The River Bar

By Charles Watson

It was another hot, dry summer. Hadn’t had rain in six months, except for a light sprinkle in early August that hardly knocked down the dust. It was also a poor snow year in the mountains. They called these the dry years, times when mining slowed down in the Motherlode because of the lack of water. It was just one of those things, creek ran slower and slower and there were no thunderstorms to replenish the runoff – just another dry mining season.

A breeze caused a swirl of dust, dry weeds and leaves that spun across the river bar. Preston pulled his arm up over his face, ducked his head and closed his eyes. The dust cloud engulfed him and moved on. He shook his head and a puff of dust trailed in the light breeze that followed.

“Geese” he thought. “Can’t a miner catch a break?” He would like it to rain but he was mining a river bar and the low water was to his advantage. As the water level went down and down, he could mine closer and closer to the middle of the stream, and on this river bar that was the “paystreak”.

“Jacob! Get the straps, hook Ginger up and help pull this boulder out” and he pointed to a very large rock by the water’s edge. Their trustworthy mule was the workhorse of the operation. The miners would wrap straps around a large boulder, hook them to Ginger and she would pull till the large rock was moved from the river bar. She was a stubborn ol’ gal and often would not do anything. What she loved to do best was graze on the lush grass in the hollow on the backside of the river bar. The hollow offered a secluded spot that was out of the way of all the humble-jumbles of the human activities.

Jacob loved that old mule. Cared for it like a dog or a house cat. He groomed her every night, except when his dad ordered him on various errands or “special” jobs. At 9 years old, he was still too young to do much of the hard work the men did and little jobs were his specialty. Jacob found his own quiet time tending to Ginger down in the meadow. On more than one occasion, he would curl up in the soft grass after a long day and sleep next to Ginger. 

The boulder was pulled from its snug nesting place with a large rumbling sound. Surrounding sand, pebbles and cobbles fell in the open void. Ginger continued pulling the boulder up the bank at Jacob’s persistent coaxing. Preston yelled to them “Good job, ya-all! Good job!”

Gold is 19 times heavier than water and seven times heavier than quartz. In a rushing water that is moving large quantities of sediment down valley, like from the spring runoff floods, the largest gold will tend to travel close to bedrock and run with the large boulders. For several years, Preston had watched this gravel bar during the floods and saw where the fast water was moving the large rocks and thought of all the gold that would be there too. He knew where the paystreak was and as the drought progressed during this summer and the river got lower and lower, he had inched his way closer and closer to that fortune he had dreamed was there. 

Preston looked into the hole then shouted “Guys! Guy! We’re there! I see bedrock! We’re on the pay now! Get the pry bars Jacob. Boys, continue diverting the river away from the hole. I don’t want to lose this one.” Everyone began running about in a whorl of activity. They all knew what this meant – it could make or break their season. Now was the time to get after it.

The men worked long into the evening prying apart the fractured schist bedrock, enlarging the hole and bailing water so they could see the bedrock and get at the nuggets in the cracks. Jacob had been tasked with tending to Ginger in the meadow. He was tired and wisps of mom’s cooking floated through the meadow causing his stomach to growl. Ginger was tired too and enjoyed every mouthful of the lush green grass she could eat. Every now and again Jacob could hear hoots and hollers followed by intense laughter from the river bar signaling the men had found another choice nugget or a pocket containing abundant gold.

Jacob was still too young to participate in this part of the work. The men would become pretty excited, and he was often hastily pushed out of the way as they scrambled to move the overburden. Once he was hit by a flying rock that left a decent scar on his forehead, which his dad would remind him of when he wanted to just watch the activities and see the gold. “Some day”, he thought, “some day I’ll find that big nugget and impress the men. Maybe then I will be allowed to join into the recovery activities as one of the guys”. 

Just then, he heard his dad yell out. “Jacob! Jacob! Come here quick. I need you!” Jacob made sure Ginger was securely tied up and ran towards the group of men standing around this huge hole on the gravel bar.

“Son, there is a narrow crack down there with lots of gold in it and our hands are too big to get inside it. Do you think you could help us? Your hands are just the right size”.

Jacob looked into the hole. Groundwater was quickly leaking in from the sidewalls making it looked pretty sketchy. Several large cobbles hung precariously and if dislodged could easily crush a leg or worse. One man spoke up “I’ll tie this rope around your waist and pull you up if there is any trouble”. Jacob thought to himself, “yeah, after I’m squashed like a grape”. 

Jacob said, “Gimme a bucket on a rope too. I’ll scoop up what I can, load it in the bucket and ya-all hoist it up. We’ll do it till the crack is clean”. 

“Good idea son”. Preston said. “Let’s get after it. It is almost dark”.

They tied the rope to his waist and lowered him into the hole. The water was cold but felt good on the late summer evening. Needless to say, the excitement was all consuming and he hardly noticed. 

Jacob felt around the bedrock bottom and discovered the crack they were talking about. It was a narrow crack about two to three inches wide that was running perpendicular to the stream. He remembered what his dad said is that the big gold travelled on bedrock and this crack would collect anything heavy that tried to travel on by. 

Light was fading fast, and Jacob filled bucket after bucket of sediment as he cleaned the crack. The men would throw the contents into a large tube and lower the bucket back down to him. They shouted every time they saw bunches of gold and they were shouting all the time, “There’s one! There’s another!”. 

One time when they lowered the bucket back in the hole, it knocked a large cobble from the sidewall and Jacob barely move his hand away in time before the cobble went splash into the water right next to him. While his dad was cursing his men, he loaded the cobble in the bucket and told the men to lift it out of the hole. This time when they lowered the bucket back down, he moved to one side and yelled at them, “Gently now. Keep bailing the water too. I am almost done.”


Preston shouted, “Careful! That’s my son down there! Do what he says!” Proudly, he caught what he had just said. His son was giving orders to the men. He smiled.

Jacob felt all along the crack and it seemed it was all cleaned out but one spot. There was one pebble that seemed stuck and wedged in, and just at the end of his reach. He briefly looked up at his dad, took a deep breath and reached back down into the crack. His head went below the surface, and he was gone. The water was an inky black in the twilight and there were just ripples of where he once was.

The men looked at Preston and he looked into the hole. What seemed like just the other day his son was chasing butterflies in the meadow. Now he was doing something that neither he nor his men could do – mining a narrow crack on bedrock under water in a deep hole on a river bar in nearly pitch-black darkness. Time seemed to stop and there was not a sound from the men. Preston looked at the man holding his son’s safety line. The man looked back at him, then into the hole. “Just give me the word and I’ll yank him up.”

Jacob tried to get his little fingers around the pebble but there were some little rocks wedged in the way. He scraped at them over and over again, then got one to move, then another. He put his thumb on the other side of the pebble and pulled. No luck. It wouldn’t move. He gripped his other hand around his wrist holding the pebble, braced his knees and pulled with all his might.

There was a gasp of air when Jacob’s head reached the surface. “Got it!” he yelled and lifted the pebble into the air to show everyone. A last ray of light caught the stone and a golden glimmer appeared. Preston’s mouth dropped open and the men began to whoop and holler. 

“Pull him out. Pull him out!” Preston shouted.

“But dad, there’s more. I felt it. Let me go down one more time. I know I can get it”. 

“No son, let’s call this one for the night. She’ll be there tomorrow with fresh daylight. Throw that sucker up here and let’s see it”. It was so heavy, Jacob could hardly throw it and it landed just at his father’s feet. Preston picked it up and gauged its weight, “Holy cow! What a chunk! It’s gotta weigh a pound and a half! Atta boy! You have the miner’s luck flowing through your veins, that’s for sure”.

The men hoisted the soaking wet youngster in the air and carried him back to camp singing praises and calling him their hero. Preston strolled behind him tossing the gold pebble from one hand to the other. His son, his little boy, had just become a man. Preformed his right of passage right there in front of him. He shook his head and thought about the hell he was about to catch from his wife for letting Jacob do such a risky thing. Another smile came to his lips when he heard Ginger braying in the background. Jacob had run down to tell the ol’ gal the whole story. “Maybe not all grown up just yet”, and his smile widened.

Spend quality time with your children and teach them the benefits of gold mining. Take them to the mountains and give them a chance to find some gold. It is a thrill when they find their first gold speck, flake, or nugget. Once they do, they will be hooked forever. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, if they are a wee bit lucky… they too, will jump for joy, click their heels, and shout “Eureka! I found it!”, and they give their dad a big hug!

Charles P. Watson is the chief geologist at Advanced Geologic Exploration, Inc. located in Chester, California, with a field office in Tonopah, Nevada. 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

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!