IN THE CANYON OF THE SAN JUAN

Long before night came, Sink Weston’s one-wagon train had crossed
McElmo Creek and was well down toward the Mesa Verde. The evening
campfire was almost within the shadow of the old Aztec cliff home. The
Cortez curio-dealer’s suggestion that Weston was a “little off” had
bothered Roy a great deal; but his early apprehension had worn off
somewhat as he failed to detect any outward signs of “crackedness” in
the old guide.

Naturally Roy associated Weston’s vague references to the “Lost
Indians” and the “old man of the sink hole” with what the storekeeper
had said. And, as he thought the matter over, he finally concluded:
“We are all a little daffy in some line. I suppose I’m crazy over
aeroplanes. If Sink has a soft spot or peculiarity, why should I bother
about it?”

However, concluding that the “sink hole” story, whatever it was, might
be Weston’s hallucination, the lad decided to say no more about it.

In the gray-blue shadows of the Mesa Verde, Weston and Roy picketed
their ponies and made camp. Long before Doolin came up with the wagon,
they had collected wood and made a fire. The stars were showing when
the wagon arrived. Then followed Roy’s first camp experience.

After all, the way Doolin and Mr. Weston did it, it was very simple.
Water for this first stop was carried in a barrel. The horses were
watered, given oats and picketed. A pot of coffee was made; two cans
of baked beans were heated; a can of peaches was opened; the crackers
were passed–there was not even condensed milk for the coffee–and the
evening meal was over.

Immediately, with no dishes to wash, old Doolin extracted a rifle from
somewhere in the wagon and, charging his pipe, strolled away in the
dark “to stretch his legs,” as he put it. The sky was black-blue; the
stars were like white hot carbons; no insects disturbed the breezeless
soft surroundings, and the red-yellow glow of the dying cook fire sent
a straight line of thin smoke upward.

“Goin’ huntin’?” asked Roy, indicating old Doolin.

“Doolin never sets by the fire,” explained Mr. Weston. “He may not be
back till midnight. Jist onrestless. But he ain’t lookin’ fur no game.
That gun’s like a cane to him. He may be up on the Mesa Verde afore he
gits sleepy.”

Roy was tired, after his first day in the saddle. He was lying on a
blanket, his eyes on the little fire, and wondering if he would like
to be going with the “onrestless” Doolin. Weston was sitting with his
back against a wagon wheel, his knees crooked before him, with one hand
lazily grasping his bubbling pipe.

“So ye want to know why they call me ‘Sink?’” he said suddenly, as if
the two had just been discussing the subject.

Roy cast his eyes again in the direction Doolin had taken. Their
companion had disappeared. Somewhere, at that moment, a shivery
half-bark and half-wail sounded.

“Coyote,” said Mr. Weston without moving.

The cook fire was but little more than a dying blaze. Just a little
wave of apprehension crept over the boy. Was he alone with an
irresponsible man? Was his companion about to recall an imaginary
experience, an hallucination that might work him into a frenzy? Roy was
almost sorry that the teamster had left. He was not afraid, but–

“Yes,” he answered stoutly, “I’d like to hear it.”

For a few moments, the guide, marshal and sheriff, said nothing. Then
he recharged his pipe, threw a couple of bits of mesquite upon the fire
and resumed his position.

“When I’m done,” he said at last, “ye’ll say I’m bughouse. They all do.
Anyway, ye’ll know why I’m Sink Hole Weston.”

Roy breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Weston’s tone was calm enough.

“In ninety-eight, I brung a party of railroad prospectors to Durango,”
Mr. Weston began. “That winter, I herded sheep and fit Utes. In the
spring, I was sick o’ Injuns and I made up my mind to do a little
minin’. Jist then, a couple o’ fellers named Labarge an’ Moffett showed
up in camp. They wuz nice men an’ it wuz bad fur ’em an’ others what
happened to ’em, but it came nigh bein’ as bad fur me. These men come
all the way from Washin’ton to make a map o’ the San Juan river. They
had money an’ a outfit an’ a boat that come in pieces. The wages they
offered me to go with ’em settled the minin’ idee.

“In May, when the arroyos wuz bank full and better, we toted the pieces
o’ that boat up in the San Juan mountains beyant Pagasa Peak. Two weeks
later, down about Alcatrez–or whar Alcatrez is now–we found timber
and them fellers figured out they wanted a raft big enough to carry
us an’ the boat. We made it. But it must a bin a bum raft. At the
first bad rapids we struck, whar the river cuts through the Carriso
mountains, the raft went to pieces and we all went down. Labarge he
never did come up.”

“Drowned?” exclaimed Roy.

“An’ smashed,” explained Weston, tamping his pipe. “We saved the boat,
an’ me and Moffett went on. The river was now sartin deep in the
canyon. Mebbe Moffett knowed whar we was, but I didn’t. He put it down
in his book. Then it got so bad thar was not no stoppin’ any more an’
we jist shot ahead. I don’t know whar we wuz, as I said, but it wuz
about four days arter Labarge was lost ’at Moffett figgered out he was
due to climb out o’ the canyon. It was like a mine shaft fur deep and
dark, but he had some projeck about gettin’ his bearin’s. So we tried
it. He lugged them instruments o’ his an’, I’ll say this fur him, he
mighty near done it when somepin’ happened. He dropped six hundred feet
like a rock.”

Roy shuddered and pulled his blanket nearer the fire. Mr. Weston
snapped a piece of mesquite.

“When I got down to the water agin, they was not even his little books
and measurin’ traps. Ever’thing but the boat was gone in the foam o’
the San Juan. I never knowed whar Moffett was killed. But it was about
ten o’clock in the mornin’ I calkerlated–I didn’t have no watch.

“Before I started I et a good meal fur I knowed, the way that river
was a boilin’ and roarin’ below me, I was not agoin’ to make no more
stops till somepin happened. An’ I didn’t. It happened arter dark. When
I couldn’t see no more, an’ it was plum dark down thar long afore the
sun went down up on the plains five or six hundred feet above, I shoved
off. I didn’t make no bluff at steerin’.

“I jist waited. Mebbe I was not goin’ a few? I shore was sorry I hadn’t
stuck to my minin’ idee. I was sorry fur a good many things when the
dark come on. I got tired o’ thinkin’ an’ waitin’ at last an’ I says
to myself, says I, ‘let her come now an’ git over with it.’ I was
accommodated.

“When I come to I was alive, but I didn’t believe it fur a long time. I
peeled off the blood an’ by feelin’ round concluded I was on the rocks.
But I was so nigh the water that the foam an’ spray was a blanket fur
me all night. That’s whar I laid till it come light agin. O’ course the
boat was gone, my chuck was gone an’ them walls o’ stone stood up afore
and behind me–straight? They seemed like the inside o’ a ball.”

“How did you get out?” asked Roy. “And where were you?”

“I ain’t agoin’ to answer neither,” replied Mr. Weston, crawling over
to the fire and using a coal to light his recharged pipe.

“Why ain’t I?” he added without a smile. “’Cause I don’t know. Don’t
know no more today ’an I did then. Somehow I did git out. But it was
not that day ’cause I slep’ on the rocks agin. I kin tell you this,
though: when I fell down on the sand up thar some’ere on the top o’
that gash in the airth, my clo’es was in rags an’ two finger nails on
each hand was missin’. I reckon I clumb some.”

“This was not the sink hole, was it?” interrupted the boy.

The plainsman took several long puffs at his pipe.

“What happened on the river was only what ye might expec’. What
happened arter ain’t no man got no right to look fur. In a way, it was
even excitin’. Or I don’t know as ye could say that. It was unusual,
though.”

Roy’s apprehensions returned to him.

“I’ll try not to string it out,” resumed Weston. “But, remember, I
ain’t askin’ ye to believe it.” The fire flared up and Roy saw that the
man’s face was both sober and thoughtful. “Nobody believes it. Some of
’em’ll tell you I’m nutty. I’m used to it. I jist want to explain why
I’m Sink Hole Weston.”

“Tell it all,” pleaded Roy, suddenly.

“I don’t know what day it wuz I found myself up thar in the sand. An’,
as ye kin guess, I don’t know whar it wuz. Don’t know yit,” he added
as if this were one of the regrettable details of his adventure. “But
one thing I kin make affedavit to,” he said, with a drawl,–“my gun wuz
gone, the soles wuz tore off my boots, an’ my hat wuz with the gun, I
reckon, I didn’t have a scrap o’ food an’ as fur water, they was a
plenty about six hundred feet below me an’ none, I reckoned, within a
hundred miles ur more in front o’ me. I set down an’ tried to round up.
I knowed I wuz so fur frum whar I started, that I was not agoin’ to try
to git back by follerin’ that cursed river, though t’aint a bad river
at that, take it all in all.

“It was comin’ night an’ the sun was facin’ me. By that my right hand
was pintin’ north. Ef I went south, it stood to reason I must be
some’ere nigh Navajo land. That settled goin’ south. Ef I went west,
about the only thing I knowed of ’at I could find afore I come to the
Nevada Mountains wuz the Ralston desert. An’ I had plenty o’ that whar
I wuz. Goin’ east, I had my chice o’ dead craters, the Colorado and
Green Rivers, which was like the San Juan only wuss, an’ more deserts.”

“You were certainly up against it,” sighed the boy. “You went north, I
suppose.”

“Sometimes north an’ sometimes northwest,” continued Weston. “Depended
on the goin’. I was not at jist the top o’ condition, as ye kin guess.
But I cut off the tops o’ my boots, patched up a pair o’ soles an’, it
bein’ evenin’ then, took a snooze. Sometime in the night I woke up an’
started. It was not much uv a start I didn’t have no preparations to
make. Layin’ a trail by the north star I set out kind o’ northwest.

“It begun to git rough right away. That’s the way all along them
rivers–the river hole, then a fringe o’ sand an’ then higher ground.
Long afore sun up, I was makin’ up some purty stiff hills. When day
come, I wuz in ’em. You’d a thought they wuz some life an’ timber thar.
Ef they was, I didn’t see neither. As near as I could figger, it was
like as ef they’d took all the rock out o’ the San Juan an’ piled it
up on a kind o’ table land. They seemed to be big, high ridges o’ rock
stretchin’ all over the country with here an’ thar a heap uv it high
enough to make a peak.

“That day an’ the next, I knowed I was giner’ly goin’ northwest. At the
end o’ the second day, I didn’t keer much whether I ever woke up agin.
Only I didn’t exactly go to sleep. My head was wrong, an’ I knowed it.
Onct I found myself diggin’ in the sand. I got up sneerin’ at myself.
I knowed well enough they was not no water up thar. Then you know what
I found myself adoin’? I caught myself atryin’ to spell out my name by
layin’ little pieces o’ rock on the sand. That was the limit.

“I cut out restin’ an’ got up an’ says, ‘When I stop agin, it’ll be
whar I’m goin’ to stay.’ My boots was not no good any more–leastways I
didn’t somehow keer to try to tie ’em on no more. Then I rickollected
’bout starvin’ people chawin’ thar shoe leather. I tried it. Don’t you
believe it’s wuth while. Anyway, I was not hungry. A little water would
ahelped but, mostly, I reckon I jist longed to git out o’ that rock.
That’s what bothered me. Curious like, it got to seem as if I could
git whar I couldn’t see them walls ever’thing’d be all right. You’re
agettin’ batty when you git that way.

“I kin remember the moon come out. But that made me mad. It looked so
much like the sun. It was ashinin’ all over the rocks I had come to
kind o’ despise. But thar was one place ’at wuz dark and I throwed away
my boots an’ run in thar like as if somepin was a chasin’ me. An’ I
kept agoin’ till, I reckon, I jist keeled over. I was not plannin’ to
wake up no more, but I did. An’ thar was them rocks.

“I didn’t feel much like gittin’ up. But, fin’ly I turned over so’s I
wouldn’t see them bits o’ granite er whatever they air. An’, lo and
behold, they was not no rock at all whar my eyes fell. After awhile, I
figgered out that this was a good thing. And then I knowed what I wuz
tryin’ to do–I wuz tryin’ to convince myself ’at I ought to go over
whar the rocks stopped.

“I couldn’t walk, so I crawled. Some o’ my thinkin’ apparatus seemed
gone, but I got away all right–I was out o’ the rocks. Then I
rickollected. I says, ‘They ought to be water here whar they ain’t no
rocks. Whar’s the water?’ They was not no answer to that, an’ they was
not no water. I wuz the maddest man ye ever see. ‘Whar’s the water?’ I
yelled. Not actu’ly, ye know, ’cause my tongue was not movin’ seein’ as
how it had my jaws pried open.

“Now comes a cur’ous thing,” continued Mr. Weston. “You’d athought I
was all in, me acrawlin’ on my hands an’ knees the night before. But
this goin’ without no water has funny angles. I was mad and demandin’
the water that should ’abeen waitin’ fur me. An’ on them raw feet o’
mine I started to find it. I couldn’t talk, an’ I couldn’t think, to
speak of, but I could see. An’ afore I quit I saw smoke.

“Somehow, that didn’t int’rest me; didn’t even surprise me. But it was
right whar I thought water was, an’, somehow, I kept goin’. This is
one place they say I’m nutty. I’ve forgot a good deal about gittin’ out
o’ the rocks, but I’ll make affedavit I went toward that smoke all day.
How do I figger that? It was black all around me when I quit goin’.

“When I knowed anything agin, I knowed I was with Injuns. Couldn’t
fool me on Injun smell. An’ when an old Injun woman poured water on my
tongue, I jist shet my eyes an’ went to sleep agin.”