Thursday, February 4, 2010


Beginning of Chapter One, Murder under the Cliffs:

"My Pa found Grady on his front porch with a knife sticking out of his ribs," Julie told me.

After Julie left, I was going over in my mind my conversation with Grady as I laid on my cot in the small jail cell accused of murdering the old man. It all started this way.

I rode into Bluff on my horse, Bounder, leading my other animal and checked into one of the two small hotels built for the tourists who come down here to visit Monument Valley. I put my horses in the town stable and was talking to the hotel clerk trying to get a lead on someone who could enlighten me on the history of the area. I planned to write a book about it. The clerk told me about old man Grady, one of the first settlers, and told me where he lived. I found him at home the next day and got right into my business of being in Bluff. He told me the following:

"Well, let me see now, I guess it was about 1875 when I came into this area. I liked what I saw when I came down into this valley and saw the San Jhu-on River and those high red cliffs that run along by it. They wasn't nobody around and that was just what I was looking for, a nice quiet place to do my prospecting, archeology, and stuff like that. Once in awhile a Navajo or two would bring a herd of sheep through here going or coming from the reservation on the other side of the San Jhu-on and down south and west of here."

I interrupted and said, "San Wan. The river is called San Wan, but it's spelled S-A-N J-UA-N. It's a Spanish name."

The old man gave me a dirty look and continued, "Went throught that Monument Valley once, but it was too dry and flat for me. Them rocks that are still standing was a pretty sight. I liked that about it, but I took a closer look at a number of them and didn't find much that would tell me to build a house or something down there, so I came on up here. That place was just too dry for me. Yup, came up through that Mexican Hat place and on along the river 'til lI ran into this spot. I knew as soon as my eyes laid sight of it that it was the ideal place. Them cliffs that border the river back a ways and leaving some nice agricultural-type ground to plant a garden, called out to me to take a rest and build a house, and I been here ever since.

"It wasn't long after I had my cabin built on a piece of the high ground that a couple of outlaws decided to call this place home, fellers by the names of Grumpy Knight and Walter "Wally" Burnseed, tough characters the like of which I never seen before. That Burnseed was the fastest thing with a gun I ever saw. Could pull it and shoot off six shots before you could wink your eye. They were looking for a place to hide out. Had a stash of gold with them that was from the Durango bank and had given the posse the ditch down in in New Mexico. Of course, I didn't know it at the time they first hit the place, and they didn't talk much about where they was from or such, but the longer they stayed here, the more it came out."

The man doing all the talking was called Grady. That's all anyone around here knew him by. He was about seventy-five or eighty years old, wrinkly face, gray hair that handn't been cut in quite awhile, of average height, wearing old dirty brown trousers, a dirty brown shirt, dirty brown cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He was watching me all the time with his rheumy gray eyes under the bushy gray eyebrows. I was surprised that he could still see pretty good, since I'd heard that the sun ruined a man's eyes in this country and the older you got the greater the chances of losing your sight. We were sitting on his front porch where we had a good view of the San Juan as it drifted by to the southwest in a long curve.

 "As I recollect, the Mormons came in about 1880 or thereabouts with all those people sent by their church to settle here," he said, talkiing again after a long pause. "The two oulaws became scarce and only came into town one at a time. Grumpy told me that with all these people around somebody had to guard the gold. Those people have been looking into every nook and cranny up and down the the San Jhu-on, he said, and we don't want them to come looking around our place without one of us there. That was the first time I heard about the gold, and I sure didn't ask him any questions about it, either. He told me that they had been moving around, staying in different spots, acting like prospectors, just biding time until they decide to go somewhre. You tell anybody about us and one of us'll be down to see you, and you won't be able to talk to anybody anymore. Understand? He looked at me with his brown eyes carrying a threatening look to them, and I told him I understood him perfectly."

Grady looked over his shoulder at the red cliffs, didn't say anything for a couple of minutes, letting the words sink in about what Grumpy told him.

"Can you beat that?" he finally said. "Me and those two outlaws were the only ones here for two or three years, excluding a Navajo now and then that didn't understand any English anyway, and that Mormon party shows up and he starts getting belligerent. I said to him, I don't even see you more than once every two or three months, and as far as the newcomers, I don't see any of them any oftener. Hell, I don't know whether you're telling me the truth or just telling me a bunch of nonsense. Grumpy looked at me kind of funny like and pulled his pistol and says to me, don't go squealing to these damn Mormons about what we're doing here or where we came  from or you're a dead man. Got that?

"Sure, sure, I got it. Don't worry. I ain't going to say anything to anybody about you and that Wally feller. I want to keep my hair, I told him."

(All this stuff is copyrighted, of course.)

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