Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales


by Norris Chambers

   An interesting diary has been handed down from one of my great uncles, who recorded a day by day account of his journey to Denver in 1859, the exploits of the party and their return to northern Alabama and Georgia. My Grandfather, referred to as Bud, was a teenager on this trip, and was mentioned frequently in the diary. Our folks were related to Green Russell, the person recorded in history as being the first to discover gold at Pike's Peak. One of Green Russell's brothers was a doctor, and my father, after finishing medical school in Tennessee, worked a year with him. After the year of supervised practice, he took the medical test in Texas and was a country doctor for many years.

  This party accompanied Green Russell on one of his many trips to Colorado. My old uncle wrote in his diary that he "really loved Green Russell." This was after Green had bought several of them a nice dinner in Denver. Another one of my uncles claimed to have built the first window frame in Denver City a few years prior to this trip.

  The writer of the diary told of staking claims and lots of hard work. It seems they built a sluice box near the river and shoveled their ore into it, hoping for gold at the bottom of the box. They found some each day, but apparently not very much. After carrying the ore in buckets a few days, they began to wish for a wheel barrow. A trip to Denver to purchase one was fruitless...there were no wheel barrows available. One of the party that they called "Berry" said he could solve that problem, and he began building one.

  He found a blacksmith and made a deal with him to use his tools. After a little search, he found a straight, round tree about a foot in diameter and chopped it down. He then sawed off a section about four inches thick and produced a wheel that was almost round. Berry drilled a hole as near the center as possible and mounted it on an improvised lathe. It was, according the diary, a simple matter to turn it into a perfectly round wheel with a beveled surface. Some small, straight trees made the handles and a nice box was built from rough timber. The only metal used, with the exception of a few nails, was a round rod which served as an axle.

  Apparently others needed wheel barrows, for when he was pushing it back to the claim, someone offered to buy it from him. After a little dickering, he sold it for twenty dollars and returned to build another. According to the account given, Berry built two wheel barrows a day and sold them faster than he could make them. He never did get back to the claim with one, and there was considerable complaining about his desertion. At the end of the summer, he was the rich one and spent most of his earnings financing the trip back. They sold the claim for a hundred dollars. Six of the party went back by wagon to St. Louis, and then by boat and train to Alabama.

  Green Russell stayed in Colorado. He found considerable gold, and was a partner in a real estate development across Cherry Creek from Denver. Another one of his brothers stayed with him, and made money playing a fiddle for dances in Denver. Green also provided the money for "Doc" Russell to attend medical school and become a doctor.

  On the long journey by wagon from St. Louis to Colorado, he writes about the places they camped, the vegetation along the way and the type of soil. Two Indians joined them and refused to leave, so they fed them for several days. That was the only Indian trouble they had.

  He tells in another instance, after they were near Denver and working their claim, about going into the city to see a man hanged for stealing horses. Another entry relates some trouble they had with another group of miners because they had dug ditches to run the water to their sluice and the ditches were difficult for the other group to cross. Apparently they won the word fight, since he didn't mention covering up the ditches.

  He was also excited about seeing his first herd of buffalo.

  The old uncle, who wrote the diary, or another in the party, had a portion of the gold that was discovered on this trip made into cuff links. I have one of these - I do not know how many more there were. But it has an interesting history.

  The moral to this story is, if you don't find gold where you expect it to be, look somewhere else. That's what Berry did. Opportunity knocked, and he opened the door. He never became a millionaire, and probably never built another wheel barrow, but he managed to make money where hundreds were searching for it in vain.

  They say there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I have always doubted this statement. When you get to the rainbow's end, you find that it has moved and is just over the next hill. Instead of chasing rainbows, look for the gold where you are.

  This reminds me of the story I read in an old school reader many years ago. A man in Africa left and roamed for years searching for riches, but never found them. Diamonds were discovered in the back yard of his old home, and this became the largest diamond mine in Africa. Also, another story told of the ship that had used up all the drinking water and the crew was suffering severe thirst. They met another ship a few miles off the coast of South America. The captain hailed it and asked if they could spare some water. The captain of the other ship shouted back: "Cast down your buckets where you are!" They were sailing across the tremendous flow of the Amazon River, and the water beneath them was fresh. I don't know how true these stories are, but they make a good point.

  One thing all the stories fail to stress - whatever you do, be sure that in doing it YOU HAVE FUN!


Return To Main Page (and select another Old Timer's Tales to read)

Please Click Here To E-Mail Me
Copyright © 2007 Norris Chambers