Seth Kinman was a California mountain man. He’s famous for presenting U.S. presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Rutherford Hayes with chairs he made from elk horns and grizzly bear hides. Kinman was a well known raconteur in his day, he played songs on a mule-skull fiddle, and spun many a yarn. The following tale is one of many that Kinman used to tell:
There was some queer characters what crossed the plains in ‘49 making for the gold fields of Californy. When these fellers made up of all nations, colors, and odd ideas got together, there was certainly some things doing in camp.
I think that one of the oddest fellers that come was a man by the name of Larry Hackett, who hailed from the States. Larry had done considerable farming afore he left the States for the west, and give more attention to hog-raising than anything else. In them days they didn’t have the big packing houses, where ham and bacon was made, so Larry made most of his living curing hams and bacon. His big smoke house was just strung with great slabs of meat and the neighbors come and bought meat from him all times of the year.
Well, when Larry landed in Californy, at the time of the gold rush, he took his pick and shovel like all the other miners, and dug in the dirt for gold. Larry didn’t strike it rich, like some of the other miners, and couldn’t seem to add much wealth to his pocket-book. So, after a while, he got to thinking that maybe if he could manage to get hold of a few hogs, he could build up a herd and make ham and bacon for the miners. He allowed to charge a big price and make more money than he could digging gold. At that time, every kind of provision was sky-high. Flour was a dollar a pound. Coffee, sugar, and beans were all a dollar a pound. Eggs were selling for sixteen dollars a dozen, and so it went. So Larry figured he could ask about what he pleased for his bacon.
He kept up his mining in a small way to get what little gold he could while his hogs were growing up. That was his plan. So he went down to see Captain Sutter at Sutter’s Fort, and got some pigs to start his ranch. He squatted on a piece of land in the foot hills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He wasn’t near the big main diggings where there was good finds of gold, so nobody bothered him and his hog farm.
For a year or two he made ham and bacon for the miners, while he dug a little gold on the side, but never seemed to strike it very rich. He depended mostly on his sale of pork for money-making. Larry had to spend part of his time building fences. He started out with a small piece, but as his herd increased, he had to go out and split more rails to increase the size of the field for his hogs.
But he had one mean, ol’ hog that kept breaking out all the time. He just couldn’t make the fence strong enough to hold that hog, so Larry had to stop other work and fix up the fence. He allowed he’d make bacon out of that hog as soon as he got him fat enough, but in the meantime he had a lot of trouble with that fractious hog. Finally he concluded he’d tie him up, but he couldn’t tie him around the neck very well, so he put a strap on his leg, tied it with a long rope, and staked him out. As fast as he’d eat down the grass in one place, Larry moved the stake to another place. About every day, he’d stake the hog in a new place.
But one week, Larry forgot and left the hog in one spot for a couple of days. The feed got awful scare and the hog rooted up a heap of the circle he made, as far as the rope would let him go. When Larry went to go move the hog, he noticed that it had rooted quite a deep hole near the stake.
When Larry pulled up the stake, he seen something shine in that hole. He picked it up and found it was a nugget of gold as big as a plum seed. He hurried and got a shovel, and when he dug deeper, he found more nuggets. He wasn’t far from a small stream, and when he got his wheelbarrow, he took some of the dirt and washed it, and found it mighty rich. He sure struck a gold mine right there.
That got Larry thinking. Suppose he’d fence his whole bunch of hogs in a small space, so they’d root up the ground. If there was any gold, they’d probably find it, and he’d get the gold without digging in the cussed dirt!
To make the hogs work harder, he took out a little grain and throwed it in the hole, and that made the hogs root deeper and deeper. So, about all Larry had to do was follow up the diggings the hogs made, and pick up the nuggets.
“A nugget ain’t nothing, to a hog.” Larry said. “They’ve got sense enough to know that gold ain’t much good no how, for man places the value on it. A hog’s got sense enough to know that grains, and all kinds of eats, are better than gold. Why do we get gold? Why, so we can give it up for things to eat, and drink, and wear. We go and buy houses, and yachts, and theater tickets, cause we want such things more than we want gold. A hog knows in the first place that gold ain’t the main thing, so he roots it aside just as a yeller stone, to get a grain of yeller corn underneath it. Maybe the hog is right after all.”
Larry kept his secret to himself, and continued to pile up his gold that the hogs rooted up. Of course, there were some places where they didn’t root up much, and other places there was none at all. They found some rich spots though, where they turned up enough to make up for it all. When the hogs hit such spots, Larry considered it was a sort of pocket, so he throwed a lot of grain in, and made them root nigh to death.
After Larry found his hogs were good gold diggers, he never killed nary a hog. He made gold diggers out of the whole herd. It wasn’t long though until the miners commenced to holler for ham and bacon, because Larry wasn’t making anymore. When they told him to hurry along some more ham and bacon, Larry says, “Boys, my hogs are too poor to butcher for meat, and if you don’t believe it, just come look at ‘em.” And they sure were razor-backs, for Larry had 'em worked down to skin and skeleton, rooting out nuggets for him.
Larry had to cover his tracks pretty close, for if the prospectors seen him digging around too much, they would a growed suspicious. So, he just pretended he was in the bacon business, when he was really a big mining man.
Well, Larry piled up so much gold, he figured he had about all he wanted and besides, he got homesick and felt like going back to the States. So, after he and his hogs got most of the surface gold, leastwise the coarsest of it, he planned to divide it up in small claims and sell it out at a good price. He didn’t have to salt the ground, for you could find plenty of color. There was lots of gold dust left.
Then Larry fattened up his hogs for bacon and sold 'em as such. He wasn’t very sympathetic with the hogs, even after they made him rich. He always said you couldn’t mix too much business with sympathy, if you wanted to succeed. But there was one hog he wouldn’t turn into bacon and that was the ol’ hog he tied by the leg and staked out, because he first discovered the mine. Larry called him “Ol’ Goldie.” He said every time thought of killing him, he always wilted and didn’t have the heart to do it. Larry said he was the first successful prospector to make him money and had earned the right to live.
I’m Gonna Tell Ya a Yarn by Seth Kinman (As recollected and collected by George Richmond) 1876, published by The Ferndale Museum
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