the days when Spain ruled the Western country, an infantry regiment was
ordered out from
to open communication with
Florida and to carry a chest of gold for
the payment of the soldiers in St. Augustine. The men wintered on the
site of Trinidad,
Colorado, comforted by the society of their wives and
families. In the spring, the women and camp-followers were directed to
remain, while the troops set forward along the canyon of the Purgatoire
River -- neither to reach their destination nor to return. Did they
attempt to descend the stream in boats and go to wreck among the
rapids? Were they swept into eternity by a freshet? Did they lose
their provisions and starve in the desert? Did the
themselves for brutality and selfishness by slaying them at night or
from an ambush? Were they killed by banditti? Did they sink in the
quick sands that led the river into subterranean canals?
will ever know, perhaps; but many years afterward an
Indian told a
that the regiment had been surrounded by
George Custer's command
was in Montana, and slain, to a man. Seeing that escape was hopeless,
the colonel -- so said the narrator--had buried the gold that he was
transporting. Thousands of doubloons are believed to be hidden in the
canon, and thousands of dollars have been spent in searching for them.
weeks had lapsed into months and months into years, and no word came
of the missing regiment, the priests named the river El Rio de las
Animas Perdidas--the River of Lost Souls. The echoing of the flood as
it tumbled through the canyon was said to be the lamentation of the
troopers. French trappers softened the suggestion of the Spanish title
when they renamed it Purgatoire, and -- "bullwhackers" teaming across
the plains twisted the French title into the unmeaning "Picketwire."
But, Americo-Spaniards keep alive the tradition, and the prayers of
many have ascended and do ascend for the succor of those who vanished
so strangely in the valley of Las Animas.
of America, updated September, 2012.
About the Author: Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the
complete nine volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in
1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works; however, it
is not verbatim, as it has been edited.