Gila River

“The Gila River was running pretty deep, and the story has it that they jumped in the river and swam across,” Frank “Pancho” Gonzales said.

CLIFTON — Previously, Frank “Pancho” Gonzales, of the Greenlee County Historical Society, recounted his parents’ meeting on the Coronado Trail and how his uncle Pancho learned to ride a horse after losing his legs in a train accident. But those weren’t the only stories Gonzales had to tell.

“I’ve got another one about this little old man in Eagle Creek,” he began.

“Phelps Dodge had appropriated the homesteads in Eagle Creek because of the water rights. This old man had had a homestead there. I don’t know if he lost it, but he continued living there and nobody bothered him.

“The only store that you could come in and bring gold was the Cash and Carry next door to PJ’s Restaurant, and this guy would come in out of Eagle Creek with enough gold to buy provisions for three months. He never had a large amount, and nobody was ever able to trace where he was getting it.

“Well, he did it for a long time. I’m going to tell you the whole story.

“My great grandfather, he came out of Mexico. Records have it that he came across in the early 1870s. And I’ll tell you what he was — I’m not going to lie about it. He would bring booze — mescal and stuff like that — and sell it to the Indians. He was what they call a comanchero.

“One day, the Indians got drunk and tied them to stakes, took their clothes off. They were getting ready to kill them. The Gila River was running pretty deep, and the story has it that they jumped in the river and swam across. The Indians were so drunk they couldn’t swim across after them. Friendly Indians gave them clothing and they made it back to Mexico.”

The story continued that, after their escape, the gang decided they needed protection. “So they acquired my great grandfather a gun,” Gonzales said, “and of the whole bunch he became the best guy with a gun.

“The story has it that in the late 1870s, he brought his family all the way to the other side of Metcalf. There was no Metcalf then. It was a place called Garfield that had a few little shanties. The night they got there, they had an old horse and a mule. The next morning, both animals were gone.

“He decided he’d go up the canyon to chop wood. He finds this Indian that’s hurt, and they knew each other from the booze dealing. So he brought him back and doctored him. Once that Indian got well, he disappeared. The next morning, the horse and mule were back.

“One day, my great-grandfather showed up with a little kid. He said he knew this Indian lady that had this kid and she died. So they raised him, and my great grandfather gave him his name.

“That’s the guy that came out of Eagle Creek to sell the gold years later. He’s buried up here in Bunkers Cemetery, and his last name is Varela.”

Follow David Sowders on Twitter @david_sowders

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