We Searched For El Dorado

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How many times do we Arizonans exclaim, "So much to see, and so little time?"

The Rim country alone is taking a lifetime of exploration. However, periodically we need to expand our search for history beyond a 50-mile radius of Payson. Like the time we went in search of El Dorado.

I wanted to explore one of the routes that the young Coronado, who was still not 30 years old when he came this way, may have taken in his search for the fabled seven golden cities.

His mission was a total failure.

The lust for gold had fired the hearts of the Spanish as they followed a fantasy built around second-hand tales.

The hardships they endured were terrible, the atrocities they inflicted on native people were worse, and Coronado died in disgrace at the age of 44.

He did not come into the rugged precincts of Payson and the Tonto Basin. Some think he went to the Zuni Pueblo along a trail in eastern Arizona.

Perhaps it was appropriate that our trip was preceded the night before by my becoming violently ill with stomach flu. The ravages of the attack were to last three days. Fine dining and comfortable opportunities to think about history would be unfulfilled dreams.

We dubbed the illness Coronado's revenge, and went anyway since reservations were in place and our sister had planned to accompany us.

We picked her up in Tucson and headed north, visiting first the sites of gold seekers who came 200 years after Coronado.

The 16th century Spaniards had inflicted savagery on the Pueblo people, but Apache people suffered at the hands of 18th century Americans who were also avaricious gold seekers.

We went to the location of the old Camp Grant, on the San Pedro River near Dudleyville, where a vigilante group from Tucson massacred the peaceful Arivaipa band of Apaches. Our route then took us across the Gila River to Globe, which was originally part of the White Mountain/San Carlos reservation until precious metals were found there. It was then cut away from the Indian's promised land.

We spent our first night in Globe. The next morning we sought out the ruins of the 1880s town of McMillenville, north of Globe. It had been a town founded on gold strikes, and was the site of an 1882 attack by the Apaches. The residents of McMillenville successfully hid their women and children in a mine shaft and fended off the attackers.

Cibicue was our next stop, where a medicine man had raised a cult of Apaches on the hope that God would intervene to defeat the Whites, if they danced the Ghost Dance long enough.

Out of fear and miscommunication the soldiers from Fort Apache conducted a bloody attack that left many Indians dead.

A year later Apache anger boiled over in those 1882 raids and murders that are recorded in our local history.

Next we visited Fort Apache and General Crook's headquarters. All of this stirred mixed emotions in me. There was so much gold to be found in the earth, but Coronado had passed it by, looking for golden cities. When European prospectors came after it, bringing their army with them for protection, more death and suffering followed.

As we traveled from place to place I thought again of the incredible evil two groups of human beings can inflict upon one another.

Apaches too were violent, in defense of their lands.

It is obvious that "El Dorado" has been a disastrous quest in every American generation: the Conquistadors, the pioneers and prospectors, and modern corporate officers. We haven't come very far from that search and its dour results.

Our second night was spent at an inn in Greer, before we headed home along the Coronado Trail.

There was one other couple staying that night at the inn. She spent the evening alternating between a romance novel and the television in the common room. He worked his portable computer on a table in the corner, surrounded by volumes of papers. Somehow the delicious fresh air and the wind through the pine trees had eluded these two, as I am sure it did those early miners and Conquistadors seeking their El Dorado.

That night the flu hit my wife, so her sister and I ate without her.

The third morning we headed down State Highway 666, dubbed the Coronado Trail. I wondered, during the miles of twists and turns at 15 miles an hour, if the government had purposely numbered it with "the sign of the Beast."

That section has lately been renumbered due to the objections of biblically oriented citizens. My stomach had not fully returned to normal; wife Ruth was miserable in the back seat, but the scenery was indescribably beautiful. We pondered the misery of so many gold-seekers, then and now, and gave thanks that our misery was the kind that would soon pass.

We did not seek El Dorado, but the more aesthetic and spiritual blessings. Even Coronado's Revenge could not override those joys.

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