Of Desert Rats and Single Blanket Jackass Prospectors (Part 2)
(The old Rhyolite ghost town as it appears today within Nevada's borders.)
Did old-time desert prospector "Short" Harris become a wealthy man after finding the rich lode at Rhyolite? No he didn't, and the same was true for almost all the single blanket jackass prospectors who once roamed the deserts of the American west searching for gold and silver.
Far Too Restless
If you're wondering why "Shorty" and the most of the "desert rats" out there never became rich men I think the best answer is this:
They were far too restless to stay put for very long.
"Shorty" Harris was a classic example of this. He had no interest in developing mines, just finding them. It's said that "Shorty" sold his Rhyolite claim (the famous Bullfrog Mine) for around $1,800...a decent wad of spending cash for the day but a mere pittance considering the vast fortune in gold it produced. On the other hand, "Shorty's" erstwhile "pard" on the Rhyolite discovery, Ed Cross, sold his rights for about $165,000...a fortune for that time and place.
To make things worse, some say "Shorty" Harris never even got a penny for the Bullfrog...they say he lost his rights to the claim through drunken carelessness. You see, once he'd discovered the rich ledge at Rhyolite "Shorty" went on an extended bender...something he was prone to do time and time again after a discovery.
"Shorty's" behavior pattern here was shared by most other single blanket jackass prospectors of the day. They'd find a decent ledge or outcropping, claim it, and then head into the nearest town to celebrate or hang around proud as peacocks as a new mining boom town sprouted up around them. They'd sell out for a pittance leaving mining investors and developers to extract all that gold and silver and become filthy rich. Meanwhile, the "desert rats" would load their kit onto their burros and head back into the harshness of the desert for one more spin of the roulette wheel.
(Pete Aguereberry, another "desert rat" and occasional "pard" of "Shorty Harris.)
Let me give you another example of this chasing rainbows principle in full effect. In the summer of 1906 "Shorty" was on his way to Ballarat to partake in the boom town's 4th of July festivities. The very fact that "Shorty" Harris felt comfortable walking across Death Valley during the hottest month of the year should tell you something. "Shorty" and the others knew the desert well, respected it, and also knew how to survive and even thrive in it. Others with lesser skills died miserably there.
On the way to Ballarat "Shorty" ran into Pete Aguereberry, another well-known "desert rat" who was also on his way to Ballarat...not to celebrate, but to fill out his kit and resupply for a new prospecting venture. The two men decided to team up and entered Wildrose Canyon to get water before proceeding to town. There they found gold ore that looked promising, grabbed up a few samples, laid out claim markers, and headed for Ballarat.
In town "Shorty" and Pete found more than they bargained for. But more on that later...
If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Of Desert Rats and Single Blanket Jackass Prospectors (Part 1)"
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013
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