“Rumors? What rumors?”
Claud shrugged and told him, “About two years ago-right after I first came into the country and was working for a mine up there at Divide-what we called the town around the hotel since it never really had a name of its own-this old prospector showed up. I was at the bar the day he showed up and listened to him tell stories of the old days. Seems he had been one of the first people to prospect in the pass and had even been there during the small pox epidemic. Claimed he had stayed and helped out on account of he’d had the pox when he was a kid and survived so he wasn’t in danger of catching it again.
“Well, somebody asked the old man if’n he knew Silver Heels. That old man smiled and said not only did he know her, he’d once been married to her! None of us knew whether to believe him or not; after all, this man must’ve been eighty and that would make him at least thirty years older than Silver Heels would have been-if the stories were right. She was only supposed to have been twenty, maybe twenty-five when all this happened. He would have been fifty or more back then.
“But he started talking and said he was buddies with one of the miners she had nursed back to health and he’d been around her a lot. Said he felt like he owed her his life just ’cause of what he’d seen her do for them miners-and especially his friend. Anyhow, when she left, he followed her. He finally convinced her to marry him and she did. But after she had their first baby, she left. Just up and left, leaving only a note saying she hated the west and wanted her daughter to grow up in the east around civilized folk. He said he looked for her, but he never did find her. Seems whatever name she’d given him probably wasn’t her real name and so he just kept following blind leads. Said he never stopped looking for her, but you could tell by his voice that he’d given up on the search.”
“Think he was telling the truth?” David asked.
Claud shrugged, “I don’t know. Might’ve been. It’s hard to say. He sounded like he believed it, but I guess it could have been the rotgut talking, or the trail. He’d seen a lot of both, if you ask me.”
John agreed, “I’ve met a few of those. You get the feeling that some of their story is based on truth and the rest is a combination of stories they’ve heard from other people and things they just made up. Some of those old men, they’ve been telling the stories so long even they couldn’t tell you which part isn’t made up-and maybe they believe it all. But who knows, maybe he was telling the truth. I’ve heard some mighty strange stories that turned out to be true.”
“What happened to the old man?”
“Died about two days later. They found him dead in his hotel room. Died in his sleep, the doctor said. They buried him up there on the Continental Divide.”
David looked at the mountain and remarked, “That is some story. Makes you wonder whatever happened to the woman. And what about the little girl? I mean, if the old man was telling the truth. I wonder how old the daughter would be by now?”