Claim 227 a Tale of the California Gold Rush

by Ron Lewis

Tags: Fiction, Western,

Desc: Western Story: A nervous hand reached down trembling as it went in the cold water. Pulling the nugget out as larger as his hand. He knew as soon as he touched it what it was. Holding it up to Andrews, yelling out to him his eyes wide looking wild, "Bonanza, Ya?" Walking to him David saw the yellow stone with other minerals clinging stubbornly to the gold. Taking the cold metal in his own hands, he felt a rush of excitement the gold warmed from his touch. Perhaps this where the fever comes from.

Johan Henrick Bain and his brother Franz Adelbert Bain immigrated to the United States from Holland in the early 1840's. Both men moved their families and possessions to the New World with dreams of better lives. The Bain family had always been close-knit, so it came as no surprise when the two brothers settled next to each other in Ohio.

Family ties are fragile things, often destroyed over the most trivial issues. This was especially true for the brothers Bain. In 1842, a package arrived from their homeland with a letter telling them of their father's death. The package contained two other items; two musical instruments, the sum total of their inheritance. With no instructions on who to disburse the instruments to, Johan offered his bother the guitar. Johan could play both instruments; Franz could play neither. Devoid of even a semblance of musical ability, Franz tenaciously clung to claiming both instruments as remembrances of their father.

Therefore, it was that a violin and guitar proved to be more important to the two men than their kinship. In the end, Johan kept the violin, letting his brother have the guitar. Franz sold his farm and moved away, angry with his brother for keeping the violin. Franz and his family settled somewhere in the southern states never again communicating with his brother or his brother's family.

Over 20 years later, Samuel Bain, the last of the southern Bains met his fate at the Shiloh Meeting house, run through in the last hours of the Battle of Shiloh by a union soldier's Bayonet. If God does have a plan, there is an odd thread of it in this fact. Years later, the man who killed Samuel Bain on the battlefield would befriend the son of Johan Bain, the two men never knowing of their strange connection.

Johan Henrick Bain was a poor farmer. That is not exactly true; Bain was a good farmer but hated farming. His wife Welda was a pretty woman with a soft smile. Her accent sounded harsh but she was anything but harsh. She pampered her boys without really spoiling them. Her habit of wearing blue dresses made one think she had only one dress. Welda just liked blue so much that she always used blue fabric to make them. Everyone in town knew whom you meant if you said, "I saw the lady in the blue dress today."

She often worked the fields with her husband, putting in as many long hours as he did. Determination ran deep in the woman and her offspring. Johan was less dedicated than she was and far less enamored with the land than she was. Land was important to Welda and the fact that they owned the land was very important. In the old country, they were tenant farmers with the landowner taking far more than a fair share. In America, they were landowners, well thought of in the community. These things mattered to Welda a great deal.

Despite Johan's dislike of farming; the farm prospered, so much so that they employed workers. The surrounding community considered them wealthy. This did nothing to curb Johan's discontentment. If anything, it increased it, he never wanted to be a farmer but it was safe and he knew how to farm.

No two people every loved each other more than Johan and Welda Bain. It was not always that way; their marriage had been an arranged marriage. After a year together, it just happened. She looked at him one day in the field; breaking his back, plowing land. His broad chest and back so muscled, his enormous arms and over sized hands. His body covered in sweat as he and a mule dug the furrow for the grain. He stopped his plowing and wiped the sweat from his brow as she watched, and like a lightning strike she knew, she just knew that she loved him. She fell in love at that moment and 14 years had not dimmed that love.

Surprise filled her in America when Johan bought a farm. He did so because he loved her with all his heart. He knew she loved farming as much as he hated it but he would have his wife happy. Still; even in love, there is selfishness and he had a guilty desire to go wayfaring to another place. He wanted something different from farming. The same wanderlust, which caused him to pack up and move his wife and family to America, grabbed him again less than five years after arriving in Ohio. For several more years he farmed the land, discontentment filled him and he became increasingly irritable. Welda recognized the symptoms and prepared herself for an inevitable move.

Early in 1849, Johan heard of the gold find in California and decided he would find his fortune there. Like so many other fools, Johan Bain headed for California taking only one treasured possession with him, his violin. The gold fever burned in him but not for wealth, he just wanted the adventure of it.

Kissing his wife and children goodbye, he set out on horseback for the Promised Land. Watching him leave; a terrible feeling passed over Welda Bain, the unmistakable feeling that she would never see her husband again. She felt footsteps' walking over her grave; was how she explained it to a friend.

The way west for Johan Bain was a rough journey. In the new community of Denver City, he heard the tale of the Donner party of 46 and the resulting horror of their cannibalism. But he knew he would be over the mountains and in California before winter. Bain first crossed the Rockies then at last, crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down to San Francisco.

In those days, San Francisco was a wild and woolly mining camp. Robbery and murder were common; Saloons outnumbered churches forty to one while sinners outnumbered saints by a much greater number.

David Andrews was a big man. Descriptions of the man usually began with the statement 'bear like.' This was due to his muscular build, his taller than average height and the unkempt beard, which most often covered his face.

In 1846, he was one of the first settlers to the new community of San Francisco he helped build the city, literally; hiring out for manual labor as a carpenter. David Andrews hammered nails with the best of them. Hired by the contractors for several reasons and the well liked, Andrews' reputation could not have been better. David did not drink, he did not gamble, he did not keep company with lewd women; lewd women being about the only ones in the area at that time.

David's mother died when he was eighteen years of age. He made a promise to her on her deathbed that he would not make her ashamed of him. He further promised to make her proud. She told him she had always been proud of him.

David rose early; arriving at work promptly and going straight to the task. People took to calling him Frisco early on, "Get Frisco to do the fine work, no better carpenter in town," or, "Frisco will do you proud." "Frisco is your man he built my bar, finest one the city." One saloon owner would proudly tell anyone that looked at his finely finished bar.

Singing in the choir of one of the few church's in town was the only pleasure anyone could accuse him of, that and the vice of singing off key. He helped build the church, more to the point; he built the church. Frisco did most of the labor on the building without recompense. The preacher marveled that he had someone in this Godforsaken town he could talk to and not be trying to convert them. The two men were fast friends till the preacher died late in 1849 of a heart attack. It seemed to affect Frisco in some deep manner. It was quite a surprise to everyone when late in 1849 David 'Frisco' Andrews took to panning for gold. This action just seemed to be far afield of the man he was.

Leaving long before sunrise he would head up into the mountains stay there a few days and come back, turning most of his poke over to his church and its new minister. In David's view this fellow was not the preacher his friend had been. The former pastor was a type of father figure to David; something David had grown up with out.

Whatever David was really looking for, it was not the gold. In his life, something was missing. What it was he was not sure but there was a hole in him that needed filling. Thus, he panned for the yellow along with all the other fools drawn to the area. For Frisco the gold was not the end, perhaps it was a means to an end.

When the gold rush began; San Francisco held no high ideals. In those early days, there was no claim to civility. The streets were swampy; barely passable byways of mud and sand. Often wooden planks served as a roadbed and the city was a rag tag collection of tents and buildings constructed from the timbers ripped from the abandoned ships in the natural harbor. Ship owners, captains, and crew abandoned their vessels to join in the foolish quest for gold, held in the grip of the fever. That burning desire filled men with a craving for the wealth that the color would bring.

People were coming faster than any construction could keep up with, flooding the area this mass of humanity. The 500 citizens saw 30,000 plus added to their number in about six months. Sidewalks were nothing more than flower sacks, old stoves torn up and thrown in the muddy streets to walk on, or more often than not, tobacco boxes pushed down in the mud. By 1853, this upstart of a town would be one of the largest cities in the nation. For now, it was the nastiest city.

There was an abundance of gold in California in the first years of the rush. One could literally find nuggets lying on the ground, but the streams were where the real wealth lay originally. Gold, like everything else, had to yield to the law of gravity. Snowmelt, heavy rains and just the attraction of gravity pulling down moved nuggets and dust from higher up in the mountains to the streams and rivers.

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Western /