The Elephant's Grip
Obsessed with finding gold, Jeremy and his rogue step-uncle cross grueling plains and climb rugged mountains to join the Pikes Peak gold rush of 1859. Nature’s perils, deadly conflicts with Indians, and fellow gold seekers all hinder their progress, but a wise old prospector takes them under his wing, counseling them on the ways of mining and other affairs. Together they struggle mightily to dig gold amid constant danger and formidable setbacks.
Among the few women in the area are an African-American healer who cures Jeremy of tick fever, an attractive and enterprising young widow who establishes her own bakery business, and a cabaret singer—an escaped slave. Which one will capture his heart permanently, plumb his depths, and alter his understanding of life’s meanings and purposes?
The gulch turned out to be longer than expected—close to three miles. It took most of the day to climb to its highest end.
“Look at that,” I marveled when we topped out. The Continental Divide stretched before us. It divides the runoff from creeks and rivers flowing to either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Continuous snowcapped peaks and saddles formed a spectacular vista. Although the snowy range appeared close, about a dozen miles separated us. The serenely still air and stunning view spawned a peaceful setting.
“Now that’s really something,” Daemon responded. “Sure hope it isn’t the calm before the storm.”
We’d seen it a week earlier from the plains while we traveled from the Julesburg trading post to the Auraria settlement near the base of the mountains. I told Daemon, “I could never tire of this view.”
Approaching nightfall let us pitch our camp in the unparalleled location. Nearby aspen groves, not yet budded out, sheltered deer and mountain goats. No doubt aware of our presence, they nonchalantly ignored us. We could faintly see them in the dark, owing to the clear night sky and immense panorama of moon, planets, and stars.
The following morning I said, “We can’t waste any time. Let’s get after it.”
Planning to examine each tributary ravine for any sign of gold, we started to systematically work our way back down the gulch. A horde of other prospectors were en route and would quickly soak up all the sites, so it was important to find something before the frenzied competition arrived. We pressed on, naively hoping that a “eureka” moment would come to us.
A herd of deer came into view, and I shot one. Daemon grinned at me when I said, “We’ll eat better tonight.”
We quickly cleaned it and continued on down the gulch, not missing a ravine on either side. Failing to find anything made us wonder if we’d know a good prospect if we saw one.
“All these rock formations are beginning to look alike,” I said.
“All I can say is they’re uniformly rugged,” Daemon answered.
But my optimism didn’t wane. Hopes for the future discounted meager knowledge. Thoughts of great riches crowded out negative thoughts.
We saw two prospectors examining an outcrop glistening with shiny specks. They tried to wave us away, but we paid no heed. Despite how the people we’d seen so far had acted, any person in this vast wilderness piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know what they were doing and to learn all I could about prospecting.
“Hi, neighbor, how’s everything going? Are you having any luck?” I asked.
Instead of answering my questions, the man nearest me eyed the deer carcass on our cart and said, “Looks like you got a fine buck.”
“Have you found anything promising in your prospecting?” I followed.
Again off subject he said, “Those clouds mean some rough weather is coming.”
Hardly welcomed by the prospectors, we stood there for a moment baffled by the off-point answers. The four of us looked at one another in awkward silence. One of the prospectors shifted back and forth on his feet. The other looked away. They obviously wanted us to leave. The unwritten code prevailed—don’t share with a potential competitor. Keep useful knowledge to yourself.
We ambled on.