Louis L'Amour and my uncle were friends from very early on. They met back in the 1920s when L'Amour was just a teenage kid at the very beginning of his vagabond ways hitchhiking and riding the rails around the country, the results of which found their way into many a L'Amour novel. Along the way, because of their friendship, I met Louis L'Amour as well. The first time we were under invite one morning to L'Amour's home located not far from the Bel-Air Country Club in west Los Angeles. We received the invitation because my uncle, who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico was in California to see his 65 year-old-plus brother, my father, who had been caught in a fire while on the job sometime around 1970. My dad ended up with a collapsed lung and a good portion of his skin burned and most of his hair gone. Because his outlook was grim my uncle came to see him. As it was he held on, although never fully recovering, dying of complications from the fire two years later.
After learning at the time of his visit that my father was recuperating quite nicely considering his age and what had happened to him --- as well as both of them having tired of talking over old times after four of five days --- my uncle decided to return home. Although my uncle knew L'Amour lived in the Los Angeles area, it had been years since the two of them had seen each other, so, to tell the truth, while he was out visiting his brother and planned to see Franklin Merrell-Wolff up along the Sierras as outlined in The Tree, it never crossed his mind to look up L'Amour. However, all that was to soon change because of a friend of mine.
A day or two before my uncle left I invited him to join a friend and me for lunch. Since my friend was the son of a good friend of his and had known him since he and I were kids playing together and getting into trouble all the time, he was more than happy to get together to talk about the old days and what he was currently up to.
During the 1970 time-frame we are talking about here, my friend was a couple of years into graduate school at a major southern california university, supporting himself with a part-time job working for a private mail delivery service. The job entailed picking up mail five days a week from the main postal annex near Los Angeles International Airport very, very early in the morning for contracted customers and delivering that mail long before it would ever get to its destination if done in the normal fashion. He loved the job because he could get in a full half-day of work before almost anybody else even got out of bed and still be done before 10:00 AM with the rest of the day left for school.
Most of his route, which ran in a large general area from Century City on the south to Sunset Boulevard on the north and from the I-5 Freeway on the west to UCLA on the east, was comprised of large corporations, but some were smaller companies or even individuals. When my friend explained his job and who he delivered to, running into such people as U.S. Representative Bob Dornan on a regular basis or, while delivering to the Bel-Air Country Club, celebrities like Dick Martin of the Laugh In comedy team Rowen and Martin, as well as to the private home of cowboy western author Louis L'Amour and seeing him almost daily, my uncle got all excited. In that my uncle had met L'Amour in the old days he asked my friend if he could pass on a personal note to him. Which he did.
L'Amour responded almost immediately inviting my uncle to come see him at his Loring Avenue home just off Sunset Boulevard. Because my uncle flew to Los Angeles and didn't have a set of wheels to get around during his visit, I took him.(see) L'Amour, who wasn't named L'Amour when the two of them met, remembered my uncle fondly and seemed extremely glad to see him.
As we walked through the writer's home toward the area he spent most of his time creating, my uncle, never impressed with bourgeois opulence, was favorably impressed with the modest showing the accruement of wealth had brought to L'Amour. They both had to laugh out loud at the time they first met and L'Amour had at the most only ninty-five cents on him and my uncle even less. They figured it was around 1923 when L'Amour was 15 or 16 years old and my uncle was about 21 or so.
At the time that L'Amour, my uncle, and I met I really didn't know a whole lot about him. And then, most of what I knew I had learned only vaguely through what little connections I had with my father. He seemed to spend an extraordinary amount of free time or late into the night reading pulp science fiction books like Amazing Stories or paperback novels of the old west, of which the ones about the old west were almost exclusively by L'Amour or Luke Short. I had perused lightly through books by both authors from time to time out of piles of books my dad had strewn around his place, and because he had insisted --- saying it related to my own experiences lost in the Mojave desert as a young boy --- even read Mojave Crossing. In any case, in a peripheral sort of way I knew L'Amour, as a proficient writer of western lore, had a huge following and highly respected in his field and by his fan base.
What I didn't know that I know now, is that a lot of what L'Amour wrote in his books circulated around actual personal experiences. For example, in Mojave Crossing, L'Amour drew on an experience wherein he was lost and stranded, parch-dry and near dying alone in the vast wilderness of the Mojave desert. So said, as the tale of what happened unfolded between my uncle and L'Amour as to how they first met, I wondered if any of their adventure found its way into any of his books, in whole or in part. With over 100 works to his credit a person would have to be a L'Amourophile to ferret out any or all of what the two talked about that day, but basically it came down to the following:
A half a decade or more before the start of the Great Depression and barely into his 20s my uncle decided to follow an important and well established artist he met and studied under by the name of John Sloan to New Mexico. Sloan traveled to New Mexico each year for a few months to paint and relax. On my uncle's second or third trip, when Sloan returned to New York, my uncle stayed, having fallen in love with Santa Fe, the culture and the desert southwest. He was, if not more so, still a struggling artist and to stretch his limited funds and maintain his health he began fishing, hunting rabbits, and looking into the potential possibility of edible and medicinal plants indigenous to the desert. In doing so he was soon coming in contact with Native Americans. At first they found the white man foraging in the wilderness one day and painting pictures the next day a bit strange and kept their distance, but after awhile they discovered he was neither there to destroy the environment nor to exploit them. A few Indians, and then soon more and more, began to assist him, and in return he helped them with marketing their wares and making their art more commercially viable. He began looking into local plants, soils and rocks to enhance pigments and dyes. Overcoming many deep rooted apprehensions and suspicions he soon became accepted as one with the Earth and eventually many secrets and rituals that would otherwise not have been revealed were shared with him without concern.
It was during those very early years in New Mexico that L'Amour and my uncle met. As my uncle put it, at the time he was traveling with a "bunch of off the reservation rowdy indians" in the rough desert terrain somewhere well east of Santa Fe toward the Oklahoma-Texas border. My uncle had gone off on his own foraging for edible plants or possibly an animal or two to throw his share into the community pot when he noticed a man, actually a young boy come-teenager, walking alone and from all appearances, unprepared for the desert environment. After my uncle hailed the boy down (i.e., L'Amour) he recalled they simply engaged in small talk for a few minutes. However, when L'Amour found out my uncle was gathering indigenous plants seemingly out of nowhere to eat or cook, L'Amour was besides himself. He was basically starving, or for the most part hadn't really eaten anything substantial in awhile, and here was this guy out in the middle of the desert finding things that were edible. True, it wasn't like pulling carrots out of a garden, but he was still finding things. My uncle invited L'Amour to join his friends and share their evening meal, albeit at the time never having said anything at all that his friends were Native Americans --- and a rowdy bunch at that. L'Amour was not only surprised that they were Native Americans, but what they were having for diner was native fare cooked and made in the wilderness in centuries old traditions --- a meal that after its completion and into the dark turned into a night of revelry, talk, and eventually sleep around the campfire. It was quite clear my uncle was a whiteman, but to L'Amour it was even more clear that he was totally and fully accepted into the group without any inhibitions.
L'Amour, the 15 or 16 year old boy that he was, was theroetically still under the auspices of his parents. Originally from the Dakotas, during this period of his life the family had moved down into the southwestern states searching for work, having ended up in New Mexico with L'Amour still with them. However, news filtered down that L'Amour's older brother, who had stayed in Oklahoma, was extremely ill, so much so that L'Amour was dispatched to see into his overall well being. He was supposed to come back and rejoin the family, but instead he stayed much longer than planned. In the meantime, with L'Amour not returning as expected, his parents, still seeking work and not finding enough to make a living where they were, and thinking L'Amour had decided to hole up with his brother, packed up what little they had and told everybody they were headed toward Phoenix --- where they heard there was work. When my uncle ran into L'Amour he was taking what he thought would a shortcut across the desert to pick up railroad tracks where he could hop a train or possibly catch a ride on the main road to Phoenix.
The next morning two of the Native Americans took L'Amour on horseback southwest, leaving him along a river just outside present day Highway 54 and Logan, New Mexico. My uncle and the remaining Indians returned westward toward Santa Fe in an old truck one of them owned. No sooner had L'Amour been left off near the river, in a continuing effort to meet up with his parents, he headed west on foot passing through Tucumcari and onwards toward Phoenix. What he didn't know at the time, all the while he was struggling to get to Phoenix his parents never got any farther than Roswell. According to how L'Amour remembered it, by the time he got to Phoenix he had less than half of the 95 cents he had on him when he met my uncle. After a day or two searching Phoenix for his parents and figuring they weren't there he scrounged a job with the Hagen, Beck and Wallace Circus, then traveled with them to Tucson and Bisbee all the time getting three meals a day and a safe place to sleep. He left the circus in El Paso and hopped a train to San Antonio and Houston. From there he headed to New Orleans, eventually shipping out as a merchant marine to the West Indies.
As my uncle remembered it, after seamanship duties to London and a few places L'Amour found himself back in New Oleans a couple of years later and he and my uncle inadvertently crossed paths during Mardi Gras --- of which my uncle just happened to be there for. When the festivities finished my uncle took the train back to New Mexico and L'Amour, flush with cash after having worked at sea for months, decided to go with him --- and instead of hoboing actually bought a ticket. What happened next is best wrapped up by the quote below from the source so cited:
"Back in the mid 1920s or so my uncle was traveling by train with a friend of his, the soon to become famous western author Louis L'Amour, to New Mexico from New Orleans after having been there for the Mardi Gras. When the train stopped in Sanderson, Texas, a half a dozen heavily armed Texas Rangers along with two U.S. Marshals got on board and started going through each of the passenger cars looking for someone. They made six men, all with beards, of which my uncle was one, get off the train. They took all six into the station and questioned them one by one. Apparently not finding who they were looking for they told everybody they were free to go. All well and good except that in the meantime the train left, stranding him and the other five men in the middle of nowhere. Not only that, the Rangers had made them get off the train without allowing them to take anything with them including their luggage --- and it was the dead of winter and freezing outside. He followed the Rangers out just as they were getting into a couple of cars and asked what were they supposed to do now. One of the Rangers stuck a rifle in his face and told him it was not their problem unless he wanted to make it their problem. My uncle just backed away and the cars drove off."(source)
L'Amour apparently got off the train after watching my uncle through the window being paraded into the station by a half dozen armed Texas Rangers in the dead of winter. With my uncle thinking L'Amour left when the train left they somehow missed each other and it was the last time either of them saw each other until the meeting I am writing about here. For the most part, lawmen were usually presented fairly favorably by L'Amour, and again, I do not know if any of anything that happened in Sanderson ever made it into any of his novels, but for my uncle, as he recalled the situation, although memorable, was not the best experience he ever had. The events did however, make it into L'Amour's autobiography Education of a Wandering Man.(see)
My father, as presented previously, was quite the avid reader of L'Amour westerns. I do not know if he knew that his brother (my uncle) and L'Amour were friends. One way or the other he never mentioned it to me. However, what he did mention to me in context to L'Amour, and on more than one occasion, even to the point of showing me book-marked passages and underlined paragraphs attesting to them in his novels, was the Walker Colt, or as it is otherwise known, the Colt Walker. The 1847 .44-caliber Colt Walker, nowdays a very expensive and rare weapon, was the largest, heaviest black-powder revolver Colt ever produced --- and they found their way into L'Amour's stories often.
The reason my father would even bring it up was because as a kid I loved the Colt Walker. My Stepmother, or ex-stepmother as the case may be during the time I was visiting L'Amour --- because she and my father had long since divorced --- owned a Colt Walker. Even though the pistol was nearly as big as I was, as a young boy I used to run around day after day playing cowboys with it, sometimes even mixing genres by wielding the colt in one hand and a Buck Rogers disintegrator in the other. When I mentioned to L'Amour my ex-stepmother owned a Colt Walker and my uncle confirmed both my story and that the pistol was in fact genuine, L'Amour became very interested --- even to the point of wanting to know if it was available.
CLINT EASTWOOD AS 'OUTLAW JOSEY WALES,' SHOWN IN ACTION WIELDING TWO COLT WALKERS
I told L'Amour it had been at least since 1955 that I saw the Colt. It was that year her ranch house, for reasons unknown, mysteriously burned to the ground. Several days after the fire I was rumaging through the rubble and came across the Colt along with an over-under barrel derringer she always kept with it. Both guns seemed to have come through the fire without harm except for the Colt, and only then it was just the wooden pistol grips that were gone, apparently consumed by the fire, otherwise both guns were in pretty good shape. I told L'Amour I put the Colt in a pile of other stuff that was being collected out of the rubble. A short time later she gave me the Colt to take to an old time gunsmith I knew. When he was done I returned it and that was the last I saw of it. I also told him I wasn't even sure if my ex-stepmother still had the gun, but if he was really interested I would check into it.
Leaping ahead in time here a little bit, it wasn't until sometime in 1974 that I caught up with my stepmother and able to discuss the pistol with her. As it was, she still had it, or at least she thought she did. After searching through a ton boxes filled with nothing but junk for an hour or two she finally found it, looking exactly the same as it did when the old time gunsmith returned it, with wooden gun handles from another Colt installed and all. Over the years my stepmother had fallen on hard times and when I told her the Colt could be worth several thousands of dollars and that the man who might be interested in it was Louis L'Amour she felt comfortable parting with it.
It was the Colt Walker that set into motion my second meeting with L'Amour. I contacted him, told him I had the Colt and made arrangements to meet. He carefully examined the Colt from barrel tip to butt handle, as did a firearms expert he brought along with him. After he and the expert talked in private for awhile L'Amour said he was interested. I told him to talk with my stepmother, made arrangements for him to do so, and returned the gun to her. I don't know what transpired between L'Amour and my stepmother over the Colt if anything. I don't even know if he contacted her. However, I do know when she died in 1985 the Colt Walker was not to be found anywhere among her effects. As to a Colt Walker's value or worth, in 2008 a fully documented Walker Colt that was known to have been owned by a Mexican War veteran sold at auction for $920,000. My ex-stepmother, although extremely wealthy when she was my stepmother, when she died she was teetering on the verge of pauperhood. To this day I have no clue what happened to the Colt. As well, to my knowledge, nothing has surfaced in any of her records or to indicate that she ever received any sort of a sudden, large influx of cash from any source from the time I saw her last in 1974 until her death in 1985. If the Colt is not just buried or lost in the desert someplace, somebody must have it, and, if so, it seems they got it for nothing. It is my strong suspicion, although I have no proof, in that my ex-stepmother seemed to have fallen into the company of a variety of low-lifes, ne'er-do-wells and clinger-ons, that once it became known she had the Colt (thanks to me) and that it had a potential high value to it, somebody absconded with it before L'Amour was able to act on it.
Most of the conversations with L'Amour in his home that day, as to be expected, circulated around he and my uncle's early days. I did, however, interject a couple of things that caught his fancy. One, Virginia City, located in the heart of the Comstock mother lode country and one of the few active 'real' old west mining towns still in existence. I had visited it two or three years before and it was still fresh in my memory.(see) Secondly, and I don't recall how subject came up, but a rather long discussion surrounding a major enigma of the old west, Billy the Kid. And third, I was privy to the fact that at one time, for a full year and a half, L'Amour had been engaged to marry a woman by the name of Margaret Runyan, a woman who eventually married a fellow author, Carlos Castaneda. Two years before our conversation Castaneda's first book, THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge was published, a book that took off like wildfire, eventually making Castaneda not only rich and famous, but also thrust his main character in his books, an obscure Yaqui Indian shaman-sorcerer he called Don Juan Matus into the limelight --- with all his powers, insight, and shamanistic abilities. When I mentioned Runyan to L'Amour he seemed somewhat setback as to how I was able to conjure up such then little known information because at the time of the Runyan-Castaneda marriage in 1960 it was six years before Castaneda's first book was published --- so, at that stage of his life, for all practical purposes, Castaneda was a nobody. Then, by the time Castaneda did get to be a "somebody" some eight years later, Runyan had long been out of the picture, becoming for the most part, a virtual non-entity in things Castaneda the rest of her life. I told him both my uncle and I, for different reasons, knew Castaneda. L'Amour was flabergasted. After that, a good portion of what was left of the afternoon either circulated around or drifted back to Castaneda. Until he was told by me and elaborated by my uncle when questioned, L'Amour had no clue, as so many others still have no clue to this day, that my uncle was the Informant that Castaneda and others write about so often as having been the original source for his introductions into the rituals and use of datura, the extremely toxic plant known throughout the desert southwest as jimsonweed that played the primary role into Castaneda's early experiences into other realities --- including, it must be said, his most famous and most oft cited experience where he turned into a crow and flew.
Probably the most important part of the Castaneda discussion between L'Amour and my uncle was how it impacted L'Amour, or at the very least how it related to two of his major works. L'Amour wrote two books, one published in 1976 the other written in 1977 but not published until ten years later, that were seeped with a heavy mystic quality about them intertwined with Native American spiritual lore and magic. The books, The Californios and Haunted Mesa, both relied heavily on consultation with my uncle and his indepth strengths in both areas, but most surely so in Native American spiritual lore --- for example as found in the quote below from the source so cited:
"Some months before the alleged crash-down near Roswell, in a remote section of the desert southwest, bordering along the upper reaches of the northern mountains, an artifact of deep concern and value to certain segments of the long established indigenous population had been stumbled upon by a ragtag group of grave-robbers and, inturn, stolen from a heretofore unknown to outsiders sacred site. The artifact, although nondescript under almost any layperson's observation, was said to be a potential mind-changer in Native American lore if it surfaced among the general public."(source)
Almost the exact instant it was discovered that the sacred site had been ransacked and the artifact removed than two Native American men from Arizona or New Mexico representing a larger group were dispatched to the studio of my Uncle in Los Angeles requesting his help in it's safe return. They needed a non-Indian, read: white-man, they knew and trusted, as well as being familiar with the existence of the object in question, to front for them. The only person in the world that could even remotely fit that bill was my uncle. L'Amour, even though during their very first meeting in the desert many years before he himself was basically not much more than a neophyte, he could easily discern that my uncle was totally and fully accepted into the group of Native Americans he was traveling with without any inhibitions. It was also clear since that time he had grown in leaps and bounds from that very first meeting. Putting it all together, including his background with Castaneda, the talks with my uncle that afternoon circa 1970 planted the seed that grew, along with a number of back and forth discussions that followed, into both The Californios and The Haunted Mesa.(see)
WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO
THE WANDERLING AND HIS UNCLE
Their Life and Times Together
THE HAUNTED MESA
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
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As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
Actually my uncle did have a car. He left Santa Fe in his like-new cherry 1965 Chevy Biscayne station wagon with plans to go all the way to L.A. without a hitch. Somewhere in the desert between Barstow and Victorville, being the good samaritan he was, he stopped to offer water to a family stranded beside the road whose car radiator had boiled over. After the engine cooled and with the radiator fully replenished, the battery went dead trying to start the car. When my uncle attempted to jump the car's battery with his, the battery in my uncle's car exploded --- as well as frying a bunch of wiring and electrical stuff. He rode into Victorville with the now no longer stranded family whose car was working perfectly after a second jump. Arriving in Victorville he had his car towed to an auto repair shop recommended by the tow truck driver, leaving it there after learning it would take two or three days to fix it. He then flew into Torrance airport in a small plane piloted by some crop duster guy he met after talking to a couple of Native Americans in the area. When my uncle was ready to leave L.A. he took a bus back to Victorville and I tagged along. After parting with a few hundred bucks out of pocket to get his car back, we cut across the then short hunk of desert from Victorville to the little four-corner gas station, truck stop town of Adelanto, picking up the 395 north to the High Sierras. See:
In Chapter 4 of his memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, first published in 1989, which is NOT a novel but an actual autobiography of his real life, L'Amour, after having ended his seamanship duties, alludes to the same trip west I allude to above as him traveling with my uncle. Although all of it is there, L'Amour veils some of it and tweeks others of it so it becomes a little bit more romanticized.
He is clear that he rode the Southern Pacific. He also states he had money, although barely enough for occasional meals. However, before boarding the train, of which he cites as being a freight train, he stops at a newsstand and bought a double handful of Little Blue Books to read. Ahhh...the old newsstand along the freight line trick. Or maybe the newsstand was in a train station with expectations to read them in a plush coach seat rather than the windy unlit interior and hard floor of a boxcar. He says a tough railroad detective put him off the train in the desert on a lonely siding at night, then goes on to say how bitterly cold it was. Pretty close to what I say what happened. It wasn't exactly a tough railroad detective that dragged L'Amour from the train however, but more like the half a dozen aforementioned Texas Rangers. The bitter cold being accurate.
Concerned for my uncle's well being, as a friend, L'Amour apparently made the decision to get off the train as well. L'Amour says a train, i.e., a freight train, was on a siding to allow a passenger train to pass (most likely the train he and my uncle were on) and he scrambled into an empty boxcar where he could keep out of sight --- no doubt hiding from the Rangers and keeping as low a profile as possible. Somehow in the goings on, and it isn't clear how, they missed each other. Later, riding the rails out of Sanderson, he was put off the train in Deming, New Mexico. A few days later, with Deming full of drifters and hobos trying to get work or a ride just like him, he went west out of town where there wasn't anybody and hopped a train. He also goes on how throughout his overall trip he met a boxer, a machinist and a handful of other characters, all of which add spice to his journey, none of which would have been too eventful if all he did was buy a ticket and ride in coach. Getting off the train in the dead of winter in the middle of the night in Sanderson, Texas changed the equation.
For the record, there is a slight variance between how L'Amour remembered the meeting between he and my uncle prior to their train trip together to New Mexico and how my uncle remembered it. Sometime into the conversation discussing the events of their trip L'Amour interjected a somewhat different version of their meeting, which was inturn left standing by my uncle without any attempt toward re-correction. While it is true my uncle was on his way from the Mardi Gras on the train, in L'Amour's recollection it wasn't until my uncle reached Houston that the two of them met. According to L'Amour, as he looked back he thought his ship came into port in Galveston, then headed north toward Houston. There he boarded a train and it was then he and my uncle met.
I'll pretty much have to cede that one to L'Amour as being more accurate. If you go to the final paragraphs of Chapter 3 of Education of a Wandering Man published in 1989, 19 years after the 1970 meeting between my uncle and L'Amour, he writes about a 28 year old seaman friend of his he admired very much for his seamanship abilities named Pete Boering, saying that the last time he saw him was on the docks at Houston. That was just before the trip he writes about in Chapter 4 and I allude to above. From there the rest of the story involving the the Texas Ranger, Sanderson, et al, is the same.
Neither my uncle nor L'Amour were able to narrow their trip together ending in the Sanderson incident to a specific year, although they figured it fell most likely sometime around 1924-1926. L'Amour did not keep a daily diary or record of his wanderings, depending on the most part on a broad general remembrance in later years backed up with a number of photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia kept along the way. Same with my uncle.
As for the Texas Ranger, Rufus Van Zandt, he became a Ranger in 1921, being promoted to rank of Captain in July of 1922. Sometime after a woman by the name of Miriam 'Ma' Wallace became governor of Texas in 1925 Van Zandt resigned his position for reasons undisclosed, but most likely because of differences of opinion (it has been said Ferguson used the Rangers as a political tool for dispensing patronage. On February 20, 1925, she reduced the five companies of Rangers, limiting the remaining Ranger authority to the counties along the southern border. If Van Zandt, with the rank of Captain, was caught up in that reduction or resigned because of the reduction is not known).
In 1926, within months of leaving the Rangers, Van Zandt became a Special Agent for the U.S. Treasury Department. The Special Agent position carried the full credentials and powers of a federal law enforcement officer including the right to carry a badge, gun, and arrest authority --- duties of which were loosely bracketed around the area of border enforcement. The community of Sanderson's near border location thus fell under his purview. If by chance the Sanderson incident involving L'Amour and my uncle happened outside of Van Zandt's actual time as a Ranger, as a former Ranger traveling with Rangers, and most likely still conducting himself as one, Ranger or not, he could easily be confused as one. Van Zandt did not resign his position as a federal agent until sometime in 1928, making him effectively in play as a law enforcement officer in Texas from 1921 to 1928, easily covering the years in question regarding L'Amour and my uncle.
For your own edification, in the following link below, Education of a Wandering Man, you can scroll down to Chapter 4 and compare what and how my uncle and L'Amour said as it has come down to me and how I have written it and how L'Amour has recorded it in his book:
EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN
L'Amour, always the consummate story teller, did regale my uncle and I with a couple of tales regarding the Comstock after I brought up Virginia City. He had at one time worked at the Katherine Mine in Colorado and there met some old timers who had worked the mines in the heyday of Virginia City's mining boom. They passed on a number of stories, a couple of which he told us that day and which, if I remember correctly, ended up eventually in his biography Education of A Wandering Man. So too, he wrote a book titled Comstock Lode (1981) that drew a lot of knowledge from those same conversations with the old timers. I don't recall if during our conversations in 1970 if I mentioned the Washoe Zephyr devil winds or not, which figured prominently in my visit to Virginia City a few years before, but in Comstock Lode, Chapter XXII, he mentions them thus:
"All night long the wind blew. Stones rattled like hail against the walls and on the roofs of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City. The walls leaned away from the wind, and newcomers worried about their roofs and lay awake, frightened.
"The longtime residents on Sun Mountain slept soundly, accustomed to the rattle of stones and the awesome sounds of the Washoe Zephyr. Their roofs might also go, but they knew there was no use losing sleep over it. Only the men in the mines were safe, and they had other things about which to worry."
In addition to my uncle's more mystical input, H. Jackson Clark, the author of The Owl in Monument Canyon assisted L'Amour in updating him on more hard-fact on the ground research for The Haunted Mesa. Clark, who died in July of 1997 was a third-generation native of Durango, Colorado and had an almost unlimited knowledge of the physical aspects of the area as well as it's legends and culture. L'Amour told Clark that in his youth he had climbed No Man's Mesa, thought by many as being the mesa in his book, but when the two of them flew over it a few times he was not able to locate the trail he had used to get to the top. Clark, in his own book, makes several references to his excursions with L'Amour.
Clark founded the Toh-Atin Gallery in Durango after a long run in the trading post business. The gallery deals heavily in high quality Navajo weavings and Native American crafts and jewelry. Although my uncle operated out of the Santa Fe, Taos area he was extensively into the Native American art scene of the desert southwest from an early age. So said, because of Clark's involvement in similar areas they knew each other having come in contact on and off over the years. If there was any reciprocal sharing of information or feedback in connection with The Haunted Mesa it is not known with any amount of certainty. L'Amour was a real stickler when it came to what he presented in all of his books, so it my suspicion he may have put the two, that is, my uncle and Clark, together over time to compare notes.(see)
WHY I THINK H. JACKSON CLARK AND MY UNCLE KNEW EACH OTHER:
After I completed eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, the Army sent me to the Southeastern Signal Corps School at Fort Gordon, Georgia for what they called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT. Following completion of the training at Gordon I was sent across the state to Fort Benning for additional training. At the sametime another GI I barely knew at Gordon was assigned to go to Benning as well, and since we were both FNG (new) and didn't know anybody, we became semi-buddies.
For whatever reason, and I don't specifically recall why other than possibly his love of playing poker --- and of which if I recall, he was very good at --- my new semi-buddy had a burning interest in the old west gambler and gunfighter Doc Holliday. As it turned out Holliday was born in a small town in Georgia called Griffin, not far from where we were stationed. One weekend on a three day pass my buddy decided to go see Holliday's birthplace and talked me into going with him.
It worked out OK for me because I sort of had an interest in Holliday myself. When I was around age eight, and for four for five years afterward, my uncle and I did a rather substantial amount of traveling throughout the desert southwest.(see) It seemed like we went everywhere and visited everything. Some places we went to were secret and sacred, others more historical and well known. The following, as it relates to me, is from the source so cited:
"One of the not so secret but more well known places we visited was the onetime wide open western town of Tombstone, Arizona --- the town too tough to die --- where, on October 26, 1881, the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral occurred. It was at Tombstone, for the first time that I can remember, I heard the word tuberculosis. Someone there told me that at the time of the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp's friend, the gunfighter Doc Holliday, was dying of tuberculosis, and because he knew he was dying anyway, was fearless in the face of death --- and the reason why he was so deadly."(source)
Many years after my military days were behind me Doc Holliday popped into my mind. Talking on the phone with my uncle one day I told him since I had seen where Holliday was born and Tombstone where he came close to dying, I was thinking about going to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to see his grave site. Even though our journey that summer ended-up much more than simply being L'Amour related, including what turned out to be a thorough investigation into Buddhism In America Before Columbus, with secret Grand Canyon caves hidden in the cliff side walls containing it is said, ancient carved statues of Buddha, it is much too long to go into here.
However, cutting to the quick for our purposes here and leaving that part of the story for another day, my uncle told me there was some petroglyphs he had been hoping to show me in Utah for some time, including some along the Black Dragon Wash in the San Rafael Swell (of which I had seen last at a very young age). He said he would be in Denver in a couple of days and for me to fly in, then we could take I-70 west to the petroglyph site along with a couple of other locations along the way and in the process go right through Glenwood Springs. After the San Rafael Swell petroglyphs, in order to see another petroglyph of great importance to my uncle for me to see, he doubled back along Highway 50 to the 550 south through Durango, Colorado.
After stopping in Durango with plans to stay a couple of nights we looked into bunking at L'Amour's favorite hotel, the Strater. Finding room 222 and/or 223 unavailable in the somewhat posh establishment we made other more or less 'fit our pocketbook' Sam and Dean Winchester-type motel arrangements.(see) Two days later we headed west toward Bluff, Utah, where the Butler Wash and the San Juan River come together to take in the ruins and rock art attributed to the Anasazi and possibly earlier cultures. What my uncle had me see at San Rafael Swell was the petroglyph of what appears to be a pterosaur, a giant flying reptile that lived, and went extinct, at the same time as the dinosaurs.(see) What he wanted me to see near Bluff, Utah was the petroglyph located at the Upper Sand Island rock art site along the San Juan River that depicted an animal from the Middle and Late Pleistocene called a Columbian mammoth(see), suggested to him at one time as being worth seeing by Utah rock art and desert southwest advocate and archeologist, Alex Apostolides.
While we were staying in Durango I tried to talk my uncle into taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad excursion but he begged off saying there was a friend in town that he hadn't seen in a long time that he was hoping to catch up with. My uncle left me off at the station and I was gone most of the day. Later he told me he had spent a good part of his day with the owner of the Toh-Atin Gallery, which at the time meant nothing to me. So too, I don't recall having heard of H. Jackson Clark up to that period of my life either, and since my uncle hadn't mention him, I didn't put his friend together as being Clark. It was only later that I connected it all. Even though L'Amour and my uncle had not personally been in contact specifically since the Sanderson incident, apparently Clark and my uncle, in some fashion had been putting together Native American legend and lore background material for Clark to share with L'Amour for a book he was thinking about writing that ended up being titled The Haunted Mesa. If their meeting had anything to do with L'Amour or the The Haunted Mesa is not known. However, in that L'Amour didn't actually start writing the book until 1977, then worked on it on-and-off after that for ten years or more, it is hard to say.
As it came down to me was that my uncle, in consultation with L'Amour through Clark, presented legend much more as fact-based rather than story telling because over the years my uncle had actually seen, experienced, and participated in the physical manifestation of many phenomenon that was legend related. Clark, on the other hand, although deeply seeped in the folklore of the legends of the desert southwest and a major noteworthy among the various bands inhabiting the region, had a tendency to weigh in more heavily on the folklore side rather than placing them in the actuality of the everyday world. L'Amour, drawing from his own background, was torn by the width of the discrepancy and had difficulty resolving the issue in clarification for his readers.
INCIDENT AT SUPAI
A SHAMANIC JOURNEY OUTSIDE THE TRADITION
"What he wanted me to see near Bluff, Utah was the petroglyph located at the Upper Sand Island rock art site along the San Juan River that dipicted an animal from the Middle and Late Pleistocene called a Columbian mammoth(see), suggested to him at one time as being worth seeing by Utah rock art and desert southwest advocate and archeologist, Alex Apostolides."
Some people have taken note that the rock art viewing event between my uncle and I in Bluff, Utah, as cited in the above quote, occurred during the fall of 1971 and that in the quote I refer to the fact that Alex Apostolides suggested to my uncle that the petroglyphs were worth seeing. They also take note that I mention elsewhere that my uncle and Apostolides didn't cross paths for the first time until 1978 or so.
From 1969 to 1974, Apostolides worked in Mexico as an archaeologist, photographer and feature writer. Apostolides told my uncle that before he went to Mexico the archaeological team he was coordinating his efforts with was looking to recruit one or two additional team members and in the process a man by the name of William Lawrence Campbell showed up as a potential candidate. Campbell had come highly recommended, however, since the archaeological investigations centered around Mayan sites in Mexico and possibly other countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, et al, any dig workers over any extended period of time would be required to have passports. The thing is, and unusually so for an experienced archaeologist, Campbell did not have a passport. At first the interviewers thought he just needed to renew his, but, as it turned out, he said he never had one.
Prior to any of those formal interview session and it became clear that Campbell would not be able to participate, Apostolides --- who was not part of the interview team and maybe even up to that point in time yet to be fully recruited himself --- and Campbell had sat around in casual conversations quaffing down a few beers over a period of several days bullshitting.
As it was, Campbell and my uncle were friends, of which their friendship is clearly delineated in the William Lawrence Campbell site linked above. Not long after Campbell and Apostolides met he and my uncle crossed paths. During the previously mentioned several day bullshitting session between Campbell and Apostolides, apparently one of things Apostolides mentioned was the petroglyphs in Bluff, most notably one that depicted a Columbian mammoth. When Campbell and my uncle met, in general conversation he brought up the petroglyphs and because he had not actually seen them in real life himself, attributed his knowledge of them back to Apostolides. Even though Campbell, to my knowledge, never saw the mammoth petroglyph in the flesh, as I look back it appears that before my uncle and I visited the site in the early 1970s he himself had already done so --- simply mentioning along the way his knowledge of their existence was garnered through Apostolides. When he attributed his knowledge of the site to Apostolides I just left it at that not realizing that up to that point they had never actually met.
I have no clue as to when and how Apostolides first became aware of the Columbian mammoth petroglyph for example and, even if he did, why it would come up specifically in conversation with Campbell. In the early years, before Campbell established himself as a fairly well regarded archaeologist he wasn't much more than a Pothunter dealing in stolen artifacts. Apostolides may have brought them up for just that reason possibly trying to figure out why Campbell either didn't have a passport or wouldn't or couldn't get one.
Campbell, who always maintained a very low profile, also had a pretty iffy background as well. During World War II he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands and, as both the William Lawrence Campbell page and especially so the Pothunter page allude to, got mixed up in any number of quasi-questionable situations. One of the things he got mixed up in that I eventually became privy to but left unmentioned anywhere in my writings until now because quite frankly I didn't want to get into it, may have had a direct impact on WHY the mammoth site came up.
There is a very remote small island located near the far reaches of the Aleutian chain called Shemya that during World War II, as part of a major attempt to stop the Japanese from working their way up the islands to Alaska and points beyond, the U.S. built an airbase. In the process of building that base the following is reported as to have happened and Campbell was part of a team called in to investigate:
"(An) engineer who was stationed on the Aleutian island of Shemya during World War II, while building an airstrip, his crew bulldozed a group of hills and discovered under several sedimentary layers what appeared to be human remains. The Alaskan mound was in fact a graveyard of gigantic human remains, consisting of crania and long leg bones. The crania measured from 22 to 24 inches from base to crown. Since an adult skull normally measures about eight inches from back to front, such a large crania would imply an immense size for a normally proportioned human.(source)
Again, I have no clue as to when and how Apostolides first became aware of the Columbian mammoth petroglyph, although he was notorious for simply just wandering around stumbling on to all kinds things as some of is papers found in the Rock Art Database attest too. In his obituary his wife, Patti, writes "Alex was a charter member of the Utah Rock Art Research Association and we visited Utah every year for many years. We were on our way to Bluff when he became too ill to travel. There are many pictures (slides) of the writings [rock art] in Utah among the many collections Alex left as his heritage." Even so, the question still remains, why would the mention of mammoth petroglyphs come up specifically in conversation with Campbell in the first place, although I do have my suspicions.(see)