One of my comrades there--another of those victims of eighteen years of
unrequited toil and blighted hopes--was one of the gentlest spirits that
ever bore its patient cross in a weary exile: grave and simple Dick
Baker, pocket-miner of Dead-House Gulch.--He was forty-six, gray as a
rat, earnest, thoughtful, slenderly educated, slouchily dressed and clay-
soiled, but his heart was finer metal than any gold his shovel ever
brought to light--than any, indeed, that ever was mined or minted.
Whenever he was out of luck and a little down-hearted, he would fall to
mourning over the loss of a wonderful cat he used to own (for where women
and children are not, men of kindly impulses take up with pets, for they
must love something). And he always spoke of the strange sagacity of
that cat with the air of a man who believed in his secret heart that
there was something human about it--may be even supernatural.
I heard him talking about this animal once. He said:
"Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which
you'd a took an interest in I reckon--most any body would. I had him
here eight year--and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a
large gray one of the Tom specie, an' he had more hard, natchral sense
than any man in this camp--'n' a power of dignity--he wouldn't let the
Gov'ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in his
life--'peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining.
He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever see.
You couldn't tell him noth'n 'bout placer diggin's--'n' as for pocket
mining, why he was just born for it.
"He would dig out after me an' Jim when we went over the hills
prospect'n', and he would trot along behind us for as much as five mile,
if we went so fur. An' he had the best judgment about mining ground--why
you never see anything like it. When we went to work, he'd scatter a
glance around, 'n' if he didn't think much of the indications, he would
give a look as much as to say, 'Well, I'll have to get you to excuse me,'
'n' without another word he'd hyste his nose into the air 'n' shove for
home. But if the ground suited him, he would lay low 'n' keep dark till
the first pan was washed, 'n' then he would sidle up 'n' take a look, an'
if there was about six or seven grains of gold he was satisfied--he
didn't want no better prospect 'n' that--'n' then he would lay down on
our coats and snore like a steamboat till we'd struck the pocket, an'
then get up 'n' superintend. He was nearly lightnin' on superintending.
"Well, bye an' bye, up comes this yer quartz excitement. Every body was
into it--every body was pick'n' 'n' blast'n' instead of shovelin' dirt on
the hill side--every body was put'n' down a shaft instead of scrapin' the
surface. Noth'n' would do Jim, but we must tackle the ledges, too, 'n'
so we did. We commenced put'n' down a shaft, 'n' Tom Quartz he begin to
wonder what in the Dickens it was all about. He hadn't ever seen any
mining like that before, 'n' he was all upset, as you may say--he
couldn't come to a right understanding of it no way--it was too many for
him. He was down on it, too, you bet you--he was down on it powerful--
'n' always appeared to consider it the cussedest foolishness out. But
that cat, you know, was always agin new fangled arrangements--somehow he
never could abide'em. You know how it is with old habits. But by an' by
Tom Quartz begin to git sort of reconciled a little, though he never
could altogether understand that eternal sinkin' of a shaft an' never
pannin' out any thing. At last he got to comin' down in the shaft,
hisself, to try to cipher it out. An' when he'd git the blues, 'n' feel
kind o'scruffy, 'n' aggravated 'n' disgusted--knowin' as he did, that the
bills was runnin' up all the time an' we warn't makin' a cent--he would
curl up on a gunny sack in the corner an' go to sleep. Well, one day
when the shaft was down about eight foot, the rock got so hard that we
had to put in a blast--the first blast'n' we'd ever done since Tom Quartz
was born. An' then we lit the fuse 'n' clumb out 'n' got off 'bout fifty
yards--'n' forgot 'n' left Tom Quartz sound asleep on the gunny sack.
"In 'bout a minute we seen a puff of smoke bust up out of the hole, 'n'
then everything let go with an awful crash, 'n' about four million ton of
rocks 'n' dirt 'n' smoke 'n; splinters shot up 'bout a mile an' a half
into the air, an' by George, right in the dead centre of it was old Tom
Quartz a goin' end over end, an' a snortin' an' a sneez'n', an' a clawin'
an' a reachin' for things like all possessed. But it warn't no use, you
know, it warn't no use. An' that was the last we see of him for about
two minutes 'n' a half, an' then all of a sudden it begin to rain rocks
and rubbage, an' directly he come down ker-whop about ten foot off f'm
where we stood Well, I reckon he was p'raps the orneriest lookin' beast
you ever see. One ear was sot back on his neck, 'n' his tail was stove
up, 'n' his eye-winkers was swinged off, 'n' he was all blacked up with
powder an' smoke, an' all sloppy with mud 'n' slush f'm one end to the
"Well sir, it warn't no use to try to apologize--we couldn't say a word.
He took a sort of a disgusted look at hisself, 'n' then he looked at us--
an' it was just exactly the same as if he had said--'Gents, may be you
think it's smart to take advantage of a cat that 'ain't had no experience
of quartz minin', but I think different'--an' then he turned on his heel
'n' marched off home without ever saying another word.
"That was jest his style. An' may be you won't believe it, but after
that you never see a cat so prejudiced agin quartz mining as what he was.
An' by an' bye when he did get to goin' down in the shaft agin, you'd 'a
been astonished at his sagacity. The minute we'd tetch off a blast 'n'
the fuse'd begin to sizzle, he'd give a look as much as to say: 'Well,
I'll have to git you to excuse me,' an' it was surpris'n' the way he'd
shin out of that hole 'n' go f'r a tree. Sagacity? It ain't no name for
it. 'Twas inspiration!"
I said, "Well, Mr. Baker, his prejudice against quartz-mining was
remarkable, considering how he came by it. Couldn't you ever cure him of
"Cure him! No! When Tom Quartz was sot once, he was always sot--and you
might a blowed him up as much as three million times 'n' you'd never a
broken him of his cussed prejudice agin quartz mining."
The affection and the pride that lit up Baker's face when he delivered
this tribute to the firmness of his humble friend of other days, will
always be a vivid memory with me.
At the end of two months we had never "struck" a pocket. We had panned
up and down the hillsides till they looked plowed like a field; we could
have put in a crop of grain, then, but there would have been no way to
get it to market. We got many good "prospects," but when the gold gave
out in the pan and we dug down, hoping and longing, we found only
emptiness--the pocket that should have been there was as barren as our
own.--At last we shouldered our pans and shovels and struck out over the
hills to try new localities. We prospected around Angel's Camp, in
Calaveras county, during three weeks, but had no success. Then we
wandered on foot among the mountains, sleeping under the trees at night,
for the weather was mild, but still we remained as centless as the last
rose of summer. That is a poor joke, but it is in pathetic harmony with
the circumstances, since we were so poor ourselves. In accordance with
the custom of the country, our door had always stood open and our board
welcome to tramping miners--they drifted along nearly every day, dumped
their paust shovels by the threshold and took "pot luck" with us--and now
on our own tramp we never found cold hospitality.
Our wanderings were wide and in many directions; and now I could give the
reader a vivid description of the Big Trees and the marvels of the Yo
Semite--but what has this reader done to me that I should persecute him?
I will deliver him into the hands of less conscientious tourists and take
his blessing. Let me be charitable, though I fail in all virtues else.
Note: Some of the phrases in the above are mining technicalities, purely,
and may be a little obscure to the general reader. In "placer diggings"
the gold is scattered all through the surface dirt; in "pocket" diggings
it is concentrated in one little spot; in "quartz" the gold is in a
solid, continuous vein of rock, enclosed between distinct walls of some
other kind of stone--and this is the most laborious and expensive of all
the different kinds of mining. "Prospecting" is hunting for a "placer";
"indications" are signs of its presence; "panning out" refers to the
washing process by which the grains of gold are separated from the dirt;
a "prospect" is what one finds in the first panful of dirt--and its value
determines whether it is a good or a bad prospect, and whether it is
worth while to tarry there or seek further.