Cooney’s Tomb

For the past three months, my hunt for Nana has been sidetracked by what I’ve come to think of as the “Search for Cooney’s Tomb.” Not that the Tomb itself is at all difficult to find; it’s just three or four miles off pavement and so close to the road that a row of jersey bounce barricades have been placed to keep people from running into it. But I chose to make the journey the hard way, starting from TorC and driving up Cuchillo Creek to Winston and on over the Black Range to end of pavement at Beaverhead, and on from there skirting the northern edge of the Gila Wilderness. It had been my original intention to emerge through Mogollon, but that road was washed out when I made the trip at the tail end of the monsoon season. Instead, I detoured northwest to Apache Creek and then back down to Alma.
A long drive (it took me three days) but well worth it, as it reminded me just how beautiful – and empty – that country still is, and why Nana and his people fought so hard to keep it.
James Cooney and his brother Michael both died in those mountains, and some of their kin are buried there as well. Their story is the opposite side of the coin from Nana and his people. It wasn’t the soldiers who finally conquered Apacheria, although they played a valiant role in the contest. It was the Cooneys and thousands of others like them who took this land, literally crowding out the Indians. They came from the slums of the Eastern cities and poverty-stricken farms half a world away, drawn to the mountains by a dream: that with courage, hard work, and a little luck, “no longer I’ll be poor. Instead of digging praties, I’ll be digging lumps of gold.”  Cooney’s Tomb is their monument.

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