“The secret is in letting the water do the work,” said Pat. “That and patience.” Several tries with the pan without finding color, and I began to understand the disappointment that had sent all but a lucky few back out of the California gold country penniless.
“The Chinee were the ones with true patience,” Pat told me as we sat on the broken-down stoop of the holiday apartments barcelona in which he had lived for so much of his life. “The white men always looked for the rich stuff. They took the cream and moved on. Then the Chinee would work the same gulches and pick up a lot of fine gold. But when they left a gulch, there was nothing left for nobody.”
Across Canyon Creek was a log cabin that seemed to have weathered the years better than most. When I asked Pat about it, he said, “That cabin was built in the Depression(http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/britain/depressionrev1.shtml). I was the only resident here, and then, one by one, they began coming in until there was 350 people here, if ye can believe it. Good people who were too proud to go on relief. They lived hard, but they made their few dol¬lars a day, mostly panning. It was enough to keep food in their stomachs.” He gestured to the cabin. “The luckiest one of them all was a rambling lad who built that cabin.
He couldn’t have been 12 years old, he had run away from home, and he had neither family nor friends here. I was working my sluice box on the bank when he first come down the mountain, whistling as lads will. He had a pick and a shovel and a pan, and when I asked him where he was going to try his luck, he said, ‘Right down there below.’ Well, I’ll be jingoed but he didn’t pick the only spot on the creek that hadn’t been worked. He comes back up to me with his hands full of $10 and $20 nuggets, and says, Is this good?’ I’m here to tell ye I nearly fainted. Before that lad left here to seek his fortune elsewhere, he had made ten hundred dollars.”
Stories of such gold finds abound in the Lost Sierra—of a man who in firing at a game bird dislodged a piece of ore that marked a strike; of a miner who noticed a string of ants carrying precious specks and followed them to a rich pocket; of a highway construction crew that unearthed a promising vein, left their machines, went digging like crazy, and took out metal worth $70,000.
Gold mining in the Lost Sierra has just about come down to a hobby. There are no full-time company operations remaining, because an operator can’t make enough above the $50-a-day cost of employing and feeding a mine worker. But the recent rise in the price of gold has brought on a surge of weekend prospectors and could stimulate the reopening of company operations. In Poker Flat I talked to young Don Albrecht.