A Historical Novel by R. Reed Johnson

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September, 1859 - John Reynolds’ Journal

   It was the twenty-fifth of September 1859 when me and Jim left our folks’ ranch in the hill country of Texas and lit out for Colorado. Before we left, our daddy gave us a couple of good ridin' mares and a burro, plus enough money and gear to get us to where we was goin'. From then on we was on our own. First off, we headed west to an army fort close to the town of El Paso, and from there headed up the Rio Grande Valley past Santa Fe and Taos to Fort Garland in the southern end of the San Luis Valley. We figured we’d hole up in one of them places if the weather turned bad. But we was lucky. The weather stayed good, and we rode the whole way up without a speck of trouble, 'cept'n that Jim’s horse, Blaze, throwed a shoe a little ways outside of Fort Garland. But that evening, the blacksmith at the fort fixed her up good as new, and the next mornin' we took off bright and early, passin’ by the west side of some big sand dunes what lay at the foot of the biggest mountains I’d ever seen. Their tops was all covered with fresh snow. 

   That night we camped 'long side a little lake at the north end of San Luis Valley and the next day headed over Poncha Pass and down into the Arkansas River Valley. When we come to the river, we rode downstream ten or twelve miles 'til we found a place we could cross. From there, we headed north to a pass over a low mountain range where we looked down on a monstrous mountain valley what stretched into the north for what looked like forever. Big mountains bordered it on both the east and west, and way off to the north we could see the tips of snowcovered peaks stickin' up over the horizon. We figured it was South Park for shore. 

   After settin’ up camp on top of the pass, we was frying up some antelope steaks, when along comes an old Mexican hombre riding a scrawny little burro. His name was Ramon Sanchez. He claimed as how a couple of seedy lookin’ miners had beat him up and stole his other burro what was loaded with most all of his gear, including his bedroll and all of his grub. And I reckon he was tellin' the truth, 'cause his clothes was all tore up and he was bruised bad around his face. But he still figured he was lucky, ‘cause they hadn’t kilt him or stole the burro he was ridin'. ‘Course, it was easy to see why they didn’t ‘cause it was a mighty sorry lookin' critter. Jest a few days back, Ramon had been workin' at a saloon at the Tarryall Diggin’s and doin' a little prospectin' on the side, and now he was headin’ home to Santa Fe before heavy snows closed the passes out of the park. 

   Well, I tell you no lie, Ramon was a sad sight to see, and we both felt sorry for him. Jim told him he could eat supper and bed down with us for the night if he liked, and it was sort of pitiful to see how grateful the old man was, ‘specially so after we’d fixed him up with some spare blankets and gave him some grub to help him get home. I hope he made it. I'm shore he never would have if'n we hadn't helped him. After supper Jim asked him a whole passel of questions, like which way we should go to get to Tarryall City and who we should see about gettin’ a job when we got there. 

   I reckon Ramon must of had real good schoolin’, ‘cause he talked American even better'n me. He told us we was camped in a saddle jest a few miles west of Currant Creek Pass, and that it was South Park we was lookin’ down on, jest like we’d figured, 'ceptin' he called it "Valle Salado.” Seems the early Spanish explorers started callin’ it that after they found a salt marsh on the west side of the park. Indians had been gettin’ salt there for centuries, and jest lately ranchers and miners was usin’ it too. When the fur trappers and mountain men started comin’ here, they'd called it "Bayou Salado.” Then the miners showed up and they called it “South Park” on account of there was two more big mountain parks farther on up north. 

                       Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1860 p. 599

   Accordin' to Ramon, it'd take us two days to get to Tarryall City, and that a good place to spend the next night would be at Adolph Guiraud's ranch. It was right on the road to the Tarryall district. But if he was us, he said, instead of goin' straight to the Tarryall Diggin's, we’d best check out a brand new minin’ camp what was poppin' up close to where Beaver Crick runs into the South Platte River. It'd been named "Fair Play" by some tenderfoot miners what figured they’d got cheated up at the Tarryall Diggin’s. Seems as how, even though all the good claims was already taken by the time they'd got there, the newcomers figured the claim owners ought to be nice and share their claims with them. 

   'Course the claim owners didn't see it that way — as far as they was concerned, them Johnny-come-latelys could complain all they wanted, but it warn’t gonna do them a damned bit of good. They warn't about to share their claims with nobody. 'Course, that upset the newcomers considerable, and they was all for changin’ the name Tarryall Diggin’s to "Graball," 'cause them selfish claim owners had grabbed it all. After that, the newcomers hustled on down to the new strike on the Platte and named it “Fair Play.” They figured namin’ it that would make them greedy miners at the Tarryall Diggin’s feel real ashamed. 'Course it didn’t do no such a thing. 

   Old Ramon really took a shine to us when we told him we was Texans, and even more so when he found out we was from down around San Antonio way. Seems he had kinfolks down in them parts. After we’d finished eatin’ supper that evening and was settin’ by the campfire, Ramon told us we’d been so nice to him, he was gonna tell us about a lost gold mine his granddaddy'd found when he was up in these parts nigh on to ninety years ago. ‘Course that got me and Jim’s attention in a hurry, and we told him we was all ears.

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