Chapter seven: two soldiers
Some time in the early days of the Silver King, there were two soldiers discharged at McDowell. They refused transportation back east to their place of enlistment as they wanted to stay out west and go to work in the mines. The wages were much higher than they could get in the east for any work, so they struck out for the King afoot.
When they got to Pinal they went into the superintendent's office and applied for work. Aaron Mason was superintendent, and asked if they were miners. They told him they were not. "Well," he said, "I suppose you can muck?" They wanted to know what that was. He told them it was shovelling ore, filling buckets, and any kind of work around a mine except active mining. They said that was what they expected to do, at least for a while.
Mason told them to go up to the King and report to the foreman, Bob Bowen, and he would put them to work. One of them put his hand in his coat pocket, pulled out a handfull of nuggets and asked Mason what that was. He told them it was gold, and they said, "Oh, you are fooling." Mason told them that they could trade it in at the company store up at the King for sixty dollars and ounce for anything in the store.
So they went up, and sure enough they could cash it in for anything the store had. They bought two burros and pack saddles, bedding, grub, etc. to the tune of eighty-four dollars; packed up and started back for their mine. In passing through Pinal, they stopped at the superintendent's office and asked Mason if he would keep this gold that they had wrapped in a rag for them until their return. Mason weighed it, placed it in a fruit jar, put a slip of paper with their two names and the amount, eight hundred and some dollars, and put it in the safe.
(My authority for this was Wiley Holman, who sometimes lived at Pinal, following mining, and then he would change and go to cow punching. He was considered as truthful as a combined miner and cow-puncher could be.) Wiley told me that he had seen the gold and had discussed it with Mason on different occasions. Years after, he had written Mrs. Mason in New York in regard to the gold, and she replied that she had such a jar with the two names it it; that a mining friend had told her there was about three hundred dollars worth of gold in the jar, and that it was subject to the owner's claim.
Mason asked the two soldiers if they didn't want a partner, and they told him the following story: That they were discharged soldiers from McDowell and had decided to come over to the King to see if they could get work in the mine. So they struck out toward the King, crossed the Salt river, and struck a trail which they had been told was the proper one to take, and which is now called the Apache Trail, but it is now an automobile road. They followed it for several miles to a creek crossing, where there was water. The trail after that appeared to run nearly north, and the King was nearly south, so while they felt certain that the trail would eventually land them at the King it must be a long way around and they were tired. They decided to make a short cut, went up this creek for some distance, came to a waterfall and could go no further. They came back down the creek, and finally got out on the side of the creek toward the King, and up on a very rough and high mountain. There was no trail. They struck out, always trying to work toward their destination, but making very slow progress. They ran on to a trail, and such a queer place for a trail. They concluded to follow it and see if it wouldn't lead them out of that God-forsaken country. They followed it but a short distance and were in high hopes when the trail led them through a cave between the peaks. It must have been a foot trail, as animals could not go through the cave. They went on a little further, and came to a tunnel that had been walled up, with working above and over. They said that they did not believe that what they saw was gold, as there was so much of it. They said they certainly could load their burros down to the water line.
They told Mason they had never taken out their naturalization papers and if he would go over to Tucson with them and help them get out their papers, upon their return, which would not be more than ten days, he could go with them to the mine; that they would take just one claim and he could locate all the balance. Mason said all right that he would look for their return.
Up at the King was a fellow who had a crooked foot and was known as "clubfoot," and everyone spoke to and of him as clubfoot. He was a case keeper, hanger-on and general roustabout for the gambling games. Whenever meal time came, the dealer at whatever game clubfoot happened to be working would reach in the drawer and toss him two or four bits, according to the feelings of the dealer, and tell him to go get something to eat.
In each saloon in the mining camps was a lunch counter, owned and presided over by a Chinaman, and the foot served was very much superior to that served at the lunch counters in the mining towns of today. It was considered an awful thing for any of the employees of one saloon to eat even once at the lunch counter of another. There very seldom was a reason for doing so, and if it was repeated that Cinaman soon found a buyer and there was a change, or else the employee found a job somewhere else.
The Chinaman was the source of where the employees of the house would go when they were in need of a few dollars, but he would not loan a man the second time if he borrowed the money to gamble. He always figured he was capable of gambling his own money, and in reality he was. If he didn't approve of a man's conduct, he would be brutally frank in his method of collection. He would watch his opportunity and get his debtor alone, and say "When you pay?" "I am going to work at such and such a game Monday, Jim (all Chinamen were named Charley or Jim) then I pay you." "You all time say that, no good."
The gambler knew he had better buck up and cut out his drinking as he probably owed quite a grub bill, as well as cash, but all gamblers would rather borrow of Charley or Jim, as they did not consider they were under any obligation to the Chinaman except to pay it back, and they did not have to humiliate themselves by asking a fellow gambler for a loan, thereby disclosing their financial distress. A Chinaman held transactions of the kind as sacred. The lines of society were drawn just as tightly among the gamblers and their families as they ever were or can be in our towns today.
To continue: The two ex-soldiers then struck out for the mine, and again told Mason that they would not be gone over ten days. Soon, thereafter Clubfoot disappeared from the King, and no one knew where he had gone or why. Ten days went by, and no soldiers; fifteen and no soldiers. Then Clubfoot showed up. Evidently he had plenty of money, as he was betting twenty-dollar pieces at the different games. The miners and gamblers became very suspicious, and they got together, held a secret meeting and agreed that at the next shift change they would hang Clubfoot and make him tell where he got his gold. Somehow, it got to Clubfoot's ears and he disappeared.
Just then it reached the King that the body of one of the soldiers had been found over in the mountains lying alongside of the trail by some cattlemen. Their manner of identification was his hat, which they sent to the sutler's store at McDowell. He said it had been purchased by one of the discharged soldiers who started afoot for the Silver King mine on a certain date, giving his name, which was correct.
He had a bullet hole in his back and had been dead long enough so that the body was pretty well decomposed. Old man Whitlow, who was one of the men who found the body, said that there was a shod horse track on the trail leading over the mountain into the Superstition. He said they just dug a shallow hole, rolled the body into it, covered him with what little dirt they had, piled rocks on the grave and let it go at that. This grave was shown to me by one of the Whitlow boys. It was about a quarter of a mile above my ranch house.
Huse Ward and I dug him up, and found nothing but bones and buttons, so we reburied him and covered the grave with rock. The grave is still there and undisturbed. Bill Kimball of Mesa, said that at about that time he saw the body of a man (naked) lying near Bluff spring, so he pulled out for Mesa immediately. Whether this was the other soldier is only conjecture, but I am included to thing it was, as there were very few white men traveling in the Superstition mountains at the time. One thing certain, neither of the soldiers was ever seen afterward.