Chris Scott Wilson Writer
When Morgan Clay found colour, nobody could have been more surprised than he. Dogged, stubborn man that he was, he had already given up looking.
But there it was.
A wide vein of gold running through quartz, a vein that began as a pinpoint, then broadened to an inch wide, offshoots breaking away in all directions, tapering to hairline cracks. Although he was no expert prospector, even he could see the gold was almost pure. It was rich, thick, and as he smiled to himself, decidedly the most beautiful thing he had seen in the last three months.
Yet he could not believe it.
But there it was.
Morgan Clay shook his shaggy head and lifted the canteen he had been filling in Sun Creek to taste the coldest, sweetest water he could imagine. As he drank he raised his eyes and scanned the timber. It was habitual. He had seen a Sioux brave cut down once because he had been too intent, bending over the neck of his pony as he tracked a deer that he had not sensed the two white men sitting their horses ahead of him on the trail, waiting patiently for him to come within range. From that day Morgan Clay had always taken time to look around him.
When he had drunk enough, he pushed the neck of the canteen back under to allow it to fill then again peered down at the shelf of rock that formed the bed of the creek.
It was still there. He wasn't dreaming. The water rippled over the quartz, the pattern of the gold vein shimmering and altering with the changes in the current.
"Well, Goddam," Morgan Clay said in wonder over his shoulder to his waiting horses. "It was here all the time. I knew I was right." His saddle horse, a lineback dun, dipped his head and shook out his mane, blowing softly through dilated nostrils. The packhorse, a sultry bay, shifted uneasily, nostrils flared at the scent of water.
The bay was only lightly loaded now, just tools and Morgan's camping outfit. His supplies were well down, depleted by his three month prospecting trip in the high peaks. He'd panned creeks, scratched at rocks, looking for signs in every canyon, gulch and arroyo in the whole chain of mountains. All the time that feeling had been there in his heart. He knew there was gold there, somewhere, but as the weeks passed, then the months, he had become despondent, his natural optimism fading with each successive and equally fruitless day.
He had worked hard and long, his back breaking and burning under the hot sun, sheltered where he could when the storms in that 'sudden' country had lashed him with needlepoints of rain or hammered him with duck egg-sized hailstones, and through it all he had nurtured hopes of a strike. For three months' work he had absolutely nothing to show. One big fat zero. And when you weighed that in on the banker's scales you didn't get many dollars in return for all those endless hours. Out of pocket, eyes and muscles aching, he had folded up his meagre outfit and headed onto the downward trails. The only reason he had stopped here was he had tasted the water once before at Sun Creek and he knew it was good.
And now this.
"Goddam," he said aloud again, reaching down into the water to caress the rock shelf with his callused hand. It was as smooth on his fingertips as a silk handkerchief. He glanced round, furtively
scanning the timber as men do when they've found something precious. It was as though now that he had discovered it someone would sneak up and steal it away.
By nature, Morgan Clay was a cautious man, and had proved so by attaining the age of forty-five in a country where many men barely made it past their youth. He watered the horses then led them into the belt of pines, away from the lure of the rock shelf. He found a small clearing to provide grazing for the animals, then stripped off their harness and hobbled them. He built a small fire near the base of a rangy pine so the branches would dissipate the thin smoke, and as he laboured he was aware of the dun and the bay greedily cropping the dewy mountain grass. He filled the coffee-pot and set it to simmer then rolled himself a smoke to aid his thinking.
He was sure he had crossed Sun Creek at that point on the mountainside before and he hadn't spotted the shelf. Why? Reasons tumbled through his mind and then a thought occurred to him. He dug out his ten gauge shotgun from his gear and set off back to Sun Creek.
Although Morgan was a fair hand at most things, he had never been much use with a rifle. He'd always blamed it on a poke in the left eye suffered as a boy when a half broke mustang had thrown him onto the corral rails then tried to stomp him. Only a ball from his father's gun had stopped the crazy horse, and it had stopped him good. Morgan had been covered from head to foot in the thick blood from the horse's jugular vein. When his ma had washed the gore off, he had a black eye that lasted for weeks. Since then he had always wasted more ammunition than enough and found the switch to a scattergun more economical, even though it meant he had to pick buckshot out of his teeth when he ate fresh meat. But that was little hardship when he was certain he could hit most targets he set his one good eye on.
Back at the creek he waded through the shallow water and followed the trail east. Two hundred feet into the pines he found another crossing, this time a dry creek bed. He paused and inspected the arrangement of trees. It looked familiar. This was the place he had crossed on his way up to the high country. The creek must have changed course recently. He began to walk up the dry wash, his legs pushing up the steep incline.
He was right. Not far up the mountainside he found where the original watercourse had run in a tight bend. Either the passage of time or a heavy storm had built up a network of dead branches against which soil had collected until an effective dam had blocked the natural downward flow. Back a little from the bend, the loose soil of the banks had burst and the creek had carved a new course down the mountain.
As he stood cradling his shotgun, Morgan could see the pressure of the teeming water during the storm had scooped out the crumbly earth, suspending the soil in the strong current, and in doing so would have exposed the rock shelf. It could only have happened in the last few days otherwise the water would have washed out part of the gold.
He smiled. All he had to do now was loosen the natural dam that had formed and rebuild the creek banks where they had burst and the water would again flow along the original course. As soon as the quartz shelf drained he would be able to chip out the gold with ease.
Leaving the dam, he picked his way back down among the pines and circled his campsite, coming into the clearing from the opposite side. The lineback dun raised his head on catching his master's scent, snickered softly, then returned to cropping the grass. Morgan
scanned the timber as men do when they've found something precious. It was as though now that he had discovered it someone would sneak up and steal it away. He patted the gelding's rump as he passed, already sniffing the aroma of coffee.
As he drank from his tin cup he began planning, assessing how long his depleted stores would hold out before he was forced to return to Redrock to resupply. There was flour for biscuits and some tobacco. What little coffee was left could be stretched by mixing in mesquite beans, and there was ample game roving the high country. If he could get himself a good sized deer in the bag, then there would be fresh meat for several days and the rest could be dried into jerky in the sun. That way he would be able to work at the gold vein without taking spells to hunt.
His course of action mapped out in his mind, he turned his hand to shaping biscuits over the fire, enough for a meal and some spare to pack for his hunt. Morgan took his time over the familiar task, all the more to allow the excitement surging in his veins to simmer down. It wouldn't pay to fling caution to the wind now.
The two Kiowa ponies were tired as they tramped the deer trails of the peak country. They were far from their home that lay to the south-east, on the Llano Estacado, the Staked Plains of Texas. Prairie bred, the hardy little roan mustang and the dappled grey were used to the vast expanses of land richly carpeted with buffalo grass, not the rocky mountain trails that twisted and climbed steeply and that were hard on both men and ponies alike. The leader of the three man party was Comes-Walking, a Kiowa brave of thirty summers, renowned among his people as an explorer for he loved to wander the country, eyeing new landscapes and the beauty of nature's works. It was often his custom to explore after a raid before the finish of the summer weather made travel impossible, and this year after the flight from Mexico, driving a herd of stolen ponies before them, he had asked his brother Thunderhawk to care for his share of the booty while he rode to the west. Two of the boys, Short-Lance and Swift-Foot, had begged to ride with him so their eyes could be opened to the secrets of the unknown. Neither had earned a Man-name and were eager to prove themselves worthy. Reluctantly, Comes-Walking had agreed, but only after consulting the Owl Medicine Man. The reply had been favorable, the Medicine Man throwing his voice in an imitation of the quavering call to the owl puppet he wore on his wrist, then translating the Owl talk to inform the explorer the boys would truly prove themselves.
Now, one pony dead from the hard journey, and the dappled grey rapidly tiring from bearing the weight of both boys, Comes-Walking was not so sure it had been a good idea. If they were to return to the tipis of their families before the deep winter snows they would have to steal another horse, if not three. Food was short too, for he only carried an old single shot Remington rifle and had little ammunition while the boys were armed only with bows.
The problem weighed heavily on his mind as he rode into a gully, his own roan mustang still sturdily footed, although hard ridden. They had seen no other horses or men for the last ten sleeps as they ascended the long arid plain that led to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, but later, among the peaks they had cut sign. Today they were following it carefully, and he knew they were steadily closing.
He was puzzled. The sign appeared to wander aimlessly from one place to another, as if the rider was searching for something. Abandoned campsites had shown there was only one rider, but he
had two horses, both big sturdy animals to judge from the size of their tracks. A white man too, for the horses were shod. Besides, an Indian would never have left such clear tracks. Comes-Walking consulted the sky, noting the sun had passed through another hour, then looked down over the neck of his pony at the ground. These tracks were very fresh. He could not be far away.
The Kiowa sat quietly on the little roan, listening to the breeze that blew gently through his chest length braids. His handsome bronze face with the long roman nose was tilted slightly back, his eyes narrowed to slits against the sun. The fringes of his deerskin shirt rippled in the air current, discouraging the flies and mosquitoes. Above him, a red-backed hawk, the swiftest of its family, circled, searching out prey. You too, brother, thought Comes-Walking as he gazed out over the land. Behind him, the two boys, Short-Lance and Swift-Foot, sat their exhausted pony in silence, heads drooping with fatigue.
"It is a good day," Comes-Walking said with feeling. "We will find him soon." With a glance at them he nudged the roan forward with moccasined heels. The two boys nodded at his back and coaxed the grey into a walk, tracing the roan's hoof prints across the rocky soil.
They rode for an hour before they heard it.
A dull boom echoed in the hills to their right. Immediately, they drew rein and listened to the song of the wind, both men and ponies alert now. All that could be heard in the aftermath of the gunshot was the bear claw necklace clacking softly against the hair pipe breastplate on Comes-Walking's powerful chest.
"We have found him," the warrior said, thin lips barely moving as he urged the roan into a canter. The weary grey responded too, and the three Kiowas headed for the dark stretch of pines above the cedar brakes, the drumming of unshod hooves dying away behind them.
- end of sample -
DOUBLE MOUNTAIN CROSSING
"Double Mountain Crossing
had me hooked from the first page. I have read westerns before but never with such knowledge of the characters portrayed. Much research has been done, and the descriptive writing is superb. Once started I could not turn the pages quickly enough. I just had to know what was coming next. During reading this I felt the biting cold, the extreme loneliness, and the fear and despair of the characters involved. Chris Scott Wilson is a clever descriptive writer with a wealth of knowledge about all his characters. Whether they were real or fictional, painstaking research into the subjects and places that this book portrays really has paid off. I strongly recommend this book" Mike Eastwood.
A FIVE STAR REVIEW
see end of sample
“. . . his western books . . . earned critical praise all round . . .” - Middlesbrough Evening Gazette