This proved to be the case; but John Gates was clever enough never to tell how he surmised the truth.
“That mule looked to me pretty frazzled,” was all he would say.
The frying-pan episode was the sequence of a quarrel. Gates was bringing home a new frying pan. At the proper point in the discussion he used his great strength to smash the implement over his opponent’s head so vigorously that it came down around his neck like a jagged collar! Gates clung to the handle, however, and by it led his man all around camp, to the huge delight of the populace.
As sheriff he was effective, but at times peculiar in his administration. No man could have been more zealous in performing his duty; yet he never would mix in the affairs of foreigners. Invariably in such cases he made out the warrants in blank, swore in the complaining parties themselves as deputies, and told them blandly to do their own arresting! Nor at times did he fail to temper his duty with a little substantial justice of his own. Thus he was once called upon to execute a judgment for $30 against a poor family. Gates went down to the premises, looked over the situation, talked to the man—a poverty-stricken, discouraged, ague-shaken creature—and marched back to the offices of the plaintiffs in the case.
“Here,” said he, calmly, laying a paper and a small bag of gold dust on their table, “is $30 and a receipt in full.”
The complainant reached for the sack. Gates placed his hand over it.
“Sign the receipt,” he commanded. “Now,” he went on after the ink had been sanded, “there’s your $30. It’s yours legally; and you can take it if you want to. But I want to warn you that a thousand-dollar licking goes with it!”
The money—from Gates’s own pocket—eventually found its way to the poor family!
They had three children, two boys and a girl of which one boy died.
In five years the placers began to play out. One by one the more energetic of the miners dropped away. The nature of the community changed. Small hill ranches or fruit farms took the place of the mines. The camp became a country village. Old time excitement calmed, the pace of life slowed, the horizon narrowed.
John Gates, clear-eyed, energetic, keen brained, saw this tendency before it became a fact.
“This camp is busted,” he told himself.
It was the hour to fulfill the purpose of the long, terrible journey across the plains, to carry out the original intention to descend from the Sierras to the golden valleys, to follow the struggle.
“Reckon it’s time to be moving,” he told his wife.
But now his own great labours asserted their claim. He had put four years of his life into making this farm out of nothing, four years of incredible toil, energy, and young enthusiasm. He had a good dwelling and spacious corrals, an orchard started, a truck garden, a barley field, a pasture, cattle, sheep, chickens, his horses—all his creation from nothing. One evening at sundown he found his wife in the garden weeping softly.