Clear Creek Gold

September 15, 2009

Clear Creek Gold

 At the exact center on a map of Arizona, often obscured because it lies where the horizontal crease meets the vertical crease, is the town of Clear Creek. That name was not always so. Until 1973, the town was known as Clapp Creek, named for the stream of the same name. The brook derived its name from a crusty old prospector called Samuel (“Mulesnort”) Clapp. Before Arizona became a state, from 1908 to 1910, Mulesnort prospected for gold along the banks of his eponymous creek. He never brought out more than a roll-of-dimes worth of color. After suffering for two years with a bad back, bending over, his hands in the water, Muley quit. He went to Williams, Arizona where he worked as a bartender and died a happy drunkard.

 The woman responsible for the name change was Rosalind vanVliethoven. She felt the name Clapp was suggestive of a venereal disease and petitioned the Arizona Department of Highways to change the name to Clear Creek.

1973 was the beginning of a spiritual upheaval in America. It was called “New Age” religion. Rosalind vanVliethoven was one of its first supporters. She wished she could live and work in the heart and Mecca of New Age, Sedona, Arizona, but the real estate prices were too high. She had the happy idea of converting Clapp Creek, or Clear Creek, to a second Sedona. True, it lacked the startlingly beautiful red rocks and imagination-provoking formations of Sedona. In fact, the exposed rocks of Clear Creek were dark and grey like the forgotten ashes of fiery Sedona. There were no breath-taking views in Clear Creek. No magical vortices of spiritual power or ancient Indian hexes or spells. And Clear Creek was twenty-seven miles south of Sedona.

Rosalind vanVliethoven was a powerful woman. Average women do not petition the Highway Department successfully. She stood six-feet tall, but thin as a cactus spine. She had designs on an old building in Clear Creek that once housed the town dancehall. She named her store the Turquoise Javelina. In it she sold mostly silver and turquoise jewelry, not all of it real, not all of it Indian made. Some, in fact, was nothing more than polished sky-blue plastic. But Roz had discovered that women shoppers wanted to buy something, and the ersatz turquoise was in their price range. Now they could play cowgirl as Roz did.

Rosalind vanVliethoven wore a woven straw cowgirl hat, the front and back brims bent severely down to vertical inclinations.  Inserted in the sides of the rattan hatband were three long cock-pheasant tail feathers. Attached to the back of the hatband was a rabbit’s foot. On the front of the hat crown was a large, silver, arrowhead brooch inlaid with turquoise.

She wore a dozen thin, beaded bracelets on each wrist and a dozen beaded bracelets on each of her ankles. The flexible ankle ones did not reach completely around her legs as they were designed for arms. Around her neck she wore four heavy necklaces fashioned from turquoise nuggets and silver balls. She had silver and turquoise rings on each finger, including the thumbs. So outfitted, she was a walking advertisement for her store. She wore long, flowing, pleated skirts of the type modern cowgirls wore. She wore a gingham blouse with a leather vest. Country singers were never dressed so fine.

Her partner in the store, and in life, was Inessa Pring, an owlet of a woman. Inessa was shorter than Roz; her mouth was a tiny slit; her nose hooked and narrow. She had a great cloud of grey curls on top of her head in the Afro style so popular then. To round out the baby-owl look she wore large, red- rimmed glasses with circular lenses.

A second store in Clear Creek was Rimrock Camping Emporium. Although essentials for camping, such as tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves, camping stools, backpacks, etc., could not be bought there. Proprietor, Lector Hartshorn, stocked small things like tent pegs, water-purification tablets, batteries, clever little collapsible cups, pans for gold seeking, and topographical maps. His customers looked to be hikers using Clear Creek as a starting point on the Yellow Elk Antler Trail at the end of town.

The third store was the Native AmeriCAN. It sold Indian made goods such as blankets, baskets and clay vases. It was bedecked with dreamcatchers, all with dangling turkey feathers. Owner Thane Parker hired Nazario Lottawahteh for atmosphere. Lottawahteh claimed to be the last member of the Sinagua tribe. This was convenient, as he had no skills in an artistic vein, and he could thus expound equally well on Navajo and Zuñi works. Like the Turquoise Javelina, they sold crystals, pyramids and arrowheads for the New Age folk. Native AmeriCAN also sold fudge.

Gasoline could not be bought in Clear Creek, or crackers, or liquor, or candy bars. These had to be purchased at the nearest service station/convenience store in J-Bar, at the crossroads of AZ 398 and Highway 42.

Clear Creek never became Sedona, junior. The stores were looked upon as too specialized for the general public. There was no singular attraction to bring buyers, other than the trailhead for the Yellow Elk Antler Trail. New Agers stayed away in droves. It was, in short, a dismal disappointment for the entrepreneurs who had invested their dreams in the local stores.

Then something magical happened. Whether it was due to the quantity of crystals in town is debatable, but it changed the complexion of the town of Clear Creek.

Roz vanVliethoven was hiking on the Yellow Elk Antler Trail, as was her wont. Her long legs enabled her to clear rocks and indeed boulders with a single hop. She was not a hiker, though; she had not brought any equipment to spend time in the wilderness. After two hours she tired, and sat down to rest. The pleasant, little Clear Creek babbled along nearby. Roz took out her bandana and dipped it in the deceptively clear water to mop her burning brow. She saw instead a tiny bead glistening along the sandy bottom of the shallows. About the size of a B-B she pulled it out to examine what it could be. It was not a bead as she had first supposed. It was too irregular. Perhaps it was fashioned as an earring bauble to look rough. There was no hole or ring to attach it though. Roz was thinking too single-mindedly, as a jewelry store owner.

Roz turned it over and over in her hand, more out of professional curiosity than anything. It was not Fool’s Gold, although the area abounded in iron pyrite. The gorgeous red of Oak Creek Canyon was due to iron oxide. She hiked back to her apartment behind the Turquoise Javelina and showed the find to Inessa. Inessa Pring was not impressed.

“It’s not a real gold nugget,” said Inessa.

“I know,” said Roz. “But what is it?”

“Probably came off some hiker’s jewelry,” said Inessa.

“That’s what I thought, too, but it’s not refined enough.”

“Throw it away,” said Inessa.

“No! It might be real gold and valuable. I’m going to take it to Lector’s, see if he knows how to have it assayed.”

“Tommyrot!” said Inessa. “Even if it is gold, you’ll probably find it’s gold plated and inferior quality metal. Throw it away, it’s worthless.”

Roz brought her find to Lector Hartshorn. He was overjoyed to think it might be a real nugget.

“Mulesnort Clapp searched for gold in that stream for years,” he said. “I’ll be glad to have it evaluated.”

And so, Lector Hartshorn took possession of the B-B sized gold nugget.  Lector was not unscrupulous, but he was going broke selling over-priced nothings to hikers who were disillusioned by his store. Therefore, he began to make it well-known:

“Gold has been found along Clear Creek!”

The Gold Bug that bites, causing Gold Fever, had been unleashed on an unsuspecting population. There were colossal numbers of loafers who had moved to the Phoenix Valley in recent years. They came without prospect of a job, just to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. Here was an opportunity for them to pick up, from the ground, a fortune in gold. Wasn’t Arizona known for mineral deposits: copper, silver and gold? A little research revealed that one Samuel Clapp had a mining claim patent on Clear Creek in the early part of the century.

In a week, Clear Creek, the town, was inundated with treasure-seekers. Hartshorn’s Camp Store was soon sold out of gold-hunting pans and topo maps. The curious came with their wives and bought jewelry at the Javelina and blankets and pottery at the AmeriCAN. It was a bigger influx of customers than any Sedona had ever known!

There was, of course, no gold to be found in “them thar hills.”  Mulesnort Clapp could have told them that. There was the excitement of squatting over a gurgling brook hoping for some flash of yellow dust. At one moment, the prospectors were lined shoulder-to-shoulder along the banks of the stream, like fishermen on opening day. But not one flake of gold was recovered. Would-be miners who had bought pans and maps and rubber boots, never recouped their investment.

 Instead, the gold was pouring into the cash register tills of the Clear Creek stores. Roz vanVliethoven got several dozen eggs, hard-boiled them and sold them for two dollars each. She persuaded Inessa Pring to bake cookies which sold, individually Saran-wrapped, for a dollar each. They bought plastic milk jugs, poured out the milk and filled them from the tap with water, a gallon of which sold for $10. Thane Parker quickly sold out of fudge and made a trip to Phoenix where he bought pounds of hard candy and sold it for exorbitant prices along with packets of crackers for the gold-seekers to carry back to the fields that didn’t exist.

The gold-hungry didn’t seem to mind the prices, although a few initially complained, but then, when they realized it was pay, or go without, it sunk in: they had been horn-swoggled.

So the only beneficiaries of the Clear Creek Gold Rush, like so many rushes before, were the merchants that supplied necessities.

Roz and Inessa Pring made enough to retire. They sold their inventory of turquoise jewelry to a shop in Scottsdale and moved to an RV Park in Show Low.

Thane Parker sold his remaining Indian-craft merchandise and Nazario Lottawahteh to a tourist-trap chain in New Mexico. Lector Hartshorn decided to stay in the camping supply business, but moved closer to Phoenix where the crowds came for week-end hiking along the trails on Camelback Mountain.

Geologists claim gold deposits are frequently associated with quartz crystal veins. Was it a New Age vortex created by so many crystals for sale that brought good fortune to Clear Creek?

By the way, the nugget Roz vanVliethoven found . . .  assayed out as Fool’s Gold.


Prescott Days

September 15, 2009

Prescott Days

     The four twelve-year old boys called themselves the “Loafers and Dreamers League;”  though they were neither. They had built a bunkhouse out of wooden planks, stolen from construction sites or torn off old, abandoned buildings. Stealing a fresh board was risky at times. The construction foreman, known as “One-eye Pete” to the boys, was liable to chunk a scrap of  2 x 4 at a boy making off with valuable wood.

     For reasons of privacy and skirting the law then, the bunkhouse was behind Frank Riebeck’s house, deep in the woods, where no one could see it. There, they roasted potatoes, also pilfered, in an earthen fireplace they had dug in the ground. Each boy had built his own sort of bench inside and here they lolled after school, eating potatoes with salt, and contemplating the future.

    Frank Riebeck’s real first name was Franklin. Shamp Kilton’s first name was Beauchamp. His mother pronounced it Bee-chum, as it was an old family name back in Virginia. On the first day of school, the pert, first-grade teacher, who had studied French, pronounced it Boe-shahmp. The Shamp stuck. His mother resisted calling him that for a year, but finally gave in when she realized Shamp declined to respond to Beauchamp.

    Likewise, J. Clifford Winsome was called Clip. His little sister, Adele, could not say Clifford, and called him Clipper. It was an apt name, as Clipper was always running, and could not sit still, even for a moment in school. Real first names were revealed in the Hassayampa Primary School; provided the person was in the same grade.

    The quartet was rounded out by one “Smudgy” Snakewood. No one, not even Smudgy, knew his first name as he did not attend school, being mostly Yavapai Indian.

    Prescott, Arizona, was a pleasant little town in 1910. It looked like it could be located in Iowa or Michigan or Ohio. There were no cactuses, no burning deserts. At a mile high in elevation, the air was cool in summer and winter brought deep snows. The forests around town were made up of oak, maple, aspen, cottonwood, sycamore, along with Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and spruce. Elm trees lined the County Courthouse Plaza. The locals pronounced its name Press-kitt, to rhyme with biscuit. Since Territorial Capital days it had retreated to a sleepy, medium-sized burg whose only identity with the West were the numerous mining claims registered each year and the rodeo.

    Frank’s father was a druggist on Gurley Street. He preferred to live back in the woods among the towering trees. Clip’s father, James, was a lawyer, specializing in miners’ patents for mineral claims. His office was in the prestigious Prescott National Bank Building. Shamp’s father owned Gonfalon’s Clothing and Dry Goods Store. The latter two lived in large, rambling, Victorian houses on Alarcon Street. Smudgy’s family lived off in the rocks somewhere. His dad had done some ranching up at Peach Springs, but now was mostly a handyman and gardener for the rich swells on Alarcon Street.

    Shamp Kilton had found a newspaper and was recounting an article about Easterners who were founding a new society for boys based on a British group begun by a Lord Baden-Powell. Robert Boyce and Ernest Thompson Seton were going to call it the Boy Scouts of America.

    “Sounds like the Odd Fellows Lodge for boys,” said Clip Winsome, guffawing.

    “They’re gonna study woodcraft and Indian lore,” continued Shamp.

    “What do I want to study Indian lore for?” said Smudgy. “And my grampa got a arrow in his back scouting for the Calvary.”

    “I’d rather study how to be a Polar Explorer,” said Frank Riebeck.

    “Haw, you’d freeze to death ten miles north of Flagstaff,” said Clip.

    Frank’s feelings were easily rumpled.     

    “Well, what would you like to study?” he asked Clip.

    “I dunno, maybe girls!” said Clip. The boys had only recently discovered the opposite sex.

    “Lupe Lou Alvarez will show you her private parts for a quarter,” said Smudgy.

    “Ewww!” said the other three in unison.

    “You prob’ly couldn’t tell what she’s got for all the dirt,” said Frank. “Best buy her twenty-five cents worth of washrag and soap first.” Frank’s father’s drug store happened to sell those items.

    “Get serious, fellas,” said Shamp.

    “All right, let’s think about where we’ll be twenty years from now,” said Clip.

    “Look, I’m only twelve-years old and in the sixth grade. I’ve got to go ‘til the twelfth. So I’m only half way there, now, and in the end, I will have gone to school the equivalent of my entire life so far.”

    All the boys had been born in 1898, but they could not remember the nineteenth century. They were fully citizens of the twentieth.

    “Lessee, in 1930, I’ll be thirty-two. I’ll probably be married with three little sons, all of ‘em going out to be first basemen on the Redmen’s baseball team,” began Shamp. “I’ll have a yellow Ford roadster that goes forty miles-an-hour.”

    “Aww, you’ll never get married and have kids if you don’t know anything about girls!” said Clip.

    “Quit off that ‘girls’ talk now, Clip” said Shamp.

    “O.K., how ‘bout fifty years from now, that will be 1960.”

    “We’ll be sixty-two and mos’ likely dead,” said Frank. Life expectancy in 1910 was only 48. “Shamp’s sons will have baseball-player sons of their own. Shamp will be in the Old Cowpokes Retirement Home and his eldest son, Elmer, will be supporting him by owning the Chicago Cardinals,” said Frank, with a laugh. “But keep agoin’, what about a hun’erd years from now?”

    “Pshaw, 2010! Hard to think about a year that don’t have a 19- in front of it.”

    “Roadsters oughta have wings by then and we could fly ever’where we wanted to go.”

    “It ain’t the flying that’s hard, I hear, it’s the landing. People would only fly for fun: to see your house from up above, and soar around like a bird for a while. You couldn’t fly very far; couldn’t carry enough gasoline to get anywhere. The weight, you see.” Clip had seen an aeroplane once; it had landed in the pasture behind Hadgood’s barn. The thing was made of cloth stretched over a flimsy wooden frame. Flying in a coffin looked safer.

    “Maybe, a hun’erd years from now grown-up women won’t be awearin’ those long skirts down past their ankles and jackets buttoned up to their chin,” said Smudgy.

    Women did wear closely tailored suits with tight hobble skirts and huge, feathered hats. Most people thought the current outfits were very becoming, unless you were a twelve-year old boy, trying to see some ankle.

    “It‘s difficult to imagine what styles will be like a hun’erd years hence. Will men wear straw boaters or go back to felt hats? Why would anybody want to change anyhow?”

    “Y’er right, Frank,” said Shamp. “I don’t’ think men will be wearin’ hobble skirts a hun’erd years from now, and ladies sure won’t be wearing trousers. Everyone will still need shoes, and socks go with shoes. Boys’ll still be wearing knickerbockers, that’s for certain, just like little babies will still need diapers.” Shamp’s father had a store that sold clothing, which influenced his answer.

    “Can’t imagine anybody eating anything different in 2010,” said Smudgy. He said the date as twenty-ten. “’Less they figure out how to make stones or trees taste better’n ice cream”

    “If they give women the right to vote we could have a lady president,” reasoned Clip, still not far from thinking about the opposite sex. The most recent President, Theodore Roosevelt, was the youngest anyone could remember. He had run around like an untamed buffalo crying, “Bully!” What would a female president be like? Mrs Hattie Cullen’s Equal Suffrage League was pressing everyone to think in that direction.

    “Hmm, people will still go to church,” offered Frank. “Can’t think of people giving up on God.”

    “What will people use for money?” asked Smudgy.

    “What about electric lights?” asked Shamp, ignoring poor Smudgy’s contribution.

    A proposition was before the Prescott Town Council to erect electric lamps on the major streets. Recent advancements were beginning to overwhelm. There were automobiles and aeroplanes in the area of transportation. Moving pictures in the theater and a telephone in Riebeck’s drug store. Some rich folks had Victrola players to listen to music whenever they wanted to. The boys couldn’t envision a time when they would have electric lights in their houses. That the candy store would be illuminated after dark, and that they could walk from candy store to illuminated ice cream parlor along well-lit streets.

    Shamp Kilton suddenly became very serious. “What about love and families?” he asked, almost apologetically. “I ain’t never had a girl-friend,” he said. The only experience the boys had with love was platonic.

    Clip said, “I love little Adele, even though she gets on my wrong side constantly. And I love my mother and have great respect for my father. And then, you fellers, I guess I love you, too.”

    They all nodded in agreement. Even one hundred years from now, when they all would surely be dead and even their children might be dead, love must still somehow endure. They had considered flying machines and automobiles whizzing at incredible speeds, but it would all be worthless if people didn’t treat each other with love.

    After dark, they went outside. The night was clear, as usual, and the stars filled the firmament overhead.

    “Mrs Curtilage says the stars are way-off balls of swirling fire,” said Frank.

    “Yeah, but she said seven eights are forty-eight the other day, too,” answered Clip. He was always looking for teachers to trip up.

    “But it’s what I’m talking about, though,” said Shamp, awkwardly. “The stars are millions of years old and they never change. That’s eternal. What are we doing that will be eternal?”

    “Smudgy prob’ly hasn’t brushed his teeth in a thousand years. How ‘bout that?” asked Clip. Smudgy Snakewood gave him a rap on the shoulder, but hard!

    Shamp continued, unfazed. “When I get married I’m going to build something for the future. I’m not going to pick a girl so much for her curves, as I am for her mind.”

    “Oh, sure, and what you were doing in the privy the other day, don’t have nothing to do with curvy girls either, I suppose,” said Clip Winsome.

    Shamp reddened, but then jumped on Clip. The others followed, pummeling him until he got the message to leave off with the wisecracks.

    Clip really had no firsthand knowledge of Shamp’s habits. It was a well-calculated guess. Clip’s father was a lawyer.

    “I got to thinking when we were talkin’ about 1930. My folks might not be around then. And 2010, why none of us will be around. What will we have for having lived our little lives?” said Frank.

    “Memories, I s’pose,” said Clip, suddenly serious. “We can look back on tonight and remember the stars, and how we vowed to do good. Then, see if we measured up.”

    They were lying on their backs, now, looking up at the glittering band of swirling fireballs, arrayed like precious diamonds on a black velvet cloth. The grassy patch was as warm and dry as their beds at home.

    “I’ll remember the friendship of you fellas,” said Frank. “Maybe I’ll look up at the stars with my grandchildren and think of Shamp and Smudgy and Clip.”

    It suddenly occurred to all of them that this moment would pass. That despite being only half through with school, they still had come a long way, with a long way to go. In the dark, some began to well up with tears.

    “I had no control over being born in Prescott, Arizona. Would being born in 1998 be better or worse? Better or worse in 1798?”

    “We each got our own field to plow, I reckon,” said Smudgy, surprisingly philosophical. “We got to make the best of what we got.”

    With that profound remark past him, Smudgy went off into the weeds to relieve himself. The other boys stood and stretched.

    “Time to get home,” said Shamp.

                                                 *      *      *

    Arizona became a state in 1912. In 1918, the world was embroiled in war. Frank Riebeck joined the Lafayette Escadrille and was shot down and killed, over France, on his tenth flight.

    Clip Winsome was attending Stanford University as a junior, but he lost Adele to the Spanish flu epidemic.

     Shamp Kilton took over his father’s clothing store. He married and had children, but lost the store in 1930, during the Great Depression.

    Smudgy Snakewood was arrested for distributing bootleg liquor to the closed-down-for-Prohibition saloons along Prescott’s Whiskey Row. The experience, however, allowed him to observe the duties of the Sherriff’s department and, in 1923, he became a deputy.

    Clip moved to Phoenix, where, in 1960, he presided over the City Council. He was instrumental in encouraging the phenomenal growth the Valley of the Sun experienced.

    They never got together after High School. Never thought much about the stars, or bunkhouses, or their experiences with girls. In Smudgy’s words, they did the best they could with what they had. And now they belong to eternity.