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Stories from the Mines - Harper's


Many stories are told of the manner in which the first discoveries of gold in California were turned to account by ingenious speculators, and among them are the following: In one district the gold-dust was mixed with large quantities of fine black sand, which the miners—most of whom were raw hands—blew off from the gold in their anxiety to arrive at the ore itself. A keen old man turned their impatience to account by shamming lameness, and pretending that in his weakly state he was not equal to the toil of mining, and was thus compelled to resort to the poor and profitless branch of gathering the black sand, which he sold as a substitute for emery. He used to go about of an evening with a large bag and a tin tray, requesting the miners to blow their black sand upon it, and returning with it to his hut. By the aid of quick-silver he was able to extract the gold, double in quantity to that which was obtained by the hardest-working miner at the washings.

Tricks of every kind were played upon new-comers in search of the golden treasures. One story is told of some American associates who had been working at an unprofitable spot, putting up a notice that their "valuable site" was for sale, as they were going elsewhere. A few Germans who had just arrived offered themselves as purchasers. The price asked was exorbitant, as the proprietors stated that the "diggings" returned a large amount of gold, and the following day was appointed for the Germans to come and see what could be produced in the course of a few hours' working. The sellers went during the night and secreted the gold-dust in the banks, so that it would come to light, as a natural deposit, when the earth was turned up. The following morning the poor Germans were so delighted with the apparent richness of the place that they gave a large sum of money and two valuable gold watches for the property. The Germans were laughed at; but they went to work, and actually succeeded in raising a large amount of gold beneath the spot where the others had left off. The Americans were thus outwitted in turn, and endeavored to get repossession of the place by force; but another company of Germans arriving, they were obliged to decamp.

An old miner relates this story: "While working on Rock Creek, the weather being very hot, we always had near us a can of water, and close to it we put a tea-cup to hold the particles of gold as we collected them. One morning as we were at work a thirsty digger came by, who asked permission to take a draught of water, which being granted, he filled up the cup, and quaffed off the costly drink, without either drinking our healths or leaving the least sediment at the bottom. I suspected at first that some trick had been played upon us, and he had secreted the gold; but from the evident distress of the man, and the earnest manner in which he promised to repay us when he got work, I firmly believe that he had swallowed the gold, not having noticed it in the cup."

Scarcely twenty-three years have elapsed since the gold yield in California became an undoubted fact, and within that period many millions of dollars' worth of gold-dust has been added to the wealth of the world. But even these results have been eclipsed by the wonderful discoveries of gold in Australia. So extensively are the gold deposits distributed throughout that great country, that Melbourne, the capital, has been said to be paved with the rich metal, the broken quartz rocks which have been used to make the streets being found to contain gold.