Long John Butterfield

: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

"Boys," said my father next morning, "I've been thinking over this

discovery of ours. It won't do to wait till you've finished the

ice-cutting to notify Tom Connor. He has been a good friend to us, and I

feel that we owe him some return for enabling me to get this piece of

land from Yetmore, even though it was, in a manner, accidental; and as

Tom is sure to go off prospecting in the spring, whether or no, we may

as wel
give him the chance--if he wants it--to go hunting for this

supposed vein of galena."

"He's pretty sure to want to," said I.

"Yes, I think he is. And as Yetmore will certainly find out the nature

of the black sand, and will be sending out a prospector or two himself

as soon as the snow clears off, we must at least give Tom an equal

chance. So, instead of waiting for you to finish cutting the ice, I'll

write him a letter at once, telling him all about it, and send it up by

this morning's coach."

One of the advantages to us of the frosty weather was that the mail

coach between San Remo and Sulphide came our way instead of taking the

hill-road, so that during the winter months we received our mail daily,

whereas, through the greater part of the year, while the "forty rods"

were "bottomless," we had to go ourselves to San Remo to get it. The

coach, going up, passed our place about ten in the morning, and by it my

father sent the promised letter.

We quite expected that Tom would come flying down at once, but instead

we received from him next morning a reply, stating that he could not

leave his work, and asking my father to allow us boys to do a little

prospecting for him--which, I may say, we boys were ready enough to do

if my father did not object.

He did not object; being, indeed, very willing that we should put in a

day's work for the benefit of our friend. For, as he said, to undertake

one day's prospecting for a friend was a very different matter from

taking to prospecting as a business.

It is a fascinating pursuit; men who contract the prospecting disease

seldom get the fever entirely out of their systems again, and it was

for this reason my father was so set against it, considering that no

greater misfortune could befall two farmer-boys like ourselves than to

be drawn into such a way of life. Now that we were seventeen years old,

however, and might be supposed to have some discretion, he had little

fear for Joe and me, knowing, as he did, that we shared his sentiments.

We had seen enough of the life of the prospector to understand that a

more precarious way of making a living could hardly be invented.

How many men get rich at it? I have heard it estimated at one man in

five thousand; and whether this estimate--or, rather, this guess--is

right or wrong, it shows the trend of opinion.

Suppose a prospector does strike a vein of ore: what is the common

result? By the time he has sunk a shaft ten feet deep he must have a

windlass and a man to work it, and being in most cases too poor to hire

a miner, his only way of getting help is to take in a partner. The two

go on sinking, until presently the hole is too deep to use a windlass

any more--a horse-whim is needed and then a hoisting engine. But it is

seldom that the ore dug out of a shaft will pay the expense of sinking

it--for powder and drills, ropes, buckets and timbers, are expensive

things--much less enable the owner to lay by anything, and the

probability is that to buy a hoisting engine he must sell another

portion of his claim. And so it goes, until, by the time his claim has

been turned into a mine--for, as the common and very true saying is,

"Mines are made, not found"--his share of it will probably have been

reduced to one-quarter or less; while it is quite within the limits of

probability that, becoming wearied by long waiting for the slow

development of his prospect, he will have sold out for what he can get

and gone back to his old life.

But though I do not advocate the business of prospecting as a way of

making a living--I had rather pitch hay or dig potatoes myself--I am far

from wishing to disparage the prospector himself or to belittle the

results of his work. He is the pioneer of civilization; and personally

he is generally a fine fellow. At the same time, as in every other

profession, the ranks of the prospectors include their share of the

riff-raff. It was so in our district, and we were destined shortly to

come in contact with one of them.

Tom Connor in his letter instructed us as to what he wished us to do: it

was very simple. He asked us to walk up the little canyon along which our

stream flowed, when it did flow, and to examine the bed of each of its

feeders as we came to them, to determine, if possible, which of the

branch streams it was that brought down the powdered lead-ore. He also

suggested that we get out some more of the black sand from the bottom of

the pool for him to see, and at the same time ascertain, if we could,

how much of a deposit there was there.

The last request we performed first. Taking down to the pool a long,

pointed iron rod, we lowered it into the water, marking the depth by

tying a bit of string round the rod at high-water-mark, and then bored a

hole down through the frozen sand until we struck bed-rock. By this

means we discovered that the deposit was five inches thick at the upper

end of the pool. A few feet further from the waterfall, however, the

deposit was thicker, but we noticed at the same time that the ground ice

which came up carried with it more or less yellow sand. The further we

retreated from the waterfall, too, the larger became the proportion of

yellow sand, until towards the edge of the pool it had taken the place

of the black sand altogether.

Having done this, we poked up a lot of the ground ice, which we

collected and put into a tin bucket, and taking this home we melted the

ice, poured off the water, and made a little parcel of the sand that


A few days later we had finished our ice-cutting and had stowed away the

crop in the ice-house, when we were at length free to go off and make

the little prospecting expedition that Tom had asked us to undertake.

First walking up the bed of the canyon, where the water was now

represented by sheets of crackling white ice, we arrived presently at

the first branch creek which came in on the right. This we ascended in

turn, going some distance up it before we found a likely patch of sand,

into which we chopped a hole with the old hatchet we had brought for the

purpose, disclosing a little of the black material at the bottom; though

the amount was so scanty that we could not be sure it was really the

black sand we were seeking.

Going on up this branch creek, much impeded by the snow which became

deeper and deeper the higher we ascended, we were nearing one of the

bends when Joe, who was in advance, suddenly stopped, exclaiming:

"Look there, Phil! Tracks coming down the bank. Somebody is ahead of


"So there is," said I. "What can he be doing, I wonder?"

Following these tracks a short distance, we very soon discovered the

reason for their being there. The man was on the same quest as


In a bend of the stream where the snow lay two feet thick, he had dug a

hole down to the sand, and then through the sand itself to bed-rock. At

the bottom of the hole was a little black sand, showing the marks of a

hatchet or knife-blade where it had been gouged out, but all around the

hole, between the bed-rock and the yellow sand above, was a black line

an inch thick, composed of the shiny, powdered galena ore. There could

be no doubt that the man ahead of us was hunting the same game as we


"Do you suppose it's Yetmore, Joe?" said I.

"No," Joe answered, emphatically, "I'm sure it isn't. Look at his

tracks: they are bigger than mine."

"It can't be Tom, himself, can it?"

"No, I'm pretty sure it isn't Tom either. Tom is a big, powerful fellow,

all right, but he's not more than five feet ten, while this man, I

think, is extra-tall--see the length of his stride where he came down

the bank. Whoever he is, though, Phil, he's an experienced prospector.

He hasn't wasted his time, as we have, trying unlikely places, but has

chosen this spot and gone slap down through snow and everything, just as

if he knew that the black sand would be found at the bottom."

"That's true," said I. "I wonder who it is. We must find out if we can,

Joe, so that we may be able to tell Tom who his competitor is. Let's

follow his tracks."

Getting out of the creek-bed again, we walked along the bank for nearly

a mile, until Joe, stopping short, held up his finger.

"Hark!" he whispered. "Somebody chopping."

There was a sound as of metal being struck against stone somewhere ahead

of us, so on we went again, making as little noise as possible, until

presently Joe stopped again, and pointing forward, said softly, "There

he is, look!"

The man was down in the creek-bed again, and all we could see of him

above the bank was his hat. We therefore went forward once more, timing

our steps by the blows of the hatchet, until we could see the man's head

and shoulders; but we did not gain much by that, as he had his back to

us and was too intent upon his work to turn round. At length, however,

he ceased chopping, and gathering the chips of frozen sand in his hands,

he cast them to one side. In doing so, he showed his face for a moment,

and in that brief glimpse I recognized who it was.

Joe looked at me with raised eyebrows, as much as to say, "Do you know

him?" to which I replied with a nod, and laying my hand on my

companion's arm, I drew him back until only the top of the man's hat was

visible again, when I whispered, "It's Long John Butterfield."

"What! The man they call 'The Yellow Pup'? How do you suppose he came

to hear of the black sand?"

"From Yetmore. He is a prospector whom Yetmore grub-stakes every


"'Grub-stakes,'" repeated Joe, inquiringly.

"Yes. Some prospectors go out on their own account, you know, but some

of them are 'grub-staked.' This man is employed by Yetmore. He sends

him out prospecting every spring, providing him with tools and 'grub'

and paying him some small wages. Whether it is part of the bargain that

Long John is to get any share of what he may find, I don't know, but

probably it is--that is the general rule. There is very little doubt

that Yetmore has sent him out now, just as Tom has sent us out, to see

which stream the lead-ore in the pool came from."

"Not a doubt of it. Well, shall we go ahead and speak to him?"

Before I could reply, the man himself rose up, looked about him, and at

once espied us. At seeing us standing there silently watching him, he

gave a not-unnatural start of alarm, but perceiving that he had only two

boys to deal with, even if we were pretty big, he climbed up the bank

and advanced towards us with a threatening air.

Standing six feet five inches in his over-shoes, he was a rather

formidable-looking object as he came striding down upon us, a shovel in

one hand and a hatchet in the other; but as we knew him by reputation

for a blusterer and a coward, we awaited his coming without any alarm

for our safety.

Long John Butterfield was a well-known character in Sulphide. Though a

prospector all summer, he was a bar-room loafer all winter, spending his

time hanging around the saloons, and doing only work enough in the way

of odd jobs to keep himself from starving until spring came round again,

when Yetmore would provide for him once more.

It had formerly been his ambition to pass for a "bad man," though he

found it difficult to maintain that reputation among the unbelieving

citizens of Sulphide, who knew that he valued his own skin far too

highly to risk it seriously. He had been wont to call himself "The

Wolf," desiring to be known by that title as sounding sufficiently

fierce and "bad," and being of a most unprepossessing appearance, with

his matted hair, retreating forehead, long, sharp nose and projecting

ears, he did represent a wolf pretty well--though, still better, a


As the people of Sulphide, however, declined to take him at his own

valuation, greeting his frequent outbreaks of simulated ferocity with

derisive jeers--even the small boys used to scoff at him--he was reduced

to practising his arts upon strangers, which he always hastened to do

when he thought it was not likely to be dangerous. Unluckily for him,

though, he once tried one of his tricks upon an inoffensive newcomer,

with a result so unexpected and unwelcome that his only desire

thereafter was that people should forget that he had ever called himself

"The Wolf"--a desire in which his many acquaintances, whether

working-men or loafers, readily accommodated him. But as they playfully

substituted the less desirable title of "The Yellow Pup," Long John

gained little by the move.

It happened in this way: There came out from New York at one time a

young fellow named Bertie Van Ness, a nephew of Marsden, the cattle man,

some of whose stock we were feeding that winter. He arrived at Sulphide

by coach one morning, and before going on to Marsden's he stepped into

Yetmore's store to buy himself a pair of riding gauntlets. Long John was

in there, and seeing the well-dressed, dapper little man, with his white

collar and eastern complexion--not burned red by the Colorado sun, as

all of ours are--he winked to the assembled company as much as to say,

"See me take a rise out of the tenderfoot," sidled up to Bertie, who was

a foot shorter than himself, leaned over him, and putting on his worst

expression, said, in a harsh, growling voice, "I'm 'The Wolf.'"

It was a trick that had often been successful before: peace-loving

strangers, not knowing whom they had to deal with, would usually back

away and sometimes even take to their heels, which was all that Long

John desired. In the present instance, however, the "bad man"

miscalculated. The little stranger, seeing the ugly face within a foot

of his own, withdrew a step, and without waiting for the formality of an

introduction, struck "The Wolf" a very sharp blow upon the end of his

nose, at the same time remarking, "Howl, then, you beast."

Long John did howl. Clapping his hands over his face, he retreated,

roaring, from the store, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of those


Thus it was that the name of "The Wolf" fell into disuse and the title,

"Yellow Pup," was substituted; and if at any time thereafter Long John

became obstreperous or in any way made himself objectionable, it was

only necessary for some one in company to say "Bow-wow," when the

offender would forthwith efface himself, with promptness and dispatch.

This was the man who came striding down upon Joe and me, looking as

though he were going to eat us up at a mouthful and think nothing of it.

Doubtless he supposed that, being country boys, we had not heard the

story of Bertie Van Ness, for, advancing close to us he said fiercely:

"What you doing here? Be off home! Do you know who I am? I'm 'The


"So I've heard," said I, calmly; a remark which took all the wind out of

the gentleman's sails at once. He collapsed with ridiculous suddenness,

and with a sheepish grin, said, "I was only just a-trying you, boys, to

see if you was easy scart."

"Well, you see we're not," remarked Joe. "What are you doing up here?

Pretty early for prospecting, isn't it?"

"Not any earlier for me than it is for you," replied Long John, with a

glance at the hatchet in Joe's hand. He was sharp enough.

Joe laughed. "That's true," said he. "I suppose we're both hunting the

same thing. Did you find any of it in that hole up there?"

Long John hesitated. He would have preferred to lie about it, probably,

but knowing that we could go and see for ourselves in a couple of

minutes, he made a virtue of necessity and replied:

"Yes, there's some of it there; but it don't amount to much. I guess the

vein ain't worth looking for. Come and see."

We walked forward and looked into the hole Long John had chopped, when

we saw that his prospector's instinct had hit upon the right place

again. Here also was a black streak an inch thick below the yellow sand.

It was evident that the vein of galena was somewhere up-stream, though

we ourselves were unable to judge from the amount of the deposit whether

it was likely to be big or little. Long John might be telling the truth

when he "guessed" that it was not worth looking for, though, from what

we knew of him, we, in turn, "guessed" that what he said was most likely

to be the opposite of what he thought.

We could not tell, either, whether our new acquaintance was speaking

the truth when he declared that he was satisfied with his day's work and

had already decided to go home again; I think it rather likely that,

being unable to devise any scheme for shaking us off, and not caring to

act as prospector for us as well as for Yetmore, he preferred to go back

at once and report progress. He was right, at any rate, in saying that

the drifts ahead were too deep to admit of further prospecting; for the

mountains began to close in just here, and the snow was becoming pretty


Nevertheless, Joe and I thought we would try a little further, if only

for the reason that Long John would not, and we were about to part

company, when we were startled to hear a voice above our heads say,

"Good-morning," and, looking quickly up, we saw, seated on a dead

branch, a raven, to all appearance asleep, with his feathers fluffed out

and his head sunk between his shoulders.

That it was our friend, Socrates, we could not doubt, and we looked all

around for the hermit, but as there was no one to be seen, Joe,

addressing the raven, said:

"Hallo, Sox! Where's your master?"

"Chew o' tobacco," replied the raven.

At this Long John burst out laughing. "Well, you're a cute one," said

he; and thrusting his hand into his pocket he brought out a piece of

tobacco which he invited Socrates to come and get. Sox flew down to a

convenient rock and reached for the morsel, but the moment he perceived

that it was not anything he could eat, he drew back in disdain, and

eying Long John with severity, remarked, "Bow-wow."

Now, as I have intimated, nothing was so exasperating to Long John as to

have any one say "bow-wow" to him, and not considering that the offender

was only a bird, he raised his hatchet and would have ended Sox's career

then and there had not Joe stayed his arm.

At being thus thwarted, Long John turned upon my companion, and for a

moment I felt a little uneasy lest his temper should for once get the

better of his discretion; but I need not have alarmed myself, for Long

John's outbreaks of rage were always carefully calculated when directed

against any one or anything capable of retaliation in kind, and very

probably he had already concluded that two well-grown boys like

ourselves, used to all kinds of hard work, might prove an awkward

handful for one whose muscles had been rendered flabby by lack of


At any rate, he quickly calmed down again, pretending to laugh at the

incident; but though he made some remark about "a real smart bird," I

guessed from the gleam in his little ferrety eyes that if he could lay

hands on Socrates, that aged scholar's chances of ever celebrating his

one hundredth anniversary would be slim indeed.

"Who's the thing belong to, anyhow?" asked John. "There's no one living

around here that I know of."

"He belongs to a man who lives somewhere up on this mountain," I

replied. "You've probably heard of him: Peter the Hermit."

"Him!" exclaimed Long John, looking quickly all around, as though he

feared the owner might make his appearance. "Well, I'm off. I've got to

get back to Sulphide to-night, so I'll dig out at once."

So saying, he picked up his long-handled shovel, and using it

upside-down as a walking-staff, away he went, striding over the snow at

a great pace; while Socrates, seeing him depart, very appropriately

called after him, "Good-bye, John."