The Makon Road
From: Still Jim
"Always the strongest coyote makes the new trail. The pack
is content to continue in the old."
MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.
The building of the road from the valley to the crevice edge was not a
difficult task, although the country was rough. The material for making
the road was at hand, for the most part, and by the end of the summer
there was a broad oiled macadam road, grade carefully proportioned to
grade, leading to the canyon's brim. It was a road built to withstand
the wear of thousands of tons of freight that must be hauled over it.
But the throwing of the road three thousand feet down into the canyon
was a more difficult matter. Here must be built through solid granite a
road down which mule teams could haul all the machinery for the making
of the dam and the tunnel and all the necessities for building the
workingmen's camp in the canyon bottom.
It must be wide enough to safeguard life. It must be as steep as the
mules could manage in order to save distance and cost. It must be strong
enough to carry enormous weights. Its curves must accommodate teams of
twenty mules, hauling the great length of beam and pipe needed in the
work below. And it must be a road that would endure with little expense
of up-keep as long as the dam below would endure.
It was not a complicated engineering feat. But it was Jim's first
responsible job. It was his first experience in handling men and a camp.
Moses, showing the children of Israel the way across the desert, could
have felt no more pride or responsibility than did Jim breaking the
trail to the Makon.
The crevice road was blasted from the granite. It was widened to hang
like a shelf over sickening depths or built up with concrete to
withstand the wash from some menacing gorge, or tilted to cling
desperately to a blank wall that offered not even claw hold for the
eagles. And always it must drop with a grade that took no account of
"We'll wear the machinery out and leave it at the bottom," Freet had
said. "Even a 25 per cent. grade will do when necessary. Hustle it
along, Manning. I'll be ready to leave the Green Mountain by the time
you are ready for me at the Makon."
And Jim hustled. But labor was hard to get. The country was inaccessible
and extraordinarily lonely. There was no place for women or children
until the camp in the canyon should be built, so it was a crowd of
wandering "rough-necks" who built the road. A few were friends of Iron
Skull, who followed him from job to job. The rest were tramp workmen,
men who had toiled all over the world. They were not hoboes. They were
journeyman laborers. They were world workers who had lent willing and
calloused hands to a thousand great labors in a thousand places.
They came and went like shifting sands. Jim never knew whether he would
wake to find ten or a hundred men in the camp. He tried for a long time
to solve the problem. Iron Skull considered it unsolvable. He had a low
opinion of the rough-neck. At last he disappeared for a couple of weeks
and returned with twenty-five Indians. They were Apaches and Mohaves
under the leadership of a fine austere old Indian whom Iron Skull
introduced to Jim as "Suma-theek."
"His name means 'I don't know,'" explained Williams. "It's the extent of
his conversation with the average white who considers an Injun sort of a
cross between a cigar sign and a nigger. Him and I did scout service
together for ten years in Geronimo's time. He's my 'blood' brother,
which means we've saved each other's lives. He knows more than any two
whites. Color don't make no difference in wisdom, Boss Still, and I
guess the Big Boss up above must have some quiet laughs at the airs the
whites give themselves."
This was Jim's introduction to another friendship, though it was slow in
growth. But before the Makon was finished Jim, in the long evening pipes
he smoked under the stars with Suma-theek, learned the truth of Iron
Skull's statements as to the Indian's wisdom.
The evening of the day the Indians arrived, a short, heavy man came to
Jim's tent. He was a foreman and a good one. Jim liked his voice, which
had a peculiar, tender quality, astonishing in so rough a man.
"Hello, Henderson," said Jim. "What can I do for you?"
"Us boys is going out tomorrow. We ain't going to live like Injuns!"
Jim's heart sank. He already was behind on the work. "What's the matter
with the way we live?" he asked.
"Young fella," said the man pityingly, "I've worked all over the world,
including New York. And I'm telling you that when you try to mix colors
in camp, you've got to grade their ways of living. Now I went to Mr.
Williams, but he's one of these queer nuts who thinks what's good enough
for an Injun is good enough for anyone."
Jim knew that this was in truth Iron Skull's attitude. He had had no
idea, however, that it might breed trouble. He thought rapidly, then
"Look here, Henderson, what would you do in my place? The Director of
the Service sends out word he'll be here to look the dam site over next
month. I want to get the road ready for him to get down there. For six
months I've tried to keep a hundred white men on the job and I can't do
it. I'll give the Indians a camp of their own. But will that keep you
Henderson looked at Jim keenly to see whether or not Jim was sincerely
asking his advice. Jim suddenly smiled at his evident perplexity and
that flashing wistful look got under the red-faced man's skin.
"Well," he said, "if I was trying to keep men on a job I'd make things
pleasant for 'em."
"You have everything I have," said Jim. "I eat with you."
"No, we ain't got all you have. We ain't got your job and your chance.
You get homesick yourself even on your pay and your chance. What do you
think of us boys, with nothing but wages and a kickout? Let me tell
you, boss, it's the man that takes care of his men's idle hours that
gets the work out of 'em."
Jim looked at the camp. It was merely a straggling line of tents set
along the crevice edge. The day's work was ended and the men lounged
listlessly about the tents or hung over the corral fence where the mules
munched and brayed. At that moment Jim made an important stride in his
education in handling men. He saw the job for the first time through the
workmen's eyes. Why should they care for the job?
"Look here," said Jim, "if I send to Seattle and get a good phonograph
and a couple of billiard tables and some reading matter and set them up
in a good big club tent, will you agree to keep a hundred men on the job
until I finish the road?"
"Government won't pay for them," said Henderson.
"I'll pay for them myself," returned Jim. "I tell you, Henderson, this
road means a lot to me. It's my--my first important job and the rest of
my work on the Makon depends on it. And--and a friend of mine lost his
life finding the dam site and he wanted to build this road. I feel as if
I'm kind of doing his work for him. If doing something to give you boys
amusement will keep you here, I'll do it gladly. I haven't anything to
save my money for."
Henderson cleared his throat and looked down into the awful depths of
the Makon Canyon. "I heard about that trip," he said. "If--if you feel
that way about it, Mr. Manning, I guess us boys'll stand by you. And
much obliged to you."
"I'm grateful to you," exclaimed Jim. "Tell the boys the stuff will be
here in less than a month."
There was a noticeable change in the atmosphere of the camp after this
episode. The Indians, in their own camp, were perfectly contented with
their quarters and their hoop game and "kin-kan" for recreation. The
phonograph and billiard tables arrived on time and were set up in the
club tent and Jim and his camp began to do team work. The trouble with
shifting labor disappeared except for the liquor trafficking that always
hounds every camp. From dawn until dark, the canyon rang periodically
with the thunder of blasts. Scoops shrieked. Mules brayed. Drivers
yelled. Pick and shovel rang on granite.
Jim grew to know every inch of that granite wall. He lived on the road
with the men. No detail of the job was too trivial for his attention. A
more experienced man would have left more to his foremen. But Jim was
new to responsibility and his nervousness drove him into an intimate
contact with his workmen that was to stand him in good stead all his
life. It was in building this road on the Makon that Jim learned the
hearts of those who work with their hands.
When a fearful slide cost him the lives of two men and half a dozen
mules, it was Jim who, in his boyish contrition and fear lest the
catastrophe might have been due to his lack of foresight, insisted on
first testing the wall for further danger and risked his life in doing
so. When a cloudburst sent to the bottom in a half hour a concrete
viaduct that had taken a month to build, it was Jim who led the way and
held the place at the head of the line of men, piling up sacks of sand
lest the water take out a full half mile of the road. He dreamed of the
road at night, waking again and again at the thought of some weak spot
he had left unprotected.
The rough-necks felt Jim's anxiety and it proved contagious. It may have
been due to many things, to Jim's youth and his simple sincerity, to his
example of indefatigable energy and his willingness to work with his
hands; it may have been that the men felt always the note of domination
in his character and that that forced some of the cohesion. But whatever
the causes, by the time the road lay a coiling thread from the top of
the crevice to the spot where poor Charlie Tuck went down, Jim had built
up a working machine of which many an older engineer would have been
The day before the Director and Mr. Freet were expected, Jim and Iron
Skull left for the railway station, twenty-five miles away, to meet
their two superiors. As he mounted his horse, Jim said to Iron Skull:
"I'm a little worried about the wall at the High Point curve."
"So am I," answered Iron Skull. "Shall I blast back? I don't need to go
in with you."
"No," replied Jim. "We couldn't clear out in a week. Wait till the Big
"Better tend to it now," warned Iron Skull.
"I'll risk it," said Jim. And he rode away, Iron Skull following.
The two were held at the little desert station for a day, waiting for
the two visitors who were delayed at Green Mountain. They returned in
the stage with the Director and Freet, the two saddle horses leading
behind. Just about a mile outside the camp they were met by Henderson,
mounted on one of the huge mules, that shone with much grooming.
The stage pulled up and Henderson dismounted and bowed.
"I come out to meet you gents," he said, in his tender voice,
"representing the Charles Tuck Club of Makon, to tell you we hope you'd
not try to go down the Canyon this afternoon, as us citizens of Makon
had got up a few speeches and such for you."
Jim and Iron Skull were even more amazed than the two visitors, and sat
staring stupidly, but the Director rose nobly to the occasion.
"Thank you," he said. "What is the Charles Tuck Club?"
Henderson mounted his mule and rode on the Director's side of the stage.
"It's the club we formed for using the phonograph and billiard tables
the Boss give us. If you gents don't care, I'll ride ahead and tell 'em
"Gee!" exclaimed Jim, as the mule disappeared up the broad ribbon of
road. "What do you suppose they are up to?"
"This is going some for a small camp!" said the Director. "The men
usually don't care whether I come or go."
Jim shook his head. They reached the camp shortly after Henderson and
were led by that gentleman to the club tent, where fully half the camp
was gathered. The phonograph was set to going as they came in and
following this, Baxter, the orator of the camp, got up and made a speech
of welcome that consumed fifteen minutes of time and his entire
vocabulary. It was concerned mostly with praises of Jim and his work
with the men. When he had finished, the phonograph gave them "America"
by a very determined male quartet. The perspiring Henderson then led
them to the mess tent, where a late dinner or an early supper was set
forth that had taxed the resources of the desert camp to its utmost.
It was dusk when the meal was finished, and then and then only did
Henderson allow Iron Skull to lead the visitors to their tents while he
took Jim by the arm and drew him to the crevice edge.
"Boss," he said, "not half an hour after you left, the whole dod dinged
wall on the High Point curve slid out. Well, sir, we all know'd there'd
be hell to pay for you if the two Big Bosses come and see that. We
couldn't stand for it after all you'd worried over it. We fixed up three
shifts. It's moonlight and, say, if we didn't push the face off that
slide! Old Suma-theek, why he never let his Injuns sleep! They worked
three shifts. Even at that you'd a beat us to it if we hadn't thought of
this here committee of welcome deal. If I do say it, I've mixed with
good people in my time. We kept the big mitts in there and one of the
Injuns just brought me word the road was clear."
Jim stared at his rough-neck friend for a minute, too moved to speak.
Then he held out his hand.
"Henderson, you've saved me a big mortification. I knew that wall should
have been blasted back. Gee! Henderson! I'll remember this!"
"You're welcome," replied Henderson gently. "Don't let on to anyone but
Williams and us fellows is mum."
And so the Director made his trip down and up the Makon Road and praised
much the forethought and care that Jim had expended on it. And Jim,
because the secret meant so much to his men, did not tell of their
devotion until the Director had gone and Arthur Freet was established on
the job. And after he had heard the story Freet said, looking at Jim
"You know what that kind of carelessness deserves, Manning?"
Jim nodded and Freet laughed at his serious face. "Pshaw, boy! Your
having gotten together an organization with that sort of motive power
would offset worse carelessness than that. Get ready to shove them into
So Jim's rough-necks began to open the tunnel.
The Makon Project was a six years' job. Freet gave Jim a chance at every
angle of the work. Jim admired his chief ardently and yet the two never
grew confidential. Freet, in fact, had no confidants among the
government employees, but he seemed to know a great many of the
politicians of the valley and of the state. And when he was not too
deeply immersed in the work at hand Jim felt vaguely troubled by this.
And the problems of actual construction were so many that the dam and
tunnel were completed and Jim had begun work on the ditches before he
realized that there was a whole group of questions he must face that had
nothing to do with technical engineering.
For the first mile the tunnel had to be driven through solid granite.
Then the way led through adobe hills, so soft that the sagging walls
were a constant menace. Not until six workmen had died at the job was
the adobe finally sealed with concrete. After the adobe came sand,
spring riddled. More rough-necks gave up their lives fighting the
gushing floods and falling walls, until at last the tunnel emerged into
the open foothills of the valley.
During all this time, the men for whom Jim had spent his first savings
stayed solidly by him, save those whom death called out. After the camp
in the canyon was built, many of them, including Henderson, developed
unsuspected families and Jim became godfather to several namesakes.
After the road was finished, however, old Suma-theek had to take his
braves back to the Apache country. They did not like the work in the
tunnel, and it was several years before Jim saw his old friend again.
Uncle Denny and Jim's mother came out to visit him, his second summer on
the dam, and they enjoyed their visit so much that it became a yearly
Jim's mother, with a mother's wisdom, never spoke of Pen to Jim except
casually, of her health or of Sara's effort to carry on real estate
business through Pen and his father. On the first visit Uncle Denny
undertook to tell Jim of how the accident had developed all the latent
ugliness of Sara's character and of his heavy demands on Penelope's
strength and time. And he told Jim how Pen's girlishness had
disappeared, leaving behind a woman so sweet, so patient, so sadly wise,
that Uncle Denny could not speak of her without his voice breaking.
But Uncle Denny never repeated this recital, for before he had finished,
Jim, white-lipped, had said hoarsely, "Uncle Denny, I can't stand it! I
can't!" and had rushed off into the desert night.
Even Uncle Denny could not know, as Iron Skull who had lived with him
for the past years knew, of Jim's silent anguish in the loss of
Penelope. There was a little picture of Pen in tennis clothes at sixteen
that always was pinned to Jim's tent wall. Once in a while when Iron
Skull found him looking at it, Jim would tell him of Pen's beauty. But
other than this he never mentioned her name to anyone.
Under the excitement of what Uncle Denny told him, Jim wrote a note to
"DEAR LITTLE PEN: This desert country claims one's soul as
well as one's body. It is as big as the hand of God. If life
gets too much for you in New York, come to me here, and I
will show you and the desert to each other.
And though Pen did not answer the note she carried it next her heart for
many a day.
After the tunnel was delivering water to the valley, Jim moved into the
valley with his henchmen and took charge of the canal building. Not
until he undertook this work did he realize that there were economic
features connected with the work on the Projects that were baffling and
The conditions in the valley were complex. A small portion of it had
been farmed for many years. These farmers felt that the canals ought to
come to them first. As soon as it had become known that the Reclamation
Service was to undertake the Makon project, real estate sharks had
gotten control of much land and by misinforming advertisements had
induced eastern people to buy farms in the valley.
Other people, sometimes farmers, oftener folk who had failed in every
other line of business, took up land long before even the road to the
dam was finished. These people waited in a pitiful state of hardship
five years for water. They blamed the Service and they fought for first
There were Land Hogs in the valley; men who by illegal means had
acquired thousands of acres of land, although the law allowed them but
one hundred and sixty acres. After the Project was nearing completion
these Land Hogs sold parcels of their land at inflated prices. The Land
Hogs were wealthy and had influence in the community. They threatened
trouble if canals were not built first to them.
Jim turned a deaf ear to all the contending forces. His reply was the
same to each:
"There is just one way to build a canal and that is where, influenced
only by the lie of the land, it will do the greatest good to the
greatest number. I'm an engineer, not a politician. Get out and let me
Yet for all his deaf ear, there percolated to Jim's inner mind facts and
insinuations that disturbed him. Day after day there poured into his
office not only complaints about the actual work, but accusations of
graft. "The Service was working for the rich men of the valley." "The
Service had its hand behind its back." "The Service was extravagant and
wasteful of the people's money." "Every cent that the Project cost must
be paid back by the farmers. What right had the Service to make
In all the cloud of complaints, Jim maintained a persistent silence and
placed his canals without fear or favor. One morning in March, it was
Jim's fifth year on the Makon, Mr. Freet sent for him.
"Manning," he said, as Jim dropped off his horse and stood in the
doorway, "how about the canal through Mellin's place?"
Jim tossed his hair back from his face and lighted a cigarette. "Mellin,
the Land Hog?" he asked. "Well, his canal's like the apple core. There
ain't going to be one!"
Freet's small black eyes met Jim's clear gaze levelly. "Why?" he asked.
Jim looked surprised. "Why, you know, Mr. Freet, that to run it through
Mellin's place will cost $5,000 more and will force half a dozen farmers
to double the length of their ditches. The lie of the canal in relation
to grade, too, is a half mile east of Mellin's place."
Arthur Freet raised his eyebrows. "I think that the canal had better go
through Mellin's place."
Jim drew a quick breath. There was silence in the little sheet iron
office for a moment and then Jim said, "I can't do it, Mr. Freet."
"This is not a matter for you to decide, Manning," replied Freet. "A man
in my position has more to consider in building a dam than the mere
engineering 'best.' I must think of the tactful thing, the thing that
will save the Service trouble. Mellin has pull with Congress, enough to
start an investigation."
"Let them investigate!" cried Jim. "I'd like them to see what I call
some darn good engineering! I do think you got soaked on some of the
contract work, though. Those permanent caretakers' houses could have
been built for half the price."
Freet raised his eyebrows. "Put the canal through Mellin's place,
Jim flushed. "I can't do it! The west canal had to go through that Land
Hog Howard's place, I'm sorry to say. It was the cheapest and best site.
Every farmer in the valley dressed me down about it, in person and by
mail. But I haven't cared! It was the right thing. But nothing doing on
Freet smiled a little. "Do you want me to go over your head?"
Jim gave him a clear look. "You can have my resignation whenever you
want it, Mr. Freet."
And Jim mounted and rode heavily back to his office.
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