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Clemens' One Mining Venture

By William Gillis


The nearest approach to any work that Mark Twain ever did at mining was when he became my partner at one time for about two weeks. One day when on my way home from Sonora I took a short cut across a parcel of land from which the surface dirt had been washed by the placer miners some years before. While walking over this ground I came to a spot where the croppings of a reef of very fine mineral slate had been uncovered, and upon a closer examination, discovered a small quartz vein with a clay casing running through this body of slate. The chances for finding a "pocket" here looked mighty good to me, and I determined to return the next day and give it a try-out. Putting a piece of the quartz in my pocket, I continued on my way home. On entering the cabin I found Sam just sitting down to supper.

"Hello, Billy," said he, "you are just in time for the feast. I won't sing the praises of the bacon, but I'll bet your stomach never entertained flapjacks like these in your life."

After supper I handed him the quartz and said, "Sam, the chances for finding a pocket where I got that rock look mighty good to me. Go over with me in the morning and we'll go snooks in anything we find."

"All right, if you are willing to take me in, knowing that I know nothing about pocket mining, I will go in with you and we'll try and dig out a million or two."

Next morning, on arriving on the ground, I said to him, "Sam, you sit down and rest while I shovel off some of this clay and see what the veins look like where it is in place."

"All right, I'll take a smoke while you are doing that."

I took my pick and began digging. I had been at work only a short time when appearances were so favorable that I concluded to "take a pan." So, taking my crowbar, I began gouging the vein. I had filled the pan about half full when I saw color of gold.

"Sam," I called, "I guess we've struck it. There's gold in sight."

"That's bully," said he, and coming over to me, sat down and watched me gouging, the while scratching the clay and quartz in the pan over with a small stick. When I had the pan sufficiently full, I shoved it over to him and said, "Here, Sam, take this over to the pan-hole and wash it, while I take out another."

"Billy," said he, "I wouldn't puddle in that confounded clay for all the gold in Tuolumne County. You pan it; I don't want any of it."

"Very well, Sam, just put it in the pan-hole to soak till I get out this other pan and I'll wash it myself." The result from that first pan was about five dollars in gold, and by quitting time I had panned out about one hundred dollars' worth. So it went for the next ten days, I doing the work and Sam superintending. At the expiration of that time I had extracted all the gold from the pocket, which amounted to about seven hundred dollars. When I received the returns from the mint I proffered Sam one-half of the money as his share as my partner in our mining venture. He refused to take any of it, saying, "The knowledge of mining I acquired while we were taking out that pocket, and the pleasure it gave me, is a better equivalent for my time and labor than that little dab of money."

Chapter 9 of Memories of Mark Twain and Steve Gillis, The Banner, Sonora, California, 1924. Reprinted in Mark Twain's Sojourn in Tuolumne County, California. Tuolumne County Historical Society, 1987.

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