Travelling over plains, deserts, and mountains really gives you an idea of what it would take to survive without all of our modern technologies. When you live off the land, as Walt, Doc, and I have done for the last five days, you start to see a lot of patterns. Patterns in plant growth, rivers, mountain shapes, and animal behaviour. Though I never noticed these things when we first started off, they now seem obvious, and stand out in their surroundings. I see trails that animals walk down to watering holes. I see the shelters, and homes that animals make, and I see when in forests, the trees that like certain areas. If I don’t find any gold on this adventure, I know that I will find knowledge that I never had before.
Walter’s ankle has started to set well. He still needs our help to get him off his horse, but he is able to get around with the crutch that we made him.
Doc has been an amazing help. I cut my hand when making the crutch for Walt, and Doc bandaged it up very well. We are getting used to the riding, though the first three days were the worst, we have slowly felt less each day, at our rears have hardened to the constant jostling.
We are expecting to reach Sutter’s fort around midday today, and we will stay there for the rest of the day, and stay for breakfast, then figure out where we should go after. We tried panning again last night where we stayed, but with no luck. We set up a sluice to see if that would make the difference, but all our efforts were in vain. Still, we hope for the next time.
Doc had the map, and we were following him. He said that we should see the fort at any moment. There was evidence of many horses, as the road looked well travelled. Ever since the gold was found at the mill there, people were come from everywhere to look for some. We are not going to stay there though, because there will be far too much competition and chaos. We saw the towering peak over the hill and arrived within ten minutes. It was very busy, as we got closer. We road across the bridge outside it, and then entered the fort. We saw a man making horseshoes at a temporary smithery, and many other people selling supplies. It had turned from a fort to a market, and inn within a short amount of time. Many horses were tied outside of the building, and there was water for them there, so we unloaded all but Sheila, and put everything onto the cart. We then took her to a place where we could store our stuff safely, then led her back, and tied her up. We walked in and bought a drink from a man selling alcohol. We sat on a bench, and drank too our travels, as this was the first real achievement that we had. The farther north we go, the more land that people have not yet searched for gold, and the more likely we will find gold. We decided to make the rest of this day, one of rest, and find out where the rumours of gold were. So that is what we did.
“Let us ask that blacksmith what he has heard” Doc agreed to go with me, but Walt remained sitting on the bench.
“Hello good man, we are new around here, and we’re looking for good advice, and looking for places where we should head on our search for gold. We assume you have heard many rumours if you have been working here a while”. He stopped hammering on a horseshoe and put it back into the forge.
“Yes, I have heard much. Most prospectors like you are spreading out over this area, and panning in the rivers, but many others are going up towards the mountains, where they think the gold is coming from. This area is heavily populated with miners now, and I suspect that it will only grow. The men of 1849 I suspect are the early ones, even though thousandth have already come.”
“Do you recommend that we go farther north?”
“I am not a prospector, I know nothing of gold, or where you are likely to find it. All I will say is that the area is being mined, and panned dry. I personally would go farther, but many will do the same.”
“Thank you, friend, for your knowledge, I will buy some horseshoes later from you.” He tipped his hat and got back to work
“Doc, I think we should go north, maybe towards the mountains a bit, as water will be flowing down from there, it might be our best bet”
“You are the boss, I will follow where you lead”
“Very good my boy, you have proved invaluable. We shall need you much before the end of our travels”
We spent that afternoon playing cards with other men and listening to music, as some people had instruments for personal amusement, and they all played together.
We all slept well that night, including Walt, who except for the nights before his accident, had been having bad nights of sleep from the pain. We woke with the sun and had breakfast. There was a stand in the courtyard where a man was selling rabbit stew. He would go out the afternoon before and hunt prairie rabbits then bring them back, salt them, and chop the rabbits into small pieces. Then put them in a stew along with many vegetables, that are found out in the countryside. All three of us ate a bowl of that stew, then asked an elderly miner some questions.
“What are you looking for in a stream for panning?”
“I like to find ones with very few large average rocks, that way I spent less time dividing through the excess, and you get more searchable debris to shovel into your sluice.”
“Ah, I see. What about different rock types, or colours?”
“I don’t have a preference, I have panned in every different type of river and stream. I like rivers with fast-moving water in areas, and then slower, shallow, wide places so I can get right into the middle, but I don’t have a certain mix of rock and dirt gravel that leads to gold. I like to be a fair way upstream, as that is where you find the larger flakes and nuggets. Most of the prospectors that leave here are heading up the American River, as that is where a large number of reports of gold have been”
“Thank you, sir, you have been very helpful.” We all had a good idea of where we should go. North, up to one of the streams that came down from the mountains. The farther we go the fewer people, but fewer reports have come from up there, though fewer men have gone up there.
So we did what we have to do every morning, and loaded up the horses. They were in much better shape, and they have had time to rest for longer than just the night. They were able to walk around, as we tied them out at a tree, where they would have shade. After they took a long drought of water, we saddled, and set off once again, to the north.
As we road, we were looking for rivers. Whenever we found a sizable one, we would go upstream. But many men had the same idea, and we came upon several groups of two to seven men, though there were a few loners. We followed up three different rivers, but there were always men. So we decided not to follow any more rivers that day, instead, we would the next, once we were farther away.
The next day, we found a stream, that led into a forest, and we decided to follow it. We followed it for ten or so miles and saw nobody. As we were now in less popular areas, I thought that this might be a good river for us, so I led Walt and Doc upstream. It was only wooded in a few areas along the river, so our wagon was able to manage, with a little help from us, and in the space between forests we were fine. We then came to a very young forest, as there were very few elderly trees. The stream had widened a fair bit, and we came to a shallow area, that seemed like a good starting place.
“I think we are here boys,” I say, as I get down off my horse, and walk over to the water’s edge.
“I thought you would never pick a spot, Fred. I saw ten places that I would have settled on. I hope this is worth it”
“Walt, you would have settled on the first stream out of San Fransisco, and you wouldn’t have found a single ounce in a month of working. I think here will be just fine.” I smile a large smile. I never really thought about what it would be like to find an area. I always pictured us working on the river, and us travelling to a river. Never this. We actually arrived.