"Black Bart's Gold"
by Penny Warner

From From Troop 13 Mysteries:
The Mystery of the Haunted Caves

While visiting a mining museum in California's gold country, the Troop 13 scouts meet some odd prospectors and learn about the mysterious legend of Black Bart's hidden gold and the Haunted Caves.

 
       

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Characters in Order of Appearance
Narrator*
Becca Matthews
CJ Tran
Sierra Garcia
Jonnie Jackson
Susan Sanford
Sluice
Winky Pike

*You may want to divide the narrator's longer passages among several readers.


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 the city.

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 with gold."

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 up here.

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 tourists.

Becca: What about the story of Black Bart's hidden treasure?

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 thoughts.

Jonnie: After all, they're one of the reasons we're here. I wonder why people think they're haunted.

Susan: Scouts!

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.

Becca: Maybe.

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.

Susan: Scouts,

Narrator: Susan said at the bottom of the museum steps,

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.

Sluice: Welcome!

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?

Winky: Nope.

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 and such.

Narrator: Becca spoke up for the first time.

Becca: Have you ever heard of Black Bart's lost gold?

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.

Becca: Thanks.

Narrator: Becca said, flipping through the pages. She checked the table of contents.

Becca: That's odd. The poem from the Internet isn't listed.

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.

Becca: Creepy.

Narrator: she thought.

Susan: Time to head back, scouts,

Narrator: Susan said.

Winky: Good luck in yer search for the gold, girls.

Narrator: Winky said, showing the scouts to the door.

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 clues mean?

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.

 

© 2001 by Penny Warner. Excerpted and adapted from Troop 13 Mysteries: The Mystery of the Haunted Caves, published by Meadowbrook Press. This Classroom Theater version of "Black Bart's Gold" is © 2002 by Meadowbrook Press.

Permission is given for individual school classes to perform this play and to make as many copies of the play as are needed for the students' use. All other reproduction and performance is prohibited under penalty of law.