LITTLE HORN GOLD

  The 19th Century Anglo-Celt took a 19th Century attitude toward the Mexicans (Remember the Alamo!) and the Indians (Damn redskins! They killed Custer!). The 20th Century Anglo-Celt is an enlightened 20th Century bundle of complexes and he is so loud in confessing his past sins against those two defeated peoples that he can't hear the historians tell him that there's guilt enough to go around. That maybe the Mexicans and the Indians should have their share of the sackcloth and ashes.

  For if many 1880 Americans believed that the only good Indian was a dead one and that the children of Coronado should live on the downhill side of the railroad tracks, the Mexicans and the Indians had their paraphrase of that opinion.

  The pioneer Mexican believed that the only good Indian was an enslaved one, or one whose scalp festooned the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. The frontier Indian believed the only good Mexican was one tied to a wheel of his set-afire wagon or a tied-down one whose bones had been picked clean by the voracious, venomous black ants of the Sonoran Desert.

  Despite this mutual hostility, the three groups adjusted uneasily to one another in frontier Arizona and they achieved a precarious sort of co-existence. It was so precarious that a thoughtless word or act, or sometimes deliberate ones would bring the ancient feuds back to flash-point.

  The on-again, off-again truces and vendettas marked many of the lost mine stories, like this one of the Little Horn Gold.

  Juan Bautista Alvarado had been a California governor in the days of the Spanish colonization. During California's troubled transition from a colony of Imperial Spain to a state in the new Republic of Mexico, the titles of his estates became clouded and his heirs sought new lands. In 1878 one of them, Jose Alvarado, was a prosperous rancher at Palomas in the Gila Valley of Southwestern Arizona.

  The warrior tribes of the Colorado River often camped on his lands and despite their hit-and-run warfare with the white settlers, Mexican and Anglo, they became friendly with Alvarado. One of the Indians believed he was in Alvarado's debt (the rancher had taken the Indian's desperately-ill son to a priest, who baptized the boy. The boy recovered. "You white men value gold," the Indian said, "I will take you to a rich gold mine."

  Alvarado by then was old and crippled, but for gold he could endure a hard ride into the mountains. He and the Indian set out for the mine. Alvarado brought along two friends and there was immediate trouble.

  The two friends, both Mexicans, made no secret of their hostility toward the Indian and their contempt for him. To them, he was only a servant and guide and not fit dinner company for gentlemen whose ancestors had brought the scarlet and gold banner of the Spanish king to America.

  The Indian was a proud sub-chief of a warrior tribe and to him the two Mexicans were parasites, free-riders. He went to Alvarado and told him he would put an end to the unpleasantness. He would kill the two.

  Alvarado talked him out of it. But the expedition, by then only a few miles from the promised mine, was over. If the Indian was not good enough to eat with the two Mexicans and associate with them, he was not good enough to share his gold with them.

  To prove to Alvarado that he had not lied about the gold, the Indian slipped away that night and returned at dawn with a rock heavily laced with gold.

  Alvarado did not live to try again. On his deathbed at Yuma he told his son, Jose jr., of the trail, as he had followed it and as the Indian had told him of its last miles.

  The gold-hunters left Palomas and rode in the northwesterly direction, the old man recalled, and kept to the west of the Palomas and Tank mountains. They followed an old road into the Kofa mountains, turning east through Engesser Pass and north again to Alamo Springs. Alamo Springs was the end of the trail, as Alvarado had followed it, for it was there that the Indian refused to go farther.

  To find the mine from there, Alvarado said the Indian later told him, "go east toward the next mountains {the Little Horns). The trail crosses an old river bed. Go down the arroyo for maybe 50 paces and there are rocks in the wash, put all together in a circle to catch rain water. Soldiers put the rocks there a long time ago. Go on another mile and a half to a side arroyo. In there are many rocks, all full of gold."

  The younger Alvarado had family responsibilities and a thriving dairy business. He had no time to go gold hunting. Many years later , when he tried, he found the trails and maybe his memory of the story too dim.

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