The Legend of the Superstition Gold
Chapter 1. New Shoes
I really prefer not to have my shoes changed. Midnight complained.
Annie Beck heard the words of the black pony, not with her ears, but in her mind whenever she was in direct contact with him; a rare and magical connection she discovered when she first met the black pony dying of colic in an alfalfa field. “You’re silly. Your hooves are growing so long that you’re going to trip over your own toes.” Annie coaxed. “Don’t you remember how silly I looked when I wore Daddy’s rubber boots to come out in the rain? I stumbled over everything. If your hooves aren’t trimmed, you could trip and hurt both of us.”
I never trip.
“I don’t understand, Midnight. You don’t want to throw off a shoe during of our trail ride, do you? And, you have to look good for Carla’s Mustang, Legend, and Teresa’s Appaloosa, Little Ben. They’ve never been to the Superstition Mountains before.”
These shoes are firm on my hooves.
“The new shoes have cleats to make you more sure footed and they’re lighter than your usual shoes.”
I’m sure footed with these shoes.
“But, we must be ready for the overnight trail ride. That trail is long and rocky. We’ll do some exploring and maybe even find the Lost Dutchman Goldmine. You just have to have new shoes.”
I don’t need them. I know these trails well. I can help you find this place without new shoes.
“Now listen, these are special shoes.”
Are they magical? Like you and me speaking together?
“You could say that, they’ll help you stay on the trails and I want you to have them.”
It will hurt. Midnight nibbled at a loose string hanging from Annie’s jeans for emphasis.
“What do you mean? It won’t hurt to have your hooves trimmed and shoes nailed on.”
Sometimes the farrier pulls my leg too hard to the side. Last time he cut my tender frog too short and then he hammered the nail into the sensitive part of my hoof.
“Oh no! I didn’t know that you had been hurt by the farrier before. Now I understand. It’s like me going to the dentist. I hate having my teeth fixed,” Annie said as she curried and brushed the pony’s silky black coat.
Teeth can be very painful, Midnight agreed as they both remembered the nearly tragic events and tooth problems at the racehorse farm last month.
“But this man is the same one who put the racing shoes on your friend Govad and on the other race horses at Desert Winds Horse Farm. You were there and you saw how gentle he was. And I will be right here with you.”
Midnight snorted into his feed bucket and swished his tail. I still don’t want to!
He buried his muzzle deep into his hay as if to hide when the farrier’s truck pulled into the yard. Annie read the magnetic sign on the door of the pickup. ‘Rick’s Horseshoeing’, then brushed the dust from her jeans and reset the headband in her sun-bleached hair.
“Howdy, Miss Annie.” Rick jumped out of his truck and tipped his hat toward Annie with a flourish.
“Hi Rick. Thank you for coming out today.” Annie reached for Rick’s outstretched hand for a grownup handshake, feeling proud that the horseman always treated her as if she were an adult.
Rick turned to Midnight, holding out a chunk of carrot. “Hello Midnight.”
Midnight blew through his nostrils into Rick’s hand then accepted the treat, crunching loudly.
“Rick, I know you usually only work on racehorses but my pony really needs his feet trimmed and I didn’t know anyone else.”
“No problem, Annie. I’ll be happy to be his regular farrier if you like. We’ll have this fine pony fixed up in no time.” Rick retrieved his tools from the back of his truck and buckled on his farrier’s chaps, sturdy leather leg protectors with pockets for his tools and horse shoe nails.
Midnight snorted again. I don’t like this.
“I think he’s a little nervous.” Annie said.
“Looks like it. Sometimes we give the racehorses some medicine to help them relax, but I think we only need to go slow with him. Also if I use a low stool to set each hoof on while I work on it, he won’t be hurt or frightened. This is how I start foals, slow and easy.” Rick crooned to Midnight as his lifted each hoof and carefully set it down to again.
Midnight leaned back as far as his lead rope would allow. He rolled a long raspberry snort from his nostrils and the whites of his eyes displayed fear.
“Midnight, easy boy, you can do this.” Annie scratched his favorite itching spot on his withers.
Ok, but only if you stay right here with me. Annie heard the resonant tones of the worried pony in her mind as she rubbed his back.
Rick offered Midnight another carrot, then slowly lifted a front hoof. One by one the gentle farrier removed the old, worn shoes. “Here you go, Annie, a shoe to put on the door of your barn for good luck.”
“Oh! Thank you, we can use good luck going to the Superstitions tomorrow. I’m going to look for clues to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine up there.”
Rick shook his head. “You know, folks have been looking for that mine for a long time. Most of us don’t even think it ever existed.”
“Oh, it’s there. I can feel it,” Annie patted Midnight. “And I have a secret weapon to help me find it.
Rick laughed and said, “It’s good to dream.” Then went back to Midnight’s hooves.
Midnight turned his head to nuzzle Rick. You were right, he is nice, and he has carrots.
Annie could hear her pony’s thoughts. “Rick, I think he is saying ‘thank you’ and maybe he would like another carrot.”
In less than an hour the job was finished. Annie led Midnight around the yard so he could feel his new shoes and get used to his shorter hooves.
“How much do I owe you, Rick?” Annie asked pulling a small pink wallet from her pocket.
“Not a thing; at least not this time. Joe Weston and Desert Winds Farm paid for these shoes. He was really happy with the way this pony helped calm those racehorses last week when I did their racing shoes.” Rick replaced his boxes of tools into the back of his truck. “Midnight may need another trimming in about six to eight weeks, just give me a call when you are ready. And save your pennies, it will be $90.”
Annie watched Rick pull out of the driveway, then turned back to Midnight. “See, boy, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” She hopped onto his back and guided him, using only the rope and halter, into the empty field for a short run.
The man was gentle and patient. He didn’t hurt me. You are also patient with me. Thank you for staying with me, you made it easier.
“Just like I told you, Midnight, you just have to trust me.”
If that man puts on my shoes every time, maybe I won’t be afraid again. Will we go on the trail ride now? He loped easily in the new pony shoes which fit his hooves perfectly. Annie guided Midnight in gentle curves and figure eights using only her foot cues to tell the pony when to change leads.
Midnight grunted happily. This is fun. You were right, the shoes help me run better. Can we go faster?
A rusty old pickup pulled into Annie’s back yard and ground to a sudden halt, throwing up a cloud of dust. Annie scowled.
“Midnight, that’s the old truck they use to run errands at the airport where Daddy works. I wonder who is coming out here and where is Daddy? I hope nothing bad has happened.” She urged the pony home at a fast gallop fearing that her father may have had an accident with one of the old airplanes he flew.
Don’t be afraid, Annie, hold tight to my mane. I can run very fast and I will protect you.
A tall, strong teenaged boy was dragging a huge duffle bag out of the back of the truck. He turned and Annie recognized him.
“Uncle Johnny!” Annie squealed. Midnight jumped anxiously, galloping harder. Annie stroked his neck. “It’s ok, boy, this is one of my favorite people in the whole world. But he lives far away in Seattle. I haven’t seen him in over a year.” She leaped from Midnight’s back and ran to her uncle.
“When did you get here? How come you’re driving the company pickup? Why are you even driving? What’s up with the bag?” Annie was so excited she blurted out all her questions at once as she hugged Johnny’s neck. “And what did you do to your hair? It’s so long, and nearly black! And it stinks!” Annie withdrew, wrinkling her nose at the acrid fumes surrounding her uncle.
“Hold on!” Johnny laughed. “First, I finally got my driver’s license. Been driving since I was ten years old, who knew it would be so hard to pass the dang driver’s test. I landed a couple hours ago, flew into Phoenix and your Dad picked me up in a small airplane to avoid traffic. I’m going to work at the airport this summer so I have experience working on aircraft before I go into the Navy when I graduate high school. They already had me working on one of the planes,” He brushed his matted hair out of his eyes and dusted off his jeans. “I guess I got filthy.”
“So, how come you never mentioned any of this in your letters? And, what about the duffle bag?” Annie jumped with anticipation. “Are you staying with us?”
“Wanted it to be a surprise, I heard you had a new barn, so I knew I’d have a place to stay!” Johnny teased.
“Not even! Mom will find a corner for you, maybe the hall closet!” Annie shot back.
“Gee, thanks,” Johnny said, “I guess it’s better than the doghouse and that’s where I usually stay.”
Annie was still excited and wanted to hear all the news about the home she had left when her family began traveling and finally moved to Arizona. “How is Grandpa? Is he still working at that old farm?”
“I guess Pa will be going over there until he can’t go anymore at all. He doesn’t do much, just drives around looking at fences and checking the stock, but it keeps him busy.”
“I sure wish he would write to me, does he even get my letters?”
“Sure, but he really has trouble with reading and writing unless it is about a horse. He talks about you sometimes, though.”
“Um, Uncle Johnny, does he still have Pickles, my pony I had to leave behind?” Annie feared that her grandfather may not be able to continue caring for her pony until they could somehow transport him to Arizona. At the mention of a pony, Midnight nudged Annie.
Will we have more horses in our herd? I would love a friend to scratch backs with.
“I’m surprised you’d even worry about that. Of course he still has that pony. He is teaching some of the neighbor kids and some of your cousins to ride him, but he’s still there.”
“It would have been great if you had been able to drive and bring him with you.” Annie sighed. She couldn’t hide her disappointment. Although she had found a special bond with Midnight, she still missed her first pony. So many things she had lost over the many times her family had moved around the country with her father’s work in the past few years, but nothing bothered her as much as leaving Pickles behind.
“Sure, I just get my license and you want me to drive fifteen hundred miles. That would certainly be a ride. Oh, yea talking about rides, the boss said something about the club going out on a trail ride?” Johnny grinned. Annie held her breath. “He’s loaning me a horse to ride with you.”
“Woo-Hoo!” Annie yelped, instantly forgetting her disappointment. “Better and better!”
“So, is this the famous Midnight I’ve heard so much about?”
Annie led Midnight in front of Johnny with a flourish. “Uncle Johnny, meet Midnight, pony extraordinaire. Expert playday pony, specializing in the training of young riders and skittish race horses. Midnight, meet my favorite uncle John Branson, youngest son of my Grandpa who taught me all about horses.”
“I’m happy to meet you, Midnight, ole’ boy. I heard that you have magic abilities.” Johnny rubbed Midnight’s forehead.
“I guess I can trust you not to laugh at me like kids at school. We sorta have a connection. I know what he is thinking,” Annie said shyly.
Johnny nodded serenely. “You have the touch, just like my dad.”
Midnight snorted a wet sneeze and rubbed his face on Johnny’s pant leg. I like him. He makes you happy.
Annie buried her fingers in Midnight’s mane and hugged her uncle with her other arm. “He says that he is glad you are here because it makes me happy.”
“Oh, I almost forgot something.” Johnny turned back to the pickup. “I brought you a late birthday present; you’re ten this year, right?” Johnny teased.
“You know I’m twelve, and going into the seventh grade next year!” Annie pretended to be offended.
“I hope you don’t mind, I didn’t wrap it.” He handed Annie a brand new camera. “Should come in handy on that trail ride. I have a surprise to show you, tomorrow, when we get started on the ride.”
“Thank you! It’s perfect.” Annie pulled the compact digital camera out of the box and immediately took a picture. “This is going to be the best summer ever in the whole world.”
“Wait, here’s something you might like, reading material, pamphlets I picked up at a tourist information booth about the trails in the Superstition Mountains and I even found one about the Legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine.”
“Soooo cool, let me see.” Annie grabbed the leaflets and flipped open the one about the legendary mine.”
Midnight nudged her. That is where the old ones are.
What old ones? Annie sent her thoughts to the pony but only received images of stones and trees, and a pair of eagles.
The old ones who were there before.
Chapter 2. Rodeo
The sun lay far below the horizon. On the opposite horizon a huge, nearly full moon hung low in the sky, getting ready to set. Crickets still chirped their night song when the truck and horse trailer rumbled into the yard. Headlights flooded the little barn with light and Annie giggled with excitement.
“They’re here, Midnight! Are you ready for a trail ride?”
Midnight snuffled in the bottom of his feed bin for the last of his oats. I’m always ready for a trail ride. Will we have hay in the trailer?
“You’re always hungry! I have your hay bag right here. There’s some for today and some for tomorrow, and even some oats.” Fingers trembling with excitement, Annie tightened the cinch on Midnight’s saddle. Her bedroll and saddlebags full of trail snacks were tied securely to the back of the saddle. She looped a canteen of water over the saddle horn and slipped some fresh carrots and a few apples into the saddlebag.
“I lifted some carrots for you, maybe give you an extra energy snack when we find the gold mine,” she whispered to Midnight. “I read all about it last night.”
I like carrots, can I have one now?
Johnny emerged from the back door of the house carrying a bedroll. His thick, black hair was hidden under a new cowboy hat. “I’m ready too.” He called. “Are you sure we won’t need our coats? It might be cold up in the mountains.”
“Not likely. Arizona mountains are just as hot as the valleys in the summer. It’s not like the mountains in Washington, where you just came from, and if it gets chilly at night, we’ll have a camp fire and of course good sleeping bags.” Annie said. “Hurry, I want you to meet my friends!”
Johnny heaved his bedroll into the back of the truck as a stream of bodies piled out of the shiny, double cab pickup truck.
“Uncle Johnny, you probably already know Daddy’s boss, Mr. Stanton. I got Midnight from him.”
Mr. Stanton extended his hand for a shake. “You ready to ride, Branson?”
“Mornin’, sir. Yep, been looking forward to it. Not often a guy gets the vacation before the work.”
“This is his oldest son, James, I think he’s your age.” The boys shook hands.
“And Eddie is the baby of the family,” Annie teased.
Eddie huffed in mock anger, “I’m older than you are!”
“By a whole month!” Annie shot back at him laughing.
“And don’t forget that I’m the one who trained your pony!” Then Eddie smiled and shook Johnny’s hand. “I’m glad you could make the ride with us.”
“Did you bring me a horse?” Johnny said peering into the dark stock trailer, stroking a chunky dun Quarter Horse.
James stepped to the trailer. “That’s my barrel horse, Hammer. The buckskin next to him is Dad’s ride, Sampson. You get my sister’s horse, Lady, that brown and white paint,” he said. “You wanna try her while we load Midnight? Lady doesn’t like to be stuffed into the trailer, so we put her in last where she can see out the back.” James went to the back of the long stock trailer to open the gate. The horses were already saddled and Lady backed gingerly down the ramp and nickered to her old friend Midnight.
“She’s as gentle as a lamb, but lead her around the yard once and let her get used to your scent before you mount her,” James suggested.
Johnny stroked Lady’s sleek neck and held a chunk of carrot for her to nibble. As he led the mare across the yard Annie heard a metallic jingle. Light glittered from a familiar object fastened to the heel of her uncle’s boot.
“You have Grandpa’s silver parade spurs!” Annie cried out.
“Yup, that’s the surprise.” Johnny gave the spurs an extra jingle.
“I love those spurs! Did he finally give them to you?” Annie jumped up and down in awe of the magnificent silver inlayed Spanish style parade spurs. “Or are they for me, ‘cause I’m his favorite granddaughter?”
“You wish!” laughed Johnny. “Pa gave them to me just before I left town to come to Arizona.” Johnny stopped the mare and checked the cinch, preparing to mount. “He said something about good luck. Like I need it or something.”
James spoke up, “Better ride light, Lady’s a bit ticklish.”
But he was too late.
Johnny swung his leg easily over the high cantle of the western saddle and settled into the seat. His boots found the wide stirrups and he gathered the reins in his left hand. He leaned slightly forward and clucked to Lady.
“Come on girl, let’s walk a bit.” The mare stepped out eagerly, but when Johnny reached down to pat her neck, his spurs brushed Lady’s sensitive ribs.
Lady leaped forward and Johnny tipped backward in the saddle. Already experienced with bucking horses, Johnny gripped the wide pommel of the western saddle with his knees to keep his balance. He grabbed wildly at the reins to pull up the slack and gain control of the fighting mare. Lady shook her head and grabbed the bit in her teeth. She heaved herself into the air, kicking in all directions at the same time, then plunged, head down, toward the road.
“Whoa!” Annie called along with the rest of the group. She glanced in panic at the road. Morning traffic filled both lanes. A horn blared and headlights slashed the morning as cars dodged the horse. Midnight already stood in the horse trailer, his bridle hung secure to his saddle, but his halter rope was not yet tied. Annie grabbed the rope and sprang into the saddle. She screamed again. “Noooooo!” Midnight leaped from the trailer with a rattling of hooves.
Lady would not be slowed, again she plunged and reared and kicked; her hooves clapping on the hard pavement. Annie feared she would slip and fall. Cars swerved, horns honked, and headlights cut erratic lines in the darkness. Horses whinnied from the trailer. The beautiful quiet morning was shattered.
Without the use of the bridle, Annie buried her fingers in Midnight’s thick mane and fastened her eyes on the mare charging down the middle of the road, carrying her uncle into doom. Midnight bolted after them, whinnying as loud as he could.
Hold tight, we will save them. LADY! I am your friend! Come back!
As if guided by unseen hands, Lady leaped to the side of the road and Midnight was by her side. Annie grabbed her bridle and pulled her into a tight turn as she had done with the racehorses while ponying them to the start of a race. In true cowboy form, Johnny released his boots from the stirrups and leaned out to grab Annie by the shoulders. He deftly swung out of the saddle and landed lightly on the ground on the other side of Midnight’s rump.
The rodeo was over.
Lady’s eyes no longer rimmed with white and her breathing slowed as Annie led her slowly back to her yard. Annie rubbed Midnight’s neck and whispered, “Thank you.” She received images of fear and grief from her pony, transmitted from the mare. “It’s alright, Midnight. Tell her that Uncle Johnny is ok and that he is very sorry he frightened her. He won’t jab her with the spurs anymore.”
Annie turned to see Johnny unbuckling the beautiful spurs.
“Here! You take these, I’m never wearing them again for the rest of my life!”
“Oh, Uncle Johnny, I can’t.” Annie reached for the spurs, then held her hands against her chest in awe. “I love those spurs so much and I love Grandpa, and he is the greatest horseman I’ve ever known, but he gave those to you, his son.”
“And I know how much Pa loves you too. He knows what kind of horseman you are. He always wanted you to have them. And anyway, you earned them by rescuing the lad and Lady in distress! Seriously, you’re the horseman of the family now, keep them.” Johnny hung the spurs over Midnight’s saddle horn.
“I may never be the horseman that Grandpa is, but these will remind me of him every day,” Annie whispered, running her fingers over the ornate silver inlays. “Thank you.”
When they walked into the light of Annie’s back yard, Annie saw her father standing next to Mr. Stanton.
Leo Beck, Annie’s father, reached for Midnight’s halter rope. His normally sparkling gray eyes now drilled straight through Annie. “Just what do you think you are doing taking off down a busy highway like that?”
“Daddy, I’m sorry. All I could think was that Lady was running off with Uncle Johnny.”
“You could have been killed out there if a car had hit you.” Mr. Beck gripped the rope tighter and Annie could see his hand shaking. She didn’t know if it was from fear or anger.
“Daddy, I don’t know what the big deal is all about. Midnight and I do this all the time with the racehorses and besides, we never got on the road. I do know what I’m doing, sometimes.”
“This isn’t a track and your uncle has ridden in enough rodeos to know how to handle that horse by himself. Maybe you should go unsaddle your pony and take a pass on today’s ride. I don’t know if I can trust you to make safe decisions.”
Her father’s statement hit her like a bomb, and Annie struggled to control herself and not burst into tears. She slipped from Midnight’s saddle and gripped the pony’s mane for strength. “No, Daddy! Why can’t you ever trust me? I’m not a baby anymore. I know how to handle horses as good as anyone here. You’ve never even seen me at the track. You don’t know what I can do!” She bit the corner of her lip to keep it from trembling and blinked to hold back a rogue tear that threatened to make a run down her cheek.
“Hey bro,” Johnny stood beside Annie. “This was my fault, you can’t punish her for doing what you would do yourself if you had the chance. Let her go with us and I will keep an eye on her.”
Mr. Stanton stepped forward with Eddie next to him. “Leo, I’ll keep an eye on her too. This ride is just once a year and it would be a shame to keep her home.”
Eddie spoke up too. “She’s right, Mr. Beck, she’s good with the horses, I’ve watched her.”
Annie felt encouraged. “Daddy, I promise, nothing else will happen. And I have the whole club to watch out for me. Not only that, I have Midnight and you know he won’t let anything happen to me.”
Midnight tossed his head and rubbed his face on Mr. Beck’s jeans as if to confirm his rider’s statement.
“Alright, Midnight, you don’t have to push me over.” All eyes were on Mr. Beck and Annie held her breath. “Just call home as soon as you get to that ranch up there. They do have phone service, don’t they?”
Annie breathed in relief and Eddie and Johnny both patted her on the back. Annie watched her father walk toward the pickup with his boss to chat. A light came on in the house and she saw the sleepy face of her little brother peering out. She turned the pony back toward the trailer.
Are we going to run again? Midnight snorted.
“No, sweet Midnight,” Annie whispered, “no more running, just a nice, quiet ride in the mountains.”
Johnny walked the mare around the yard again and bribed her with a few more carrots before he once again stepped into the saddle. “Let’s try that again, pretty Lady, only this time without the blow-up.”
James and Eddie moved to the driveway to block the mare if she decided to bolt again.
“I’m selling tickets to the rodeo,” Eddie sang watching Johnny lift his leg over Lady’s back and settle into the saddle
“Just as long as nothing else happens to keep us from going on our trail ride,” Annie said.
“I think we’re friends, now. Maybe we can head on up to the mountain trails now?” Johnny said after a few rounds of the yard.
Annie tied Midnight in the stock trailer. “You did good catching Lady, boy.”
Lady and I are friends. I will keep her happy in the trailer.
Midnight pressed his body against the rest of the horses in the trailer to make room for Lady as she stepped in beside him.
Hurry, Lady, there is room for you beside me, Midnight nickered. It is safe now.
Lady rolled a worried raspberry snort and sniffed the stock trailer floor before she gingerly took her place beside the black pony. Are you sure? You know I just hate climbing into these trailers. I’m glad you’re here, Midnight, you are always right where I need you. Lady rubbed her head against her friend.
I told you when you moved away that we would see each other again.
I was so scared before. How did you catch me so fast?
I think it’s these new shoes my rider got for me. She told me they are special and I believe her.
I wish I had shoes like those. Is my rider safe? I thought he fell once. I’ve never thrown a rider in my life. I feel so bad.
My rider tells me he is well. He did not fall, he jumped over me when I caught up with you. It was like a game we used to play.
Maybe this is why we practice those games. Are all humans as wise as ours?
We are lucky to have them, and to have this hay they gave us. Let’s eat.
Midnight and Lady pulled at the hay-bag as the trailer door clanked shut.
* * * * *
Annie started toward the pickup and James called out, “I get the window!”
“No way,” Eddie countered. “We draw straws. Long straw gets the front; short stick gets the back seat in the middle.” He held out four sticks, partially hidden in the palm of his hand, toward James and Johnny, then offered the last two to Annie. Her uncle winked as he reached for the door to the front seat and Annie happily discovered that she would sit next to a window.
Eddie dove for his spot in the center of the back seat and hollered to Annie, “Hurry up slow-poke, you’re holding up the show!”
Annie scrambled into the oversized pickup but her boot slipped and she fell back to the driveway.
“Okay, Clumsy,” Eddie teased, “do I have to get out and push you in like we have to do with Lady?”
She leaped into the seat and gave Eddie a friendly punch in the arm. “Hey, I’m not clumsy, my boots slipped on the doorframe!”
“Settle down, you two! No fighting or horseplay in the truck!” Mr. Stanton growled. “These mountain trails can be fun, but goofing around can get someone hurt.”