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Death Valley's underground city of gold: Part two

Looking down on Death Valley from 5800 plus feet Dante's View
Looking down on Death Valley from 5800 plus feet Dante's View
Todd DiFronzo

Up in Emigrant Canon, two miners, Jack and Bill, are busy plying their trade for the winter. The place they live at isn't much, but it does have a little bit of notoriety.

Emigrant Canon and Emigrant Wash were named for the emigrants of the Death Valley Party of 1849. Some of the pioneers that found water at Emigrant Springs, lived.

Others, not so much.

Jack and Bill's home, a framed-cabin patched with canvas, was just a few steps from the Springs. Nearby, a dirt road, or a "canon road" as they put it, grew up quickly from the repeated use of sightseer's automobiles and the occasional help of Jack and Bill.

Late in December, a geologist who was studying the rock structure of the Panamint Range, came to Emigrant Canon. He camped very close to Jack and Bill. One evening after dinner, the geologist found himself sitting inside the canvas home talking with Jack, Bill and Bourke Lee.

Lee had asked if the scientist had seen any Indians. The professor said no but mentioned that he was interested in them. Lee then begins to tell a legend of the Paiutes that went back several thousand years ago:

"Several thousand years ago a noted Paiute chief lost his greatly beloved wife. Sorrow overcame him. He mourned his wife for a long time.

At last he felt that life without his wife was not worth living; and he took his earthly body into the spirit land. His journey into the land of the dead was a long ordeal. He passed through an endless underground passage following the trail of all brave Indian spirits.

He was beset by fierce beasts, evil spirits, super-natural demons. But the courageous chieftain fought his way onward through the ghoulish cavern.

He won through to the sunlight at the far end and his feet resolutely carried him across the narrow ribbon of rock arched over a bottomless chasm.

He stepped from the bridge of rock into the green meadows of the land of the dead, a great kingdom ruled by Shin-au-av. The chief had survived all his trials.

One of the many beautiful daughters of Shin-au-av welcomed the Pauite chief to the land of bounty and happiness. She was an ample houri with shining eyes and no fault of limb or curve or character. Like all of Shin-au-av's daughters, she was a resumptive virgin.

This beautiful and miraculous maiden offered herself freely to the brave chieftain who had dared to venture into the valley of the dead in his earthly body, but the chief would have none of her.

He wanted to know where he could find his wife. The maid stood before the chief in awe. It was the first rebuff she had known in thousands of years.

Certain that the new arrival must be greater than some of the gods, the daughter of Shin-au-av took the chief by the hand and led him to a vast natural amphitheater. It was a dancing place and many thousands of dead and happy Paiutes were dancing in a huge circle.

The chief looked at the great assemblage of dancers and said, "I'll never find my wife in that crowd."

"Oh, yes, you will," said his kindly guide. "Just sit here on the edge of the circle until your greatly beloved wife passes."

She left him for a moment and then returned with baskets of food and wicker vessels of cactus wine.

"Be comfortable, great chief," she said. "When you wife comes by, you must carry her off quickly. And beware! Once you have seized your wife, you must both leave the valley without a single, backward glance."

The chief promised that once he found his wife he would leave the valley at once. And he sat down to watch the great pageant of the dancers revolve before him. He watched them for several days and nights. He saw a lot of his old enemies, but he did not see his wife.

Whenever he began to despair of finding his wife, he comforted himself with the wine. The chief drank the wine steadily for three days and nights and was still happy. It was miraculous wine.

Late on the third night the Paiute chief saw his wife approaching. He ran to her and dragged her from the circle of dancers. Together, they fled across the valley to the rock arch which spanned the bottomless chasm and joined the land of Shin-au-av to the long cavern and the world of human life.

Close to the edge of the chasm, the chief stopped to caution his wife about crossing the narrow bridge. As he talked, his wife's glance strayed back to the happy dancers in the valley.

The chief followed the example of his wife. He turned to look at the joyous festival and the bountiful valley. The chief's wife vanished. The chief had forgotten that he must leave the land of the dead without a single backward glance.

Alone, and sorrowing, the chief returned to his own country and rejoined his tribe. He spent the remainder of his days describing the beauties and luxuries of the land of Shin-au-av.

His story became well known to all the Paiutes. Even after all the Paiutes had heard the chief tell of his adventures enough times to remember his account word for word, the chief continued to tell his story.

He became rather a bore to the entire Paiute nation. His life ran on through the years to a greatly advanced old age. He died one day when he was in the middle of his story.

The Paiutes thought this unfortunate. Other storytellers took up the tale where the chief left off. They have been telling it ever since."

The geologist commented that the story sounded a lot like the Greek story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Lee agreed but said it was a Paiute legend that was told to John Wesley Powell back in the 1860's.

Lee's tale also reminded Jack and Bill about a story that they had heard directly from their neighbor, Tom Wilson.

Tom, a trapper and full blooded Paiute, lived across the canyon and up the hill just opposite Jack and Bill. Not too long ago Tom told them about an experience his grandfather once had.

One day, Tom's grandfather came across a cave near here and disappeared into it. He reappeared three years later and said that he had been in a strange country living with strange people. They spoke an odd language, had horses, wore leather aprons and ate food that he had never seen before.

And more importantly: They had gold. Lots of it.

Next: An underground city full of gold, ancient giant mummies and more.

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