Gold! It was really nothing so special before 1848. That is, it was never “just then discovered” in California. There had been gold found early on in the Spanish Settlements. Lumps of it, in fact, were still being picked in hand from straight off the surrounding land, or with a little seeping away of topsoil, prised from the red dirt. But in colonial Spain, all gold was property of the King. There were conquistadores and galleons to carry it away back home. Coronado invaded the great Southwest in search of El Dorado, one of the seven cities of Cibola... rumored to be paved with the stuff. Pizzaro had run roughshod over the very Inca for every bit of it he could milk out of Peru, and set the Inca on fire atop a heaping pile of the stuff (or so it was said). But the friars who stayed to tame the California Indians from their “savage” state of grace were good subjects, and passed it back along up the chain. Even when it became free Mexico, gold found on the land belonged to the state.
What was different about 1848... well, an American being a King All In His Own Right, he could keep that gold, and maybe if he found enough of it, he could retire. So it was that when James Marshall found a big hunk of it in his boss’s millrace, Mr. Sutter asked him to keep it under his hat. Word is that maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t, but word somehow got to the biggest mouth around, Sam Brannan of the San Francisco newsrag California Star, and after cagily finagling a large stock of prospecting gear he sold out of the paper’s store front, Sam Brannan brandished a vial of gold dust and walked up and down the streets of the city, yelling “Gold on the American River!” and that, as she said, was that.
Sardo Pat came west in the first bunch of Easterners known as the Forty Niners. The very first batch that could (and the economy must have been tanking pretty bad back east, to uproot men from their wives and families and businesses, and send them two thousand miles away on journeys that more often than not took thousands more miles to complete)... Pat took a boat out of Boston to Limon, Costa Rica, sweated his way for two weeks across the jungle to the Pacific, and then, hopped on a mail boat out of Puntarenas headed to San Francisco, and by so doing, cut himself a good hundred days or so off the usual “round the Horn” journey so many who followed him ventured. “The yellow rock that makes white men crazy”, as the Indians called it, had worked its effect on him as surely as it had the rest of America. The new “Manifest Destiny” nation needed to grow. And anything and everything, and anyone and everyone that stood in its way would soon come to acknowledge there was no stopping the white man in his madness, it was indeed all-consuming, and on the banks of the Cosumnes, one of thousands so infected, Pat staked his claim to a bit running up the south bank.
I gots to tellin you about my claim. Yeh, I knowed, I coulda but I didn’t, right?
OK. As I said, Transom was one of the firset guys with me took out one on this here bend in the river. He took one side of that big rock overhang and I took the other. When the others of the company come in, they began workin’ the other sides of us, so there could be complete harmony in the work, and alla us could work both sides of the river, and it weren’t long afore each of them found somethin, too.
My claim like I said runs back from the banks a good thirty feet, and Nicletto he’s on the other side of me from Transom. Nicletto sure is a funny feller. All day long he sings songs outta operas while we work. I must say it’s sometimes nice to have the pretty music, though there ain’t nothin purty about Nicletto’s voice. Transom likets to joke that back in Italy, Nicletto he was a hurdygurdy man, an’ strode about the streets of Milan singing his fool head off, grinding that organ, maybe he even had himself a little monkey or somethin’, though I sorta doubts that, ‘cause he ain’t have no monkey all the time I seened him here. Transom though he said that the monkey died on shipboard when Nicletto set out for ‘Merica, and they had to bury him at see. Makes sort of a funny sight, in the eye of the brain, don’t it? A little monkey getting set into the sea on a little gangplank board, wrapped up in a little pillercase or somethin’, poor Nicletto standing there with tars in his eyes, a dozen sailors snuffling into their wrists.
Anyhow! That claim pumps out some good money for us, and we see about keepin it protected, yes we do. Oncet we had some Injuns come and demand us give money for “their” land, but Nicletto set them straight, tellin’ them that ever since Crist’fer Columbus came this ol’ country been property of the white man, an eff them Injuns don’t like it no more, why don’t they come back where they came from. Them Injuns looked at Nicletto like he was crazy (which in fact, I kinder think he is) and gets up on their ponies and hightails it back to wharever they come from— up in the hills out past Auburn, I gesset. After that day, Nicletto, he sometimes gets all puffed up about it, but truth is, them Injuns wasn’t even armed or nothin’, they must have maybe had a lil too much whisky themselfs, or somethin, because even I can’t see how a little stud like Nicletto scares anybody. But maybe that’s jest cause I’m Irish.
When alla us put our money together an’ founded this here company, our first an’ most bigges’ investment was our Long Tom. It were long enough to stretch down each man’s claim- a good sixty feet! Cakey helped build it, cause he seen and knows how it were done, and he had that thing up and in good shape inside o’ two nights. We diverts river water down one end o’it so keeps the sluice full, an’ every man he’s got his own riffle box, he dumps it all in, so he can pick from the riffle box stuff he wants to pan and strain finer for. Like I said, at the end o’ the tom, which comes at Suthrun’s pickin’s, there’s a good riffle box on the end too catches whatever wuz too fine to get caught in all the other spots. That dust, we all split, with one small fraction goes to Cakey. We all doing good though on most days.
Everone’s got their own coyote hole, too, right along one side o’ the river or the other. Mine ets on the South bank, Suthrun and Jamjob, they gots there’s on the North. I put mine right there in the hollow of the big overhangin’ rock, and dang if I don’t work it once in a while cause there’s some white quartzite in there actually has something. I knows the best days are yet to come, but I sorter gotta keep my tongue quite about it. Transom, he snuck his coyote hole on the other side of the overhangin rock, a course, and he prolly has his own share of the same vein. Ain’t neither of us gonna even talk to each other bout it, lest it stirs up any trouble with the other fellers. But I know he knows, and he knows I knows. Jes’ one o’ them things I guess.
Now I tolje early on how we had a guy name Piney with us. Whale I sure should say, we did have a guy name Piney, he conestogied his way har, but it war the very week I gits har he drownded and drownded dead as a dornale rat thar near the claim. It heppened like this:
You see, Piney were a big one fer doin’ a bit of unnerwater prospeckin. an the Cosumniss is a mitey fast river in this har place, war we iz. He seened something down thar uner a big rock musta looked to him like a big old placer, and he gits uner the water thar an all with his crowbar, but, on account o’ the water so quick, he’s workin on pryin this thang out, and durn but he never come up, cept, we found him laid out on the rocks lain face down about fifty yards downstream.
We said some prairs an’ dug a hole and berried him up on the hill above our spot with a nice Crischun cross an’ all, an’ all of us felt sore and sorry cuz nobody knewed who we must or mite write to ta tell them the sad condolences. Yep, it were sad, and I never got to know Piney too good, and I gesset now I ain’t a gonna, neither.
Somewhere far far back in the creation, yet not so far back as to precede the formation of the galaxies, numerous stars began collapsing under gravity at some point. Some collapsed so far they formed neutron stars— objects so intensely heavy that one tablespoon of one would weigh over five billion earthly tons... On occasion these were formed from binary stars, pairs of stars which managed upon all odds to collide, and in the process formed hundreds of thouands of tons of new matter: heavy elements such as lead, uranium, platinum, and most rare, gold... Atomic particles of all of these scattered willynilly and flew aimlessly on in any direction until reaching gas clouds contracting again under gravity... and gold atoms collide, compound under the pressure of the formation of planetary crust, and fluctuate within the hot magma centers of planets... leaking upward into fissures and cracks in the superhot liquid flux, igneous and metamorphic granite... most often, finding their way to pair with crystals of tetrahydal silicon oxide otherwise known as quartz. By bits and flakes it is washed away by rains— the winter rains which sit over California like dull grey airborne manta rays, rinsing free topsoil, granite stone, tumbled in the rivers, hiding in the riverbed under larger accomodating lignites, until one day its sparkle catches the eye of a mill carpenter and reveals itself to a nation and world of men full of ambition, hope, or desperation
Then it were that I got some time an a invitation from Teasdale hisself ta come over an give his great house a toor. The missus, Meana, a coarse, had everthing good an’ sparklin’ clean— warn’t not even a hang o’ dust noplace t’ be seened. I come in the front door, a coarse, an’ removes my hat, a coarse, an’ looks around in the parler.
She had doilys an’ lace table cloths everwar, but thar wuz also sum great candle sticks that wuz not the uzual Californee lampstick. Thar wuz nice furnicher, a coarse, all of it trucked across the county in the back of prairie schooners at wut musta been high expense fer Mister Teasdale.
The missus she come at me with a plate of cake an’ a cup of tea. I said thankee ma’am an’ had me a set in one of them fancy furnicher chairs, had arms up to the gonads on it, it did. Mister Teasdale excused hisself ta see after dinner, which the missus had been a workin’ on all afternoon— wuz severl ducks, antelope roast, an’ extra speshul fer me, cuz I’m Irish, potato stew made with real rabbit. Thet were something else, thet stew, when it did get to me. But fer now I set thar with the missus an’ we discussed life out har in Californee. She saw me fer wut I wuz, I am indeed a Forty-Niner, but I is from New York which ain’t after all so far from Boston. She sed she culd har it in m’ voice. I guessed I couldna outrun it anyhow no matter how far west I ever come. She sed when they got out har wuz only Ollarud’s Pewter Eye (thus she puts the lie to ole Mster Teasdale’s claims he were first of em all ta set up shop) and ever body got their everthing from Brannan’s in Sackaminnow or Stockton. She sed the price of sum thing is still far too high fer Mister ta stock up an sell at discounts, but thet she unnerstoood the minders needs some things and less dear than their payin fer.
I sed, “Me, I jes want a decent egg oncet in a whiles.”
She tole me thet she offin thought that herself. Maybe next year when their cuzzins come out from Misery they’ll be bringin some chickens to be their layers. Until then we’s all stuck a coarse, payin out the cheek fer an egg a doller or more.