Stony Creek Gold Mine: Having It All and Losing It

Stony Creek Gold Mine

Having it all, and losing it.

   The sand was blistering hot; if he could he would get on his feet and run. His legs have given out, the sand is burning his body through his clothes and his throat is parched and nearly swollen shut. He had been water deprived before; now he is within hours of being dead.  Every part of his body has given out, and he is crawling on his belly in the hot sand out of sheer desperation. He knows this canyon and he is less than a hundred feet from the small spring that will give him a renewed lease on life.  Suddenly he came into the shade of some Willow trees on the edge of the sandy wash.  The sand was much cooler now and he was able to move without burning his body. He was so exhausted he collapsed into the cooler sand and just lay there. He passed out from relief and his body was so exhausted; he drifted away into never, never land.

It was dark by the time he came to, and his whole body for the first time in two days felt it might just live.  He staggered to his feet and in the moon light he stumbled up the sandy wash and spotted the undergrowth where the spring flowed out of the earth.  His legs and throat collapsed and he fell into the sand and again passed out. He was as close to gone, and he had ever been prospecting on the desert.

It was nearly dawn when he came to again, this time to realize he was lying on wet sand where the spring had been; the water was all underground now.  He reached out for a flat rock about the size of a big pancake, and began to dig. His body was in panic; he just knew that if he got to the spring there would be water.  About a foot down the sand was very wet; he reached into his pocket and got his bandana and filled it with wet sand, rolled over on his back and opened his mouth and began to squeeze the bandana full of wet sand, and a small dribbling stream of water flowed into his nearly swollen, closed throat, and he swallowed carefully. He repeated the wet sand in the bandana about a dozen times with exhaustion, and lay back to let the water soak into his system so as not to overload his parched body; he rested and did the sand in the bandana trick about six time more, resting between each attempt.  By dawn, he was back on his feet and pulled up some fresh water crest that was growing beside the wet sand spring and filled his tummy with nutritious greens that were not only good for him but tasted good. As the sun came up, he was feeling alive and like meeting the day head on; Stony Centavos was alive again,  back in gear.

He rested a while since he was still exhausted and while he rested, he found a green willow tree and took his knife and cut a branch with a soft fork. He found some gourd vines and cut a length of vine. Now, he fastened the flat digging rock between the tender fork in the willow branch and tied it secure with the gourd vine. Now he had a digging instrument, and he could get serious about getting down to the water that was somewhere beneath him.

First he enlarged his wet sand hole and began to dig a well with his stone scooper.  About four feet town he struck hard rock and a flow of fresh spring water. He had found it. He widened his hole after taking several long drinks of the clean fresh and so wet water.  By this time the sun was straight overhead and shinning into his fresh water well. As he filled his canteens, and soaked his clothes to cool his body and feel the refreshing water pour down over his skin, he saw something sparkling in the well.  He gasped, it was several nuggets of pure gold that had been washed down the dry wash that he had followed up to the spring that was feed by this underground flow on top of the hard and impermeable rock.  He sat back and laughed at the dumb luck of nearly dying of thirst, and making his way to a dry spring and finding what could be a mother load of gold that had made it’s way down the wash from the mountain above. Not only would he go to the land office and lay claim to the spring and wash, he would take enough gold with him to town to lay claim to the whole mountain side up to the crest of the range of the Panamints, on the western side of the upper Mojave desert.  He would buy him a mule, a full outfit for setting up permanent camp, and a couple months supply of beans and bacon.

He dug out enough gold, and rested up one more day, and left in the evening of the second day to walk the 20 plus miles to Ransburg in the coolness of the night to save him  from the merciless heat of the day, he had with him only two canteens of water.

Within thirty minutes of his paying with gold for his filling assessments on the area of his claim, and the area up the canyon and within a half mile in every direction, the whole town was gathering in the main street to see this prospector that had come to town.  Several of the street gang of no goods, were sizing him up to see about way-laying him come dark-thirty that evening. Stony saw the look in their eyes as he crossed the street to the newly opened First State Bank of Ransburg. There he deposited his gold and made arrangements for the bank to pay any signed I.O.U’s as he bought supplies there in town.  People standing in line in the bank wasted no time in letting the town knows how much in gold Stony had deposited in the bank vaults.   The street gang was disappointed that Stony had out smarted them. Stony would be good at out smarting outlaws and shysters alike, until his final plan in the years to come that would fail.

Stony didn’t smoke but he bought a half dozen Prince Albert smoking tobacco cans, called a man sitting begging on the street over and he dumped into his hat the contents of the six cans of Prince Albert. He tucked the empty cans into his new pack outfit on his very handsome mule, hoisted his own back pack on so that he could get all his supplies back to the Stony Creek mines, as he had named his stake in the mountains.  As they walked out of town, Stony was glad that he had found a study mule for his pack animal.  The mule could carry almost four times the load of a donkey. He was on his way home, and he didn’t mind the ones following to make sure where his proven claim and gold strike was.  He thought to himself, they will make good neighbors and who knows, there may be many more washes coming out of the mountains with gold nuggets rolling along the impermeable rock that was covered with desert sand.  He had staked out all he could handle. There was no need to feel selfish about the rest of the desert.

    The rest of the week Stony was busy measuring the land, and setting up monuments of stone. In each monument he placed the land office deed for that section of his new gold mine claim in a Prince Albert can, and each day marked the edges of his claim and he watched over the next month neighbors springing up camps in the desert and putting up monuments.

   The next time in town he was told by the land office that seven other of the town’s people had found traces or nuggets of gold, had marked off adjacent claims and the word was speeding back east and all over California about the new gold mining area and a minor gold rush was on. The town stores had raised their prices by 50% and a new outfitter had set up shop in an old abandoned salon to provide supplies for the rush of prospectors that was coming to town.  The fabric covered canteens had gone up from 50 cents a piece to over $4.00 a canteen.  Here on the western edge of the Death Valley, summer temps. could reach over 125+ degrees F. after dark when the thermometers were able to give an accurate reading of the temperature. This was hot country and August magnified the heat. Stony smiled, everyone will make money now that I have found and began mining at Stony Creek Mine. We all win, Stony though as he purchased a solid oak wagon and team of mules to pull it so he could take lumber and supplies with him this time to build a cabin on the banks of Stony Creek.  It felt good for a change in his life to pay cash, or gold that is, for every thing he needed, and he was not even spending much time in mining as he was building. Times were a booming for everyone.

Stony hitched his mule to the back of his wagon, and the mule went home this time with no load, the wagon was loaded and the mule just followed along. Times were good. As they pulled out of town and headed north, Stony saw two wagon trains of strangers coming to the area to get in on the gold mining success of the western Mojave. “I hope they all do well”, Stony thought as they made their way up country toward Stony Creek Mine and the settlements that were growing up around his camp.

Stony Centavos’ claims were more than rich; they was indeed the mother load. There were dozens of gold settlements that had sprung up along the eastern slopes of the Panamints, and it looked like a couple dozen small cities that were anywhere from a quarter of a mile apart to a mile apart. Everyone was doing well and Ransburg had grown into a small city as it was the supply center for the gold mining strikes to the north. Stony had hired a number of miners to work the half dozen locations of the Stony Creek Mining company. Stony was now a director of the First State Bank in Ransburg.  Now his mining headquarters on the edge of Stony Creek, was more a dry bed most of the year than a creek, was a small pueblo. There were now children playing, gardens growing and women doing the days wash as their men mined and the beans were cooking on the wood stoves in their cabins.  Stony may now be a very wealthy man, but he had not changed from the desert prospector that had for years shared his last pancake, half-in-half with a stranger or with his mule.  Times were very good.

Stony took the time to visit all of the gold mining small settlements that were all doing well.  He knew the area and the number of outlaws that made a good living robbing and stealing from the hard working people that made up the most of the citizens of the desert country. He wanted to talk his neighbors into forming an association that would hire a law man and help build a community organization to protect them from desert marauders and outlaw bandits.  Everyone of the communities was doing well and no one wanted to get together for any kind of protection. One of the miners accused Stony of wanting to steal his gold by acting like a friend. Stony just shook his head saying, “Man I am blessed, and I have all the gold I can say grace over.” But the man accused him even the more and Stony left. Another of the miners said, “I am too busy mining gold to worry about your warnings, I will handle any trouble on my own way.” Then he asked Stony to leave. Thus it was from camp to camp, no one was interested in joining together and forming an association that cooperated for the good of all the communities. Stony went home disappointed; he felt that as the word of the value of this strike spread, the danger of a violent attack would increase.

That night an old Indian friend of the Shoshone people visited Stony in his cabin and shared beans and tortillas with him. Red Feather was his name and he had come from the Barstow area, and brought news of a band of killers and marauders that was moving their way under the leadership of Diablo Espirtu de Ciello. Diablo was attacking every lone mining settlement and burning and killing and stealing his way north. He was coming in their direction.  Red Feather spoke in quiet tones, “This killer was attacking the rich and the poor, the little settlement and the larger cities. He was backed by a gang of hundreds.” Red Feather looked at Stony and said, “He is coming your way.”

Early the next morning Stony knew that if Diablo attacked, he would burn and destroy everything above the ground so he built a sturdy box of wood, and buried medicine, bandages, canteens of water and a small amount of food supplies and he buried the box in the sand of Stony Creek. Then he set out to see if he could get his neighbors to rally together and build a bulwark on the south side of their villages and gather weapons and prepare to defend themselves from Diablo and his evil forces. No one believed him; they accused him of using scare tactics trying to get them to join his proposed fellowship association.   Stony hurried to town on his mule and bought the weapons he could use to stand against Diablo. As he was riding back to the mining area in the dark he could see the glow of communities burning in the northern sky.  As he crossed the ridge to drop in the Stony Creek canyon, he heard gun fire, and saw the neighbor’s mining communities all ablaze and could hear the cries of the dying and injured coming echoing down the canyon walls. He quickly loaded his guns and headed in the direction of his community of families, and as he passed his nearest neighbor, he saw the neighbor’s wife being drug out of her house and her cloths being ripped off her body and two men attacking her. They were very recognizable as Diablo’s evil ones.

Stony spurred the mule on as he began firing at the men attacking his neighbor’s wife. One man fell and the other turned to fire at Stony and Stony out shot him and he fell.  From here Stony could see his own camp was afire and he turned and rode toward Stony Creek.

Just then six of Diablo’s worst diablomaniacs crossed over a ridge and began firing at Stony. Stony reigned in the mule and turned toward the attackers and began firing. Stony had always been a peace loving man, and had never bothered to become a good shot with either a rifle or a revolver. His rifle magazine was soon emptied, and the men were still all firing at him as drew his revolver and continued to put up a fight. Suddenly his mule was shot, stumbled and fell to the ground.  Stony crouched behind the mule and reload his rifle and revolver and looked over the dead animal to get another shot at his foe, at that moment they were on top of him and shot were fired at him point blank before he could get anymore shots off. The men left him for dead and road on down the valley.

  Stony shaking in fear began to assess the damage to his body, both legs were shattered from the barrage of bullets; he could not stand or walk.  He took out his bandana and tied off the heavy bleeding in one of his legs and realized he was about a hundred feet from his burning camp with nothing left above ground. But, there was the buried box of supplies that he could use to bandage and stop the damage and cover the wounds to keep from bleeding to death, a chance to make it to tomorrow. He could once again only crawl on his belly toward the supple box. Just then he heard riders, felt a sharp pain just below his shoulder, heard the rifle report and knew he was never going to prospect again. As the sun was coming up over the desert and Stony looked to God and said, “I am coming home Jesus, a failure, I could not get the association of fellowship together for protection against Diablo and we have all been wiped out.” One last push toward the buried box, it was his last. All that was heard now was the burning.