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James Martin Rush Jr. and the quest for a lost mine

Editor’s note: This article, the first of two parts, is based on an interview with Anna Florence Robinson on July 17, 1934. Part 2 will publish May 1, barring unforeseen circumstances.I was born in Fanin County, Texas, April 24, 1862. When I was just four years old, my family crossed the plains and went to Oregon. In 1869, we went on to California, and the summer of 1873, we moved to Nevada. The fall of 1878 when I was 17 years old, we went to Silver Reef, Utah, on our way to Mancos. The following spring, we went on to Mancos as described in the paper written by my sister, Mrs. Fannie Wade.

The first work I did after arriving in Mancos Valley was carrying the mail from Parrott City to the Crumley ranch on the Dolores River in June 1880. The first mail carrier on the route was Henry Porter, for whom I substituted while he was on a trip. I was not paid for my work. The mail route to Rico went by the present site of Dolores then. That fall, they changed the route and sent the mail by way of Rockwood and Hermosa. I do not know when the post office on the Crumley ranch on the Dolores was established, but I believe it was in 1879. Henry Porter gave up his mail route in July 1880, and Mel Turner carried it until the last of December of the same year. I believe Johnny Brown carried mail when the post office was removed to Big Bend.

Postage was high in those days. Larkin North and his wife came from Kansas and left their daughter Elizabeth in Mancos in 1879. The letters which they first wrote to her after they came to the Mancos country had on them twenty-five cents postage. In those days, the mail came from Alamosa or Taos, New Mexico, on horseback. They hauled food from Alamosa and Taos also. Mr. Ordway used to haul things over. So did the Longenbaughs. It took three weeks to go out and back with a load of freight.

Morefield used to freight, and his daughter, Mabin, was born while he was gone on a freight trip. Mr. North charged sixteen dollars for a sack of flour freighted in. My father could not get flour on the Mancos when his family was waiting on the San Juan, so he bought a sack of shorts for twelve dollars.

The summer of 1881, I worked for Nat and Bob Caviness, cattlemen on Thompson’s Park. The summer of 1881, I worked for Jim Caviness and helped drive cattle to the Blue Mountains, a distance from the park of perhaps eighty miles. The fall of 1881, I helped to build a road down Mancos Hill. Between miles, I helped Father and worked around.

The winter of 1882, I joined a party which went to look for the Mitchell and Merrick Mine in Arizona, in the vicinity of Monument Valley. Merrick told my father that his (Merrick’s) uncle was going to California in 1849 by way of the Santa Fe Trail to Lee’s Ferry and that the uncle found a rich silver mine on the way. To find it again, his uncle said one must go to Lee’s Ferry and from there to Willow Springs and then follow the Indian Trail onto the mesa, and he would find the mine where the trail crossed the creek. What creek was not specified.

Merrick was in Mancos in 1879. He stayed all night with my father on his way to Silverton to have ore from the mine assayed. That was when my father was living on the McIntyre place. Merrick said then that he and eighteen men found the mine and were working there when the Indians attacked them and killed seventeen of them. He and one man got away and fled down into Arizona.

The previous winter (1879), Merrick said he came through there alone and got samples of the ore which he was taking to Silverton. He had stopped at Mitchell’s trading post coming to Silverton, and he went back there. He and Hernan Mitchell started for the mine. Merrick told the Mitchells that if he and Hernan were not back in twenty days they might know that Indians had killed them. At the end of the twenty days, Mitchells came to Mancos to get a crowd of ten men to go to search for Mitchell and Merrick. The men went. But I recall the names of just three of them. Henry Goodman, John Brewer and S.W. Smith. These ten men trailed Merrick and Mitchell over the Mormon road from the San Juan to Lake Canon, where they found sign that they had camped for several days. Instead of going back on the Mormon Trail, they went to the mouth of Lake Canon and turned north at Big Capitan on the trail through Monument Valley.

A man was living there among the Navajo trying to find out where the mine was. He told us the story this way in 1882. He said that Merrick and Mitchell had stopped for dinner just south of South Monument in Monument Valley.

The Indians came up where they were eating. After they had finished, they packed up to come on to Bluff, Utah. Merrick had already mounted his horse, and Mitchell had rolled a cigarette and had stooped over to pick up a punk to light it. One Indian pulled out a six-shooter and shot Mitchell in the back. One other Indian shot Merrick, who was on a horse. He tried to get away.

Two or three miles further on, he jumped his horse over a bluff. As it went over, he fell off and crawled under the bluff. He took a pencil and a piece of paper from his pocket and his watch and money, which he buried in a hole scraped in the sand.

When they found him, he lay there dead with the pencil in one hand and a paper in the other. They saw a part of the watch chain sticking out and found the watch and money. Merrick was buried where he was found, and Mitchell was buried at the camp where he was killed.

The Mancos party found them. Mitchell and Merrick were killed in 1880.

The winter of 1882, a party of eight consisting of Jack Wade, Jim Kevelin, Bill Clemins, Carl Scharnhorst, John Barnes, Gus Honaker, Nathan Kilburn and myself set out to look for the Merrick and Mitchell mine. Another party of five set out also. They were Joe Moore, Bill Reid, Billy Tattcher and another man. We went to Bluff with them, crossed the river and went down to Willow Springs and over to Lake Canon. We then went up on the mesa west of Lake Canon and around the head of East Canon.

There we met an Indian late one night. The night before Indians cut out some of the horses and wanted money to get them back for us. But we finally got them back without paying.

The next night, we were sitting around the campfire when the Indians stampeded horses, burros. The two parties were camped separately, and the party of five were down the valley from us. They ran ahead of the stock and stopped them.

Tom Moore slipped around to the spot from Barnes was there looking for his gun and from where I was, it looked as though Tom Moore was shooting at John. So I took a shot in Moore’s direction but fortunately did not hit him.

Kilburn saw what I was doing and shouted to me. “Stop! Stop! Don’t you know Tom went down that way?”

I started walking through the sagebrush to where Tom was when I felt someone grab me by the coattail. I whirled about to see what had me. It was Jack Wade and Carl Scharnhorst sitting there in the sagebrush.

“Sit down! Sit down! Don’t you know you’ll get shot?” they demanded. We stayed in that camp for three days and then decided to come home. That is, our party did. The other party stayed on a week after we left.

Our party on the way home camped at Lake Canon and put the horses in a side canon. Nat Kilburn and I were on the first watch, watching horses until midnight. Jim Kevelin and Scharnhorst had the rest of the night. Next morning, six of the best horses in the bunch were gone. The Indians had sneaked the horses out of the Canon while the second group was on guard. We know because Kilburn and I counted the horses when we went off guard.

Jack Wade and Jim Kevelin took the back trail out of the canon to the mesa top, and there an Indian met them and said he’d get the horses for three dollars and bring them in. After Jack Wade and Jim Kevelin were back, the Indians came driving in the horses and to collect the three dollars. I had to pay half of it though half of the horses did not belong to me.

Part 2 will continue in the Journal on May 1. June Head is historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society and may be contacted at 970-565-3880 for questions or comments.