The deep dark canyons
that lay alongside I-17 some 50 or 60 miles North of Phoenix, AZ hold a
number of mysteries. Going North on I-17 you drop down into the edge of
these great gouges in the earth near the little community of Rock Springs.
Black Canyon City a little further North lays right at the mouth of them. If
you keep going on I-17 the road makes a steep climb up to Sunset Point
where, if you stop and look at the view, you can see down into some of the
Getting off I-17 at Black Canyon City, one can find the original road where the
stagecoaches ran from Phoenix and points North up through the canyons to ghost
town of Bumblebee, the original Cordes Junction and on to Mayer and thence to
Prescott. Even today the route is narrow, winding and great adventure for those
who rarely see or travel dirt roads. "Spur-of-the-Moment" adventurers would be
advised to take extra water and some survival supplies. If you break down or
have some kind of problem with the vehicle it may be a while until someone comes
along. Cell phones don't work quite a few places and you just may have more time
than you planned on to enjoy the scenery.
The area has been home to prospectors over the last 140 years. There is mineral
to be found in a number of places and while most "mines" played out or produced
very little, some finds were made as is witnessed by ongoing works to this day.
It was also home to gun battles with Indians and outlaws and more than one poor
soul never came out of the canyons, his bones bleaching in the Arizona sun.
Quite a few of the gunfights, knife fights and fist fights were between those
who knew each other at least socially and were due in large part to the quantity
of alcohol that was being consumed at the time. Some of the fights were over
that root of all evil - the love of money. One such little-known fight took
place about 40 years ago. . . . . .
started when the Old Man came to the Kid with news of some buried treasure. The
Old Man had a thing for buried treasure and was always going off to look for
some lost mine or buried bank loot. He had found just enough over the years to
convince the Kid that he quite often knew what he was talking about. The gold
bars the Old Man brought out of the Superstition Mountains had really raised the
Kid's estimation of him. Just because one of the guys had lost a leg due to a
.30-06 bullet going through his knee in no way discouraged the Kid. At his age
he thought he was immortal and besides, risk was part of the price wasn't it?
Anyhow, the Old
Man had come in all excited one evening. He had a story about an old prospector
that was a friend of a friend. The old prospector had lived up near Black Canyon
City and had been working the hills and canyons for near 30 years. He had
converted his gold dust, the story went, to silver dollars and had buried them
in mason jars near his cabin. How much was there no one knew for sure. Just that
week someone had found the old prospector dead in his cabin. He apparently had a
heart attack. He had no known family and, the story went, no money was found in
the cabin. The "friend of a friend" had related that only "..a few.." people
knew that the old guy had buried his money near the cabin. The Old Man was ready
to go and find it.. now! Before the other guys got it. It would be finders
keepers. He wanted the Kid's help to recover it, which of course the Kid was
more than willing to do. Besides, it got him out of school.
The plan was to
drive up to Black Canyon City about 10 PM, take the old dirt trail up toward the
cabin but cut off to the side when they were about a mile from it. They would
park the truck in a wash, out of sight, and hike up over a ridge to the cabin.
This would bring them in from the back side of it so they could check and see if
anyone had come in by the road. The Old Man figured they could be at the cabin
by 12:30 that night. This should give them plenty of time to find the buried
money and get out before daylight.
loaded, equipment put in the truck, and guns and ammunition checked. By 10 they
were on the road. Conversation was sparse but excited and consisted mainly of a
"what if" or "how much" subject matter. The Old Man figured they would get there
before anyone else, and besides, there weren't that many people that knew about
it anyhow. Right? The Kid really did not care if anyone else showed up or not.
He was just happy at not having to go to school the following day.
They made good
time on the road and it was before midnight when the parked the truck in the
wash. The high desert was quiet and the light from the stars seemed brilliant.
The Kid tied the metal detector on the top of the Old Man's backpack and they
were off. The Old Man was packing his 6 1/2" Ruger .44 Magnum (what they call
a "Flat Top" nowadays ... it was the standard model then) and the Kid has his
El Tigre Model 92 .44-40 levergun. Both their backpacks had extra ammo for "just
in case". The Old Man seemed a bit nervous but the Kid simply thought it was a
The hike up over
the high ridge was uneventful and the trek down the back side of the hills to
the little draw where the cabin lay passed fairly quickly. All in all it took no
more than 30 or 40 minutes. As they got closer to the cabin they slowed down and
took their time, not wanting to make much noise. At a spot where they could see
the cabin the Old Man stopped, leaned back up against a boulder and spent time
just looking. It was hard to see much of anything by light of the stars, but the
cabin stood in a little clearing which seemed empty. After what seemed like an
eternity but was probably no more than 5 or 10 minutes the Old Man whispered
that it did not look like anyone else was around and led the way on down the
the cabin slowly and cautiously. The door was hanging open but all was quiet.
The Old Man took off his pack and motioned for the Kid to stay where he was
while he went up close and looked around. As the Kid watched, the Old Man
carefully made his way up to the cabin and around it, looking in the windows and
the door. Satisfying himself that it was empty he signaled the Kid to bring up
flashlights sparingly they looked at the interior of the cabin. More of a shack,
it appeared to have been looted. Stuff was thrown all over the floor, the bed
was overturned, and the floor itself had been broken up in several places.
Apparently someone had been searching already!
The Kid eased a round into the chamber of his levergun and let the hammer
down to half cock ...
just in case he thought to himself.
The Old Man
had the metal detector working by now and started to sweep the area around
the shack. The Kid's heart jumped when it buzzed the first couple of times,
but after digging up some scrap metal he came to expect it. Over the next
hour or so the Old Man worked back and forth. There was quite a bit of junk
- old tin cans, broken shovels, etc - around the place and they made working
the area difficult. A lot of time was spent digging dirt away from what
turned out be another false lead.
Around 2 in the
morning the Old Man was working his way across the ground by the privy when he
called softly for the Kid to "come here." Near the privy was a pile of scrap.
Old bed springs, some broken tools, tin cans, pipe and other metal scrap
littered the area. "I have an idea." the Old Man said. He told the Kid to get
busy and move the scrap pile off to the side so he could sweep the area where it
lay. The Kid was getting sleepy by now and he figured it would be one way to
stay awake, so without complaining he leaned his rifle against the outhouse and
started in moving the junk.
Once it was
cleared the Old Man began sweeping the detector back and forth, crisscrossing
the area where the junk had been. Several times the machine went off and the Kid
and the Old Man got their shovels and went to digging. Each time they were
rewarded with more scrap metal. By the 5th or 6th time the buzzer sounded the
Kid figured "more junk" and was slow getting to his shovel. When he got to where
the Old Man was he found him on his knees, digging with his hands in the
earth. In the starlight the Kid could see that the Old Man had dug down to a
wooden board and that he was trying to pry it loose from the ground.
some struggle the Old Man got the board free, revealing a hole in the ground
underneath. In the hole was a quart Mason jar! The Old Man reached in the hole
and lifted the jar out, grunting as he did so. The Old Man said, "Shine your
flashlight on this." When he did, the light revealed a jar full of coins! "Dad!
Do you reckon there are any more jars?" the Kid asked, his voice shaking from
excitement. The Old Man replied, "It's hard to tell." and then figured they
could search for another hour or so before they would have to get out.
As the Old Man
started to sweep the area again a voice suddenly called out of the darkness,
"Freeze! Right where you are!" Scared by the unexpected command the Kid swung
his flashlight toward the sound and flipped it on revealing several men standing
with guns pointed at them. At the same time that he turned the light on them,
one of them fired. The Kid heard or felt the bullet go past his head and he
threw the flashlight to the side and dived toward the outhouse where he had
leaned his rifle. As he did so he heard the Old Man's .44 go off several times.
Grabbing his rifle
he frantically rolled around on the ground trying to orient himself. Where were
they? Where was the Old Man? Is there a shell in the chamber? Should I shoot?
At what? The thoughts flew through his head as time seemed to drag by ever so
slowly. Something tugged at his sleeve and his heart leaped in his chest and his
breath caught in his throat. Then he saw that it was the Old Man, signaling him
to be quiet and to follow him.
Slowly they eased
around the privy toward the shack. As they came up on the corner of it the
Old Man whispered, "I am going to get the packs. Cover me." and he slipped away
into the darkness. Straining to see, the Kid stood there, his insides shaking.
He imagined he could hear someone coming behind him and turned to look, though
all he could see in the starlight was darkness and shadows. His ears seemed to
pick up sounds but he could not tell what they were and his heartbeat sounded
really loud in his ears.
moving in the darkness and as he readied himself he saw that it was the Old Man
making his way back toward him. Suddenly gunfire erupted from the direction of
the outhouse! He could see the muzzle flashes in the dark as whoever it was
opened fire. Whether they could see them or not did not enter the Kid's mind.
All he knew is that these people were shooting at him and his Dad. He stuck the
barrel of his rifle around the corner of the house and levered off 5 or 6 shots
as fast as he could. He would have fired more but the Old Man grabbed him and
pulled him back and said, "Let's get out of here."
circled around the cabin and then made for the ridge using the land as best they
could to cover their movements. Apparently the people at the cabin did not see
them leave for there were 8 or 10 more shots fired after the Kid and the Old Man
pulled out. Going up the slope the Kid suddenly realized they had left the metal
detector behind. The Old Man did not seem care. When the Kid told him about it
the Old Man had replied, "It wasn't a very good one anyhow."
The return to the
truck seemed to take forever but at last they were there. The Old Man stopped
before the went down into the wash where the truck was and waited for quite
awhile. Then, making the Kid wait, he slipped down by himself just to make sure
no one was waiting to give them some kind of surprise. When the Kid saw the
truck lights flash he knew it was clear and made his way on down.
On the ride out
they were both quiet. Once the Kid asked the Old Man if he knew who those men
were and the Old Man simply said, "Nope." By the time they got through Black
Canyon City and headed down I-17 both of them were feeling relaxed. The Old Man
said, "Get that jar out of my pack and let's see what all is in it." It was
pretty heavy when he lifted it out of the pack.
He brushed some of the dirt off
it and twisted the lid open. The Old Man turned on the interior light as the
Kid poured out some of the coins. After a minute they both broke out laughing.
The coins were Mexican 10 and 20 pesos....... hardly a treasure!
They never went
back to the old prospector's cabin. If any treasure was left there either the
other treasure hunters found it, or it's still there, or perhaps it never
existed in the first place. Stranger things have happened. Still, all in all the
Kid thought it a grand adventure ... after the fright had eased. And he did get
out of going to school the following day.