Thomas and I left shortly after Bernard left. I was slightly unnerved by the sound of his voice. It came as a shock from the usual shouting and yelling that I encounter from people always looking for trouble. Thomas’ friends were following us playing some kind of word game that had to do with rhyming, and they were roaring with laughter at times. I didn’t understand it, but they obviously found it hysterical. Thomas turned to me and said that we were just about there, and as we rode over a small hill, I noticed smoke over the hills. I assumed it was smoke from a fire, but the other men looked at it nervously.
“What is it, Thomas?” I asked after the others looked at each other.
“There rarely is smoke from our camp at this time, and never so much. I think there might be a building on fire.” As he said that, he waved his hand, and broke out into a gallop. We all followed suit. When we were over the next hill we saw a building on fire, and men running around wildly. We also saw the fire starting to spread to the tents, which were enveloped quite rapidly. Men were rushing to a well and back to the fire trying desperately to put it out. We arrived shortly and joined in trying to stop the spread. The horses wouldn’t go anywhere near the fire, and they trotted out to the pasture. I grabbed a wheelbarrow, as all of the buckets were taken, and I started to fill it at the well. I then ran over to the small barn. Men were shouting orders, but nobody was listening. I started to scoop and splash it all over everything that I could. It was doing nothing, so I ran over to the tents. They were easier to put out, but the barn was completely hopeless, and we threw bucket after bucket of water on it as we watched it slowly burn and crumble. Fifteen minutes later the fire was out, but there were only charred and smoking logs left of the barn. We started to push all of the logs that were still standing over so that they wouldn’t fall on anyone. Then once it was cool, we sieved through the ashes and coals. The owner told me that the barn was for storing hay for the mules and horses, as well as some of the food for the men. A man dropped his pipe when in there, and there was very little there could do from there. One man was badly burned and he was taking an afternoon nap and struggled to get out long enough for the tent to catch. He had stayed up all night before working, so he was entitled to that nap. He was being tended to, and many men that saw him said that his face and hair were badly burned. They said that his name was Andy. I went and talked to the owner who was very depressed as that barn was going to add a lot of money to the sale of the barn, and many men wouldn’t buy a mine without all of the necessary out-buildings. Thomas said that his name was Lou.
“I came here looking to buy your mine.” His eyes immediately perked up.
“Well, aren’t you a God-send! I almost gave up on selling, and the fire just about finished me. I can’t afford to build a new barn. And I didn’t want to dip into my profits from the gold.”
“So you have found gold in this mine?”
“Oh yes, it is a fairly productive mine, we have the carts and rails all set up, and one branch on the way down, as well as one going both ways at the bottom, though they aren’t that far yet.”
“That is what I am looking for.” We talked prices for a while, and settled on a fair amount, including all of the left-over supplies that they had not yet gone through. I told him that If I could stay here for the night, we could ride to town the following morning, and settle it at the bank. He agreed, and we went outside and sat around the fire. All of the men were going back with Lou, as they were all friends that came out here together. However, Thomas did not come with him and was hired by Lou. I asked if Thomas would work for me, and he happily agreed, and I was quite pleased, as he knew the mine, and how to work it better than myself, Walt or Doc. We ate well that night, as I was tired from the lengthy tour, and to celebrate the sale we had some whisky that they had stored away, I then slept well to finish off a good evening.
In the morning at the bank, the deal was settled, and all of the necessary papers were handed over. I thanked them and told Thomas that he could come with me back to our spot on the river to meet my friends and help pack. He said that he would love to, as he had nothing else to do until I arrived at the mine, and was ready to work.
When we arrived back at our camp, I introduced Walt and Doc to Thomas, then told them about the sale, and our new mine. Doc was very happy, and Walt was just about tolerable.
Thomas helped us pack, and this chore took us all day, as we acquired a lot more things than when we first came here. But we were able to fit everything that we needed onto the correct horses and mules. We left early in the morning with Thomas as our guide. It was cold that morning, but as the sun rose, it quickly heated up. Once we arrived at the mine site, Lou’s men were still there packing. But I could tell that they were almost done. We dropped our stuff off at the other small barn that was there, that thankfully didn’t burn down, and made the horses comfortable. Thomas showed the others around the property and showed me the areas that I had not seen. It was a seven-acre area that was fenced off, and there were several small buildings and one big barn. The second biggest was the one that burned down. There were very few trees, but there were woods a short way out of the fenced-off area. Thomas walked with us to the mine, then led us down into it. Walt was just able to climb down the ladder, as he had gotten much stronger in the time that we have been in California. It was one hundred and thirty feet to the bottom, and there was one stop on the way down where they had a side branch
When we got down there we saw the tunnels to the right and the left. We walked for ways, then came upon one of the carts. On the way back we pushed it back so it would be ready for when we needed it. On the right tunnel, it was much more declined, but a lot less long. Walts lantern kept going out, but as we had two more we were fine. When we got to the end, Thomas grabbed a pick and started to swing mighty swings. He would hue away from the rock very slowly, and then after he demonstrated that, he started to chisel a hole. Once it was deep enough for his liking, he stuck a piece of dynamite that was in a box at the end, and we walked back with the line. Once we were out, we set it off, and we felt vibrations and heard the boom. Walt fell over, from the surprise more than the shock. We then waited a bit for the dust to settle before we went back to examine the blast. There was a large pile of rocks and boulders, which we started shovelling away. We then loaded all of the material into a cart, and they pushed it back while Doc, Thomas, and I loaded another. We brought the rock and ore to the surface with a pulley system and buckets, then made a pile at the top. We sorted through the debris, putting the ore into a separate pile. When we go the large chunks of ore out, we then put all of the rock and ore gravel into a rocker box, which is sort of a sluice, but it uses less water. We then carried the buckets of separate ore and gold to one of the small buildings. The building was empty, as the last owners had left with all of their findings and personal belongings. This entire process that we went through took several hours. And after we were finished our first run-through, we sat down for some tea. The whole system that was in place would run much quicker with all of us at different posts, constantly running our jobs. After tea, we blasted three charges all at once, then had me and Thomas shovelling while Andrew ran the cart back once full he volunteered to work and said that he would take no extra pay for it. Walt would unload it out of the mine.
After a long day of learning, we were all tired, except for Thomas, who was quite accustomed to this line of physical work, as his giant forearms proved, from long days of hard work. My back ached as I was not used to so much bending over. Yes, I shovelled for the sluices, but when you have to walk around with your head hung low, your neck and back wear out quickly. I was happy about the break when Doc and I switched. Walt was our designated pully operator, as he was very sensitive to the blasts, and as he is much older than all of us, he would be better suited to pulling the buckets out of the mine. Which is not as hard as it seemed since there were several hundred feet of rope going up and down and through pulleys to lighten the load.
So as doc and Walt prepared supper, I lay down and stretched out my back. The stars were very bright. I had not been able to see them to their fullest very often, as there were usually trees blocking our view. But now, we could see thousands. There were many coyotes out tonight, but our fire and the fences kept them away. Doc and Walter prepared us some pork stew, which was very nice, and we listened to some story that Thomas told. He is a very good storyteller, and would often have us falling over in laughter. Walt often got jokingly angry at him for making such good jokes that his stomach hurt for twenty minutes afterwards. We went to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep for the longest time as the coyotes were very loud, and one of us had to keep adding wood to the fire to scare them away. Walt’s hands were quite worn from the rope, and his skin was sensitive because he forgot to wear gloves for two hours until we told him to.