Exaggeratin’ and prevaricatin’ has long been a cherished right in the West and correctin’ a liar is considered impolite. For example, anyone who’s lived in Arizona for a spell has already been exposed to the story of cowboy from Wickenburg who heated his brandin’ iron by aiming it at the sun, or the dehydrated cow from Yuma who gave powdered milk, and the layin’ hens at Gila Bend that they had to put crushed ice in their drinking water to keep them from layin’; hard-boiled eggs. There was a lady in Nogales who made tortillas so then they only had one side. I think she was also the same woman who made chili so hot you could burn off calories when you ate it.
One those prodigies in the art of prevarication was a prospector in the Dragoon Mountains of Cochise County named Non-Assessable Smith. Now, most people will say the cyanide process for extracting gold from ore-bearing rocks was invented by two Scottish chemists in the late 1890s but according to the veracious Mr. Smith it happened
many years before and quite by accident.
Non-Assessable Smith had a partner named Bill Bolger. Ol’ Bill was, they say in polite company, “powerfully addicted to the use of ardent spirits.”
One summer day while his partner was out prospecting and Bill was recovering from the previous evening’s imbibing. A peddler stopped by their camp and sold him a dozen fresh eggs. Bill was just hungover enough to be unsuspecting and besides he was tired of the
daily diet of beans and jerky and decided to make himself an omelet. He found a large flat granite rock and proceeded to solar-fry his eggs. Being a considerate partner he set aside a few for Smith.
When Non-Assessable returned home later that day he found Bill moanin’ that he had a severe stomach ache. It got so bad Smith climbed on his mule and rode over to Benson to fetch a doctor and by the time they got back to camp Bill was dead and already getting stiff. The doctor examined him and declared “Ol’ Bill is ossified.”
“Why shucks Doc,” Smith replied matter of factly, “he’s that way most of the time.”
“I don’t mean stoned,” Doc said, “Ol’ Bill’s turned to stone. What’s he been eatin’?”
“He told me a peddler sold him some hen’s eggs and he made himself an omelet. Afterwards he complained of a bellyache.”
The doctor examined the eggs and explained, “Those are gila monster eggs and they’re full of cyanide.”
It seems the flat rock where Bill fried his eggs was full of gold and the cyanide in his body was absorbing the yellow metal. One might say Ol’ Bill had been transformed into a cyanide mill. By the time they got around to stuffing him into a pine box he weighed over 900 pounds.
Non-Assessable decided to take his late partner over to Tombstone and have him assayed. He had to borrow an ore wagon to haul him. The assay report showed he was 95% pure gold.
Needless to say Smith didn’t bury his partner. He inherited the remains and took early retirement. Anytime he needed some spending money he sliced off a piece of Bill’s carcass and cashed it in.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.