In the pantheon of Marienstadt’s “colorful characters” Blaise Hanes was a star. No one ever knew for sure if any actual Native American blood ran through his veins but his appreciation for and knowledge of the Seneca tribes of north central Pennsylvania was vast. He was a solidly built man with warm, dark eyes surrounded by laugh lines, and hair that was more gray than black now that he was in his fifties, hanging in a single, thick braid down to the middle of his back. His taxidermy shop behind the modest house in which he and his wife, Sara, had raised twelve children, was a wonderland for the school children and Cub Scout dens that regularly visited it. Not only were there dozens of stuffed animals but all manner of Seneca artifacts displayed in cases. For over three decades children were welcomed there and had been dazzled as Blaise told them stories and legends about the early days of The Great Buffalo Swamp and The Wildcat District, as their environs had once been known.
His latest carving, commissioned by Boone for the tavern, was a tribute to “Roaring” Jack Dent and his band of log drovers who once opened splash dams and floated logs of chestnut and white oak down the Sinnemahoning Creek to the Susquehanna River. Blaise’s carving showed the men in corked boots laced to the knee and carrying cant hooks, as some of them waded waist-deep into the freshet of melting snow at the end of winter, dodging rattlesnakes as they worked.
“That’s a beauty,” Boone said when Blaise carried it into the tavern and propped it up on a pool table. “You outdid yourself on this one.”
“Thank you.” Blaise stood back, smiling, his thick arms folded across his chest. “I think it turned out okay.”
“I’d say it’s a lot more than okay. When Lucius comes in I’ll have him help me hang it. Come on over to the bar and let me buy you a drink. Or a cup of coffee.” Boone corrected himself. It was well-known that Blaise didn’t drink alcohol.
“Coffee would be great.” Blaise sat down at the bar and studied his carving of elk behind it. “I sure appreciate your business.”
“I sure appreciate your talent.” Boone poured coffee and placed it on the counter. “Peeper,
you ready for another one?”
you ready for another one?”
Peeper Baumgratz sat two stools down nursing a draft as he did most weekday afternoons.
“Sure.” He drained the last few drops from the glass and pushed it toward Boone.
“I’ve been thinking about another one,” Boone said to Blaise as he drew Peeper’s beer. “A guy was in here a couple weeks ago and he told me about the forty thousand dollars from a hold-up that’s supposed to be buried over in Mount Jewett under the Kinzua Viaduct.”
“I’ve heard that story,” Blaise said.
“I think it would be great if you could show the Viaduct before it blew down, what do you think?”
“Forty-thousand dollars?” Peeper’s ears perked up. “Up to the Kinzua Bridge, is that where you’re talking about?”
“Yeah.” Blaise turned toward him. “That story has been around for years. They say a guy held up a bank in Emporium and got clean away but on his death bed he confessed and said he buried the gold under the bridge.”
“And ain’t nobody ever found it?” Peeper’s eyes were enormous.
“Nope. If you believe tall tales there’s treasure buried all over these hills. Back in the sixteen nineties the French warrior Louis de Buade de Frontenac was supposed to have brought barrels of gold coins up from New Orleans to finance his endless wars against the English and the Indians. But something happened and they say the gold was buried up around Coudersport somewhere.”
“No shit?” Peeper was enthralled.
“No shit.” Blaise appeared to be enjoying himself. “But the real mother lode of lost treasure is the gold that was lost during the Civil War down in Dent’s Run. Did you ever hear about that?”
“Oh, crap.” Boone covered his face with both hands. “I forgot all about that. Me and my brother Kit and Lucius and Jim Loeffler went hunting for it one summer when we were in high school. We spent five days camping down there and all we came home with were sunburns and ten thousand mosquito bites.”