Mining Days: In the Trinity Alps

by Kayak Peter Wait

concerning: an introduction and tales
How the Gold Pan Got the Hole in the Rim
The Muffin Pan with the Hole in One Cup

In the Trinity Alps, an introduction

In 1981 I went up to the North Fork of the Trinity River at the insistence of my old friend Mats. Mats was a seaman since first shipping out in '44 when he was 16. He shipped on a square rigged Island Trader going 'tween Hawaii and Samoa. He had been going to the Trinity Alps for many years while he was on the beach. And with the declining state of the American Merchant Marine he was on the beach quite a bit in those days. During the winter he and I would meet in North Beach at G&C for a drink, to catch up and swap lies. He would talk of the sea and mining in the Trinity using the methods of the nineteenth century I would talk of kayaking and mining in the Sierra in the twentieth.

Mats had been mining with 'George' Jorstad, who had come to the Trinity Alps in the early 30's from [?]Minnesota. There had still been some of the original old timers around then, living on their claims up and down the creeks. A host of the dispossessed were also living in a 'Hooverville' at the end of the road. George avoided these new-comers and learned all he could from the old-timers. He staked his own claim, built a cabin and commenced mining for the next 50 years with time out for WW II.

WW II started for George in '39 when he signed onto the three-mast barque Kaiulani as ship's carpenter. After sailing around the Horn and being stranded in Tasmania, he finished the war in the Merchant Marine. But that's a tale for tomorrow.

Mats had met George one winter at G&C while George was working seasonally at the Hunter's Point Ship Yards. They knew each other casually for a number of years both in North Beach and in the Trinity at Helena, the town at the end of the paved road. Mats had always declined the invitation to join him at his claim twenty miles past that paved road. For some reason Mats always considered himself civilized. Then, one day Mats met George in the supermarket in Weaverville and saw him buying paper towels. "Not as primitive as I thought" decided Mats, "I'll go check it out". In fact George's camp was definitely not primitive and Mats went back every year until his death.


On Piper [or Pfeiffer] Flat on the North Fork of the Trinity River stands a sturdy log cabin that George built in 1937 for his bride. The marriage did not last past the first winter, but the cabin lasted the 50 years required to qualify as a historical structure when the claim reverted to the Forest Service after George's death. It might still be there. [see news clipping]

This mining camp had beds with sheets and blankets, cupboards crammed with food and 30 years of equipment and supplies, book cases bursting with an eclectic library. A wind-up Victrola with the symphonies of Beethoven. The best of mineral waters was piped across the river and into camp, where it ran over a spring box keeping perishables cool. Then on to a large fenced garden.


title=""> The garden supplied fresh produce such as strawberries, chard, zucchini, tomatoes, beans, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, and whatever the specials of the year were. The woods supplied spring greens (miners lettuce, dandelions, nettles and onions), mushrooms (Chanterelles, Boletes, Russulas, Lactarius, Inky Caps), fish (trout, steelhead, salmon) and of course venison. Every fall, two deer were killed, aged, butchered and canned for the following season.

The heart of the camp was a covered outdoor kitchen area with side curtains for the rainy season. A large rock fireplace and cook stove kept smoke out of your eyes. Hand crafted work counter, wash stand, table, benches and stools furnished the area. Behind the kitchen were two swing beds suspended from old Incense Cedars. A large wall tent served as guest quarters. While a corral with shed, mangers and salt lick provided accommodations for the stock.

A constant stream of guests: back-packers, miners, forest service trail and fire crews, mule packers, guides and hunters provided news of the outside world, unexpected provision and most welcome company.

Every one who came up the trail was made welcome. If they couldn't stop, George would follow them up the trail urging fresh garden produce on them, especially zucchini. But generally, people would arrive after the mining was done for the day, just in time for cocktails. (Vodka and Tang, Drink of the Astronauts) Many would arrive on horseback leading a pack train.

"How about some fried chicken with artichokes on the side?" says Lee as he unloads an ice chest full of rare perishables. "And some of your polenta. Sam sent this case of Gravensteins ... polenta and gravy".

"Only if you stir the polenta" I reply as I fire up the cook stove. "Did you bring any Graffeo Coffee?"

After dinner, another log or two is thrown on the fire. Stools, stumps and benches are pulled up to the fire or moved back out of the heat. Or arranged by a tree to provide a back rest. Pipes are lit, drinks made as we settle down for an evening of story telling. One of the stories George loved to tell when anyone asked was ...

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How the Gold Pan Got the Hole in the Rim

[That pan is shown above, filled with Mushrooms,
  the hole is at one o'clock.
]

George had been hard at work at a promising site for a couple of weeks. He had found a few good nuggets. Now the box was full of heavy black sand, liberally flecked with gold. He was anxious to pan it out and see how much gold he had found, but the sun was directly overhead and hot. He was tired. And tradition demanded that he go back to camp, have dinner and take a nap until the diggings were once more shaded.

Across the sun filled flats, all golden with dead grasses.
Passed ancient giants of pine and fir.
Across the swift silvery flood of the North Fork.
To a dinner of venison, sourdough bread and turnip greens.
Strawberries for dessert.
A nap on the swing bed under the cedars.
When the sun shines 'neath the branches,
Falling 'pon my face,
'Tis time to rise and go to work.

Rested and refreshed, George headed down creek toward the diggin's and all that gold for which he had labored so long and hard. There is a rise on the trail just before coming to the diggin's.


From that vantage point he surveys the scene of his labors spread out below:   The cut in the bank from which he rolled the boulders into the river forming a wing dam which directed the flow into the cut to wash away the light sands;   His tools laid out on the bank: pick, shovel, pry bar, gold pans, 5 gal. bucket with various small tools for extracting gold from rock crevices;   His sluice box, set in a riffle of the river, into which he shoveled the heavier gravels;   And the no good, low down vermin hunched over the sluice, filling George's own gold pan with his hard won paydirt.

"Who is that down there? What's he doing?" mutters George, "... Why, he's steeling my Gold!"

Now, George is not shy, but he is not dumb either. The rotten pilferer of George's gold is very large and packing a revolver. The law is thirty miles down trail, past that dirty low life. So George high tails it back home as fast as he can.

But it is not to cower under the bed, his trusty 30-30 hangs over that bed. (You never know when a maraudering bear is going to climb in a window while you sleep ...but that's another story). He grabbed the gun and raced back to the diggin's.

George got back to the rise above the sluice in record time. Giving himself time to catch his breath, he carefully surveyed the situation. The evil one was still there. He had filled George's own pan with the precious black sands from the sluice. He had moved to a quiet eddy in the river just below the trail. On his knees, back to George, he was carefully washing out George's Gold!

George knew what he had to do. This must stop now. Justice must prevail. Gathering years of hunting experience, he slowly, quietly settled into a comfortable stance. Taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out, he brought the 30-30 to his shoulder. He squeeezed the trigger...

George was an excellent shot. He put the bullet just where he wanted it. Right over the miscreant's left shoulder and into the rim of the gold pan.

You're quietly, carefully washing your ill gotten gains, when CRACK!
The Hand (or in this case Bullet) of Retribution rips your plunder
from your hands and dashes it into the stream.
Your heart stops. You die a little.

The dirty Claim Jumper leapt to his feet. He didn't look around or pause. He ran as though all the forces of hell were after him, knowing that the black pit was opening up just for him.

"I don't know how far he got before collapsing in exhaustion" laughs George, "It was about three o'clock and he had at least 10 miles to go. I like to think the screams of a mountain lion that evening helped him on his way, any way, he was never seen around here again".

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Well, that's the gist of the story. Not George's words exactly, but it's the essence of them. I've added descriptive embellishments that George didn't need with his audience right there on the scene. There's also this little post script...

The Muffin Pan with the Hole in One Cup

After I had been around for about three years George found a muffin pan with a hole in it up in the loft. That was my doing.

The previous fall I was alone at the claim putting it in order for the winter. Between storms I had taken down the tent and hung it in the loft, then moved into the cabin.

At that time of the year, others were also moving in. Pack rats and field mice find the cabin an excellent place to spend the winter, maybe raise a family or two come spring. There is always something to gnaw on or through; something to chew up for bedding material; something to eat that is not properly protected by glass or metal. The pack rats are the worst. Their nests can be definite fire hazards.

In my first spring in the Trinity camp, Mats and I cleaned out a huge pack rat nest. Cubic yards of dry, pitchy cedar and pine branchlets and cones were hauled away. Amongst this fuel were coins, small tools, reading glasses, pipes, live bullets and matches. That nest was an incendiary bomb.

So two years later I was concerned that they not move back in. One night I awoke to the sound of scurrying, not mouse scurrying, but pack rat. I could tell that he was avoiding my carefully placed traps. Only one thing would end this invasion. With my right hand I reached up for the 30-30 on the wall; with my left I grabbed the flashlight next to the bed. As I sat up, I swept the light along the probable pack rat route, the 30-30 followed right along. There he is. BAM!

Well I certainly got the intruder, but I had not taken into account the small mass of the rat versus the large force of the 30-30. The bullet went right through the rat and blasted one cup of the muffin pan before embedding itself in the log wall. Next time I'll stick with traps.

George found the Muffin Pan with the Hole in One Cup the next spring. He knew what had happened. I can still see that twinkle in his eye as he coyly confessed that was exactly how his gold pan got the hole in the rim. I never let on to others while George was alive, but now with this post script, I think I'll claim the story as my own.

        That's all for now, Kayak Peter

2004, peter j wait



edited by Peter J Wait, 4/23/04 11:22:19 PM