The River Of Lost Souls





In the days when Spain ruled the Western country an infantry regiment was

ordered out from Santa Fe 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, comforted by the society of their wives

and families, and in the spring the women and camp-followers were

directed to remain, while the troops set forward along the canon of the

Purgatoire--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 Indians revenge themselves

for brutality and selfishness by slaying them at night or from an ambush?

Were they killed by banditti? Did they sink in the quicksands that led

the river into subterranean canals? None will ever know, perhaps; but

many years afterward a savage told a priest in Santa Fe that the regiment

had been surrounded by Indians, as 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.



After 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 canon 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.





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