Disputes over land, water and livestock were never resolved in favor of natives. By the end of that first decade of the century the Colonel had managed to gain title to nearly all of the village and most of the grant lands the villagers once held in common. He used it to run cattle until it was overgrazed and in the 1920’s he began selling it off or losing it in poker games. Some suspected he didn’t even own Cozy Y ranch anymore.
By then he had married a daughter of one of the largest and oldest families in the village. Perea, the Colonel’s father in law, ran Perea’s Bar, which the Colonel had lost to him in a game in the bar’s back parlor.
Perea had a parrot that talked. Tied on his high perch in a corner behind the bar, the bird would occasionally squawk something amusing. One night the Colonel heard the parrot repeating a phrase that sounded, from the little Spanish the Colonel knew, like “oro,” Spanish for “gold.” When he asked Perea about it, the old man just laughed and shook his head.
This did nothing but stoke the Colonel’s curiosity and he became fascinated with the bird, encouraging it to repeat the phrase. After some deliberation, he decided the bird was saying, “oro de honra,” or “gold of honor.”
He became obsessed with the meaning and began asking the villagers questions. He tried to be subtle. He didn’t want people to think he had a secret. Or that he knew about one they weren’t telling him. But there are only so many ways to pose questions about “gold” before people start to notice.
One night a man who seemed very drunk sat next to the Colonel in the bar and told him a story an act of heroism during the war. The Colonel got uneasy as the story progressed, wary of questions the man might ask about his own fictitious service. The man seemed to sense this and moved on to how a gift was given to the soldiers for their honorable service. The gift was gold and there was so much of it, the man explained to the Colonel, that it had to be hidden and they died before coming back for it. He leaned in close at this point and whispered, “It’s in an abandoned mine somewhere near here!”
The Colonel’s jaw was slightly ajar when the man stopped and took a sip of his drink. “I’ve said too much.” As if prophetically, the parrot squawked the familiar phrase. The Colonel glanced sharply at the man who seemed not to notice but smiled a little as he nodded goodbye. He left the bar before the Colonel could formulate any questions.
He was obsessed with finding gold treasure after that. The improbability of the story didn’t occur to him. He only saw it as a perfect fit for his puzzle - what was the Gold of Honor. The search ruined him, but the work to reopen the old lead mine in the ranch foothills employed villagers for a few years, at least.
After he died, the newspaper described his search for the Gold Of Honor treasure. Perea read it and shook his head. It would only carry the secret forward. There would be more treasure hunters now.
He positioned the Colonel’s obituary beneath the parrot’s perch. The bird squawked the familiar refrain.
Big ears! Big ears!