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
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."