By R.L. Roth
Art by Malcolm McClinton
From Black Gate 14, copyright © 2010 by New Epoch Press. All rights Reserved
June 2, 1850
Our Luck has changed again & I write to you in high spirits. Maybe I will get home soon yet. Life here is hard and sometimes you just have to take your good Luck when it comes even if it is bad Luck for somebody else.
It happened only last night. It was myself & the Frenchmen & the Mexicans around the campfire. George was gone off to town for Church in the morning. Anyhow this old man came stumbling down the river bank in the dark. I never met anyone so dissagreeable. He tripped & fell & just layed there on the ground. I said he must be drunk. So we went over & Andre & Pierre got him up & over to our campfire. Me & Hector got the sacks he was carrying & they were right full of Gold! There must have been 30 Pounds of Gold.
This was the sorryest looking Miner I ever seen. We all look like Ruffians but he was thin as a rail & his beard was all shaggy & tangled up with mud & twigs. I don’t think he was as old as he looked. It was hard to tell under all that dirt.
We got some hot coffee & a little Whiskey in him but he woudn’t take no food. Pierre asked where he got all that Gold & he said he & his wife dug it & washed it all a ways upstream. I asked where his wife is but he said you can get your own woman & mind your own bizness. But don’t worry Annie there arn’t any women here to get. So we talked some more & it seems he was up there since Winter & only lately came back down from the hills. But we are already in the hills so he must mean the Mountains. He said he had more Gold hidden away up there. We asked how he was going to Find it again & he said it was none of our bizness. Then he said we were trying to steal his Gold & his wife & we said no we are not & he said he was sorry.
Anyhow it got late & we all went to our beds & the stranger layed down by the fire. But when we got up this morning he was stone dead. I don’t know what killed him. He looked old but he didn’t look sick.
Well then we had to figger out what to do. I said we shoud tell somebody. The Frenchmen wanted to split the Gold between us & Hwan did too but he wanted a bigger share then the rest of us. Hector said we woud look like Robbers & around here Robbers get hung. In the end we buryed it. Hwan still didn’t want to but he lost the vote 4 to 1. Now his wife can have it if she comes for it, or else we will split it later. We buryed the poor Miner too. We were done by the time George got back from Church.
He had 2 other things besides the Gold. He had a map & I suppose it was to find the other Gold that he hid. But it was only a piece of bark with some lines on it & an X. It was no good to us. The other thing is a funny little Statue. He was wearing it around his neck on a strip of leather. We all passed it around & had a good look. It is thumb size & made all of pure Gold. It is a woman with no clothes on. She has wavy hair down her back & slanty eyes like a Chinaman. It is very fine down to the smallest detail, even finger & toe nails. Her head is tilted back & her mouth is open like a baby bird & hollow inside. Her teeth are pointy & stained brown. I don’t know why anyone woud make a statue like that.
Hwan took it & put her around his neck. Andre was going to say something but Hwan just gave him a look & Andre kept his peace. They can fight over it if they want, I don’t care.
Now I have spent so long writing this letter, I better end it & hurry to the post before it leaves.
Remember me in your prayers.
I was too late & missed the post last week anyway. So now it is next Sunday & I am adding to this Letter. Things have been getting better this week even if it’s been strange. On Wensday we decided to look for a new Claim. So we went upstream a few more miles. We were having a little rest from Digging so Hwan went downstream a bit to pee & all of a sudden he let out a yelp. I thought maybe a water snake bit him. But it was just his thumb bleeding & he said Saynoda bit him! By which he means the Statue. He calls it Saynoda Dayodo I think, it is Mexican jibberish & hard to understand. Hector says it means Gold lady. He is always holding that thing in his hand & stroking it & so I’m not suprized he cut his thumb on those sharp teeth. Anyhow we all had a good laugh at him & the Frenchmen made some jokes that I better not write down. Then Hwan’s eyes got all big & he said give me a shovel! So I gave him mine & he started digging right there on the spot. We washed about 3 shovels full & got half an ounce! In 3 days since we have got 6 more pounds of Gold. If our Luck stays good I will be home before harvest & I will pay the Bank & maybe have some left over. I had a dream last night that the Farm was payed off & I had money left to build you a big new house & hire you a servant.
Things have been good at Camp now that we are doing better again. We are all in good spirits. I must close this Letter as I have mending & washing to do yet.
· · ·
June 30, 1850
I got your Letter of May 3rd. I wonder if it takes as long for my Letters to reach you. I am satisfied to know that you are all in good health but I miss you all dearly. I have been very busy & not done my Letter writing. But I have plenty Gold now to come home & pay the Bank. So you can tell Mr. Redmond he needn’t worry no more, he will have his money soon. I reckon I will stay on here a little while longer seeing as things are so good. Hwan & his Gold lady found us 2 more Plassers that are just as rich as that first one. He just pricks his thumb on her teeth & he says she shows him where the Gold is. We have been digging & washing from sunup to sundown. We work half the day on Sundays too save for George. I know it’s breaking the Sabbath but the faster we work the sooner I can be off home.
The collectors came around for the Foren Miners Tax. Hwan & the Frenchmen didn’t want to pay but Hector talked to them & in the end they payed. If I was Foren I woud pay because 20 dollars is a pittance to us now. Hwan wanted to leave anyway but Hector said then he has to give us the Saynoda. So Hwan stayed. But it is hard for a lot of the Miners & many have left. I say that leaves more Gold for us!
The days are quite warm now but the nights are still cool. The pine trees here are tall as 2 trees back home. I found one that was all full of little holes & many of the holes had an acorn stuck in it. It must be the Woodpeckers that did it. They wake us up every morning with their constant hammering.
I had a dream that I was owner of the Bank back in Edwardsville. I was Mr. Redmond’s boss & he called me Sir. Can you belive it? We had a big house in the middle of town & all the children went to school. I have been thinking about that dream a lot. But I think I want the big house to be outside town a ways so we can keep the Farm.
I must close this Letter soon. Your Letter brought me great joy & I have read it a dozen times. You must be strong & have faith that I will be home before too long. Tell the children I love them & don’t let little Alice forget about her papa.
· · ·
July 7, 1850
It is very hot here in California now. It is too hot to work in the afternoon so we take a rest after lunch & then work past supper. I am so tired at night I don’t even hear the kiotes howling no more. I dream of what it will be like when I am home again. We will be out of debt & have plenty of money left over besides.
We had a holiday on July 4th. We went to town with all the other Miners. There was plenty of drinking & gambling & even some fighting. I had only 2 nips of Whiskey so don’t you worry. There was even some fireworks that some Chinamen had. I hope you & the children had a good 4th of July. I missed you all a great deal.
The heat is making tempers short. Andre & Hwan almost had at it the other morning at breakfast. Andre said Hwan shoudn’t get to keep the lady all to himself. He thinks we shoud take turns holding her. Well before you know it they were yelling & spitting & it woud have been a fight but Pierre took Andre & pulled him away. Andre shoud be more careful. We are doing good & there is no need for fighting & division. Even if Andre has a point. Andre was stamping around & grumbling all day long. When Andre’s back was turned Hwan woud give him a look & I am scared when I see it. Hwan is giving him that look right now & it is 3 days later. But that is not all.
The night after the fight, in the wee hours I got awoken by the most fearful racket. It was yelling & hollering & I thought someone was getting murdered. But it turns out Hwan packed his things up & was going to slip away in the night. Only Andre was sleeping with one eye open & when Hwan tried to sneak away he jumped on him & pinned him on the ground. It’s a wonder how Hwan didn’t get loose with how he thrashed around. But Pierre helped hold him & with those 2 big men there was no getting loose.
When things settled down & we got the fire going Andre said we must take turns holding the lady or Hwan woud try & steal it again. They argued a while & then we took a vote. Andre & Pierre & myself all voted Aye. Hwan & Hector & George voted Nay. So it was a draw & Hwan gets to keep it for now. But the rest of us are all taking turns to keep watch at night from now on.
George took me aside yesterday & he said me & him shoud strike off on our own again. He doesn’t like how things are getting. I told him to bide his time just a bit longer so we can get a little more Gold & then be off home. We need the Gold lady to find the Gold so we have to stay. George says it is a foul charm that needs Blood to work. He thinks the Gold lady is the Devil. I said the Devil has better things to do then live in a little statue. Even if George is right I will leave soon with my Gold & leave the Devil behind.
I think & dream of home all the time now. In my dreams we are rich & powerful but I am happy just being rich. I hope things are going well on the Farm. The corn shoud be up past your knees by now. It will be nice to grow things from the soil again instead of always washing it for Gold. The digging & washing is very hard work. Sometimes when I see myself in a pool or a puddle I don’t know who I am at first. I am so skinny & my hair & beard are long & wild. Poor Alice will be afraid of me when I get home. Give all the children a kiss from their papa & tell them I will be home soon.
· · ·
July 21, 1850
George was right about how things are getting. Murder has been done. I am not suprized. It was like a kettle ready to boil over. But don’t worry about me because it is all finished now & things are regular again. But I will tell you what happened.
We were all out working our Claim like usual after our afternoon rest. Hwan & Andre & Pierre were digging, George & myself were washing & Hector was pulling the big stones out of the washer box on the Long Tom. Hwan’s shirt was open in the front & his Gold lady was dangling on the leather string. I coud see Andre watching it real careful & he sometimes forgot to keep digging when it woud spin around in the sunlight. Well it all happened in a blink. Andre snatched that Gold lady right out of the air & tore it off Hwan’s neck. But Hwan pulled his knife out even faster. It flashed 2 or 3 times & Andre was down. When Hwan bent over to take his Gold lady back Pierre hit him good & hard with his shovel & knocked him senseless. Well me & George just stood there like a pair of halfwits. Hector & Pierre went to check on Andre but it was too late for him.
There is no Sherrif or Courthouse here in the mining camps. It’s up to us Miners to make the rules & keep the peace. We took Hwan to town & he was hung on a big oak tree before sundown. I am glad he is gone.
When we got back to Camp we had to figger out what to do with the Gold lady. George wanted to throw her in the river but the rest said no. We need her for our operation. Pierre said he shoud take her but me & Hector didn’t like that either. In the end we agreed to share & I think that’s best. Each man gets her for a day, sunset to sunset. George didn’t want to have a turn but I said he must. Also we are going to still take turns keeping watch every night so nobody gets any ideas. Pierre got her the first day & Hector has her today. George is tomorrow & then me the day after. As for Andre & Hwan’s share of the Gold. Pierre gets Andre’s share & the rest of us split up Hwan’s share 3 ways. I will close this Letter now as I must get on to making supper.
· · ·
July 28, 1850
I got your last Letter in the mail. I am sorry that Margret took the news about Henry so hard. That feels like so long ago now. I am still in good health & spirits. I feel better some days than others, but now I feel very good.
George is gone & he isn’t coming back. He left on Monday. It was his turn for the Lady & he took her & everything was fine overnight. But he looked very pale & weak all morning & he had trouble keeping up with the washing. The creek is running low & it is harder to get water for washing. Well just like that George took the Lady from around his neck & threw her in the dirt & said I want out. I asked why & he just said he had enuff & woudn’t say more. Hector said to finish the day but George said no. So we all went back to Camp so George coud pack his things & get his share of the Gold. We were alone for a bit & George tried to get me to come with him. He said Tom lets go back home, we got enuff Gold now. But I said why not stay while the digging is good & get a little more? Because with the Gold Lady it is easy to find the best Claims. George said he is afraid for my Soul, he said there is an Evil spirit inside her. Poor George, I laughed at him. I said she’s made of Gold, she can’t have a spirit & if she did it woud be a good spirit not an Evil spirit. George begged me but I said no. I will be off home soon but not just yet.
After George left it was my turn for the Gold Lady. I don’t know why George was so upset. I didn’t feel no spirits. It felt a little strange when it touched my skin but it didn’t feel Evil. It is just a little statue after all. It is my turn again & I just got it from Hector because the sun is setting. This is my 3rd turn now. I am somewhat tired as I have not slept good the last 2 nights & what sleep I had is full of bad dreams. Dreams where we are crossing the desert again but I am all alone, or dreams where I am lost in the woods at night.
Now that it is only Hector & Pierre & myself we are back to using a Rocker to wash the Gold. The Long Tom is too big for just 3 men. We are not looking for any new partners as we are doing just fine. Just a little while longer & I will be home & we will be rich.
The complete version of “La Senora de Oro” appears in Black Gate 14.