|In a manner very reminiscent of the old western movie “Paint Your Wagon” – this great find was made when digging a grave. This is an exciting story connected with the finding of the Oliver Martin nugget, one of the largest ever found in California, which sold for $22,700, after it had earned $10,000 from exhibition in various parts of the country (the value would make the weight very nearly 1100 ounces of gold).
Although a young man, Oliver Martin was little better than a tramp. He spent his time in doing odd jobs and drinking whiskey around the mining camps of Yuba, Tuolumne, El Dorado and Calaveras counties. He didn’t even own a pan, much less a rocker or long torn. One of his close companions was John Fowler, who was equally shiftless and dissipated.
One night in November, 1854, the two were on their way from Benton’s bar over the Grizzly Mountains to Camp Corona, the spot made famous in literature by Bret Harte. The fall rains had begun, and the streams were running high. On the night of the 7th, almost stupid with drink, the two sought refuge in a deserted miner’s hut.
During the night a heavy rain, peculiar to the mountain ranges, set in. The water fell in torrents, and came pouring down the precipitous mountain sides. The narrow canyon where Martin and Fowler lay asleep and drunk was soon filled with the rushing waters, which threatened to sweep away the old shack of a building in which they were resting. They were awakened by the water pouring into the cabin, and sought to escape by climbing the steep sides of the canon.
Both men were swept back into the flood and were carried down the stream in the darkness. Martin was washed into a clump of live oaks, and managed to lodge, clinging to the branches until morning, but his friend Fowler was not so lucky and had drowned.
The next day, November 8th, toward noon, when the waters had subsided, Martin secured a pick and shovel, and started to bury his dead companion. He selected a sandy spot at the base of the cliff, and had not dug down two feet when he came upon the nugget.
He made several tests before he could convince himself that it was really gold. The chunk was bigger than a bull’s head, and far too heavy for Martin to carry by himself. He hurried to Camp Corona to secure help. He had some difficulty in persuading anyone to go with him. At last one of the miners consented, but carefully made the statement that he was going to help bury Fowler, and not to carry nuggets, as he, like others in the camp, placed no confidence in Martin’s story.
The chunk weighed eighty pounds and required the combined efforts of Oliver and his assistant to get it to the camp. Before starting back to camp, both men staked claims, Martin, of course, claiming the spot where he had unearthed the big nugget.
As soon as the news of the great find spread, miners flocked in by hundreds, but although the stream was carefully prospected for miles, nothing of any great value was found. Martin considered that his find and the peculiar circumstances attending it was an act of Providence, and he never touched intoxicants thereafter.
With the money he got from the sale of his nugget he went to mining in a business-like manner. Later he was attracted to Yucatan, where he made over half a million in quartz mining. He died in New Orleans a few years ago, leaving a fortune of over a million dollars.
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