You know! We all have a list of maybe crazy things that we want to do in our life. What I mean by crazy---if you told some one about your to do list, some would sort of give you that quick look and then say something like---"Um really!" and change the subject.
One of my items on my important list was to go Pan for gold. I knew nothing about it, yet I just had to go try it. It was an itch that would not go away.
First I read every book I could find on the subject. I had always enjoyed the out doors and went on many fishing and camping trips. One of my favorite areas was the Feather river in California. Usually I would take a tent and all the non-essentials that you might need and still forget the matches or the can-opener.
Well this time I would go prepared! Leaving the sporting goods store with the help of the clerk and a empty wallet I was ready. A new back- pack and enough powdered rations that all you had to do is add water which would make the back-pack much lighter as the store clerk repeatedly pointed out. Yes this time there would be no tent, I would just sleep out in the open in my new water-proof bed-roll under the stars.
There were a few other minor tools that like a mini pick shovel combo. Of course there were those little items that are so important---Paint brushes, slotted screwdriver, tablespoon, garden trowel, you know for getting in the crevice's where the gold likes to hide and least but not last---the GOLD Pan. I chose a lightweight plastic pan, again on the clerks advice, yet the shinny steel pan seemed to say "traitor, traitor." Whoops! I almost forgot---a small bottle for storing my gold in.
Finally arriving at my destination I was ready to head down the trail. It was wise that I chose to follow the river down-stream because I seemed to be tilting a little to the rear after donning all my gear and at the last minute deciding to take along my fishing pole.
At the beginning of the trail the rangers had post a large bulletin board for people to leave messages on. Well I didn't have time to read that now---there was gold nuggets waiting for me down stream. I would check out the bulletin board on my way back. The main trail showed it was well used but there were many side trails leading off of it. I passed up the first two but my back-pack seemed to be getting heavier so I took the next trail that was some what over grown and it seemed to lead to the river. After all that was the whole purpose of this trip. Every article that I had read said that there was gold in this area. Finally I picked a spot and with great relief slipped out of my back-pack and my back seemed to say---Thanks too!
I was anxious to start panning, so I hurriedly picked a spot under some pines to lay my bedroll down and then I gathered some large stones to make a fire-pit and gathered some dry wood for my evening meal with that packet of stew and potatoes that the clerk said was very good? First I heated some water from the stream and fixed my coffee---which was not much different than being at home, Ah!
With pick and shovel in hand I began my task. First I put a big scoop of material into my pan from the edge of the stream. Then while holding the pan under the water I swished it around and around rapidly. I obviously was doing something wrong because all I had now was rocks rattling around in the bottom of my pan, not a glimmer of any thing shinny. Now I wished that I had brought one of those many books that I had obviously missed an important detail in. The rest of the afternoon was spent with the same disappointments in my effort to strike it---rich.
The next disappointment was preparing the powdered beef stew. Thank god! I had brought my old standby peanut butter and crackers that probably has saved many of lives if the truth be told. It did feel good to crawl into that bed-roll and for a moment watch the stars come out and promise a better tomorrow.
I was up and had tasted that first cup of coffee when I decided to give the powdered package of pancake mix a try, after all I didn't want to rely on just peanut butter for the next few days. I mixed the whole package and probably had enough to feed all the squirrel's that were scampering about. I sampled the first pancake which I generously applied maple syrup to and had to admit that it was very good---or was I desperately in need of nourishment?
I had just refilled my plate with this delectable meal when a horrific sound behind me made me drop it. I turned to see not twenty-five feet away a man and a burro.
The man looked like he had just stepped out of a different time period. I stood there and marveled at the picture in front of me. He almost seemed to be oblivious to the effect that I was even near by. Should I speak to him? Maybe offer him a cup of coffee. It was obvious that he knew how to use that rusty old gold pan and he made it look so easy. Yes, this old man knew what he was doing and maybe he could give me a few instructions.
"Excuse me---sir, would you like to join me for a cup of coffee, I have plenty."
He never really answered in words. He just nodded and set his pan aside and walked over to my fire and sat down. I handed him a cup of coffee and he nodded again as he took it and sipped very slowly. Of course I just jabbered away telling him first my name and then how I was attempting to learn how to pan for gold. When I asked him his name he very quietly said Jacob. It was more like a whisper and I wasn't sure that I heard him right. I also noticed that he was eyeing the enormous stack of pancakes that I unknowing produced out of that little package of instant mix.
"It seems that I made to many pancakes this morning and you would be more than welcome to help me eat some of them." Again he only nodded. We both sat there in silence and ate our fill. There were still two or three pancakes left when I seen him reach for the plate. He stood and looked back to where the burro had been and whistled. It was just a moment when the Burro stepped out from behind several trees farther up the bank. He trotted down the bank and the man met him half way and then fed him the left over pancakes. When the last one was gone the Burro brayed loudly for more.
Jacob walked back to where his gold pan lay and picked it up and started panning. Well, maybe this man didn't talk much but that was okay.
I would just grab my gold pan and join him, we didn't need to talk. This was my chance to learn. First he just put about four handfuls of material that he had scooped up from around the larger rocks, he then submersed the pan in the stream. Still holding the gold pan under water, and moving the pan in a circular motion so that the lighter materials carried out of the pan. He kept doing this until about half of the material in the pan was gone. Then he lifted the pan out of the water and begin swirling it around again with it tipped slightly to the side where the riffles are. He kept doing this until all the material in the pan was almost gone. There he studied the black sandy material closely and very carefully picked something out of it and opened a small pouch that he had in his shirt pocket and deposited there.
I immediately tried to repeat what I had just witnessed. The afternoon flew by as this man that sat next to me without saying a word and only motioned for me to slow down the swirling of the water in my pan several times and once he pointed to a small speck in the bottom of my pan. I gently picked it up and held it up to the light ---yes I had found a small piece of gold---he again nodded in approval.
I was so engrossed in this new experience of panning for gold that I didn't notice the sky getting very dark. It was when the Burro started braying and Jacob motioning for me to grab my bed-roll and follow him for the rain was starting to come down very hard and the roar of thunder and lighting was upon us in seconds. I ran behind Jacob and the Burro not knowing where we were going and it had became very dark. It wasn't until a flash of lighting showed the form in front of us that showed our destination.
I was wet and clutching my bed-roll and only when the lighting lit the area could you see and then only from the open door way and one small open window. I could not see any signs of furniture, it seemed that it was just an old rock structure of some kind but it did serve the purpose of keeping out the wind and rain. Jacob and the Burro seemed to have marked their space and Jacob was stretched out with some kind of covering over him and the Burro stood inside the door and over by Jacob.
Well it was plain to see that I was expected to get into my bed-roll and call it a night. The storm raged on half of the night. I awoke the next morning when the sunlight poured through the door opening. There were no signs of Jacob or the Burro.
It was a short walk back to my original camp site. It seems that my back-pack and cook ware had been moved and set up under a tree out of reach of the rising water of the river. Everything was intact, nothing was missing it was just like I had---moved it my self. I looked all around hoping to get sight of Jacob and the Burro but they were no where to be seen.
I panned for more gold but the waters were very swift now so I decided to head back up the trail and call it a successful trip. After all I had learned how to pan gold and thanks to Jacob I had three small nuggets of gold in my little glass vial.
It was late when I reached the big bulletin board. I scanned the many messages that mostly were for people telling other people where to locate them on the trail. It was then that I noticed the plaque embedded in the rock base next to the board.
It read: JACOB'S GHOST TRAIL---GOLD PROSPECTOR---BORN-18??DIED 1878.