Seeing how it was hotter out than a $10 camel at an Arab flea market, Hooter had to admire Elmo Huggins' perseverance, swinging the pick and shovel like a turbo-charged jackhammer, albeit a hairy, sweaty jackhammer.
But hope makes fickle mortar for constructing dreams. Logic told Hooter, no matter how committed Elmo was, his perseverance was likely to yield little more than blisters turned to calluses and the kind of heartache that turns to stone.
“I've got some sweet tea in the jug if you'd like some,” said Hooter, lowering the tailgate and wiping at his brow.
Though he feigned belligerence at the notion, Elmo's eyes said he was more than ready for a little respite.
“How long you figure to keep digging before you raise the white flag?”
Elmo had drained his first thermos cup in a single gulp. “Long as it takes.”
“Yeah, I get that,” said Hooter. “What I'm getting at is at what point do you figure whether or not your chasing the wrong rabbit, diggin' and scratchin' for something that either doesn't exist or something that doesn't happen to exist here?”
“I'll know,” growled Elmo, then he drained his second cup.
Elmo had been at it 10 days already, dark to dark. Hooter's pals couldn't believe Hooter put up with it for so long, or to begin with.
Fact was, though Hooter had his doubts about Elmo's ultimate success he couldn't resist the story, nor could he keep from secretly rooting for the young man and his mission.
Digging Up Ghosts
The year was 1862. A career military man by the name of Henry Hopkins Sibley—by then a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army—convinced Confederate President Jefferson Davis to let him enlist a brigade of Texans to capture Union positions in New Mexico Territory, with the ultimate goal of capturing the vast resources in the Colorado and Pacific Territories.
If you're even a casual history buff like Hooter, you know that Confederate forces won a major victory at Valverde in southern New Mexico, but lost enough men and supplies there that, despite a valiant effort, they had to retreat at the Battle of Glorietta Pass farther north.
If you still shed a tear for Dixie, you know that Glorietta—often called the Gettysburg of the West—was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in the West.
History says Sibley's men headed back to Texas, taking pretty much the same north-south route to El Paso from whence they had come. According to Elmo Huggins, however, when he first showed up at Hooter's place, this history is missing one major point: a few of the Rebels were ordered to break off from the rest at Glorietta and head west with a wagonload of gold that had been captured in a cache outside of Fort Craig near Valverde.
“The history books don't mention that,” Elmo had told Hooter with a fierce but quiet intensity, as if he'd fought with the troops just yesterday. “The history books don't tell you that because except for the officers in command and that handful of men, no one knew about it. Colonel Canby on the Union side, in charge of Fort Craig, sure didn't want to let Grant know he'd let them get away with the gold. And, Sibley, when it never turned up, sure wasn't going to tell folks they'd captured it. No one would have believed him.”
As Hooter listened to the tale, he was inclined to agree and disbelieve.
“That band of rebels, they headed east,” said Elmo. “The notion was to pick up the Red River in the Panhandle, follow it along and figure out the best place to turn south and make it to the coast. But the Yankees were pressing, and the Indians were complicating things, so they buried it, figuring to get help.”
Hooter had enjoyed the tale until then.
“So what you're telling me,” Hooter had said, ready to give the man the toe of his boot, “You're searching for lost treasure, like the Dutchmen's Lost Mine in Arizona, and you reckon this booty is on my place and you want to hunt for it.”
“Sir, before you say no, please let me finish, it's important.”
There was a pleading edge to the words that Hooter couldn't ignore. He nodded for Elmo to continue.
“One thing led to another, and before they could get word back to Sibley they were mustered on East. They ended up at Shiloh and every last one of them died fighting there, but not before my great granddaddy had found a kid named Lucious Allison who he made promise to deliver a map and a letter explaining the circumstances back to his family in Texas, telling them all about it and where to find the gold for General Lee.”
There it was. Hooter didn't have to ask. It was about kin, not about the money. That's when he was hooked.
Long story, short, young Lucious, never fulfilled his promise, for whatever reason, but his child eventually ran across the papers settling his father's estate. Lucious' boy didn't stop until he found Elmo's father. Elmo didn't know why and neither did Elmo's dad. Although Elmo's father appreciated the tenacious effort, he never put any store in the legend.
Fast-forward another three decades. A few years ago, Elmo's dad was puttering around in his shop. He accidentally tipped over a trunk that had been in one spot so long it had become invisible. The trunk busted open. While retrieving the remains Elmo's dad spied the envelope delivered to him by Lucious' son. Even so, if Elmo hadn't been there at the time, he doubted his father would have thought to mention it.
That's how Elmo knew the history, from his great granddaddy's own hand. That's how Hooter became privy to the Huggins family lore and joined on as an unofficial accomplice. That's how it was that Elmo Huggins had spent the better part of two weeks cracking rocks and digging up more rocks on Hooter's land. Elmo thought he had finally deciphered the tattered documents, and he thought they placed the buried Confederate cache in Hooter's north pasture.
“X” Marks the Spot
“There it is!” Elmo had shouted excitedly when Hooter had finally relented to the adventure that Elmo hoped would lead him to his and his great-granddaddy's destiny. Elmo was pointing to an area in the distance that Hooter, and everyone before him, had referred to as the rock pile. Nothing but a steep slope, broken by mounds of gypsum rock, laced with ruts from infrequent flash floods and sprinkled with Mesquite and pear.
“No offense, but you're goofier than a Democrat with an audience, and a heifer turned out on new grass, combined. I could take you lots of places here or on somebody else's place that look the same,” said Hooter.
“But do those other places have that?” demanded Elmo triumphantly, pointing to a slender rock spire—actually a couple of them back-to-back that looked like one from a certain angle—with a ridge intersecting the space in between so that from a distance and looking up the hill it resembled something like a cross.
“Cross Point?” wondered Hooter. “Yeah, it's a landmark to those that know this place…”
“Come on,” Elmo had said excitedly, heading up the hill. He was peering through a pair of battered binoculars before he ever got to the rocks. He crouched behind the ridge on the right side the spire and focused.
“This is it, come look!”
“Look for what?”
“Straight North, tell me what you see?”
Hooter squinted. “I see what I figured I would. There's old man Jacobs' windmill off in the distance; he never has it fixed. Beyond that are the Apache Bluffs.”
“On top of the bluff, what do you see?”
Elmo was getting exasperated. “Yes, rocks, but what do the rocks look like?”
Hooter squinted again. “If you use your imagination, you could probably make believe that some of them look a little bit like a cross. But like I say…”
“You don't even have to use your imagination,” said Elmo. “The Map says, ‘Two Crosses South.' That's how I found this one, looking from the other direction. This is the second cross.”
Hooter wanted to believe, but this was longer odds than a flea in a jillion haystacks. “I'm sure not trying to drizzle on your parade, but 143 years is a fair spell. Lots of weather and bad men, there's no telling what's moved where since then.”
“This is it,” said Elmo flatly.
And the digging had commenced.
To be continued in next month's Cattle Today.