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Bullion Canyon Gold Mining Map

by Barbara Chamberlain
CANYON OF GOLD - A Fictional Short Story

Jacob Davidson increased his speed on the highway into Bullion Canyon, Utah. This promised to be a great day trip into one of the historic gold mining areas of Utah. The last gold mine closed in 1938, but the park service had preserved the area for tourists. It looked really interesting as a day trip. He planned to write an article and market it to the travel magazines. Plus some of his grandcestors came from this area. His grandpa was a miner.

Being unemployed since the Colorado Record closed its doors left Jacob plenty of free time. The newspaper had no way to compete with television and internet news. Jacob was managing to survive on unemployment and an occasional freelance magazine sale. Luckily he inherited his parent's farm on the Colorado-Utah border or he would be living in this old Toyota Camry. His grandfather bought the farm around 1935, the middle of the Great Depression. The house had a surrounded porch where Jacob used to ride his trike around.

Gramps also built wooden planters that he used mostly for tomatoes. The old wood was rotting and he needed to either fix the planters, which would cost a lot, or just demolish them. This year he did not even bother to plant a vegetable garden since the only option he had was to sell the farm.

Jacob's research into writing for internet news sites showed the pay was lower than working at a fast food restaurant, which he was seriously considering. He thought about that when he picked up a hamburger and coffee at the last rest stop. At least he might also get some food that way. And working with high school kids, he might get some insight into what the younger generation was thinking to improve his writing about today's world.

Running the farm was hard work with little return.

He spotted the first sign announcing Bullion Canyon. California was not the only gold rush area. The yellow metal, the promise of riches, drew people like a magnet. This country still looked wild. Probably no one lives here except for the rangers.

That’s when he heard the unmistakable, dreaded sound, like a pop and flop, flop, flop. The car bumped unevenly. Jacob turned the car toward the side of the road. A flat.

The less driving on the rim the better.

As he braked to a stop, he popped the car's trunk. A blast of heat hit him as he stepped out on the shoulder of the road. He grabbed a quick sip of coffee. Why hadn't he bought a coke with ice? He thought he had a gallon of water in the trunk of the car. The plastic bottle was empty. The last trip to the store he had not bothered to buy another. The hamburger and coffee were a splurge. There would be water at the park museum. He lifted the cover off the spare. Lucky this car had a full sized tire.

When he lifted it out he swallowed hard. The tire was flat.

"I know last time I looked at you, you were O.K!" When was that? Last year maybe? He sat down on the edge of the open trunk wondering why his luck had gotten so bad this year. He cursed under his breath. Life was more than he could take. What was the use? No point in waiting in this heat. The only thing left was to walk to town. Jacob found an old faded blue baseball cap in the trunk, closed the trunk, grabbed the cup of coffee from the holder, locked the car. Probably not necessary. Who would bother to steal the old thing?

With sweat already running down his forehead he walked down the shoulder toward the old mining town. Jacob stopped and took off his cap to wipe his forehead and take a sip of coffee. He tried to imagine an ice cold soda in his hand. There should at least be a vending machine in the park. Since a restaurant was not mentioned in the web sites, the usual substitute was several vending machines near the park information board.

"I should be close to town." Talking to himself was probably not a good sign. "Maybe three-fourths of a mile or a mile." Answering yourself was a worse sign.

He saw heat waves rising from the asphalt and took another sip of coffee.

No car came by the whole time he was walking. Why wasn't he seeing any signs? And a shade tree would be a big help. He drained the last of the coffee and swore again because he had not bought another gallon of water for the car.

He must be near town.

Jacob closed his eyes and conjured up a vending machine. When he opened his eyes again the sweat running down his forehead was making everything blurry. He wiped them again. He was coming to a graveyard. His hands started to shake and everything in his vision flashed a brilliant white. His knees trembled and he grabbed for the nearest branch of sagebrush, which did not support him. The white everywhere turned black.

He woke up trembling uncontrollably. Someone was wiping his forehead with a welcome wet rag. His teeth were chattering. He moaned and struggled to sit up.

"Take a sip of this now," the man said, "take it slow, though. You need water and some salt. Got that back in the cabin. I'ma gonna have to get you there out of the sun."

Though the battered canteen must have been a hundred years old. Jacob had never seen anything so beautiful in his whole life. The thing held warm, lifesaving water.

"Thank you," he said, licking his cracked lips. "I did not have any water. Shouldn't have tried to walk here without."

"Damm right. You shoulda got under a tree until the sun went down some."

Jacob sighed. He had stopped shaking. He was not certain if he could stand. He pulled his knees up and rolled on one side.

"Take it easy, son."

"I'll be able to get up in a few minutes," he answered.

"You lookin' for work?"

My God. How did he know?

He nodded.

"You ain't the first. Ain't much work anywhere nowadays. They’re talkin' about shutting down Bully Boy Mill. Costs more to separate the gold than the price it brings. People come out thinkin' they can live off the land. Ain't easy. If you like jackrabbits, though, you can have a decent stew every once in a while. You gots to have water, though. Don’t you have a canteen?"

"I had a cup of coffee. That's all. Not too smart." Jacob turned onto all fours and managed to pull himself up with the man’s help. His knees were still shaking.

"You don't have any kit?"

"Back in the car."

The old man laughed. "You got a Ford? What happened? Break down on you? Hey, horses is more reliable. And they can eat by the side of the road. Take it easy. We'll go slow back to my cabin. It's right by Pine Creek. You got the sunstroke bad."

This man, probably twice his age, supported him all the way back to the one room cabin.

Jacob collapsed on the bed. No mattress. Just a hard board, he guessed, and the barest cabin he had ever seen. No bathroom or kitchen. An old chair and a handmade wooden table. By the bed was an old trunk that must contain all of the old man’s belongings. Do people still live like this in today’s world? Well, a few more months and he thought he might be living in the car. This cabin was a step above that. And he was mercifully out of the sun.

His heart was still racing and his hands were trembling.

The old man, who probably was not as old as he looked, returned to the cabin with a bucket of water. "You just keep still, son. The stroke will pass now that you are out of the sun. You'd better keep still the rest of the day. Night'll cool you down a lot. Now I'm goin' to give you a wet cloth for your forehead. Drink some of the water when you feel like it."

"Thanks. You saved my life."

"I'm glad I came along when I did. What's your name, son?"


The man grinned. A gap showed that he was missing at least two, maybe three—a molar an incisor—on the side toward Jacob.

"Isaac is my name. They call me Ike."

"How long have you been in Bullion Canyon?"

"Been working here five years. Swingin' the pick. Bringing rocks to the mill and then the smelt. Back again. Haulin' rocks."

"I didn't know there was still mining here."

Ike laughed. "I know two of the mines closed, but we're still working here. Lookin' for work? They ain't hirin'."

"Sounds familiar."

"Seems to me they could use as many rock haulers as they could find. Ton of rocks for a few grains of gold." Ike reached under his shirt to bring out a small brown leather pouch that hung from a strip of leather around his unshaved neck. "This is what we get fer pay sometimes. Trailings from the smelt."

"They pay you this way?"

"Sure. If you want. Some needs money to pay for the boardinghouse. Two to four dollars they get for their pay goes for board. That’s why I built this cabin and some lives in tents or shacks they throw together."

"Gold is so valuable."

Jacob thought that pouch of gold would be a fortune. He closed his eyes. Where had this man been? Maybe Ike could get him a job here.

Ike said, "The real gold is in the land. There’s gold in growing things. I bought me a farm. Pretty soon will settle down there."

Jacob thought that all sounded familiar. He was too tired now to think of it. He would probably remember about two a.m.

"Sleep now. Best thing fer ye. Think of all that gold in growing things. That's where your future is."

Future. He wished he could look to the future like this grizzled old miner.

When he thought about it he already had a farm. All he needed was to expand the operations someway to make the place more profitable. With a little more capital he would not have to worry about the taxes every year. He could buy a truck to take produce to independent markets and farmer's markets. A fruit and vegetable stand on the road would bring in the $$$.

Finally everything went dark. He slept. He did not move until morning when the smell of coffee woke him.

Ike was pouring coffee into a dented tin mug.

Jacob sat up. "I feel so much better."

Ike placed the hot mug in his hands. His first sip gave him a mouthful of grounds which he normally would have spit out. Since he did not want to offend this man who had saved his life he chewed them as best he could and then swallowed the grit. No wonder the old man's teeth were so stained.

Jacob realized that he was getting uncomfortable because he had not relieved himself since he collapsed. "Ike, I have to use the bathroom." A group of small cabins like this probably had a communal bathroom and shower.

Ike answered with a laugh. "Ain't we fancy? Big city talk. I'll show you the outhouse."

Men were moving about the campsite. They looked like a bunch of genuine miners. The sound of picks already rang in his ears. Jacob thought that they must be reenacting the era. He did not realize from what he had read that this was a living history site.

"This the kid you found?" One of the bearded men asked. He spat on the ground.

"Sure is," Ike answered.

"Lucky Ike found you. Many a man has become bones in this back country."

"I know," Jacob confessed. "Ike saved my life." This must be a living history enactment. Years ago his mother and father took him back east. People in Jamestown wore costumes and pretended like they were living in that time.

Jacob entered the dark, smelly, cobweb filled outhouse. Outside he heard Jacob questioning the others about work. They might need someone over at the Deseret mine. He looked around for the toilet paper. The only thing in the place was an old sears catalog that must be for reading. He looked down at the floor to see if he had missed some when he saw two black, hairy legs creep into the crack between the weathered boards. Then another leg and another. His jaw dropped open. The biggest spider he had ever seen decided to join him. He jumped, barely pulling up his pants, grabbed the door and stumbled outside. The sudden jump made his head whirl. He tried to catch himself but lurched against the door frame and hit his head. Everything went black. In his nightmare the hairy tarantulas crawled all over him. Jacob was helpless to move, scream, or bat them away. His body trembled uncontrollably until finally a low moan of protest escaped from his throat.

He forced his eyes open to stare at the one spider who was crawling over his right leg.

"Take it easy, young man. It's just a desert tarantula. Won't hurt you." He brushed the black, hairy creature from Jacob's right leg. It ambled off toward a tombstone. "Can you take a drink from my canteen? You'll feel a lot better if you drink some water."

Jacob stared through the sweat pouring down from his forehead to see a ranger kneeling over him. He took the canteen gratefully. "Where are the miners?" He asked..........

"All around you. The last mine closed in 1938."

Jacob sank back for a few minutes. He sipped the water slowly and gratefully.

"I saw your car with the trunk open on my way back from shopping for the week. Called the nearest help and they should be here in about an hour. I knew you were here somewhere."

"Thanks. I didn't think to check the water bottle I keep in the trunk. And then the spare was flat. And I thought this would have been a nice day trip. My grandpa was a miner here."

"What was his name?"

"Jacob Davidson. I'm named after him. He wanted to be buried here."

"That's funny. Oh, wait a minute. He's the third one from here. Can you walk?"

The ranger helped him stand. He walked with shaky legs over to the gray granite stone.

He stared and swallowed hard. There it was "Isaac Jacob Davidson."

Ike. There's gold in growing things rang in Jacob's ears.

The ranger put his arm under Jacob's shoulders to support him, "Their souls stay here. Some nights when it's really quiet here I can hear the sound of picks ringing against the hills."

The whole experience left Jacob with renewed energy to tackle his problems back home. Lizards and spiders were dwelling in the disintegrating planters of the porch.

He took any desert dwellers he found back to the sand where they were born. Removing the sand and compacted decades old dirt from the first planter was work in the heat. Jacob carefully shifted through all of the sandy soil, praying that he did not misunderstand his grandfather's joke. He remembered his father saying that grandpa used his gold for the land.

Did grandpa use it all? That was possible.

His heart accelerated when he found a black or brown piece of rotted material clinging to his fingers. At one time it could have been leather. Jacob carefully shifted through the sand underneath. He stared at the shiny, smooth trailings in his fingers.

He heard the old miner speak as though he were standing right alongside him.

"There’s gold in growing things."
By Barbara Chamberlain