July, 2023

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Issue #166

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

The Endless Rocky Road
by Christian Surgenor
As the world moves in a new direction, and the difficulties of life mount, a struggling goat farmer must find what is truly important—and move forward down the Endless Rocky Road.

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A Fate Worse Than Death
by John Porter
Mary Lou was raped, and the townsfolk shunned her. Thank goodness for Mrs. McCoy, who gave her a special dress to wear on her first night at the Last Chance Saloon. Will she find a man there who will care for her?

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Stampede, Part 1 of 3
by John Robinson
Stampede is a serialized story of U.S. Cavalry officer Edward Godfrey riding the twists and turns of an alternative history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His world view is constantly challenged by the dangers of his military life, as well as some very modern looking political realities.

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A Dead Man's Gold
by Holly Seal Kunicki
While on a mining expedition, Tom Jenkins falsely believes his woman is about to betray him and plans a terrible retribution upon her. A smart horse and the family dog the help the woman's father come to her aid and Tom soon learns that retribution can go both ways.

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Picnic by the River
by Steve F. Bowder
In 1862, a young Nebraska girl takes her brothers to the backwater of the Missouri River for a picnic and a swim. Once there, the youngest gets caught up in the current. But when his sister tries to reach him, a strange canoe appears.

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Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs
by James Ott
Sgt. Jonathan Masters ignores an implied order to wantonly kill Comanches who broke out of the Fort Sill reservation. He uses untried tactics and gains respect for the band. During the mission, he encounters a boyhood friend, a Buffalo Soldier who pays the ultimate price.

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All the Tales

A Dead Man's Gold
by Holly Seal Kunicki

Manuel Ortiz had three beautiful daughters. The eldest daughter, Consuelo, was in love with a no account ranch hand named Tom Jenkins who had asked for her hand in marriage. Manuel was poor and had no money for a dowry so he forbade the marriage because he felt the young man could not provide for his daughter. One day Tom showed up at Manuel's little farm with a proposition. He and another ranch hand named, Pasco, had pooled their meager resources together to grub stake an expedition to an abandoned gold mine. If in the course of six months Tom had not made his fortune he promised Manuel he would not pursue Consuelo's hand in marriage.

Tom heard tell of an old man who lived in the town of Calypso and rumor had it that he knew the location of a lost gold mine high in the Sierras. The Crystal Rock Mine, so named for its gold bearing quartz deposits had ominous beginnings. According to legend the mine was founded long before the California gold rush of 1848 by a wealthy land owner. He obtained his wealth and prestige by using the indigenous Indian population as enforced slave labor in the mine. Later the M. T. Coronado Mining Company purchased the rights to the mine and continued the practice of using Native Americans as slave laborers. The new owners denuded the mountainside of trees, reinforced the mines supporting timbers and expanded on its network of tunnels. For several decades the mine continued to be profitable until eventually the production of gold plummeted and it was abandoned in the late 1850's. Over time a stand of pine trees grew up in front of the entrance and the mine was forgotten.

That night Consuelo and Tom spoke of their love as they strolled under the stars. "My partner and I head out before sunup and may be gone for several months," Tom said.

"I will go with you," Consuelo pleaded, "I promise I'll be no trouble."

At first Tom tried to dissuade her remembering his promise to her father, but Tom was not a man known to keep his word, so he agreed to take her along.

Early the next morning Manuel was working in his field when his two younger daughters came running to tell their father Consuelo was gone and she had taken her horse, Gypsy.

It was late afternoon on the third day of their journey when the three riders reached the town of Calypso with their pack mule, Bonita, trailing behind. The town wasn't much to speak of, just a few broken-down shacks. After making inquiries they were directed to the old man who ran the trading post and asked directions to the lost mine. "Mister," the old timer replied, "it's been nigh unto ten years since a body asked about that ole broken down heap of rocks. But if'n you be insistin' to know its whereabouts head east till you reach yonder mountain ridge then turn due north. Keep on fer some ten miles or so through some pretty rough patches. On the other side of a deep ravine you'll come to a mountain stream. Then find the miners work trail and follow it up the mountainside to the entrance of the mine."

Suddenly the old man's voice took on a kinder tone. "Mind you," the old man said, "many a fool has tried their luck in the mine since she shut down. Some folks have never returned while others got nothin' but empty pockets to show fer it. I reckon she's played out all right, but maybe you folks will be the lucky ones and hit pay dirt."

"How do you know so much about the mine?" Tom asked the old man.

"Cause I was one of them fools," he replied.

After crossing the foot hills the trio reached the base of the mountains and turned north. Soon they encountered dense forests interspersed with, large boulders and thick brush, losing a half days ride circumventing the ravine. Finally they reached their destination, crossing over the stream as it tumbled down the mountainside. From their vantage point they gazed upwards towards the heavily forested slope but they were unable to spot the mine. Nevertheless the trio got to work immediately setting up camp. Undeterred by the old man's words their search for gold would begin in earnest at dawn.

The next morning the men set out to locate the miners work trail as the old man had instructed. As they searched along the base of the mountain they soon discovered a deeply rutted trench that was covered over with foliage. Convinced it was the workers trail they used their hunting knives to widen the path as it zigzagged upwards. By noon the steep trail had abruptly ended and the ground had tapered off to a gentle slope. Here a dense stand of pine trees and thick underbrush grew. Both men began to have doubts of the mines existence, but they forged on lashing out at the bushes with their knives while using an axe to cut down the smaller trees. After clearing the final bit of brush there before them was the entrance to the mine, carved into the mountainside and framed by ancient and rotting timbers. It was obvious that no one had been here in years.

Wearing miners caps the men held their lanterns high as they cautiously entered the mine knowing that mountain lions and bears often made cave-like tunnels their home. Near the entrance they passed a dilapidated lift that was once used to bring the ore from lower levels. Now they moved deeper into the mine where they observed most of the tunnels had sub tunnels, each having a number carved into its supporting timber. They decided to keep track of these numbers not wanting to get lost. In the powder room they found kegs of black powder and other blasting equipment. When they climbed down one of the shafts to a lower level they discovered that many of the tunnels were not accessible due to cave-ins. Tom recalled the old man's words when he referred to the mine as a, "heap of rocks." With pickaxes, shovels and an old wheel barrow they had found they began to dig. That day Bonita hauled several saddle bags filled with ore up one of the shafts via rope that was later processed near the stream. Their dreams of striking it rich were now within reach.

Several days later during the night as the exhausted campers slept they were suddenly awakened by the sound of a screeching mountain lion. The attack on the horses was swift and brutal with the wild cat clawing at their flanks. Before the men could get a shot off to scare the lion away, Gypsy reared up and broke free from her tether, disappearing into the dark night. Consuelo was inconsolable. Gypsy was a gift from her father when she was just a young filly and the two of them had been inseparable ever since. "Don't worry your horse will return in the morning," Pasco said reassuringly. But the next day came and went and Gypsy was no where to be found.

Days had turned into weeks and the mood in camp was glum. After all their hard work the men had mined barely enough gold dust to cover their grub stake. Tom became despondent and began to complain that bringing a woman along had brought bad luck. To avoid Tom's black moods Consuelo focused on her chores while her evenings were spent sitting around the camp fire where Pasco would regale her of his many adventures as he worked his way across the country doing odd jobs, finally arriving in California where he met Tom.

One night Consuelo moved her bedroll far from Tom. More than ever she regretted her decision to join the expedition and desperately wanted to return home but with Gypsy gone this was unlikely. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. One thing was certain she was no longer in love with Tom Jenkins.

After that night Consuelo and Tom barely spoke to each other until one day he grabbed her by the arm and led her away from the fire.

"Don't think I don't notice you and Pasco whispering behind my back and exchanging glances. I can't trust you anymore Consuelo," he said angrily. In his mind Tom was sure they were planning to double cross him.

Consuelo tried to reassure him but he wouldn't listen. Tom was still seething over the fact that she had spurned him.

Back at the Ortiz farm Gypsy had found her way home against all odds. Manuel knew immediately that something was terribly wrong as Consuelo and Gypsy were inseparable. Now he gave his daughters instructions to rub Gypsy down, water and feed her while he prepared for a long journey. He reasoned if Gypsy could find her way home then the she could find her way back to Consuelo, so his plan was to hold the reins loosely and give Gypsy her lead. Early the next morning as he rode away he waved good bye to his daughters and called to his hunting dog, Sebastian, to follow along. Three days later Gypsy, with rider atop, trotted into the town of Calypso and stopped in front of the trading post.

One day the men were working deep into the second level in tunnel number eight when they discovered a dull whitish area on the rock wall. Suspecting it to be a quartz deposit and knowing that gold may be nearby they decided to use blasting powder to bring down this section of wall. After preparing the charges on the rock wall a long length of fuse was detonated to allow the men time to stay well back from the blast area. When the smoke cleared to their shock and amazement the blast had uncovered a massive streak of gold covering the entire length of the wall.

Back at camp Consuelo heard a loud explosion and began to worry, so a few hours later she was relieved when she saw Tom leading Bonita down the trail. Consuelo ran to meet him but before she had a chance to ask where Pasco was Tom reached into his pocket and removed a sizable gold nugget and placed it in her hand.

"Pasco and I have struck the mother lode," he said excitedly. "The streak is so big there's no telling where it begins or ends." Now Tom offered to take her into the mine to show her the glittering wall of gold explaining that Pasco had stayed behind to work the strike. Odd, but the men had never allowed her into the mine before saying it was too dangerous for a woman.

At the mine's entrance Tom handed Consuelo a lantern and guided her deep into the mine, down a ladder to a lower level, and then deeper yet along a corridor flanked by piles of rocks. Finally they reached tunnel eight. Up a head candles placed in steel holders and then stuck into crevasses in the rock wall illuminated the area. As Consuelo approached she noticed there were huge chunks of gold ore strewn across the tunnel floor just waiting to be picked up and carted off. Then she caught sight of the glittering wall of gold just as Tom had described and her heart raced wildly.

The old man at the trading post had remembered Manuel's daughter and had given him directions to the mine. After locating the camp he found it had been recently occupied as the embers of the fire were still warm. Hope sprang up in his heart that his daughter was still alive. "Find her boy," Manuel commanded, and with these few words Sebastian put his nose to the ground and sprang into action. He circled the camp twice then began barking wildly. It was clear he had picked up the scent. Manuel followed Sebastian on horseback until they came to the base of a deeply rutted trail that led up the mountainside. Knowing he must prepare himself for whatever he might find he strapped on his hunting knife, placed a coil of rope over his shoulder and tucked a gun into his belt. After retrieving a lantern from his saddle bag he followed Sebastian on foot up the trail and into the mine.

The darkness was unnerving and Manuel's lantern gave off barely enough light to see, but Sebastian seemed to know exactly where he was going. Deep into the mine the dog suddenly stopped in front of a shaft and began to paw the ground and whine softly. Sebastian was the key to finding Consuelo so somehow Manuel had to devise a way to get him down the ladder. All at once he remembered an old piece of canvas he had seen a few yards back. "Stay Boy," he commanded, and went to retrieve it. Now he cut slits into the canvas with his knife, wrapped it around the dog and wove his rope through the openings to create a make-shift sling.

"Where is Pasco?" Consuelo asked.

"Follow me," Tom said, as he led her deeper into tunnel eight finally making a sharp right into a sub-tunnel that soon came to an abrupt end.

Consuelo was puzzled." I don't understand Tom, I thought we were going to meet Pasco here," she questioned.

"Oh, he's here alright," Tom said, "look down the shaft."

Consuelo held her lantern over the pit and was horrified to find Pasco sprawled out at the bottom motionless. She called his name to no avail. Now she turned to Tom; "We have to help him he may still be alive."

"There's no need to rescue a dead man, you see I shot him," Tom said flatly.

Suddenly all the color drained from Consuelo's face as sheer terror engulfed her. She had never been this close to evil before but she recognized it in Tom's cold, dead eyes. How could she have ever loved this man?

"Your plan to double-cross me and keep the gold for yourselves backfired on you and your lover," Tom said, his face contorted with rage. "You should be grateful to me Consuelo I'll see to it that you and Pasco will never be separated again."

Suddenly his plan for her became clear, at the same time she realized there was no use trying to reason with him. The man was out of his mind with revenge, jealousy, and greed. As she stood in front of the abyss she decided not to give him the satisfaction of pleading for her life as it would be futile. Instead she would spend her last few moments thinking of her father and sisters. Tom drew his gun and pointed it in her direction. Consuelo closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable.

Suddenly, as if in a dream, Consuelo heard the sound of a barking dog and her eyelids flew open just in time to see Sebastian charging out of the darkness towards Tom with his teeth bared. Hearing the commotion Tom turned at the last moment, but before he could take aim the animal leapt upon him knocking the gun from his hand. From the force of the attack Tom staggered backwards towards the pit desperately trying to regain his balance, all the while Sebastian continued his relentless and savage attack. Consuelo instinctively stepped aside from the pit as Tom, with arms flailing wildly, reached out in a futile attempt to grab her and then teetered at the edge of the shaft for a moment before toppling into the darkness below.

Consuelo was still in shock when she saw her father approach. He set his lantern and rope down and embraced his sobbing daughter. "I heard what the man was planning, but I knew in the darkness I couldn't risk using my gun, that's when I gave Sebastian the command to attack."

"Father how did you find me," Consuelo asked with tears still streaming down her face.

"I'll answer all your questions in due time daughter," he said, "but for now I must get you to safety."

Suddenly they heard a faint voice crying out from below. Tom had survived the fall but had broken his leg and was pleading for help. Consuelo felt no pity for the man at the bottom of the shaft, but she remembered at one time she had loved him and her heart softened. She knelt down and reached for the end of the rope only to discover Manuel had placed his foot over the life line, holding it firmly to the ground. Consuelo looked up at her father,

"Let go of the rope, daughter," he said gently, "we must go home now, your sisters will be waiting for us."

As they headed for the ladder neither Manuel nor Consuelo gave one more thought to the man at the bottom of the shaft, for he was already dead to them.

When they reached tunnel eight Consuelo suddenly stopped in front of the glittering wall. "Father," she said, "what about the gold?"

Manuel placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. "No daughter," he said, "we will not take a dead man's gold. We must leave this terrible place, for it is surely cursed."

Knowing her father had spoken the truth they hurried towards the main corridor where they found Sebastian sitting at the base of the ladder. Manuel placed the canvas sling around his dog and fastened the rope. Now father and daughter climbed the ladder to the main level.

As they hauled Sebastian up the shaft they began to hear loud creaking and rumbling noises echoing throughout the mine. The supporting timbers that had held fast for over a hundred years were finally giving way under the massive pressure of tons of earth and rock. Tunnel number eight and its sub-tunnel which had been weakened by the recent blasts were the first to crumble setting off a chain reaction as one by one the tunnels on level two and three collapsed.

"Run!" Manuel cried as Sebastian led the way out of the mine and down the mountainside. When they had reached the bottom of the trail father and daughter turned back in horror to witness the final death knells of the Crystal Rock Gold Mine. The noise was deafening as the ceiling on the main level came crashing down filling every square foot of remaining space with earth, rocks, and debris that spewed out of the mines entrance mowing down the trees in their path. For the first time in decades the wreck of the mine was visible from the base of the mountain. Suddenly Consuelo foresaw the future. Soon the forest would reclaim what was rightfully hers and a thick curtain of trees would once again hide the mines location to those who would come seeking gold.

Back at the campsite Consuelo was overjoyed to find Gypsy and suddenly everything became clear. Gypsy had led her father to the mine while Sebastian had found her in the labyrinth of tunnels making her rescue possible. Now father and daughter began to prepare for a hasty retreat not wanting to spend one more night at the mine, for it was a haunted place that had claimed the life her friend Pasco.

Just before they were about to begin the long journey home Consuelo went to secure Bonita's saddle bags when a sudden breeze lifted one of the flaps. To her astonishment she found they were filled to the brim with gold nuggets brought down from the mine earlier that day by Tom.

At first Manuel did not want to take a dead man's gold fearing it was cursed, but even so he asked himself, might there be a positive use for it? Being a religious man he decided to consult a higher authority. After prayer and deep contemplation on the matter the answer became clear. The contents of one of the saddle bags would be donated to the church to help the poor and mistreated.

But the other one would also be used for a worthy cause. After all, Manuel had three beautiful daughters and they would need a dowry.

Epilogue: When Manuel and his daughter returned to their farm with two saddle bags brimming with gold word of an abandoned mine filled with vast wealth quickly circulated throughout the nearby village and beyond. Because of Manuel's donation to the church the little village prospered while the Indians of the region who had suffered past injustices were deeded a large plot of land. Manuel took not one peso for himself, but was content when his daughters soon married well-to-do cattle ranchers in the area due to their generous dowries. In the years that followed Manuel and Consuelo remained silent regarding the location of the mine and the old man, the only other person to have known of its whereabouts, had long since passed away. Just as Consuelo had predicted a thick curtain of pine trees grew up around the pile of rocks that had once been the entrance to the Crystal Rock Gold Mine, concealing it from view. But the legend persisted and down to this day gold seekers come from far and wide searching for a lost mine somewhere in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The End

Holly Seal Kunicki, a former New Yorker and graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology is currently retired and living in Florida. Ms. Kunicki loves writing short stores inspired by our American west with its unique history and spectacular scenery, but is a relative newcomer to the western genre. A previous story has been published in Frontier Tales while her poems have appeared in the Montauk Sun and her community newspaper. Her most recent western adventures include a trip to Utah's ghost town, Silver Reef, a once thriving mining community and Zion National Park, where she trekked the canyons.

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