Dust of the Desert (Illustrated)

Dust of the Desert (Illustrated)

by Robert Welles Ritchie

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Overview

Roads of men thread the world. They thunder with a life flood. They are vibrant with a pulse of affairs. By land and water and air they link to-day to to-morrow. But El Camino de los Muertos (the Road of the Dead Men) is a dim highway leading nowhere but back and back to forgotten yesterdays. Its faint sign-posts once were vivid in lettering of tears and blood. Its stages were measured by the sum of all human hardihood. Faith, valour, reckless adventuring, thirst for gold, love o’ women—these the links in the measuring chain that marked its course through a dead land. And black crosses formed of lava stones laid down in the sand; these abide over all the length of the Road of the Dead Men from Caborca to Yuma to cry to the white-hot sky of slain hopes and faith betrayed in those buried years gone.
The priest-adventurers of New Spain first[2] blazed this trail through an unknown wilderness. Restless pioneers of the Society of Jesus and the Order of St. Francis, men with the zeal to dare, pushed out from the northernmost limits of the Spanish settlements in a new world with their soldier guards and their Indian guides. They fought death in a land of thirst northward, ever northward. The cross fell from the hands of spent zealots at some waterhole where water was not, and other hands followed to snatch up the sacred emblem and push it deeper into Papagueria. North and west through El Infiernillo to the red waters of the Colorado where the Yumas had their reed huts. Thence on to the west through a land that stank of death until at last the end of the trail was smothered in the soft green of Californian valleys—good ground for the seed of Faith.
The overland trail of the padres became the single trail from Mexico to gold when the madness of ’49 called to all peoples. Then the Road of the Dead Men took its toll by the score and doublescore. Then men fought for precious water at Tinajas Altas; many crosses of malapais mark the sands there. Bandits lurked at Tule Wells, ninety miles over blistering desert from the nearest water, to shoot men for the gold they were bringing back from California.[3] The Pock-Marked Woman, mad with thirst—so runs the legend—walked at nights with the Virgin in the flats beyond Pitiquito and found water with celestial candles burning all about the pool.
So passed the wraiths of the gold madness. A railroad was laid down from the Pacific eastward across the desert. What once was called Papagueria had come to be known as Sonora, in Mexico, and Arizona in the Republic of the North. The Road of the Dead Men at its California end became a way through green and watered valleys where bungalows mushroom overnight; along its course in southwestern Arizona and northern Sonora it lapsed to a faint trail from waterhole to waterhole of a heat scourged desert. To-day this forgotten remnant of a high road of adventure and hot romance exists a streak in an incandescent inferno of sand and lava slag, wherein death is the omnipresent fact. Occasionally a prospector putters along its dreary stretches, chipping at ledge and rimrock. A Papago or a Cocopa creeps over caliche-stained flats with baskets of salt from the Pinacate marshes near the Gulf.
That is all. The Dead Men hold their road inviolable. It is dust of the desert.
[4]
That is all, did I say? No, the spirit of romance and the shape of illusion have not completely passed from El Camino de los Muertos. Remains that tale which carries itself over a span of a century and a half, linking lives of the present to lives of men and women whose very graves long since have passed from sight of folk. A tale strangely like the desert trail along whose course its episodes of hot passion and swift action befell; for its beginnings are laid in a mirage of an elder day which we of the present can see but dimly, and its ending is beyond the horizon of to-day. Would you know the full story of the Lost Mission de los Cuatros Evangelistas: how the baleful spell of its green pearls of the Virgin worked upon the fortunes of the House of O’Donoju and how the last of that house wrought expiation for the sin of a forbear through heroism and the fire of a great love—would you know the full story, I say, you must see with me the substance of a beginning.
No more can one plump into the middle of this the last of the romance tales of the Road of the Dead Men than could one drop onto the Road itself midway of its length.
A King in Spain once followed a practice of[5] careless munificence. Whenever one of his generals in the great wars appeared worthy of reward His Majesty used to ink the ball of his thumb and with a grand and free gesture he would make a print somewhere on the map of Mexico, then called New Spain. Then the lucky general, taking this patent of royal favor across the seas with him,


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Product Details

BN ID: 2940148298977
Publisher: Lost Leaf Publications
Publication date: 01/19/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 410 KB

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