When we got to Cottonwood Springs at about noon on Wednesday, one of the horse wranglers from Wyoming took a ride over the terrain and came back with his theories about how the Earp party probably approached the springs. Coming around the rocky outcropping to the south of the springs, he picked the right side of the dry creek bottom and came up on a sandy ledge.
Here's a rough map of the layout:
The wrangler insisted I ride the route with him so I went along and took this photo of him explaining the route:
Ahead of him is the sandy ledge that muffled the sound of the approaching horses (this was verified as we allowed several groups to repeat this approach and get the feel of it, and each time, as we stood in the cowboy camp, we could not hear their approach until we saw them on the top of the ridge.
As the Earp party traversed the sandy ledge they probably cut the corner of the plateau to their right, and climbed up it. Here's a shot of the riders behind me coming up the slope:
And here's a good view from the cowboy camp:
And here's what it looked like from the Earp position:
Now, the problem with the line shack foundation we found it that it is too far up the canyon to match the sandy shelf. Here's a rough overview of the location of the lineshack foundation and the sandy shelf:
Unfortunately, there is no other sandy shelf near the line shack foundation. Incredibly, we did not see the sandy shelf when we were there last spring, and we assumed they rode across the upper plateau (we are historians, not horsemen). So, several things do not add up but we have two discoveries: the sandy shelf Earp described (which is not at either Mescal Springs or Iron Springs) and a line shack foundation. Unfortunately they don't line up in my mind. Others perhaps will make it work. That said, I am totally convinced this is where the fight took place. The wrangler on the Vendetta Ride really put it in perspective. He said he has located hundreds of camping spots in his life and, incidently, he picked the exact spot that Bill Evans speculated was the cowboys' camp (he said as a cowboy you are looking for a flat place to lie down and he pointed right at the exact location that Evans had pointed out to us in April). I illustrated the cowboy camp from the big Mesquite tree, which is about twenty yards to the north, because I assumed they would want shade (plus it made a better picture), but I am not a horseman.
Pretty heady stuff. As more people visit the site we will probably get a better picture of what happened.
"If you compare dreams of olden times with those of our time, you will note that the basic problems have remained the same."
—Emil A. Gutheil