"Played Out?" (Part 1)
Miners love to dispense advice. Hell, I'm a classic example of that premise in action! That said, it's always a good idea to learn to differentiate between good advice and advice that isn't so good, or just plain bad. I like to think I dispense good advice but as the old saying goes, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." In this series of posts I'm going to talk about a bit of mining advice that you should do your best to ignore...for the most part, anyway.
It Wasn't Recreation
Let me start by prefacing things a bit. When the old timers set themselves to work a gold location they did so with the idea of making things economically feasible for themselves. In other words, they hoped to strike it rich and failing that were often reduced to mining just enough gold to keep them in beans and bacon. Most old timers failed to hit the "big one" that would've altered their lives economically forever, but the majority were savvy enough to mine enough gold to keep them going. Sometimes that meant abandoning the ground they were on to find better diggings around the next bend or over the next mountain range (the "grass is always greener" mirage). There was no "recreational" gold mining back then...just a grim determination to make things happen and maintain a full belly. Quite a few old timers failed to do even the latter and simply gave up, sold their gear for a pittance, and then booked passage home.
(It wasn't recreation.)
During the great gold strikes of the 19th Century (including those in the United States, Canada, and Australia) virgin ground was plentiful. At least for a short while anyway. Some of these strikes were placer (wet and dry) and some were lode. Not a few contained both since all that placer gold had to have come from somewhere. Early on, most of the old timers skimmed the cream off the top of those finds since the so-called "easy to get" gold was plentiful. When that "easily" accessible gold was gone the more disciplined and patient miners set to work damming up rivers and streams to get at the harder-to reach gold contained therein, or began tunneling ever deeper into mountainsides. Others resorted to washing down entire hillsides with gigantic high-pressure water nozzles called "monitors." Grizzled desert rats covered with fine dust from head-to-foot toiled endlessly under the blazing sun dodging rattlers and scorpions while they operated crude dry washers to winnow that desert gold from sun-scorched gravels. In other words, they did whatever it took to get the gold.
(It's still hot, dry, dusty work.)
Every Speck of Color
Then, of course, the robber barons came along with plenty of capital to buy (or force) out the individual miners and send them packing...one way or the other. Many early claim holders sold out for a pittance of what their claims would eventually yield. Some were bullied, threatened, and yes...even murdered in the process. Those early claims were transformed into mines and those mines became part of a developing industry where technological advances and new equipment was employed in an attempt to wrest every speck of color from placer gravels or rocks that contained the gold. The venture capitalists of the day became very rich men while the miners and prospectors who made the discoveries eked out a living elsewhere. Yes there were a few old timers who were paid off handsomely for giving up their claims and the gold they contained, but even among these fortunate few strong drink and reckless spending ensured they would be destitute at the end of their lives.
(Claims became mines.)
But as with all things in this life, nothing remains the same forever. Even the big mining concerns found themselves on the short end of the stick eventually, as less and less gold was recovered and the return on their investment was no longer economically viable. When the mines shut down so did many of the boom towns that serviced the needs of the men who worked those mines. Once-thriving communities went belly up, sometimes overnight. The gamblers, the con men, the whores, the saloon keepers, the dry goods suppliers...all gone and headed to the next gold boom. The robber barons took their profits and left the the earth riddled with holes and rusting equipment...not to mention tailings piles contaminated with cyanide and other life-threatening poisons. The mines (placer or lode) were declared "played out," the standard assessment of the day that meant the gold was gone. Or was it?
(Bodie is one of the most-well preserved ghost boom towns in the American West.)
Now let's jump forward in time to today. Have you ever had another miner tell you that the spot you are thinking of working is "All worked out?" That there's no gold there? I know I have in my mining career. Many times, as a matter of fact. But I'm not one to readily accept another person's assessment of my opportunities or potential, anytime...anywhere. Nor should you be. Therein lies the true content of this series of posts. And the advice I want to give you? I'll get to that...don't you worry.
Till next time...
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org