What Would You Do With a Million in Hand?
An old-time gold prospector and miner was once asked what he would do if he suddenly had a million dollars. His reply? "I'd keep prospecting for gold until the money ran out." This bit of mining philosophy forms the core of this post so let's kick things around a bit.
Idiot or Hero?
This old timer's statement seems patently absurd at first glance. To those folks who have never searched or dug for gold it probably appears to be just plain crazy, the incoherent ramblings of an addled old man who's spent too much time in the hot sun. Perhaps. But if you've been at this small-scale gold prospecting and mining thing for a while, I think you understand what this old timer is saying and it's something that relates to all of us. Yes, finding gold is nice, but the bottom line is the looking for it. The search. Trying to tease Ma Nature's wealth right out from under her nose, if you like. I know myself that I wouldn't lose my love of small-scale prospecting and mining if I had a cool million in folding green in my gnarled-up hands. Nope. But by the same token I surely wouldn't spend it all searching for lost mines or buying some big commercial claim replete with all the heavy equipment, big-boy Tonka trucks, and wash plants like those reality TV stars some of you watch each week. I'm just not a commercial miner and never will be. That may make me an idiot or a hero...take your pick. Either way, another's view of me is, well, none of my business.
"Full of Free Gold"
One of the best old-time, single-blanket jackass prospectors who ever came down the pike was Shorty Harris. I've written about Shorty in the past here in Bedrock Dreams, but this is a good time to bring his name up again because Shorty exemplified the core of that other old timer's quote at the beginning of this post. You know, the one about what he'd do with a million dollars. Even those who didn't particularly care for Shorty (he was a drinker and a non-stop talker who could wear on you after a bit) agreed that he was the best gold prospector they'd ever seen. Shorty had a nose for the gold, you see. And he proved this time and time and time again in the desert regions of Nevada and the Death Valley area of California. Anyway, in 1904 Shorty and his pard Ed Cross were prospecting in the area where the old silver and gold mining towns of Beatty, Rhyolite, and Goldfield, Nevada still stand when he swung his pick into an exposed ledge that could have changed his life (and Ed's) forever:
"We packed the four burros and struck out together with some other prospectors who had joined in the Keane Wonder Rush. Some of the boys went to Thorp's and some to Tokop, but when we came to Daylight Springs I told Cross I had passed up a country some time before, and as it looked good to me, we would go back to it. We came on to Buck Springs."
"Next morning we started west. Cross started down to the little hill to the south and I went over to the blowout. I found lots of quartz all over the hill and started to break it with my pick. Cross hadn't moved over 400 feet away when I called him back. I had run against a boulder and I called out, 'Come back, we've got it!'"
"The quartz was just full of free gold and it was the original genuine green Bullfrog rock. Talk about rich! Why, gee whiz, it was great! We took the stuff back to the spring and panned it, and we certainly went straight up. The very first boulder was as rich in gold as anything I had ever seen."
(Top image shows a chunk of the original "Bullfrog" ore.)
A Million in Hand
So Shorty and Ed Cross went on to become the first claim owners of one of the richest lode mines in the area, the Bullfrog Mine (named after the dark green coloration of the mineralized quartz it contained). But Shorty was never one to hang around and develop a claim, even if it was as rich as King Midas's treasure room. After some preliminary work on his claim, Shorty cashed out his holdings for a pittance (as did Ed Cross, I believe) and went back to prospecting the desert. He was 47 at the time, in excellent health, and champing at the bit to get back out in the desert to find another strike. The Bullfrog Mine went on to produce millions of dollars in gold over the years, even into the open-pit mining operations there in modern times. Shorty and Ed had their million (or millions) in hand, but they walked away from all that wealth and used the relatively small amount of money they gained from selling their holdings to search for gold elsewhere.
(Shorty Harris [right] and a friend out in the desert sometime in the 1920s.)
Nothing Else Mattered
Was Shorty Harris crazy? Perhaps. But he only desired enough money to keep him going in his constant drive to find new ledges or blow outs. And to have enough gold to buy drinks for himself and others in the taverns and saloons of the old mining towns he came across in his prospecting travels. Even into his 70s Shorty was out there clambering up desert slopes searching for better, richer veins of gold. He was still tough, one of the last of his breed, the single-blanket jackass (or burro) prospector whose sole focus was finding the gold at the bottom of the next rainbow. He wasn't in it for wealth, or status, or power. He was born poor, lived poor, and eventually died poor. But he lived the life that made him happy. Nothing else really mattered. What did Shorty Harris do with a potential million dollars? He kept prospecting for gold until the small amount of money he gleaned from the Bullfrog (and his time) ran out. Insane was he? I guess that depends on your definition of insanity.
(Shorty in his latter years.)
I may be reaching a bit here, but I think Shorty Harris and that old timer I quoted at the beginning of this post were both working from the same wavelength. Money to them was a means, not an end. Perhaps they both understood that the attraction of wealth and the accumulation of "things" was ephemeral and transitory. That those were chains that bound you, not freed you. And sometimes the freedom to do and think as you like is much more liberating than buying your way through life.
Then again, maybe I'm the crazy one.
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org