Mark Twain’s loss your gain from Last Grand Adventure
I decided to backtrack Kathy’s hot coffee and chocolate chip cookies by accepting her invitation to walk over to the famous Nine mile Ranch where Mark Twain was supposedly helping care for the ailing Captain Nye when he lost title to a gold mine he shared with his friend Calvin H. Higbee.
If you’ve ever read Mark Twain’s Roughing It, you may remember the story. As Mark Twain told it, he and Higbee were obliged to do assessment work on a vain of gold they had staked within ten days or lose the property.
They intended to do the work, but before they got started Mark Twain, leaving a note behind for Higbee, departed from Aurora on a trip to Nine mile Ranch to nurse his cranky friend Captain Nye through “spasmodic rheumatism.” Mark was at the ranch for nine days and returned to Aurora just as a crowd of other men was taking over his claim.
It seems Higbee had also left a note for Twain that instructed him to do the assessment work as Higbee had been called out of town! Neither man got the other’s note of course and so neither did the assessment work, they lost their gold mine.
That’s the story as Mark Twain told it. I got a different story from the buck-a-roos at
Nine mile Ranch. (Most cowboys in Nevada prefer to be termed buck-a-roos.) According to the men at Nine mile, the three story ranch building at Nine mile was a stage stop as well as a ranch in Twain’s time. At least the first story was a stage stop. The second floor housed a school. The third floor was a brothel.
The buck-a-roos told me that Nye was not easy to get along with even when he was feeling good. And to get away from the cranky Nye, or for other reasons, Mark often went up to the third floor. On one of those visits to the top story, Twain fell down the stairway between the second and third floors and broke his arm.
It was after a day or so of recuperation that he arrived back in Aurora too late to do the assessment work necessary to hold his claim.
I enjoyed my visit to Nine mile, and found the folk friendly and interesting. One of those buck-a-roos was a real-estate agent from the Bahamas!
But, I digress. The reason that Nine mile Ranch has its name is because it was nine miles from the boom town of Aurora, now just a ghost town site. We were about to do those nine miles.
Carol and I followed our noses, which followed six burros, uphill all the way, through Del Monte Canyon, to an old power station, and then up the hill behind the power station to Aurora. We didn’t make all of the nine miles in one day though. When we saw that the power station was on a level piece of ground we decided to camp there. It made a good campsite too, except for the presence of hungry ticks in the high grass where we stretched out the electric fence. We spent the evening picking those ticks off of each other while reading The Horse and His Boy, one of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.
I made that trip up through Del Monte Canyon sound easy didn’t I? You try getting six burros who hate water over all those stream crossings sometime. The truth is that it was extremely hard to get our donkeys up that canyon.
Ah, what am I saying? We made it, didn’t we? It was funny to see my burros going over that see-through; three plank bridge with all six trying to walk on the middle plank at the same time! Or so Carol thought. It’s a good thing I’m not a swearing man.
Even I have to admit that the journey up Del Monte Canyon did ‘fill the eye.’ It was so refreshing to have shade falling across the road in places and be flanked by river willows, wild roses, and a happy little snow-water stream. All of the beauty was framed by the high walls of a twisting narrow canyon breaking occasionally to show us the snow covered mountain tops surrounding us.
Del Monte Canyon teased the mind too. This old desert prospector just knew that there was gold in ‘them there hills!’ Consequently, the first day of summer saw me setting out to find some for myself. I unlimbered our metal detector from the supply wagon, and when I had found and assembled all the pieces I walked down to the stream and got my boots wet in ice cold water.
Carol, as eager as a puppy, followed me “to help.” And she did help for a few minutes. I’d get a beep from my machine, hand her the shovel and say, “Dig here, there is something right here.”
She dug several holes for me which yielded ‘hot rocks.’ You probably know that ‘hot rocks’ are mineralized pebbles that give a metallic reading. They haven’t any use that I know of other than to bounce off the rear of reticent burros as a goad. But anyway, digging hot rocks soon paled for Carol, and she left me, striking off on her own with the words, “Look, West, there are caddis fly larva in this creek, do you suppose that they ever build there little life-saving rock tubes out of golden pebbles?”
I must admit that I was a bit glad to see her go off on her own for sometimes having my Christmas Carol along is like having a seven year old help you with important business! How was I supposed to hear the tiny beeps of the machine when there was chatter directed at me? I breathed a sigh of relief and concentrated on working my metal detector.
My relief was short lived. Carol wasn’t gone very long before she came splashing back to me with something balanced carefully on the palm of her hand. I shut my toy off and waited.
“Look, West,” again sounded in my ears, “see the pretty caddis fly larva tubes? I haven’t found any with golden pebbles on them yet, but look at all the different colored rocks these insects use to protect their soft bodies. Don’t you think that sometimes they may use gold?”
“Anything is possible, Kid,” I admitted turning on the metal detector again and turning my back on my wife.
She got real quiet, and as I didn’t turn toward her again, she slowly and quietly wandered off again. On tip-toe this time.
The morning was beautiful: but not profitable for me. I was getting a great many ferrous beeps but none of the high pitched whistles that are supposed to indicate gold.
Carol called out to tell me she had found another caddis fly larva tube, “not a pretty one either!” And, I grimaced, elongating my swing to cover more of the stream bottom.
Suddenly, she was at my elbow again. “Look, West!”
“Aw, Carol,” I groaned, “can’t you see I’m working! Leave me alone, huh?”
“But West,” she protested. “You have to see this!”
I looked expecting to see another “pretty one” but no, a black pebble rested in the palm of her hand. She reached out a finger and flipped it over.
Gold! It was a gold nugget!
I reached out a shaky hand and took the nugget from Carol, staring not at it but at my pretty wife, the one with the short attention-span.
She laughed up at me. “It was just lying there,” she said. “Right on top of a dry sandbar. I almost missed it because I was so busy looking for…”
“I know, I know,” I interrupted with a groan, “Caddis Fly Larva!”
After a days hike to the site of Aurora, and a chuck-wagon breakfast (that I cooked) with Monte Rosaschi and Justin Wright who had pushed some cattle up canyon for the Nine mile Ranch, we again hitched up our team and drove on toward Bodie, a well-preserved ghost town.
All that day we herded about sixty head of red and Black Angus cattle before us up the road to their summer pasture, finishing the job Monte and Justin had started! It was some experience to be herding cattle with a covered wagon and burros. We sure laughed!
When we pulled off the road to make camp, so did the bawling cattle. They seemed to find comfort in the presence of our donkeys and stayed right with us all night. Come morning they left us in their dust. All they had to do was jump to their feet and go. No camp chores tied them down.
It was just as well that they weren’t milling around us when we bent the wagon tongue. Okay, okay, I know you are expecting me to blame Rags again. Let me tell you how it happened before you get offended for his sake.
The burros had to cross tiny rivulets of water over the road six times that day and every one of the crossings were challenges. (Wouldn’t you think that after the first rivulet they would realize that there was no danger?) They balked every time and it was on the first puddle of the day that they fought against crossing with so much vigor that they wrenched the wagon tongue one hundred and eighty degrees. It only goes to one hundred and forty degrees.
Tweaked is what we were, sitting there across the middle of the road that runs through Del Monte Canyon to Bodie. Six hitched burros stood defiantly on the dry right lane and the wagon tilted crazily into a water filled ditch to the left of the road.
I was so mad at those burros! I realized that it was partly my fault for replacing the solid tongue with a chain back there in Amargosa Valley when the clevis broke. It was the chain that enabled the first four burros to back suddenly, making the lines go limp in my hands leaving me with no control until I regained the slack in the lines and then they turn so tightly. But, I wasn’t about to admit to my part in the fiasco.
Carol tried to calm me as I climbed off the wagon to fix things, but her soothing words only made me even angrier. I was convinced that she must be in league with the equine!
Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic on the dirt road we traveled! I had to unhitch and move six anxious animals, loosen the two bolts that hold the A-frame of the tongue to the wagon axle; then remove the tongue of the wagon.
I was able,, to bend the tongue almost back to straight. It was still about twenty degrees off when I cracked the two inch angle iron A-frame!
With that crack spreading through the angle iron I decided that twenty degrees from straight was going to have to do until we could reach the town of Bridgeport, California.
I reattached the bent tongue, re-hitched the burros to the wagon and drove on with the lead burros in the right lane and the wagon straggling up the center of the road while the swing and wheeler teams walked sideways to compensate! They were still balking at every stream.