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La Leyenda del Zorro de Oro

"Boston Argonauts search for legend of Golden Fox"
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La Leyenda del Zorro de Oro (The Legend of the Golden Fox)

CHAPTER 1 -- The Legend

When the first Spanish explorers entered southwestern North America, the legend was already well known among the various Indian tribes of the area. The legend said there was a golden statue of a fox high up in the mountains, and that anyone who found it would become fabulously rich.

The story of how the statue came to be went like this.

The fox is a very clever animal, and can make use of a simple tool to rid himself of fleas. He would take a piece of wood in his mouth, and plunge into a pool of water. He would slowly submerge himself, letting the fleas move towards his nose. Then, when all the fleas were at his nose, he would briefly duck under the water so the fleas would jump to the piece of wood. He would then leave the pool without the fleas and dry himself in the sun.

Our particular fox had submerged himself in a pool rich with suspended gold dust. This pool had a fast-moving submerged stream that kept the gold dust agitated so it would remain in suspension in the pool. Since he would sink slowly into the water to cause his fleas to move, there was plenty of time for his pelt to be saturated with the suspended gold dust.

When he left the pool, he had become heavy with the weight of all the gold dust. Rather than shake himself dry, he trotted to the top of the mountain to let the sun and wind dry his pelt for him.

Suddenly, one of the storms the Southwest is known for came up. The wind howled, the rain came down, and lightning struck close to the fox. When the dust settled, the fox was gone and in his place was a lifelike fox of solid gold.

The story that the Indians told the Spanish explorers said that any man who could find the statue and bring it down the mountain would become fabulously rich. The catch was that noone knew which mountain.

As the population of the Southwest grew, the legend moved north along the mountain chains. Mt Lemmon near Tucson AZ, the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix and Wheeler Peak in NV were all thought to be likely places for the legend.

Then, with the 1849 discovery of gold in California, attention shifted to the California Sierras. With every nook and cranny of the Sierras being searched for gold, the prospectors also kept one eye on the mountain tops in hope of spotting the legendary Zorro de Oro.

When news of the gold discoveries reached Boston MA, the legend came along with it.

CHAPTER 2 -- The Argonauts

Boston MA 1850

An article in the Boston Globe caught the attention of Andrew Grimes III, son of a wealthy cinnamon and spice importer. He read the story of the gold discoveries, and a sideline story of the legend particularly caught his attention.

Andy and his friends considered themselves adventurers in search of an adventure. They were all sons of wealthy houses, well educated, had plenty of resources to draw upon and were free to travel at length. This certainly sounded like it might be the opening they were looking for. Whether they found el Zorro de Oro or not, the search would be their adventure.

Andy and crew chose the name Argonauts for their adventure, referring to the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. There were nine Argonauts--William Able (Bill), John Caster (Little John), Michael Danner (Mike), Andrew Grimes III (Andy), Edward Ira (Ed), Winton King (Win), Terrell Lamm (Terry), Eric Olson (Eric) and Robert Stone (Bob). Each would specialize in some skill or knowledge area.

Before making any plans, the Argonauts had to gather all the information they could about the Southwest. Some reports were obtained from Spain, written by the early Spanish explorers. Other information came from frontier newspapers in the Southwest. They also read letters published in the Boston papers, written by frontier settlers, travelers and explorers. People who had travelled the area were interviewed as well.

In particular, they studied the reports of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition (1804–1806). They learned how to create good relations with the various Indian tribes they would encounter, and how to organize an expedition.

The Argonauts spent weeks planning the supplies they would need, often consulting those who had travelled the Southwest before. They learned what they would have to take with them, and what they could obtain along the way. They also learned basic blacksmithing, horseshoeing and leatherworking so they could repair equipment when they were on their own.

They learned basic medical treatments, as they would be away from towns most of the time. They also studied the more reliable forms of folk and herbal medicines, as they might have to make their own.

Map reading and basic cartography were studied so that they could document their travels as well. Being able to establish a return route to Galveston TX was a priority, as that was to be their departure point for the return home.

CHAPTER 3 -- On Their Way

Finally, in 1851, the Argonauts sailed from Boston in a merchant trading ship, heading south around Florida to Galveston, then the largest city in Texas. Along the way, the captain stopped at several of the larger east coast cities to deliver goods and trade for others. This was normal practice for a merchant ship of the time.

The captain and purser would trade for the benefit of and under the instructions of the ship’s owners. Once the owners’ needs were met, the captain and purser were free to trade for themselves. Many captains retired with a small fortune this way.

The Argonauts learned something of the art of trading through talks with the captain and purser during quiet times at sea. They learned the art of negotiation, when to sell and when to buy. They listened and learned from watching the captain negotiate with various city merchants. These skills would be useful to them when they needed to purchase supplies along the way.

Learning what to buy in one port that would sell well in another port was an important lesson too. One port would export fine furniture, while another would export manufactured goods or cloth goods of all kinds. Others exported food items that would stand the rigors of sea travel.

CHAPTER 4 -- Galveston, TX

Finally they reached Galveston Port. Once they found and rented some warehouse space, they unloaded their supplies. Once safely in the warehouse, they went over their supplies, checking for damage or spoilage.

Using their trading and negotiating lessons, they purchased three horses each for riding and three mules each for supplies. A guide, three horse wranglers and four mule skinners were engaged to travel with them.

The mule skinners would be responsible for planning the loads for each mule, loading/unloading each day, and feeding and grooming the mules. The horse wranglers would be responsible for the spare horses including their feeding and physical care. The Argonauts would care for their own horses and tackle, as they were all accomplished horsemen.

In 1850, the New Mexico Territory had just been established, and new maps were being published just as the Argonauts arrived in Galveston. These latest maps would help with the Argonaut's travel plans. The guide worked with the Argonauts to plan the route they would travel into the New Mexico Territory, and helped them identify the Indian tribes they would want to talk with about the Legend. He also showed where they would be able to find water in the more arid parts of the Southwest.

The Argonauts had no trouble turning their letters of credit into cash, as Galveston was home to many banks at the time. Galveston stood as Texas’ largest city in 1850. In fact, for the next four decades, the island city remained in the top four. The trading lessons from the captain and the purser were a great help when it was time to buy additional supplies for their expedition.

Printed lists of needed supplies were given to several chandlers/merchants with a request to bid on them. This let the Argonauts stretch their cash and save some for future purchases along the trail. Once the supplies were delivered, they were distributed over all the mules, so the loss of any one would not cripple their enterprise.

CHAPTER 5 -- Moving West

Leaving Galveston, the Argonauts followed various crude pathways west as they sought the source of the legend. There were no roads as such in this undeveloped part of Texas.

They encountered outlaws almost every week before reaching El Paso, but were a strong enough group to repel them. The outlaws tried a daytime ambush, but the superior numbers and weapons of the Argonaut expedition were sufficient to drive them off with no losses to themselves. One robber appeared to have been wounded but managed to ride away with the others. Another died on the spot.

Their biggest trial was the west Texas weather. Blazing sun, raging dusty winds, rain, hail and snow, all within a few days of each other all took their toll. The Argonauts and their horses and mules all felt the strain. The rains damaged some of their supplies, and one mule ran off when lightning struck nearby. They finally reached El Paso and took a much needed two week rest break.

CHAPTER 6 – Rest in El Paso, Then On to Tucson

During their stay in El Paso, they worked on repairing anything showing signs of wear, especially pack saddles and leather straps holding supplies on the mules. They also bought a new mule and packsaddle to replace the runaway.

They had their clothing washed and repaired, and enjoyed a few hotel meals. Food and medical supplies were reviewed, and some items were replenished. They inquired about local folk and herbal medicines as well, and purchased or gathered those that seemed useful.

Even the horses and mules were given pasture time to rest up for the journey ahead.

The Argonauts consulted with other travelers about road conditions on the way to Tucson, the nature of the country through which they would travel, and the availability of water. They learned that they would have to swing north to go around Chiricahua Peak. At just under 10,000 ft, it is the highest mountain in their way, and has no trail over it.

After resting a few more days in El Paso, they pushed on to Tucson, New Mexico Territory. There they met John Jones, the first US Marshal of New Mexico territory. He told them which outlaw areas to avoid in their travels and which areas are considered safe for travel. He also told them how to find encampments of the Apache, Havasupai and Hopi peoples, tribes that have interesting legends that might bear on their search for the Legend of the Golden Fox.

They met various Indian tribes along the way, and listened to and wrote down their legends in their travel diaries.

Coyote is the most common legendary animal, with Fox mentioned less often. The most common legendary human is Cocopelli, the Flute Player. Petroglyphs showing him playing his flute are found all over the Southwest. His stories are told by all the Indian tribes in the area.

In search of traces of el Zorro, the Argonauts climbed several promising mountains as they travel. Unfortunately, nothing was found at the top of any. A few have names—Mohon Peak, Pine Peak, Mt Tipton—but most do not.

CHAPTER 7 -- Tucson Northwest to Phoenix

This part of their trip was made more difficult by the dry land, heat and few reliable water sources. They found shaded places to rest in the middle of the day, and traveled in the early morning and evening until dark. They found few Indians to ask about the Golden Fox legend, and those they did find had never heard of the legend. Apparently, the Legend was more local to southwest Arizona Territory.

They passed some abandoned buildings along the way. The wood was bleached white by the sun, and the softer parts of the wood were eroded by the wind and blowing sand. Some scraps of iron showed little rust, due to scouring by the wind-blown sand plus very little moisture in the air.

During the day, they saw few living large animals. Most came out to forage early in the morning or in the evening when the desert was cooler. After three days of hunting, they managed to shoot a small deer for food. After cutting up the meat in strips, they dried it over a slow fire of mesquite wood to preserve it.

After two more weeks travel, they reached Phoenix.

CHAPTER 8 -- Change in Mission

With the Legend of the Golden Fox fading as they rode north and west, the Argonauts rethought their mission. Having little to show for their efforts at uncovering the Legend of the Golden Fox, the Argonauts looked for a new adventure. Not ready to return to Boston, they cast around for a suitable new adventure they could start from their present location in Phoenix, Arizona Territory.

California had just been admitted to the United States in 1850, after having been a part of Mexico, and before that, a Spanish possession.

Learning that California had its own set of legends or hard-to-believe stories, the Argonauts renamed themselves the California Exploration Company and set out to see what they could learn of this new State of California.


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