When the three boys, two brothers and a cousin, came into the store, there he was sitting by the counter in a cane back chair. Grandpa Herzig spent a lot of time in the Thida store, almost every day he would walk from his place to the Post Office then stop in and linger at the store to see and talk to anybody that happened to come by. Grandpa Herzig was not really anybody’s grandpa, everybody just called him that. He was just an old man who had lived around Thida and Blackland Mountain longer than anyone could remember and he knew more about the area than anyone else. Perhaps that’s the reason Zeb Forest sent the boys to talk to him.
Dave, Bill, and their visiting cousin George Forest had become curious about the old lead mines they heard about in the surrounding countryside. They were anxious to search for the treasures promised by the stories and wanted to learn the possible locations of the mines. It was a good bet that Grandpa Herzig would know something and be happy to talk about it.
As usual Grandpa Herzig was talking, telling a squirrel hunting story. “There I was,” he said, as that squirrel disappeared around the trunk of the tree, I moved around to get a clear shot; that’s when I spotted that rattlesnake sleeping on a rock at my feet. I knew if I shot the snake the squirrel would get away and if I shot the squirrel, it would wake the snake and he could bite me. I had to act fast so I put the butt my shot gun on the neck of that snake, held him against the ground and cut his head off with my pocket knife. I guess that squirrel got curious because he stuck his head around just as I raised the gun. Bang! Got ‘em both.”
Lester Dockins, the store owner was sitting on a stool behind the counter reading a magazine, apparently ignoring Grandpa. He looked up over his glasses and greeted the boys. “Hey boys what you need today?"
“We don’t need nothing, we just want to talk to Grandpa,” said Dave.
“What’s your name young feller? Haven’t seen you around here before,” said Lester glaring at George.
“George, looks like you need a haircut, sorry we ain’t got a barber in town.”
“Mr. Dockins, George is our cousin from California; he don’t need no haircut, everybody wears their hair like that out there, the longer the better.” said Dave.
Grandpa Herzig stood up, placed his hand in the small of his back, and stretched. “You boys been looking for that Yankee gold ain’t you? I can tell you something about that.
“Lead was needed by both the Yanks and Rebels during the Civil War for bullets. There were several mines around these parts and north of here. It’s said that the Yankee’s hid a shipment of gold in one of them mines when the wagon they was hauling it in broke down from the heavy weight and rough terrain. They were forced off the regular road by a gang of Rebels over around Huff, they chased over a trail through Blackland Mountains.
Both sides used the mines at different times to get lead so them Yanks knew where the mines was. I found one when I was just a young feller.”
“Can you tell us where it is grandpa?” Bill asked.
“Well no, I don’t exactly know, never could find it again. I know the general area, I figure it caved in and grew up around it. I wasn’t even looking for it when I thought I spotted something behind this maple tree that was growing up the flat side of a hill. I looked behind it and there it was, a hole about four foot wide and six foot high. There was a log stood up along each side and one laying across the top. Moss and ferns were growing all around; kind of pretty, it was. Just inside there was a pick and shovel leaning against the side of the opening all rusty, I just barely touched the handle of the shovel it crumbled up into shaving in my hand.
It was getting late when I found it; I wasn’t feeling well and decided to come back the next morning to check it out. Wouldn’t you know it; I came down with a bad case of the Frakes the very next day. It was two months before I was able to get back up to that place. I couldn’t find a trace of that hillside.”
Eleven year-old Bill’s eyes were wide as he hung on every word. “Can you show us about where you were?”
“Uh, Lester if you’ll give me about a foot pull off of that white paper you wrap baloney in, I’ll draw these boys a map.”
Lester pulled off a length of white butcher paper off the roll and laid it out on the counter. Everyone gathered around as Grandpa Herzig sketch out a map of landmarks he remembered from years ago. The completed map showed several X marks to indicate possible locations of the mine.
“Now you all remember, if you find that Yankee Gold you owe a share to me and Lester – we’re partners now.”
… TO BE CONTINUED