Down by the water tower on the Navajo River there was once a
small settlement.....Nothing much, half a dozen rectangular wooden
buildings none of them measuring more than 12'x12'....The men
worked keeping the track free of rocks and making sure the tower
was filled with water.
A steam locomotive needs a tank full of fresh water in its tender
to make steam....If there is no water, the train can't move. There
were women and children here as well....I used a big magnet to
probe the drinking water well that was near the town. Fragments
of toys, metal hooks from ladies underwear fasteners, even an
occasional heel from a shoe.....The metal nails that allowed it
to be fastened to the shoes attracted the magnet.
All this attested to a family environment, but there wasn't enough
to date the relics....I had to find something with a date on it Here
the power of an educated guess came into play. Perhaps the ladies sold food or beverages to the passengers. After all, railroads did not pay track crews much, and a couple of cookies
sold to a passenger might bring as much as the lady's husband
made in an hour. Multiply that by half a dozen sales and the family income could be improved.. Did it happen? Well there was one way to find out......I borrowed a metal detector from the
school's science lab. Then allowing for the fact that the locomotive had to be under the water tower, and the cars were
about 30 feet long, where would that place the passenger cars?
I was right! I found, after a while pennies (I presumed these would be the most common) and a couple of dimes. these ranged in date from 1896 to 1910......There were half a dozen coins in all. These were all "in the Ballpark" datewise. These
weren't dropped later on after the town had been abandoned.
Okay, so it isn't "Iron Clad Proof", but it beats an educated guess
by just a bit.
I knew, from my research, that the tracks were lain in September
of 1880, and the town was called "Navajo Tanks" and that it was
abandoned in May of 1927......The tracks were pulled up in June
of 1956. That was my time Frame.......A coin minted after 1956
would not fit these parameters.
Having exhausted my search for coins at the passenger site,
I started sweeping the area around the water tank with the detector.
I found two coins with square holes in the middle....Chinese?
It took a trip to the library in Albuquerque to find out for certain.
They were Chinese! Minted in Yunan Province in 1742 and 1756.
Before the American Revolution.
Back came the old guessing cap! What kind of men came from
China in 1880? ......Guess: Track Laying Crews....They would be
from poor families, and the early coins would have been handed down from generation to generation.......The young man would have been given every coin the family had for his trip to America.
The coins are called "Cash" (that's the origin for our word cash.)
they would be carried on a cord strung through the square hole. They, of course, would have no value in America, but likely the
Chinese workers used them when dealing with other chinese.
It made sense....Every now and again the cord would break, or
coins would be lost........These two parted company wih their
owners back in September of 1880. Surmise? Speculation? Well,
Yea, I guess so, but just as I can not prove the theory, neither
can anyone disprove it.
As a parting thought, I wondered then, and still do, whether these
poor people from Yunan province in South China ever saw their
home again.....I wonder what happened to them.....I doubt anyone
will ever know.
That brings up the title for this story, A genuine old Chinese
proverb. "Fate is as gentle with men, as a mongoose is with a
cobra." Perhaps, all the poor Chinese laborers found was a grave
in some far off American frontier town......Not many would have
been fortunate enough to be able to pay for a trip home to the land of his birth.......And how many mothers wept for the son they
would never see again?