Monday, July 10, 2006

My Quackenbush – part 2

My Quackenbush part 1

by Tom Gaylord

Then I met an old-timer who changed everything. His name was Scrappy Jack Hill and he had been there since before color was found in Sutter's mill race. He had come out from Kentucky to build a new life, but the rush got in the way and he allowed himself to get caught up in it. As he often said to me, "If you don't take advantage of life when it deals you a winning hand, you might as well get out of the game."

Scrappy Jack claimed to have stashed a small fortune in gold and silver that he prospected during the rush. He said it was up in the hills between our valley and the Pacific Ocean, which was only a few days ride away. He often talked about going back up there to make a withdrawal from his "bank," as he called it.

I didn't completely believe him, as he was mostly a beggar in our village. But every so often, he would disappear for several weeks then reappear with new clothes and a fresh horse or mule. He always said he got lucky at the faro tables in San Francisco, but I wondered about that.

One day I happened to tell Scrappy Jack about the problem the pigeons were causing me at the farm. He asked to see my gun, and when I showed it to him, he acted like a little kid a Christmas. He had never seen something like that Quackenbush, nor had anybody else west of the Mississippi, I'd wager. I think he thought I was going to show him some old .22 rifle or something.

Well, he said he simply had to have that air rifle of mine. He wanted it the way some people want things—so much he couldn't think of anything else. I definitely didn't want to sell it to him, but I didn't see what else I could do, he was making such a fuss.

My father told me to set a real high price, and that might discourage the old fellow, so I did. I told him I wanted fifty dollars in gold for it. That was as much as two Colt revolvers were going for at the time, and I remember how his eyes looked when I told him the price. But he didn't say anything else, and for a while I thought the subject was closed for good.

Then one day about three weeks later, Scrappy Jack showed up at our cabin asking to see me. "I've got your cash." was all he said. Indeed, he was holding a California fifty dollar gold piece in his hand. Now for those who have never seen one, a California fifty dollar coin is the most beautiful sight in the world. It's so much bigger than our standard twenty dollar piece that it puts the smaller coin to shame. I've even seen people pay a premium, just to get a fifty for themselves. More than just money, the coin tends to break down resistance from reluctant sellers. I know it sure got to me!



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