top of page

What Can Be Claimed? Living Among Ghosts

What Can Be Claimed - Ch. 2, Part 1

By Wolf Hall, Contributing Writer, Reprinted with permission from the E-Town’s Touch-Me-Not Newspaper

The hour or so before dawn when Callum arose each day was becoming his favorite time of day. From his room on the second floor of the Story Hotel, he sensed a calm in the normally combustible streets outside. His room was usually still a little warm from last night’s fire, and the chill that floated on the floor was only a reminder of the bracing morning air that would greet him. It had been a week since he had started helping Herman Froelick, and Callum had moved past being overwhelmed by the boom town. He now just appreciated this time before bustling of miners and traders on the street.

At the store, Callum had quickly become an asset. Mr. Froelick had been so busy that he had neglected to keep any accounting of sales and profits since April, and Callum’s experience working for his father where he tracked orders and settled accounts had prepared him perfectly to fill that void. Just in in the single week of work, Callum had discovered that Froelick had not accounted for two hundred dollars of sales that increased his profit margin far beyond what he had previously thought. In the daily running of the shop, Callum had stopped two more young miners from shoplifting just as he had done when he interviewed the first day. Froelick’s store was no longer a mark for the types looking for a five finger discount. Froelick knew that Callum had already far exceeded the wages he was earning, and he was coming to rely on him as he was expanding his own endeavors towards mining and other ventures. So, when Callum arrived on this particular morning, Froelick stood waiting for him at the counter hoping to thank Callum with a few offers.

“Good morning, Mr. Ennis”, Herman Froelick always greeted Callum as a businessman. “It seems you saved me another ten bucks yesterday on that tool order from Mr. Hayes. I really need to get you paid for all you’re doing here.”

“Two more days, sir, that’s what we agreed… every Friday after the first one is payday, right?”, Callum was eager to be payed, but he wanted to be fair.

“Ha! That’s if you worked out!”, Froelick was joking, and Callum knew it. “I was inclined to think you’d be a little too shy for this enterprise, but it turns out you have ambition. To that point, I was thinking you might want a day off to work that claim you were so excited to have acquired last week.”

“I’d be obliged, sir, but I would just assume wait until payday. I need need of tools and supplies before I expect to make any progress.”

“That is just what I was thinking”, Froelick removed an envelope from the cash register.

“This is an advance on that first paycheck. I’ve already deducted the cost of the tools waiting for you at the the door. Take the day off, Mr. Ennis. Go make your fortune!”

Callum protested at first, but Froelick insisted that Wednesdays were slow, and that he could handle the store for one day. Thankful, Callum gathered his pay and supplies, and remembered how icy his feet were on his last trek across the creek. So just before leaving the store, he picked out one more item and removed some cash from his envelope.

“Six dollars, for the boots. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. Froelick!”

“How about I see you tonight? I’d like to celebrate your new enterprise with a drink. John Pearson is a good friend of mine. I’ll have some whiskey waiting for you at his saloon when you get back in.” Herman Froelick had one more offer to make, but he was going to wait to see how Callum’s prospecting played out.

In the time it took Callum to change into his new boots and gather a few more supplies, the misty clouds of the valley walls had risen into clouds above. Callum made his way back across the creek with his claim in hand. It was signed by Henry Keefe, Jim Stanley, Theodore Kendrick, and, of course, Callum Ennis himself. At the top of the page was a title for the claim that, in Callum’s handwriting read, “The Aideen” - named for his sister. It also was accompanied by a map that designated the location of this claim as it related to the Discovery Tree. When gold was first discovered in this valley, Captain Moore’s men had marked a tree to denote where they first found that evidence of a lode. Now, everyone marked the locations of all other claims according to this tree. After asking a few workers in the creek where this tree was, Callum was on his way.

After an hour of hiking and checking his map, but Callum located an empty section of land that included a spring, running creek, and was located at the junction of two foothills. It certainly was promising. While Callum could see other prospectors nearby, his little patch was clean and untouched aside from a few small white flags that marked its borders.

Excitedly, Callum set his tools next to a tree near the spring, and he jumped into the creek with his pan. He had absolutely no idea how to pan, but he knew that gold was heavier than most of the other mud that he stirred up in the water. Surely, sloshing a little of that around in the pan would reveal something as the water and silt washed out of the pan. So, he tried. He also failed. Callum was undeterred. He dropped the pan and picked up his shovel. Maybe he needed to dig into the creek’s banks to get to the gold. With each shovel of mud, he dug into it with his fingers using the waters of the creek to wash away the loose silt and mud. Still nothing.

Callum didn’t figure the gold was just going to jump out at him. So, he occupied the next three hours trying every technique he could think of. It was well past noon, and Callum was bent down on his knees and elbow deep in dirt when he heard a low stern voice that was only a few feet away.

“Nice boots, Greenhorn.” This was not a friendly greeting.

3 views0 comments