Narrator: In the Narrator: It'd been a long,
winding, three-hour drive from San Francisco to Camp Miwok for
the scouts' Gold Rush Jamboree.
Becca: It's a whole lot hotter here than in
Narrator: Becca Matthews said as she and the
other members of Troop 13 stepped onto the red dirt of the California
Gold Country. It looked a whole lot different, too. The jagged
lava rocks scattered about made the terrain look moonlike. She
took a deep breath of country air--and crinkled her nose. Skunk.
Becca: I wonder what it was like living here
back when the Gold Rush began.
Narrator: Becca said, remembering the sleepy
little town they'd just driven through, with its lack of movie
theaters, pizza parlors, and music stores.
Becca: I heard the streets were "paved
CJ: Must have been a zoo with all those prospectors
coming to strike it rich.
Narrator: CJ Tran said, stuffing a crossword
puzzle into her backpack.
CJ: I saw a couple of scruffy old men when we
drove through town who looked like they've been here since 1849.
Becca: I've heard rumors there's still gold
Narrator: Becca mused.
Sierra: I doubt it.
Narrator: Sierra Garcia said.
Sierra: Actually, the so-called gold country
is mostly just ghost towns and empty mines now. The brochure I
have says there are still some descendants of the original miners
living here, but most of them just try to mine money out of the
Becca: What about the story of Black Bart's
Narrator: Becca reminded them. According to
stories she'd read, after Black Bart robbed prospectors of their
gold, Black Bart hid the treasure in the Haunted Caves. When he
disappeared, no one ever found it.
Jonnie: And don't forget the Haunted Caves.
Narrator: Jonnie Jackson added, echoing Becca's
Jonnie: After all, they're one of the reasons
we're here. I wonder why people think they're haunted.
Narrator: It was Susan Sanford calling from
their campsite. She'd been Troop 13's leader for two years. Susan
held up two fingers, the sign for quiet. Troop 13 hushed.
Susan: Instead of the usual campfire songs and
ghost stories tonight, we're going into town to visit a gold-mining
museum. I thought you all might want to learn how to pan for gold.
But first let's set up camp.
Narrator: Susan's words set the girls in motion.
Camp Miwok bustled with activity as the scouts pitched their tents
and stored their gear. When they were through, the girls scrambled
to their tents to prepare for the trip to town. While Sierra,
CJ, and Jonnie changed into jeans, Becca headed for her laptop.
Sierra: What are you looking for?
Narrator: Sierra leaned over Becca's shoulder.
Sierra: More stuff about that lost gold?
Narrator: Becca shrugged.
Narrator: In a few minutes, Susan called,
Susan: Time to go. Everyone ready?
Narrator: Jonnie, CJ, and Sierra scampered out
of the tent. Becca shut down the laptop and followed them. In
twenty minutes they arrived at the Nugget Museum in Flat Skunk,
right in the heart of the gold country.
Narrator: Susan said at the bottom of the museum
Susan: you'll be interested to know that this
tiny town was once a popular center for prospectors. More than
thirty tons of gold were mined from nearby caves, including the
Haunted Caves. If you look around, you might see some of the descendants
of the original miners.
Sierra: It looks like a ghost town.
Narrator: Sierra whispered as she surveyed the
dilapidated buildings, wooden plank sidewalks, and boarded windows.
Besides the Nugget Museum, the only other businesses seemed to
be a video store/bait shop and a half-dozen antique stores.
Becca: Not much here now, that's for sure.
Narrator: said Becca. They climbed the rickety
steps to the museum's front porch.
Jonnie: It's creeping me out.
Narrator: added Jonnie, bouncing on a squeaky
step. Just as they reached the porch, the door flew open with
a loud screech. The scouts jumped. Becca's heart pounded in her
chest. Staring down at them from the doorway was a giant scarecrow.
It had a crusty, old face made of worn and wrinkled leather, olive-black
eyes, and a hideous toothless grin. Its sparse gray hair stuck
up like porcupine quills. Its bony arms and legs were dressed
mostly in rags, and its shoes were caked with mud. For a moment,
Becca thought it was the best scarecrow she'd ever seen. But then
it opened its mouth.
Narrator: it said. The scouts gasped. Just then,
an old man appeared at the door. Grinning toothily, he tapped
the scarecrow on the shoulder and handed it a glass of water.
The scarecrow reached into the glass, pulled out something floating
inside, and slipped it into its mouth. It smiled again, this time
with a full set of teeth.
Winky: Scared ya, didn't he?
Narrator: the man said, patting the scarecrow
on the back.
Winky: Heh heh. Sluice gets 'em every time.
Well, come on in. I'm Winky Pike, museum curator. An' I got lots
more to show ya.
Narrator: The girls hesitated a moment, then
cautiously entered the Nugget Museum. Becca wondered if the two
men were descendants of miners. They were so old and weathered,
they looked as if they could have been original forty-niners.
At the hands-on exhibit, another old prospector named Panner,
who was huge and had an enormous head, helped the scouts practice
panning for gold. After swirling and pouring water through a homemade
sluice that looked like a slanted water trough, each scout got
to keep enough gold flakes to cover her pinky fingernail. While
the girls panned or read through the pamphlets on Black Bart and
the World's Biggest Nugget, Winky told stories about his days
as a prospector.
Winky: Me and Sluice and Panner over there all
come from Kentucky to strike it rich. That was durin' the Rush
of '39. Been here ever since.
Narrator: said Winky.
CJ: There was another gold rush in 1939?
Narrator: CJ asked.
Winky: Heck, yeah. There've been a bunch of
'em. Every decade or so, someone strikes a new vein.
CJ: Did you find gold?
Narrator: Winky said, shaking his head glumly.
He glanced over at Sluice and Panner.
Winky: We was just a bunch of dime store miners,
like most everyone else, hopin' to strike it rich. Never happened.
Jonnie: Is there any gold left?
Narrator: Jonnie asked.
Winky: Oh, there's plenty still. It's just too
hard to get to, buried deep in the caves or sunk low in the creek
beds. We make our gold off the tourists now, leadin' panning expeditions
Narrator: Becca spoke up for the first time.
Becca: Have you ever heard of Black Bart's lost
Narrator: The three men looked at one another
then grinned. Winky shook his head.
Winky: That old tale. It'll never die. One of
them rural legends, you might say. The gold probably don't exist--at
least no one's ever found it so far. Me and Sluice and Panner
went lookin' for it some years back out at the Haunted Caves,
we but never found nothin'.
Narrator: Becca nodded, then added,
Becca: I found a poem on the Internet about
Black Bart's gold. Have you read it?
Narrator: Winky nodded.
Winky: We don't have no computer, but I probably
seen it somewhere. Got a whole collection of his poems right here.
Narrator: Winky reached behind him and grabbed
a handful of small booklets. At last he found the poems by Black
Bart. He handed the booklet to Becca.
Winky: Wish I'd studied poetry.
Narrator: Winky said.
Winky: Maybe I could figure out what he was
tryin' to say in all them poems. Maybe there's some kind of clue
to his hidden treasure, like the story goes. But I never got nothin'
from any of 'em, except confused. Keep that if you want. Maybe
you can explain it to me one day.
Narrator: Becca said, flipping through the pages.
She checked the table of contents.
Becca: That's odd. The poem from the Internet
Winky: He wrote a bunch of poems. Probably couldn't
fit them all in one little booklet. Right, boys?
Narrator: Winky glanced at his pals. Becca turned
and caught them staring at her before they quickly looked away.
Narrator: she thought.
Susan: Time to head back, scouts,
Narrator: Susan said.
Winky: Good luck in yer search for the gold,
Narrator: Winky said, showing the scouts to
Winky: Come by any time if you have questions.
Sluice and Panner and me will be glad to answer 'em. An' if you
decide to go lookin' for gold in them caves, we got some equipment
you might want to borrow to help out.
Narrator: The girls followed Susan back up the
path toward camp. The scouts then said good-night to Susan, headed
inside their tent, and snuggled into their cool beds. Becca stayed
awake for another half-hour, unable to relax. Her mind drifted
back to the Nugget Museum and the words of Winky Pike. She sat
up, dug through her backpack, and pulled out the booklet of poems
the old prospector had given her. By the glow of her flashlight,
she read the entire booklet. Becca sat up again and reached for
her laptop. She headed for the web site on Black Bart that she
had bookmarked. She scrolled down until she reached the poem.
She read it to herself again, slowly this time:
||"Beware you eager miners,
Looking for the gold,
All you'll find are moaners,
Chilled from crystal cold.
Keep on cascade climbing,
Bet on flames of fire,
Ask for devil's dungeons,
risk the spikes and spire.
Toadstool tunnels dead end,
Coral cove is bare
All the cavern's empty,
Venture if you dare.
End up here-but where?"
What an odd poem. It was as if Black Bart wanted the reader to
think there was treasure in the Haunted Caves. But what did the
Becca: "End up here."
Narrator: Becca repeated. But where? Becca shut
down her laptop and snuggled into her sleeping bag. It took her
a while to fall asleep, and when she did, she dreamed of dragons
and devils and flames and fire. She woke up in a sweat, just as
she was about to find Black Bart's gold.