The General coughs and points, and says, "That's Killer, he's been the best partner I've ever had." Killer the dog nudges my hand with his nose, but he's just a sweet old thing burdened by a harmless bark and an overfed frame.
"I was layin' here dyin' one day about three years ago," The General continues, "and I hear this moanin'. So I go outside and there he is. I came in and cooked us up a pork steak and he never left. And I don't even know what type of damn dog he is."
The General is thin with an old prospector's face, gray horseshoe mustache and watery blue eyes. He carries himself with strange dignity, equal parts roadside crank ravaged by gold fever and electable politician—his smoky, cigarette-husk of a voice sustains the air of an old-man sage, and he's unignorable. For one thing, he's a walking textbook on the Santa Catalina Mountains, particularly anything related to gold and silver, and mining. Apart from Killer, the 69-year-old's one lasting relationship in life is to gold and precious ore. He talks, rants and raves about it, like one might after his wife of 40 years has run out on him.
He's flat broke, he says, and he's been that way for years (earlier today he bummed a Jackson off his pal, one-armed Lefty, an old guy he often picks up mornings for coffee and to watch the sunrise.) The General's held hundreds of mining claims in the Catalinas; gold, silver and so on. And just as he knows paths to countless claims of gold and silver up the mountain outside of the trailer he's housesitting for "a generous friend," he knows the routes to bottom. He quit the booze nearly a decade ago, for example. Doctor's orders.
The General, as he's known to close friends, is William T "Flint" Carter, a "seasoned prospector." He's also a jewelry maker, artist and author, among other things.
Killer and I follow The General into the doublewide. The living room is sizable and tidy and smells of cigarettes, spliff and pine needles. There's a single made bed in front of the TV, which is tuned to the History Channel, volume down. He says the TV is always tuned to the History Channel.
His own art and jewelry is arranged neatly on walls and counter space. It's made from serpentine and marble and other materials he mined himself on Mount Lemmon—including his "Codystone," a medicine ball-sized chunk of gold and silver in quartz, named in tribute to his hero "Buffalo Bill" Cody. "See that?" he says, "It's worth a quarter of a million dollars."
"Why don't you sell it?" I ask him.
"Because nobody believes me. Because no one is into mining anymore."
Like his hero Buffalo Bill, Carter has lived his life straddling a line between reality and legend, leading to a life of mythic proportions. The General talks a helluva lot and what he says rarely bores, often cramming two, three and five ideas into run-ons. He'll shift topics effortlessly—from talking about Lana Turner mowing her lawn at a house he claims she owned in Tucson at Limberlost and First Avenue ("no one knew she lived here, and no one in the neighborhood knew who the hell she was") to the millions of dollars in gold and minerals he swears he was swindled out of over the years. He produces various difficult-to-decipher documentations and financial statements to back such claims. "I once sent two men to jail for fraud," he says.
He tells of an old mission near Oracle, and an old hotel whose history and ownership was hijacked from the hands of Buffalo Bill in the late 1800s, like the mining company he owned. There's the old Lost City in the Cañada Del Oro valley where "they even had a whorehouse."
His just-released The Canyon of Gold, Buffalo Bill Cody & The Legendary Iron Door Ming Treasure is a sprightly little tome in which he documents his own decades-long gold fever story and mythologies. He's the "old prospector with a story to tell" and he calls it historical fiction.
(The General also contributed to the recent Treasure of the Santa Catalina Mountains by Tucson author Robert E. Zucker. And he was featured in Beyond the Legend, a 2010 doc on Buffalo Bill.)
Then there's The Iron Door Mine, supposedly in Cañada del Oro valley below Mount Lemmon. A 20-year-old news article from the Tucson Citizen says that The General "hints that he has found the Iron Door Mine." It also quotes experts saying the mine is pure folklore, a fiction created in the 1923 novel The Mine With the Iron Door by Harold Bell Wright (which became a silent film shot around Oracle and Rancho Linda Vista). But The General says he knows something they don't. One theory involves Jesuit priests who lived in the area in the 1700s, hid their gold in the mine behind an iron door, and returned to Spain. They never came back. He talks of the connection to the 100 tons of gold treasure buried at Victorio peak in New Mexico.
It doesn't matter if his tales are true or not—The General produces vague documentation to prove that they are. Other documents, some by geologists, one in an eight-page spread in a 2015 issue of Outside Magazine, seriously questioned his claims after having samples for his mine tested (he says the geologist, Jason Price, was wrong). The General has lived as a legend in his own mind so long that maybe the world has bent to fit his narrative.
The General's obsession with gold and Southern Arizona began in the early '70s when he purchased an acre of land on the man-made lake Golder Dam (now gone, breeched in '80). He turned a chicken coop on the property into a solar-powered house, and his plan was to grow food and survive off the grid.
After marrying, having a son, getting drafted and serving during Vietnam in Panama as a military policeman, The General had returned, divorced and wound up living, he says, in Frank Zappa's old apartment. This was post-Charlie Manson and peace and love was on its way out, but not all the way out, and The General talks about the free love. "I'd go up to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe and we'd pick up every hitchhiker. ..." The General smiles when he mentions the 500 hits of acid he dropped in 1969.
He arrived in the greater Tucson area after his mail truck, outfitted with imitation sable, pink and purple shag carpeting and a swinging bamboo chair that allowed passengers to "swing out the door as we were going down the highway," crashed en route to Mardi Gras.
"We let this little motherfucker drive the mail truck and he flipped it over," he says. "We was asleep in the back of it. We slid 385 feet on its side ... I expected at any second to hear a falling off the cliff, but we stayed on the highway. We had all this dope, and the cops were there. And when that guy wrecked the truck, he said 'Hey, my family's rich!' ... Yeah, they sent us fifty-fucking-dollars."
The General fell in with an aging Hollywood starlet living in Tucson and hung with Taj Mahal at The Too High Club on Stone Avenue. Says he met Rose Kennedy then too, and lots of bikers. "That's one thing, I knew all these guys but I didn't get into it for the money. I didn't want to end up in jail. Being a cop that's one place you don't want to go."
He was buds with Joseph Melvin See Jr., "the Princeton hippie," who was, by all accounts, a brilliant geologist. There's a picture of the two of them together at his cabin near Mount Lemmon. See was Linda's first husband before she married Paul. "I said 'Was you really JoJo from the Beatles' song Get Back? He says 'I don't want to talk about that shit.'" Paul raised Mel's daughter, Heather, "and that broke his heart. He died a year after Linda did."
The General talks like he's running out of time. He doubles over in pain often during our conversation. Says it's PCB poisoning. He smokes weed to ease the agony, cigarette in between.
He says he contracted PCB poisoning from General Electric —"My dad used to haul waste from the factory and all the kids would play in it"—and he swears he now has five testicles. Says his dad had the same thing, from the PCB. His mother and father and half-brother all died from cancer. (PCBs are found in old fluorescent lighting and electrical appliances among other things. PCB manufacturing stopped in '77).
The General bucks autumn years ennui by holding on to any kind of future that's worth living. He's donated his jewelry pieces, such as bolo ties and pendants, to museums and historical societies, places like Nebraska's Fort Cody Trading Post, the Oklahoma Historical Society and Tucson's Saguaro Rotary Club. He has saved the letters of thanks from all of them. He has a little mineral workshop next to the trailer and off the driveway there's an outdoor shed filled with books and artifacts from the Oracle area, the Catalinas and old mines, circa 1800s—chunks of metals, pottery, an old confederate bullet belt, pieces of a stage coach, and all manner of rusted things. His vast collection of ore and remnants of mining gear from bygone eras are on display at the Oracle Inn in Oracle, Arizona. This month at the Inn, he hosts the Buffalo Bill Cody Oracle Days, a celebration of Buffalo Bill's birthday.
The General talks about being a man out of time, and his little lonely world, where he's dying. He's keen to open a museum, an educational center for future generations, where his gold and minerals and artifacts can be displayed. Says he needs a $200,000 investment to make it happen. His voice trails off ... and he picks up again, talking of painter Ted DeGrazia, who died in early '82. He says DeGrazia was a friend and he lectured him about gold fever. "DeGrazia said to me, 'Boy, you're reaching for that brass ring on the merry-go-round and you're going to find out it's in the nose of a bull ...'"
Buffalo Bill Cody Days happens 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25-26 at Oracle Inn Steakhouse & Saloon, 305 E. American Ave., Oracle. 896-3333; emol.org/flintcarter/codydays.