Own Your Own Gold Mine

EVERYONE should own a gold mine. I prescribe it not only as a business venture but as a builder of mental and emotional health. The mere possession of a gold mine is a tonic. I learned this wisdom during the depression, when we were all a little short of tonics.

I was driving on a suburban highway when I first met Castleman. He led me to my discovery. He was tall and spare, his suit was faded, and he had an equally faded brief case. He had been trying to sell things, he told me after he climbed into the car. “The city’s got me beat. The people who want things are broke and the people who have money are sitting on it.”

After a while he continued: “I’m hitching up to El Dorado County. The’s an old mine there that hasn’t been worked for eighty years. It’s a three-hundred-foot tunnel. In those days the miners were so careless with the ore, I think a fella could make a living working over the tailings.”

Never before had I heard a mining man make such an unextravagant claim or one so based on reason. Certainly at a time when gold was to be had for the digging, old-timers who had persevered three hundred feet into the rock must have had something to back their judgment. “ Furthermore,” he concluded, “hardly anyone knows about it, and it can be bought cheap.”

The idea was inflammable. I hadn’t known until that moment that I had always wanted a gold mine. Gold, after all, was a very useful commodity; so it is logical that everyone should have his own gold mine just as he would have his own vegetable garden. And before I parted with my new friend I had concluded that it proper regard for my old age demanded at least a small gold mine. I had Castleman plot the location on the back of an envelope and I agreed to have a look at the mine on the following week-end.

The trip took me a hundred-mile drive into the Sierra foothills, but I was not disappointed. The property was a beautiful sloping hill flowing down from a level rock shelf covered with pine trees. The shack of a cabin beneath the trees was just as Bret Harte would have pictured it. All it needed was the red-shirted miner seated in the doorway, weighing the day’s take in gold dust.

The old tunnel too was just as if should be, although it was a rather awesome-looking cavity. A hundred feet back, the earth roof had fallen in, making it necessary to climb over a hump of red earth. I didn’t venture far beyond this, but my flash-light showed me the tunnel, curved in a line so perfect geometrically that I was then and there convinced the old-timers knew their business. I concluded that only the untimely death of the miner himself, or a death struggle between two jealous pardners over the first big nugget, had prevented the mine from becoming a world-famous bonanza.

I went home feeling that my old-age security problem had been solved. It is comforting to know that buried in earth you own is the gold to support your declining years. The mind pleasantly rejects the probable cost of getting it out. That, after all, is a matter of speculation, while the presence of gold in the soil is a matter of certainty.

Within a week I had paid the modest purchase price and had drawn up an equally unpretentious agreement whereby Castleman would remove the gold from beneath the hill for me, on a fifty-fifty basis. Meanwhile I would underwrite his rather meager needs in the way of groceries and necessaries. From this point on, my research had to do more with Castlemnn than with the actual gold. He was fifty years old and Irish, and the world’s readiest dispenser of mining lore. He related how in a mine not far distant from my own he had once trundled out a single wheelbarrow load of dirt that yielded fifteen hundred dollars. His narrative carried the strong suggestion that the feat could be duplicated on my property from time to time. I defy anybody, even in the last stages of melancholia, to lose interest in life while listening to such inferences about his own property.

Castleman’s almost daily letters, written on lined paper, were detailed reports and abounded with references to dips and strikes, to lava caps and volcanic ledges about which gold lurked in little pockets waiting for the man who know where to look. Occasionally I received in the mail a little muslin bag containing a fragment of white and gray quartz to be assayed. The unenthusiastic report of the assayer, was, oddly enough, stimulating. This feeling was heightened by the occasional sight of a tiny, gleaming speck of gold in the? quartz. I left each specimen with the assayer, sure that the next sample would rate high enough for commercial purposes.

Occasionally Castleman’s envelope would contain a little folded billet with tiny flakes of gold dust and a buoyant note announcing larger shipments soon to follow.

Despite the enterprise shown on paper, my unannounced visits at any time of day usually found him just through work and storing up new energy by the simple method of reclining beneath a tree with a book before him. I noted that there were no disturbed tailings at the tunnel’s mouth, and no evidences ofnew earth dug up. Inquiries brought forth the idea that the tunnel could wait, since there were greater quantities of gold to be panned from the creek.

To justify his neglect of the tunnel. Castleman would take up the gold pan and lead me down to the creek. Here he would move the boulders about, as if hunting for crayfish, and scoop up some of the underlying gravel in the pan. Then he would stoop over the stream and swish the pan around in the shallow water so that the water kept lapping over the edge, carrying the larger pebbles and light sand with it. Always a thin floor of black sand remained in the pan, and usually there gleamed from it a spark or two of bright yellow gold. These he picked up with a pair of tweezers and placed in a specimen bottle.

To the person who had always visualized gold in nuggets of pocket-piece size, these little flecks might well have proved disappointing. But I always believed they were merely flakes that had loosened from the larger nuggets hiding near-by.

After watching the gold panning I went home each time confident that the law of averages would take care of the situation. When my haters to Castleman showed signs of disappointment 1 would shorlly afterwards receive in the mail a tiny glass vial containing numerous gold flakes. These, I judged, represented several days’ panning, although the accompanying note invariably explained that they were the result of a few minutes’ work.

On one visit when my remarks must have suggested that I was dubious of the whole venture, he revived me with the announcement that, the day before, he had panned a nugget that weighed almost an ounce. When I asked eagerly to see it his suspicious look seemed to say I was prying into his personal affairs, and he hastily explained that he “ threw it back.”My efforts to locate where “ back " was produced a series of hazy evasions.

After this I lost confidence in my friend as a miner, but never in the mine itself. Its value has increased; since I bought it the government has well-nigh doubled the price of gold, thereby improving my investment. And its gold is still intact, for practically nothing has been taken from it.