Jake was the town’s official “Old Grizzled Prospector.”
Of course he didn’t start out old and grizzled. Time did that.
Jake came to Pine Canyon in his late 40’s. He arrived on the train, went into the Pine Canyon Bank, and deposited $ 1,860 cash. That was an eye opener. Jake Winter was an educated man. He was cultured, dressed well and spoke well. Mr. Layton at the bank asked him; “What was he doing out here in Pine Canyon.”
He said; “I’m going to be a prospector.”
Mr. Layton asked; “But why in Pine Canyon?”
“I liked the name,” said Jake. The joke was; There were no pines and no canyon. It was flat cow country grading into hot desert.
Jake Winter went all out. He bought blue shirts, canvas pants, snake-proof boots, a dozen stockings, a big hat, red bandanas, a six gun with a thick leather belt and holster. He started talking “Western.” It was; “Yup, yes’m, tarnation, I’ll be danged, and shore is.” He bought a young, sturdy donkey, and named her MaryBelle. A pick, two shovels, a gold pan, six canteens, a tin frying pan, coffee pot, bucket, knife and fork, and a Bowie Knife. He bought bags to hold food and supplies and oats for MaryBelle. Two big canvas sacks to hold gold. Jake provisioned up. Filled the canteens at the town pump and marched out into the desert.
Two weeks later he returned and said; “Prospectin’ is shore hard work.” But he wasn’t discouraged. He got $ 12.00 from the bank. He loaded up on beans, sugar, rice, coffee, more oats for MaryBelle and two more canteens, and went back to the desert.
This time he was out a full month. He said; “I’m gettin’ used to it.” More bank money, more provisions, more oats, and two more canteens, he could stay in the desert for two months at a time.
You could hear them when they came back to town. The empty canteens bouncing against MaryBelle’s side made a racket. Jake always filled up his prospecting holes, and those from other prospectors. He said; “In case a Gila Monster, chuckwalla, or rattler falls in, and can’t get out.”
People asked him:”What you huntin’ for?”
He said; “I’m looking for the Land of Pure Gold. I dreamed of it since I was a kid.”
Everyone told him; “There ain’t no such thing in Pine canyon.”
Jake said; “Well, you got to start someplace.”
Jake was frugal. In town, he slept in the stable with MaryBelle. He didn’t drink or gamble, much less take up with wimmin’. Just provisioned up and lit out.
The years ground on. Jake became brown and weather-beaten. His black hair and beard turned white. Jake and MaryBelle walked slower. When people asked if he found it he would say; “Nope. But gettin’ close.” Or; “I’m just about there.”
As long as he had some money in the bank, they called him; “Touched.” When his money ran out they called him; “Crazy.” It’s amazing what a few dollars can do.
One hot day Jake came back alone. Tears streaming down his face. MaryBelle had died out in the desert. Jake said; “I were too much of a burden for the poor thing.”
He bought a new donkey and named him MaryBelle.
He always returned with a little gold. If you panned the river you could always find something. Whenever Jake came back to town, he went straight to the Assay Office and weighed whatever was in his poke. In two months, Jake could make enough for the next grub stake and oats for MaryBelle. They would rest up and be off again. He was always “Gettin’ close to the Land of Pure Gold.”
He was made the town mascot, although he never knew it. A source of local legends and thigh slappers. He had been in and out of Pine Canyon, longer than many townspeople had been alive. Everybody knew ‘Old Jake’ and his dream.
He remembered what happened to MaryBelle and didn’t want the same thing to happen to MaryBelle. He bought a wagon four feet wide and seven feet long. He hitched MaryBelle to it so he wouldn’t have to carry the heavy load he was expecting to find. He bought more canteens and canvas bags to hold the gold. But Jake was clever. He tied leafy branches to drag behind that wiped out his wheel tracks. The desert wind soon smoothed everything over.
Jake started coughing. The doctor said; “Mr. Winter. Your lungs are giving out from breathing all that desert dust. You best retire while you have the chance.” Jake said; “I can’t do that. Prospectin’ is all that MaryBelle and I know.” They rested up and went out. Two months later, a weak Jake and struggling MaryBelle came back. He went to the Assay Office with eight bulging bags of gold and said; “Help me with these. I found the Land of Pure Gold.”
The assay Officer said; “Shit! I can’t handle this much weight or protect it.” He wired the Denver Mint for help. The Sheriff lived in the office until Federal Marshals shipped it to Denver. Denver said the gold was worth $ 1,199,715.
The town went crazy. They pestered Jake on his death bed; “Don’t die on us. Jake, where is it?”
Gasping, Jake made them promise to; “Found a University, and take care of MaryBelle.”
“Sure, sure. Where is the Land of Pure Gold?”
With his last breath he said; “Ain’t none.”
Within days the the town was empty and the desert was full of holes. More people piled in. They searched for three years. Nothing.
It slowly dawned on them that Jake had played a joke. For years he panned more than he brought back and saved it up. He wanted a University and got it.
The ‘Jake Winter University’ flourished and the town prospered. The mascot was a bronze statue of his donkey MaryBelle.