He’d be back one day to retrieve it, and what was below it. Soon as he could rustle up the gear and find financial backing – in the outside chance he’d locate those he could trust – he’d return. It was a promise he’d made to himself.
One he never kept.
They, meaning the “archaeologists out scouring the hillsides of Nevada’s arid Snake Mountains for Native American artefacts before a controlled vegetation burn.”
Who left it there? Why did he not return? What became of him? Why was it not loaded?
If only they knew.
The high desert mountains of the Snake Range in east-central Nevada near the Utah border are well named. He certainly knew.
Twisting and undulating like the Sidewinder rattlesnake which efficiently makes its way up the slopes of loose bajada sands which, in turn, yield to the trickier footing of the craggy cliffs rising above, the sixty-some miles of remote wilderness of the Snake Range were said to contain silver.
In search of it he’d slipped down loose talus, cussed his way through deadfalls, and washed his clothes – although that wasn’t the plan – when a thunderstorm caught him in what proved to be a nearly unsuccessful escape from a ravine.
Why, he wanted to know, did no less than four of the highest peaks in the entire state have to rear up – like horns on a rattler – in this remotest of snake-infested regions where he’d found silver?
Through it all he’d kept a diary.
And a map.
He’d always believed there’d come a day when he would find that for which he’d spent 60 years – a year for every mile he’d sweated through these god-forsaken badlands – exploring the nooks and crannies of the Snake Range from one end to the other.
That day had come.
He’d be rich, richer than even his wildest dreams. His diary then – when it was safe and the claim was properly staked and legally recorded and the silver extracted – would become a book. From Confusion Range to Deadman’s Creek he’d recount the places he’d been and the adventures he had: the days on end clambering without water; the lucky shot – and rare kill – of a pronghorn, among the speediest of animals.
Except this day.
He’d heard the ruckus. Raising and swiveling in one motion the barrel of his rifle in the direction of the crashing in the underbrush, he instinctively pulled the trigger just as the antelope exploded into the meadow where he stood, near its wooded edge.
The fleet-footed prize was dead before it hit the ground.
The reason for its sudden appearance just as suddenly burst into view.
The white underbelly of a bobcat in the midst of its leaping pounce to deliver its own deathblow exploded in red as the Winchester repeater rendered its second – in as many seconds – lethal verdict.
Fifteen altogether, without reloading, the “gun that won the west” had won this day – in just its final two shots – his life.
They were to be his last.
And he was ok with that but not for reasons he then had in mind.
He leaned it there against the old juniper tree, a rock on either side of the rich, burnished brown walnut stock – a most appropriate marker, memorial and reminder of this day of all days.
Below it he buried, in his now also-empty tin of chewing tobacco, a carefully folded map.
They say that none of the searches for silver – or for that matter copper or tungsten – in the Snake Range of mountains were ever successful.
Little did they know.
Little would they ever know.