DEAD MAN’S HOLE
I’m currently writing HOW TO ROPE A MCCOY. And all of you know how I like to write, I like to include real places, mysterious places – places that people might want to learn more about or visit one day. In past books, I’ve taken readers to Avery Island down in South Louisiana – a lush tropical garden created by an eccentric millionaire who saved the white egret and singlehandedly ruined the swamp by introducing the Nutria rat to Louisiana. Other places that I’ve explored both in person and in prose are Enchanted Rock, Caddo Lake, Evergreen Plantation, the haunted Myrtles, and the vast mysterious Atchafalaya swamp. I long to create books so that you can visualize the setting of my characters and fall in love with the places that I personally visit and am intrigued by.
In HOW TO ROPE A COWBOY, I found a place about 50 minutes north of Austin called DEAD MAN’S HOLE. It will figure prominently in the plot of the story and boy, does it have a history.
Dead Man’s Hole is a cave about two miles south of Marble Falls. It was discovered in 1821 by an etymologist – yes, a bug-hunter – but it wasn’t explored until the 1950’s because of noxious, poisonous gases which emanated from the deep cavern. It’s not very wide – only about seven or eight feet, but it is one hundred fifty foot deep and branches of in another couple of directions for about fifty feet or so. The Hill Country of Texas is full of caves – some of them lost, some of them famous and some of them – allegedly full of gold and silver.
A few days ago, I went to Dead Man’s Hole. It was a hot day. I took the two dogs with me and we drove down several ranch roads until we find the small roadside park. It was highlighted by huge white rocks forming a drive and later a smaller walkway leading up to a historical marker and behind that – the hole. We got out of the car and made our way over – Abby was more enthusiastic than Mojo. In fact, Abby bounded down toward the hole like she was going to jump off in it and I was yelling and hollering – but there is a grate over the hole now, a steel plate but it has an Abby size hole in the top so you can peer down in it. Well, it used to be an Abby size hole, thank goodness, but Abby has gained a lot of weight since I got her neutered.
The marker told a strange story and then I will you a stranger one. The hole was once used as a dumping ground for bodies, especially during the Civil War. That particular part of Texas was home to both Confederate and Union sympathizers, slave owners and anti-slavery individuals, slaves and freed men. And there were disagreements and gunfights and battles and people were captured, tried and hung on a huge oak that stood over the hole. There were marks on the big branches to attest to how many ropes had burnt marks into its branches. Most of these people died because their opinions were not the same as their accusers. Makes one nervous about the times we live in – doesn’t it?
After 1951, the cave was explored and the remains of 17 people were found. Their bones were removed and taken to the Burnet County courthouse – where they promptly disappeared! Now, I wonder who took those bones and why? Now, that’s an answer I’d like to know.
Now, you know me – there’s always more to the story. A group of ghosthunters have investigated Dead Man’s Hole and recorded some EVP’s, electronic voice phenomenon or better known as the voices of the dead. Now what would you expect to record here? The voices of the dead and dying? Confederate generals barking orders? Cowboys and cattle rustlers? No, the day they recorded the voices at Dead Man’s hole, a young girls voice was recorded saying, “Daddy, can we go to Dairy Queen?” and later a mother saying, “We’d better get in the car before it rains.”
Sounds like the vestiges of a family’s summer outing. Who can be afraid of a ghost who just wants an ice cream cone?
But in my story HOW TO ROPE A MCCOY – there will be action here at Dead Man’s Hole and suspense and one helluva climactic ending.
There are other things to – my motto so many cowboys, so little rope comes to life and Cato actually ropes a McCoy. Ha! That’s one hot scene. And there’s a tubing scene where the hero and the heroine are in the water and – lord, the water heats twenty degrees the sex is so hot. Heath McCoy and Cato Vincent have become my new favorites – I hope you enjoy them too.
While I was out and about looking for Dead Man’s Hole, I scoped out some other caves. I’ve been doing some research on where the Lost San Saba mine might be. In my books, one of the McCoy cousins – Philip – was arrested for murder and somehow it was tied into that lost mine. Cato is also searching for the mine, so I pretended to be her. Wouldn’t it be neat to find nuggets of gold? They’ve been found in these hills and everyone has looked for them from Jim Bowie – who died in the Alamo – to the novelist O’Henry to the owner of the Borden Ice Cream Company. Why not me?
I am still working on this book and I have to solve the mystery – so I may be scouting around in the hills a lot – hunting for gold, ghosts and hot cowboys.
Here is an excerpt from the book about Cato hunting the cave and below that are some pictures of Dead Man’s Hole – I hope you enjoy my excursion.
EXCERPT from HOW TO ROPE A MCCOY
There had been talk of lost silver and gold mines around the Enchanted Rock region ever since legendary Sam Maverick, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, had purchased it in 1844. He was the man whose very name coined the term ‘maverick’ since he steadfastly refused to brand any of his cattle. His interest and belief in the riches of the region found its way into many books written at that time by speculators and adventurers such as Stephen F. Austin. Cato had read and digested every scrap of information she could find. Any mine she found would be stupendous, she didn’t care if there was silver in it or gold as long as she could tie it back to some of the history of the area, it would be a notable find.
As she stepped carefully, watching out for more snakes, she saw something glimmering in the dirt. What in the world? It couldn’t be this easy – most likely it was fool’s gold or a piece of buried quartz. Still….
Cato bent over to dig up the interesting rock and when she did – something nudged her in the back and she almost jumped out of her skin. “What?” She scrambled around trying to get away from the ghost of a spelunker or perhaps the irate deed holder of this amazing slice of Texas.
But when she managed to get a few feet away and looked around she was face to nose with a huge cow. “Gracious, you scared me!” Then she got a better look at her assailant and was horrified to find that it wasn’t a cow, it was a bull with horns spreading out at least three feet on either side of his head. “Go away!” she yelled.
Apparently she didn’t intimidate the bull as much as he did her, because instead of retreating – he advanced. “What do you want?” she asked in desperation. “I don’t have any hay or whatever it is that you eat!” She just hoped he didn’t have a taste for Louisiana girls who’d been sun-kissed by a hot Texas day.
“Get back you monster!” Cato tried to push on the animal’s nose, but he blew out his breath on her. She wished she could hear – did he grunt or did he growl? She couldn’t be sure.
“Great,” she whispered. “How am I going to get out of this?”
Cato didn’t have the answer to that question. All she could think about was running. The big bovine jerked his head up as if he was listening. And then to her horror, he began to paw the ground. “Oh, shit.”
Desperately she looked around for a way out. There was no way she could make it back to the jeep or she didn’t think she could. Surveying her surrounding, her gaze landed on a tree she could possibly climb. It wasn’t the perfect solution but maybe she could wait the behemoth out and he’d go away on his own and she could get back to exploring…nah that ship had probably sailed. She’d be too nervous to look around now. Not that she was giving up – oh, no. Cato fully intended to come back with reinforcements. Perhaps her boss, Bill Redford, would come back with her.
Now for the fancy moves. Taking a deep breath, she faked a move – left – right. When the bull turned his head one way, she broke the other way and took off like the devil himself were after her.
Heath let Tempest have his head. There was nothing better than riding a spirited horse…unless it was a spirited woman. “Whoa.” He pulled back on the reins as the stallion danced around.
Screech. Screech. Screech.
Heath stopped to let a small ground squirrel cross in front of him. And swear to God, the little creature stopped and turned around to fuss at him, raising up on its hind legs, front paw tilted up – just a chattering. He snorted. Damn little thing reminded him of Cato Vincent, except Cato was a billion times sexier. But she had moxie, just like this small rodent. “Yeah, yammer on. You’re full of prunes.”
At Heath’s chastisement, the ballsy little varmint vamoosed. He smiled. Things were looking up. Jaxson’s leg was healing nicely. Philip had finally succeeded in getting Holly McBride to admit they hadn’t ever dated so the prosecution’s theory that Smith was killed in a fit of jealousy wasn’t going to hold water. And – he had something to look forward to tonight. Jimmy was picking him up and they were going out on the town together. Being with Jimmy Dushku always made him feel better. Heath’s life was well-ordered, conservative and family oriented. His best friend was an international playboy, a multimillionaire and knew everybody worth knowing. Why Jimmy hung out with someone boring like him, he didn’t know.
“What the fuck?” Someone was nearby. On his land. A female someone. And it didn’t sound like either one of his sisters. In fact… Hell! He was imagining things. Just because he’d thought the squirrel reminded him of Cato, now he was hearing her everywhere. Shit. What did that mean?
“Giddy-up. “He headed up toward the foothills. Whoever it was, they’d better have a damn good explanation. McCoy’s didn’t take kindly to people just coming on to their land without good cause.
“Please go away. I’ll bring you back a treat. I promise.”
Damn. Surely not. Heath slowed Tempest down. If he could have got the horse to tiptoe, he would have. What met his eyes would have caused him to laugh out loud if wasn’t for the familiarity of that profile. T-Bone, Jaxson’s old pet bull had a woman treed. Yep, actually treed. And the closer he got, the prettier she got. Today her hair was pulled up on top of her head in a little whale spout pony tail that bobbed every time she bent over to negotiate with bull.
“You’re a pretty bull, but I’m scared of you. Please leave.”
Good Lord! He let out a long hard sigh. How in the hell had this happened? How had she found him? Well, there was only one way to find out. Edging Tempest forward, he yelled at T-Bone. “Get outta here, go find a cow to romance and leave this little heifer alone – she’s trouble!” He knew she couldn’t hear him but the sentiment stood.
Riding up close to her, he got between her and the bull. As soon as he came within her eyeshot she did something totally unexpected. “Heath! You’re here. Save me!” Holding her arms out, she launched herself at him and he caught her handily. Throwing her arms around his neck, she began to rain kisses all over his face. “I’m so glad to see you!”
Even though it was against every primal male impulse he possessed, Heath refrained from ravishing her. She was cradled in his arms, sitting sidesaddle, still clinging to him like the kudzu vines which were consuming southern climes at an alarming rate. Untangling himself from her embrace, he pushed her back far enough so she could see him speak. “Hold on a minute. Would you care to enlighten me as to why you are trespassing on my property?”
She was still patting him on the cheek like he was a favorite toy she often cuddled in bed. Damn, he had to control his thoughts.
It seemed like comprehension finally dawned. “You own Highlands?”
He nodded. “And of course you didn’t know this. Right?”
She didn’t need hearing to catch the sarcasm in his voice. “No, I did not.” She scooted back and almost fell off his horse, flailing around until he caught her to his hard chest.
“Don’t give me that, you tracked me down, followed me. You knew I’d be here.”
Irritation flashed through Cato. “Don’t flatter yourself. I’m here as part of my job.”
Heath sneered. “Job? What kind of job do you have that requires you to go on another person’s land and harass their livestock?”
Okay, enough was enough. She got right in his face. “I wasn’t the one doing the harassing. Your vicious bull attacked me!”
“That bull is a big pet, all he wanted was some loving.” All things needed loving, even him. Although he’d die before he admitted that reality to anyone, much less this annoying female.
“He has a strange way of showing it,” she countered. “And the job I have is with the Texas Cultural Center. I just left Dead Man’s Hole over near Marble Falls and I came this way looking for possible locations for the lost San Saba mine.”
If Cato thought her words would appease him, she was wrong. His face darkened like a thundercloud. “I’m sick of hearing about that stupid mine. My brother is up on murder charges and somehow it’s tied to that fairytale mine.”
What he said took Cato by surprise. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She placed her hand on his chest. The realization that she was still sitting in his lap atop of a big horse hit her. “Maybe I should get down and go.”
“That sounds like a plan.” He began to ride toward the fence line.
“I can walk,” Cato protested.
She could, but he was enjoying holding her, not that he would ever admit it. “Why do you think the lost San Saba mine is located on my land?” Philip had the same idea but Heath wasn’t volunteering that information, not with the trial fast approaching.
“Do you really want to know?” She crossed her arms over her ample breasts, trying to maintain a sense of decorum while sitting in his lap – so close, yet so far. At his raised eyebrow, she relented. “I’ve studied dozens of sources from old diaries, to letters, to Spanish land deeds. This area seems like a prime candidate because of its proximity to Enchanted Rock and Sandy Creek.”
“And what would you do with the information if you found it?” Heath knew he had a problem with trust, he could admit that much.
“Nothing mercenary, I assure you. Our organization is interested in preserving the past and proving historical facts, not taking advantage of people or making a profit.”
“Pardon me if I have my doubts.” He didn’t mean to be disagreeable. Well yes, he did – but she turned him inside out. “You need to be careful, though. This is no place for a woman to be wandering around alone.”
Cato could sense a change in him. Bolstered by the more relaxed look on his face, she decided to go for it. “Would you go with me to check out the mine?”
“No, I will not!”
He shouted at her, she could tell by the vibrations of his breath on her face. “Okay. Well, could I bring my boss back to have a look, with your permission of course?”
Holding her was taking a toll on Heath. He remembered the kiss they shared, he remembered how good it felt to hold her while they danced. “I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” That was about as much of a concession as he could stand to make. Considering everything from his attraction to her – which could go nowhere – to Philip’s trial and their inauspicious introduction at the punch bowl, Heath thought he was being generous.
“You do that.” Courageously, she grinned up at him and rubbed the tip of her finger over his bottom lip. “You’re so handsome.”
“Stop that,” he swatted at her hand like it was a pesky fly. “Give me your boss’s name and number and I’ll give him a call when I make up my mind.” By this time, Tempest had carried them to the fence and they were right by her jeep. He held her hand while she slipped down from to the ground.
“Not necessary, Sundance.” The bit of distance between them made her brave. Gingerly, she climbed back through the fence, managing to do so unscathed this time. “You can let me know at the BBQ.”
Heath looked stunned. “My BBQ?”
“Yea,” she gave him a saucy look over her shoulder and put a bit of a swing to her step. “Yea, your family invited me. Isn’t that nice? I’ll be spending the weekend – with you.”
HA! Thanks for reading. Now for more photos.