Molly McMule's Horse Tales - 1001 Stall Stories

The Gold Rush

"Look, over there…in the creek! Do you see it?"

"See what?" asked Molly. "I don't really see anything except the water, stones, some minnows…"

"Not that, it's something else. It's shiny and it isn't moving. Just every now and then I see it glittering," said Desi.

"Let's take a closer look and find out just what it is you are so interested in," she said as she meandered across the pasture toward the swiftly flowing creek. It wasn't going to matter if there was anything there or not because on such a sunny, hot day it would be nice to take a drink and just get your feet wet.

Desi pranced there with excitement, only to find that when she got closer, it seemed to be somewhere else. "There it is again, but now it's over there, and there's another shiny spot!"

By this time, the rest of the herd had come to the creek to drink and see what all the excitement was about. Finally, Beau spotted it too, and said he saw 'gold' in the creek.

"Gold! I can't believe it. If we tell our person, we'll be rich," cried Desi.

"Hmmmm, reminds me of the stories I have heard about the California Gold Rush and the forty-niners, as the miners were called back in the 1800's," Molly quipped. There are a million stories about those men, and women too, that left their homes and families to try to find their fortune on the West Coast. Almost everyone had a little bit of 'gold fever'."

"So, did they all get rich?" Desi questioned.

"Hardly. There were more people that died trying to get there than there were those that made fortunes. Actually, probably the biggest money was made by clever merchants than anyone else."

"How could that be," said Ginny. "After all, gold is so valuable."

"Well, some of the stories tell us that there was more money to be made selling shovels to the miners than there was in panning for gold. For instance, one man, Sam Brannan, not a miner, had a plan to make him the richest man in California. He had a bottle of gold dust and went through San Francisco shouting that a man named, James Marshall, had found gold while building a sawmill near Sutter's Fort. Meanwhile, he bought up all the pick axes, shovels and pans in the area. So when a prospector needed them, Sam had the corner on the market and could name his own price. He was selling metal pans for fifteen dollars that could have been bought for twenty cents a few days before. He made thousands of dollars in about nine weeks.

"Wow, that was really something. I'll bet there were a lot more people that did things like that," said Equinox.

"Sure. There were all kinds of opportunities there. One man, Levi Strauss, made a real sturdy pair of pants that the miner's really liked. At least legend says he did. Later he added the metal rivets to the pants that are still in fashion. And Phillip Armour, a butcher from New York, decided he would walk to California, but instead opened a meat market and later a meat processing plant in Milwaukee which became one of the largest in the country."

"Really! So gold wasn't the only thing that the 49'ers looked for. They sort of made their own type of gold with their wits and hard work," Beau noted. "I also heard that a wheelbarrow maker, who had gone to California, saved all his money for six years and returned to his farm in Indiana and eventually made covered wagons for the pioneers and later made automobiles. He was John Studebaker."

"Samuel Clemens, who we know as Mark Twain, came to California and wrote stories for the San Francisco Call," said Ginny. "There were all kinds of opportunities, I guess."

"If a woman had a Dutch oven, it was like gold to her. Miners were hungry and she could make a lot of money cooking for them. Other women would wash clothes or run a boarding house. They could sometimes make about $200 a week if they could get enough boarders. In that day, that was a lot of money," she continued.

Molly told them of another funny story about some Chinese that came to find their fortune and bought an old shack for $25 from some miners. The miners thought they had really made a deal and celebrated at the local saloon. But, after the new owners had the title to the property, they tore up all the floorboards and gathered the gold dust that had fallen through the cracks when the miner's took off their pants. They got $300 for the gold dust and had the last laugh.

"But getting to California 2,000 miles away wasn't easy. Mules were the animals the miners depended on to get there. Most of them didn't realize what a long had trip it was going to be, and one of the most valuable things was water. Mules were able to survive with less water, and they were also very sure footed on the steep mountain slopes. Water was at such a premium that some scrupulous people would sell water for as much as a dollar per glass, or as much as $100 for a drink. They charged as much as they felt they could get. Greed was everywhere.

So most of the prospectors didn't get the riches they were looking for. A lot of them died on the way. But some returned home to their families with a reasonable amount of success. It was an adventure no matter what the result.

Well, Desi, the sun is setting and you're gold is vanishing. The water is just rushing over the rocks. But tomorrow is another day and the sun will shine again. So you can go on looking for the gold in the water, just like the old miners did."

Molly says, there are a number of sites on the Internet filled with interesting stories of the Gold Rush. Also, some books of interest: "The Great California Deserts" by W. Storrs Lee and "Death Valley Prospectors" by Dane Coolidge.