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The Storm Of '73

Posted Tuesday, July 1, 2008, at 4:29 PM

I find it somewhat incredible that I should take any credence in the theory of reincarnation; however, I have recently been getting impulses in the general area of the old Medulla Oblongata that paint a picture of me in the year of 1873. My present birth certificate indicates that I was born on November 27 of 1914, so how could I otherwise get this picture of myself as a gold miner, living in an eight by ten foot canvas tent along the Arctic Circle in the Yukon Territory of Alaska?

Along with my partners, Podunk Pete and Pappy Knight, we had staked our claim in the horseshoe bend of a small creek about ten miles north of Barney's Hooch Hut and Supply shack that was located at a point where this small creek emptied into the Yukon River.

Working in ice-cold water up to our knees, we panned a few flakes from the gravel bottom of this creek, and rocked out a smidgen of dust from the banks. It was not enough to brag about, but Pete had a brilliant idea that was sure to change our luck.

At the place where this creek started its horse-shoe bend, we would dig a canal straight across to the other end of the bend,thereby diverting the water through our canal and giving us two hundred yards of dry creek bed, where we were sure to find a pocket full of nuggets. After two hard weeks of shoveling dirt with blistered hands and aching backs, we finished the canal and diverted the water from the bend in the creek, (a job that a couple of industrious beavers could have accomplished in one night's time.)

Well, the nuggets were not nearly so plentiful as Pete had led us to believe they would be, so we decided that, since gold is heavier than gravel, the gold would naturally be on the bottom and the gravel on top. This meant that we would have to start digging again, and to make matters worse, this part of our creek was now dry and we didn't have any water to wash away the sand. So we had to carry the diggings over to our canal to pan for the gold. This being the case, Pete suggested that we should probably let the water back down the creek bed, and I believe Pappy would have clobbered him with a pick handle had he not been interrupted by a visiting neighbor who, with a rumbling oath, informed us that the mud from our canal had clouded the water down stream on his claim to the extent that he could no longer see the nuggets lying on the bottom of the creek.

With this bit of information, we decided that there could possibly be a better place to stake a claim, so we started prospecting, only to find that there were nugget hunters in every direction. Some were old and some not so old, but all, including ourselves, were a shabby, bearded bunch of scrounging gravel scratchers, convinced that the "Mother Lode" was just a few more scoops and pans in our future.

Was I ever wrong when I said "Bearded Bunch," because just then, who should I come across but Sally Yates. It was the first time I had seen her since she was run out of Sutters camp for claim jumping. Sally was a tall, slab-sided hunk of feminity that looked like the ground plans of a man, where the specifications had not been followed. She was about 175 pound, crowding fifty, with a disposition that was just about as explosive as a bottle of nitroglycerin. Sally never staked a claim of her own; she just hung around till some pan shaker had to make a trip to the Hooch-Hut for grub, some supplies, or some pain-killer, then she would simply take over where he left off.

Old Pat Harden had a fairly productive claim, but he also had an unquenchable thirst and had to make the 10-mile trip to the Hootch-Hut for his supply of painkiller about every two weeks. When he got back to his shack, he would "hang one on" and sleep for three days, so Sally spent more time working Pat's claim than Pat did himself. When Pat finally came out of hibernation, she just jumped over to claim No. 13 where Cliff Duley had stuck a pick in his foot and was laid up for over a week.

Sally's method of gold mining usually ended with a tight rope or a fatal case of lead poison, but with Sally it was different. The imprint of her bloomers could be found on just about every claim north of the Yukon River and her claim jumping was creating more heated discussion than a deck of marked cards, but she survived all this because, as Cliff Duley said, "I can't shoot anyone whose face is not covered with a beard, or is hiding behind a dirty flannel skirt."

For the next few weeks, everyone tolerated Sally. We managed to scratch out a few ounces of the malleable, mellow yellow, still dreaming of that elusive Mother Lode. We were rudely awakened from our dream as a storm broke out of the mountains. It was a full-blown, Forty-Forty Blizzard, with winds of 40 miles an hour and 40 degrees below zero. We piled everything we had on our sled, looped the harness around our waist and headed for Barney's Hooch Hut. Within five miles the pint of painkiller in my hip pocket was frozen like a bottle of lemon punch, and I clawed the ice from my whiskers as we rode this wave of ice and snow.

When we pulled into Barney's place, we found that there were twenty other mushers and Sally Yates there ahead of us, all holed up in this shack.

Now, there is nothing like a good warm shack that's well stocked with grub, when that north wind blows so cold that a log-chain is frozen stiff and standing out at 90 degrees from the totem pole where it is tied.

I have heard it said that prairie dogs and rattle-snakes would sometimes hole up together, but 24 scroungy sour-doughs, who hadn't taken a bath for three months, all in one small room, might just be too much for a congenial hibernation.

Considering the circumstances, everything was going very well except a few times when Sally was offended by some disrespectable remark, in which case the remarkee was relegated to hours of stupor and dazed condition, brought on by the word picture that Sally so eloquently painted of him. At the end of the third day it all came to a boiling point when Pat Hardin was accused of washing his dirty sox in the bread pan. At that point, pots and pans began to fly, with the verbal discussion reaching "high C."

With a little push from a frying pan that landed between my shoulders, I made a sliding dive under the bed and kept crawling. In the storeroom I managed to find my backpack, and since there wasn't any door in this back room, I made one with a pick-ax and didn't look back. As I pointed my nose toward the "Lower Forty-eight," I was resolved that if I ever came back to the Yukon territory again, instead of searching for gold I would try to get a more profitable job, like selling ice-boxes to the Eskimos.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

-- Posted by paulcorbin on Tue, Jul 1, 2008, at 4:29 PM

You have quite an imagination, Paul Corbin! We NSC readers have met Podunk Pete and Pappy Knight before. I don't suppose you took your old hunting dog Kyrucus with you, did you? He might have a hard time finding possums up in the north country in the wintertime.

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Jul 1, 2008, at 6:24 PM

Goat Lady, - - - No I didnt have Ky-Rucus with me, as he did not come along until my second time around.

-- Posted by paulcorbin on Tue, Jul 1, 2008, at 8:06 PM

Haha! Ky-Rucus probably wouldn't have gone for a "congenial hibernation," anyway!

-- Posted by goat lady on Tue, Jul 1, 2008, at 8:12 PM

Wonderful blog. I enjoyed it very much. Stories of Alaska have always fascinated me.

Let's hear more of Podunk Pete, Pappy Knight and you.

-- Posted by Ducky on Wed, Jul 2, 2008, at 12:57 PM

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Bunyan Tales
Paul Corbin
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Paul Corbin is a 100-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archaeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.
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