“Hot Brands, Trains, & Gun Smoke”
By Stanley Meager
The excitement and chills, the escapes and thrills,
Came alive on the big silver screen.
Of heroes and bad guys, and horses that seem to fly
And villains the worst that you’ve seen!
The great Outlaw Trail, the buried gold tail,
The shootist who is faster than fast.
The Sheriff and posse, the noose from a tree,
Tell a tale from America’s past.
Stampedes in the night, to give us great fright
For our hero who is caught in the midst.
Are patterns of history, just has they should be.
Of a time that is shrouded in legend and mist.
They were called the Long Riders, the Mystery Striders.
As they rode like the wind through the night.
To lift the gold cargo, from the mighty Wells Fargo
And show off their mettle and might.
The stage rumbled his way, very late in the day,
With a guard that was hard to outfox.
Then a voice from nowhere, says “Reach for the air!”
“And be quick when you throw down the box!”
The engine and express car, were too easy by far,
On the Union Pacific’s long run.
For the great iron horse could be taken of course
And was stopped at the point of a gun.
This daring train robbery, planed by outlaw comradery
Would have been Butch and Sundance best job.
If not for the fact too much dynamite was packed
And this error was sure to play hob.
It blew the safe through the floor and off went the door
And the gold was flying all round!
The Wilcox train robbery was just plain shoddy,
But the Train Robbers Syndicate was found.
Butch stole from the rich and he gave to the poor.
He was called the Robin Hood of the West.
The Widows mortgage was due and the banker knew too,
And was robbed by the very best.
Butch met him that day, he was well on his way,
To bank the money the widow had paid.
Butch lifted the poke, he had lent the poor folk
And the joke was the best he ever played.
The Telluride bank was built like a tank.
The strongest you ever did see.
But it was no chore for the outlaws to score
And they’re off on a wild spending spree!
He’s an outlaw of course, just him and his horse
And no girl to call him “Just mine.”
The romance of the past is now ours at last
As they ride down the annals of time.
Through gun smoke and bullets and campfire skillets
And nights under a clear starry sky
The winters would freeze them, the Sheriff’s would chase them
But old outlaws, like old soldiers, never seem to die.
These men of romantic tale that road the wild trails
Are alive and locked in our breast.
For they are now free to roam history
And we are the custodians of the Spirit of the West.
Losing gold? Talk to an expert.
By Stanley Meager.
I subscribe to gold prospector magazine and several other treasure publications, including California Mining Journal. I am an avid reader of all these fine publications. In every one I see articles on how to find and recover gold, all the way from the beginner to the old sourdough leading his burro across a trackless desert. I have yet to see anything that pertains to me.
I don’t think I am unique in man’s quest for the elusive yellow metal. Over the years I have taken the trouble to refine the talents I have painstakingly acquired. I have probably lost more gold than any 10 prospectors I know. Please don’t applaud, this is a talent anyone can acquire with a little patience and hard work. That’s why I think this article is necessary.
During my years as a prospector and dredger, I have done my best to discover all the various ways of losing gold. I have lost gold in creeks, rivers, mountainsides and even in the less obvious places such has city sidewalks and living room carpets.
I discovered early in my career that I had a special talent for losing gold, a talent that through practice and patience, I have honed to a sharp edge. I could start out with a sluice box full of gold and by the time it got to the safe in my home, it had shrunk to a size I had trouble picking up with a tiny surgical tweezers.
It reached the point where my wife, the Medusa, would not allow me to touch my own sluice box. She had installed automatic warning devices on all of my dredges and nervously waited for cleanup time. During particularly good days, she has been known to pace the bank with a small caliber rifle at the ready. She tried to tell me it was because the birds resting on my box were waiting to fly off with anything shiny. During this time I noticed facial twitches and missing fingernails but I assumed it was in anticipation of a glorious spending spree. After several misses near my fingers, I got the point. Often, she was mumbling something about food on the table.
When I first noticed I had a special talent for losing gold, I was on the South Fork of the Salmon River in northern California. I was sniping a good-looking piece of bed rock and the Medusa was setting up camp. I was digging deep in a crack when I unearthed a dazzling nugget that was sure to be the talk of prospectors for years to come. I held it in the palm of my hand and let the light slide like liquid over the surface of this fire of the gods.
My wife needs to see this for herself. Then she will know what mining was all about. Oh, she of little faith! How many times had she rolled her eyes and laughed hysterically, while clutching her sides, at some of my major successes. This was sure to change her tune. I could hear her singing praises to my name as she showed this beauty off by hanging it around her neck.
I clutched the nugget in my hand and ran with great excitement and anticipation to my wife. She saw the excitement and wonder in my eyes, I could see the same building in hers. I slowly uncovered my hand, my eyes riveted to her face to behold the look of wonder and amazement I was sure to see. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she began the hysterical laughter that would lead to tears and side holding!
This also was the first time I had encountered a strange phenomena of nature, that seems to run rampant in the prospecting business. This is a strange metamorphosis that occurred, where something happens to gold from there to here.
The Medusa, on her sixth try, was holding my large flaming beauty in her finest surgical tweezers and peering at it closely with a magnifying glass. I shuddered in fear that her laughter would blow away the spec that had become my beauty. A great change had taken place! I now believe it is a form of molecular dehydration.
When gold is taken from its natural habitat in the River, immediately the molecules start to collapse. By the time the wife sees it, this strange fact of nature has reduced the beauty to mere specks. This effect was first discovered in dwarf stars. This phenomena can be reversed by repeated telling’s of the gold you have found. If told in the right way, these specs can be made to grow to the size when first discovered. It takes a lot of telling to keep them that size. If left alone for a short period of time, the metamorphosis takes over and the gold changes again to mere specks.
One sunny day while my dredge was running smoothly and the Medusa was nervously pacing the bank, I was waiting for the lighter sand and gravel to wash out so I could see the golden carpet in the bottom of my box. I had been dredging a fast flowing section of the river and from what I had seen, I was having a 5 ounce day. A loud splash and a thunk quickly turned my attention to the rear of my box. A large salmon was enthusiastically trying to swim up the center of my sluice box. The Medusa went into instant panic while I remain calm and in control of myself. With great hammer blows and yelling at the top of my lungs, it took me all of 30 seconds to beat the salmon to death with my rock pick. I only missed a couple of blows that punctured the bottom of my box.
The great fish lay there flapping in its death throes while I stared vacantly at an empty sluice box. Sand and gravel were still raining down around my head when bullets started bouncing off the water near me. Hysterical cackling brought me out of my shock and sent me under the water. I wondered how long I could stay down before my dredge ran out of gas!
During my gas refills, I would open a pill bottle I kept on hand to place the larger nuggets in. I did this for two reasons, number one, salmon were in the area. Number two, the Medusa often came down to remove the gold before I could lose it. If she caught me doing this, she would hang around and drop pebbles, among other things, down my snorkel. I had to be very careful! After the third snorkel drop, I changed to a compressor. Oh, what craftiness!
One day I had recovered about a half ounce in nice Nuggets and placed them in my bottle, when I noticed the dredge needed to be moved. The tailings were building up in the deep hole I had been dumping them into. The thought no sooner invaded my mind when I took hold of the dredge. I pulled and pushed until it was again in a satisfactory position. I suddenly realized what I had done and quickly looked into an empty pill bottle!
Somewhere, within a 20 foot radius and 15 feet of tailings, was a half ounce in beautiful gold nuggets! Nuggets are never so beautiful has the ones you lose. I heard and inhuman screech from our camp area and, due to honed reflexes, dove headfirst beneath the clear river water. I almost drowned because I did not have time to start my dredge motor before heading for cover. I knew she was up there, just waiting for me to surface. Very carefully I raised my left hand from the water, my left hand because I am right-handed, and pressed the button on my electric start motor. It roared to life and blessed air entered my starved lungs. I thank my lucky stars for compressors and sense enough to install an electric start. A crafty mind will win out in the end!
When not running my dredge, I like to fan for gold. I am in possession of the most up to date equipment and my great expertise makes it a sure success. I use a turkey baster, screwdriver, and small pry bar. The Turkey baster I purchased at the local supermarket for a $1.69. I cut off the narrow intake, far enough up to allow me to insert a quarter inch copper tube about 10 inches long. This lets me suck up material from cracks and the tube does not allow it to roll back out.
Armed with the most advanced scientific equipment available, I headed for exposed bedrock. This is mostly in faster moving water. The Medusa generally stands guard with her rifle at the ready. She says it’s to keep away the horseflies that tend to make a landing area on exposed backs, but I watch her carefully through the mirror I secretly installed in my face mask. I also used black paint to cover the red end of my snorkel to make it harder to see, just in case.
With tools in hand, I set out to advance on any gold bearing crack that might be lurking near. I was following a small crack that had yielded several five and six grain nuggets and many flat pieces that totaled about 90 grains. I carry my baster upside down so nothing falls out. The bulb has plenty of room and only needs to be emptied a couple of times an hour. The crack widened to a couple of inches and a football sized rock had moved loose. During this process it exposed a crack with embedded gravel. I pried the rock up and flipped it over. A cloud of mud erupted and when it cleared I saw a golden carpet laying on the bedrock. An estimated 2 to 3 ounces was before me!
The first thing I did was check my mirror for the Medusa. She had an uncanny way of knowing when I have found something. It may be from the large amount of exhaled bubbles or the animal sounds coming from my snorkel. Anyway, I checked the mirror and noticed her pacing the bank. I quickly sucked up the smaller gold before it washed away and started on the larger nuggets. Several of them would not fit through the quarter inch copper tube of my baster. I put them in my mouth so I would not lose them. One beauty was stuck in a crack on bedrock and had to be pried loose. I laid my baster down next to me and excitedly started to pried the nuggets free.
One of the first things that should be remembered, never lay your baster down in swift water! When you reach for it, it’s not there! I frantically turned to see my baster bobbing out of sight down the bottom of the river. I let out a yell and plunged down the river for the escaping baster, only to choke on the nuggets sliding down my throat! Over the roar of the river, I heard a wild scream from the bank. It sounded like, “you’ve done it again!” This was accompanied by a rattle of wild shots following me down the rapids! Thank goodness I was clever enough to black out the red tip of my snorkel. I found her a couple of hours later, sitting on her knees, rocking gently back and forth, moaning. A twitch had appeared in the corner of her eye.
I started off one fine day to check out some new dredging ground I had discovered. My faithful dog and trusty gold pan accompanied my every move. After searching diligently, I found an area that appeared to be virgin. A gorge about 50 feet deep cut through the mountains and the river ran happily through it and eventually to the Pacific. I found an old channel about 20 feet off the river and a couple of feet above my head. The channel was cemented so hard, a pick was needed to loosen it up. The channel was several feet thick and the top had softened because of rain. I scraped up a pan full of loose material and went to the river to wash it out. Has the lighter materials flowed over the edge of the pan, I could see a large nugget and several good flakes. Lights dance before my eyes and a new truck paraded through my mind. This is it I whispered!
I had forgotten to bring a container with me, so I left the gold shining in the pan. I set the pan on a large rock so I wouldn’t tip it over and sat quietly for a minute to still my shaking hands. I ran excitedly back up the cavity to loosen more overburden. About a foot above my head the cemented river channel had started to come loose. I reached up to pry a football sized rock loose. Then I had the foresight to look down to see where it was going to land. My left foot was directly under it. When I am in and out of the water, I wear thongs. I grinned cleverly to myself for averting disaster. That rock could have pulverized my left foot.
I moved my foot and pried the rock loose. The rock came down with a loud thump, hit the inside of the cavity and bounced over to land on the top of my right foot! A mighty leap carried me to the icy cold river where I lay moaning, soaking a badly smashed foot. My faithful dog jumped to my rescue and knocked the gold pan into the fast-moving stream! I sat there soaking my foot in the river, watching the water turned red as my pan went tumbling down the fast moving river. I knew the exact meaning of the “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” so often quoted in the Bible! I had not even thought of the gold that floated away in my pan.
After the cold water had numbed the pain, I climbed out of the gorge to drive the 50 miles to the nearest doctor. During my many years of watching TV, I had seen at least 50 Lassie movies, all of which she always went for help to rescue those in need. My pleadings and commands to my faithful dog sent him scurrying to the front seat of my truck, where he curled up and went to sleep on the seat. Days later, after my return from the hospital, he tried to make up for his mistake by attempting to lick my injured foot off!
I have vacuumed my living room rugs, trying to find the gold that had mysteriously fallen out of a sealed bottle and onto the carpet. I have searched the city sidewalks in vain for the large nugget I placed in a pouch in my shirt pocket, to show my friends, and was not there when I returned home. I have watched, with great tears in my eyes as I surfaced to find my dredge sitting underwater with a ton of tailings on top of it. They had filled my box when a large one caught in my riffles. I have destroyed the drain in my kitchen sink, trying to recover the gold that always managed to find a resting place in it. Losing gold? You’re not in the same league with me. Just ask the Medusa!
The First Day of Dredging Season
By Stanley Meager
Well, it’s that time of year again, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of gold! Mainly, dredging. Just the other day, I was down at the local pub. We were practicing our lives about the big nuggets we dredged last year, when Salmon River Sam got started on one of his boring tales of more gold on his claim then there was gravel. Being an expert on long and boring tales, I can tell when one pops to the surface and I’m usually quick enough to burst the bubble before we are forced to run to the windows for air.
This time, my thoughts had been distracted by the golden color of the sunbeams dancing on the river a short distance away. I could see my dredge sitting serenely on the clear water, my back and snorkel were just barely out of the water and piles of gold nuggets were overflowing my sluice. My dream bubble burst when I heard Sam say how easily he placed his dredge in the river the first day of dredging season last year.
“Now, hold it right there Sam. You were loaded and afloat in how many minutes” I asked?
“Just a few. Now where was I? Did I tell you how many nuggets jumped off bedrock and bounced toward my nozzle?” Sam was evading my question. I shook my finger at him. You know it’s okay to lie about unimportant things like the size of the gold or how many pounds an hour you’re getting, but you know the rules about the important things. You just can’t pass over putting your dredge in the water in just a few minutes. There is a fine art of placing one’s dredge in the water on the first day of the season, and we all knew it.
“I’m sorry, really sorry” Sam cried. “I just don’t know what came over me. It just slipped out. I’ll never do it again.”
“It’s okay Sam,” I said as I patted his shoulder. “It’s happened to the best of us” I soothed, as I mentally congratulated myself on snipping off a long and boring tale while still in the bud. I know it seems cruel but someone has to do it. Then Sam made his second mistake.
“Just how do you get your dredge in the water so easy?” There was a sudden quiet in the room that could be felt. A low sound could be heard that turned into a roar. Everyone started to jump up and shake their fist at Sam. Menacing threats could be heard from diners in the next room. The bartender rushed around the corner of the bar with a bung starter in his hand. By the time they had calmed him down and the color had come back into Sam’s face, I had written an outline and several notes on the oilcloth tabletop.
“I’m glad you asked that question.” There was a muttering sound throughout the pub. “All you mutterers will have to be quiet. It’s hard to concentrate” I said. There was no way out of it, I was between them and the door.
My voice droned on as I thought back to the first day of dredging season, almost a year ago. I was standing on the edge of a 70 foot bank, looking down at the cold, clear water of the Scott River. I knew my 6 inch dredge could never be used here but my 5 inch would fit just right. The only trouble was the 70 feet of almost 60̊ bank I was looking down and the tons of camping gear piled high behind me!
“What’s it look like” called out my brother-in-law from behind the giant pile of gear? John had flown out from New York just a few days ago. I wondered if he would be able to catch a return flight after he saw the object of my desire. How many trips would it take before my body would come to rest on one of the rock outcroppings between the river and where I was standing? 50, 60, trips the very least.
“It’s not bad” I lied over my shoulder. “I’ve managed worse, we’ll be able to navigate this quite nicely.” John’s eyes protruded has he looked over the edge. “It’s really not as bad as it looks, I tried to reassure him.” A plan was already forming in my demented mind.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” John was perched on top of a giant pile of hose, come-a-longs, rope and chain, that was in turn placed on top of my 5 inch dredge. A stout 20 foot pole was in John’s hands to guide the dredge down the bank, and away from the large rocks. We had tied a rope to the dredge and run it through a pulley attached the bumper of my Jeep. I was to play out the rope when needed has John slowly slid down th bank.
“Why do I have to be the one to ride on top” John said through tight lips? “Because my body is used to being in one piece” I exclaimed has I kicked the dredge over the side before he could change his mind. The rope whip through my hands and set the pulley to singing before I could tighten my grip on it! The drop was not great, or so I judged from the brief screaming that trailed up over the edge of the ravine! I have never heard a sound that put goose bumps on my arms like this scream did!
I wondered what lies. I could tell Joanne, his wife, as I looked over the edge. My eyes followed a deep trench that started at the edge of the bank and ended at the small ground off three foot pole John clutched in his bloodless fingers. His face was very pale has he sat woodenly on top of the dredge that was calmly floating in the river below. Great wheezing noises were coming from the direction of the dredge. I yelled to him to turn the dredge off, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, when suddenly rocks started to rain down around me.
John was still mumbling under his breath as I was helping him clean the splattered bugs off his face. I have only seen damage to the bug population this bad in very fast-moving automobiles. To this day I’ll never know how he managed to clear all those rocks out of his way in just the few seconds it took him to get to the bottom of the ravine. We were here though and just a dozen more trips and we would be set for the summer.
My lungs were on fire and my breath was coming in great gasps as I labored up the side of the bank. My body was bent so far over, my tongue was dragging in the dirt. Just another 20 feet and I would be halfway to the top, this being my first trip up the bank.
“What’s wrong” John yelled to me?
“Nothing, (gasp) why do you (pant) ask?” I managed to squeak out.
“I thought you were bent kind of far over and you were making funny noises.” John said.
“Well, (gurgle) I’m just looking for (gasp) signs of gold (bubble). The last was my lungs being pulled out through my mouth. My macho ego would not let on that I was out of shape from hibernating all winter.
“Whach you guys doing down there?” Came a voice from above.
“Not now Heavenly Father,” I mumbled, “I have to much to live for. I have not found that big one yet. I’m too young to go. My wife will kill me!” I blurted out.
“Huh?” Came the voice again. With it a sunburned face peered over the edge of the bank. “Don’t I know youse guys?” Came the voice again.
(Gasp,) (burble) I managed to dribble out.
“Hey, aint ya Stan Meager?” the face asked.
I dribble some more.
“Looks like ya can use some hep. You gotny beer? Never mind, I got nuf fer every one” he said as he raced by me and leaned over a boulder that protruded into the river. He placed four six packs of beer into the ice cold river and leaped up the bank he had just descended. He rushed down the slope and dropped 10 gallons of gas, four bags of food, two wetsuits, and various other articles, on the ground. Back up the bank he raced.
My vision was still blurry, but beginning to clear. I was going to live! I also realized I wasn’t being called home and a light of hope sprang into my eyes. “Angels, there must be Angels” (gasp) sent to help old dredgers in times of need. I groaned my thanks to a kind and loving God.
“Whach ya doing all bent over like that? Ya got sumpin running outen the corner of yer mouth” my angel said as he skipped down the bank carrying our tent, sleeping bags, cook gear, lanterns, lounge chair, generator, TV, and the other necessities of life.
“I just thought I saw some gold (gurgle) in this outcrop. I was trying (paint) to clean it off” I managed to get out in fairly understandable English, runny my sleeve over my mouth. Sand was still sticking to the end of my tongue.
I finally recognized my angel was Beanpoll McNugget. “What, may I ask, are you doing here?” Beanpole was a tall, skinny, dirty, smelly little guy I had helped out when I was a deputy sheriff. His elevator didn’t reach the top floor but I had helped him out of a bad deal. Now he was working has a logger in the Klamath National Forest. Two more trips by Beanpole and all of our gear was sitting on the bank of the river. He wasn’t even breathing hard. I had to take my hat off to him and the several six packs of beer he had used for fuel.
When camp is mentioned, a classic pitcher comes to mind. A cabin style tent is seen. The framework is perfect, not a wrinkle to mar the tight fabric. The tent sits on a lush flat with a sparkling brook near by. Evergreens are shading the tent from the warm sun. A tanned Hercules, in cutoff jeans, is panning egg sized nuggets from a clean, clear stream. Firewood is neatly piled against the evergreen tree and a merry fire is dancing in a pit. Bacon is frying in the pan, biscuits are baking in the Dutch oven, and not an insect in sight. Steel head and trout are smoking over the fire, and the wife stayed home.
That is not the typical gold miners camp. This kind of camp set up is told only in local pubs. Actually, the tent is sagging because the framework is bent, and sets on a 45̊ slope covered with rocks, the Forest Service says it is too dry to have a fire so everything has to be eaten cold, you can’t drink the water, the minute the sun hits the edge of the mountain, the gnats and no-see-ums converge on anything that moves. You have to move boulders the size of trucks to get a few fines in your sluice box and the wife is standing on the bank waiting for the dredge to shut down so she can make off with anything she can turn into cash, and two dog eared old dredgers are kneeling on the bank, praying for and Angel to help them get their dredge out of the water and up the slope!
The first day of dredging season also means the first sight of gold glittering in the water.
John wanted to take the first turn. He had ridden an airplane several thousand miles to do what few men ever dream of doing, to ride a dredge off a steep bank at 600 miles an hour and land in a -10̊ river. Very few men in the world have accomplished such manly feats. John had earned the right to go first.
The river was only a couple of feet deep here but it was moving fast. John was using a snorkel and 50 pounds of lead to keep him in place. I told him to keep his head down, his body in line with the current and keep hold of the suction nozzle of the dredge. This would anchor him in place and he wouldn’t be swept away. He had agreed to follow these instructions to the letter. John couldn’t swim a stroke!
John had only been working a few minutes when something strange happened to shatter John’s perception of dredging. I had been standing on the bank with my hands in my pocket when a shiny new penny fell from my pocket into the river. Thinking it was a large nugget, everything looks bigger underwater, John reached for it. It slipped past his fingers and shot down the river. John turned to grab it and the river removed his face mask. He was wearing the bottom part of my wetsuit which was several sizes too large. He had rolled the suit down because it was a hot day and the dredging was shallow. When he had turned to grab the penny, the swift water filled the suit and John shot down the river like a frightened minnow, the suit filling out and acting like a kite! I heard a long, drawn out scream and then a word I can’t repeat here!
It was tough trying to follow John’s course down the river. Being the woodsman that I am, I finally figured out the funny looking claw marks on the riverbed were from John’s fingers. I passed another couple who was dredging, about a mile down from us. When I questioned them. They thought they had seen a very large salmon streaking down the river a short time before. The giant fish was accompanied by a high-pitched scream that made their hair stand on end. They thought the place was haunted and they were packing to leave when I came upon them. There was no sign of John.
Several hours later, I was sitting in camp trying to figure out what to say to Joanne when I heard a strange sloshing sound coming from the road above. I climbed the ravine to find John walking aimlessly on the road. He had a strange look on his face and a blank stare to his eyes. He was covered in mud and leaves where he had tried to climb out of the river, towing a wetsuit full of water and rocks. The fingertips of his gloves were all worn off and his fingers were sticking through. His face and upper body was blue from the cold water.
“John, your alive”! I cried, throwing away all the excuses I had written down. He mumbled something about killing somebody, but I couldn’t quite make out what he was trying to say. The doctor says John will recover with the right type of therapy. He just needs a lot of rest. He may even get over his bad dreams in a year or two.
My mind came back to the present. Salmon River Sam was asleep with his head on the table. Bert the bartender was shouting incoherently while medics were trying to place him in a straitjacket. One patron was standing in the corner hitting his head on the wall. Indignantly, I straighten my jacket has I started to leave. The medics gave a look of pure hatred at me has I walked slowly to the door. “Oh my, what a wonderful spring day.” Birds were singing and bees buzzing, flowers were filling the air with the sweet scent of spring and the first day of dredging season was just around the corner.
There was no way around it, I was going to have to call John. John is my brother-in-law who used to be my dredging partner but hasn’t spoken to me since I drove him to the airport last year. Now he was my last chance for a partner to start the dredging season this year.
It really wasn’t my fault. I had no way of knowing that Mad Martha Manhater, sometimes called the Grim Reaper, would check on the telegraph message we had sent her. We used the message to get her out of the area so John and I could dredge the river that borders her property.
I guess I’ll have to back up a little and explain. Seldom Seen Sam had found a huge nugget at the beginning of a large fault that ran down the center of the Salmon River. It cost me my best dredge to find this out. The only problem was “the Grim Reaper.” The fault is about 100 yards away from the shack she calls home.
Last spring, John and I had lured her away from her shack so we could dredge the fault. We had sent her a telegram that would get her out of the area long enough for us to accomplish this. The only trouble was, she had checked on the authenticity of the telegram before boarding the plane.
We had just checked out her shack when she returned. John hid in the outhouse and had to flee for his life when the Grim Reaper returned and answered a call of nature. The only exit was through a 10 inch square window. To this day, I’ll never know how he managed to get his 5’11″ frame and 230 pounds through that window. He hasn’t spoken to me since.
I had spent most of the winter working out a plan to get the Grim Reaper out of the county. I believed I had come up with a great idea but I needed a partner. Word must have gotten out as to what I had planned because no one was interested, not even my wife, the Medusa, in helping me. I had to talk John into coming out, one more time. I would have to appeal to his sense of greed. I would just turn on the old charm, he couldn’t resist.
The phone shook in my hand as I dialed his number. Please, please, I thought to myself, I’ll even go to church next Sunday.
John answered the phone, “no!” Click went the phone.
“That’s impossible, he couldn’t know it was me!” I tried again.
On the very first ring John answered the phone. “I’m not coming out there again and that’s final!” Again the receiver went dead.
How did he know it was me? Did he realize this was the opening week of dredging season? Peeved now, I rang his number again. I started to talk before he had a chance to say anything.
“John, don’t hang up!” I shouted, “just check your mail.” Another loud click. I had sent him a photograph of a dozen large nuggets, the smallest was the size of a baseball. It’s amazing what a little trick photography will do to a handful of river gold. I was desperate!
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang. I resisted the urge to grab it so I let it ring 10 times before answering.
“Hello,” my voice was oil on water. I was using good bait, now to set the hook.
“What you doing old buddy?” John’s voice came over the phone. ” Did you happen to call me earlier?” John couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice. “I was just fooling around you know.”
“I’ll only talk to you in person,” I said as I hung up. That was 10 in the morning on Monday. Tuesday afternoon I received a call from the Medford airport to pick John up.
Last December I had run a contest, just for the folks in the Cecilville area. The best drawing of a wildlife scene would win a free trip to Disneyland. I was paying the bills so I was to be the only judge.
The problem was getting the Grim Reaper to enter the contest. Talk as I might, it was a no-show for the Grim Reaper. I finally had to go through her garbage and find a piece of paper she had scribbled on. I was almost tarred and feathered when I published the results, but the hue and cry had died down after the spring thaw. People were just too busy preparing for the summer to remember the contest, I hoped.
I set up everything and sent the entire package to the Grim Reaper. She couldn’t even remember entering but I convinced her she did and the abstract she had painted and sent in had won hands down. She was the proud winner of a free paid vacation to Disneyland. Even death would like a holiday at Disneyland.
Amid fanfare and picture taking, the Grim Reaper was off for one whole week at the famed resort in Southern California. It bent my credit card but I figured it would be worth it.
After all my preparation, John was here, the dredge was packed, and the Grim Reaper was gone for a whole week. Nothing was going to stop us from cleaning out that fault.
The phone started to ring as we headed out the door. I heard the Medusa say that I was just leaving but she was sure she could get me. Hearing this, John and I bolted for the truck and we were off with a wild laugh hanging in the breeze. I heard her calling has we sped by but I couldn’t understand what she was yelling. They were just words hanging in the air.
“Dear, honey, come back!” Yelled the Medusa. “It’s the airlines, your credit card has expired. They won’t honor Martha’s ticket! Do you hear me?”
The only place we could launch the dredge was below the rapids, about a quarter-mile downstream from the fault. We had to come up with a plan to get the dredge up the fast-moving river.
“A sail. A sail should do it!” I exclaimed as I studied the situation.
“We can rig up a sail on the dredge and with the two of us pushing, and the help of the wind, we should be able to get it up the rapids with very little effort.” I felt like the Wright brothers just discovering flight.
John didn’t seem to think much of the idea but he couldn’t come up with anything better. It wasn’t long before we were being helped by a strong up river wind that was getting the dredge up the rapids with very little effort on our part. All we had to do was guide the floating menagerie up the rapids.
Even though the current was strong, everything was going nicely. John was in the back steering the dredge and I was using a rope up front to keep it on course.
We had negotiated the rapids quite nicely and was just positioning the dredge over the fault when disaster struck. The afternoon wind changed directions and with the force of a locomotive it started blowing down the river with a vengeance.
The sail popped with the sound of a gun and the rope spun through my fingers . So fast they started to burn. A startled look shot across John’s face has the dredge bore down on him. He didn’t even have time to scream. Down the rapids they shot! John in the front, now in the back, now under the dredge, then on the side, back in front! The water was being churned to a froth!
The rope snagged between some rocks and the floating blender swung around and caught in an edie. John was nowhere in sight. Shocked, I charged into a run. I reached the scene just as he sat up spewing water everywhere.
He was bumped, banged, and a little purple but he seemed to be all in one piece. At least he was coughing up gravel in a right smart way. Gravel also filled his pockets and cloths. Shaking sand out of his hair, John looked around with a dazed expression on his face. “I think I missed a couple of those boulders back there,” he sputtered has he struggled to a standing position and started back up the river. “I’ll go back and get them,” he turned and fell flat on his face.
He was so loaded down with gravel, I had trouble dragging him to the bank. We were sitting in a couple of feet of water when John noticed he couldn’t move his legs. Panic set in until we found his pants were loaded with rock and gravel. He was so heavy he couldn’t move.
Throwing out the rocks we came to one that was stuck in the top of his boot. Reaching in, John pulled out the mother of all nuggets ever found on the Salmon River. He must have scooped it up in his wild tumbling ride down the stream. It had lodged in his boot, just waiting for our discovery.
My mouth hung open. Nothing was said for what seemed a very long time. Then we clenched and jumped up and down with wild peals of laughter filling the river bottom.
Calming down, we examined the nugget. It was about the size of a saucer, 2 inches thick on one end tapering to about an inch on the other end. It was even cupped like a saucer. I estimated the weight around 2 pounds. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
So engrossed in the find of the century, we failed to notice the shadow that passed over us. A blast of sound nearly took us off our feet. John was facing the river bank and was the first to look up. His face lost all color, his eyes bugged out and got big enough to show nothing but the whites.
“Watch you bums doing in my river?” came the blast of sound again. This time I understood what was said and instant panic set in!
No, this couldn’t be happening, I thought to myself. The plan was perfect. It can’t be her, not the Grim Reaper! My head turned. My eyes took in the most horrible sight of the century! She was back and there was no place to hide!
John came out of his shock first. Thinking fast, he pulled the hat off his head and threw the huge nugget in his hat and put it on his own head. It didn’t fit exactly right and looked like a large growth on top of his head.
“Are you two dredging for gold in my river?” This came out of her like the MGM lion. “You know what I do to dredgers?” The Grim Reaper gloried in causing pain, especially to others. I could see the look of anticipation in her eyes.
“Heck no, grim, I mean Ma- Ma-Martha. We work for Fish & Game. We’re supposed to turn the gravel of the river bottom over so the salmon can have loose spawning beds, “I lied through chattering teeth and knocking knees.” You’re not looking for gold?” She said in disbelief.
“No, that’s the farthest thing from our minds, isn’t it John?”
John’s color was starting to come back. He nodded and the huge nugget, under his hat, moved to the side of his head. He leaned his head to one side to adjust for the weight of the nugget. Now he had a lump on the side of his head, and the lump was moving!
The Grim Reaper stared at John. The nugget slid out from under his hat, across his face and landed in his hands. There he stood, in water up to his knees, a stupid look on his face, and holding a 2 pound gold nugget in his cupped hands.
The Grim Reaper’s little pig eyes blazed red, her face contorted and her muscles bulged like cords of steel. Her sausage fingers turned to talons of Freddy Krueger fingernails. Growling deep in her chest, she started for John!
John was standing there one minute and the next he was lost in an explosion of water. Without even bending his legs, John shot out of the water like a Cruise missile. Straight into the air he thundered. With a cloud of vapor water following, he turned in midair and in a blur of arms and legs, he was running for his life!
The ground shook at every step the Grim Reaper took as she thundered after John. The very air trembled with the sounds of pursuit!
“Throw me the nugget!” I shouted to John has I sped after them. Every leap was taking them further away.
“John, throw me the nugget!” I shouted again. This time a note of panic was in my voice. All I saw was the nugget disappearing over the mountain. John picking them up and laying them down in great strides. The Grim Reaper closing in behind.
“John, the nugget! The nugget!” I pleaded in great despair.
John turned his head to look behind him. The Grim Reaper was not three steps away and closing fast. In sudden panic, John, with a scream, threw the nugget high into the air.
I suppose it was to make him lighter so he could put distance between himself and the gory death closing in behind him. What ever the reason, this one act may have saved his life, but it almost ended mine.
The Grim Reaper leaped upon the nugget in a fit of rage. Like a mad bull, she leaped and tore at the shining piece of metal. A glittering yellow cloud filled the air as tiny atoms of gold drifted away on the fierce winds the Grim Reaper had caused in her destruction of the nugget. Seismographs all over California registered the big one.
The nugget was gone, nothing was left but a crater and a cloud of dust. I stood there as in a trance, not caring for anything, until the Grim Reaper turned to look at me. It was then I realized the danger I was in. My atoms were about to be scattered on the wind and I was just standing there!
Now it was my turn. She started for me, taking steps that shook the earth. My feet were made of lead, I couldn’t move them. I pulled my legs, hit them and yelled, “feet don’t fail me now!” One moved an inch, not good enough! The Grim Reaper was here! Fifty years passed before my eyes in a tenth of a second.
“Hold that pose! With the sun falling just right on your face, you look a lot like Elizabeth Taylor. I bet you’re Liz, aren’t you? You must be in disguise aren’t you?” I said through shaking teeth. Please work, please work, I pleaded silently to myself and the heavens above.
She had a look of bewilderment on her face.
“Didn’t I see you once in the Miss Universe Pageant?” Did I live a clean enough life to get to Heavenly Father’s kingdom? Would I make it if I were a bunch of atoms floating through the air? Did I have a last will and testament? I wouldn’t even be able to leave my body to science!
“Did you know I used to work for Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles? I still have connections there and Mr. Brothers was just telling me the other day, he needed a behemoth, I mean a beauty like you in their next picture.”
“That’s right Martha, you can set the dredge down right over there. It’s not quite enough water to work in but maybe we can do something about that too” I said from a comfortable spot under the shade tree that overlooked the river.
The Grim Reaper was hip deep in the water, holding my dredge high above her head. “When you put the dredge down, take those two large boulders over there and dam up the creek so we can have enough water to dredge.” I spoke through half closed eyes. This was the life!
The Grim Reaper picked up a 500 pound boulder under each arm and placed them in the creek to back the water up. There wasn’t enough boulders to do the job right, so she sat herself down to plug the remaining hole. “I think I’m in love,” I muttered to myself.
John had covered the 70 miles to Medford rather quickly that day. From there it was just a plane ride home, if he bothered to wait for one. The last I heard from John, the Forest Service was after him for unauthorized building of roads through the forest. They refused to believe it was a matter of life and death and he had used nothing but his hands and feet.
Me? Well, I will worry about getting loose from the Grim Reaper after I hit that fault that keeps calling to me. I’ll probably even worry about that when I’m rich!
“A little more to the right Martha, that’s it.” What a wonderful summer this was going to be.
By Stanley Meager.
I had waited all winter for spring to come creeping over the mountains. It was finally here. The ice was gone, flowers were blooming and the sun was warm. For days now, I had been sitting at my window staring vacantly at the River while polishing my gold pan.
My wife, the Medusa, would look at me and shake her head with that all-knowing look.” Now dear, you know you shouldn’t be acting like this, besides it’s almost impossible to put a polish on a plastic gold pan. Why don’t you just pack up the dredge and be ready when John gets here?”
“I packed the dredge just before Christmas. I don’t know if he’ll come.” I replied, somewhat wistfully.
John was my brother-in-law who lived in upstate New York. The gold bug had bitten him last year when he came out to visit us on the Salmon River in northern California. He’s never been the same since and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. You see, his first attempt to dredge was almost his last.
Crabby Appletree lived up Know Nothing Creek. He was an old environmentalist that disliked any form of prospectors. He looked like a huge rock solid building with large muscular arms, heavy jowls, and hair that covered most of his massive body. His dog, Sweet Thing, looked just like him or vice versa.
Sweet Thing was a beast that was all head with railroad spikes for teeth. His front legs bulged with muscle while his hind legs barely touched the ground when he walked. I consider him a definite throwback to the Sabertooth Tiger era.
In our many references of Sweet Thing, we invariably left off the beasts first name and referred to him as the Thing. The Thing was nowhere in sight has we drove up to the Appletree shack. I hoped he had choked to death on the last mastodon he chased down and devoured. Appletree owned a small plot of land that bordered Know Nothing Creek. The creek was an excellent producer of placer gold. A sharp fault ran across the Creek to Appletree’s plot of ground. The fault was about 2 feet wide, 10 inches deep with perpendicular sides. I drooled every time I looked at it. I could envision the hoard of gold it contained as it disappeared down the bank and into the water.
Appletree had lived there since before God made people, like his dog, another throwback to the dinosaur age. He never let anyone near his creek. If he had his way, he would be the only person on the planet. I knew there was a glory hole just waiting for me to suck it out. All that stood between me and all that gold was the Thing!
Appletree ran off any intruder that came around, although he had never laid claim to the creek. He never ran off anyone himself, he just turned Sweet Thing loose.
The Thing patrolled the creek bank to such an extent that the bank was littered with gold pans, pieces of dredges, fly rods, hats, chewed Forest Service boots, and rifles that had been bitten in half!
“It won’t hurt to ask him,” I told John has we stood on the road overlooking Appletree’s lopsided little shack. It was lopsided because he always sat in the same spot by the window. His great weight settled the little shed he called home so that it leaned toward the creek. No one was at the window today.
“Why does it have to be me,” John asked, with a look of distaste on his face?” Because you have never been dredging before and you need the practice in getting permission,” I replied.
“But the signs says all trespassers will become dog food. What kind of dog is it anyway,” he asked?” And what’s all that junk littering the bank?”
I neatly evaded his first question by answering his last one.” It’s the remains of a sporting goods store. You know how these California earthquakes destroy things,” I chided him.
“No, I don’t. It looks funny, and I don’t feel good about this,” John mumbled to himself.
“Which house does he live in? Is the big one his doghouse,” John exclaimed with a note of fear in his voice!
“No silly,” I tried to reassure him. It’s the garage where he packs his motorhome.”
“Why does the sign above the door say Sweet Thing,” John asked with suspicion in his voice?
“That’s the name of his motorhome,” I replied.
John’s gaze traveled from the buildings to the yard.” Look at that logging chain! Is that for a dog,” John asked with awe in his voice? A four inch iron pipe had been set in the ground. About 40 feet of logging chain had been welded to the pipe. At the end of the chain was a large snap ring.
” No, of course not.” I said.” He chained his motorhome to keep it in place if an earthquake hits.” Sweat started to roll down my forehead. This may be the only chance we would have to dredge the creek and I can see all that gold slipping away.
“He’s just a kindly old gentleman that wants prospectors to get permission to dredge, that’s all.”
“Well I guess it won’t hurt to ask,” he mumbled as he walked down the path to the house.
“Aren’t you coming,” he turned and asked?
“I think I better stay here and move the truck in case someone wants to get by.” I hoped he hadn’t noticed it was a dead end road. The road became a dead end when the county had several of its trucks come up missing. Reports had it that some kind of beast, with railroad spike teeth, had chased the trucks down and buried them in holes dug along the creek. Mind you, these were just rumors.
John went through the gate and knocked softly on the front door. He started to knock again when his hand froze midway to the door. I felt the ground shake slightly and a shadow crept across the yard toward John. I thought this was odd because the noon day sun rarely casts large shadows like this.
John’s face went white has he turned his head to stare at the corner of the house. There stood Sweet Thing! His mouth was open and his 25 pound tongue was lolling between his railroad spike teeth! Drool hit the ground in great splashes that sent up clouds of dust!
I have to give John credit, he didn’t faint or dropped to his knees and start praying. He just stood rigid for what seemed a very long time. Sweet Thing looked back at John as if reading a menu.
What happened next would have done justice for the Flash. In a blur of arms and legs, John was gone! He almost made it to the creek when the ground shook and the Thing was attached to the seat of John’s Levi’s. The most awful sounds reverberated through the valley. I couldn’t tell if they were from John, or the monster attached to the seat of his pants.
It was a sight right out of the Old Testament. The creek waters parted like Moses parting the Red Sea has John flashed across. The Thing was waveing like a huge flag in a hurricane behind him.
Sweet Thing, put all four legs to the ground and sat down. John’s arms and legs were a blur of motion that made them seem to be turning backward. Forces were put into play at this time that have been seldom seen in our modern world. You might say that an resistible force met an immovable object. The result, a terrific tearing sound that filled the air. John was gone and Sweet Thing was left sitting there holding most of John’s pants. Another memento littered the bank of Know Nothing Creek.
It was months before John would even speak to me. He had finally agreed to give dredging one more try. I was waiting patiently for his return call.
The ringing of the phone shook me out of my remembrance. John’s wife was on the phone making apologies. He couldn’t come because his neighbor had just bought a poodle. The dog was kept in the neighbors fenced yard, but John refused to come out of the house. It seems that every time John gets close to a dog, his arms and legs move in a blur of motion and taking him several miles away before he is aware of what is happening. He has ended his flights in some strange locations, like the center of the freeway, Lake Ontario, and Camp Drum Army base. The Army once kept him for several days for observations. My dredging partner could not make it.
The Medusa took the phone from my hand by prying my fingers loose. She must have sensed my disappointment and said,” don’t take it so hard dear, I’ll go with you.” My whole frame shuddered!
Oh, the awful indignity of it all! Actually taking your wife along. Has your dredging partner. I had to take drastic action. So this humiliation would never happen again. That’s when a plan started to form in my tiny brain.
My Jeep was winding up to near destruction limits as I tried to steer it through the swamp. The Medusa was bouncing from one side of the Jeep to the other. She was doing her nails and never missed a stroke. Sweat was pouring down my back as I thought of the quicksand just under my spinning tires. She was actually humming to herself!
20 min. later I was turning the corner of a narrow path that wound around limestone mountain. My driver side tires were hanging off the path and hovering over a 500 foot drop to the River below.
I could hardly stand the screens coming from the inside of my Jeep. Wailing sounds rose to near hysterical pitch! The Medusa turned to me and said,”Really dear, all that noise is bad for your tonsils. You’ll just give yourself a sore throat. Are you sure you’re capable of driving here every day just so we can dredge? I’ll do the driving if it will make you feel better.”
There was no way to get around I couldn’t break down nerves of steel. I was going to have to take her dredging. My nerves were shot, I just couldn’t take it any longer. The M-M-Medusa was going dredging with me!
Two days later I was back in my Jeep to the River to unload my dredge. My head was swinging every which way to see if anyone was looking. I chose this secluded area of the River. So word wouldn’t get out that I was taking my wife dredging it would be years before I could outlive my shame.
“Isn’t it great to find such a nice road, and right to the River,” she said.” I’ll get out and guide you. You seem to be having some trouble backing.” I had been trying to watch everything at once and almost ran into a tree.
“Pay attention dear, you almost ran over me,” she yelled as I accidentally back toward her. Another idea started forming in my mind but I rejected it almost immediately. No one would believe me. And the investigation was set me back for the whole season.
It wasn’t long before the dredge had been launched and camp set up. The La-Z-Boy rocker was heavy but there was a need for it. After a hard days dredging.” You can put it right over there dear, in front of my TV,” I told her head she labored up the Hill.
“That should just about do it,” I said as I looked our camp over. There was the microwave, waterbed, rocker, generator, had I missed anything. I mumbled to myself?
“Should I call a plumber to hook up the sink,” asked the Medusa with somewhat of a bite to her voice?
She can be such a kid her when she wants to be.” I could do it myself if I had time,” I told her has I dug out the pipe wrench.” But I have to check the current in the River to see where the gold will be dropping out. It won’t take you long dear,” I said as I handed her the wrench.
Our progress was much too slow has the dredge was moved up the River. My back hurt and my muscles ache. The panting and straining were getting too much to bear.
“You’ll have to pull faster dear if you want to start dredging before dark, notation marks I yelled to her as she told the massive load up the fast-moving river.
“Just one more tiny waterfall and will be there!” Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I told myself as I tried to find a more comfortable place on top of the dredge.
“The crew is not allowed to throw rocks at the,” I reasoned with her has a rock studded near my head!” A dredge is in the same class has a boat. I am the captain and you are my crew. I will tolerate no mutiny on this expedition.” Another rock whistled above my head nearly party my hair.”
“The crew is going to tell all the captains friends how he took his wife dredging and made her do all the work,” she yelled to me from a sitting position in the middle of the Rapids!” You never get your dumb dredge up these Rapids, because the crew is on a strike has of this minute!”
There she sat, very determined, arms crossed, water swirling around her, the anchor rope wound around her body. Another idea flashed into my mind. If I type this end of the rope to the anchor and dropped it into that deep hole over there —naw, I’ll need the anchor to set up the dredge. I’ll just have to pacify the crew somehow.
“Now Honey bun, I didn’t mean to let you do all the work. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll increase your share from 10% crew wages to 15% sergeants wages. How does that sound?”
“I shouldn’t be dredging along, it’s not safe.” I mumbled through my mouthpiece. The crew was back at camp, on strike. I just had to show her the captain could manage his craft without his crew. I had set the dredge up in about 6 feet of water and started to dredge and expose piece of bed rock. Five minutes later I had uncovered a nice crack.
An hour later I was salivating at my mouth. The nozzle had been sucking up nothing but gold from that crack for almost 30 min. I estimated an easy 10 ounces had been recovered, maybe even a pound.” All the crew begged to come back when she sees this,” I loaded!
I showed the nozzle down into the crack one more time. I had to be sure I had recovered everything, when I discovered there was no more suction. At the same time, I also discovered I couldn’t read. That last little bit of gold really didn’t matter that much anymore.
I drop my weight belt faster than I did my nozzle and shot to the surface. My in inertia was so great, I came entirely out of the water!
Standing on a rock, gagging and sputtering, I looked for my dredge. It was nowhere to be seen. I knew I had one when I started dredging.” The crew! Where was the crew? No, that wasn’t the answer, she couldn’t move that fast! The dredge must be here somewhere,” I thought to myself.
I swam down to my suction nozzle and followed the hose back to my dredge. I found it sitting on the bottom of the River under a huge pile of tailing rock’s. A rock must have gotten caught in backed up the rest until it sank my beautiful dredge. It was even more beautiful because of all that gold resting in my sluice box. I was going to need a lot of help to unload all those rocks and float the dredge to the surface again. New paragraph
“I know most rights last more than a couple of hours you, but I need the help of my crew” I managed to blurt this out while crawling on my knees!
“Be a reasonable on, there are no such things has co-captains of dredges! A promotion shouldn’t be part of a strike negotiation. I’ll make you a lieutenant and raise your pay to 20%. How’s that sound?”
I was beginning to panic. If she suspected anything, I would be the first captain to go down with his dredge!
“No there is no benefit package for a lieutenant!” This was getting ridiculous. I couldn’t give in. Very firmly, I stood up, folded my arms, turn my back and said,” that’s my final offer.” I knew she would have to give you.
I couldn’t believe there was no one to be found. I had searched all day from Cecilville to the Forts of the Salmon, and I couldn’t find anyone to help recover my dredge. I was just going to have to make the Medusa my co-captain. How humiliating! It was even worse than getting on my knees before her!
“Honey bun, I’m back,” I called to her as I search the camp. She wasn’t there. The only other place was the River. She must be there! Panic started to take control has I ran to the River. A dredger’s worst nightmare was about to come true!
The crew sat on top of my dredge. The dredge floated serenely on top of the water sweat started to run down my face and into my eyes. That must’ve been the reason I couldn’t see any material in the sluice box. I rubbed my eyes clear and looked again. My dredge was has clean has a new car.
There sat the crew with a pint jar of beautiful gold in her lap. The crew wore a smile so big you couldn’t see her face.
“Co-captains only get 40%,” I tried to convince her. Her smile never wavered.
“You want to be a captain! You can’t be a!” There was no stopping her! Here it was, a dredger’s worst nightmare!
“You can’t claim salvage rights to my dredge!” She was beyond control. There was no reason left in her.
“A captains have! You want a captains hat too!”
“The crew should get more than 10%!” I hope no one saw me on my knees again.” After all, I did all the work!” How heartless could she be? Imagine, and experienced dredger like me, reduced to the crew of his own dredge and only getting 10%! Will there be no end to my shame?
“You’ll need a crew for the rest of the summer, won’t you? Captain Sir, eh Mame?”
Seldom Seen Gold
By Stanley meager
The snow was gone from the dark places and leaves were starting to bud on the Apple tree outside my door. The air was filled with the sights and sounds of the world emerging from a long, cold, winter. The sky was so blue it hurt your eyes just to look at it and the rivers were beginning to recede from a magnificent runoff.
I was sitting on my front porch, working my gold pan and breathing in the grandeur of a beautiful spring day, when the moment was shattered by a voice that sounded more like a screech than someone trying to communicate.
“I said, watch ya doing thet fer?” The voice screeched and cracked just behind me.
I looked up to see Seldom Seen Sam leering at me from under his old slouch hat. His cheek bulged with his ever present chew and tobacco juice was trying to find a way out of the mess he called a beard. If I hadn’t been so engrossed in what I was doing, I would have smelled Sam long before he turned up my driveway.
Seldom Seen Sam had a reputation for bathing only if he fell through the ice or if Crabby Appletrees beast dog, Sweet Thing, chased him across the creek. In either case, Sam was never in the River long enough to remove the smell that clung to him.
He was called Seldom Seen Sam because folks generally had the good fortune to smell him before he came into sight. When this happened, we were long gone before any eye contact was ever made. Thereby giving him the nickname Seldom Seen. It was my misfortune to be caught up in the joys of the moment, now I was going to pay for it.
“Uh, ER, oh, hi Sam,” I managed to stammer has I tried to back away, but I came up solid against the porch supports. The odor hit me like a fist. I almost panicked, I had no holy water to throw or a crucifix to hold up! I was trapped!
“Watts, ya doing there?” Repeated Sam.
I had been using my gold pan, trying to separate a few flakes of gold from last year’s black sand. I had hoped to get enough to fill the cavity in my rear molar, but it looked like I would have to add this seasons take to do it.
“Oh, nothing Sam, I’m just trying out a new technique,” I lied. After all, I had a reputation to uphold.
Sam showed me a grin that exposed brown stained teeth. In the process, two flies were killed when they tried to land in Sam’s beard. I don’t believe Sam knew what a tooth brush was.
My shoulders began to ache from the increasing pressure of the post in my back. What awful sin had I committed to deserve such torment? Please, don’t breathe on me again, I silently pleaded!
” I knows sumthin ya don’t know,” Sam grinned again.
I felt the support post begin to crack as I tried to push my way through it. To save my porch, I changed to a topic I knew Sam would take to heart. I cocked my head as if listening intently,”did I just hear Sweet Thing bark? I think he’s coming this way.” This would get his feet to moving, Sam was deathly afraid of Sweet Thing, a throw back to the dinosaur age with railroad spike teeth.
“Naw, Crabby’s got him tied up for burying another for service truck.” My hopes shattered, I resigned myself to the inevitable.
” I knows sumthin ya don’t know,” Sam cackled again. This time he held out two closed grimy fists. One of them just happened to be twice as large as the other.
Here I was dying and Sam was playing tricks! My head was spinning from lack of oxygen. I knew my lips must be turning blue. I tried to remember if anyone had ever been found dead in the vicinity of Sam.
“I got’s sumthin ya ain’t got,” breathed out Sam. Several more flies spiraled to the porch and bounced. One ran in circles and rolled over on his back. Will the EMTs find me belly up when they rushed to my assistance?
Sam opened his fists. In his right hand was a gold nugget the size of a doorknob! Did hallucinations precede death from asphyxiation? In a slow motion daze, my finger reached out and touched the wondrous rock. It was solid! It was real! It was beautiful! It belong to Sam!
Gone was the pain in my back! Gone was the spinning before my eyes! Gone was the odor that assaulted my nostrils! Just look at the miracles gold can perform! I was brought back from certain death! I was alive!
I tried to act casual, as if I saw gold like that every day.
“That’s a nice little rock Sam. Where did you g-g-get it?” I managed to squeak out.
“Down by your place,” Sam answered.
Down by my place! In my River! I had never seen such a nugget come out of my River before! I’d been dredging there 10 years and I never even came close to a nugget like that! My head reeled at the site of the shining monster! Sweat started to pop out on my fore head! My whole life, has a dredger, passed before my eyes!
“Down by, uhh, my p-p-place?” I managed to croak.
“Wouldn’t ya like to know azackly where?” Sam taunted.
“Now that you mention it Sam, that information would be useful. Just for the scientific research I’ve been doing lately, you understand it would help the project some if I knew where this little rock came from.” I said this with such an air of importance that I knew Sam would be so impressed he couldn’t help but tell me ‘azackly’ where it came from. I had this in the bag, Sam was putty in my hands.
“Naw, I don’t think so. I’ll just keep it ta maself,” Sam said with a cackle.
“You’ve got to tell me where you found it, Sam! I can’t stand it! I’m a broken man! A used up old dredger! Have pity on me, where did it come from!” I wailed.
“Now get up offen yer knees, I’ll tell ya!” Sam said with a glint in his eyes. Every dog has his day and Sam was having his.
Relief overwhelmed me as I got shakily to my feet. I looked all around to see if anyone had seen this wanton display of insanity. I was sure the EMT’s had been canceled. Instead of the EMT’s, the goons from Bellevue state hospital would be arriving any minute.
“Let’s get off the street, Sam,” I said as I put my arm around his bony shoulders, and steered him toward my garage. A major mistake!
“Wow, look et that dredge,” Sam exclaimed has he spied my new 3 inch sitting on the floor. I had worked all winter to make the perfect dredge for working some of the creeks that fed the Salmon River. This was my ultimate Creek dredge, my beauty, my honey.
“Wished I had one like thet. Why if I had her I could do right smart, I could. Course, it wouldn’t suck up nothing like this here little pebble.”
Sam tossed the glorious, golden, goody before my eyes. He looked an awful lot like the spider that had just caught the fly, but it wasn’t going to work with me. My beauty, my honey, was staying right here.
Up and down, the Golden rainbow danced before my face. I could have told him this was an old trick, used mainly on fools and those filled with greed. It just wasn’t going to work with me.
“It’s yours!” I blubbered out. “Tell me! Tell me where you found it!”
“Let go ma legs!” Sam exclaimed, “it ain’t befitten!” The Golden rock vanished into Sam’s clothing. I believe the garage actually got darker when it disappeared. I brushed the dirt from my knees and wiped the sweat from my face.
“Well, it were like this. I were down by the river thother day and thet ben jes above yourn. Ya knows, the one with the shack on the inside turn? At the head of that big crack, jus afore the river widens. It were right there.”
I could feel the blood drain from my face. Sam’s voice was far away, my knees were getting week. Sweat started running again. This couldn’t be, not that place! A violent shudder went through me. Someone had just walked on my grave!
“Not, n-n-not Mad Martha Manhater, a.k.a. the Grim Reaper!” I yelled at Sam. Fear gripped me. My reputation was gone, my dredge was gone, and I was a doomed man. Why? Because I couldn’t keep away from that fault!
Folks, fought shy of the Grim Reaper’s place. She was a mass of muscle and bone. It was rumored she had won the national sumo championships in Japan about 5 years ago. She had taken top honors until they found out she was really a woman. She actually had to leave the country under cover of darkness. How she ended up in the Salmon River area is anybody’s guess.
The Golden Dawn was a patented mining claim owned by drinks-a-lot Cornmasher. Cornmasher was a left over mountain man that would rather drink then eat. He would also rather fight than drink. That could be attested to by the many Saturday night fights he was involved in.
Manhater and Cornmasher met in Cecilville one memorable afternoon. Both had been drinking and one thing led to another. Before you knew it and arm wrestling match was set up and the ownership of the Golden Dawn passed to Manhater. When asked why he didn’t object to the loss of his place, Cornmasher told how he had seen a fate worse than death in the eyes of Mad Martha Manhater. He knew it was the Grim Reaper coming for him. Cornmasher left town that very night and no one has seen him since.
Several dredgers have tried working the Golden Dawn in the past. Although her claims ended at the river, the Grim Reaper, being none too friendly, had left knuckle bumps over 80% of their bodies. This was to such an extent that one is now on display has a jellyfish and the other dribbles from his mouth and stares into space. Every once in a while, he lets out a terrified scream. It was rumored she keeps the dredges, all mangled and broken, mounted on her wall. Now it was my turn. I hoped I wouldn’t end up all mangled and broken and mounted on her wall!
Within a week, I had developed a plan of action. My first step was talking my brother-in-law into helping me. It wasn’t easy, John had been in on several of my mining ventures in the past and he still has nightmares to prove it. He has been washed down the Scott River, slid over a steep embankment while sitting on a dredge, and almost retrieved by Crabby Appletrees beast, Sweet Thing. Sweet Thing was intent on burying John alive. He would have done it too, if John’s pants had not ripped away.
A few days later, I was meeting John at the airport. It may have been my imagination, but he seemed to be more nervous than when I had last seen him. He carried a spray can of “Dog Away” on his belt, his wife, JoAnn, says he is never without it, he even keeps it under his pillow at night. She believes it’s some form of security for him.
I had been thinking about a way to lure the Grim Reaper away from her shack long enough to slip my dredge over that fault where Sam had found the huge nugget. I had heard later that Sam, in one of his drunken bouts, had buried the nugget to keep it from being stolen. Now he can’t remember where he buried it. Seldom Seen Sam is seen quite often now, with a shovel over his shoulder, trying to dig up the ridge in back of Cecilville.
John and I put our heads together and came up with a plan to get the Grim Reaper out of the area long enough to suck up a half dozen fist sized Nuggets. In the commando type raid we planned, we could be in and out before we ended up in a jellyfish tank.
We sent the Grim Reaper a telegram saying the Japanese Federation of Sumo Wrestlers had reconsidered her exile from Japan and would like to reinstate her, if she could come to Tokyo by the end of the week. Exit, the Grim Reaper.
We watched from a hill has the Grim Reaper packed her van and headed toward Medford, the nearest airport, we even followed her, very slyly, to the Oregon line. Two hours later we had my 6 inch dredge loaded and ready for the kill.
Over the mountain we went, to the Grim Reaper’s. Using every back road we could, we finally arrived at her shack. Everything was still and deserted. For 30 long minutes we waited, we had to be sure no one was home. With life has a jellyfish staring you in the eyes, one cannot be too careful.
“Okay, John, go down and see if anyone is home,” I said.
“Me? You gotta be nuts! I ain’t budging from here. You go down and see for yourself,” John replied.
Not liking that idea too much, I compromised with John. “I’ll tell you what, let’s both of us go down and make sure no one is there before we load the dredge in the River.” I didn’t want to lose another dredge.
John, thinking of safety in numbers, agreed to go down to the shack with me. The greatest woodsman in the world could not have moved has quietly has we did. With camouflage clothes and black shoe polish on our faces, down the hill we crawled, up the driveway and up to the door of the shack. Not a sound had been made, not a leaf or twig had we moved. Sweat started to run into my eyes, making them smart. My heart was beating so loudly, I thought everyone in the County would hear.
A rattling sound came from behind me, in the vicinity of John. Without turning my head, for fear I might miss something, I whispered, “Stop grinding your teeth. John!”
“That’s not my teeth,” John replied with a quaver in his voice. “It’s my knees knocking together.”
“Well, try to be quiet anyway,” I snapped. My nerves were on edge. If anyone had come out of the shack just then, I would have run John down and left my size 12 boot tracks all over his body.
I knocked softly on the door. John was pushing so tight against me, I could hardly move. No answer. Regaining some of my lost courage, I knocked louder. Still no answer. I peeked cautiously through the curtained window. All was dark and still. I tried the door, it was locked.
Still, not trusting our lifes to chance, I saw a small window above the door that needed to be checked out. The window gave me access into the loft area. It was too high for me to reach alone, so I asked John to lift me on his shoulders. This would put me high enough so I could look through the loft window.
Mumbling something about whales, John bent down and I climbed onto his shoulders. After some grunting and groaning he was able to stand up. I peered through the window into an empty room. No one was home. I could almost hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Hallelujah.”
I started to tell John about our good fortune when I heard a vehicle coming down the long driveway to the Grim Reaper’s home. Instant panic set in and John bolted for the nearest hiding place, which happen to be the outhouse. Covering the 50 yards in 3 seconds, John was nothing but a fast-moving blur! Not bothering to open the door first, John just smashed through it! The inside latch went flying and a tremendous crash reverberated through the flat.
John never slowed down long enough for me to get off his shoulders so my head had met the top of the outhouse door with such force that I found myself flat on my back in the dirt! Gold flecks danced on a field of blackness, a ringing noise filled my head. I sat motionless for several seconds.
The roar of an engine brought me to my senses. The door to the outhouse was shut tight. No amount of my frantic banging would make John open the door! This was a fight for survival! I crawled, crab fashion, around the outhouse and into the brush, just has a vehicle pulled to a stop in the front yard. Peering cautiously between the leaves and around the huge bump on my forehead, I saw the horror of all nightmares get out of her van and kick open the front door to her shack. The shack shuddered to its very foundation. The Grim Reaper was back and she was not happy!
I crawled further into the underbrush. My idea was this, if it sounded like a mouse, acted like a mouse, thought like a mouse, it must be a mouse and she wouldn’t recognize me. I just hoped, for my sake, she thought so too!
Bangs, thumps and splintering wood came from the shack has the Grim Reaper stomped around. In only seconds she came bursting through the front door with a roll of toilet paper in her hands. She headed straight for the outhouse!
Mesmerized, I couldn’t take my eyes off the tragedy that was about to unfold. I could visualize the scene as she opened the door to the outhouse and found a strange man inside. I could almost hear the screams that was sure to come from the inside of the little shed. Some of the screams could possibly come from the Grim Reaper too.
Like a slow motion picture show, she shoved open the outhouse door and entered. All nature stood still, not a sound could be heard in all creation. My imagination raced ahead to visualize the whole front of the outhouse exploding outward! This of course would be followed by the body of my only brother-in-law. I visualized John’s still form laying on the ground while a fire breathing monster from hell stomped on him!
Not a sound came from the inside of the outhouse. I found I could hold my breath no longer and let out my pent-up air in a long hiss. I could not understand what was happening. There should be screams, roars, shaking of the earth, and mortal cries of agony from a tortured soul.
Nothing! The door opened and the Grim Reaper stomped out. She marched across the yard and entered the shack. Did I black out from fear? Had I really witnessed the horror I knew that would happened and then block the awful scene out of my memory? The mystery would have to wait. Life and limb were at stake here.
I took my cue and with great haste made my way to my truck. There I stood with my mouth open. John sat behind the wheel of my truck! Not a sound came from him, not a muscle moved. It was as though he were made of stone.
I looked at John, he seemed different, somehow. He appeared to be taller and a lot thinner. I looked at the outhouse and for the first time I saw a tiny 10 inch square vent set in the near side of the shed. I look back at tall, thin John. John slowly turned his head, looked me straight in the eye and said, “don’t say anything, don’t ever ask. Just drive me to the airport.”
Maybe some day John will be able to talk about it. JoAnn said she had to buy him a whole new wardrobe. She couldn’t understand it, when he left for California, he was 5 foot 11 and weighed 220 pounds. When he returned he was 6 foot 2 and thin has a rail. It’s all very peculiar to her.
John has never said anything about the incident. He is very quiet these days. I hear he has taken up some form of religion and spends a lot of time on his knees. JoAnn says he has even talked to carpenters to find out how much it would cost to expand all of the doors and windows in their home. She seems to think he is acting very strangely. She attributes this abnormal behavior to some form of male menopause.
Oh well, such is life. I’m working on another plan to get the Grim Reaper out of the county for a couple of weeks. Of course, I’ll have to have a new partner. I wonder, should I advertise? Should I just call on a friend and lie to him? I wonder what my wife, the Medusa, is doing next season?