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Authors: Ralph Compton

Tags: #West (U.S.) - History, #Western stories, #Westerns, #Fiction, #Superstition Mountains (Ariz.), #Teamsters, #Historical fiction, #General

Skeleton Lode

BOOK: Skeleton Lode
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“Compton writes in the style of popular Western novelists like Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey … thrilling stories of Western legend.”


The Huntsville Times
(AL)

 

ON THE RUN … UNDERGROUND.

 

They looked over the edge.

 

“Lord,” said Kelly. “That’s a long way down.”

 

“You and Kelsey won’t be going down.” Arlo said. “That’ll be up to Dallas and me.”

 

Kelsey spoke up. “We’ve come this far, and we aren’t about to be left out at the finish.”

 

“You won’t be,” Arlo reassured her. “But remember what a hell of a time we had following Death’s Head trail to this cave? Well, if that bunch of scoundrels was anywhere in sight, they saw right where we went.”

 

“Then we’d better move out,” Dallas said. “If Davis and the rest aren’t already searching the tunnels, they soon will be.”

 

“Let’s hustle, then,” said Arlo. “This may be our last chance to move freely. ’Cause once we find the gold, we’re gonna have to fight to keep it.”

 

S
KELETON
L
ODE

 

 

Ralph Compton

 

 

A SIGNET BOOK

 

SIGNET

 

Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Printing, November 1999
First Printing (Updated Edition), June 2011
10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

Copyright © The Estate of Ralph Compton, 1999
All rights reserved

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

Printed in the United Stales of America

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the Copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

 

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Table of Contents
 

Author’s Foreword

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Author’s Foreword
 

Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant, came to Arizona Territory in the early 1860s as a homesteader. But farming was as unappealing as it was unrewarding, and Waltz was soon stricken by gold fever. He packed his few belongings and headed into the rattlesnake-infested Superstition Mountains. For two decades the old man and his pack mule roamed the mountains east of Phoenix.

Occasionally Waltz would show up in the little towns to trade gold for supplies. He was often followed by men seeking the source of his gold, but they were never successful. By the late 1880s Waltz was back in Phoenix, and there’s no evidence that he ever returned to his mine. It is suspected that he drew from several caches of gold ore he had hidden. Waltz was later buried under a cotton-wood tree in a cemetery near the state capitol.

 

Legends about his wealth abound. Some claim that Jacob Waltz had no mine, and that he had found a lost treasure that had once belonged to Jesuits, or that he and another man killed two Mexicans and stole the claim to the mine they were working. Still others believe Waltz’s gold came from the Goldfield Mountains, near the Superstitions, or from the Vulture mine, at Wickenburg. A man named Adolph Ruth, in some of his letters, claimed to have found Waltz’s mine, but somewhere in the Superstitions Ruth disappeared. Later his bones were found, a bullet hole through the skull.

 

After Jacob Waltz was dead, a box of high-grade ore was discovered under his bed. Tests at the University of Arizona School of Mines later proved that the ore wasn’t
from any known mine in Arizona. After more than a century, there is no record that the mine—now called the Lost Dutchman—was ever found.

 

In the Superstitions there were no trails, little water, and too damned many Apaches. Men rode the rocky slopes and the desolate canyons seeking gold but finding only death, and those who courted Lady Luck discovered she could be—and usually was—a bitch.

 

After more than a century, the Superstitions remain as secretive, brooding, and mysterious as ever….

 
Prologue
 

Los Angeles, California, March 15, 1857

“This could be the easiest haul we’ve ever made,” said Arlo Wells. “Three hundred and forty miles back to Phoenix, with the Colorado the only river we have to cross.”

“I wish I was as much of an optimist as you,” said his partner, Dallas Holt. “I don’t aim to even think about all them miles between here and home. Tonight I’m goin’ to sleep in an honest-to-God bed and eat grub we ain’t cooked in a skillet over an open fire. Tomorrow, after our wagons is loaded with that barreled whiskey, I’ll think about the trail ahead.”

 

Arlo and Dallas had begun punching cows in south Texas while in their teens. Finally, after winning a stake in a poker game, they had ridden west and taken up residence in Tortilla Flat, an undistinguished little town near Phoenix. They had invested their stake in a pair of freight wagons and two teams of mules. For a while, their two-wagon rawhide freight line wasn’t much better than punching cows, with unprofitable short hauls to Tombstone, Yuma, or Tucson. But then their luck seemed to take a turn for the better. The owner of Tortilla Flat’s Gila Saloon, Joel Hankins, engaged them to haul two wagonloads of scotch whiskey from the docks at Los Angeles. The journey west took them twenty-one days.

 

Morning came all too quickly, and after a breakfast of fried eggs, ham, coffee, and hot biscuits, the Texans got
their teams of mules from the livery and set out for the docks. Each loosed the pucker of his wagon canvas and checked out the load. The whiskey came in fifty-gallon kegs, upright and well loaded. The dock foreman presented Arlo with the bills of lading, which he signed.

“My God,” said Dallas, looking at the bill, “Joel paid near a thousand dollars for these two loads of booze.”

 

“Bite your tongue,” Arlo replied. “This ain’t just booze. It’s scotch booze, and it’ll go for six bits a shot, even in Tortilla Flat.”

 

Arlo’s optimism seemed justified, for the return took only twenty-one days, too, and there was no trouble to speak of. The partners breathed a sigh of relief as they approached Phoenix, but even Arlo’s confidence suffered a jolt when they reached Tortilla Flat.

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