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Incidents in the Life of a Prospector
Nevada State Journal, February 14, 1926, page 1

Jack Bell Tells More Of the Man WHo Seeks Gold in the Mountains


Back into yesteryears, and the fast disappearing old-time prospectors - the real honest=to-goodness trail blazer of the old west. With the real, manly, hard working old-time cowboy, he is almost relegated into the dim past where deeds, not mere words, made real men. In America's hall of fame the prospector now takes his place with the cowboy, scout, guide, innkeeper, soldier and the civil engineer, the vanguard of settlements and civilization of the old west.

Prospector Now Passing

The lovable, optimistic old-time prospector, who always gave and gave. He who brought into the borderland of safety the welcome news of a discovery of gold, silver and other precious metals: who described the vast areas of watered, timbered places, and the great wide basins unwatered that could be easily turned into productive ranches and farms. The prospector, who, alone, roamed the vastness of deserts and mountain crests for the precious metals with his outfit and few burros, is now passing. Credit must be given to the old-time prospector for his early explorations, first, absolutely first. He is really the man responsible for the towns and cities that lie in, and adjacent to mining countries. He has invariably led, others have followed. From the early dangers of Indian life, and the ever-present risk of accident and of reptilian and animal life, that meant death, he carried on.

Volume after volume can be written of the characters that certainly have first place in western history, not only in mining, but in all other development. For mind you in the old days the prospector took to the unsurveyed and unexplored worlds, and remained alone for never less than nine months. And very often years would pass before he came back to the borders where white folks dwelt. Then would follow the stampede to new territory. Very often the prospector would make a grand stake. In almost every case he would listen to the appeals of an alleged friend to invest his money in some fly-by-night scheme he was totally unfamiliar with and the result that he would be done out of his weath. Back into the wilds again, and so through life he was a messenger from out the great unknown.

Few Seen Today

Today a few of these same old stalwarts may be seen on the rims of desert and mountain, where he comes in for his annual grub, and pays for it in gold dust. He will tell you of the years that he has lived in the open, but will withhold any speech or inference to the thousand and one hazards that have been his. He looks like a man just a mite beyond midlife. He will tell you that he is near four score and he is still rugged, still contented with his life among the hills and deserts that he loves. He never rides. He invariable walks, generally ahead of his string of burros. He is straight as the proverbial lance shaft. His face is lined with a thousand little wrinkles. The skin is healthy and tanned to the Indian redness, copper coloring would be nearer the exact tinting. He is a living history of the great west. Besides at times he has traveled in most mining countries of the world. He is at home in the exclusive hotels and generally speaking he is a man of education and high ideals, with a sense of humor undeniable. They have a language of their own while in the hills, a sort of chinook; the same as cowmen, railroaders, miners and newspapermen. He is a naturalist, geologist, and, of course, mineralogist. He has the keen insight into all things. He is natural at all times. He despises hypocracy and easily detests the least divergence from truth. He has the open mind and heart of the unspoiled man-American. Of course there has followed in his footsteps many men of this type, that were taught the thousand and one intricacies of the game. However these men from the out of the way places, varying in age from 50 to 65 years are virtually inactive. Many have settled in the little garden spots of their dreams and await the time when decent legislation will be enacted, and the boogy of manifold taxation adjust so that they may, at least have a gamblers chance to make discoveries, and create more wealth for their state and nation.

Soon May Be No More

In a very few years, unless different conditions obtain, they will be no more, just a memory. But their deeds will live forever, and to the westerner they will always remain the men who embodies every attribute of this much misused word.

The prospector of today goes to the mountains and deserts on highways and broken traisl. He has an automobile. He makes camp at water. It can be readily surmised that his radiation of prospecting is narrowed down to comforts and water holes and restricted to easy going.

A few incidents of partnership and contented men of the hills may be interesting to the initiated and uninitiated.

Old Bill Carver, old-timer from the Black Hills, and a steadfast friend of the famous woman scout, Calamity Jane, a man 75 years of age, back in the early '90's was camped in the borders of timberline in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He was typical of the old school of prosepctors. A mite over six feet of brawn with a potter pidgeon chest, narrow hips and legs that told of the mushes in the beckoning beyond. Straight as a quaking aspen, with a mass of hair-like wrinkles quarter from the corner of his eyes. Kindly, hospitable, a friend indeed. Few enemies, except those of the wild. He had always lived in the mountain fastness and trekked across the deserts, always going forward into the unexplored unknown.

His voice could be heard for a half mile away raised in agry protest, and in words of plain American he was telling the entire world his private and personal opinion of magpies, single and in general, their forbears and of those to come.

He's Pretty Mad

"Hello there," he saluted. "Unpack your jacks and I will soon have something to eat. Just now I am mad, as mad as can be - worse than mad. I'm really quite angry. Take a look at that lead jack of mine. See what those ___ magpies have done. This poor little fellow got his shoulder rubbed coming up here to timber line - all raw! Course, first thing I did was to wash it out and rub bacon grease in, then start a fire to make grub. Then what do you s'pose happened? Didn't have the coffee on the fire, hardly, when one of those ___ magpies lighted on him and began to peck away in the spot where the hide was skinned. Look at it now, all bleeding. Doggone! I'll give them the fix. Look up there in that spruce. You see a dozen of them all waiting to get their chance to pick and peck, and at last to tear open that animal's shoulder so that he would be a dead burro in a few days. Watch me."

The little animal stood by the packs, with that patience for which he is loved by the man that really knows him. Their intelligence tells them that their kind master will look out for them in time of stress. Carver had tied an old sack over the sore and had driven the burrros under a spruce, the limbs of which dropped to the ground making a secure hiding place.

A Trap is Set

Carver took his frontier, single action Colt .45 and slipped down into a small draw. Pretty soon the bang of the revolver told the story of something having been killed. He came back in a few minutes with a snowshoe rabbit. Dressing it carefully he called to his pet. It came out to his whistle. Bill then tied the piece of meat on top of the gunny sack that protected the wound. Unravelled an old sock and made a string about 25 yards long. The animal stood still as a stuate. Carver called the visitor and they went into hiding. A loop had been spread around the bait. Pretty soon one of the magpies came from out of hiding and before the watchers realized the quietness and secrety of its approach it was pecking away at the piece of fresh rabbit. Old Bill gave the string a jerk. There was a frightened squawk that could be heard for a mile. At the same time the colony gave forth their cries that filled the air with the screams. The old prospector followed the string carefully and pretty soon had it captive.

The rest of the scavengers flew about and cried their protests.


Nate Crandall and Tom Lucas were in camp down along the Black range in western New Mexico. They were along the jagged uplifts and rock strewn borders of the mountains, where there was a seepage. They had been prospecting partners for a decade. The old-timer type, rugged, honest and companionable. Together they had endured the sand blasts of the desert and the 60 below far north. For everything, in everything, they were 50-50. These two old fellows had just had a little misunderstanding with the Yaquis over the border in Mexico, where they had been taking out a good poke of placer gold on the north fork of the Yaqui river. They had lingered too long along the border towns, and had come down to the ordinary grub stake again.

Their cash reserve was a single $20 gold piece. It was kept in a flat lidless tobacco can on an improvised shelf, ordinarily just as safe as in a vault. They had not been in the desert country for some time. Their experiences for years had been mnostly placering.

One morning Nate called to his partner and said:

"Say, Tom, where in thunder are the spoons - there is not a darn one here?"

"I'll swear if I know. Everylittle bright thing in this camp has been disappearing lately. It must be one of those Apache Indians that's herding sheep back in the foothills."

It was so with all the small and useful articles, most of which had taken themselves off while the men were down in a gulch sinking a shaft on a copper prospect.

More Spoons Missing

Nate came home earlier that evening than his partner. Two spoons which had been carefully hidde on the shelf were gone. So was Nate's temper when he discovered it. Looking in the other little caches where were kept knives and forks - found that their whole and entire cutlery outfit was missing. Tom did not come that night. There was a small border town a smart step away - 15 miles - he had gone down there to the enlivening dissipation of the dance hall and to get tobacco.

After his supper, and while sitting and pondering with eyes set on objects in the far distant hills (as trained men of the open do) he went to the shelf for tobacco - then looked into the lidless tin, the precious gold piece was gone.

Tom drifted back to camp early next evening. He had a small bag of grub and plenty of tobacco.

"Sure had a good time, Nate. Met some of the old sourdoughs from up north who just blew into camp down there."

"Uh huh," was the only answer he received. He was thinking of the missing $20 gold coin. The condition of his old side-kick indicated that he had been without sleep, and that of course he had taken their last twenty and danced it away. Knowing that he would walk many miles to put in a night dong the two-step, matter fact that was the appelation he had earned, "Two-step Tom." Crandall was sore at heart. Disappointed that his blanket mate had at last cheated him.

Something Wrong

After breakfast Nate washed the dishes and without a word started down the gulch to the prospect hole. Tom "red up" the camp, packed up a bite of lunch and followed. Arriving at the dump he was surprised to see Nate in the distance heading for the mining camp.

"Guess the old man was sore because I took a day off and went to town to two-step. Something wrong, somewhere."

He did not finish his shift. He returned to camp. He reached up on the shelf where was kept the tobacco tin, that rested beside the open one that held all their finances. The latter he accidentally overturned on the shelf. There was no gold piece to be seen. He cleaned the shelf and looked all about. It was gone and that was all there was to it.

"Guess the old man was sore and glommed the twenty and has gone to town to light up. Reckon it's time for us to split up. Who would have thought it?" He asked the whole wide world in general.

Early next morning, Nate appeared, sober without grub or anything. He was glum and without even looking at his partner of a score and 10 years, walked back of their camp and sat down on a blow out, where the pests of the desert had lived for years. "If any living man had ever even hinted that my partner would take the very last cent - the last grub stake, I would have blowed him off," said Nate as he sat looking down through the crevices of the boulders.

"I would have killed any living man on earth if even a hint was made that Tom would steal, even for his everlasting two-steps. I'll pack, split and leave," remarked Nate as he came back to earth.

Separation Never

Tom finished the morning dishes, dragged his bed to the floor and rolled and tied it. "I'll just split the truck and hit the trail. And to think, my old pard would take our last twenty - it's -!"

Nate knowing nothing of what was transpiring in the cabin sat on the rocks chin in cupped hands looking into nothing. He was feeling very much alone and his heart ached in sorrow at his coming parting of the ways. Just then there flashed through his mind - pack rat. How could he have overlooked the mysterious looting of their bright possessions, when he sat right on top of a colony of the filthy, cunning plume-tailed rodents, the bane of every man of the hills. He began kicking awya the pile of cactus leaves, shreds of almost everything about a camp. He worked like a beaver, tearing into the mass of rubbish. When he had leveled away the main pyramid, he squined down into where the broad entrance led back into the more narrow openings, and the sun shone on many bright objects, readily recognized as spoons, knives, forks and, dully yellow, the vanished $20 gold piece glowed dimly below. This thief had caused him to doubt the honesty of his old pard and it was a certainty that Tom had the exact thoughts of him. How he cursed pack rats, as he tore and gouged, and lifted the tumbled piles of rocks to reach their belongings. He acted like a wild man as he swore - as he heaved and rolled and threw the broken rocks. With a half sob of relief and joy he secured the gold piece and a handful of the purloined stuff from their cabin. He let out a roar of relief in such a voice that it brought up Tom to his feet like a rubber ball. The strange scream chilled him.

Scratched, bleeding, hatless, cursing with relief as well as delight, with his hands full of their stolen belongings, he came running towards the cabin, leaping, yelling, hair flying in a gray mass, and incoherently trying to call his partner to tell him the great news.

"I've Found It"

Old Tom was standing beside his pack. When he saw Nate in the condition of a half crazed man, swinging his arms, and crying out in a jumble of words unrecognizable, he was scared for the mental state of his bunkie.

"My God, the old man has gone nuts. Too much desert, too much sun."

Tom unslung his scarred Frontier 45 Colt and crouched, hand tight against his hip - the perfect gunman-killer poise.

I've found it - I've found it - the damn pack rats - the ornery thieves - here's the $20 and the spoons, knives, for,s and all - and to think I blamed you for glomming the stuff." He danced about, Tom dropped his six-shooter to the ground, and the two old partners war danced until they were out of breath, slapping each other on the back that sounded like the beatings of tom-toms, and acting like the children of the wilds that they were.

More Partners

Down in Blythe, Caliof., some 50 odd years ago, rich paying placers were discovered. Sam Steele, discharged from the Federal army in '65, drifted in. At the same time, Len Summers, out of the southern army, heard the news and made his way into the land of riches. (These are not their real names). These two adventurers soon became inseparable. Soft spoken, lovable men, both. They located many claims and for years made a decent living out of their placer ground.

Since the late 60's, these two men had lived companionably, and friendly with all understanding, inseparable at all times and for over a period of a lifetime. THey worked out their placers and took to the near-by hills and located several claims under the lode law. They would find rich streaks and stringers and made a good living mortering and panning gold. They had two cabins in the hills built near springs, or seepages, that gave them a good supply of water. The surrounding hills were sparsely covered with twisted pinenut, and scraggly juniper and cedar. Cactus grew in profusion, and the many bright colors made a heavenly relief during their bloom, among the long stems of soapwee, joshuas, and other desert growth.

Last year a party of mining men with their experts were journeying through this district on examinations. The day was hot. They were looking for water. From a cabin by a walled-in spring that came from out a hillside under a cedar, a tall, very spare and aged man came forth to greet the party. He was cordial and hospitable. His cracked, calloused hands, his parchment-like face and deeply lined neck and cheeks told of labor, hardships, his bright eyes twinkled with a sense of humor. The chief of the party did not then know it, but this same old chap was one of the men who he had come to see and negotiate for a property that had become known on account of its value in free milling gold. The party passed on after refreshing themselves at the spring and wended their way on up the canon to where the old man had told them was another cabin and good spring, about a mile distant.

Not So Friendly

Sitting in front of the second cabin, with an old 45-70 Winchester rifle across his knees, was a sprightly, skeleton-like little man with flowing beard and snow white hair, snappy blue eyes, and every action like a game cockeral. With inherited kindness, he asked the party to make themselves at home, brought water from the spring for them and said he would cook them a meal. It was noticed that he was laboring under intense [xx] and an almost insane madness.

"Say, did you fellows see a long, lanky, [xx] ba;djeaded stoop-shouldered man down at the first cabin?" An old fellow with hands like hams, almost six feet high, who talked soft and slow?"

The old fellow fairly danced as he made his inquiry and looked from one to another as he fiddled with his Winchester. The visitors, of course, were [xx], thinking perhaps that there had been a case of claim jumping. They told the little fellow that they had stopped at the other cabin for water, and then added the [xx - remainder of column too faint to read]

Continuation missing

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