The Canyon stands behind a gate now, off-limits to the unauthorized. If you want to see where the town of Bingham used to be, you have to drive four miles south and follow a new road up to the visitors' center at the copper mine. It's not a trip that many of the old-timers take. You could understand why when you saw Gust peer hopefully over the rim of the canyon for the first time in maybe a decade, then pull back with a stunned look.
"They filled in the whole damn thing," he said, his voice little more than a whisper. For a long moment he was silent, and silence is rare for this live wire with laughing blue eyes. But nothing could have prepared Gust for the sight of his boyhood home buried beneath the tons of earth that have been moved as the mine has expanded. "They always told us it would happen," he said finally, "but holy cow...."
His world had shifted, and yet no matter what age and experience had taught him, he didn't want to accept it any more than he wanted to remember the way the town looked at the end, with only 1,500 residents hanging on. He wanted there to be something about Bingham that endured, something that would carry its memory into the next century and remind people that such places once gave the nation its foundation and its backbone. Hearing Gust talk about Bailey Santistevan, you can't help thinking of the coach as the perfect champion of that long-gone canyon's glory. For one thing, a lot of the glory was of his making. For another, he seemed too tough to cave in to anything as ephemeral as time.
But the truth arrived on a June day in 1954, when Santistevan was just back from fishing in Mexico with the son who had turned from adversary to buddy. He had been out in the garden, and then he had walked into the house. "My mother saw him go inside," says Nanette. "When she went in a little later, he was dead." His heart had stopped him at 53, worn out from the battle with diabetes.
Santistevan lay in state in the teachers' lounge at the high school, and the crowd lined up for blocks to pay its last respects. Then so many people filed into the auditorium for the funeral service that there weren't any seats left. Those who couldn't find one had to gather on the front lawn. When there was no more room on the lawn, they spilled into the street.
Of all the people who turned out that day, the first to come to Nanette's mind is one of those sweet, sad souls every small town seems to have. His name was Reggie, and he shook a lot and stuttered, and he loved Bingham's teams more than the mountain air he breathed. He never missed a game, home or away, and sometimes, when Reggie would be out hitchhiking to keep his streak intact, Santistevan would stop the team bus and give him a ride. Now Reggie had come to repay the kindness. "He knew my father always carried hard candy for his diabetes," Nanette says, "so that's what he brought to the funeral service. He wanted us to put it in his pocket before they closed the casket."
Reggie got his wish. And the story became a treasure worthy of telling in the century ahead. Pass it on.