The Heritage Chapter Two
On the far southern end of the San Miguel Valley which is sandwiched
between the Sangre De Christo Mountains is the town of Clayton, Colorado.
Clayton serves as the county seat for San Miguel County. Originally called
Clays Town after its founder Henry Patrick Clay the name eventually evolved
into Clayton over many years as the people of Clays Town ran the two titles
Henry Clay said to be born in the mid-1850s in Ohio began his travels west first
as a trapper and mountain man. Clay would wander by himself at times, with a
partner or two at other times and sometime in the company of 8 to 12 men when
working as a buffalo hunter. A rather large burly man, most of the time,
unshaven with long wavy hair wearing the traditional buckskins. Like most of
the mountain men of those times and a hat made of leather which quickly
allowed the sides to be pulled down to cover his ears. This was to ward off the
cold during his treks into the high country during the winter season.
Clay felt comfortable in the company of those the Mexican in the camps of
vaqueros. He was equally as relaxed among Native Americans being seen as
a pale face enemy but as one who respected the ways of the Indian. It was not
Clay’s intention of ever putting down his roots in any one place but to simply
wonder where ever the game would take him, hoping to one day end up in the
American Northwest territories of Oregon. Clay's possession consisted for the
most part of the clothes on his back, a blanket or two his seven-shot Spencer
rifle or carbine a good mount and an equally good pack mule. His horse serves
to carry him in all his travels, and the mule took his supplies into the mountains
in the early spring and his furs out as winter approached.
In the early Spring of 1989 Clay set off once again to begin his annual
pilgrimage of hunting wolfs, foxes and bears. However, he would mostly trap
along the spring and river beds for beaver and otter pelts which by now were
few and far in between. Setting off he headed for his favorite haunt the valleys
and mountain in what was known then and is now the San Miguel Valley.
From time to time Clay would attempt to prospect for gold and silver either with
a pan in the creeks along the San Miguel River which ran almost down the
middle of the valley. Sometimes break rocks in the Sangre De Christo
After setting his traps along the creeks and springs running into the San Miguel
River Clay decided to see how the hunting was in the higher country before
returning back to his camp in the valley. A couple of days into his journey into
the high country, the clouds began to darken. The early spring chill was giving
into a much colder and windier temperature, and soon it started to snow. Clay
sought shelter from both the cold and snow in a cave he hopes would not be the
den of a bear or pack of wolfs. He tied and hobbled both his horse and mule
and began to gather as much dry wood as he could find not knowing how long
he would have to hold up because of the storm that had blown in.
Clay was delighted he has found the cave that now protected him from the
elements just outside of this shelter and for the first two days or so he had little if
any real concern. As the storm intensified, his primary care was seeking better
accommodation for his horse and mule. He ventured outside to see if he could
place them under not only a more protective area but one that would also
provide them with grass or leaves to eat. Finding a place a bit further from his
shelter and there he again tied and hobbled his animals. He also attempted to
gather more wood although by now most had been covered with snow and that
he could muster was damp from the storm.
Keeping the fire as minimal as possible, mostly serving for the purpose of light
and perhaps to boil water for his coffee. Clay became more and more concern
as the snowstorm did not appear to let up but the opposite. It was soon five or six
days, and the storm continued, and his wood and food supply began to
disappear, he had to do so something quick. Again his thoughts focused on his
animals, which by now had been exposed to more severe cold than he. They
needed to be able to move around to keep off the cold and stiffness perhaps that
it caused by lack of movement. He stepped out into the storm and managed to
make his way to the horse and mule which now had laid down unable to fight off
the snow. He untied both animals and released their hobbles and hoped they
would get up and move around if not just a bit in the two or three-foot-deep
snow. The horse got up; however, the mule would not move seeming to have lost
the will to live.
Knowing his own food supply was now pretty much gone, as was the fuel for his
small fire. He began to think out of desperation, his thoughts focused on the
possibility of using the mule for food and perhaps fuel. No, he couldn't so he left
the mule laying there and made his way back to his cave and shelter from the
cold and dampness of the open air.
As he laid there wondering his next steps, he bit off the last piece of jerky in his
pack and by now could not build a large enough fire to heat up water for coffee.
Looking across the cave, he saw what he thought was a tiny sparkle on the wall
of the cave. Looking harder, he strained his eyesight to see if he could see the
shiny sparkle again and in a moment or two spotted it. He got up and moved in
the direction of the sparkle until he could see it up close. Pulling out his knife
from its sheave, he scrapped the surface of the shiny object, and more of the
shin was exposed, he dug into the soft material and continued to see more. He
was sure he was seeing a vein of gold, and although rare in these mountains it
was said there was gold in the Sangre De Christo Mountains and evidence of
this was the finding of some that had washed down into the valley.
Moving back to his small fire and the few twigs close by he laid down now
thinking, I am going to die a rich man and no one will ever know as if I do not
starve to death I will surly freeze once my fire dies out. No, he exclaimed to
himself, I will not let myself die, my time has not come. I will find a way to
conquer the snowstorm, the cold, and having no food. He slowly picked himself
up and headed to the entrance of the cave now almost completely covered with
snow. Clay dug himself out and almost blindly made his way to the spot he had
left the mule. The mule was almost entirely covered with snow and digging
away the snow from the head of the mule he could see the animal was close to
death. Reaching for his knife, he pulled it out, pulled back the head of the mule
and ran the blade across the neck of the mule, blood now running out the
animal died quickly.
Cleaning off as much of the snow as possible he began to gut the animal much
in the same manner as he had gutted a buffalo, deer or bear many a time.
Despite the snow coming down and the cold that surrounded him Clay worked
to skin and capture as much of the meat, fat and hide of the mule as he could
and having completed this task he dragged as much as he could to the cave.
After several trips, he stockpiled what he thought would keep him another few
days or perhaps a week. Using the fat from the mule and wet branches he cut
from a nearby pine tree he built a more significant fire and began not only to
boil water but cook the meat from his pack mule, he would survive.
As the storm continued although, at a slower pace, Clay spent his days digging
into the wall of the cave and gathering more of the gold from the vein he has
discovered placing each nugget in a small leather pouch. He also set about
putting together a pair of snowshoes made from the branches of the trees, the
rib bones of his dead mule covered and sewn together with the hide of the mule.
What now seemed to be better than a month the snow had let up, and he began
to pack up his gear, mule meat, and a pouch of gold and prepared to start the
trek back down the mountain to the valley in what to be four or five feet of snow.
He walked away from the cave that had sheltered and the riches that lied within
and began his trip. From time to time he would stop and mark his way down on
a tree or rock that stood out even in the deep snow, he knew he would have to
find his way back and what he hoped would be his newly found fortune. The
trip down the mountain was slow, each evening he would dig out a snow cave
and attempt to get a few hours of sleep in the cold of the cave knowing he could
not build a fire as he did not have the fuel to start and grow a fire. The trip
down the mountain would take twelve days, but at last, he reached the southern
part of the San Miguel Valley and the first step to finding an Indian Village or
further away from an encampment of other mountain men or maybe a town.