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Crawford's Basin

From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

You might think, perhaps, as many people in our neighborhood thought,
that Joe was my brother. As a matter of fact he was no relation at all;
he had dropped in upon us, a stranger, two years before, and had stayed
with us ever since.

It was in the haying season that he came, at a moment when my father and
I were overwhelmed with work; for it was the summer of 1879, the year of
"the Leadville excitement," when all the able-bodied men in the district
were either rushing off to Leadville itself or going off prospecting all
over the mountains in the hope of unearthing other Leadvilles. Ranch
work was much too slow for them, and as a consequence it was impossible
for us to secure any help that was worth having.

What made it all the more provoking was that we had that year an
extra-fine stand of grass--the weather, too, was magnificent--yet,
unless we could get help, it was hardly likely that we could take full
advantage of our splendid hay-crop.

Nevertheless, as what could not be cured must be endured, my father and
I tackled the job ourselves, working early and late, and we were making
very good progress, all things considered, when we had the misfortune to
break a small casting in our mowing-machine; a mishap which would
probably entail a delay of several days until we could get the piece

It was just before noon that this happened, and we had brought the
machine up to the wagon-shed and had put up the horses, when, on
stepping out of the stable, we were accosted by a tall, black haired,
blue eyed young fellow of about my own age, who asked if he could get a
job with us.

"Yes, you can," replied my father, promptly; and then, remembering the
accident to the machine, he added, "at least, you can as soon as I get
this casting replaced," holding out the broken piece as he spoke.

"May I look at it?" asked the young fellow; and taking it in his hand he
went on: "I see you have a blacksmith-shop over there; I think I can
duplicate this for you if you'll let me try: I was a blacksmith's
apprentice only a month ago."

"Do you think you can? Well, you shall certainly be allowed to try. But
come in now: dinner will be ready in five minutes; you shall try your
hand at blacksmithing afterwards. What's your name?"

"Joe Garnier," replied the boy. "I come from Iowa. I was going to
Leadville, but I met so many men coming back, with tales of what numbers
of idle men there were up there unable to get work, that, hearing of a
place called Sulphide as a rising camp, I decided to go there instead.
This is the right way to get there, isn't it?"

"Yes, this is the way to Sulphide. Did you expect to get work as a

"Well, I intended to take any work I could get, but if you can give me
employment here, I'd a good deal rather work out in the sun than down in
a hole in the ground."

"You replace that casting if you can, and I'll give you work for a
month, at least, and longer if we get on well together."

"Thank you," said the stranger; and with that we went into the house.

The newcomer started well: he won my mother's good opinion at once by
wiping his boots carefully before entering, and by giving himself a
sousing good wash at the pump before sitting down to table. It was plain
he was no ordinary tramp--though, for that matter, the genus "tramp" had
not yet invaded the three-year-old state of Colorado--for his manners
were good; while his clear blue eyes, in contrast with his brown face
and wavy black hair, gave him a remarkably bright and wide-awake look.

As soon as dinner was over, we all repaired to the blacksmith-shop,
where Joe at once went to work. It was very evident that he knew what he
was about: every blow seemed to count in the right direction; so that in
about half an hour he had fashioned his piece of iron into the desired
shape, when he plunged it into the tub of water, and then, clapping it
into the vise, went to work on it with a file; every now and then
comparing it with the broken casting which lay on the bench beside him.

"There!" he exclaimed at last. "I believe that will fit." And, indeed,
when he laid them side by side, one would have been puzzled to tell
which was which, had not the old piece been painted red while the other
was not painted at all.

Joe was right: the piece did fit; and in less than an hour from the time
we had finished dinner we were at work again in the hay-field.

The month which followed was a strenuous one, but by the end of it we
had the satisfaction of knowing that we had put up the biggest crop of
hay ever cut on the ranch.

Our new helper, who was a tall, stout fellow for his age, and an
untiring worker, proved to be a capital hand, and though at first he was
somewhat awkward, being unused to farm labor, before we had finished he
could do a better day's work than I could, in spite of the fact that I
had been a ranch boy ever since I had been a boy at all.

We all took a great liking for Joe, and we were very pleased, therefore,
when, the hay being in, it was arranged that he should stay on. For
there was plenty of work to be done that year--extra work, I mean--such
as building fences, putting up an ice-house and so forth, in which Joe,
having a decided mechanical turn, proved a valuable assistant. So, when
the spring came round again it found Joe still with us; and with us he
continued to stay, becoming so much one of the family that many people,
as I said, who did not know his story, supposed that he and I were
brothers in fact, as we soon learned to become brothers in feeling.

Long before this, of course, Joe had told us all about himself and how
he had come to leave his old home and make his way westward.

Of French-Canadian descent, the boy, left an orphan at three years of
age, had been taken in by a neighbor, a kind-hearted blacksmith, and
with him he had lived for the twelve years following, when the
blacksmith, now an old man, had decided to go out of business. Just at
this time "the Leadville excitement" was making a great stir in the
country; thousands of men were heading for the new Eldorado, and Joe,
his old friend consenting, determined to join the throng.

It was, perhaps, lucky for the young blacksmith that he started rather
late, for, on his approach to the mountains, he encountered files of
disappointed men streaming in the opposite direction, and hearing their
stories of the overcrowded condition of things in Leadville, he
determined to try instead the mining camp of Sulphide, when, passing our
place on the way he was caught by my father, as I have described, and
turned into a ranchman.

Such was the condition of affairs with us when Big Reuben made his final
raid upon our pig-pen.

The reward of one hundred dollars which the county paid us for our
exploit in ridding the community of Big Reuben's presence came in very
handily for Joe and me. It enabled us to achieve an object for which we
had long been hoarding our savings--the purchase of a pair of mules.

For the past two years, in the slack season, after the gathering of our
hay and potato crops, we had hired out during the fine weather remaining
to a man whose business it was to cut and haul timbers for the mines in
and around the town of Sulphide, which lay in the mountains seven miles
southwestward from our ranch. We found it congenial work, and Joe and I,
who were now seventeen years old, hardened to labor with ax, shovel or
pitchfork, saw no reason why we should not put in these odd five or six
weeks cutting timbers on our own account. No reason but one, that is to
say. My father would readily lend us one of his wagons, but he could not
spare a team, and so, until we could procure a team of our own, we were
obliged to forego the honor and glory--to say nothing of the expected
profits--of setting up as an independent firm.

Now, however, we had suddenly and unexpectedly acquired the necessary
funds, and with the money in our pockets away we went at once to Ole
Johnson's, from whom we bought a stout little pair of mouse-colored
mules upon which we had long had an eye.

But though the firm of Crawford and Garnier might now, if it pleased,
consider itself established, it could not enter upon the practice of its
business for some time yet. It was still the middle of summer, and there
was plenty to do on the ranch: the hay and the oats would be ready to
cut in two weeks, while after that there were the potatoes to gather--a
very heavy piece of work.

All these tasks had to be cleared out of the way before we could move up
to Sulphide to begin on our timber-cutting enterprise. But between the
harvesting of the oats and the gathering of the potato-crop there
occurred an incident, which, besides being remarkable in itself, had a
very notable effect upon my father's fortunes--and, incidentally, upon
our own.

To make understandable the ins and outs of this matter, I must pause a
moment to describe the situation of our ranch; for it is upon the
peculiarity of its situation that much of my story hinges.

Anybody traveling westward from San Remo, the county seat, with the idea
of getting up into the mountains, would encounter, about a mile from
town, a rocky ridge, which, running north and south, extended for
several miles each way. Ascending this bluff and still going westward,
he would presently encounter a second ridge, the counterpart of the
first, and climbing that in turn he would find himself upon the
wide-spreading plateau known as the Second Mesa, which extended, without
presenting any serious impediment, to the foot of the range--itself one
of the finest and ruggedest masses of mountains in the whole state of

In a deep depression of the First Mesa--known as Crawford's Basin--lay
our ranch. This "Basin" was evidently an ancient lake-bed--as one could
tell by the "benches" surrounding it--but the water of the lake having
in the course of ages sawed its way out through the rocky barrier, now
ran off through a little canyon about a quarter of a mile long.

The natural way for us to get from the ranch down to San Remo was to
follow the stream down this canyon, but, curiously enough, for more than
half the year this road was impassable. The lower end of Crawford's
Basin, for a quarter of a mile back from the entrance of the canyon, was
so soft and water-logged that not even an empty wagon could pass over
it. In fact, so soft was it that we could not get upon it to cut hay and
were obliged to leave the splendid stand of grass that grew there as a
winter pasture. In the cold weather, when the ground froze up, it was
all right, but at the first breath of spring it began to soften, and
from then until winter again we could do nothing with it. It was, in
fact, little better than a source of annoyance to us, for, until we
fenced it off, our milk cows, tempted by the luxuriant grass, were
always getting themselves mired there.

This wet patch was known to every teamster in the county as "the
bottomless forty rods," and was shunned by them like a pestilence. Its
existence was a great drawback to us, for, between San Remo, where the
smelters were, and the town of Sulphide, where the mines were, there
was a constant stream of wagons passing up and down, carrying ore to the
smelters and bringing back provisions, tools and all the other
multitudinous necessaries required by the population of a busy mining
town. Had it not been for the presence of "the bottomless forty rods,"
all these wagons would have come through our place and we should have
done a great trade in oats and hay with the teamsters. But as it was,
they all took the mesa road, which, though three miles longer and
necessitating the descent of a long, steep hill where the road came down
from the First Mesa to the plains, had the advantage of being hard and
sound at all seasons of the year.

My father had spent much time and labor in the attempt to make a
permanent road through this morass, cutting trenches and throwing in
load after load of stones and brush and earth, but all in vain, and at
length he gave it up--though with great reluctance. For, not only did
the teamsters avoid us, but we, ourselves, when we wished to go with a
load to San Remo, were obliged to ascend to the mesa and go down by the
hill road.

The cause of this wet spot was apparently an underground stream which
came to the surface at that point. The creek which supplied us with
water for irrigation had its sources on Mount Lincoln and falling from
the Second Mesa into our Basin in a little waterfall some twelve feet
high, it had scooped out a circular hole in the rock about a hundred
feet across and then, running down the length of the valley, found its
way out through the canyon. Now this creek received no accession from any
other stream in its course across the Basin, but for all that the amount
of water in the canyon was twice as great as that which came over the
fall; showing conclusively that the marsh whence the increase came must
be supplied by a very strong underground stream.

The greater part of Crawford's Basin was owned by my father, Philip
Crawford, the elder, but a portion of it, about thirty acres at the
upper end, including the pool, the waterfall and the best part of the
potato land, was owned by Simon Yetmore, of Sulphide.

My father was very desirous of purchasing this piece of ground, for it
would round out the ranch to perfection, but Yetmore, knowing how much
he desired it, asked such an unreasonable price that their bargaining
always fell through. Being unable to buy it, my father therefore leased
it, paying the rent in the form of potatoes delivered at Yetmore's store
in Sulphide--for Simon, besides being mayor of Sulphide and otherwise a
person of importance, was proprietor of Yetmore's Emporium, by far the
largest general store in town.

He was an enterprising citizen, Simon was, always having many irons in
the fire; a clever fellow, too, in his way; though his way was not
exactly to the taste of some people: he drove too hard a bargain. In
fact, the opinion was pretty general that his name fitted him to a
nicety, for, however much he might get, he always wanted yet more.

My father distrusted him; yet, strange to say, in spite of that fact,
and of the added fact that he had always fought shy of all mining
schemes, he and Yetmore were partners in a prospecting venture. It was,
in a measure, an accident, and it came about in this way:

The smelter-men down at San Remo were always crying out for more
lead-ores to mix with the "refractory" ores produced by most of the
mines in our district, publishing a standing offer of an extra-good
price for all ores containing more than a stated percentage of lead. In
spite of the stimulus this offer gave to the prospecting of the
mountains, north, south and west of us, there had been found but one
mine, the Samson, of which the chief product was lead, and this did not
furnish nearly enough to satisfy the wants of the smelter-men.

Its discovery, however, proved the existence of veins of galena--the ore
from which lead chiefly comes--in one part of the district, and the
prospectors became more active than ever; though without result. That
section of country where the Samson had been discovered was deeply
overlaid with "wash," and as the veins were "blanket" veins--lying flat,
that is--and did not crop out above the surface, their discovery was
pretty much a matter of chance.

Among the prospectors was one, Tom Connor, who, having had experience in
the lead-mines of Missouri, proposed to adopt one of the methods of
prospecting in use in that country, to wit, the core-drill. But to
procure and operate a core-drill required money, and this Tom Connor had
not. He therefore applied to Simon Yetmore, who agreed to supply part
of the necessary funds--making good terms for himself, you may be
sure--if Tom would provide the rest. The rest, however, was rather more
than the sum-total of Tom's scanty capital, and so he came to my father,
who was an old friend of his, and asked him to make up the difference.

My father declined to take any share in the enterprise, for, though most
of the ranchmen round about were more or less interested in mining, he
himself looked upon it as being too near akin to gambling; but feeling
well disposed towards Tom, and the sum required being very moderate, he
lent his friend the money, quite prepared, knowing Tom's optimistic,
harum-scarum character, never to see it again.

In this expectation, however, he was happily deceived. It is true he did
not get back his money, but he received his money's worth, and that in a
very curious way.

Next: Yetmore's Mistake

Previous: Big Reuben's Raid

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