Holy Cross Mountain

by Bruce Patterson, July 31, 2013

“Go west, young man.” -- Horace Greeley

When Peg-Leg Barlow and his mule came down from his prospects up under Colorado’s Great Divide, he wasn’t old Peg-Leg anymore. “I’ve been beautified!” he cried while pushing through the swinging saloon doors like they was braided feathers. “Mine eyes have beheld the glory! Everybody drinks on me!”

Seeing how the clientele was glint-seeking, pick-swinging, shovel-abusing prospectors the same as he, pandamonia erupted. Fellahs got so excited they raised their chins heavenward and let out with joyous “halleluiahs” and “Eurekas” if they was solemn-minded, and bugled like bull elk in rut if they weren’t. After scooting sideways like sand crabs, the fellahs at the bar crowded round Peg-Leg’s sloping shoulders. From the upturned beer barrels and bow-legged chairs rushed the rest of the ragamuffins, they as anxious to admire Peg-Leg’s newfound bonanza as to receive their fair portions of ardent drink. The suddenly cheerful barkeep got to vigorously polishing glasses, setting them in a row and filling um up.

Peg-Leg he came out with his leather pocket pouch, stuck two fingers down its throat, wiggled its mouth open, turned it upside down and, instead of a collection of golden nuggets skittering on the bar, out came a single $20 gold piece that landed with a clank.

Shocked silent and befuddlecated, everybody froze and lengthened their faces. Three fellahs were so taken aback they stepped back, their suspicious squints as skinny as snow peas.

“You mean you didn’t strike gold?” Somebody asked.

“Found something far better than gold,” Peg-Leg let out.

Now everybody stepped back. Rightly suspecting such foolishness can get contagious, a couple of the camp’s passer-throughs up and passed themselves right through the saloon’s doors, the three taken aback fellahs right behind.

Well pleased with the sudden outbreak of quiet and earnest reflect-fullness, old Peg-Leg he smiled angelically at the remaining fellahs and then proceeded to testify how the Lord God Himself, using—mind you—but a Divine Fingernail, has etched into the granite face of a towering mountain the Holy Cross of Calvary. The divine spectacle is so gigantic, secludicated and exactly proportioned that only God could have left it. Since no dog-eating, papoose-packing heathen can possibly grasp the Eternal Glory of the Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, the cross on the mountainside is a message for us God-fearing Ah-mary-cans.

Peg-Leg made mention of the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey, the Garden of Eden and plenty more besides before coming round and offering up the gristle of his Revelation. “You boys set it on a stump, whack it into strips and hang um out to dry, and what you’ve got left with is everlasting proof God blesses our Manifest Destiny and decrees us to spread His Word across this virgin land, be fruitful and multiply.”

Now there was this one fellah who’d kept his distance. While everybody bunched up at the bar, he’d stayed at his table speck-taten. Edward A. Rand II, he signed his name. A Harvard educated son of Boston Society, young Edward he’d come out west to win his independence from his family, make his mark and parley his inheritance. A secret advisor to the railroad, stock-kiter, land-flipper and mine-salting frontier privateer, in camp he was known only as another dandified tinhorn gambler just passing through.

Seeing the effect the old buzzard was having on that collection of tottering knotheads, Edward realized they were all as well as beautified now, them made as warm and cuddly as a litter of polecat cabin kittens on a freezing night. The transformation in them was so awe-inspiring that Edward himself got beautified. Absolutely he must see this place with his own eyes. Absolutely he’ll be astride his mare and gone from camp before rooster’s crow.

* * *

The old bum was right about one thing: the sight of the cross surely is heavenly. The spectacle is so downright exquisite and majestic it lifts you right up out your boots. While Edward knew there weren’t no perfect crosses in nature, or even straight lines, this here cross is a mighty fine likeness of one. It isn’t just any old cross, neither, but the One True Cross—the one everybody knows by sight.

The old-timer had made mention of a glistening natural cistern at the base of the cross and how he’d christened it God’s Own Baptismal. Edward liked the idea, and ring of it, and he’d keep it. But nearby he’d add a Fountain of Youth. Aiming to be hospitable to all potential paying customers, he’d add a Sacred Spring, an Enchanted Well, Stations of the Cross and a steaming medicinal cauldron. He’ll offer up not just Holy Water but healing waters to boot. With the right kind of planning and development, Edward calculated, he can make his Mountain of the Holy Cross into America’s Mount Sinai and Hill of Tara, Olympus and Shangri La.

Peering into his future, Edward sees wagonloads of the crippled, the old and the dying flocking in from near and far. He sees long lines of humble pilgrims after their chance to lay eyes on the Sacred Symbol, pray to it and maybe have some of its miracle rub off on them. To ease their way, Edward will build a bunkhouse with a kitchen and fireplace. He’ll build a two-story hotel offering luxurious rooms, fine cuisine, aged wine and decorous, on-the-level card and parlor games. Employing all the idle and busted prospectors out for a roof and a pallet, grub and whiskey, he could have a road built by fall. By summer next, in addition to his hotel and bunkhouse, he’ll have a campground, chapel, health spa, general store, billiard parlor, stable and, down in the velvet-forested, grassy park-painted gulch, a dude ranch.

Walking his horse down off the mountain saddle—the mare and Edward’s ass could use some rest—he resolved to head straight for the telegraph office over in Pueblo. All the work ahead of him would represent his own modestly compensated personal investment (including a 51% stock share), and his operating capital would come from selling shares to his friends and their friends back home. By selling 10,000 shares at two-bits a piece, he calculated he’d attract more than enough capital to complete his Good Works. He saw no reason why, in time, his Mountain of the Holy Cross couldn’t become as famous—and lucrative—as Lourdes. No doubt his friends would agree.

All went according to plan and Edward held his Grand Opening. Just as he’d predicted (he’d made sure to salt and re-salt the newspapers), a huge crowd of paying customers came from near and far and gathered at the bottom of the road. By the looks of them, for every humble pilgrim there were at least two of the just-plain-curious plus another just tagging along. Leading the procession up the mountain aboard his trusty steed, Edward was so well pleased with himself he felt a bit like Moses generously parting the Red Sea. He arrived atop the saddle, cast his moon eyes upon his miracle and about fell off his horse. Half of the right beam of the cross had broken off and its tip had slid down the mountain about 100 feet, leaving the beam looking like a broken wing. The visual effect was entirely ruined and, as folks caught up and stretched their beautified necks yonder, they got struck dumb. What’s God saying now?

Luckily for Edward, they were laid so sow-belly-low, mortified and shaken that none of them noticed him slipping away, his old mare sashaying on tiptoes. Since the greatest part of the procession was still making its way onward and upward, going down he graciously touched his hat with a finger, nodded, grinned and howdyed like he’d already gotten his fair share of an eyeful and was making room for them.

Lacking anymore ado, young Edward he lit out into the western wastelands and disappeared into the weepy mists of history. Though the crumbling remains of the ghost town he’d left behind is still known in those parts as Edward’s Folly.

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