The End of a Season
By Charles P. Watson
A gust of wind caused the curtain to blow back from the mercantile store window. A two-horse wagon pulled up outside. A man slowly lifted himself from the hard bench seat and stepped into the soft mud on the street. A light rain had begun to fall.
There was a pine box in the wagon bed. It was about six feet long and nailed shut. Becky leaned towards the window, squinted, and tried to make out the name carved in the top. Her hand lifted towards her mouth and it began to tremble. A tear slid from her left eye, rolled down her cheek, and like in slow motion, fell to the dusty floor and burst into a million droplets on impact.
Preston had been gone for eight weeks. It was the final push of the season. The leaves had already turned and they had begun to fall to the ground. There was a crispness to the air. Puddles were freezing. The end was near. The miners would be coming out of the hills now and Becky could hardly wait to see her man again.
Two men gathered at the back of the wagon, both looking down and shaking their heads. One pulled out a hand twisted cigarette and lit it, and the whip of smoke trailed off into the damp air.
The last push was always the most dangerous. Men trying to get every last ounce from the ground before it froze, before the snows buried their claims, their dreams, all their hard work. The miners stretched their limits, their strength, and all their wits in order to have enough gold to last through the upcoming winter.
Some would stay out on their claims until it was too late. The rains would come, make the trails unstable, and often wash out. The snows would be next and then they would be stuck. With no safe route back to town, they were forced to hunker down for the winter. Few survived. That was the way when you worked too late into the season in the California gold fields. There were good days and there were bad days, and then there were some really, really bad days. As a miner, you worked hard as you could for all those good days and pray those bad days were few and far between.
Becky’s trembling hand brushed a strand of hair from her face. Her eyes were fixed on the pine box. Some more men had gathered around the back of the wagon. The rain began to fall harder. The men continued to stand there, looking down, shaking their heads. Rain began to fall from their hats and the man’s cigarette went out. She dreaded the rain. She knew it meant the end of the season, and often the end of many people’s dreams – and sometimes their lives.
Preston had a good claim. Got it from ol’ man Hank, one of the first people to mine the headwaters of Canyon Creek. The amount of gold he pulled off his claim left people speechless. Preston built a cabin up past the narrows. It was sturdy and Becky knew if Preston couldn’t get out, he had a good place to stay. She had been there once before. She knew he had a Winchester and a Colt, but how many rounds? To stay all winter meant he would have to use all his skills just to stay alive. She wondered if he would have enough or was that him in the pine box.
Becky watched as the men began lifting the pine box from the wagon. It was obviously full and heavy. One of the men cursed as he caught a sliver in his hand. The box slipped and the man with the drenched cigarette said, “Watch it, man! That’s our future you’re holding!”
A floorboard creaked behind her and two strong arms slid across her hips and around her waist. A twinkle came to her eyes and her lips curled into a smile. She leaned back into his tall, strong frame and he kissed her neck.
“Sorry, honey. It was the only way to get that much gold into town. I think we have enough to last the winter. Now, if the boys don’t don’t drop it and spill the gold in the mud, we should be all right”. The rain began to beat down harder on the mercantile store roof. Two people hardly noticed. They had both survived another mining season.
Gold mining is not a new thing. It is something in our blood – something that we feel is right. Today’s miners are smarter than ever before. They have better tools to recover the precious metal and the wisdom to work with Mother Nature. Today’s miners are responsible citizens and reclamation is part of their mining process.
It is a thrill to find your first gold speck, flake or nugget. Once you do, you will be hooked forever. It is fun for the whole family and who knows, maybe, just maybe, if you are a wee bit lucky… you too, will jump for joy, click your heels, and shout “Eureka! I found it!”
Charles P. Watson is the chief geologist at Advanced Geologic Exploration, Inc. located in Chester, California. He is an expert on gold exploration, mining, permitting, and a mining history buff as well. He can be reached at [email protected] or at www.advancedgeologic.com
Advanced Geologic locates and sells high quality gold mining claims. They also provide superior mining and geologic consulting, and can assist you with all your mining and permitting needs. The gold rush is on! Contact them and claim your fortune!