We have been exploring the area Where Wyatt Earp shot Currly Bill back in 1882. We are speculating on the numerous conflicting accounts and where is that spring? Memories can be refreshed here in Part I:
I am convinced that there are springs north of where that water trough is located. We can experience more of the general area, if we approach it from the hillsides. We can be sure that we have the correct place by the view from high ground and we want to experiment and to know if that is possibly the way a traveler might go back in 1882. It might explain why Earp was able to surprise Curly Bill.
We have left camp and the going is okay, until we find a barbed wire fence. We continue over the hill along the fence and then see the first patch of tall leafed trees below. These are not short barren mesquite, but scrub oak.
High up on a rise, in the distance, we see a glare, a sharp light. The sun is hitting a glass surface up there. I recall no road there. Could it be a border patrol watch point? Would they have a telescopic vision of us. Obviously, we are not illegals from Mexico. They don’t cross the border naked. We are far away, but can they know how we are dressed? I look at the difficult terrain between the light and us and think, “Oh well, come and find out.”
As we begin our decent, the grass obscures more and more. There are large rocks under it. These rocks could hide a rattle snake, or a loose rock footing. Our movement is slow and cautious.
Also under this grass there are occasional fairy dusters.
These pretty little plants have stiff branches and prickers up to my chins. They are scraping us. These grow on my property and are common. One year, I discovered that there is a species that looks just like these, but they have no thorns. These imposters live by the others reputation, or hide among them. Today, I only find those with pickers. It is uncomfortable, but they are beautiful. Here they come in three colors, white, pink and a rich deep pink. Still, the branches under the thick grass hides them.
There comes a point when we have to just go and hope for the best. As the border smugglers say, “Throw our balls over our shoulders and go.” We could be stuck on that ridge for some time, wading through the morass of hidden dangers. I make it down and watch DF as she follows.
Then together, we turn upstream toward a patch of trees.
We find our way under branches and enter a seemingly pristine little forest of scrub oak.
The fallen leaves are a foot deep at times. DF stomps her feet, entertained by the sounds that are made with each step on the leaves. What is a norm back east is a treat here.
We decide to take this tributary back to the main wash and then head west.
We are soon enough, at the site of the water tank again. We proceed, looking for an entrance into the thick tangle of tree branches and to continue further upstream in the tributary to where I believe the spring to be.
Surprised, we quickly and effortlessly make our way in and under the canopy.
It is enchanting. DF says that she expects fairies.
A few paces forward and I discover a rock wall around a pit. Further inspection shows me water in the bottom of the bowl. This must be it.
I struggle through upstream to see if there is another spring up there. There isn’t.
I return to the apparent site of the gunfight.
It is a pleasant place, DF sits on a rock and closes her eyes in meditation, a smile lights up her face. She is, I’m sure, listening to my feet shuffling around through the leaves as I walk around her. I can only hope to not disturb her inner exploration, but my mind is churning.
There is only a puddle of crappy looking water in a deep bowl. There have been rectangular rocks staked up to prevent erosion on the walls. I find the spot nearby where those oddly perfectly shaped rectangular rocks were excavated.
This probably wasn’t here in the 1880’s. There is obviously a great deal more water at times. The hole has been dug out for cattle and these placed to stop erosion. There is a thick, more cementous soil here and river rocks occasionally pop out. The trees all have roots exposed in a relatively consistent manner. I estimate that about two feet of soil has been eroded away in this bowl during these tree’s lives.
A berm-like structure rises to the eastern side of the bowl. I climb up to discover a drop off into the streams course, when it rains. It is filled with gnarly growth. It is dark and mysterious, one of those scary places that you avoid when you are a kid.
I contemplate. My wheels churning, I’m excited to be looking at the famous gunfight site. Indiana Jones finding an ancient temple, only rumored to be here in old manuscripts. Well, instead, a bunch of haphazard stuff on the internet and a satellite image, no maps…eh, it certainly does flavor a day’s hiking. After all, millions have visited the OK Corral. There is something more than just some old buildings there. There is imagination.
I find an old aluminum can with an exit wound. It isn’t a hundred years old and filled with the buckshot that blew curly nearly in half, but young men with guns are still roaming the area. More than once today, we have heard the distant sounds of gunfire, bringing the shootout into the mind, which flavors the projection into the past.
So, how could these people get a mere thirty feet away from each other and then be surprised? With the winds drowning sound and the thick vegetation around the spring muffling sound, there might be an answer. Perhaps Wyatt and his cohorts walked along the ridge uphill instead of the wash, obscured by tree canopies and wind was blowing their sound away. However, up there, you could be a sitting duck.
Perhaps the murky ravine on the other side of the berm hid them and their sound, if they approached from the wash. It may have not been overgrown in 1882. This would place them just thirty feet from the Curly Bill gangsters, the spring and a surprise. The berm would give the others cover to get out of the way. They could have returned back down the stream that they came through, just as the tale goes.
I have two possible scenarios and two explanations, as to why Wyatt and these adept cowboys got the drop on each other. How much is it a young man’s stupidity, or blind vengeance, or just being tired and dry in the desert southwest on horseback.
I don’t think that Wyatt lied, an excuse to murder in self-defense after the fact, because I now know that they could have surprised each other.
I am pleased. This has been what I was after. The sun is dropping in the afternoon.
We have had a full day and there is still a camp to set up and curried stew to heat up. We take our leave through the bent trunks and branches on the path out of the magical shelter and begin back into the grassy hills. The sunlight has achieved that angle that makes shadows more distinct and colors radiate more. It is still and then, that fine light breeze accompanies at our sun warmed backs.
CAMP AND NIGHT
We have had a long day of explorations.
After returning to our truck we begin to look at our dismal options for pitching a tent. The ground is river rocky with little topsoil. There are trees but no leaves anywhere, just a few buds. Cow paddies will have to be cleared no matter where we place our tent. As we walk the area, I take my camera and take a shot of a mesquite tree which has lost its soil, its tap root completely exposed. I’m always fascinated how these trees just grow bark on exposed roots and keep going.
I defer choice to DF and she chooses to lie exposed under the net tent with no tarp, topfree so to speak. There will be stars. We’ll sleep more appropriately cowboy style.
She also finds a spot with just few rocks, just the right size. We begin our camping task. I turn my axe to the flat side and begin to pound a stake, waiting to hit the first subterranean rock. It slides in perfectly. Topsoil! By the time the sixth stake finds purchase, I feel that I have been blessed by a miracle. I’m thanking Ganesha sincerely for removing obstacles. I’m tired and this small gift is greatly appreciated.
We sit in folding canvas chairs and eat with hearty appetites as the sun has set and darkness is arriving. I get up to dig through my bag for a western style shirt, no pants necessary and then face my chair in another direction for a new view.
This continues as darkness falls from above. The view is changed with each passing layer of clothing as we ward off the increasingly cooler air.
The stars come out fast and furious. There are dark skies here and each star seems to have greater intensity that at home. The subtle film of the Milky Way is directly above us as we are cradled in-between the hills, then at each silhouette of each hill there is light. The brighter northwest is from Tucson, southwest Serra vista with its new six figure population is creating glow now, too. We are surprised that Benson over on the other side of these Whetstone mountains gives us indication of its location. The darker and somehow more comforting direction is southwest to Mexico, with just a hint of Nogales glimmer.
We hear the hoot of an owl, and reminisce about other bird calls of this day. “I think that’s a screech owl.” DF struggles with distant memories decades ago that bubble up from when she lived not far away from here, by the border.” Yes, a screech owl. That’s the one.”
We find still warmth and then a light breeze will pass through chilling us, to another layer. I stand up to move and churn up some body heat. Orion is south and west this time of year. The stars are so distinct that I find that one of the famous constellation’s stars is a bright red one. Mars is not far away from our perspectives. To the north the big dipper is traveling. As the night goes on, the dipper dumps its contents onto Tucson. The constellations are obscured by the competing masses of stars around them.
We retire under the comforting warmth of our camping quilt and mattresses. DF has her new National Geographic.” It tells us about the legacy, so far, of our astronauts. She reads aloud how they tell us that everyone should see our Earth from there, so that we would appreciate what we have and her delicacy unique bounty and…like a child and a bedtime story, I’m out soundly asleep.
Sometime later, we both get up to take care of forgotten duties and with small flashlights. We wander away into the darkness of night. The flashlights are shut down and wild skies take over. It is quiet. There is an immense white light to the south. It doesn’t move and DF speculates that it is a planet. Still, it appears as a huge stranger. I suspect that the atmosphere has made it grow in intensity, much as the sun grows at sunset.
To the east through the jagged creepy branches far off in the valley there is a very large bright light. “Who would…?” In a moment, I realize that the intruder is a bright orange moon. The sun is illuminating it, well before the morning brings even a hint of dawn.
DF stays for a while watching the wonder in amazement. I’m very tired, very naked and I head for the warmth of our camping quilt.
Next Week: We head up and deeper into the Whetstone Mountains