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Lost California Treasure: An Interview With Author W. Craig Gaines
Tales of California’s hidden treasures and lost mines span the state from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sunken cargo from the steamship Brother Jonathon is rumored to still be out there, awaiting discovery, as is the location of the famous lost Breyfogle Mine. Outlaws like Three Finger Jack and Joaquin Murrieta were said to have stashed their loot while evading law enforcement, and Sir Francis Drake’s English pirates buried treasures all along the coast. Deep underground and underwater, a bounty awaits for some lucky prospector. Join author W. Craig Gaines as he unearths stories of legendary and historic lost treasures yet to be found in the Golden State.
W. Craig Gaines is the author of several books, including Civil War Gold and Other Lost Treasures, Lost Oklahoma Treasure and Lost Texas Treasure. Craig has been interested in lost treasure ever since seeing the film Treasure Island when he was very young. He has written lost treasure stories for a variety of treasure hunting magazines. Craig is an engineer, geologist and writer who has been in many of the areas mentioned in this work. He currently resides with his wife, Arla, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Craig, we are so excited to have you here at Crime Capsule. Thank you so much for joining us.
Craig Gaines (00:08):
Well, thank you very much for asking me.
Benjamin Morris (00:12):
Now, this is going to kind of sound a little funny right off the jump, but I'm just going to go for it. You have had a very long career in (and I'm not making this up), lost treasure studies. Tell us about lost treasure studies, and did your friends growing up just call you Indiana Jones?
Craig Gaines (00:33):
Not really, but again, back in the year when I was in junior high school, I found a magazine called Lost Treasures that was being published. And at the time, metal detectors were becoming commercially available to people, and they were cheap enough that everybody started buying them. And being in Oklahoma, I ended up buying a cheap metal detector, and I was kind of hooked after you dig up a couple of coins and in schoolyards and other things.
Craig Gaines (01:07):
So, ever since then, I've been collecting information on lost treasure, and I've spent a lot of time out in the boonies looking at ghost towns and old forts and battlefields and areas where people would lose money, like parks, et cetera.
Craig Gaines (01:30):
So, I just got hooked on the experience. And also, there was a lot of western lore that came out in my youth, the movies and everything. So basically, for a long time I've been collecting information, and again, I've had the pleasure of living in several different places and traveling a lot. So, that really helps get a feel for this area.
Benjamin Morris (02:06):
It's kind of like fishing, isn't it? I mean, you never know what you're going to catch, but you show up with your rod and you got a little bit of knowledge of where some of these fish might be lurking. And if you set your instrument to the right sort of frequency or tensile strength, say, you might just pull something up out of that water and or dirt.
Benjamin Morris (02:31):
So, I mean, tell me, what is the most interesting thing that you personally have ever discovered?
Craig Gaines (02:42):
I think it's probably some civil war bullets, just on battlefields, because more than a hundred years ago, some guy was being shot at and shooting at people, and he dropped a bullet in the process. And when you find it, it's like, you're the first one to touch it since the 1860s, 1863 or 1862. So, to me that's being in touch with history and people.
Benjamin Morris (03:21):
Yeah. Growing up in Mississippi, we had a couple of collectors in the area who had come across mini balls and that sort of thing. And they're very proud of what they had found in different battlefields and so forth. Do those actually ping on your metal detector? The mini balls?
Craig Gaines (03:37):
They do. Because I mean, it's lead, but I think lead can cause a magnetic distortion. But normally it's just metal that you detect with a metal detector. So, anything that distorts the magnetic field.
Benjamin Morris (04:04):
Well, it is such a thrill to think about all the different elements that are still under the ground, because your entire book is centered on this notion of how much gold there still is out in California after hundreds and hundreds of years of people prospecting, digging, mining, searching, exploring, mapping, and yet so much is still out there.
Benjamin Morris (04:34):
So, tell us, I mean, you've worked on a lot of Lost Treasure books, but how did the California volume come to be?
Craig Gaines (04:40):
Again, I lived out in California for I think 17 years. I've worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and so I've been up and down all the rivers in California, in the Central Valley.
Craig Gaines (04:57):
And again, I would go on weekends visiting a lot of these spots I talk about and collect information, take pictures. And a lot of it to me is just the adventure of seeing something that used to be there, that was a little grander than it is now.
Craig Gaines (05:19):
Or ruins indicating, people had been there a long time and then they're gone and everything else is gone. A lot of these little ghost towns and ghosts and mining camps and the foothills, you can see the footings and remnants of where the town used to be.
Benjamin Morris (05:43):
You describe this kind of interesting tension in your book between the deposits that were sort of known to be good veins, good loads, that anyone could work and kind of get in there and come up with some nuggets or some flakes or that sort of thing.
Benjamin Morris (06:00):
But then you also describe the way in which these towns would spring up around deposits that would move, that the gold actually moves. And people don't realize that, do they? I mean, that's not quite as commonly understood.
Craig Gaines (06:14):
Well, most of the early mining was in gravel, in sand, from eroded rocks in the Sierra Nevada mountains. And in the mountains, you would have veins of gold and it would be eroded, and it would go downstream into the valley. And so, as you go farther from the source of the eroded gold, the size of the rocks or nuggets got smaller and smaller.
Craig Gaines (06:49):
And when they found gold at Sutter's Mill, John Marshall did by accident. It was a really little, tiny piece of gold. And it started the gold rush, and it changed California overnight. It went from kind of a sleepy raising cattle, raising crops type of state to hundreds of thousands of people came in trying their luck.
Craig Gaines (07:22):
And back then it was a new state. I mean, it wasn't a new state, it was a new territory. And so, they didn't really have a government set up to handle this influx of people. But the mining initially was in this gravel below the mountains in the Central Valley, and they quickly washed through that.
Craig Gaines (07:47):
And then they moved upstream and ended up with hydraulic mining and drift mining or tunnels, and to actually locate the source of the eroded gold, which is in veins. And again, the geology's pretty complicated. They have faults and movement of rocks. And of course, California has lots of earthquakes, and that's indicative of the rocks moving over time.
Benjamin Morris (08:23):
Well, let me ask you, you have a compendium here. I mean, your book is almost like a, I thought of it kind of like an atlas almost of every lost deposit, every abandoned dig site, every burned cabin which once maybe held the guy who knew where the mother lode was.
Benjamin Morris (08:50):
Or the map scrolled on the cedar planks or what have you, there's up and down the coast and up and down this Sierra Nevadas. I mean, you have hundreds of these sites that you have charted.
Benjamin Morris (09:06):
It is an extraordinary read because it's just one after another. You realize the extent of how many folks were out there prospecting for so long.
Benjamin Morris (09:20):
So, how did you compile all of these?
Craig Gaines (09:31):
Well again, there have been people before me that compiled a lot of the information. And again, and some of it's legend, and some of it is factual. And so, I try to sort through legend and factual and come up with what likely happened.
Craig Gaines (09:53):
And so, I spent a lot of time reading Lost Treasure articles, and I wrote a number of Lost Treasure articles. I ended up writing, I think, what was it? I've written over a hundred articles, and most of them are on lost treasure. So, in doing the articles, I would do research, and a lot of it was on the ground, I've actually been to the spot that I'm writing about.
Benjamin Morris (10:36):
Let me ask you this. So, last week we had, um, Dr. Alan Brown, who's a professor in Alabama (and sort of noted folklorist and expert on local legends), speak to us about very unusual phenomenon, mysterious occurrences across American South.
Benjamin Morris (10:51):
And he says that there is always a sifting process when you encounter a legend versus something that has sort of the seeds of a fact in it, or a document which can be examined or a photograph, which is actually a credible image of an unusual phenomenon.
Benjamin Morris (11:10):
So, I'm curious, as you were working through this copious amount of material, some of it absolutely is just rumor, it's just hearsay. Some of these entries in your book are just; there was an old minor who said that he had dug something up, but he couldn't remember where. And it's sort of you are obliged as a researcher, of course, to note where you learned the thing.
Benjamin Morris (11:37):
But beyond that, the information is not necessarily very good. Other cases are extremely well documented.
Craig Gaines (11:43):
Benjamin Morris (11:43):
My question for you is, what is your test? So, do you have a sort of a rubric by which you judge these accounts?
Craig Gaines (11:57):
Well, usually I look at the time and I'm wondering, okay, is this guy fishing for somebody to give him a grub steak, so he can go back and look for a mine? And I think some of those, that's the case.
Craig Gaines (12:13):
In a few cases, like finding gold on the shore of a mountain lake, a lot of people have been to the mountain lake, and they didn't see gold. And I think, well, it's probably mica, mica's thin and it reflects light, and so, it kind of looks like gold when it's in the water until you pick it up and it breaks apart.
Craig Gaines (12:42):
But part of it's just thinking about the geology, and I've got background in geology, so I'm always thinking like a geologist as I'm looking at lost mine stories. And also- it depends on the sources, whether they're credible or not. And again, with newspaper articles, they're not always right. Some of them are written in small papers, more like a novel, just I've got a deadline, I need to put something in here. And they put some strange stuff in there occasionally.
Craig Gaines (13:30):
But you look for multiple sources, really, about the same time. Or look at researchers that have written extensively about it, lost mine. And then you're trying to figure out, okay, there's six versions of this, which are the most likely? And that's difficult.
Benjamin Morris (13:57):
Yeah, it is. And especially when you're dealing with, well over 150 years of distance between you and even the first account, much less the account that changes in the telling.
Benjamin Morris (14:11):
Let me ask you, I noticed a structure, kind of a common pattern in your accounts of these hundreds of different sites up and down California, that the basic pattern seems to be this, gold is found, gold is then hidden. The found gold is then sort of concealed or disguised in some way.
And then something happens. There's a sort of variable of X that enters into the narrative, at that point. We're going to talk about what those are, but after X, X happens, and then the site is lost.
Craig Gaines (14:52):
Benjamin Morris (14:54):
And every now and then you'll have a site get recovered. Usually, it's only partially. Right?
Craig Gaines (15:01):
Benjamin Morris (15:02):
It's very rare that it's kind of the whole mother lode, so to speak. But as you were researching these, I mean, how long was it before you began to sort of notice this pattern yourself? Because then you start looking for the deviations, don't you? The deviations are the interesting ones.
Craig Gaines (15:21):
Yeah. I mean, again, you get into folklore and how people tell stories, and it's like fish stories. Sometimes the fish keeps getting bigger every time they tell a story.
Craig Gaines (15:35):
But it's just human nature as you're examining these various stories of lost gold and treasure. And there's a whole bunch of them. And especially there were a number of magazines about the desert, the California desert, and traveling in the desert in the 50s and 60s.
Craig Gaines (16:03):
And that's where some of these stories came out because they had writers in the area and they were going out on weekends, looking for minerals. It may not always be gold, but they were keeping their eyes open for whatever minerals they could lay claim on, because most of the lands are government lands, government owned lands.
Craig Gaines (16:26):
And things were pretty flexible back then as far as filing mining claims, because you didn't worry too much about the environmental research and filings you have to do now on government lands to exploit them.
Benjamin Morris (16:49):
It's interesting, it sounds like there is almost a genre then of kind of treasure seekers or treasure writers in the American mid-century in the sort of right after World War II, these folks who are going out and creating the type of story that then eager young magazine readers such as ourselves would kind of pick up on.
Benjamin Morris (17:12):
So, you have the incident, then you have in say the 1840s or the 1860s. Then you have the kind of the shrouding of the incident in obfuscation, in mystery to protect the treasure itself. Then you have things kind of dying out over time. Then you have somebody resuscitating the narrative and then it reaches you. I mean, how many layers, how many filters have we placed on it by this point?
Craig Gaines (17:42):
Right. And what happened in World War II is they shut down all the gold mines and they never reopened them. And especially the mines in tunnels, the underground mines, because you have to pump water out or the water comes in and fills up the mine. And it just kind of killed the mining industry at that point.
Craig Gaines (18:08):
And then as gold prices changed, now we have extremely high gold prices. But back in the 1850s it was like $21 an ounce, which was a lot of money back then compared to $21 today.
Craig Gaines (18:27):
But there was a period when people didn't do any gold mining per se, but after big rains like, I think this winter there's been a lot of rain in California, so I'm sure the scuba divers and gold panners are up in the Sierra hunting for gold that's been carried down in the last deluge. And it's kind of episodic like that where you have flowing streams.
Craig Gaines (18:59):
But where you have dry wash in the desert, it's a different type of small-scale mining because there you don't have the water.
Benjamin Morris (19:11):
Well yeah. If you hear from any of those panners or divers, finding anything, just let us know because we'd be curious to hear what turns up.
Benjamin Morris (19:24):
Now let me ask you, I want to dive in a little bit to this mysterious variable of X that comes up in the patterns of the stories, the thing that happens that causes the site to be lost. And I have like a little laundry list of ones that I pulled out of your book which I'd like to kind of run through item by item. We're going to talk about specific cases-
Benjamin Morris (19:45):
And specific digs here in a minute. But I want to just kind of stay on the global pressures for a second. Because I think it's really interesting how these variables affect people all up and down the Coast over and over again. And it's almost kind of comical how you encounter them.
Craig Gaines (20:03):
Benjamin Morris (20:04):
So frequently you'd think somebody would prepare for them. But anyway, so the first one that can cause a site to be lost is very understandable. It's memory. Sometimes a prospector will find a site and dig something up, come back and tell his family about it, go back and conceal it and then he won't remember where it was.
Craig Gaines (20:27):
Benjamin Morris (20:28):
How often does that happen?
Craig Gaines (20:30):
I mean, back then I think it's pretty common, especially if there was a year or two between visits, because the Sierra had a lot of forests at one point, and a lot of those were cut down for mining purposes to build sluices and things like that.
Craig Gaines (20:51):
And so, if you had a tree that's a marker or a trail, you go back, and everything's changed. Plus, in California you can have these heavy rains that wash little trails away and change the landscape and things like that.
Craig Gaines (21:08):
So, I don't think it's that unusual. And even when I've gone back to some sites over time, it's like, is this where I was before? It looks a little different. And a lot of these minors, again, they get sick, they're out in the desert or they're in the mountains and they get disoriented.
Craig Gaines (21:32):
I mean, just think of when you're sick and if you're having to go someplace, it's not as easy to find. And if you're really sick and walking and your mules run off with all your food, you're in trouble. So, I find those stories plausible for the most part, especially when they have a ore sample that's rich and-
Craig Gaines (21:57):
And then you say, yeah, they ran across something and now the question is where was it?
Benjamin Morris (22:04):
Right. They didn't come back with a couple of flakes. They actually have a good size nugget in their hand.
Craig Gaines (22:08):
Benjamin Morris (22:08):
Or like a sack full of nuggets or that sort of thing.
Craig Gaines (22:13):
Benjamin Morris (22:13):
That's really interesting. I couldn't help but wonder whether there might have also been a little bit of that old California firewater involved, which is you find your mother lode, you drink yourself to oblivion celebrating either on the spot or back at home. And then because of that you can't really remember exactly where you were. Weren't a whole lot of rules on that back in the day.
Craig Gaines (22:41):
No. And again, it's pretty easy to get lost, especially if you're not experienced. And a lot of the early prospectors and miners were greenhorns, they weren't familiar with mining. In fact, in the United States, the only gold mining really that had taken place was in Georgia on the Cherokee, Indian lands in North Carolina and that area.
Craig Gaines (23:07):
And so, it was all new to them. They had to learn the trade and they had to work hard, et cetera, in order to try to be a successful minor. And-
Craig Gaines (23:24):
And most of them again weren't trained in geology, and geology in the 1850s was in its infancy. So, they didn't have a lot of geologic maps or schools to learn the trade.
Benjamin Morris (23:40):
Yeah. Related to memory is just time, time itself, and not necessarily having a bad memory that would lead you to forget where your site was. But the landform itself shifts, and as you say, erosion can play a major role just in a year or two, you can have a completely different land form or topology than you would have when you first went out there.
Benjamin Morris (24:05):
How frequently in your research did you come across just these kinds of scenarios where somebody actually kind of did the work of making the best notes that they could or trying to remember, but just that terrain had shifted and then they couldn't relocate it and it wasn't their fault.
Craig Gaines (24:25):
Right. I think it's pretty common. And plus, they had so much mining that took place and they would change riverbeds, they would divert riverbeds because when the river comes out of the mountains, it forms a little delta and the channels change from time to time. And so, you end up with deposits in the current stream, an old stream, a real old stream and maybe an ancient stream.
Craig Gaines (24:53):
And just by moving all that water around, everything's different. Yeah. I mean, they'll erode tremendous amounts of soil. In fact, they caused a lot of flooding in the Central Valley. And I was involved with the California Debris Commission, which when I was with the Corps of Engineers, and that was to dam up some of this debris coming into the valley. I mean, it was just billions of tons of soils. So, it was a big thing. Everything changed.
Benjamin Morris (25:32):
So, the antithesis to water that you describe of course is fire.
Craig Gaines (25:37):
Benjamin Morris (25:38):
And fire is a major factor in causing sites to be lost or to be transfigured in a way. And it was interesting as I was reading your account, I mean, you write that cabin fires in particular are not only deadly to their occupants, but they are potentially deadly to an entire hillside or to an entire swath of a county, aren't they?
Craig Gaines (26:06):
They are. And again, having lived in California, they have these huge fires and then a lot of times it's really windy, you have wind coming over the mountains and as the wind drops into the valley, it heats up and it increases in velocity.
Craig Gaines (26:30):
So, once you have one of these foothill fires, it's really hard to put out and it'll burn hundreds of thousands of acres sometimes. So, and again, that all changes the landscape because as soon as the trees are burned down, you end up with rain and then hillsides collapse, and you end up with a lot of erosion and everything looks different.
Benjamin Morris (26:58):
Yep. Wherever you planted your flag or put your marker on that particular sycamore or whatever it might have been, it's like you're so much for that. You'll never find it at that point.
Benjamin Morris (27:10):
Now on the darker side of things, our Crime Capsule listeners, of course we love a good scarless tale of mischief and malady. And before we get to the granddaddy of them, I can't help but notice that there's plenty of accounts of deceit. I mean, you just have people lying to one another or lying to their families or one individual will find a site, share it with a supposedly trusted comrade or co prospector.
Benjamin Morris (27:43):
And then of course that doesn't turn out very well. I mean, just deceit as a factor in causing mines to be lost and digs to be lost. It seems to be everywhere.
Craig Gaines (27:54):
It does. It's kind of like the old movie Treasure of Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. You end up with a group going out and they've luck into something and then they get greedy and suspicious.
Craig Gaines (28:07):
And a lot of these characters out looking for riches, they didn't want to go back home broke, though most of them did. They wanted to acquire wealth one way or another. And even if it meant getting rid of some of their friends or cohorts in the process.
Benjamin Morris (28:34):
That brings up the fact that … I'm going to make a small claim here, Craig. I'm going to go out on a little bit of a limb and maybe some of our listeners can correct me on this. But I don't think I'm wrong in saying so. I believe that your book Lost California Treasure may have the single greatest number of murders of any book that we have featured on Crime Capsule to date in our two years.
Benjamin Morris (29:10):
I mean, it is incredible. Everybody is going around killing each other in the California badlands. It is absolutely extraordinary. We're not talking every page; we're talking every other paragraph.
Craig Gaines (29:27):
Benjamin Morris (29:28):
Somebody is getting a mining pick in the back, or a belly full of lead, or their throats slit in the middle of the night when they're out prospect. I started counting and I stopped after about 30. I just had to let it go.
Craig Gaines (29:45):
Right, yeah. And again, you end up with desperate people and the cost of everything was astronomical compared to normal costs because we had all these people come in from Mexico and Australia and Great Britain and the U.S.
Craig Gaines (30:05):
And at the time, a lot of them didn't speak English. And California at that time, Spanish was the main language spoken. You had all the Anglos come in. So, there were just a lot of desperate people. Plus, some people figured out it was easier to steal gold than mine gold.
Benjamin Morris (30:30):
Imagine, imagine that.
Craig Gaines (30:32):
And they took the path of least resistance. And if you read accounts written by some of the 49ers or people out in the 1850s, there was a lot of murder and mayhem going on. And they didn't really have a judicial system that worked. They didn't really have sheriffs.
Craig Gaines (30:53):
It was a lot of possies and sometimes they hung the wrong person. I mean, and again, there's a lot of drinking going on and there's not very much influence from churches and women because they're almost all men that went out there.
Craig Gaines (31:15):
And so, you end up with a lot of bloodshed and people having disagreements and turning to guns. And again, in some ways we still have some of these same problems today. It's just they're not fighting over gold.I think we have a romantic view of the 49ers and the gold rush of this sort of, hey, let's all go out there. We'll pick up steaks and we'll go, and we'll make our fortune and we'll have this new life and it'll be great.
Benjamin Morris (31:54):
Once I began really diving into the realities of the experience as your book outlines, especially the fact that you could not trust anybody when you were out there. I just realized, no, I don't think that I want to go and be a 49er anymore.
Benjamin Morris (32:15):
You wouldn't sleep, you would be up all night just waiting for somebody to stab you in the back. Any earnings, any riches that you did find would be in immediate peril from the moment that you found them to the moment that you sold them. And then even after you sold them and got your cash in hand, well, you're still just a walking target after that point. I mean, it's a really dicey endeavor from the get-go.
Craig Gaines (32:40):
It is. And again, a lot of people didn't get rich, some made some money, and they returned home. We had Cherokee Indians from Oklahoma mining there and some of them came back. And they actually had gold and they cashed in their winnings from that time period.
Craig Gaines (33:00):
But it was a brutal existence in the gold fields. It really was. And most of them came out with groups of relatives and friends, and so they were watching each other's back. But if you were a single minor, you were in peril if you found something.
Benjamin Morris (33:22):
Yeah. Alright. Let me ask you about two more definitions of this variable X that causes sites to be lost here as far as kind of threads running through your book. One of them, which is sort of entertaining and kind of sad all at once. But also, if you think about literacy levels in those days, it's very understandable. Something that can very frequently cause a site to be lost is bad maps. Folks just are not great at map making in those days.
Benjamin Morris (33:53):
And it's not much better than a piece of canvas with some wavy lines and an X somewhere, is it? It's kind of like, come on guys, surely you could do better than this? Well maybe they couldn't.
Craig Gaines (34:04):
Well, and it depends on what kind of material. I mean, some of them are educated and could write and do things like that. But again, a lot of them were just people down on their luck and they thought California's the place to go because they have a lot of gold and I'm going to go get some.
Craig Gaines (34:26):
But yeah, making maps. And again, today we don't think about maps too much because we have all this GPS and surveys and everything else. But back then there were very few surveys done in the Spanish period and not a lot of surveyors later on.
Craig Gaines (34:49):
So, and these people came out there, they didn't know bear creek from dry creek, and there's like 17 dry creeks, I think in California. And there's a number of bear creeks. And a lot of these creeks didn't really have names in English.
Craig Gaines (35:08):
I mean, they might have had a Spanish name or an Indian name, but which creek do you mean? And they all kind of looked the same at some point in time, in the foothills. So, I think having maps is kind of difficult, especially out in the field.
Benjamin Morris (35:29):
You've reminded me of the first time that I ever went to Atlanta and had to find an address on Peachtree Boulevard. Well, you can guess what that particular little expedition looked like. And it's a wonder that I'm still not driving around the downtown area there to this day.
Benjamin Morris (35:50):
So, the last one that I want to ask you about, which in a way it's just the most tragic of them all, as the poets say, time in the worm devour all. So, memory happens. Okay, sure. Memories fad. Fire that could be accident or deliberate, we see that sort of thing. Murder, it's just expected.
Benjamin Morris (36:13):
But the last one that causes a sight to be lost, I don't know, just my heartstrings got a little plucked there. It's bad luck.
Craig Gaines (36:20):
Benjamin Morris (36:20):
Just sheer plain, dumb, bad luck can lead somebody to either lose their holdings or just whatever it is. And you just think, man, you did everything right out there. You read these prospectors and they did everything right and then just like this one tiny little thing goes wrong that's not under their control. And then they lose it all.
Craig Gaines (36:44):
Yeah. I mean, and people feel the same today. It's like, well gee, I almost made it. I did everything and the economy changed, or something changed and all of a sudden it's a disaster.
Craig Gaines (37:05):
And again, I get back to that's part of human nature. You have all these risks that you don't have any control over, and then suddenly something happens, and everything goes down the drain. And if you're a minor and you get sick and you're stumbling, you're going to die if you stay there.
Craig Gaines (37:29):
So, somebody rescues you or you find your way to some little nearby settlement, 10 or 15 miles away. You may not be able to find your way back or you may die and tell your story to whoever's trying to take care of you. And then they go look for it.
Craig Gaines (37:48):
And there's a lot of cases of that where they tell a doctor or a kindly person that's looking after them about their gold mine, but the directions aren't very good.
Benjamin Morris (38:02):
The maps are bad and the memory's worse. And it's just kind of a lost cause.
Craig Gaines (38:06):
It is. It is.
Benjamin Morris (38:10):
Well, that is a perfect segue into the first case that I want to ask you about. And we'll look at this case this week and when we come back next week, we'll look at a whole bunch more.
Benjamin Morris (38:20):
But you have this great account early in your book of a guy named John Snowshoe Thompson.
Craig Gaines (38:29):
Benjamin Morris (38:34):
Gentleman. He was not born in this country. He had immigrated to the States in the early 1800s. And it just struck me, I wanted to give Snowshoe Thompson his due because in your entire encyclopedic account of lion burning, murdering and more murdering, this is like one of the few truly good guys.
Benjamin Morris (38:57):
I mean, he actually was a kind of a good Samaritan in the mining community, or at least in that region of California. And I just wanted to put him out there to let the exception prove the rule, I suppose, and say, we did have one decent bloke, as they say. So, tell us about Snowshoe Thompson.
Craig Gaines (39:20):
Well, he immigrated to the U.S. with his family. And at an early age, he was an adventurer type. So, he went to California during the gold rush or slightly after the gold rush started. He didn't do very good at mining, but he did good in farming or ranching.
Craig Gaines (39:40):
And in the winters there, they couldn't get over the mountains to have go back east to their families. And so, his side business was he had snowshoes or skis, they called them snowshoes, but probably a combination of snowshoes and skis.
Craig Gaines (40:00):
And he would get money from people in the Central Valley or California on the other side of the Sierra Nevada. He would go over the mountains to Reno, the Reno area, and he'd hand over the mail to the stages and then they would transport the mail back east, and then he would get mail there and go over the mountains and deliver it to various people in California.
Craig Gaines (40:31):
Otherwise, it would have to go by ship around the Cape of, what is it? The Cape of Good Hope. Anyway, go around South America by steamship and it would take forever. So, it was a lot quicker.
Craig Gaines (40:46):
And I see him as kind of a benevolent every man except that he had extraordinary courage to go over the mountains. But again, he was Norwegian by birth, so yeah. And he helped people and people appreciated it. He had a very good reputation.
Benjamin Morris (41:09):
And there was one gentleman you write about named Jim Sisson,
Benjamin Morris (41:14):
Who actually was quite badly stranded. And Snowshoe comes along and finds him and quite literally saves his life.
Craig Gaines (41:24):
Benjamin Morris (41:24):
Through his heroism.
Craig Gaines (41:26):
Yeah. And again, if you're a loner, minor, prospector, and you get in trouble like he did, you're going to die unless somebody comes along and helps you. And again, there's a couple of variations in the story about Snowshoe Thompson, whether he knew where the guy's gold was that he buried, or whether the guy actually took some of the gold with him.
Craig Gaines (41:58):
But again, when you're traveling and you're about dead, money's the last thing you worry about because you're just trying to survive. And so, there's a good chance I think that some of his gold is still up in the mountains, but it's not where you would normally look for gold, because the gold in that part of the Sierra is absent.
Craig Gaines (42:22):
But he was just heading back east with his riches, and he ran into trouble. And again, Snowshoe Thompson, once he got him into the Reno area, went over the mountains to get, I think it was chloroform so they could do the operation and amputate the guy's legs.
Craig Gaines (42:47):
I mean, this is hard stuff. I mean, in the West, you think how hard everything was back then because they didn't have antibiotics, they didn't have good communications. And they had burrows and horses and it's not like a car. You got to feed it. The burrows and horses are unruly at times. They'll run off. There's a lot of moving parts to be successful as a prospector.
Benjamin Morris (43:25):
Well, we will dig in, forgive me, but we will dig into some more of those incidences next week.
Benjamin Morris (43:32):
Thank you so much, Craig, for giving us this incredibly insightful overview of just what it was like to do this work and how much is unappreciated by folks today. The realities, the pressures, the perils, the murders, all these sorts of things. It's fascinating to hear about it.
Benjamin Morris (43:52):
So, we'll come right back here next week and we're going to go underwater. We're going to go over the mountains, we're going to go into the high desert. We're going to go all over California as we chase up some of these sites. So, we'll look forward to it. Thank you.