CHAPTER XV. PLACER GOLD
We passed Loper's claim after resuming our journey the next day. His workings were a one-man proposition and very ingenious. We found a tunnel in the gravel a hundred feet above the river, and some distance back from the river bank. A track of light rails ran from the river bank to these workings; the gravel and sand was loaded into a car, and hauled or pushed to the bank, then dumped into a chute, which sent it down to the river's edge.
Loper was not at his work however, neither did we find him at his ranch, a mile down the river. He had a neat little place, with fruit trees and a garden, a horse or two, and some poultry. After resuming our rowing, when about a mile down the river, some one called to us from the shore, and Loper himself came running down to meet us. John Hite had requested us to stop and see his brother, Cass Hite, who owned a ranch and placer working nearly opposite where Loper had halted us; so Loper crossed with us, as he was anxious to know of our passage through the canyons.
We found, in Cass Hite, an interesting "old-timer," one who had followed the crowd of miners and pioneers, in the West, since the discovery of gold on the coast. He was the discoverer of the White Canyon Natural Bridges, of Southern Utah, located between this point and the San Juan River, and had been the first to open the ferry at Dandy Crossings. Hite had prospected Navajo Mountain, southwest of this point, in the early sixties, about the time of the Navajos' trouble with the United States army, under the leadership of Kit Carson, who dislodged them from their strongholds in the mountains after many others had failed. Hite's life was saved on more than one occasion by warnings from a friendly chief, or head man of the Western Navajos, known as Hoskaninni, who regarded him as a brother, and bestowed on him the name, Hosteen pes'laki, meaning "Silver man." He is still known by this name, and refers to his pretty ranch as Tick a Bo, a Ute word for "friendly." Hite proudly quoted a poem written by Cy Warman about the theme of the Indian's regard for his white friend. Warman had followed the crowd in to this spot at the time of the boom, looking for local colour - human local colour, not the glitter in the sands. It was at John Hite's home where Warman had composed the one time popular song, "Sweet Marie." It would be safe to say that he brought his inspiration with him, for this was decidedly a man's country. We were told that it had only been visited by one woman in the past twelve years. Hite insisted on our remaining until the following morning, and we concluded that the rest would do us good. He loaded us up with watermelons, and with raisins, which he was curing at that time. We spent a pleasant afternoon under a shaded arbour, listening to his reminiscences, and munching at the raisins.
That evening Loper told us his story of their canyon expedition. He felt a little bitter about some newspaper reports that had been published concerning this expedition, these reports giving the impression that his nerve had failed him, and that for this reason he had not continued on the journey. We mollified his feelings somewhat, when we told him that his companions were not responsible for these reports; but rather, that short telegraphic reports, sent out from the Grand Canyon, had been misconstrued by the papers; and that this accounted for the stories which had appeared. His companions had remained at the Grand Canyon for two days following their arrival at Bright Angel Trail. They gave Loper credit, to our certain knowledge, of being the only one of the party who knew how to handle the boats in rough water when they began the trip, and had stated that he ran all the boats through certain rapids until they caught the knack. They could not know of his reasons for the delay, and at that time had no knowledge of his arrival at Lee's Ferry, after they had gone. Naturally they were very much puzzled over his non-appearance.
It got quite cold that night, and we were glad to have shelter of Hite's hospitable roof. In our trip down the river to this point we had seemed to keep even with the first cold weather. In all places where it was open, we would usually find a little ice accompanied by frost in the mornings, or if no ice had frozen the grass would be wet with dew. In the canyons there was little or no ice, and the air was quite dry. Naturally we preferred the canyons if we had a choice of camps.
Loper looked as though he would like to accompany us as we pulled away the next morning, after having landed him on the south side of the stream. We, at least, had full confidence in his nerve to tackle the lower Colorado, after his record in Cataract Canyon. The five scattered peaks of the Henry Mountains were now to the north-northwest of us, rugged and snow-capped, supreme in their majesty above this desolate region.