Early the next morning, back at our camp, we were surprised to hear the sound of hoofbeats and to see a horse and rider approaching from the south.
“Must be from that ranch we saw over by the next canyon,” guessed Uncle Jim.
“He’s riding a good-looking horse,” Dad said. “We’re probably on grazing land that the rider has leased from the government.”
The man pulled his mount up a polite distance from our camp.
“Buenos días, señores.” He spoke to us in the pleasing greeting of the native New Mexicans. “I am Manuel Sanchez de Espinosa. My rancho is just over there about a mile.”
“A pleasure, sir,” Dad smiled in his most charming way. “I hope we’ve not inconvenienced you by parking our truck here. But please excuse my manners. Won’t you get down and join us?”
“Thank you,” said Señor Espinosa as he swung down easily and ground-tied his horse.
Dad made the introductions and poured a hot drink for the newcomer.
“I was by your truck yesterday afternoon and assumed you were hunters,” Señor Espinosa explained. “However, I see no guns, and wonder whether you are perhaps friends of Mr. Brently.”
Dad avoided answering the indirect question by asking, “Have you known John long?”
“Oh, yes. Señor Brently has been coming into these hills for many years now. My father, who is too old to ride anymore, used to go with him on some of his pack trips around here. He has rented horses and donkeys from this ranch many times. In fact, the animals he now uses were bought from us.”
Uncle Jim spoke up. “Mr. Espinosa, how does John get to town?”
“He leaves his truck at the ranch most of the time. That way I can watch it for him,” replied the man. “If you will be joining Mr. Brently in his work, you may feel free to do the same. However, your vehicle will be perfectly safe here after the hunting season is over. Very few people ever come up here the rest of the year.”
The men chatted for about half an hour. Mostly Dad and Uncle Jim asked questions about the area, and our guest supplied the answers. Señor Espinosa mentioned two things that caught my attention. First, he told of a cave on the opposite side of the hill I had named Dinosaur. Then, he invited me to come over to his place whenever I wanted to on the weekends to get to know his sons—one a bit younger than I, the other slightly older.
When Dad nodded his permission, I readily agreed to the offer.
After Señor Espinosa’s departure we settled back to await the arrival of our friend and financial sponsor, Mr. Johnson, who’d stayed the night in the Brently camp.
It was close to 10:00 in the morning before Mike Johnson rejoined us. He was in such a hurry to get into town that explanations were saved for the trip. Unfortunately, since I rode in the back of the truck, I missed what he had to say! But for some reason the men decided that those in the Brently group weren’t so bad after all: we were going to join forces with them in our mutual pursuit of the lost mine.
In town we bought a couple of pickup loads of supplies and equipment. Back at the Brently camp, we positioned a large waterproof canvas roof above the three small tents, and in short order we were encamped.
Shortly after we joined the Brently group, whose sponsor was a man named Mr. Yarrow, John Brently told us what he knew about the lost gold mine. Some of the information he’d gotten from a historical society, while some came from an old Yaqui Indian and his grandsons.
“Yarrow and I were camped in the canyon when the old man showed up,” Mr. Brently reported. “Believe it or not, the grandfather was about 114 years old at the time!” My eyes grew wide as Mr. Brently continued.
“The old Indian told of how he and a few others were captured and forced to work in the mine in 1835. They escaped when the mine was closed at the time of the Texas Rebellion in 1836. Those three Indians stayed a few days and pointed out where they’d unearthed about 300 pounds of very rich gold ore the Mexican miners had buried under a tree after hiding the mine entrances.” Mr. Brently sighed. “We know the mine is near and rich, but we’ve never found it yet. Either the old Indian misled us on purpose, or his memory failed and he left out some important details.”
I leaned forward, totally absorbed in Mr. Brently’s amazing tale.
“As the political rebellion grew hotter, General Santa Anna, the President of Mexico–which New Mexico was part of at the time– ordered that the mine be hidden. He didn’t want his enemies, many of whom lived near the mine, to claim the gold as their own. So for three weeks men worked 18 hours a day filling shafts, tunnels, and air vents. Waste dumps were hidden, streams diverted, and bushes, cacti, and trees replanted. The camp was leveled, and false trails hacked out to trick and mislead anyone who might come searching for the gold.
“But many of the workers didn’t trust General Santa Anna, either, and were scheming to prevent him from hoarding the gold for himself. About half of them, under cover of darkness, tried to steal the gold for themselves. But somehow the others found out about their plan, and buried them alive.
“But the remaining miners,” Mr. Brently went on, “were unable to escape before the Mexican cavalry arrived on the scene. The story goes that the commanding officer had all the workers killed and buried together in a cave. The priest in charge of the mine was tortured and also buried in the cave, with a stone grinding bowl, called a metate, placed over the back of his head.”
Mr. Brently looked each of us in the eye, then continued. “Some time back, Yarrow and I dug in a low-roofed cave on the south side of Dinosaur Mountain . . . and found 40 or more skulls and other bones. The priest’s bones were found a bit to one side, just as the old story indicated.”
As it turned out, I later saw the entrance to this cave. The ground was littered with white fragments of bones.
I must’ve had bad dreams that night after hearing the chilling account, because Dad talked to me about it the next day.
“Son, the wealth we’re seeking has already caused the death of almost a hundred men. We can’t do anything about those dead men except remember what greed can do to people.”
“But, Dad, it gives me the creeps to think of all those dead men lying in tunnels that we’re going to be looking for, or in that cave down there.”
“Well, don’t think about it too much,” Dad said gently. “The dead are dead, and Jesus is with us. That’s all we have to remember.”
I appreciated my father’s advice, and that night we included my feelings in our prayers at bedtime. Everything was all right after that . . . for a while.