Railroad tracks in Clifton

CLIFTON — Born in Metcalf in 1936, Frank Gonzales has a number of local history stories to tell. The Copper Era recently paid Gonzales a visit at the Greenlee County Historical Museum, where he serves as a volunteer. And he said this about the restored train next to the Clifton cliff jail:

“This, from what I understand, is Number 8. I know for a fact because I had an uncle who, at the age of 17, got both feet cut (off). He actually wasn’t even working for the railroad. Some elderly friend of his asked, ‘Would you mind making a run for me to Clifton with the ore while I stay here?’

“See, they would load ore cars in Metcalf and they would come down. And there were no air brakes or anything. They had that wheel up on the chain and put friction on the wheels.

“So he came down with the engine guy, and he had to turn that wheel. He wasn’t strong enough; he fell off the train. One car was under one knee, and the other was over one knee — chopped them off.

“There was a hospital right there beside the bridge. My mother tells me that — this was in 1907 — they camped under that bridge for quite a while and the doctors kept cutting. He would get gangrene, and they’d cut another piece and another. Finally, the doctor told my grandfather, ‘I want to do one last cut. There’s not much left.’

“He had a stub about 2 inches on one side and one about 4 inches on the other side when they stopped the gangrene, but they saved his life. And that little Number 8 — my mother somehow found out the engine — years later, I understand, they wanted to put a little engine there, and Number 8 was the one that had the most available parts, so they took parts from here and there and put them together.

“After he lost his legs, he wanted to commit suicide. My grandmother really had to keep an eye on him. Finally — it took a while — he settled down. A guy came over and told him, ‘I’ve got an old horse that I’m going to give you.’ Somebody else gave him an old saddle.

“First, he learned how to drag that saddle close to an embankment and flip it on a horse, and then he learned to shimmy up the horse and use a leather strap to tie himself with. He started going out by himself, up to the mountains, and he felt a little bit of freedom.

“This went on for a while. Then one day, somebody told him, ‘Hey, I’ve got an old horse that you can use for a pack horse.’ So he gave him that horse. He started going out, taking bedding and pans. Then one day, he didn’t return.

“They had people looking for him. They even looked all the way into New Mexico and couldn’t find him. He was lost for seven years. They thought he was dead.

“One day, somebody came up to Metcalf looking for my grandfather and told him, ‘Your son, Pancho el Mocho (they called him el Mocho because he had no legs), is in Safford.’

“He had drifted into Mexico. He went all the way into El Sierra Madre and got in with the Indians. He got along with them because they were fascinated by the way he could mount a horse. So he stayed there a couple of years. He started to come back and it was the Mexican Revolution, so he couldn’t get across. They were flinging bullets all around. So he headed back. My mother says that he told her that he tried to come across about four different times.

“Anyway, the Indians acquired some horses left riderless by the Revolution and gave them to him. Finally, seven years later, he ended up in Safford.”

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