My brother and I were just kids when we found the mummified man in the ice cave.
We called him Floyd. I wished we’d kept him.
Our mummy might now be as well-known as “Iceman,” the 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Alps between Austria and Italy in 1991. Scientists have learned that Iceman was 46 years old when he died–was murdered, actually. Some polecat shot him in the back with an arrow.
Iceman spent his entire life within 37 miles of where he was found. Scientists know what kind of crude bread he had to eat the day before he died. His copper ax and other belongings were found with his body. One scientist thinks Iceman may have been a human sacrifice.
We found Floyd in an ice cave on Mount Elden. That basalt mountain used to be a ways northeast of Flagstaff, but the town has grown right up to the base of the mountain, I guess.
Dean and I were looking for buried Spanish gold, or outlaw treasure, whichever came first.
“Ooh, look!” Dean said, stepping back quickly from a niche in the rock. “There!”
“Yuck,” I responded wisely, being the responsible older brother.
The mummy was about four feet tall, a wizened male with tatters of clothing clinging to his carcass.
Although he was in an ice cave, he had long since dried out, so he didn’t thaw and get messy. He did rattle some.
He carried a cedar staff about a head taller than he was, with remnants of reed thongs attached to it. Nearby, we found an eight-sided piece of shale–the shape of a stop sign. The weirdest thing was half of a large abalone shell that was clamped on his head like a hard hat.
At first we called our mummy “Flagman”–not because of the proximity to Flagstaff, but because he gave the appearance of being a flagger on a road construction job. If our theory was correct, the thongs had secured the eight-sided sign to the staff.
I’m thinking now that if he was the first flagman ever in Arizona, he was indeed a historic discovery. Road construction is still a growth industry here.
“Floyd” was less of a mouthful to say than “Flagman,” so that’s what we called him.
We took the mummy to anthropologists at the Museum of Northern Arizona, but they gave him only a cursory look. We were two ragamuffin kids living in an old schoolbus out by Mount Elden. We had accidentally left our parents in Tucumcari, NM, because we thought they were sleeping in the back of the bus.
The anthropologists were preoccupied with their own exiciting discovery, Bemidji Man, thought to be the first snowbird to reach Arizona.
They did tell us that Floyd did not appear to belong to any of the recognized prehistoric people of northern Arizona–the Sinagua, the Anasazi, or the Rimmy Jims people from over toward Winslow.
Among the contents of Floyd’s stomach, they found pi–ons with the shells still on them.
They said the abalone shell hat might have been acquired from prehistoric people of Mexico. Perhaps it was carried north by a Hohokam trader, or by the fabled hunchbacked flute player, Kokopelli himself. (In Floyd’s cave, we found the mummy of a large bird with a big gullet, possibly a kokopelican.) In a word, the anthropologists blew us off so they could get back to their study of Bemidji Man. They thought they might be able to trace him back to Eric The Red.
So Floyd became a member of our household. He was lightweight and easy to carry around, so it was easy to start conversations with other kids. He was great fun on Halloween. We had to be careful that our dog, Hilldenbrand, didn’t drag him off into the woods and chew him up.
Floyd became an honorary member of Boy Scout Troop 31. He really loved Scout trips to the ancient ruins at Walnut Canyon and Montezuma’s Castle. Montezuma was still living in the Castle in the early 1950s, and he was fascinated by the mummy. He said Floyd reminded him of some of his in-laws.
Dean tried to take Floyd to school for show-and-tell, but the bus driver refused to let him on the bus.
I put a wig on Floyd and took him to a freshman mixer at Flagstaff Junior High School. Floyd was light on his feet, and we danced a few dances. I haven’t danced since, but that night was memorable for another reason.
I had introduced Floyd around as “Irene.” The Weavers and several country singers had recently recorded Huddie Leadbetter’s sentimental blues, “Goodnight Irene.”
At the end of the dance, someone dimmed the lights and everyone in the auditorium held hands and sang “Goodnight Irene.” I wasn’t sure whether they were signing it for Floyd, or for Red Foley.
Dean and I discovered girls, and we both had to get after-school jobs. We spent less and less time with Floyd.
When I was a sophomore, I had to take shop class–“manual arts,” I guess they called it. I hated manual arts. But I turned Floyd into a floor lamp and got an “A” for the semester.
Not long after, I sold my share of Floyd to Dean for gas money so I could drive my 1936 DeSoto to Winslow to court a girl.
Dean traded Floyd for his first guitar. Given that Dean is now a well-known Arizona songwriter and folk singer, I guess that was a pretty good deal.
Still, I wish we’d been able to learn more about Floyd.