Stoddard’s Gold

Stoddard’s Gold

 

Stoddard needs men to help him find a lake of gold nuggets high in the mountains. Micah Poole joins him in spite of hostile Indians in the area. But rabid gold seekers pursue them, led by a man named Rauch who hates Stoddard, and when they find themselves trapped between the Indians and Rauch their situation becomes deadly.

 

 

Tales of a lake full of gold sent great numbers of men scrambling into the wild, rugged mountains above Downieville.

 

An old, all too familiar voice haranguing a small knot of drunken miners outside a riverside grog shop caught my ear as I hurried back to my home. I’d long thought him dead, and he looked near to it, beard wild and gray, eyes sunk deep inside a face with cheeks as bilious as any corpse. Busy men rushed past him without a glance but I stopped, just as I had three years ago. Today, here at the junction of the Yuba and Feather Rivers, Marysville had boomed as a supply center for the gold mines upstream, and I’d become an important part of that growth, all because of Stoddard.

After mining along the American River near Greenwood Creek that first winter, and doing quite well until our claim finally played out, Anderson and I had opted to move north in hopes of finding an even more productive spot. We’d heard rumors of big strikes near the Yuba River; so in late May we’d arrived in Nevada City, just another gold boom mushroom town called Deer Creek Diggings in those days. I’d left Caldwell’s Store heading for the Bella Union where a French lady was supposedly dealing twenty-one when I first saw him. He stood out front, a smattering of drunken miners around him much like today, except back then Stoddard had fire in his eyes, grit in his voice, and one of the biggest nuggets I’d ever seen in his hand.

“My name’s Stoddard and this is what I found. Look at it,” he cried, shaking the gold high overhead. “It’s big and coarse, not smooth and small like the gold you mine downstream. Most men think that means it comes from closer to the source, closer to the mother lode. There’s a lake full of nuggets just like this one high up in the mountains and who knows what else is there, but I need help to get it out. Injuns jumped us just after we found these nuggets. We were forced to run for our lives and I haven’t seen my partner since. I think they might’ve killed him. I need twenty-five good men who can shoot straight and aren’t afraid of a scrap. Who here is ready to go? Step up.”

“I’ll go.” It was Anderson, my close companion for the past year. He took a step forward into the circle of men then noticed me. “Come on Micah,” he pled. “This is just what we’re looking for, our big chance to make enough to get a good start in life.”

“But it sounds so risky,” I replied, my mind stuck on Stoddard’s dead partner.

“Yeah, but is it any more risky than the dangerous trip we made together last summer, all the way from St. Joseph across plains, mountains and deserts just to get here?” he pointed out with a bit of heat in his normally well-tempered voice.

“We didn’t have a shooting fight with Indians then,” I replied with my own fire.

Stoddard stepped right into our little dust up. “It ain’t for sure we’ll have a set-to with Injuns. The ones I saw could’ve been a hunting party. They weren’t likely to live near the lake so I reckon they’re long gone from there, but it’s always best to be safe.”

Anderson grinned at me. “See Micah, it’s not so scary now is it?” he said in that cocky way he had.

I shrugged, knowing Anderson had won me over again, but still unsure of the size of the mess I was about to walk into. “Okay, I’ll go, but only because you talked me into it,” I countered; remembering the many things Anderson had convinced me to do since we’d been together. He’d been right more often than not.