns

Short Story / Westerns

Short Story / Westerns