Old Jacob the Prospector
Jacob had been out prospecting ever since he’d left home when he was fifteen. Most times he found just enough gold to keep himself going. And every time he tried a new place he vowed it would be the last. But they he heard rumours of a new site and he was off again – one more time!
‘Well,’ Jacob told me, ‘this last place was just about the purtiest spot I ever did see; a river with sweet, fresh water; green meadows, shrubs and trees; in a safe, sheltered valley. Gold or no gold, I knew this was the place I wanted to spend the rest of me life.’
Anyway, the old man thought this is it; that he was finally going to strike it rich. But he knew winter wasn’t far off and he needed supplies. Hoping to find enough to get what he needed, he knelt down and began panning the sand at the edge of the river.
His eyes almost popped, he said, when he found a nugget large enough to purchase everything he needed for the immediate future. He went up-river, to where the river flowed from a spring bubbling up at the foot of a high cliff. Figuring the river was fed by an underground source, he was pretty sure that finding the gold would require blasting – something he’d never done before.
He put the nugget carefully in the leather bag be carried, along with several smaller nuggets that had also been in the pan. Then he headed for the nearest town. His first purchase was a wagon, and an ox to pull it. Then he filled the wagon with everything he would need to establish a homestead – tools for building, rough boards for the roof, a new bedroll, pots and pans, dishes, food, spare clothing, a heavy jacket and a new pair of boots. Next he added several pickaxes and a box of dynamite. The last thing he got were a half dozen hens and a rooster.
Paying for his purchases with gold raised a few eyebrows and brought a few questions. ‘Well,’ Jacob said, ‘I told ‘em there might be enough to last me a lifetime but I don’t need much. I said it would be hard work on account of the gold bein’ in solid rock or that’s what I figured anyway. I told ‘em that if’n a man wasn’t afraid of hard work, he could maybe find enough for a decent life.’ The old man was smart enough to know that the idea of hard work wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
Jacob returned to the valley, selected a little spot near the river bank where it would be easy to get water and then set about building his first homestead. It consisted of a tiny one-room cabin, a chicken coop and a lean-to shelter for the ox and his horse. Snow was falling when he started cutting and stockpiling a winter wood supply.
‘That first winter was very quiet and peaceful,’ he told me. ‘The river didn’t freeze over till late and I did a little more panning in between everything else, ‘cause I needed something for supplies come spring, mostly food. But it didn’t freeze in front of my cabin for there was a little dip, like a little waterfall.’
’Didn’t you find it lonely?’ I asked him.
’Some days was worse than others but I’ve spent most of me life alone. The worst days was when the blizzards hit and I could jes get from the cabin to the barn. It was days like that when I wished I’d learned to read.’
I asked him what he did to pass the time on days like that and he said that he made furniture for the cabin, not that he had space for much; a bed frame that also served as a seat; a small table and chair so he could eat like a civilized person he said; and some shelves to store his supplies.
When spring broke, Jacob started panning as soon as he could, finding a few little nuggets every day and adding them to his growing stash. He would not say where he kept his gold, just that it was a safe place. Then he went to town for the supplies he would need during the summer, even getting what he needed for a vegetable garden. ‘Well, we all got to eat an’ it was good soil there where I was so it jes seemed like the right thing to do, ya know. I mean, I was figurin’ on spendin’ the rest of me life there. Of course, I’d always have to go buy some things but I could grow a few veg’ables.’
Shortly after Jacob returned with his supplies for the summer, fourteen men arrived to set up camp and the rest, as they say, is history…
© Fay Herridge
© Fayz World & Sugarwolf Designs