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The Big Reuben Vein

From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

But it seemed as though Joe were destined never to get to Sulphide. I
was still in the kitchen, when, not more than twenty minutes later, I
heard the rattle of wheels again, and looking out of the window, there I
saw my partner by the stable tying up his horse.

"Hallo, Joe!" I cried, throwing open the door. "What's up?"

Without replying at the moment, Joe came striding in, shut the door, and
throwing his hat down upon the table, said:

"I came back to tell you something. I've a notion, Phil, that we've got
to go hunting for that vein ourselves, and not lose time by going up to
tell Tom."

"Why? What makes you think that, Joe?" I asked, in surprise.

"That's what I came back to tell you. You know that little treeless
'bubble' that stands on the edge of the canyon only about half a mile
up-stream from here? Well, when I drove up the hill out of our valley
just now I turned, naturally, to look at the scar on the mountain, when
the first thing to catch my eye was the figure of a man standing on top
of the 'bubble.'"

"Is that so? What was he doing?"

"He was looking at the scar, too."

"How do you know that, Joe?" I asked, incredulously. "You couldn't tell
at that distance whether he had his back to you or his face."

"Ah, but I could, though," Joe replied; "and I'll tell you how. After a
minute or so the man turned--I could see that motion distinctly
enough--caught sight of me, and instantly jumped down behind the rocks."

"Didn't want to be seen, eh?" remarked Peter. "And what did you do

"I felt sure he was watching me, though I couldn't see him," Joe went
on, "and so, to make him suppose I hadn't observed him, I stayed where I
was for a minute, and then drove leisurely on again. There's a dip in
the road, you know, Phil, a little further on, and as soon as I had
driven down into it, out of sight, I pulled up, jumped out of the
buckboard, and running up the hill again I crawled to the top of the
rise and looked back. There was the man, going across the mesa at a run,
headed straight for Big Reuben's gorge!"

Joe paused, and for a moment we all sat looking at each other in

"Any idea who he was?" I asked presently.

"Yes," replied Joe, without hesitation. "It was Long John Butterfield."

"You seem very sure," remarked Peter; "but do you think you could
recognize him so far off?"

"I feel sure it was Long John," Joe answered. "I have very long sight;
and as the man stood there on top of the 'bubble,' with the sun shining
full upon him, he looked as tall as a telegraph pole. Yes, I feel
certain it was Long John."

"Then Yetmore has started him out to prospect for that vein!" I cried.
"He is probably camped in the neighborhood of Big Reuben's gorge,
following up the stream, and I suppose he heard the roar of the slide
yesterday and came down this way the first thing this morning to get a
look at the scar."

"That's it, I expect," Joe answered.

"And you suppose," said Peter, "that he went running back to his camp
to get his tools and go prospecting up on the scar."

Joe nodded.

"Then, what do you propose to do?" asked the hermit.

"I've been thinking about it as I drove back," replied Joe, "and my
opinion is that Phil and I ought to go up at once, see if we can't find
the spot where that big tree was rooted out, and stake the claim for Tom
Connor. If we lose a whole day by going up to Sulphide to notify Tom, it
would give Long John a chance to get in ahead of us and perhaps beat us
after all."

The bare idea of such a catastrophe was too much for me. I sprang out of
my chair, crying, "We'll go, Joe! And we'll start at once! How are we to
get up there, Peter? There must be any amount of snow; and we are
neither of us any good on skis, even if we had them."

"Yes, there's plenty of snow," replied Peter promptly, entering with
heartiness into the spirit of the enterprise, "lots of snow, but you can
avoid most of it by taking the ridge on the right of the creek and
following along its summit to where it connects with the saddle. You'll
find a little cliff up there, barring your way, but by turning to your
left and keeping along the foot of the precipice you will come presently
to the upper end of the slide, and then, by coming down the slide, you
will be able to reach the place where the line of trees used to stand,
which is the place you want to reach."

"Is it at all dangerous?" asked Joe.

"Why, yes," replied Peter, "it is a bit dangerous, especially on the
slide itself now that the trees are gone; though if you are ordinarily
careful you ought to be able to make it all right, there being two of
you. For a man by himself it would be risky--a very small accident might
strand him high and dry on the mountain--but where there are two
together it is reasonably safe."

"Come on, then, Joe," said I. "Let's be off."

"Wait a bit!" cried our guest, holding up his hand. "You talk of staking
a claim for Tom Connor; well, suppose you should find the spot where
the big tree was rooted out, and should find a vein there--do you know
how to write a location-notice?"

"No," said I, blankly. "We don't."

"Well, I'll write you out the form," said Peter. "I've read hundreds of
them and I remember it well enough, and you can just copy the wording
when you set up your stake--if you have occasion to set one up at all."

He sat down and quickly wrote out the form for us, when, pocketing the
paper, we went over to the stable, saddled up, and leaving Peter in
charge, away we rode, armed with a pick, a shovel, an ax and a coil of

According to the hermit's directions, instead of following up the bed of
the creek which led to his house, we took to the spur on the right, the
top of which being treeless, had been swept bare of snow by the winds
and presented no serious obstacle to our sure-footed ponies. We were
able, therefore, to ride up the mountain so far that we presently found
ourselves looking down upon Peter's house, or, rather, upon the mountain
of snow which covered it. But here the character of the spur changed,
or, to speak more accurately, here the spur ended and another one began.
Between the two, half-filled with well-packed snow, lay a deep crevice,
which, bearing away down hill to our right, was presently lost among the

"From the lay of the land," said Joe, "I should judge that this is the
head of the creek which runs through Big Reuben's gorge--Peter told us
it started up here, you remember. And from the look of it," he
continued, "I should suppose that the shortest way of getting over to
the slide would be to cut right across here to the left through the
trees. But that is out of the question: the snow would be ten feet over
our heads; so our only way is to cross this gulch and go on up as far as
we can along the top of the next ridge, as Peter said."

"Then we shall have to leave the ponies here," I remarked, "and do the
rest on foot: there's no getting them across this place."

Accordingly, we abandoned our ponies at this point, and having with some
difficulty scrambled across the gulch ourselves, we ascended to the
ridge of the next spur and continued our way upward. This spur was
crowned by an outcrop of rock, which being much broken up and the cracks
being filled with snow, made the walking not only difficult but
dangerous. By taking care, however, we avoided any accident, and, after
a pretty stiff climb arrived at the foot of a perpendicular ledge of
rocks which cut across our course at right angles--the little cliff
Peter had told us we should find barring our way.

Here, turning to the left, as directed, we skirted along the base of the
cliff, sometimes on the rocks and sometimes on the edge of the snow
which rested against them, until at last we reached a point whence we
could look right down the steep slope of the slide.

Covered with loose shale, the slope for its whole length appeared to be
smooth and of uniform pitch, except that about three-quarters of the way
down we could see a line of snow hummocks stretching all across its
course, indicating pretty surely that here had grown a strip of trees,
which being most of them broken off short had caught and held a little
snow against the stumps.

"There's where we want to get, Joe!" I cried, eagerly. "Down there to
that row of stumps! This is a limestone country--all this shale, you
see, is composed of limestone chips--but that tree-root in which we
found the chunk of galena held two or three bits of porphyry as well,
you remember, and if it did come from down there, there's a good chance
that that line of stumps indicates the course of a porphyry outcrop, as
Peter guessed, cutting across the limestone formation."

"Well, what of that?" asked Joe. "Is a porphyry outcrop a desirable
thing to find? Is it an 'indication'?"

"It's plain you're no prospector, Joe," said I, laughing; "and though I
don't set up to know much about it myself, I've learned enough from
hearing Tom Connor talk of 'contact veins' to know that if there's a
vein in the neighborhood the most promising place to look for it is
where the limestone and the porphyry come in contact."

"Is that so?" cried Joe, beginning to get excited. "Then let us get down
there at once; for, ten to one, that's where our big tree came from."

"That's all very well," said I. "The row of stumps is our goal, all
right, but how are we going to get down there? I don't feel at all
inclined to trust myself on this loose shale. The pitch is so steep that
I should be afraid of its starting to slide and carrying us with it,
when I don't see anything to stop us from going down to the bottom and
over the precipice at the lower end."

"That's true," Joe assented. "No, it won't do to trust ourselves on this
treacherous shale; it's too dangerous. What we must do, Phil, is to get
across to that long spur of rocks over there and climb down that. It
will bring us close down to the line of stumps."

The spur to which Joe referred, connecting at its upper end with the
cliff at the foot of which we were then standing, reached downward like
a great claw to within a short distance of the chain of snow hummocks,
and undoubtedly our safest course would be to follow it to its lowest
extremity and begin our descent from there. It was near the further edge
of the slide, however, and to get over to it we had to take a course
close under the cliff, holding on to the rocks with our right hands as
we skirted along the upper edge of the shaly slope. It was rather slow
work, for we had to be careful, but at length we reached our
destination, when, turning once more to our left, we scrambled down the
spur to its lowest point.

"Now, Phil," cried Joe, "you stay where you are while I go down. No use
to take unnecessary risks by both going down together. You sit here, if
you don't mind, and wait for me; I won't be any longer than I can help."

"All right," said I; "but take the end of the rope in your hand, Joe.
No use for you to take unnecessary risks, either."

"That's a fact," replied my companion. "Yes, I'll take the rope."

With a shovel in one hand and the end of the rope in the other, Joe
started downward, but presently, having advanced as far as the rope
extended, he dropped it and went cautiously on, using the shovel-handle
as a staff. Down to this point he had had little difficulty, but a few
steps further on, reaching presumably the change of formation we had
expected to find, where the smooth, icy rock beneath the shale was
covered only by an inch or so of the loose material, the moment he
stepped upon it Joe's feet slipped from under him and falling on his
back he shot downward like an arrow.

I held my breath as I watched him, horribly scared lest he should go
flying down the whole remaining length of the slope and over the
precipice; but my suspense lasted only a few seconds, for presently a
great jet of snow flew into the air, in the midst of which Joe vanished.
The next moment, however, he appeared again, hooking the snow out of his
neck with his finger, and called out to me:

"All right, Phil! I fell into a hole where a tree came out. I'm going to
shovel out the snow now. Don't let go of that rope whatever you do."

So saying he set to work with the shovel, making the snow fly, while I
sat on the rocks a hundred feet above, watching him. In about a quarter
of an hour he looked up and called out to me:

"I've found it, Phil. Right in this hole. It's the hole our big tree
came out of, I believe. Can't tell how much of a vein, though, the
ground is frozen too hard. Bring down the pick, will you? Come down to
the end of the rope and throw it to me."

In response to this request, having first tied a knot in the end of the
rope and fixed it firmly in a crack in the rocks, I went carefully down
as far as it reached, when, with a back-handed fling, I sent the pick
sliding down to my partner.

"Don't you think I might venture down and help you, Joe?" I called out.

"No!" replied Joe with much emphasis. "You stay where you are, Phil. It
would be too risky. I can do the work by myself all right."

Still keeping my hold on the rope, therefore, I sat myself down on the
shale, while Joe, pick in hand, went to work again. Pretty soon he
straightened up and said:

"I've found the vein all right, Phil; I don't think there can be a doubt
of it. Good strong vein, too, I should say."

"How wide is it?" I asked.

"Can't tell how wide it is. I've found what I suppose to be the porphyry
hanging-wall, right here"--tapping the rock with his pick--"and I've
been trying to trench across the vein to find the foot-wall, but the
shale runs in on me faster than I can dig it out."

"What do you propose to do, then, Joe?"

"Try one of those other holes further along and see if I can't find the
vein again and get its direction. You sit still there, Phil. I shall
want you to give me a hand out of here soon."

With extreme caution he made his way along the line of stumps, helping
himself with the pick in one hand and the shovel in the other, until,
about a hundred yards distant, he arrived at another hole where a tree
had been rooted out, and here he went to work again. This time he kept
at it for a good half hour, but at length he laid down his tools, and
for a few minutes occupied himself by building with loose pieces of rock
a little pillar about eighteen inches high.

"Can you see that, Phil?" he shouted.

"Yes, I can see it," I called back.

This seemed to be all Joe wanted, for he at once picked up his tools
again, and with the same caution made his way back to the first hole.

"What's your pile of stones for, Joe?" I asked.

"Why, I found the vein again, hanging-wall and all, and I set up that
little monument so as to get the line of the vein from here."

Taking out of his pocket a little compass we had brought for the
purpose, he laid it on the rock, and sighting back over his "monument,"
he found that the vein ran northeast and southwest.

"Phil," said he, "do you see that dead pine, broken off at the top, with
a hawk's nest in it, away back there on the upper side of the gulch
where we left the ponies?"

"Yes," I replied, "I see it. What of it?"

"The line of the vein runs right to that tree, and I propose we get
back and hunt for it there. I don't want to set up the location-stake
here: this place is too difficult to get at and too dangerous to work
in. So I vote we get back to the dead tree and try again there. What do
you say?"

"All right," I replied. "We'll do so."

"Very well, then I'll come up now."

But this was more easily said than done. Do what he would, Joe could not
get up to where I sat, holding out to him first a hand and then a foot.
He tried walking and he tried crawling, but in vain; the rock beneath
the shale was too steep and too smooth and too slippery. At length, at
my suggestion, Joe threw the shovel up to me, when, on my lying flat and
reaching downward as far as I could stretch, he succeeded in hooking the
pick over the shoulder of the shovel-blade, after which he had no more

"Well, Joe," said I, when we had safely reached the rocks again, "it's
just as well we didn't both go down together after all, isn't it?"

"That's what it is," replied my partner, heartily. "If you had tried to
come down with me we should both probably have tumbled into that hole
together, and there we should have had to stay till somebody came up to
look for us; and there'd have been precious little fun in that. Did it
scare you when I went scooting down the slide on my back?"

"It certainly did," I replied. "I expected to have to go down to Peter's
house and lug you home next--if there was any of you left."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I was a bit scared myself. It was a great
piece of luck my falling into that hole. It's a dangerous place, this,
and the sooner we get out of it the better; so, let us start back, at

Making our way up the spur, we again skirted along between the upper
edge of the slide and the foot of the cliff, and ascending once more to
the ridge, we retraced our steps down it until we presently arrived at
the dead tree with the hawk's nest in it.

Here, after a careful inspection of the ground, we went to work, Joe
with the pick, and I, following behind him, throwing out the loose stuff
with the shovel and searching through each shovelful for bits of galena.
In this way we worked, cutting a narrow trench across the line where we
supposed the vein ought to run, until presently Joe himself gave a
great shout which brought me to his side in an instant.

With the point of his pick he had hooked out a lump of galena as big as
his head!

My! How excited we were! And how we did work! We just flew at it, tooth
and nail--or, rather, pick and shovel. If our lives had depended on it
we could not have worked any harder, I firmly believe. The consequence
was that at the end of an hour we had uncovered a vein fifteen feet
wide, disclosing a porphyry wall on one side and a limestone wall on the

The vein was not, of course, a solid body of ore. Very far from it.
Though there were bits of galena scattered pretty thickly all across it,
the bulk of the vein-matter was composed of scraps of quartz mixed with
yellow earth--the latter, as we afterwards learned, being itself
decomposed lead-ore--to say nothing of grass-roots, tree-roots and other
rubbish which helped to make up the mass.

But that we had found a real, genuine vein, even we, novices as we were
at the business, could not doubt, and very heartily we shook hands with
each other when our trenching at length brought us up against the
limestone foot-wall. With the discovery of this foot-wall, Joe called a

"Enough!" he cried. "Enough, Phil! Let's stop now. We've got the vein,
all right, and a staving good vein it is, and all we have to do for the
present is to set up our location-stake. To-morrow Tom will come up
here, when he can make his camp and get to work at it regularly, sinking
his ten-foot prospect-hole. What are we going to name it? The 'Hermit'?
The 'Raven'? The 'Socrates'?"

"Call it the 'Big Reuben,'" I suggested.

"Good!" exclaimed Joe. "That's it! The 'Big Reuben' it shall be."

This, therefore, was the title we wrote upon our location-notice, by
which we claimed for Tom Connor a strip of ground fifteen hundred feet
in length along the course of the vein and one hundred and fifty feet
wide on either side of it; and thus did our old enemy, Big Reuben, lend
his name to a "prospect" which was destined later to take its place
among the foremost mines of our district.

Next: The Wolf With Wet Feet

Previous: The Snow-slide

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