The Eldorado of the West (Part I)Submitted by ridiculous at 2010-03-10 09:50:06 EST
Rating: 1.78 on 30 ratings (30 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
Jack stopped the horse. Throwing one leg over the animal he dropped to the ground with a grunt and, reigns in hand tied it to the empty post & lintel. Rubbing its nose he limped around the rear of the animal pulling the Henry rifle free. He slid the lever checking the breach was occupied and clapped it back down.
He held the rifle before him as he made his way up the pair of steps to the deck around the outside of the saloon. Stepping off to the side he peeked through the lace curtains on the window. They were all here. Drunk and making noise, just like they had been last night.
Jack stepped back and pushed open the double doors walking in with the rifle leveled in two hands before him. The music kept playing but the conversations stopped as the entire room looked at the bloody man who just walked in with a gun.
“If anyone asks who done it… You tell ‘em it was Jack Williams!”
Jack opened fire.
Jack was a prospector. He’d come to California like they all had, when the president said they had found gold. He had quit his work, pulled what savings he had from his bank, kissed his wife and bought a ticket to sail to the Eldorado of the West. After a long and arduous journey where more than one man died, he had arrived to find the bay at San Francisco crowded with gold hungry prospectors just like him.
Using nearly the last of his money he had arranged passage to Sacramento. He staked a claim a dozen miles northeast and had been working it for over a year, just scraping by. The work was hard but living was harder. The men working the nearby claims had got together to help each other out. A couple of them had even brought their families out west after a decent find. Jack hadn’t really had a decent find until just under a week ago, but his boys had come to join him just the same.
Six days prior:
Jack had been panning in the creek, same as he always did, looking for the ‘glitter in the sand’. He had just finished running a pan and was walking back to check the tom* his boys were working when he tripped on a goodly sized rock. Standing up and angry about dropping his pan and the dust in it he turned back and grabbed the rock pulling it loose and heaving it into the trees. Just as he let it go he saw the glitter peeking through its mud covered bottom as it flew away from him.
Jack stood shocked he looked down at the hole under the surface of the passing water. It was still clouded from the largish rock having been disturbed. He nearly ran into the trees after the stone.
A few minutes later he had it, whatever the rock was it was mostly quartz and veined with gold. His prize in tow he returned to the spot in the creek and looked down into the recently vacated hole. The water was clear now and reflected the warm sunlight into his face. Resuming his former shock, he grinned as he imagined himself and his boys headed home heavy with gold.
Jack was cautious, there were at least a dozen others within earshot and while he knew them; and they had supported him in the past, that had been when he didn’t have anything. Sure he would help them out if he could but Jack knew how these prospect camps worked. Everybody suffered together but once somebody had something everyone was there with their hands out, and sometimes they had guns out too.
Signaling his boys Jack put a finger to his lip and waved them over. Jason and Frank shared a quick look at one another and abandoning their tom walked up stream to where Jack was. The three of them stood there smiling as they looked own through the clear water into the void below. A golden nugget, bigger than any of the men had seen before, smiled back at them.
Jack and his boys had a light supper that night for some reason they just weren’t all that hungry. They sat around the fire talking, as they always did, but this time the conversation was more the nature of hushed whispers. The usual questions about whether or not to move the tom, or how far up shore was too far to dig had been replaced by things like, which assayer offered the best rate? How much did Jack reckon it weighed? Should one of them stay up and make sure no one came and took it?
Jack was a cautious man by nature and admired his boys’ restraint for not letting the cat out of the bag, at least, not yet. He felt the urge too, to jump up and holler that it was all over and that he and the boys were going home rich but he knew better. Too many times had he seen someone with a consistently paying claim ‘disappear’. He decided to tell the boys about old Smith Duggan.
“Smith was living in San Francisco so’s he had the chance to stake one of the biggest claims on the American River. Couldn’t have been more than a month from Captains Sutter’s discovery before Smith had sold it all and gone digging. Found it too he did, old Smith hit on a good vein and went dancing down the streets of Sacramento. A few boys asked him what he was on about and when he pulled that glitter out of his pocket to show ‘em they come up with a plan mighty quick.” Jack looked between the boy’s faces to make sure he had their attention. Satisfied that he did, he continued.
“They bought Old Smith round after round that night, and you better believe he woke up without a pinch of dust left. But that didn’t stop him, no sir. He went right back up the American, right back to his claim. Trouble was, they beat him there. Shot him dead, they did. Buried him in one of the holes he’d dug prospecting.” Jack paused for effect.
“Would have got away with it too if Smith hadn’t been on his way somewhere the night they met him. The Widow Crawford sat up waiting for him all night and went down to the saloon next morning. That women’s sense of hers told her something warn’t right. So’s she got a few boys to agree to ride up to Smith’s claim lookin’ for him. Well, we know what they found when they got there. Went back to town and got folks all stirred up, got em drunk with words like ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ ‘fore you knew it they’d gone up the river and drug back all four of them boys what done old Smith and they done them too. Threw a rope over a stout branch and hauled ‘em up by the neck till they didn’t kick no more. That’s the kind of place this is, Frank, Jason.” Both boys wide eyed, nodded when their name was spoken. “and that’s what gold will do to a mans mind. So you boys be smart. You get yours and get the hell out, and that’s just what we’re gonna do, y’hear?”
“Yes, sir.” They replied in unison.
“Good lad’s, now git to bed. Frank, you’re goin into town tomorrow to find an assayer for us.”
“And remember, not a word. And don’t buy nuthin you wouldn’t otherwise either.”
“That’s a good lad. Now git ta bed.”
* A sluice.
FUCK! Researching for this story is giving me gold fever!!!.jpg