Along in 1927 a newspaper friend told me that the next time I was in El Paso I had better run down a lawyer named Harris Walthall for a good story. Early one morning of the December following I announced myself at Walthall's office. He said he knew a little of the story, but that the man to tell it was a mining engineer named Frank Seward. He took me to Frank Seward. He talked two or three hours, and then he said I must see C. B. Ruggles to get the real details. A little after dark we got out to the house where Ruggles stayed when he happened to be in town, which was seldom. I barely caught a midnight train going up to Socorro, in New Mexico. Nobody but Ruggles had talked, and I could not go to sleep after I got on the train. The story, the story of the long-lost and much-sought-for Tayopa Mine, lost somewhere in the Sierra Madre of Mexico, had me enthralled. About two weeks later I was back in El Paso, on my way east. I telephoned Ruggles, and he came down to the hotel and had supper with me. I barely caught the midnight train to San Antonio. Nobody but Ruggles had talked. He was about to lift out a limitless fortune from the lost mine. Within a month he was going back into the Sierra Madre, where for six years he had been following the trails to Tayopa.
At this time I was writing considerably for the Country Gentleman—hunting stories, legendary tales, historical sketches of the old West and Southwest. My trip into New Mexico had been after a panther to put in the Country Gentleman. I didn't see one hair out of a panther and the dogs didn't smell one, but Joe and Dub Evans, with whom Paul Bransom—the animal illustrator—and I were hunting, had caught lots of the creatures. They were mighty free with them as we sat around the fire every night. I picked the likeliest-sounding one out of the lot, and it did just as well as if I had run it up a piñon tree myself. When I sent it in, I wrote the editor I had heard the best lost mine story in North America, but would not try to write it without going over the ground. He wired me to roll up my bed and go with Ruggles and find the story whether I found the mine or not. In this book I have told the story with much more incident and background than I told it for the editor who sent me to get its setting. I know a lot more now about Tayopa, the Sierra Madre, and other matters than I knew then. I have an idea that I often know too much for what the average reader regards as good storytelling. I don't think any longer that Tayopa is the greatest lost mine tradition in North America; I think the Lost Adams Diggings is.
Not long after I made my first pack trip across the Sierra Madre, Tayopa bound, I began putting into final form my book of tales about lost mines and buried treasures in the Southwest—Coronado's Children. At one time I intended to include Tayopa in this, but the limitations of space decided me to leave it for another book—on Mexico. Then I wrote that other book, Tongues of the Monte—in some ways the strangest book that has ever been published about Mexico—but the Story of Tayopa, which I had intended to make its foundation, did not fit into it.
Meantime, with pack mule and mozo,—the only free way to travel and soak in the country,—frequently lingering on some hacienda, I have gone into and across the Sierra Madre at various places. Never have I been out of the sound of the story of Tayopa. Over a great territory of northern Mexico it is as familiar to Mexican, Indian and gringo, all, as the story of Paul Revere's ride is to American school children. About three years ago a Kentucky distiller offered to take me in his airplane to look for Tayopa a long, long way from where Ruggles thought he had located it. Last year two mining men in Los Angeles with enough money to hire a military guard from President Cardenas of Mexico tried to persuade my friend Charles A. Newman, of El Paso, to guide them in another direction. A German in Chihuahua City wrote me by air mail to say he had discovered a document that would take any man to the right place. When I saw the document, I understood why it did not take the German to where he suggested it would take me. Leaving out much, I am trying to indicate how Tayopa would not let me rest until I had put it into a book. It may not let me rest now.
Somewhere in Coronado's Children I remarked that I really cared about writing the story of one other lost mine—the Adams Diggings. In the summer of 1937 I dug out all the letters inspired by that statement. I had filed them as I received them. Upon examining the aggregate, I was astounded at their bulk and their contents. More people had written to tell me something than to ask help in finding the Diggings. In the Appendix to this book I have given some particulars about these generous people. Into the narrative of the Lost Adams Diggings I have woven some of the characters and experiences met during trips through the mountains of New Mexico trailing down the story.
In order not to be misunderstood, I must admit that my trailing-down of lost mines and buried treasures has been for gold not weighable in avoirdupois scales. How much of an alchemist I am, others must judge. In retelling these stories that were told to me, I have naturally omitted many things, made disconnected parts connect, supplied hinges; but all the essentials are traditional history—or traditional legend.
In Coronado's Children I attempted an interpretation of the historical or cultural significance of the traditions of lost mines and buried treasures in America. I care much more, however, about the drama, the flavorsome characters, the vast lands in which the riches lie hidden, the "pictures and conversations" that Alice in Wonderland so approved of, than I care about interpretations. Any authentic record of the lore of a land and a people is, after all, an interpretation. The lore that composes the stuff of this book is, irrespective of the way in which it is presented, a part of one of the deepest and widest epics of North American soil. Phantoms, if you will—but "each shall his favorite phantom pursue." The difference lies not between phantom and non-phantom, but between phantoms themselves.
Two of the stories that follow, "Not the Will of God" and "General Mexhuira's Ghost," are lacking in the historical background characterizing the other narratives. I have included the first because it represents a class of stories common to every mountain in Mexico and to every Mexican's memory and also because it seems to me to reveal the character of the people—good and kindly people nearly always —who live in the country part of Mexico and have no connection with the politicians. For this story I am indebted to my lifelong friend Rocky Reagan, rancher in Southwest Texas. So far as I am concerned, anything interesting fits anywhere, the quality of being interesting having the right to override the laws of coherence any time. The story of "General Mexhuira's Ghost" interested me extraordinarily when Charles W. Hackett told it to me, and it interests me even after I have written it. The name of the individual who had the experiences with the ghost has of necessity been disguised. His accounts show perhaps what a man who keeps on following up clues to buried cities, lost mines and the like will eventually come to believe—and make others believe. The setting of this story is far south of, but not foreign to, the Sierra Madre of the North. For the main narrative in "Pedro Loco" I owe my friend Victor Lieb.
"Scalp Hunters' Ledge" and "Not the Will of God" appeared in abbreviated forms in the New York Herald Tribune Magazine; one or two short narratives woven into the first section of "The Lost Tayopa Mine" appeared in the Herald Tribune's successor, This Week. As I have already said, the original Tayopa narrative was printed in the Country Gentleman, August and September, 1928. "Pedro Loco" came out in the Southwest Review, July, 1938. I thank these magazines for permission to reprint.
I feel a deep appreciation for Maud Durlin Sullivan, Librarian of the El Paso Public Library, and her excellent staff, not only on account of the many helpful courtesies received personally but also on account of the way they have made an institution serve, express and fit the Southwest.
I am grateful to the following for their kind permission to use material from their publications in this volume:
Wilson Erickson, Inc., for an extract from Black Range Tales by James A. McKenne.
Houghton Mifflin Company for a long quotation from Stepsons of Light by Eugene Manlove Rhodes.
J. Frank Dobie
The Comanche Moon, 1938
Although it was a full hour after our leisurely breakfast when the mozo conducted Doctor Black and myself into the enormous room, Slinger, straight out of the bed, met us in his pajamas. They were of the hue and texture of those blanket-sized red silk bandannas imported from the Orient, the design on them the quetzalcoatl—the plumed serpent of the Aztecs; and as he moved the serpents seemed to writhe. Thus appareled, wearing sandals of brilliant blue straw, in his mouth a freshly-lighted black cigarette of opiate fumes, his scraggy eyebrows and tousled mass of hair snow-white, he appeared as bizarre as his surroundings. I could not for some time concentrate my observation on either, and I do not know yet which dominated the other.
The enormous room, as cold as an underground cell, without stove, gas or fireplace, a huge old brass brazier by the writing table appearing to serve merely as another antiquity, was lined with rawhide-bound books that had been branded by monks of Spanish times and with bales of manuscripts, some of them parchment, that had been gathered from abandoned sacristies and uprooted científico libraries over half of Mexico. Some of the shelves were heaped with terra cotta heads and figures common to Aztec ruins; among them reposed stone gods of the same ancient people. Stone artifacts and figures cluttered the floor about the walls. One that drew my attention particularly was a jade-green stone shaped somewhat like a half-egg and carved with the ubiquitous quetzalcoatl. In this room Slinger slept and sometimes ate as well as read. As Doctor Black and I shivered in our overcoats—in wintertime any spot of Mexico City out of the sun is bitter cold—Slinger did not even bother to wrap himself in the Oaxaca blanket that lay ready on a chair beside his bed.
Something of an antiquarian by taste and a collector by virtue of the pack-rat instinct inherent in most men, he was a physician by profession and had spent thirty-five of his sixty-odd years practising in "the Republic." It was through Black, who had been in medical school with him, that I received the invitation to inspect his collection. In particular I wanted to examine a manuscript said to be four centuries old and to contain a description of certain tombs and bones of giants exhumed by conquistadores while digging for Aztec gold. I had heard of Doctor Slinger long before I saw him. I had heard how for years before her death he never allowed his wife to come into the room he occupied—though the remainder of the house allowed her ample domain to wander through. I had heard people whose lives he had saved, so they said, swear by his skill and extol his kind heart. I had heard how at times he went off from a lucrative practice to live with Indians and absorb their herb lore. Members of the American colony in Mexico City generally had, it seemed, more opportunities to talk about him than to talk with him. Most of them agreed that he had become Mexicanized; upper Mexicans said that he was Indianized.
And now as I tried to take in the contents of the room, my eyes were arrested by a single photograph, framed in wood inlaid with bone, that sat on top of a cabinet. The eyes of the man in the photograph drew me towards them.
When I glanced at Doctor Slinger to make inquiry, his eyes were boring into me, but he waited for the question.
"Why, that is General Mexhuira," he answered.
"I never heard of him," I said.
"Quite possible," he replied, "but, for all that, he was the gamest general of the Revolution. He was the best friend I ever had. He died in my arms."
"Where was he from?"
"Why, from Oaxaca."
I knew that Slinger had practised in Oaxaca before coming to Mexico City. It required little urging to learn more about General Mexhuira.
"He was in charge of the revolutionary forces of Oaxaca," Slinger went on. "Nobody else could have handled the Indians as he handled them. I was his chief surgeon. In fact, when the fighting was hottest I was his only surgeon. After one battle I, in twenty-four hours' time, operated on eight hundred men."
"But, Doctor Slinger," interposed his medical friend, "that sounds incredible, humanly impossible."
"Oh, I'll admit," Slinger laughed, "that some of the operations were hasty. A lot of the wounded would have died anyway. It was like administering extreme unction. I got so damned exhausted cutting and cutting that finally I had a mozo strap my body to his. He supported me and held me up while I went on using my arms to cut. I wouldn't have gone through what I did for anybody but Mexhuira.
"As everybody knows, when the Revolutionists finally won out, the country was still divided up among local leaders. Villa was still out in the north; to the west the followers of murdered Zapata remained unreconciled; the oil companies around Tampico were paying another general to protect them; and Mexhuira held out too. But the fighting was mostly over. There wasn't enough money left in Oaxaca to support a doctor, and I withdrew from the army and came up to Mexico City and opened the office I have now on the Avenida Cinco de Mayo. Everybody was watched in those days. For that matter, I am still watched. More than one Indian trying to smuggle a stone god or something like that in to me has been killed.
"Well, I had not been here long, when a government agent called on me to use my influence to persuade Mexhuira to give up. I thought it was the best thing for him to do. I received absolute promises that he would be safe physically, and then I went down to see him. He was a little fellow, weighing less than a hundred pounds. The force in a man's veins, the energy of his spirit, and the light in his eyes don't weigh, you know. He embraced me, trusted my judgment, and promised to come up to Mexico City right away and make his peace with the powers.
"He kept his promise. There was a whole corps of staff officers to meet him at the station; he was conducted to the President's palace, served a banquet, and then for two weeks wined and dined like a visiting king—which he was. I saw him nearly every day, and I saw him going to pieces. He never had been a city man; he was a man of the campo, a native of the wildest sierras. He was so aboriginal that when he started out he had the Mexican eagle on his flag clawing a plumed serpent instead of the rattlesnake. This quetzalcoatl reached clear across the flag. Some Indian had worked it into the cloth for Mexhuira. It was like a sign in the sky for drawing his followers, and he himself had such a belief in it that he would not have gone into battle without it.
"One afternoon I was summoned to the hospital, and there I found Mexhuira in a paroxysm of pain. He was absolute master of himself, however. He told me he had been poisoned, and after examining him I had no doubt of the fact. I don't go around publishing this opinion. Such suffering as his could not last. When his pain was at its worst, I held him in my arms as I would hold a child, and thus he died.
"I saw attendants lay him out, and then I came home and came into this room to read and try to throw off my depression of spirit. I had lost, as I have already told you, the best friend of my life. For maybe an hour I had been trying to read—and I always use strong lights—when I heard a slight noise. Looking up, I saw Mexhuira.
"'What are you doing here?' I said.
"'I have come to tell you good-by and to make a request,' he answered.
"He was standing in front of me and I reached out to grasp his hand. I could not feel it. Then I passed my hand through his body without feeling it. Yet he looked natural and his voice sounded natural.
"'No,' he said, 'you cannot feel my body. I am dead, nothing but a spirit. The request I make is this: that you educate my two sons and see that they get a square start in life; that you guard my daughter until she is married; and that you act as adviser to my wife. You will need money to fulfil such a guardianship.'
"Then he told me to go to a certain number on a certain street. There I was to knock. An Aztec Indian would appear. This I wondered at, for Mexhuira was himself a Mixteco. Anyway I was to give this Indian the password, a word in his tongue that you would not remember if I repeated it to you. 'Whatever money you require will be delivered to you,' Mexhuira said.
"I promised him on my soul to care for his wife and children. Then we talked for a long while about various matters. He told me that since dying he had learned the absolute facts about his poisoning, and he detailed the circumstances, not omitting names of politicians. A little before daybreak he said he must go. 'I have to be back with my body,' he explained. Then he came nearer and put his arms around me. Though I cannot swear that I felt them, I seemed to feel them. With a 'May God go with you,' he was gone.
"The newspapers had long accounts of the sudden death of General Mexhuira with the usual pictures of the corpse and with comments on his frail body. The president expressed deep mourning and sent his condolences both to Mexhuira's family and his native state. After that he was buried with military pomp, as a national hero, here in the nation's capital.
"I had a good practice and was kept busy. Now and then I heard an echo of dissatisfaction from the south, where the Indians, it seemed, wanted their Mexhuira back. Then I read that the Government had decided to take up the body and move it to Oaxaca. In all of this I was not consulted. I am getting ahead of the order of events, however.
"The day after I saw Mexhuira buried, I ordered my chauffeur to drive me to the house where I was to get the money. The street was so little known that we had to go to police headquarters to learn its direction. It proved to be away out on the edge of town. I knocked at the number; it was over a closed door to a run-down adobe building. A blanketed Indian opened—old, silent, erect. Though polite in his salutation, he looked at me searchingly. I merely gave the password.
"'How much do you want?' he asked.
"'Five thousand in gold.'
"'Does it have to be all in gold?'
"'Yes,' I said, 'it needs to be all in gold.'
"'Very well,' he said, 'come back at sunset and the money will be ready for you.'
"I was back there at sunset. The old Indian invited me into his house. It was as bare as the usual Indian house. He closed the door. Then he delivered a heavy bag made of dressed pigskin.
"'There is one other thing you are to have,' he said. With that he indicated a jade-looking rock carved with the plumed serpent and shaped something like a halfegg."
At these words my eyes turned to the stone I had already noticed.
"Yes, that is it," Slinger said.
"Slinger," Doctor Black broke in, "I did not know that you drank those mescal cocktails before breakfast."
"I don't," he answered vigorously. "You can smell my breath if you want to."
My companion not only smelt his breath but felt his pulse. He told me later that he could detect no evidence of alcohol.
"Go on," I said.
Slinger went on.
"The old Indian volunteered that the green rock had come out of the Buried City of Mexico—La Ciudad Enterrada. I suppose you have heard of it. All the natives in Mexico know about it, how it lies enchanted and how it holds more riches than Montezuma or Cortés ever dreamed of. The old Aztec knew somehow about my interest in antiquities, and he asked if I'd like to see the city. I did see it—but all that belongs at another place. I did not ask where the money came from. The Indian carried it and the stone to my car. I brought them both home, and at once began spending the money on Mexhuira's family.
"And now to get back to the removal of Mexhuira's body to Oaxaca. I read that there was to be a military escort. About twelve o'clock on the day that the body was to be conducted out of the city, I was performing a minor operation in a room adjoining my office. The window of this room, overlooking Avenida Cinco de Mayo, was open. A nurse was assisting me. I had just given the patient, a man, a local anesthetic when, all of a sudden, we all heard a blare of military music. Military bands and parades are far from uncommon in Mexico City, as you know, and it was only with a mild curiosity that I stepped to the window to look out.
"What was passing was the funeral cortège of General Mexhuira. The black coffin, draped with flags, was on a caisson. Then Mexhuira himself floated into the window. When he did, the nurse fainted and the man rolled off the operating table in a faint also. I am sure that I alone heard my friend's words.
"'I know you were not expecting me,' he said, 'and I have only a minute to stay. They are taking me back home where I belong. There I'll be at rest. I have come to give the last farewell.' Then he thanked me for the way in which I was taking care of his family, told me again that when I needed money the old Indian would furnish it, gave me a final abrazo, and floated out of the window. I saw him float over the crowds in the street, rest a moment on the caisson, wave me an adiós, and disappear into the coffin. You may think it strange, and I thought it damned strange, that while the nurse and the man to be operated on should have seen him, no one in the street was aware of his presence. After a bit the nurse came to, and with her help I finished with the patient. I could have cut his liver out, he was so thoroughly unconscious.
"That was the last I ever saw of Mexhuira. His boys I kept for several years at a school in Texas. With a suitable education each of them now has an excellent position. The girl I kept in a private school here in Mexico City, and she is well married. She has begun having babies and won't have time from now on to be unhappy. The widow lived well provided for until last year, when she died.
"No, I never took a centavo from the old Aztec that I did not spend on the family. I'll be honest and say I knew Mexhuira, both alive and dead, too well to misuse any of the money.
"And now," Slinger concluded in his hearty voice, "we'll examine that material on the ancient giants of Mexico. I am sorry that the room seems cold. After a man has run with the Indians down here as much as I have, his nerves and senses go to recording stimuli in a different way."
"Before we take up the giants, Doctor Slinger," I said, trying to keep my teeth from chattering, "I wish you'd finish what you started to say about that green rock."
"Oh, yes, that rock. Well, when I went back to have the old Aztec guide me to the Buried City of Mexico, he made me swear all kinds of oaths of secrecy. And don't imagine for a minute that the watch kept over a man after he has sworn an Indian oath and been made partner to an Indian secret is just fiction stuff. I know. I was blindfolded—even if that's fiction stuff also. All I know about the course we took is that we went out of the Aztec's house by the back door, which opens into a big walled-in yard. He seemed to lead me down some kind of tunnel.
"When the blinds were taken off, we were on the edge of a street paved with cobblestones and lined with squat rock houses. The fronts of these houses were so becarved with plumed serpents and other figures of strange beasts and the light was pulsing in such a way that you might have imagined you were looking down on one of those conventions of rattlesnakes the Indians tell about. They say that sometimes hundreds and hundreds and thousands of snakes come writhing and crawling together, usually in some canyon, and there twist into a solid mass that keeps on twisting. Those plumed serpents on the houses and temples of the Buried City had been fixed there, in stone, for thousands of years; yet somehow the light made them seem to be moving. I could not for the life of me make out where the light came from. It actually looked as if it were coming out of the eyes of the snakes. I saw hundreds of jade stones the size and shape of this, carved in the same way. This is the only proof I have of what I tell you. I used to think I'd like to possess some of the riches of that Ciudad Enterrada, and reveal its existence, after all these centuries still only legendary, to the world. Maybe it's having become an Indian myself that has killed such ambitions dead, maybe it's the years."
At this juncture a servant brought up Doctor Slinger's breakfast, which he at once set about prefacing with mescal cocktails for the company as well as for himself.
"Maybe it's Mexhuira cocktails," Doctor Black added.
"They belong to the country," Slinger observed.
I did not learn a single fact from the manuscript about the giants of ancient Mexico. The Buried City of Enchantment never was supposed to be documented.