In 1919, the Constable of Palm Springs was a young man named Riley. The town was still a sleepy little hamlet before the age of celebrity came to its doorstep. The citizens were hard working earthy people who’d learned to live in a rugged climate amidst a tribe of mostly docile Indians. But there was a shadow lurking over the town and children would disappear under its cloud. Mainly the shadow stayed over Tahquitz canyon, hanging there as a warning not to enter. Legend says that when the shadow is in the canyon, all is safe, because the witch hides in its embrace. But on cloudy days or at night time when the shadow is everywhere, you must beware-for the witch is out!
In Riley’s tale, he is asked to lead a posse into the canyon after the disappearance of a little Indian girl who is the daughter of a maid of one of the city’s elite; an early auto mechanic named Zaddie Bunker.
Zaddie brings together a dozen or so city leaders to Lykken’s General Store, now a historical site, where each person shares a story on their personal feelings or confrontations with the Witch. Newspaper man Randall Henderson tells the most gripping tale of how nearly 30 years earlier a little boy had been kidnapped and forced to eat his friend before he could escape. It appears a generation earlier a posse had formed to capture the Witch, which they thought they had, and ship her off to notorious Yuma Federal Prison in the middle of the desert wasteland. Unfortunately the stage coach she was on never made it and all of her cavalry dragoon escort mysteriously.
So Riley’s posse takes off to catch the witch with half a dozen white settlers, an ancient Indian Medicine man (Pedro Chino) and a young Indian boy named Jesus. Along the way, Pedro tells the boy of even earlier events of the tribe and their interaction with the Witch. Her name is Mena and she was not always bad. Hundreds of years ago she had been brought forth by Spanish explorers in their quest for gold. She had called upon the gods for a chance to escape and a husband who would protect. The Mountain god answered, destroying the Spanish longboats searching as far north as a primordial Salton Sea in a hail of lightning. She swam ashore and slowly walked towards the tall mountain peak she could see ion the distance and when she saw the canyon and the Medicine Man Tahquitz who lived there, she knew she had found home.
For a long time she and her man helped the Cahuilla. But over time, there medicine turned bitter and their most famous spell of sucking the bad out of people began to draw the entire soul of their patients and in doing so prolonged their lives. Eventually, Mena tricked and killed Tahquitz, who continues to lie as an eternal spirit of the Cahuilla.
The posse finally reaches her camp site and kills her, though not without damage to their own group. One member, Big John, is left behind to watch the embers of the Witch burn, for this is the only true way to know she is dead. But before she is turned to ash he is chased away by coyotes and other animals.