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Gold Fever! The Lure and Legacy of the California Gold Rush

Art of the Gold Rush: Painters and Prospectors

Silver & Gold: Cased Images of the Gold Rush

Natives & Immingrants

The Wonders of Technology
by Steven Lavoie

Very few of the men who came from around the world in search of gold had the slightest idea how to find it.

At Stoutenburgh, a camp of mostly German immigrant miners near Sonora, word spread that a backwoods Texan was in town with a goldometer—a new-fangled device he used to follow veins of ore through the bedrock.

Mining was hard and tedious work. Prospecting was a nearly insufferable grind of rigorous hiking and grueling geological sampling, made even more frustrating by the lack of testing equipment.

Anything to ease the back-break would be a godsend.

So when the Texan, known simply as Fletcher, showed up in Stoutenburgh, the entire camp turned out for a demonstration of his instrument.

Betting all comers a purse of gold that he would find gold with his device, Fletcher led his audience to a large garden at the edge of town.

Aiming his goldometer at the crops, he followed a zigzag through the vegetable patch, declaring his path to be that of an underground vein bearing 25 pounds of pure gold.

After claiming a portion of the patch for himself, he waved the men on to start digging. Several hundred ’49ers began an excavation of the plot, destroying any prospect for a harvest.

Day after day, the digging continued until the garden was transformed into a large pit, 16 feet deep. Still they continued, reaching a depth of 25 feet, finding no trace of gold.

Finally, the men confronted Fletcher, who had settled into a comfortable tent just outside of town. The Texan returned to the plot with his goldometer. He reconfirmed his findings, assuring the men that they would be rich if they dug down only 10 more feet.

The pit reached 35 feet — still no gold. When they hit a depth of 40 feet, and a high pressure underground aquifer that turned their excavation into a massive mud hole, the men finally gave up.

By then, Fletcher and most of the rest of the town had disappeared. All that was left of Stoutenburgh was a big hole in the ground.

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