"Played Out?" (Conclusion)
In this, the third and final installment of this series of posts I'll be narrowing my focus down toward the inevitable message I want to deliver about the term "played out." Before I get started, however, I'd like to say to all of you that I'm extremely encouraged by the recent uptick in donations and want to thank all of you who have donated this month (as well as in the past). All this right after the Holidays too! If the donation levels remain at or close to this month's level my monetization worries are greatly lessened and I'm confident I can bring back the Bedrock Dreams Archives for free access. However, let's see what transpires with the donations in the next month or two. That will tell the tale. OK, these things said let's move on to the heart of the matter.
I've mentioned before in Bedrock Dreams my admiration for the Chinese miners who worked those "played out" gold claims of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although most of the Chinese working "played out" ground weren't skilled gold miners by tradition or experience, they soon proved themselves to be a potent force for recovering gold on claims abandoned by others. Whether you realize it or not, the Chinese were often treated poorly (in truth, that's putting it mildly) in the goldfields of the American West and Southwest. They were considered strange and alien, and their appearance, language, and traditions were mocked and ridiculed by Anglo miners. Interestingly enough, this didn't prevent white miners from having sex with Chinese prostitutes, smoking Chinese opium, eating Chinese food, or having their laundry done by the Chinese. Despite this fact, there were no small number of very sad incidents involving the Chinese in certain American goldfields wherein drunken mobs attacked, beat, and even murdered Chinese miners. The hypocrisy of select groups of Anglo miners was beyond the pale in numerous instances and was no more clearly demonstrated than when white miners abandoned claims deemed by them to be "played out" and then sat idly by as Chinese miners stepped onto that ground and made it pay. When this occurred, the white miners forced the Chinese off by threats of implied (or real) physical violence and re-took their old gold ground. The problem was, however, most of these Anglo miners didn't have the work ethic or where-with-all to make this "played out" ground pay like the Chinese did.
Used to Hard Work
What made the Chinese such proficient placer and lode gold miners? First of all they weren't afraid of hard work and long hours of it. (Take note here you aspiring gold miners out there.) They had left China seeking a better life for themselves and their families and they weren't about to let that opportunity pass them by or go at it half-assed. The Chinese were used to hard work, the brutally hard work they'd endured all their lives back home under the watchful eyes of the land owners and Chinese upper classes, including warlords and Chinese royalty. Back home they worked like slaves to eat and to feed their families, nothing more. Often they couldn't even do that when famine struck or when the land owners stole their meager rice reserves. There was little or no hope of improving their condition in China, but here in America the Chinese had all sorts of opportunities and they availed themselves of those opportunities at every twist and turn...especially in the goldfields where the real work and opportunities were...at least early on.
(Chinese miners working "played out" placer ground.)
No Stone Unturned
Secondly, the Chinese were systematic in their mining approach. Since they shared common ancestral traditions, culture, language, and work ethic they formed themselves into highly efficient groups that learned the mining ropes quickly by watching Anglo miners ply their trade; appropriating their methods, techniques, and gold recovery equipment. Twenty or 30 men could remove more overburden in the same amount of time than one or two or three could. A focused and hard-working team of Chinese miners could shovel more gold-bearing dirt through a sluice box or tunnel deeper into an abandoned lode claim than any comparable "company" of white miners who tended to bicker and piss and moan about who shared less (or more) of the workload. Unlike many Anglo miners, the Chinese went at things with a vengeance born of poverty, struggle, and familiarity with hardship. Finally, Chinese miners were meticulous. They literally left no stone unturned, nor were they daunted when the going got rough or seemed to have no solution. They always found a way to get at the gold, no matter what. And, truth be told, very little gold on the "played out" ground they worked escaped their attention.
(The Chinese were no strangers to hard work and hardship.)
It's Never "Played Out"
Now all this doesn't mean there weren't hard-working and capable Anglo, Hispanic, and Black miners out there. There were of course. Thousands of them. And their accomplishments in the early American goldfields still shine brightly today. But in a sense we're dealing with apples and oranges here. To put it simply, the Chinese were some of the best gold miners to ever come down the pike. They could set themselves down on "played out" ground and make it pay again and again and again. That's why you've heard me say in the past when I identify or come across an area or location the Chinese worked I'm not even motivated to break out my gold pan. But this too is a fallacy on my part. Here's the real point of all this. NO gold ground is completely "played out." Ever. Chinese miners or no Chinese miners.
Here's the Proof
Here's the proof of that last statement. Long after the Gold Rush Argonauts and the early Chinese miners had crossed over that last divide, desperate men and women returned to work "played out" ground all across the United States. This was probably true as well in Australia, Canada, and other countries at the time. What brought this new migration back to long-forgotten goldfields was economic depression...the Great Depression. Tired of handouts and soup lines, and low-paying menial jobs where hundreds of applicants shoved and fought each other to get to the head of the line, a new generation of would-be miners was born, the "down-n'-outers" of the 1930s. Some of these were the "Okies" and "Arkies" of the Dust Bowl Era, salt-of-the earth folks who saw their farms (tenant or otherwise) shrivel up and die under years of relentless sun and skies filled with blowing dust from the lack of rain and land mismanagement. My own mother's family were Dust Bowl "Okies" who left Oklahoma looking for work and a future in the San Joaquin Valley of California where they lived in a government camp (a "Hooverville") and picked fruit until better times came. So I know of which I speak. The migrants of that era were treated poorly...like the Chinese had been in earlier times and if you doubt me study your history or read John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Those were hard times, very hard times. And no small number of these new migrants turned their attention to "played out" gold ground where they eked out a living through small-scale gold mining. Read the classic book Bacon and Beans From a Gold Pan, by Jess and Dot Coffey to get a good idea of what it was like to return to "played out" ground and survive during this period.
It's Still There
So take it with a grain of salt when some know-it-all or self-proclaimed expert smirks and tells you with finality that ground you're looking to work is "played out." Just nod your head and say, "Thanks for the tip." Then get your butt to working that ground. Why? Because the old timers and even the Chinese didn't get it all. There's still yellow scattered around or even a few nuggets and a pocket or paystreak or two on that "played out" ground. Maybe even more. But it's going to take a bit of knowledge and some hard work to put it into your poke.
(It's still there...somewhere.)
That much you can count on...
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org