Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin




Another Great Discovery

Sure enough! Following a trail out from among the timbered slopes to the east, there emerged from the gap a white-topped wagon—and another, and a succession of dots of other vehicles and of people horseback, until a long line was winding down through the green and brown. Yes, emigrants! Charley had seen such wagons, and even such a procession, before, in Missouri; but this was different, because these wagons and people had come clear across the 2,000 miles of plain and mountain and desert, from the Missouri River! Think of that!

From their ditches and ravines out clambered the miners all, to wipe their brows and gaze and cheer. And on weaved the line, until the people afoot, also—even women, and some children—could be seen trudging beside the wagons.

Riding at a walk, the horsemen who led the procession as if picking out the trail approached slowly, while the camp waited. The nearer the procession came, the worse for wear it looked: the white-topped wagons (there were only a few) were torn and battered, the other vehicles were only make-shifts, cut down from the originals, the horses, mules and oxen were very thin, and the people themselves were gaunt and ragged and pitiable. As brown as any Arabs and as bearded as the miners were the leading horsemen.

"Howdy?" greeted one, with a nod. "How far to Sutter's?"

"Seventy miles," responded a score of voices. "Where you from?"

"The Missouri River."

"When did you leave?"

"Last week in April."

The first of the wagons came lumberingly creaking in. It was drawn by two yoke of lean spotted oxen. The wheels had been wrapped with rawhide, for repairs, and the canvas top was torn and discolored and askew. From the puckered front peered a woman and two children; the man of the family was walking wearily beside, swinging an ox-goad.

"Howdy, strangers?" he hailed, as he halted. "Are these the Californy diggin's?"

"Is this Californy?" put in the woman, quaveringly.

"You bet your bottom dollar, friends," was the hearty answer. "This is Californy, and these are the Shirt-tail Diggin's, the best on 'arth."

"Haven't got any flour for trade, have you?" queried the man.

"Nary flour, nary anything for trade, stranger, but I'll give you a sack o' the best flapjack flour that ever came out a store."

"Hooray for the first woman in Shirt-tail Diggin's!" rose the cheer, and the crowd surged forward excitedly.

"No, strangers, I don't want your flour for nothin'," said the man, as if a little alarmed. "I'm busted for money, but I'll trade ye, and trade ye fair."

"Where's the gold? I'd like to see some gold," ventured the woman—a little alarmed at the uproar.

"Pass the hat, boys," ordered the spokesman of the camp; he fished out his buckskin sack, shook a generous portion into the top of his old hat, and started the hat through the crowd. Somebody hustled back with flour, somebody else with bacon; Shirt-tail camp fairly fought for the privilege of handing these and other supplies in, to the wagon, and there was added a buckskin sack half full of dust.

"Oh, we can't take these," appealed the woman, shrinking. She wasn't handsome, just now; she was thin, haggard and tanned, and wore a calico gown; but to the miners she was a woman, just the same, and Charley found himself wishing she were his mother.

"Take 'em! Throw 'em in, boys, anyway. They're for the first woman in Shirt-tail. Hooray! Hooray!"

"Charley Adams! Oh, Charley!" cried a voice, piercing the crazy clamor. Charley whirled and looked. It was—why, Billy Walker! Of course! Billy Walker! He had forgotten about Billy, for the moment—in fact, he hadn't recognized him.

But the remainder of the emigrant train had drawn near, bunching as it halted, and on foot Billy was hurrying through the crowd, followed by his father. Charley gave a shrill whoop of joy, and with a run he and Billy grabbed one another and hugged and danced. Then they drew off to shake hands; then Charley shook hands with Mr. Walker—and Mr. Adams shook hands with Billy and his father; then Charley and Billy grinningly sized one another up.

"You look like a sure-'nough miner," said Billy.

"And you look like a sure-'nough overlander," said Charley.

"What have you got? Have you found much gold? Are these the regular diggin's? How long've you been here? Have you made your pile? Were you seasick any? Did it storm at sea? What's the name of this place? Where's the Sacramento? Did you stay in San Francisco? How much gold can I dig in a day?" propounded Billy, all at once.

"I've found some gold—I've panned out half a sackful. We haven't been here long. Wasn't seasick a bit—scarcely. These are the Shirt-tail diggin's," replied Charley. "What kind of time did you have? Did you kill any Injuns? Do you have to go on? Why don't you stop now and mine? Is this all your crowd? Did you have a lot of fun? Do you want me to show you how to pan?"

"Gee, we had some fun, but we had an awful time, mostly," declared Billy, soberly. And he looked it. His flannel shirt was torn and faded, his trousers were patched with buckskin, his boots were scuffed through and resoled with rawhide, the knife in his belt had been ground down to half a blade, and his rifle was scarred and the stock spliced with rawhide at the grasp. Besides that, his face and hands were brown as brown, and scratched, he was thin as a rail, but his eyes were bright and steady and he evidently was as hard as nails. "We broke our wagon and lost our horses—they just fell down and died in their tracks—and had to leave half our outfit out in the desert. But our company's first in; there are about 200 of us—and there are about 30,000 following, strung out all the way from here to the Rocky Mountains, I guess. That's a tough trail, across the desert from Fort Hall; but we made it, though the Digger Injuns 'most got our scalps, once. Part of the crowd's coming in by way of Oregon; and that's a harder trail still, we hear. Some of our own company, branched off, other side of the Sierra, for the Carson River, but we struck up the Truckee and over to the American River this way. Don't know what dad and I'll do now. We ought to get some grub and other stuff. I'd give ten dollars for a loaf of bread."

"Huh, I guess you would," retorted Charley. "Do you know what flour's selling at, in California? Sixty dollars a barrel. Besides, we don't eat bread, up here. We eat flapjacks."

"Jiminy!" sighed Billy, his mouth watering as he smacked his dry lips. "That sounds mighty good, just the same. Honest, I've been living on old ox so long I've nearly forgotten what flapjack tastes like. I used to have 'em back home, though. Remember those old Liz, our cook, made? Yum! Just the same," he added, defiantly, "I'm glad I came. I wouldn't have missed that trip for anything."

"You bunk in along with us, and we'll give you all the flapjacks you can eat," urged Charley. "Dad can make the best you ever tasted. And I'll show you how to pan out the gold, too. Shucks! It's easy. Some days you'll just simply scoop it up, and think you're going to be rich right away—and next day you won't find color, even. But it's fun. Wish you and your father would throw in with us. There's no use in going on down to Sacramento; prices of everything are awful, there, and at San Francisco, too. Ask him, won't you?"

But Billy didn't need to ask, for Mr. Grigsby had been introduced to Mr. Walker by Charley's father, and they three were talking together earnestly. The upshot was (to Charley's and Billy's delight) that the two parties joined.

"I've told Mr. Walker that we're on the search for a certain quartz proposition," announced Charley's father, to his partner Charley, "and if we find it we'll probably need good help to develop it. And there's nobody we'd rather have in with us than him and Billy. Now if we five can't make our way, I'll miss my guess. What do you think about it?"

Think about it? Charley and Billy uttered another war-whoop, together, and in a mutual hug gave a kick-up Indian dance—but Shirt-tail Diggin's was used to this sort of thing.

"I'd better hustle out and see what I can add to the outfit," said Mr. Walker; and accompanied by Mr. Grigsby, away he went.

He succeeded in buying a horse from one of the emigrants, and in picking up here and there a few supplies. By the time that the horse and burro were packed, and the start onward might be made, the emigrant train also was again in motion, and the miners were descending again into their ravines and ditches. The great majority of the emigrants continued eastward, bound for "the Sacramenty," there to renew their strength. A few stayed in camp at Shirt-tail. But a weary lot they all were—they and their animals; weary and seemingly bewildered now that they actually had arrived in the famed gold fields of California.

Mr. Grigsby set the pace, as usual, for his party. Straightaway he led, down the first ravine out of Shirt-tail, up the other side, and into a draw or pass which wound among the hills. The miners whom they passed, at work, gazed curiously; and one or two hailed with—"Where you bound, strangers? What've you heard? Another strike?" But the party only smiled and shook their heads.

Charley and Billy trudged together, leading burro and horse.

"Did you shoot anything on the way across?" asked Charley.

"You bet. Shot an antelope. Killed him first crack. He was mighty good eating, too. But there wasn't much game. Too many people on the trail."

"Did you kill any bear?"

"No. Didn't even see one. We were in too big a hurry to stop to hunt much, anyway, and when we needed meat the worst, we couldn't find it. That was on the desert between Salt Lake and these mountains. Where are we going now? Do you know?"

"Over to a camp called Rough and Ready, in Grass Valley, I guess."

"What's there?"

"It's dry diggin's, mostly, but it's more of a quartz country than this. We're on the track of a big quartz claim. You remember that sick man I found in St. Louis?" Billy nodded. "Well, he told us about a claim of his; he sort of gave it to dad and me. We aren't telling anybody else, but now you're a partner, I can tell you that much."

"Jiminy!" exclaimed Billy. "Hope we find it."

"Well, if we don't we can wash out a lot of gold, anyhow."

"What are dry diggings, Charley?"

"They're diggin's in dry ground, where you have to bring in the water some way. Wet diggin's are placers in the beds of streams where you're in the water already. Shirt-tail was wet diggin's. They're the hardest because your feet are soaked and get sore, and you catch rheumatism and fever and everything.

"What's quartz diggin's, then?"

"Aw, those aren't diggin's, exactly," informed the wise Charley. "Quartz is a rock that helps form a lode where the gold is carried, first, before it's crumbled out by the weather and is washed down with gravel and sand to make the placer beds. You dig the placer bed, but you have to use a crow-bar and powder on lodes, and break them to pieces. Then you have to crush the pieces and wash the gold out or unite it with mercury and get it that way. Lode mining takes machinery, if it's done right, and it's expensive; but it lasts longer, if it's any good, because you can follow the lode for miles. Placer mining is sort of luck."

"If we find a lode, what'll we do with it, I wonder," pursued Billy. "We haven't any machinery, or much powder, either."

"We'll get the machinery, all right, if we find the spot," asserted Charley. "My father and Mr. Grigsby are going into this thing scientifically; that's the only way to make a success; your father's no slouch, either.

"I should say not," agreed Billy, loyally. "I guess we all together can make a mine pay, if anybody can."

"This is awful rough traveling, isn't it!" remarked Charley, suddenly. And Billy answered: "Kind of; but we were over worse. Had to haul the oxen and horses up and down by ropes." Nevertheless, the going was, as Charley had said, "awful." Steep slope after steep slope blocked the way; the brush and timber grew thick; sometimes large rocks interposed; and when the party weren't sliding they were climbing, dragging the puffing pack animals. But the trail that had been taken always led on.

Camp was made beside a spring, in a little flat or cup surrounded by timber over which peeked the snow-caps of the main range. For supper Billy had his flapjacks, as Charley had promised; and how he did eat! Nobody's appetite was especially poor, however.

"Now you're a Forty-niner, sure," informed Charley, to his fellow partner. "You've got a fresh lining in your stomach. When we get settled I'm going to practice till I can toss a flapjack up the cabin chimney and catch it coming down on the outside. See?"

Up hill and down was it the next day, again. Shortly after noon they came to a high ridge, covered with brush in spots, and in spots bare. The three men climbed on, for a view ahead, but Charley and Billy branched off, to a place that looked lower. Then, suddenly, Charley caught sight of it—a great grayish-brown beast, lumbering along a slope just ahead, and making for the top not far before. Sometimes he was in the brush, sometimes in the open; but Charley knew him at once.

"Billy!" he cried, excited. "There's a bear! Shoot! Quick!"

"Where?"

"Right in front of us! See? Hurry, or he'll be over the top."

"That's not a bear. That's a cow."

"Cow your grandmother! 'Tis, too! A grizzly! They grow as big as cows in this country. Aren't you going to shoot? Give me that gun."

The burro and the horse had seen or smelled, for they were pulling back and snorting, ears pricked, eyes Staring. Billy stepped on his lead rope, and leveled his gun like lightning.

[Illustration] from Gold Seekers of '49 by Edwin Sabin

BILLY STEPPED ON HIS LEAD ROPE AND LEVELED HIS GUN LIKE LIGHTNING.


"Bang!" The big bear gave a jump aside and turning sharp lumbered faster, straight for the top. "Bang!" spoke Billy's patent repeater, again. And just as the bear disappeared over the top, "Bang!" shot Billy, a third time. But the bear was gone.

"Did I hit him? Did I hit him?" panted Billy. "Whoa, there, you horse. Did I hit him?"

"Don't think so," panted Charley, just as excited. "Maybe you did, though. I heard the bullets sing, anyway. One must have struck rock. Come on; let's go over. Tie your horse. How many shots you got left?

"Four."

In a jiffy they tied the horse and burro to the brush, and away they pelted, lunging and staggering up the slope, to the place where they had seen the bear.

He wasn't there now, and he wasn't anywhere in sight, either; and though they searched closely, they could not find even a drop of blood.

"I guess I missed him clean," confessed Billy, ruefully. "I was in too big a hurry."

"It's hard shooting up hill; and he was running, too," sympathized Charley, "Let's see where the bullets hit."

That would be some satisfaction; so they searched more. Presently Billy yelped:

"Here's where one hit. It knocked a big chunk out of the rock. Funny looking rock." And then he exclaimed: "Come over, Charley. Quick! The rock's got a lot of yellow in it!"

"What color rock?" demanded Charley.

"Whitish."

"Let's see."

Billy pointed, and he also handed up the piece that the bullet had knocked loose. Yes, the fresh side of the piece was white and glistening—and the whiteness was mottled with dull yellow. The scar in the rocky ridge also was white and yellow mottled.

"Is it gold, Charley?" gasped Billy, anxiously.

"I don't know, for sure," said Charley, trying not to be foolish. "But I think this is quartz, all right enough; and if that yellow's soft enough to be scraped with a knife blade it's liable to be gold." He drew out his knife from his belt and scraped at the yellow. Where the yellow was thickest it could—yes, it could be scraped in tiny shavings. Billy was peering close; and he was breathing so fast that, Charley afterward declared, he could be heard half a mile. But no matter now.

"It's gold!" Charley's voice came tense and stammery. "Anyway, it's soft."

"Do you suppose the whole rock's full of gold?"

"Maybe. Let's knock off some more. Maybe the whole hill's full of gold—all the rock! Hurrah!"

"Hurrah! Maybe it'll get solider, deeper we go," cheered Billy, hopefully.

Charley hammered with his boot heel and pried with his knife; Billy hammered with his rifle-butt; and when they knocked off even a chip, it showed traces of gold. Why, wherever the rock stuck up, making little humps and furrows, it seemed to be the one kind: quartz-blotched and yellow-spotted.

"Hurrah!" again cheered Charley. "We ought to stake off claims. Who found it? I saw the bear."

"And I shot the bullet," returned Billy.

"Well, there's enough for all, anyway. It'll belong to the whole party. What'll we call it? Grizzly? Lucky Bullet?"

They were so busy searching and gloating that they had forgotten the pack animals below and even the whereabouts of the men of the party. On a sudden, as if replying to Charley's queries, Billy cried out excitedly:

"Somebody else has been up here! Here's a little pile of loose rock, and a stake with a board sign on it, that says——shucks. Can't quite make it out. Come on and help me."

Over scrambled Charley, to where Billy was crouching and peering at a weathered board set up in a shallow hollow. Billy's voice rang triumphantly.

"'Golden West,' it says. 'Golden West Mine.' And——'I lay claim to as much of this lode running east and west as is allowed by miners' law. Tom Jones. August 22, 1848.'"

"Golden West!" exclaimed Charley, crashing and sliding to Billy's side. "Hurrah! That's the mine we've been looking for, Billy! It's our mine. It's the one——"

"That's where you're mistaken, bub," interrupted a new voice, speaking cold and distinctly. "Now you pile out of there, and git! Don't come back again, either."

Looking up, startled (as did Billy likewise), Charley faced the long-nosed man and his two companions gazing in upon them, over the brushy rim of the hollow and the muzzles of three guns.