Prospector’s Faith  

prospector-faith
It was in the spring of 1850 when the word of the incredible richness of gold at a place called Downie’s Flat swept downstream and sent a crowd of wide-eyed wannabe millionaires scurrying to the new gold strike.

Original discoverers were digging a pound of gold a day out of the rocky crevices with a butcher knife.

When those Johnny-come-latelies arrived at Downie’s Flat they were not so cordially received by the dozen or so original discoverers who’d spent a hard winter up there.  A prospector named Pike Sellers had an inspiration one day when he saw one of the newcomers, pack on his back, crawling precariously down the precipitous wall of the gorge to Downie’s Flat.

Pike scrambled up out of the streambed and commenced furiously prying at the bark slabs on a jack pine tree.  Just as the stranger approached Pike pushed two fingers behind a shag of bark and withdrew a fat gold nugget.

“My God,” said the greenhorn, “I heard ye was diggin’ the yeller stuff out cracks in the rocks but I didn’t know she grew on trees.”

“Gets lodged there when the tree’s pushin’ up through the soil,” Pike said as he plucked out a couple more nuggets.

The newcomer whipped out his Bowie knife and started up a nearby pine.

“Hold on there,” said Pike. “You’re on my claim and that’s my tree.”

Where could he stake himself to a tree? The Greenhorn wondered.

Pike abandoned his work to lead the newcomer to a thick grove of jack pines.

“You can climb this one,” he said, “She’s richest up near the top.”

The greenhorn dropped his pack and with his Bowie knife clinched between his teeth commenced to shin up.

“Higher ups better,” hollered Pike, “nothin’ but flake gold down low.”

Pike sifted back down to the streambed where he received a round of guffaws from his pals. He’s already earned the title, “King of the Yarnspinners.”

There was an eternal optimism that characterized the breed.  They were the original True Believers, who held steadfast in their belief the big bonanza was always the one just over the next hill.

Sometimes the old sourdough spun a yarn that was so thoroughly convincing that even he believed it.

Two prospectors died and contrary to expectation, found themselves allowed into Heaven.  When a third arrived a day later he was greeted at the pearly gates by St. Peter with some trepidation.

“I reckon I’ll have let you in,” said St. Peter, “you have always worked hard for your grubstakers and you’ve worshiped God under the stars and played fair and haven’t told any lies that would do anyone any real harm.  But I must admit, I let a couple of prospectors in yesterday and they’ve been tearing up the golden streets, plucking up the gold bricks.”

“Let me pass through those gates and I’ll fix that,” said the newcomer confidently.

A day or two later the two prospectors appeared at the gate and asked to be released to go down below.  St. Peter warned them that once out they couldn’t come back but they were quite insistent so he cheerfully let them go.

Once again, all was peaceful in Heaven.  St. Peter came to the third prospector said, “You did very well, getting rid of those gold pilfering vandals. How did you do it?”

“Well,” the prospector grinned, “I just let it drop that there was a rich new gold strike down there in Hell.”

But then a few days later the prospector approached St. Peter and said, “I’d like leave heaven.  I’ve been thinkin’ about that new strike in Hell an’ I believe I’d like to get down there ahead of the rush and stake me a few good claims.”

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu