Chapter 2: Gold in them thar Hills
Dudley gathered his thoughts and walked through the main lobby on his way to the central staircase. Larry Blackburn was coming toward him and stopped before the two men collided.
“Good, morning, Doc. I trust you’re doing well this beautiful morning.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Larry. My mind must have been elsewhere. I’m doing OK. You appear to be in a particularly happy mood.”
“Correct. I’m headed toward the Library to meet with Don Orley. I recently discovered that we both have a keen interest in all things mining. This morning, we’re going to share our experiences concerning historical mining activities in the Southwest. We believe we have much in common and our goal is to potentially visit some of the museums.”
“That sounds really interesting, Larry. I’ve only met Mr. Orley a few times and really don’t know much about him. I’m glad you have been more diligent and discovered a mutual interest. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with your project.”
Later that afternoon, when Dudley had completed the few minor repairs on his list, he thought it might be interesting to stop by the Library and see if Larry Blackburn and Don Orley were still talking. Dudley had a limited knowledge about mining in New Mexico and the Southwest from his time living in Cerrillos and had always been fascinated by the subject. As he entered the Library, Blackburn and Orley were engaged in animated conversation and did not see him approach.
“Pardon me. I didn’t mean to interrupt. You gentlemen seem to be having a great time and I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help.”
“Not a problem, Doc. Don and I had just started making a list of the various mines we would like to study in greater detail.”
Don Orley rose and extended his hand. “I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced, although I know who you are, but only by reputation.”
Dudley returned the gesture. “Well, that makes me a bit nervous. I hope you’ve also heard some positive things as well.”
“Actually, it is your reputation as La Vida Aureo’s resident House Detective that intrigues me the most.”
“Oh, let me see. I can only guess that Mrs. Millicent Branch has filled you in on all of my presumed exploits. Well, you must take much of what she says with a rather large dose of salt.”
“Sorry to disappoint, Mr. Dudley. It was Larry here that told me about your involvement in several incidents here.”
“That makes me feel a little better. And, please call me Doc.”
Blackburn motioned for Dudley to take the empty chair at the table. “We really could use some of your detective skills today, Doc. You know that the majority of my mining experience comes from the years I spent as a repair specialist with Caterpillar around my home in Hibbing, Minnesota. And, I’ve had the chance to visit some of the smaller mines near Albuquerque. Don, by contrast, served as a mining engineer at some of the really large-scale mining operations all over the world. So, you can see that our perspectives are quite a bit different. What intrigues us, however, are the legends and mysteries about so-called lost gold mines located in the Southwest. We could use your detective skills as we explore these. What do you say?”
“Wow! That would be a lot more interesting that sitting here working crossword puzzles. Mr. Orley, it sound as though you’ve had a very exciting career, travelling all over the world and being involved in some major projects.”
“Don, please. Well, yes and no. I certainly had an interesting and challenging career and the opportunity to meet and work with some exceptional people. But, in hindsight, my travels probably had a less than optimal impact on my family as I constantly dragged them from one mining location to another. I’m sure it was disruptive, particularly to my young daughters.”
“I’m sure everything turned out OK; kids can be pretty adaptable. With all those travels, how did you end up in Albuquerque?”
“After several years working with a wide variety of minerals and types of mining operations, I began to focus on copper. I found it a fascinating metal with a long an intriguing history. I guess I developed somewhat of a reputation. The Southwest has been engaged in copper mining for many years and I spent quite a bit of time in Arizona and southern New Mexico. I was based in Silver City for a while at the Santa Rita Mine and then with ASARCO in El Paso. When I realized that my family deserved a permanent home, I bought a small house in Rio Rancho, primarily because of the excellent schools.
“That makes a lot of sense. I don’t mean to be insensitive or pry, but I presume you’re now at La Vida Aureo because your family situation changed.”
“It’s OK. My wife Carlotta died years ago and I wanted to settle someplace when I finally retired. I selected this facility based on its very positive reputation.”
“That was another wise choice and similar to my own reason for being here. Have your daughters remained in the area?”
“My older daughter Melanie lives outside Prescott, Arizona. I’m afraid she caught the copper bug from me and she and her husband are both artisans and have a small store where they sell their jewelry and copper art creations. Esme Marie, my younger daughter, is currently, um, er, staying in Santa Fe.”
Larry interrupted. “OK, Doc, enough snooping. You can visit with Don about his personal life later. Right now, we’d like you to tell us everything you know about the Lost Padre Mine.”
“It’s OK, Larry. I don’t think Mr. Dudley was prying. But I agree; let’s talk about Father La Rue and his mine.”
“Well, gentlemen”, began Dudley. “I can tell you what I know, but I suggest you refer to several of the books here in the Library. As with most of these legends, there are multiple versions of the story. If you are intent of solving the mystery, you should examine each version to come to your own understanding. And, certainly before you drive to Las Cruces and go hiking in the Organ Mountains looking for the mine itself!”
“I spent virtually all my working career with the New Mexico State Water Resources Department. For one assignment, I was in Las Cruces working with local officials to develop a plan for long-term water supplies for their growing community. One evening, we were having dinner and the discussion prompted telling the history of Father La Rue and the Lost Padre Mine. The story begins in approximately the late 1700s with a Spanish soldier who claimed to have discovered a rich vein of gold in the Organ Mountains. This soldier fell seriously ill on his return journey to Mexico and stopped at a mission where the local priest provided aid and comfort. Before he died, the soldier told Father La Rue about his discovery and gave directions to the source of the gold. The story goes that Father La Rue’s village had run out of water and the people were starving. He led them on a long and difficult journey in search of a more favorable location and eventually founded a new village with adequate water resources and called it Spirit Springs. There he began a search for the source of gold the soldier had described. Over the next several years, local Indian and Mexican slaves, under the Priest’s direction, mined a considerable quantity of gold and formed it into crude bars which they stored in the mine. When the villagers used some of this gold to purchase supplies in Mesilla, stories began to leak out. Because Father La Rue had not paid the required 20 percent tax (La Quinta) on these new riches, the Spanish authorities sent troops to investigate. With some advance warning, La Rue ordered the mine to be closed and the entrance hidden. The Spanish troops arrived and reportedly tortured La Rue to disclose the location of the mine and the stored gold bars. La Rue resisted and the location of the mine disappeared into legend.”
“Is there any evidence this source of gold actually ever existed?”
“Well, there have been significant quantities of silver and tin found in the general area and even a few flakes of gold in the streams, but, sadly, no gold bars or gold mine.”
“But, I assume the legend has refused to die”, asked Blackburn.
“True, but the details have changed over time, particularly in regards to location. Most versions reference St. Augustine Pass in the Organ Mountains, but others place Spirit Springs much further to the north, stating that La Rue led his village through the San Andreas Mountains and across Jornado de Muerto plains.”
“So, Doc, what is your assessment of the entire Father La Rue and the Lost Padre Mine legend,” asked Orley?
“Perhaps it is my long association in dealing with resource scarcity issues in New Mexico, but, my personal opinion is that Father La Rue’s “gold” was actually water. After all, it was the need to find an adequate supply of water for his village that led the Priest on his quest.”
“That makes a lot of sense, Doc. But, you don’t object if we do a bit of investigating on our own?”
“Not at all. As I said, it sure beats crossword puzzles! My suggestion is, if you go south toward Las Cruces, you stop in Hatch and have lunch at one of the local places. That way, you can enjoy another form of New Mexico gold, namely Hatch green chile!”
“OK. Since you’re being so helpful, what can you tell us about El Dorado and the Seven Cities of Gold?”
Dudley laughed. “I can give so-called Anglo version, but I’d rather my good friend Redondo Little Feather regale you with the version Native Americans like to tell.”
“Spanish records indicate that Coronado spent many years unsuccessfully searching for the so-called Seven Cities of Gold throughout the Southwest. And, you should visit the Coronado Monument (State Park) in Bernalillo. It’s only a short drive north on I-25 and is well worth while. It contains considerably more detail about Coronado and his exploits in New Mexico.”
“And your friend’s version of the story?”
“Ray’s version is much longer and more detailed and based on their oral history. He claims the pueblo tribes along the Rio Grande encouraged the Conquistadors to keep searching farther north until they finally gave up somewhere in present-day Kansas.”
“Well, that would certainly keep those nasty Spanish with their ideas of conquest and conversion from ruining the neighborhood!”
Larry added. “Thanks for your time and valuable insights, Doc. I’m sure we will want to pick your brain some more as we dig deeper into these stories. Right now, we need to drive over to the Apple Store at Albuquerque Uptown. I’m having some issues with their new operating system and want to see if one of their so-called Geniuses can make it so I can use my laptop again. I suspect Don and I have a lot more research to do before we put on our backpacks and hike off into the mountains!”
“It was no problem at all. In fact, I’m excited about your project and the adventures that will likely follow. Please keep me informed of your progress and let me know if there is anything I can do to assist. Do you also have an Apple computer, Mr. Orley?”
“No, I’m a very loyal Microsoft guy, always have been. But that’s a story for another time.”
Blackburn and Orley gathered their materials and left.
Dudley head back toward the Lobby with a smile on his face. He didn’t see Millicent Branch coming from the other direction.
“Good morning, Mr. Dudley. What has you in such a good mood this morning?”
“Oh! Good morning to you, Mrs. Branch. I was just on my way to look at some reported minor problems in the courtyard.”
“I saw you in the Library with Mr. Blackburn. He’s such a nice man and I was pleased to help him discover more about the history of Uranium mining in New Mexico. I gave him a brochure on the Mining Museum in Grants.”
“I’m sure he appreciated you helpful comments, Mrs. Branch.”
“Who was that other man? I know I’ve seen him around here before, but don’t think we’ve been introduced.”
“His name is Don Orley and he and Mr. Blackburn have discovered they have some common interests.”
“That’s nice. Well, good day, Mr. Dudley”
Millicent Branch continued on her way, likely for her daily “inspection tour” of the Main Building. Dudley exhaled and thought to himself. “Whew! I’m glad I didn’t mention that Blackburn and Orley had embarked on a project related to New Mexico mining legends. They would have never been able to disengage from Mrs. Branch’s helpful suggestions.”