by Sean Naberhuis
The legend had been around for hundreds of years, but nobody was ever able to confirm it's validity. It was the story of the Urraca tribe of Indians. At one time, they were one of the more advanced tribes in what we now call the New Mexico Territory. The legend tells of mountains of solid gold on the Urraca lands. Streams of liquid gold flow freely off the infamous Urraca Mesa. It was on this mesa that the entire tribe mysteriously disappeared in the 1600's. Neighboring tribes claim that the Urracas left for the sun, traveling in glowing spheres of light that could actually fly in the air like a bird. It isn't so much all this flying nonsense that captured my attention, but those mountains of solid gold. Why go all the way to California where all the other fools are panning the same streams for a grain or two of gold when there are huge mountains for the taking? The only problem is that nobody wants to get near the Urraca lands because of some old Indian curse that will supposedly hunt down and kill all who touch the Urraca gold. Being neither superstitious nor scared of Indian curses, I have assembled a band of my trusted friends to claim the gold as our own. I have taken my best friend, George Hindstall, along to help negotiate with the Indians. He has always been good at that. Sam McCreedy is our cook, at least he is most of the time. Just about the only thing he can cook was gruel, and that was hardly appetizing. Josh Kain is our quartermaster, and finally Lewis Johnson is our guide. Among the five of us, there is little we couldn't do.
The 'Tooth of Time,' one of the landmarks used by those California bound idiots slowly came into sight. The Tooth was the central stronghold of the Urraca nation. The Urraca Mesa should be visible soon, and then the mountains of gold.
"This looks like a good place to stay the night," shouted Felix. Felix was the guide we picked up at the Raton outpost about ten or fifteen days before. For a couple of days, Lewis threw a big stink about contracting out to a foreigner for his job, but Felix has been very useful. Anyway, he supposedly knows the exact spot in the Urraca lands of the golden mountains, and that was all I needed him for. The sun was already low in the sky, so I nodded in agreement. Felix nodded back and swung himself out of his saddle in that graceful way those Mexican cowboys always seem to be able to do. Whenever I tried to dismount like that, I ended up on the ground with the horse on top of me.
It doesn't take very long anymore to set up our encampment. I remember when we first started out it took us almost two hours to set everything up. That night we set up in less than half an hour. Felix made us a dinner of buffalo steak. While it was much tougher than regular beef steak, it was much better than Sam's gruel.
After dinner, we sat around the fire for a bit.
"Senor, I will not be going onto the Urraca lands tomorrow with you," mentioned Felix in an offhand way.
"What?" It must have sounded much harsher than I had intended it, as everyone stared at me. "I mean, how will we find the gold without your help?"
"The gold is easy to find, but the curse is even easier to find. I have seen the gold before, but I know not to touch."
"How can a grown man be scared of a childish curse? I assure you Felix, the curse is nothing more than words," George reassured Felix.
"Ha! But that is where you are wrong Senor! I have seen the curse with my own eyes... It looks like a man with the wings of a bird. He killed my best friend before my eyes and told me to leave and never return. I have no intention of going there again."
"Very well Felix, you may go on your way. I will pay you for your services in the morning, after you have given me directions to the gold," I told him.
"Gracias, but you still should not go to Urraca. I like you and would not like to see you killed by the curse."
"Don't worry about us," interrupted Lewis. "We'll be O.K. And if there is a curse, we have these," he laughed as he patted his black powder rifle. The rest of the crew laughed at this, but Felix only shook his head.
"Senors, you do not know what you are getting into." With that, he turned his back to the fire and went to sleep. The rest of us did the same. Now we don't need to share the treasure with Felix. But it is odd. If someone knows where a vast treasure is hidden, why wouldn't he just take it? He must just be taking that silly curse much too seriously.
The next morning when I awoke, Felix was already gone. He left us a note that told us to head north by northwest until we found the Rayado River, the southern border to the Urraca territories. Due north, we should then see the Urraca mesa. Beyond that are the golden mountains. We have already been told by several sources to avoid the mesa. First, the top is a sheer rock face almost 200 feet high, and nearly impassable. Second, as if it were any surprise, it was also haunted by the Urraca warriors that were buried there.
In the note, Felix also begged us not to go through with our "insane" quest. When I got to that part, I tore up the note and threw it to the ground. "Well, it seems that our friend Felix does not want his cut of the treasure," I informed the group. "Good, cuz' that just means more for us!"
We followed Felix's instructions and soon came upon the Rayado river. It was a nice river, at least there was shade, but it wasn't nearly as spectacular as I had been expecting. It was at most ten feet across, and never more than a foot or two deep. We stopped to eat lunch on the far side of the river. Still, the trees were a nice change of pace. The desert was so boring.
"A lot of people sure seem to be uptight about this here place," said Lewis.
"It don't seem so bad ta me," added Josh. "If'n it weren't for ta curse, it'd be a good home."
"Well, something's got an awful lot of people spooked," offered Sam. "I say we should be careful."
"Oh, Sam, not again? Why, ya know there ain't no such thing as ghosts or Indian curses, so don't be scared of 'em," interrupted Josh. "Nuthin's goin' ta' hurt ya'!"
"I think Sam does have a point," I added. "We should be careful up here. I mean, I doubt if we'll run into Felix's winged phantom, but we should be careful." Everyone grumbled a bit at that, but they listened. "Half of today is already over," I continued. "Why don't we just stay the night here. I mean, we have water here, and there are at least five or six miles between us and that gold."
"But, we're so close," pleaded Lewis.
"The gold has been there for over 200 years. It can wait one more day."
And that it did. We awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to claim our treasure. After we broke camp, our path took off at a steady uphill grade. None of us were really ready for mountains in the middle of this desert. Sure, there should be mesas and barren rock peaks, but these mountains were fully forested with aspens and pine trees. The going was not easy at all, as there was no discernible trail through the dense undergrowth. I guess this is just what happens when nobody has walked the land in more than 200 years, except perhaps Felix.
We finally got up the grade and reached a grassy plateau. "The sky is strange," blurted out George. He's right. The sky was almost totally overcast, and it looked like it was getting ready to rain. The mountain range was in the middle of a desert that was lucky to get rain for ten days of the year, and it looks like we were all set to get some of that rain.
"It almost looks like it could rain, huh?"
"Don't worry about it you two," replied Lewis. "Mountain ranges sometimes make their own whether. I'd bet these mountains get lots of rain."
"It would be nice if it didn't happen on us, though," I grumbled.
That grassy plateau was miserable. We had barely left the cover of the trees when it started pouring rain on us. None of us were ready for rain, so we were drenched to the bone before we even realized we were heading straight for Urraca Mesa. So, we stopped in the middle of that field and stared at the mesa.
"Ya know," started Josh, "I can see ta rivers of gold!" He was right! Flowing right off the mesa were beautiful streams of liquid gold.
"But the mesa is haun..."
"SHUT UP SAM!" interrupted Lewis. "Are you a man or a superstitious child like that dog Felix? There is no curse!"
Sam was visibly shaken by Lewis' harsh reprimand, but he pulled himself together quickly. "That still doesn't change the fact the top is a sheer cliff almost 200 feet high. I still say we go for the mountains."
"O.K.," I said. "We must choose now. How many say we go for the rivers of gold on the mesa?" George, Lewis, and Josh enthusiastically raised their hands. "Well, sorry Sam, but it looks like we're outnumbered. We go for the mesa." Sam looked like he was getting ready to complain, but the harsh stares from our companions stopped him short.
The rain had not slackened a bit as we reached the base of the mesa. There was no trail up the steep pile of rock and rubble that surrounded the mesa, and the rain had made each and every rock very slippery. Still, we were able to reach the base of the basalt cap together.
"See, I told you guys the top was a sheer cliff," gloated Sam. "How do you propose to get up that?"
He was right. The rock was an impregnable wall, at least 200 feet. A quick glance around did not add any promise to the situation. The only vegetation to be ground were manzanita shrubs and sagebrush. Worthless for both climbing and building. The cap as far as could be seen, was a constant wall. But then I saw something. A small bubbling spring, well concealed at the base of the basalt wall. "Hey guys, I think you should see this."
They all gathered around to see the fountain of 'gold.' "This is not gold, guys. It's sulfur. This whole thing about liquid gold is all a scam."
"But this ain't ta top. All ta real gold is up top, not here," corrected Josh. "Tat's just fer scaring off all ta lazy folk that ain't up fer climbin'."
I nodded in agreement, but I knew I was right. In the rain, even sulfur would shine and glimmer like gold. "Then, how do you propose we get up that?" I asked, gesturing toward the basalt cliff.
"Well, Im'a guessin' we'll jus have to go 'round till we find the way up. It's gotta be here somewhere."
So, we proceeded to walk around the mesa top to find a cleverly concealed path to the top. It must have been the second or third time around when Lewis shouted triumphantly "I found it!" It was no wonder we had missed it. It was little more than a foot wide, and wound precariously around the cliff face. The base of the trail was also concealed by a dense growth of manzanita. "We're going to have to leave the mules here, but we should be able to take the trail ourselves."
"But that's just a rock sliver. With all this rain, that's going to be so slippery, we'll all fall for sure." Sam was definitely starting to make us all angry with his constant complaining.
"Well, you don't have to go. Just more liquid gold for me!" laughed Lewis as he started for the path. "Are there any more REAL men down there, or just a bunch of yellow-bellied cowards like Sam?"
We grudgingly followed him up the narrow and slick trail. The trail was not as bad as Sam had predicted, but it certainly wasn't in good shape. The rain let up slightly as we reached the top of the mesa, but I was exhausted and barely noticed. What I did notice were those intricately carved totems. Carved with demons and horrible faces. Something was definitely not right here.
"You're always hungry, Sam. That's why you're the cook!"
"Stop teasing me George."
"So, all the food is down with the mules. If you want your food, you'll just have to climb back down to get it," taunted Lewis.
"You know, I think I'm going to do that. All you fools can stay up here as long as you want. I don't like it. I'll wait for you guys at the base of this God forsaken rock."
I wanted to go with him, but it would have been bad for morale if the leader limped down the trail with his pride between his legs. So we all waved bye to Sam and turned our attention back to the totems. "Those things are damn ugly if ya ask me," observed Josh.
"Well, let's get this over with. Lets scour this place for the source of this golden stream," I ordered. After about an hour or two, the only things we had found were two or three more sulfur springs and hundreds of totems. The rain has finally stopped, but we are all still wet. The sun was dangerously low in the sky, so I suggested "This is probably not the best place to spend the night. We should get back to the trail down so we can get down before dark."
But where was it? We had spent so much time searching the top, we had lost the original trail. To make matters even worse, there were many false trails, that looked much like the original one, but quickly became too steep to go down. In the end, it was nearly pitch black, and we had no food, no shelter, and no light. All of these things had been left with the mules.
"Well, ain't this ta pits?"
"We're going to have to camp out here, boss. Not even I would try to find the way down with no light," admitted Lewis.
"Very well," I said. "I guess we'll just have to spend the night here. Tomorrow we'll yell for Sam and maybe he can help us find the way down."
Now even I was a little worried. Going up on the mesa was one thing, but spending the night was quite another, especially with all those creepy totems everywhere. The clouds broke, revealing the full moon. This lit things up slightly, but not enough to find our way back down. It was then that we heard a faint whimpering cry from someplace else on the mesa.
"Did you hear that?" The dumbfounded stare of my companions answered my question better than words. We got up, and cautiously followed the noise.
After only five or six minutes, we came upon a small Indian girl weeping with her back to one of the totem poles. "Aw, woodja look it that," started Josh. "Why, she's jus a baby."
"Josh, think about it? How did she get here?" My questions were ignored and he walked right over to the girl.
"Why, wut's a nice lit'l girl like you doin' ere?"
The girl looked up, as if in disbelief. She was so sweet looking, with the full moon reflected perfectly in her tear-streaked cheek and eyes. "I got lost," she coughed up between tears. "I need help getting home."
"It's O.K., we'll help you out," promised Lewis. This seamed to calm the girl down somewhat.
"Oh, thank you! My daddy's the chief. He might pay you for helping me," the child replied, again in perfect English. She stood up, and started walking off toward the edge of the mesa. What else could we do? We all followed her. Her story did sound good, though. If we could return the chieftain's daughter, those mountains of gold would be ours! Something was odd about the child, though. How did she know English? How did she get up onto the mesa?
As we approached the edge of the mesa, the child said, "I'm so scared of the trail down, will one of you strong men carry me down?"
Almost before she was done asking, Lewis had already picked her up and was walking toward the edge. "Stop!" I yelled, but it was too late. Lewis fell right off the edge, but the Indian girl did not fall, but was suspended in mid air. She laughed twice and vanished right before my eyes! The three of us that remained just stared at each other. Could those stories of ghosts and curses actually be true? We had very little time to think about this, as a loud rumbling sound came behind us on the mesa.
"Holy Shit! Wouldya look at that!" screamed Josh. From behind the totems came a fully armed band of Indian warriors.
"I wonder if the spirits can actually hurt us, or do they have to trick us the way that little girl did?" asked George.
"Well, I don't want to stick around to find out!" I said, and headed cautiously to the edge.
George's question was answered by an arrow that stuck right through his neck. He doubled over and fell to the ground. Josh had unslung his rifle and fired off two shots. The Indians were not effected, even though I saw the powder balls hit. I was in a panic now. This was definitely not what I was expecting. As I examined the edge, I saw a trail down, but an arrow whizzing by my neck told me I didn't have the time to check if it was a false trail. I crawled onto the trail, and slit down on my butt. The trail quickly got steeper and steeper, but I hugged the edge. I heard a couple more shots, and an ear piercing scream flew across the sky. I saw Josh come flying off the mesa, but then I looked down to see the ground flying up at me. As I heard the Indians victorious war cry, everything went black.
I awoke the next morning covered in sulfurous mud with a very sore back. As I realized it was not just a dream, I slowly got up to look for other survivors. Josh was impaled by a heavy spear. Dead. Lewis' face was frozen into a look of surprise, and his body was stiff. Dead. I also found Sam, but he had fallen on his way down and had broken his neck. Dead. There was no sign of George. His body must still be on the mesa, but I won't go up there to find out.
The mules were still tethered to the manzanita from the previous day, so I untied them and started back down the mesa's base. Felix was right. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.