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UP ON THE ????/Ernest Finney HE KEPT TO HIMSELF on the ferry, going up the Sacramento from San Francisco. A lot of the other men on board had partners or were striking up friendships. He'd volunteered his name and home state, Hy Hopgoode, Iowa, to a couple of men from Florida who sat next to him on the top deck, but he let it drop after that. He didn't mention that he'd been here in California before. When the ferry docked the next day at Sacramento City, most of the passengers headed toward the outfitters for supplies, buying so much it seemed they were expecting the diggings to be right at hand, like they'd only have to carry their heavy packs a couple of miles. He knew better but still overloaded himself with food and equipment before heading up the road. These fields by the river had been all wilderness before, filled with game. It was right over there that he had killed an elk when he was a hunter up at Sutter's Fort in '44. He'd hung it on the broken-off limb in that black oak to skin. He was seventeen then and green as grass, had served eight years on a nine-year apprenticeship to become a cabinetmaker before he'd run away and come west. It hadn't mattered here that he'd never shot anything before when they hired him on as a hunter at the fort; he figured he'd learn how, fast. It hadn't mattered in California that he couldn't read or write anything but his name. That was six years ago. He'd learned how to read the thickest book since then, but it hadn't changed things as much as he thought it would. The new gold strikes were northeast of the city, and he headed that way, toward the mountains. As he walked he watched the sky, stars like lamplight from thousands of faraway windows. Were there people up there? Could they be doing the same thing he was doing? Hunting rocks in the ground? If there were people up there, did they die? When it was daylight he began to see signs of mining in the wilderness : rusted pieces of metal, scraps of canvas and cloth, bottles, shovel heads, worn-out boots, broken saw-cut boards, iron stakes driven into the boulders like thunderbolts. Whole creeks had been diverted; water oozed through piles of rocks; mud banks were moved and torn. He thought he might be near the site of his strike in '48, when he'd picked up the gold slugs off the bedrock like yellow daisies, but he couldn't 162 ยท The Missouri Review tell for sure. Most of the softwood trees were gone, cut down for firewood or boards. He stayed on the game runs and saw no one, not a single person. He walked on, pretending he'd never see anyone, that he was the only one left in the world, climbing the steep ravines, going farther north than he'd ever been before. When he was too tired to keep going, he slept, curled up under the manzanita. That afternoon, following the river, he realized someone was calling to him: "You're not going to earn wages that way. We're making a cup a day here. You can'tbeat that." He walked out from the trees and down the bank. "You can take some of that lumber up by the tent there for your sluice box. I got help when I came in May and I'm passing it on." The miner was older, maybe thirty; it was hard to tell, with his beard. "I thank you," he said, and added, "I've got my own nails," going a little closer to see how the box was made. The top was open, and the sides and bottom were made out of one-by-twelves. The miner was shoveling gravel into one end, situated so river water washed the gravel down over cleats set crosswise, about an inch high and half a foot apart. Simple system, like his mother's washboard. And he had to stop...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 162-185
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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