Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

The Trail of the Enemy

"Evidently we have to do with a very cunning gang of rascals," remarked Mr. Adams, as with the burro they hastened back for the levee and their baggage. "How did they know enough to trade on your name, Grigsby?"

Mr. Grigsby smiled grimly.

"They probably saw I was a Fremont man—may have heard us talking; and they took the chance. Naturally enough they'd guess that I knew the captain. All we early Americans in California knew him, and he stood ready to help us out. Well, sir, they left a clue, at any rate. We'll follow as fast as we can."

"Do you think we'll catch them?" asked Charley, eagerly.

"We'll do our best, whether we catch 'em or not," answered the Fremonter. "It's a big country, up yonder in the mountains, as they'll find out. Now, I'm thinking that we can't do better than to take the trail up the south branch of the American, to the saw-mill, and see Jim Marshall. He's been living right in the middle of things and may know something we'll want to hear."

"You mean the Marshall who discovered this California gold, for Americans?" queried Charley's father. "Well, I'd certainly like to see him, and have Charley see him; and the place, too."

"All right. Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone," answered the Fremonter. "And from the mill we can work north, to the other branch of the American."

The baggage was undisturbed, on the levee. Charley held the burro, and his father and Mr. Grigsby proceeded to pack her. Mr. Grigsby had stopped at a store, on their way, and bought two crowbars, a new rope and a pack-saddle, and some dried-beef. The crowbars cost $1.50 each, the rope cost $5, and the pack-saddle, of oak and rawhide and shaped like two letter X's fastened together by the middle, cost $8. The meat was the cheapest. It came in long strips, and sold by the yard—six yards for fifty cents!

The Fremonter was of course an expert at packing a horse or mule, and Mr. Adams knew considerable about it, from his army experience. Charley wondered at the neatness with which his comrades hoisted aboard all the variously shaped articles, and tied them fast so that they balanced.

"They call this the diamond hitch," grunted Mr. Grigsby, as he hauled tight, while the little burro stood with ears meekly drooped. "Rope makes the shape of a diamond—see? But it's only the regular trappers' pack throw. I've used it a thousand times and more. Well, we're all ready; hurrah for the gold mines. Charley, you can lead the critter. I'll go ahead, to show the road."

"Hurrah for the gold mines!" echoed Charley; and away they trudged.

As they left the hurly-burly of the embarcadero, and threaded their way through the bustling town, which was like another San Francisco, nobody appeared to notice their march. It probably was an old story, and besides, the people were too busy running about, bargaining in real estate, making money quick.

The dust was floating high, from the many feet; and as the street became a road out of the town, the dust was thicker than ever, from parties on before. It lay brown and powdery, ankle-deep and hot to the boots. The sun blazed down fiercely. Leading the little burro, in his heavy clothing Charley soon was streaming with perspiration; before, tramped with long stride the Fremonter, a rifle on shoulder; at the rear stanchly limped Mr. Adams, well laden with gun and pistol and the few articles that he and Mr. Grigsby had divided.

The burro's pack displayed crowbars and shovels and picks and gold pans and camp equipage; and to Charley's mind the little procession looked very business-like.

After following the dusty road through a flat brown plain, in about a mile and a half they passed what Mr. Grigsby said was the famous Sutter's Fort. With its thick clay walls and square towers at the corners, pierced with loopholes, it did indeed look like a fort. Inside the walls were several clay buildings where the captain had lived and stored his goods and taught his Indians to do white man's work. He had erected his fort here in 1839, and had been given all the land about, by the Mexican government of California. But now the fort was deserted; the doors and windows had been broken in, most of the wood had been torn out and carried off, and the fields about had been used as pasturage by the gold seekers. No wonder that the captain felt aggrieved; and it was pretty hard on him, when really because of his saw-mill had gold been discovered. This was poor reward for having settled the country and built a saw-mill—and a flour mill besides.

"There's the Rio Americano," spoke Mr. Grigsby, pointing ahead, after they had passed old Fort Sutter.

About a quarter of a mile before on the left, a line of trees indicated the course of a river—the American. And a fine stream it proved to be, flowing clear and sparkling between wooded grassy banks. The road, still dusty, turned slightly, and ascended along the river, making toward the rolling brown foothills which shimmered in the blue distance, with the mighty snow-crests of the Sierra Nevada range glinting beyond them.

In the shallows and on the bars of the American parties of miners were at work digging away with spades and picks, and squatting to wash out the gold in their pans. They all were so busy that they seemed to note nothing on either side of them or overhead. Their eyes were glued to the sand and the holes and the pans. Other parties had halted by the way, for rest in the shade of trees; and these hailed the Adams party with the usual calls: "How far to the diggin's, strangers?" "This is the American, ain't it?" "Say! How much do you s'pose a man can dig in a day, up there?" "Where you folks from, and where you bound?" "Is it always this hot in Californy?" And so forth, and so forth.

Several parties on their way back to Sacramento also were met; they were brown and hairy and rough and ragged, and some of them limped weakly as if they could scarcely carry their weapons, picks, spades, crowbars and blanket-rolls. They all were received with a perfect volley of excited queries from the resting parties—to which they replied with wave of hand and sometimes with a triumphant flourish of a fat little sack.

But Mr. Grigsby paused not for the gold seekers in the river, or under the trees, or on the way down. He tramped stoutly, with his long stride; Charley just as stoutly followed behind, leading the packed burro, and at the tail of the burro strode, a little unevenly, the tall and soldierly Mr. Adams.

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


The dusty road continued through the wide rolling plain which formed the east half of the great Valley of the Sacramento. The herbage was short and brown, except at the margin of the streams, and the hot landscape was broken by occasional large spreading trees, singly and in clumps. As the foothills gradually drew nearer, the number of miners became greater. Finally, at sunset, Mr. Grigsby halted at a grassy hollow, near the American, where there was a considerable camp of men, and even two women. A rude sign announced the title "Woodchuck's Delight."

"We'll camp, too, I reckon," he quoth, dropping his pack; and Charley was glad to hear the words. "How are you?" greeted Mr. Grigsby to the nearest miners, as he turned to unpack the burro.

"Howdy, strangers? Where you from and where you going?"

"Just coming in, or have you made one pile?"

"That's a burro, ain't it? Will you sell him?"

"What might your names be, strangers?"

To these and other queries Mr. Grigsby answered good-naturedly, as he and Mr. Adams stripped the little burro. The camp consisted of a few tents and of men who merely had thrown their blankets down here and there, as if to cook their suppers and rest till morning. The great majority had come afoot, many without even pack animals; a sprinkling of horses and mules were staked out, at pasture; and speedily Mr. Grigsby led the burro aside, to stake him out, too. He laid back his ears, stretched out his shaggy head, and made short runs at the other animals near him, until he had cleared a grazing spot all his own. Then he hee-hawed triumphantly, and lay down for a luxurious roll.

Mr. Adams and Charley tossed the bedding to a place which appeared as good as any other, for sleeping, and got out the "grub" and cooking utensils.

"Charley, you're expected to supply the wood and water, and help me with the camp chores generally," directed his father. "We'll let Grigsby do the hunting and camp locating and burro tending, and I'll cook and wash dishes. That will be our regular system. How about it, Grigsby?"

"Sounds like a pretty good arrangement," agreed the Fremonter, tersely. "But I'm perfectly willing to chip in wherever necessary."

"Get some wood, Charley," bade Mr. Adams. "That's first. There's the axe." And he proceeded to sort out the food, while Mr. Grigsby busied himself with the bedding.

Charley seized the axe from amidst other tools, and lustily chopped wood from a tree which already had been half demolished by other campers. In fact, it looked as though very soon no trees would be left, along this trail; which was a great pity.

Having brought enough wood, he took an iron kettle and trudged to the river. Several miners were at work, along the banks, and on a bar in the middle; one was working right where Charley arrived—a low place, like a miniature gully, where the soil was bare and sandy clay. He had dug a small trench, and was shoveling some of the loose dirt into his gold pan.

Charley could not help but watch, for a moment.

"Are you getting anything?" he ventured.

The man appeared to be a rough fellow, unshaven and tanned red, in faded blue flannel shirt, old trousers belted with a leather strap, and bare feet. But when he smiled, and pausing a second, answered, he spoke in a pleasant voice, with as good language as from Charley's father or any other cultured person.

"Oh, a few pinches. See——?" and he swirled his pan level full of water, until the water and much of the dirt had flowed out over the edges. He did this again—picked out a number of pebbles and large particles of dirt—swirled once more, and tilted the pan, almost empty, for Charley to see.

Hurrah! Sure enough, there was a thin seam of yellow, lying in the angle of sides and bottom! And breaking it, was a small irregular particle, of blackish hue tinted with the yellow in spots. Charley's eyes bulged. Gold! Was this the way they did it?

The man picked out the small lump, and turned it in his fingers.

"One little nugget. Worth probably twenty dollars," he remarked. "The rest of the pans—these are two pans washed out—average about twelve cents." Then, at sight of Charley's excited face, he laughed heartily. "You look as though you had the gold fever, boy, and had it bad," he said. "But these pans are nothing. They wouldn't sum up more than four dollars a day—and nobody in California would work long for four dollars a day. It's too low down on the river to pan out real wages. I'm just amusing myself. Got a pan? Come in and try your luck. The ground's free."

"I can't, now," stammered Charley. "I'm getting water for supper. Maybe I can later, though. Will you be here after a while?"

"Oh, as like as not," answered the man, calmly scraping out the yellow stuff with the point of his knife, and dropping it into the usual brown buckskin sack—which, Charley noted, bulged a little at the bottom. "I used to be a preacher; now I seem to be a miner. What's your name and where'd you come from and where are you going, as the fashion of asking questions is."

Charley briefly told him (for he liked this ex-preacher immensely), but of course he didn't mention that they were on the trail of the Golden West claim. He simply said that they were bound up the American. Then he dipped his water and hastened back to the camp, where he found his father waiting.

"I saw a man panning gold," he announced.

"Getting anything?" asked Mr. Grigsby, not at all excited.

"Yes. A nugget and a lot of dust besides. He said he'd help me pan, if I'd come back after supper. Can I, dad?"

"Oh, I guess you can, if you have no chores," consented his father, with a smile at Mr. Grigsby.

Charley had no idea that his father was such a cook. Mr. Adams went at the matter in great shape—and even Mr. Grigsby, lying near, rewrapping a place on the pack saddle, apparently found nothing to criticise.

Mr. Adams (and it looked odd to see him, a man, busy cooking!) had bread batter already started. He took one of the gold pans, dumped into it some flour, a pinch or two of saleratus, and a quart or two of the water. He mixed away with his hands, adding flour and water until the batter was correct, formed it into a loaf, laid it in another pan, well greased with bacon rind, covered it with the first pan, and set the "oven" well down among coals that he had raked out to one side. He poured a little water into the fry pan, or spider, laid in a lot of chunks and strips of dried-beef or jerky, and salted it and put it on the fire. He took out a handful of coffee beans that had been roasting in the fry pan before he used the pan for the stew (and how good they smelled!), crushed them in a piece of cloth between two stones, and turned them into the coffee-pot.

"You must have been there before," commented Mr. Grigsby.

"Well, I've been a soldier, you know," explained Mr. Adams. "This is soldiers' fare; that's all."

"Strangers, you're new to the diggin's, I reckon," asserted a caller, who strolled in and coolly sat down. He was an exceedingly powerful man—as tall as the Fremonter, broad and heavy, a veritable giant. His shaggy whiskers were bright red. He wore a broad-brimmed black hat, below which hung his red hair to mingle with his whiskers; his red shirt was open at the hairy throat, his stained coarse trousers were belted with a piece of rawhide, through which was thrust a knife and pistol, and he was barefooted. He certainly was the biggest and most ferocious-looking man that Charley had ever seen. Yet he acted very harmless.

"Why so?" queried Mr. Adams, examining his bread.

"'Cause you're bread eaters, 'stead o' bein' flap-jackers. By that I take it you've not been up into the flapjack country yon," and he jerked his head in the direction of the foothills and mountains. "When a man makes his squar' meals out o' flapjacks an' sow-belly, then he can call himself a miner."

"You've been there, in the flapjack country, I suppose," invited Mr. Adams.

"Have I, stranger? Wall, I should shout! I was one of the fust into the diggin's after Jim Marshall discivvered color. Fact is, I'm jest down from thar now, only stoppin' hyar at Woodchuck's Delight to rest my feet. They've got rheumatiz powerful bad, wadin' in the water so much."

Charley had noted that many of the men in the camp were barefooted, as if their feet were sore; evidently Woodchuck's Delight was a sort of a resting place.

"How are things at the saw-mill diggin's?" queried Mr. Grigsby.

"Peterin' out, stranger," replied the red-whiskered man. "Quiet as a Quaker Sunday. I was thar about a month ago."

"Is Marshall mining?"

"Not much. He's grumblin', mostly. Thar's a man, who when he struck a big thing jest natter'ly didn't know what to do with it. It made him pore instead o' rich. The rush o' people tromped an' dug all over him, an' he doesn't appear to have enough spunk to stand up for himself. He seems to think he owns the hull country, 'cause he was thar fust, an' 'cordin' to his notion nobody can mine without his leave. But as matter o' fact, he was too blamed slow to locate any claims; an' when the miners agreed to let him have 100 feet, he didn't get to work on it. He seems to expec' the Government to pay him for his discivvery, while he sits 'round waitin' an' grouchin'. But that sort o' thing doesn't go, out hyar, whar every man must look out for himself an' do his part."

"Never heard of a claim called the Golden West, in those parts, did you? A quartz claim?"

"Nary Golden West, stranger; or any other quartz claim; 'cept that thar was a party through on the trail a day or two ago, inquirin' for that same name—the Golden West. But they didn't say whether it was lode or placer."

"Three men, with a bay mule—one man small and dark, long nose?" pursued Mr. Grigsby.

"You've got 'em, stranger."

"Which way were they bound?" asked Mr. Adams.

"I reckon they went on up the American."

Mr. Grigsby and Charley's father exchanged glances; then Mr. Adams spoke quickly, as if to drop the subject.

"Will you have supper with us, sir?" For the bread was done.

"No, thank 'ee; I'm well lined with flapjacks and sowbelly, to last me till mornin'," replied the red-whiskered man. However, he stayed while the party cleaned up everything that Mr. Adams had cooked.

Now it was near the close of twilight; and Charley, fidgeting anxiously, wondered whether he might not try for gold, just once. His father must have read his thoughts, for he said suddenly:

"Get out your pan, Charley, if you want to, and try your luck. We'll tend to the chores."

Charley needed no second bidding. He grabbed the one clean pan, and down to the river he ran. He fancied that he heard the red-whiskered man call after him, with joking advice, and he knew that other campers, whom he passed, laughed at his eagerness; but who could tell—perhaps he would find gold as well as anybody.

The ex-preacher was still there, in his "diggin's," working away.

"Hello!" he welcomed, cheerily. "Come in and spell me. I'm tired. There's your dirt, all ready for you."

Into the shallow ditch jumped Charley, as bold as an old-timer, and scooped some dirt into his pan. The ex-preacher sat down on the side of the ditch and watched him.

"Don't put in too much dirt at once, boy," he cautioned. "Half full is enough. That's right. Now sink it to the rim in the water, and swirl it around and back again, so the current will carry the dirt off. Don't be afraid to keep it moving. That's it. The gold is heavy, you know; the dirt goes and the gold stays behind. Whoa'p! Let's see. No, it's all gone, this time. You've washed the pan clean. Try again. Take things easy."

That proved to be no easy job, though. The pan was large, the dirt and water weighted it down, and as Charley squatted and tried to swirl it around, at just the right level, presently his back and his arms were aching together.

"Slow, now," bade his instructor, becoming interested. "Raise the pan a bit and swash the water—flip it out along with the dirt, a little at a time. Be careful of that black sand—it's heavy and carries the gold. Here; I'll get rid of the sand for you," and taking the pan he cleverly swirled it, occasionally dipping up more water, until the sand had flowed off.

"There you are!" he laughed, gaily thrusting the pan back into Charley's hands. "And there's your color, sure enough. See it? A ten-cent pan, the first time. Good!"

Charley anxiously peered. In the rounded angle of bottom and side, a narrow gleam of yellow! Could it be possible? Yes; there it was, the gold; actually, real gold, and he had washed it—or at least, he had washed most of it.

"Shall I try some more?" he asked, excitedly.

"Sure. Go ahead. We always wash several pans, before we clean up. Now do it all yourself. You know how."

This time Charley succeeded in getting rid of everything but a very little of the sand; and behold, the yellow seam was deeper. After the third pan he could wait no longer; he out with his buckskin sack, and with the point of his knife scooped his gold in. A little sand went along with it, but who cared?

"We'd better quit for the night, I guess," remarked his new friend, who appeared as delighted as he. "I expect you've made as much as half a dollar. Now it's time for tenderfeet to go to bed."

Through the dusk Charley trudged back to the fire, with his pan and his gold, feeling much indeed like a regular Forty-niner.

His father and Mr. Grigsby were sitting by the fire, talking, when in he burst upon them.

"I got some! I got some!" panted Charley.

"Did you? All right. Show up."

"It's in my sack. See?" And Charley "showed." "I didn't stay to pan much. But I learned how."

"A trace of gold, and considerable sand," pronounced Mr. Grigsby. "But that's enough, for a starter—only you want to dry that stuff out, lad, and blow the sand away. Understand?"

"We've decided to push right along, Charley," said his father, just as if he and Mr. Grigsby considered Charley as much of a partner as they were, "up the trail to Marshall's place; then we can turn north for the north branch of the American, or for the Yuba and the Feather beyond. They're all mining districts. Do you agree?"

"I agree," assented Charley. "And whenever we camp we can wash out gold, can't we?"

His father laughed.

"Certainly. By the time the mine is reached, may you'll have filled your sack."

Charley yawned mightily. The future seemed golden bright—yet he felt as though he couldn't keep awake long enough to discuss it. His father yawned; so did Mr. Grigsby; already the majority of the campers were stretched out in their blankets, some of them snoring; and to bed went the Adams party, also.

Charley removed his boots and trousers and flannel shirt; and rolling himself in his army blanket used them as a pillow—the fashionable scheme, he noticed. He was asleep so soon, and slept so "fast," that he was perfectly astonished to wake into daylight and breakfast time.

The camp of Woodchuck's Delight was breaking apart, for a number of its tender-footed inhabitants had started on, up or down the trail. As his father and Mr. Grigsby were packing the burro, the red-whiskered giant of the evening before passed by, and waved an "Adios."

"It's almost time that we met some of the overland crowd, isn't it?" remarked Mr. Adams, as they took up the march, in the same order as before.

"Not quite," answered Mr. Grigsby. "That's a four months' trip, and I don't reckon any of 'em got away much before the middle of April. It'll be two or three weeks or more, yet, when the first of them cross the range."

"Will they all come this way?" appealed Charley. Thirty thousand there were, so people said; and what a procession they would make!

"No. There's that southern trail, around by the Gila, and to San Diego or up through Los Angeles. And the northern trail, to Oregon and then down. But the Eastern papers advised taking the Oregon trail up the Platte and across South Pass beyond Fort Laramie, to Fort Hall; then south to the Mary's River that Fremont named the Humboldt, down the Humboldt to the Sinks, over to the Truckee and across the Sierra to the head of the north fork of the American—the way we came in with Fremont in Forty-five. And there's that other way, about our trail of Forty-four: by the Carson River, which is south of the Truckee, over Carson's Pass of the Sierra, to the South Fork of the American—which would strike down this trail, like as not, to Sacramento. But in my opinion the trail up the Truckee to the North Fork is the best, and the bulk of the people will come that way."

So saying, Mr. Grigsby shouldered his long rifle, and strode out, to lead. Charley occupied the middle, with the burro. His father limped in the rear.