Sometimes something good can come of bad things – Cicero.
About the only thing the crew talked about on the voyage was California gold. With the rest of her crew three young deckhands jumped ship the Eleanor B, fresh from the Sandwich Isles, leaving her unable to discharge her cargo of badly needed lumber or even weigh anchor.
These three boys, Harrison Wiems, Jasper Spooner, and Frank Gorsch quickly got together a grubstake by robbing drunk miners in the Tenderloin. With hastily assembled gear they headed straight into the Sierra gold fields.
Months later in Calaveras County the sailors got lucky finding glory holes on an outside bend of the Big Willow Creek near Mexican Hat. Scores of deep holes pebbled into basalt by glaciers from the last ice age yielded a trove of nuggets and placer. Harrison reckoned the take was worth $9800. This now lay buried under a cottonwood tree in a canteen wrapped in a flour sack. And they were still panning good color, running $40 to $60 a day. On a sunny day in September Harrison walked the nine miles to San Andreas to file the claim. The three planned to work the stream till the placer yield reduced to $20 a day then sell the claim. Greenhorns hungry for working claims were coming into gold county daily.
The camp on the Big Willow was isolated with no prospectors or ranches close by. A lone adobe house sat atop Mexican Hat where old Captain Bonner lived with his grandson Gabriel on a meager $12 monthly war pension. The veteran of the 1812 War, crippled from war wounds, passed his days confined to a chair scanning the countryside with the same spyglass he'd used aboard ship in that war against the British. The movements of three young gold seekers down below naturally drew the old man's interest. One day he sent Gabriel down to their camp to ask for bacon and coffee, but Jasper, the mean one, had driven the boy off with a stick and a cruel kick to the 12-year-old boy's rear. Old Captain Bonner was furious.
Sundown caught Harrison still three miles from camp on his way back from filing the claim in San Andreas. He reckoned that approaching the campsite in the dark was too risky, what with simple-minded Jasper, crazier than a shithouse rat, and Frank all jumpy after the robbery, and in a constant fret about the law, or claim jumpers, or grizzly bears, or rattlesnakes, or whatever. No, he didn't fancy getting shot in the dark by either of those two Nancys. Besides, his feet hurt something awful, his boot's soles worn thin as carpet slippers. With darkness coming he decided to wait until morning to enter camp, so he made a little campfire under a live oak. This long walk from San Andreas had given Harrison time to think and properly assess his situation. Now in the quiet of his camp he could figure things out. He'd mulled this over for months, the decision made, and Harrison was certain that killing both Frank and Jasper would be easy as pie. In neither Sonora nor San Andreas had there been a single pair of boots to be had, not for love nor money, but he had no trouble buying a packet of strychnine ostensibly for pesky coyotes. From his pack he took the bottle of whiskey he'd bought and into this he dissolved the crystalline strychnine powder. He would arrive at the claim in the morning, show the boys the paper from the claims office, then go over the plan to pan for placer just a while longer. He would break out the whiskey that evening. Harrison would bury the two then head south for Monterrey and sign on any ship bound for Panama then make his way back East. He reckoned he might feel a little remorse for Frank. Gorsch was a good sailor, not much in the way of smarts, and naturally nervous, but he was an excellent rigger, he always paid his debts and was quick to lend a hand. Harrison cared nothing for Jasper. The boy was a landsman with no more intelligence than a rabbit. Big, dumb, and mean; he'd gotten in trouble in Honolulu for beating a whore near to death. No, the world would not miss Jasper Spooner. He would be doing the world a favor putting that one in the ground
Meanwhile, two miners, Harry Murphy and Titus Ines, who had been robbed by the three sailors in San Francisco, had come into San Andreas to take delivery of a long tom they had commissioned. Spotting Harrison they hastened to report the robbery. The sheriff having been shot dead, the county was awaiting an election, so there was no acting sheriff, but a clerk suggested the Vigilance Committee. At the White Grizzly Saloon Doc Fenton, the Committee's judge, asked Murphy and Ines to write out a report charging the sailors with robbery. He then wrote a warrant of arrest for three sailors on Big Willow Creek. "We can bring 'em in and Miner's Court will try those rascals right here in the White Grizzly.
At the same moment Harrison sat before his fire under the live oak three miles away from camp planning their murder, Frank Gorsch and Jasper Spooner sat before their fire conspiring to kill Harrison Wiems as soon as he returned with the filed claim.
Soon after arriving the next morning, Harrison Wiems sat down on a log by the fire to eat; he was awfully hungry. Before he had taken a second bite of cold pinto beans Jasper killed him with a single blow to the head from the flat side of a pick. As his body lay collapsed by the log he had been sitting on, Frank rifled Harrison's pack finding the claim and the bottle of whiskey. "Hey Jasper time to celebrate, mate."
From his chair on the little patio through his spyglass, Captain Bonner watched the wicked men die who had beat his grandson, and didn't he take great pleasure watching Frank and Jasper writhing and convulsing in the mud by the creek's edge all afternoon. Around six he called Gabriel. "Go down there, son, use their shovel to dig just under the lowest branch of that cottonwood, dig up close to the trunk. There's a parcel, fetch it up here. Pay no mind to the dead men. And look to see is there's any bacon, coffee, or sugar. And take care to brush away your footprints. I'll be watching."
The next morning the Vigilantes discovered the fly-blown bodies of the sailors and their claim document. The Miner's Court determined that the sailor's claim on Big Willow Creek should rightfully pass to Murphy and Ines, victims of the wicked sailors.
Captain Bonner bought a store in San Andreas where he and Gabriel prospered for many years.