The California Gold Rush only lasted a couple of years in the mid 1800’s. It was a time of prospectors and fortunes made and often lost. This era ended well over a century ago, or at least that’s what I thought until I made a visit to one of the old gold rush towns last weekend.
Mariposa has a delightful walkway that runs along the creek that bears the town name. The path and creek parallel Main Street and as you walk along the creek you hear the clear water rushing down and away from the Sierra Mountains. Looking toward Main Street you observe the backs of various businesses.
As I strolled along this pleasant walkway, I came across a baby stroller. It got my attention and I looked all around, but couldn’t see the baby who had been pushed to this spot. I finally looked down the deep river bank and observed a young woman with a little boy. They were about 15 feet below me right on the edge of the creek. The woman was kneeling down and the little boy was standing by her with his hand on her shoulder. They both appeared to be looking into the clear water of the creek.
As I watched, I noticed that the woman had a large pan in her hand and appeared to be panning for gold. She seemed to be pointing things out to the boy as she washed the sand away looking for gold flakes. What a cute picture they made. I supposed it was a little “home schooling” history lesson for the boy.
About an hour later I passed the spot on my way back to the hotel and was surprised to see the woman and boy still by the creek. The woman had moved upstream about 20 feet and was vigorously digging in the bank with a spade. The boy was playing along the creek not far from her. I was curious. This was either a very long history lesson, or there was more to her story than I had thought at first.
My curiosity got the best of me. I scrambled down the steep creek bank and walked toward her. She looked up as I approached and gave me a rather unwelcome stare.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said, “but I was watching from the bank and my curiosity got the better of me.”
“I’m working,” she said.
“It looked to me like you might be panning for gold.”
“If you are going to rob me, don’t waste your time. I haven’t gotten anything today,” she said.
“Oh, please don’t think I’m going to rob you. Like I said, I’m just curious and wouldn’t think of robbing you. Why are you panning for gold?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot for even asking that question. “Don’t you think people would pay money for gold?”
Then she added, “Let me tell you my story and then maybe you’ll leave me alone. My husband works construction and is having a difficult time finding steady work. We have bills that we must pay and it’s hard to put food on the table for little Eric here and keep a roof over our heads. I prayed to the Lord one day just before Christmas and asked Him to show me a way to help us until there is more work in construction. After praying, I seemed to get a feeling that I should do something about gold.
Later, when I mentioned this to my husband, he reminded me that when we were in school here in Mariposa they taught us about the Gold Rush and how people panned gold out of these creeks. Maybe there is still some gold here. We decided I should give it a try. So that’s what I’m doing. I hope this answers your questions because I need to get back to work fast before it gets too dark.”
“How is it working out?” I asked.
“We’re paying our bills.”
“Praise the Lord,” I said as I scrambled back up the bank and she returned to her prospecting.
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