Tam the Tall Tale Teller, Chapter 87: The Mining Plan



Chet Barnes and James Q. Bodeen were fast becoming fast friends. This eventually led to a bit of a land swap.

Jack Prosser and his wife sold his 80 acre parcel back to Flywheel in return for 120 acres over on the Morgan place, thanks to Daniel donating some of his ownership interest to his daughter and son in law.

Then we set Chet up with the old Prosser piece, which made him next door neighbor to Bodeen. Both men were still living in the bunkhouse, of course, but they’d end up building their own homes sooner or later. Jim had first pick, but he chose to keep the 80 he’d started out with.

Which–fer the moment, anyway–left Scrap Hannigan still to go.

Wolf Eyes, too, one day down the road, if he decided that was what he wanted. If, on the other hand, he ended up deciding someday to head back to the Reservation fer good, it didn’t make a lot of sense to be loading up the young Ute with a chunk of our prime real estate. He could be compensated in other ways. Horses, possibly, or wagon loads of meat fer his people.

The boy was in no hurry to decide, nor did we see any reason to push him.

By mid-April, though, Scrap believed he had his own choice of land-as-compensation figured out. Bodeen and Barnes took my place fer the day, checking the middle herd fer mama cows that might need help getting the babies on the ground and keeping a sharp eye out fer signs of predators. We hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the wolf pack that had troubled us in early ’74, but the bears were coming outa their dens and the catamounts were always a threat.

That run didn’t normally require two men. Chet was still learning the ropes, though, so he’d gone along, mostly fer the training. Forty-eight years old and jist now learning how to be a cowboy.


“There,” the one-eyed miner extended his arm to point across the steep, timber-choked draw. “I’m standing on the southeast corner. Quarter mile west, across that little ridge and down the slope a bit, that’ll be the southwest corner. Run that line straight north one half mile and you got my eighty, one eighth of a section, and it’ll include the edge of that loop in the Walsenburg road.”

“Makes sense to me,” I nodded, impressed with his choice. “I’ll bring it up at the ownership meeting tonight.”

I hadn’t realized the road came within half a mile of the entrance to Sapphire Cave. Half a mile of mostly steep, heavily timbered hillside, but still. We did need full time protection fer our precious sapphire mine, and having our mine manager living within rock throwing distance of the opening would take care of that problem in fine fashion.

He’d have to take the land without the mineral rights, though. Sapphire Cave was a long ways from being fully explored at this point; we didn’t intend to muck up our title to the gemstones, not even by accident.

Fortunately, he didn’t have a problem with that. Better not, since he was the one who pointed it out in the first place. “You don’t want to be taking any chances of splitting that up,” he’d told us. “Let’s jist hope Sapphire cave don’t turn out to run clean under Chet’s and Bodeen’s places, complete with mother lode of whatever.”

We hadn’t thought of that possibility.


“Gentlemen,” I said once the non-owners had cleared out of the bunkhouse fer the duration. “We need to talk about mining law.”

From the looks I got, not a one of ’em had considered that. Not Tam, not Cougar, and certainly not Jack Prosser. Jack now represented his father in law at these meetings, but one of these days we’d need to meet over on their side of the mountains. Daniel deserved to attend in person, at least once in a while.

“I learned a lot at the Constitutional Convention. Since Marie and I got back in the middle of calving season, there ain’t been a whole lot of time to fill you in on the details. Except fer the self defense provision, which was my number one priority up there.

“But we got a few things to deal with. If I hadn’t been there, been involved in making some of those laws that’re gonna take us over the minute this Territory becomes a State, we’d have no clue. So, nasty as it was, we need to thank the men that drafted me fer the job.

“Tonight, I think we’d better cover what them yahoos put in the Constitution about mining.”

“Whoa.” Cougar’s eyebrows shot up. “They covered mining at the Constitutional level?”

“Not covered it exactly, Coug. But they wrote up a few rules, and we need to take ’em into consideration if we intend to keep outa deep water with the sapphires.”

Tam rose and began pulling dessert plates outa the cupboard. “Lay it on us, Dawson. I’ll dish up the pie. Peach tonight.”

“Yum. First things first, I guess. I made copies of the pertinent wording.” I passed out the papers, and we sat down to stuff our faces while we read.


“There’s a section on Revenue,” Dawson explained, “where it says the State can tax our mining operations, but they put in a ten-year exemption. Ten years from the day we git statehood, that is. So we don’t need to worry ’bout that fer the moment except fer one thing..” He paused, sipping from his coffee before continuing. “They left themselves able to tax our net proceeds and any surface improvements we might make.”

He was a different man since Denver. Carried himself like a President or Governor or something.

“They can tax our rocks when we sell ’em? After expenses?” Jack was on it. Had been, ever since the Franzen brothers tried stealing 110 pounds of sapphires.

“Theoretically, yes. If we don’t go outlaw on ’em and keep the transactions hidden as much as practical. Which I propose we do.”

I thought about that. “We bought the land outright with some mighty hard-earned dollars. It’s ours as much as any land is any man’s. They’re the damn thieves. You bet we’ll avoid their taxes to the utmost extent. We’ll have to unless we want the State putting us outa business before we git fairly started. And I’m guessing you have some ideas on how to do that without putting ourselves overly at risk.”



“Now, how be we go over the Mining and Irrigation Section 2.”


“Yes, but we can git to that another day. The mining side of it can’t wait. We need to make some decisions.”

Yep. We needed to do that, all right. I stared at the paper on the table in front of me, and I didn’t much like what I saw. Dawson explained he’d left out Section 1 because all it did was authorize the appointment of a Commissioner of Mines and his salary, stuff like that.

Section 2, however, could be trouble.

Article XVI.

Mining and Irrigation


Sec. 2. The General Assembly shall provide by law for the proper ventilation of mines, the construction of escapement shafts, and such other appliances as may be necessary to protect the health and secure the safety of the workmen therein; and shall prohibit the employment in the mines of children under twelve years of age.

Cougar spoke first. “Too bad about that twelve years of age thing. I was figuring we could put Henry and Reggie to work right off.”

“Easy, son,” I grinned. “Not a problem. We jist won’t pay ’em. That way they’re not employed; they’re volunteers.” None of us intended to let the boys anywhere near our mining operations, of course. Not because we thought work was a bad thing fer ’em, but because we didn’t want ’em knowing too much till they were old enough to handle it.

“I’m glad we’re keeping it light, fellas, but there’s real potential trouble in this provision. If the State ever gits wind of our sapphire mining, they’ll not only blab the news all over the place, but they’ll also have inspectors out here. You know, crawling through the place, nitpicking the way Scrap done this or didn’t do that.”

I saw what he meant. “Likely tell us we gotta blow a full size drift into the big room instead of crawling down the tunnel.”

“At minimum.”

“All right, What’re you proposing we do about it?”


Nodding with satisfaction, Scrap dipped into the canvas bag and pulled out a fistful of raw sapphires. “This’ll do.” He scattered the little gemstones with the care of a farmer seeding his crop. “If we don’t need to find ’em before the spring runoff floods this gravel bar, they’ll go no farther then the bend. I’ll be able to find some, any time we need to.”

“Good enough.” I didn’t bother to step down, jist relaxed with my forearms crossed over the saddle horn. This wouldn’t take long.

We’d settled on Trickle Creek fer a couple of reasons. Matter of fact, I still had the list of those reasons–one of my “famous” lists tucked in my shirt pocket. Didn’t need to look at it; I knew the contents by heart.

Trickle Creek Advantages

1. Good gravel bars, right kind of gravel; sapphires could live there.

2. Location, location, location. Far east end of Flywheel range, well away from both Geode Cave and Sapphire Cave. Draw eyes away from real thing(s).

The mining plan, as we’d settled it sometime around three in the morning, was fairly detailed but–we all agreed–workable. I had a list fer that, too.

Mining Plan

1. Salt Trickle Creek with sapphires for whenever State wants to know where mine is. (Scrap)

2. Disguise Sapphire Cave entrance. (Scrap)

3. Learn all there is to know about processing from Doug Franzen. (Scrap)

4. ASAP , send Morgan to Philly to make buyer contacts. (Daniel)

5. ASAP (but not till he feels he knows enough) set up 2nd “real” processing near Scrap’s parcel. (Scrap, plus others will help as time permits)

6. Rotate so buyers get to know: Daniel, Tam, Dawson, Cougar.

7. All shipments hand carry in suitcase (4 owners, see above).

8. Slim and Doug to be kept in dark for now.

9. No in-state sales

Hannigan interrupted my reverie. “Ready to go, Crazy Rifle?”

“If you are.”


We were halfway back to headquarters before he spoke again. “Tam?”


“I been puzzling on something.”

“Go on.”

“Well…that new Colorado Constitution. I know we have to have one iffen we’re gonna be a state and all, but…how come they had to go and butt into so much right off the bat?”

I reached down and patted Smokey on the neck, jist to give myself a second to think. “At least three factors, I’m guessing. One part of it would be wanting to look good fer the feds so’s they’ll think were ready to be a state. Another would be jist getting all puffed up and believing in their own press. So to speak. Then, last but not least, there’d be a few who were really lobbyists sent there by this or that special interest to try to slip in one rule or another.”

“Huh. I gotta say, looks to me like they jist flat-out wrote way too much Constitution. The minute it’s offical, we’re gonna be drowning in lawyers and lawsuits and bureaucrats jist as bad as any of them states back East.”

“I know, Scrap.” A deep sigh underscored my words. “Believe me, I know.”

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