Trip number forty-four included more warm temperatures and more optimism. As I dug into the gravel bar where the metal detector indicated, I caught a slight movement with my peripheral vision. Had my body odour on a warm day attracted a hungry black bear? Did a deer, elk or moose decide to kick me into oblivion? Or had the uniquely coloured reddish cougar decide to taste my old carcass? None of those. I looked to see a fuzzy caterpillar moving along my shoulder and it headed straight for the all important juggler vein. I’m embarrassed to write that I jumped and flayed my arms sending the butterfly of next year falling to the ground below. And I felt foolish.
In my defense I need to explain myself. As a young man on the family farm I often spent a portion of my Sunday ritual washing our prairie mudded vehicles. With no asphalt and no mechanical means of keeping the vehicles shiny, a pail and a wash mitt were my options. Irrigation in our part of the world was a blessing despite the requirement of labour. And with it came all manner of new weed and insect species. That included the giant water beetle. Imagine my surprise when upon hearing the unusual whirring that only a non-feathered bug could produce, a fair sized one at that, I looked to see the unusual armoured beast set firmly upon my shoulder. The monster’s intention could only have been my mortal demise and subsequent farm domination. Or perhaps it merely appreciated the meager spike in humidity and promise of water. I remember the creature being upwards of three inches long and of a silvery metallic colour. The sound of those solids wings greatly startled me. There may have been too much alcohol the previous night and I may have been suffering the effects of the twenty-six ounce flu. But the prairie boy in me jumped at the suddenness of it all. Who knew such a monster existed? The small town school library had been woefully lacking and Nat Geo had not yet entered my small world.
A poor defense at best, I know. Though prepared for all the creatures larger that myself, I’d been greatly humbled by the tiniest of insects from a child’s nursery tale. At this advanced age, I still learn. I watched the wretched thing wiggle its way up a near tree trunk as I resumed my digging efforts into the gravel bed. Imagine my surprise when I uncovered the other half of the wheeled barrow frame. The bent and twisted piece I’d pulled from another site a few months ago, though measuring the same length and with similar hardware, only added more questions. But at home, the two halves of the frame came together and supported the steel wheel as it had in 1896. My theory to date is that Matt used a wooden keg instead of a proper steel barrow body. I propose that he “borrowed” well used pieces to prevent any serious level of hardware theft.
The picture shows most of what I have collected to date. The addition of the basket is meant to represent what may have been used but the metal ring with nails intact does seem to be from a keg. The flattened metal debris in the center is the remains of a N.K.Fairbanks & Co. lard pail. The bones are probably beef as the era featured a lot of canned beef for remote areas in the days before refrigeration. The broken green bottle seems to mostly resemble a whiskey bottle. There are two home made tools in the front that so far elude my understanding as does the smallest china plate near the tea cup. Oyster dish or for soap? Well maybe if I knew his personal habits……
I remind you that all these pieces come from three sites in a very small area. They are not flood debris and I propose they were purposefully used and hidden by Matt Roderick. The evidence tells me he had to camp and wait patiently for the gold to come to him. And that’s what poker players do.