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Troy O'Neill had seen many and varied landscapes, but never one that compared to this. His bright and intelligent blue eyes scanned the beautiful while frightening spectacle. Yellow limestone framed the canyon rim in either direction, while as far as the eye could see, precipitous cliffs fell into purple, seemingly bottomless depths.
The young rider knew from history that this could be none other than the awesome abyss known as the Grand Canyon del Rio Colorado: so named by the Spanish explorer, Coronado, the first white man to claim its sighting, back in 1540. It encompassed over a thousand square miles, and a mighty river, the Colorado, flowed wildly through its depths, making it the world's showplace of erosion.
Although transfixed and awed on the moment, he felt an over-whelming weariness throughout his body. It had been a long and devastating trail up from Payson, in the Arizona-New Mexican Territory. He'd weathered the cliffs of the Mogollon (Muggy-own) Rim, immense lightning storms through the tall pines of the Coconino, and then the desert heat of Flag. Piled on this had been more days of stifling dust and furnace winds through the Painted Desert. The young cowboy was bone-weary.
Troy O'Neill ground-reined Sundown and stumbled about preparing a makeshift camp. He partook of a brief but hearty meal of warmed-over beef jerky and biscuits, gazing long into the embers of a small fire. Finally, he exhaled deeply and relaxed, viewing the sunset that seemed to cataract along the canyon's distant rim. Suddenly he was overcome with a burst of inner spirit ... He was heading toward what may be the most fabulous of adventures, into the wild Utah Territory. And, he was young and thirsting for adventure and excitement.
Shortly after his twentieth birthday, he had made his decision to make this venture, and now he recalled how hard it had been—hearing his father's words and parting shots of wisdom as he prepared to leave their Arizona ranch ... He had held some misgiving about leaving his father, alone with Troy since his mother had died nearly a year earlier. But in the end he had gone, and he felt certain his mother would have wanted him to follow such a quest.
Kate O'Neill had been born of sturdy stock. Her father had immigrated to the Pennsylvania coal fields from Ireland in 1820, where he had wed Caroline VanDuin, the daughter of Dutch immigrants.
Kate's early years were spent within a highly religious atmosphere, her mother being a devout subject of the German Reformed Church, which had been renamed The Reformed Church in the United States in 1869.
Along with her devout religious feelings, however, Kate had harbored a deep wanderlust for excitement and adventure. Thus she had married a young, personable man named George O'Neill, who was determined to seek a fortune in the gold fields of the Arizona-New Mexico Territory.
Kate O'Neill was not by nature a frail woman; however, circumstances proved her undoing. She had recently and literally worked life and limb away at the small ranch in Payson while her husband and her brother-in-law, Jim O'Neill, had been off with many others of their Irish clan constructing the Union Pacific Railway.
But Kate was perhaps stronger in another way, and for many years had spent long hours teaching a love for reading and writing to Troy.
Troy's mother had likewise been selective in her son's reading material. Much time had been devoted to study of the Bible, which Troy read daily and still carried faithfully in his saddlebag at all times.
However, in the more recent years, Troy had also developed a root-liking for the field of archaeology, several books on which his mother had arranged to have forwarded west from a New York university.
While never forcing her feelings upon her son, Kate's obvious aim for Troy was toward joining the ministry. She offered no complaint concerning his archaeological pursuits, beyond instilling the thought that he might strive to find a positive relationship between it and the Bible. And, although many theories found in his archaeology books differed sharply with biblical readings, Troy was determined to study both, reasoning also that were his mother alive she would not be against his present quest.
The youngster had also been an apt listener, and had done so many an hour as both father and uncle related harrowing tales concerning the construction of the mighty U.P. Railroad through and beyond the savage wilderness ... How they, the Irish clan, had frequently visited the gambling dens within the hastily constructed towns along the trail; how they had sweated and toiled tie by tie and rail to rail across the yellow prairies; how they had fought side by side and sometimes back to back against wolves and stampeding herds of buffalo, and how they had battled and beaten the Black Hills to move onward into the Rockies, where the fight had sifted to one of savage Indians and great, unmerciful mountains. And many times they had told with pride how they finally had stood at Promontory, Utah, upon that May day in 1869 to witness the world-famous driving of the golden spike that connected east to west.
Those had proved to be prosperous as well as adventure-filled years for John and Jim O'Neill, and the brothers had returned not only in a spirited mood but also financially rewarded. This time they also decided to abandon their earlier pastime of gold prospecting—which the non-incorporated area of Payson was noted for—and opted to get serious about horse ranching. This they did, and in an industrious and businesslike fashion. So much so that this too proved rewarding to the adventuring duo.
It was close upon their return that Troy's mother had started to show the cost of her hard existence in that yet-uncivilized mining area, and not long thereafter that she succumbed to it. The adventurers had returned with more than a little, but all of it too late for her.
Several years later the gold fever claimed Jim O'Neill once more, and he had packed northward on another prospecting venture, leaving Troy and his father to tend the expanding ranch. Uncle Jim ... Troy kicked out, spurring another log into the fire. He thought often of that individual and imagined with no little pride that he himself had indeed inherited his uncle's spirit and fever for adventure.
Since early childhood Troy had insatiably devoured his uncle's tale, which, in addition to the railroad days plus a brief stint in the Civil War, ranged from his pony express rides from Crittenden to Point Lookout, Utah, in 1860, to the finding and losing of several fortunes in gold and silver ... In particular there was an often repeated story of a journey into the mountainous regions of southwestern Utah, where a fabulous treasure most certainly existed—awaiting someone with the knowledge and the courage to locate it, and to bring it out.
The young rider's hand moved automatically to his shirt pocket, from which he removed and unfolded a flimsy, yellowed piece of paper. Once again, perhaps for the thousandth time, Troy O'Neill was drawn onward and into that fantastic accounting.
Jim O'Neill's lust for prospecting had indeed, but quite unwittingly, carried through a strange, harrowing experience in the wild and untamed area northeast of Kanab, Utah, in 1854.
The prospector had noted points of prominence, and in fact sketched a crude map of this strange trail, which led easterly from Kanab to a Ranchero Johnson, then along some great block peaks and pink, towering cliffs to the north. At that position he had traced a dried wash into an extinct volcanic area, and many miles thereafter the path had led upon a gigantic canyon of domes, spires, and brilliantly colored buttresses of white, red and pink. His lecturings and scrawled descriptions of the place were so vivid that Troy could envision it in his mind's eye—it had to appear as though a fantastic outdoor arena, and filled with rock sculptures, sandstone monoliths and pinnacles. His uncle had proclaimed that the giant arena would take three days of the hardest riding to skirt end to end, and that it seemed all but impossible to enter from the southern trail, while it was actually impenetrable from many points along its rim.
The map and its notes contained little if any information or reference to the Indians in the area; however, his story related that it was upon approaching the canyon he had sighted several red natives. These savages—he had assumed they were that—had seemed more shy than hostile, and although a'foot they had very rapidly and mysteriously disappeared.
While following the light trace of these Indians, more from curiosity than for any other purpose, he had been led to a spot along the canyon's western wall where an almost undetectable, small creek wound a path downward through a narrow gorge. He had followed this rent to nearly a half mile in depth, to where three escarpments ran together in triangular fashion. There was no further sign of the natives. But here, while pondering direction, he had noticed a triangular bird-like design, carved above one of the ledges in a flat stone. The figure had been nearly obscured by scarce, climbing vegetation, but there it was, an odd-shaped petroglyph, seemingly in flight and pointing downward to the left fork.
He had thus descended another precipitous trace, and near what at first appeared a dead end had ferreted out a secretive, narrow passageway. This dark, subterranean pass had gradually widened into a cave, the mouth of which suddenly gaped outward and over the canyon floor itself.
Jim O'Neill had become excited at his find, and he gloried in expectation, thrilled that he must be privy to a discovery far beyond any of his previous encounters.
The walls of the cave had literally been covered with etchings and designs. Many were of the same, triangular bird sign. Others were of goats and various four-legged animals, while some were man-like in appearance.
Jim O'Neill's excitement was such that he hadn't noticed the approach of a stealthy figure—one suddenly standing right alongside him.
As oft as the tale had been repeated, at this point Troy's hair had always taken a perpendicular stance from his neck. But it was a short-lived feeling, as the hastened explanation always came that the intruder proved to be another prospector who had, as was the trend of the era, followed one of his peers in the hope of sharing a bonanza.
The second man was a wandering prospector named Grace. With little consultation the two men had fallen together in the adventure—this from the protective feeling of numbers rather than either man's need of the other's companionship.
Thus the pair had proceeded to explore holes and depths of the canyon and its perpendicular structures, and several weeks passed with no further compensation than the location of two similar caves and the finding of bits and pieces of pottery and bones. Then one day, while dangerously near the last of their provisions, Grace had returned to the cave, excited, out of breath and babbling with a renewed enthusiasm. In his hand he proudly brandished what appeared to be a broken or severed link of gold bracelet. It was studded with sparkling emeralds, and a few empty settings and deep scratches seemed to attest not only to its authenticity but point to its former owner's use, or perhaps abuse.
The adventurers hurried to further inspect the area of the find. And, as night closed in, near the discovery of yet another bird-like petroglyph, they found what was most certainly a carefully disguised trail which angled steeply up the wall of the canyon. With this knowledge the two had returned to their cave, gleeful with the expectation of what tomorrow would surely bring.
There was no tomorrow for Grace. Jim O'Neill awoke to find absolutely no trace of the other prospector, and a frantic but extensive search had led him to conclude that his short-term partner must have wandered out into the darkness of night and fallen to his reward from one of the many cliffs that confronted the mouth of their cave.
With renewed and dogged determination, O'Neill again located the trace along the wall and began climbing. In most areas there had been little more than tiny hand or foot holes chipped into the solid rock and sandstone, and he told how he had teetered dangerously on several occasions, fearing to cast the slightest glance downward into the jagged abyss below.
Troy shivered again as he recalled the closing moments of his uncle's account ... Rounding a golden hued spire, which had somewhat resembled a huge queen-like figure in a dress, he stood upright to find that he was upon a large, flat shelf. This shelf was about the size of a small ranch house, and hewn flat as a table from the solid stone. Along its canyon side rose yet another, perfectly vertical and flat area of multi-coloured rock, its lower section fashioned somewhat in the shape of an arch. Within this arched area appeared a smaller, man-made, sealed entrance into the canyon wall itself.
Near the center of the smaller arch the rocks had been so arranged as to leave a series of triangular nooks. Within these shelves, untouched but powdered by the years, O'Neill had counted the remains of seventeen human skulls. Then his growing cautiousness and fear had intensified to the breaking point as he discovered a newly carved shelf. Placed several feet to the side of the others, it contained not another skull, but a bloody head from which protruded the huge eyes and grizzled beard of Grace!
Jim O'Neill had often explained his panicked, almost suicidal escape from that canyon; how, for three days and nights he had plunged headlong from that area, always with the feeling of someone or something immediately behind—a hot breath always upon his neck, and his beard always turned over his shoulder. The sound of footfalls had been always and immediately in his own ...
Many years had come and gone, and a young man now folded the fragile map and returned it ceremoniously to his shirt-pocket. His eyes bore into the embers of his campfire, but his mind was far removed, and his face glowed with a fire and thirst all its own—an insatiable thirst for adventure. Troy O'Neill smiled ... Tomorrow he would renew his journey to Kanab, where he could procure the necessary supplies.
Virginia guiltily averted her eyes, and heard a low, murmuring, "Evenin' ma'am," as she did. Then she turned under the sign indicating Kanab's only dry goods store, which had been appropriately christened, SECOND TO NONE.
She boldly ventured one more glance through the window pane as she made for the counter. Here her young friend, Corabell Smithers, snapped her to reality.
"Well, if it ain't Ginny ... Where you been hiding?"
"You know exactly where, Bell—trapped with my old magazines and books at the ranchero." Then, indicating minor interest by a raised eyebrow toward the window, she queried simply, "Who's that?"
"Just some cowpuncher who followed the up stage in 'bout half an hour ago. Been standin' out yonder ever since, pearin' around like a lost puppy ... Why, interested?" Bell smiled slyly.
"Who wouldn't be?" Virginia flashed, with an honest indication and chin-up look at her old school chum. Then she added with rapid resignation, "Oh well, riders the looks of him just come and go. No sense in getting excited 'cause you never see them again anyway." She ran deft fingers over a bolt of green cloth that suddenly captured her interest, continuing factually, "Besides, daddy and Judd never let me out of sight far enough to meet a boy my own age. Only ones show up in Johnson are a few old prospectors and an occasional down on his luck trail rider—both looking for hand-outs!"
Excerpted from Monteontezuma's Treasure Canyon by ED GILBERT Copyright © 2013 by Ed Gilbert. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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