Part Four of “crowd writing” story with tnkerr we started first of this year. For the whole story, go to: Victor & Hugo
July 23rd, 1996
“A skeleton?!” Charlene Davis was shocked. “Oh, my God, Hugo. We have to call the Sheriff’s office!”
“OK, but, honestly, I don’t think this is a missing person’s case. I mean, I’m not an anthropologist, or anything, but from the looks of it, that skeleton’s been there a good long while. Like, maybe decades. Maybe more.”
Larry Elkano, Charlene and Hugo’s boss, looked skeptical. “What makes you say that?”
“There was this monster rifle and an old pistol right by the thing. I mean, old, man. Like the guns you see in museums. And a really old-looking bottle with no label was lying right beside him. Like the kind my mom used to collect, from antique shops, and stuff.”
“And, it was just sittin’ there? I mean, a whole skeleton?” Larry asked.
Hugo nodded. “Clothes still on, and everything. You could clearly see a broken femur. Definitely a compound fracture. Guy probably had no choice but to wait for help.”
Larry was still skeptical. “I don’t buy it. An entire skeleton, sitting there for a hundred years, undisturbed. No way.”
Hugo shrugged. “I’m only tellin’ ya what I saw, man.”
“It’s a hoax,” Larry said, dismissively.
“Well,” Charlene said, “either way, we ought to call the Sheriff’s office. That’s not up to us to decide.” Hugo agreed. Larry thought a moment before replying. “Sure, whatever. I guess. Go ahead.”
“This will slow Hixon down, Larry,” Charlene said. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“Yeah,” Larry replied. “Like I said, go ahead!”
Charlene smiled, and placing a convivial hand on Hugo’s shoulder, said, “You couldn’t find a Spotted Owl, or evidence that Fishers are still out there, or some rare pink species of Edelweiss, hmm? You had to come back with a skeleton with a shot gun, pistol and a bottle of whiskey?”
“I aim to please,” Hugo smiled.
Sheriff Daryl Parson and Deputy Mike Garrett pulled their Chevy up to the head of the old logging road and turned off the engine.
“This the spot?” Deputy Garrett asked as he turned around to look at Hugo.
“Yep. I parked here, walked up the road a bit and then turned north. I found the remains about a klick, maybe a little more, from that point.”
Sheriff Parson shook his head and smiled at his Deputy. “OK, well, then, let’s go take a look.”
The Sheriff, Deputy, Hugo and Charlene hiked in silence for a while before Sheriff Parson turned to Charlene and Hugo.
“You folks are trying pretty hard to stop Hixon from moving in,” he said.
“You want them here? On your family’s land?” Hugo asked.
“Not up to me. The land’s not been in the family for nearly 40 years now. State’s got it.”
“We know. Still,” Hugo offered.
“I guess we look at things differently, ‘round here,” Sheriff Parson offered. “That mine means jobs. Something we need pretty bad.”
Charlene quickly interrupted. This wasn’t the time or place for debate. “Do you really think this skeleton could be the man you said?” She asked. “That logger who lived in the forest that went missing in 1872?
“It’d be a hoot if it is,” Deputy Garrett joshed. “That story’s legend. And it would definitely be a fly in the ointment for Hixon,” he added, casting a look over to the Sheriff. “And, if those remains are old Victor Samuels, it’d be a big deal to a lot of people, I can tell you.”
Hugo stopped their little search party while he consulted his GPS. “OK, just up here a few more feet, and then turn north. I stacked a few rocks as a marker.” They found the rocks and started heading due north.
“Why would it be important?” Charlene asked the Deputy, encouraging him to finish his story.
“There’s a lot of people who have a stake on what happens to this land we’re walkin’ on,” Deputy Garrett said.
Charlene was confused, “I thought this wasn’t private property.”
“Our family’s land’s now part of the state, but this part’s held by a Trust,” Sherriff Parsons answered, “but the Feds and the state have had their hand in the management of it for near on 60, 70 years.”
“Why’s Victor Samuels a legend?” Hugo asked.
“Well, both him and his wife are, actually.” Garrett replied. “See, the homestead, the land we’re on now, was his property. Owned it outright. Something like 1300 acres, starting at Parson’s Ridge and going all the way up to the summit, and down to what used to be the town limits, and then over to the river.
“But the laws ‘bout owning property back then were a little squirrely. The rule of law was changing all the time since the Civil War and expansion of the country out west. Territories were becoming states, and things were becoming more and more federalized. But places like here, like areas that Canada and the U.S. were still squabbling over, were pretty much self-governed. Anyway, when old Victor Samuels went missing and was presumed dead, his wife had to fight hard to keep the place, as she had no rights to the property.”
“Why’d they try and take the property from her? Wasn’t she his wife?” Charlene asked.
“That’s just it,” the Deputy said, “it was assumed he was dead, so the local authorities tried to reclaim the property, because the laws at the time said a widow couldn’t be a property owner.
“See, even back then, they knew the value of what was under the ground. And even if they didn’t find the minerals and such they were looking for, logging was big business. Plus the railroads were going in just about everywhere ‘cross the country. States and territories were trying to reclaim lands so they could option for railroads. Any way you looked at it, this land was valuable.
“But old Catherine,” the Deputy continued, “she put up a fight. It was her home, and she wasn’t ‘bout to give it up. Came up with all sorts of crazy stuff with the help of a lawyer out of Philadelphia to keep the state and the Feds away. A guy by the name of George Davenport.”
“Philadelphia? How’d a lawyer from Philadelphia get involved?” Charlene asked.
“Well, that’s a story in and of itself. Anyway, Davenport came out here to help her keep the property, but the courts were deadlocked. Nobody could decide if Catherine Samuels should keep it, or if it should be turned over to the state.”
“So, what happened?” Charlene asked.
“Well, it gets complicated. See, Davenport and Catherine ended up getting married. They had a whole bunch of kids, too. But, Catherine didn’t ever want to give up the land, so they had to keep arguing in the courts that, since no one could prove Victor was dead, she could hang on to the ownership. ‘Course, that made getting married a problem. By then she’d given birth to the first of their kids. Had to pass them off as orphans of a relative of his in Philly.
“‘Course that story wasn’t going to stick for long, so, they had to dissolve Catherine and Victor’s marriage, claiming abandonment, which you could do in those days. But in order to keep the claim on the land, they had to pass the rights of ownership to Victor and Catherine’s eldest, Thomas Samuels. I think Thomas was still just a kid at that time.
“Truth is, Catherine knew Victor had to be dead, fallen down some gulch or gully after a night of heavy drinking. He’d have never just wandered away or run off. From what’s been said about him, he was thought of as a kindly and loyal sort. Anyway, story goes it had been snowing pretty hard the day he went missing. He didn’t keep horses, according to what the historical society was able to piece together from old records, so he would have been on foot. And most folks knew him as the town drunk, so, he probably slipped and fell somewhere, got knocked out and froze to death. But Catherine had to keep up the story he might have just took off, made his way out farther west, or maybe down to old Mexico, so they didn’t lose the land.
“Since then, every generation of Samuels, Davenports and my family, the Garretts, has ended up in court about this property, mostly fighting each other about it. But, nothing was ever really made of the land, so who knows why they keep fighting. Railroads ended up goin’ in farther south and to the north. They did a fair amount of logging here back when, but not much. Least not enough to be profitable, and then the logging industry eventually dried up anyway. And who knows why no one showed much interest in mining all that time, ’til Hixon started coming around a few years ago.”
“So, it’s been in a Trust all these years?” Charlene pressed.
“Yeah,” Garrett continued. “Over time it’s been mostly Samuels named trustees, but also Davenports, Parsons and Garretts, and sometimes other folks who have a stake in the county.”
“Apple Alice Garrett? Of Apple Alice’s restaurant chain? You related to her? Why her?” Hugo asked.
“Oh, that’s another long story,” Garrett replied.
Charlene asked, “So, what will happen if this skeleton is old Victor Samuels?”
“Oh, well, now there’s a story, too! See, the courts put in this clause sayin’ if it is ever proved old Victor died and didn’t just run off…” Deputy Garrett was abruptly interrupted by Sheriff Parson.
“Ho-ly shit!” the Sheriff gasped. All four of them stopped. Right in front of them was the skeleton, just as Hugo described it.
“I’ll be damned. Ain’t that a sight,” the Sheriff said.