Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Lost Treasure of the Blue Cave

Listen to the podcast (downloadable mp3 file)

“In my investigations, I’ve found that most treasure tales are inaccurate. Oh sure, there’s treasure all right,” said Dad. “But the tale that gets told is a decoy. It is meant to throw treasure-seekers and opportunists off the track.”

We were driving on a small highway in northern Arizona somewhere deep in the high pine forest of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

“Closed in Winter” signs appeared every several miles. The air was crisp, even though it was in late May. When we stopped at a lone picnic table set up next to a Kaibab National Forest sign, the sound of the breeze through the pine needles was very soothing. Pine cones littered the side of the road, and the forest was carpeted with pine needles.

“Fire Danger: EXTREME” was posted on the trash can.

We were on our way Jacob Lake to check out what Dad described as an old mine, or at least an old operation that was abandoned after a single summer.

“They were hoping for gold, but found high-grade copper instead. They found veins of native copper, azurite, malachite, and chrysacolla. Even so, because of its remote location, the mine was not economically viable,” said Dad.

Now with copper prices at all-time highs, it made sense to investigate it again.

But, that wasn’t the real reason for the trip to the old workings. Dad was convinced he had found “The Blue Cave” which, according to legend, held a large cache of treasure. The treasure was placed there by a Confederate officer and his wife, who, like many dispossessed and alienated Southerners, found themselves seeking respite in the Wild West. The Confederate officer and his wife used the cave as a cache for gold coins, jewelry, and valuables.

“Where did they get all that?” I asked.

“There are various explanations. Part of it came from the cache of heirlooms she managed to save from her family’s plantation just before it was burned during Sherman’s march. Her family heirlooms consisted of diamonds, gemstones, filigreed gold, pendants, which she combined with a quantity of gold coins,” explained Dad. “Her entire family had died – brothers killed in battle, parents dead of grief, sister dead of malaria.”

She set off with her cousin, but unfortunately, somewhere along the way, her cousin died of a fever. In Memphis, she considered taking a job, but realized that sooner or later she would be robbed, and that her best bet was to continue to make her way West.

She made her way alone through the flat cotton fields of western Arkansas, then crossed the wooded Ozarks, down the pine and oak forests of Choctaw Territory. Moving north, she stayed a few months in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. She was impressed with their lovely buildings, colleges, schools, and elegant farms. “Stay here, help us build our new schools,” they implored, assuming she, like most women, liked the idea of tending children and looking after their development, whether it be moral, physical, or intellectual.

Little did anyone suspect that she was driven by a deep fascination with the earth, and the accounts she had read of the magnificent West, with the wild Rocky Mountains, and south, the arroyos that gouged the heart of the earth, even as buttes stood up as erosional remnants defiant of the process of time.

She was driven to explore the wild, raging streams to see if they had once carried and deposited gold from veins or disseminated grains.

Town life, no matter how comfortable, did not resonate with her deeper energies, still darkly perturbed by the horrors of Sherman’s “scorched earth” strategy, and the senseless loss of lives that should have been nobly spent, not cut down by battlefield dehydration and dysentery.

Somewhere, deep in her heart, the scorched earth became as hot as a branding iron, and it had seared violence into her psyche. Risk, pain, and the threat of death were the only things that aroused her enough to be able to sleep at night. They were the only effective antidotes to the anxiety that needled her belly and played games with her nerves.

Somewhere along the way, she ran into Captain Antony Endes Wicker of the Confederate Army, a cavalry unit. With guns and gold likewise salvaged from his family’s fortunes, Captain Wicker was making his way West when he met Miss Rosamond MacLean in Wichita Falls, Texas. At that time, it was already well established, since cattle drovers had been moving their herds north since the late 1840s. They instantly established a rapport, something they might have even been able to call “love” if the war and all its soul-scorching ugliness had not interjected itself.

They ended up in northern Arizona, built a small house nearby, and used the cave to hide their treasure.

“That’s the official story?” I asked. I already was able to catch the drift and to detect the places where the manufactured narrative was just a bit too smooth, too archetypal, to hold real water.

“Yes, that’s the official story,” affirmed Dad.

“So, I assume it’s not the real story, then,” I said.

“Ah, you’re quick,” smiled Dad.

“They established a small church, and it was Miss Rosamond’s dream to eventually have an orphanage and school,” continued Dad. “Eventually they did so.”

“In my opinion, the church was a front. There was no way that it could be self-sustaining. Furthermore, there could never be enough money in the offering plate to build the elaborate school and orphanage that they eventually founded near House Rock Canyon,” he said.

“So how did they make enough money to pay for things?” I asked.

“Captain Antony and Miss Rosamond were outlaws,” he said.

“What??? Missionary outlaws?” I was shocked.

“That’s precisely it. If you look at the lay of the land, you’ll notice that their orphanage, church, and school are a mere two miles away from a pass that everyone had to go through if they wanted to take a short cut to California.”

“Cool. But why not just make them pay a toll?” I asked.

“They did, in a manner of speaking,” said Dad. He went on to explain that they did not prey upon the settlers. Instead, they noticed that settlers were regularly relieved of their earthly possessions by bands of thieves. While some claimed these thieves were Paiute Indians, Miss Rosamond and Captain Antony knew quite well that they were opportunistic locals who had dressed up as Indians in order to throw the authorities off the trail.

It irritated Miss Rosamond and Captain Antony, particularly since they could see that the same duplicitous settlers would not make significant contributions to the church, nor to its outreach activities. The hypocrisy grated on their nerves.

So, at some point, Miss Rosamond and Captain Antony decided it would be good sport to waylay the waylayers, and thieve from the thieves.

“What are you talking about?” I asked Dad. “You mean they followed the outlaws, and then stole what they had stolen?”

“That’s exactly right,” said Dad.

I was incredulous. It was just not possible to believe, I protested. After all, these were upstanding members of the community, I said.

“Who? The farmers and ranchers who dressed up as Paiutes and attacked the settlers moving west on the California Trail?” asked Dad. “Or, Captain Antony and Miss Rosamond?”

“Wouldn’t everyone recognize them? After all, they had a church,” I pointed out.

“Well, they learned something from the farmers’ reprehensible actions,” said Dad. “They donned a disguise as well.”

“What was it? Did they dress up as Indians, too?” I asked.

“No. They dressed up as farmers’ wives.”

“What??? That makes no sense! No one would fall for that. After all, everyone knew everyone, right?” I said.

I thought about it for a moment.

“You mean a couple, right?” I asked. “Perhaps a nice Mormon couple?”

Dad laughed.

“No,” he said. We made a turn down a narrow dirt path. “They disguised themselves as middle-aged women. Rather fat, too.”

I was having difficulty conceptualizing that last revelation.

“You’d think that Rosamond would dress as a man, and Antony as a woman,” I said.

“Too expensive. And, it wasn’t as effective. Imagine, two middle-aged, respectable Church Ladies with horse trouble on the side of the trail,” laughed Dad. “It was a perfect trap. Then, the horses, who hadn’t come up lame at all, bounded off into the sunset with two “Pink Ladies” on their backs, and a pouch of watches, gold chains, and bangles at their side.”

“This is two ridiculous for words,” I said.

“Don’t blame me,” laughed Dad again. “That’s the legend.”

He went on to explain that somehow it got out that the Pink Ladies were hiding treasure in something blue. Someone said they had heard tell of a “Blue Cape” – which was also the name of a prominent dance hall in Flagstaff. Someone thought it meant the Pink Lady Bandits had hidden their booty in the walls of the Blue Cape.

“You don’t think that’s it, though, do you?” I asked.

“No. It came to me – I think that they’re referring to a “Blue Cave.” The Blue Cave could be the old workings that were abandoned in the 1850s. It would have been perfect for Miss Rosamond and Captain Antony, who arrived sometime in 1866.”

It made perfect sense. The Blue Cave was only 7 miles from House Rock Canyon. It was an easy ride. It was unlikely that anyone would go into the Blue Cave, and even if they did, they would be unlikely to stay long. The winters were harsh and there was no water within 5 miles.

We traveled about a mile down a very bumpy road. Dad stopped the vehicle and put it into 4-wheel-drive. The sky was very clear at this altitude, and precisely the same robin’s egg blue as the shells I saw on the ground under the robin’s nest in the sweetgum tree in our front yard.

Perhaps this would be the day we would