Friday, January 5, 2007

The Mysterious Ming Sun Tai

[written January 5, 2007]

***Curiosities Bearing Upon the History of Gold Run***

"At twilight, in the placer-scarred bed of Canyon Creek, South of Dutch Flat, Ming Sun Tai lighted a stick of incense from the glowing end of his fifty-cent cigar."

Over many years of enquiry into the history of Dutch Flat, Gold Run, etc., a number of curiosities have crossed my path. For instance, James Stewart of Gold Run, who once owned the "800 acres now for sale," comprising most of the Diggings, and the lower two miles of Canyon Creek, was not only born here, around 1885, but was a student of the local history, and amassed a large collection of materials, much of which was lost after his death, when his house was looted. Rumor had declared his fine old house full of gold nuggets.

This was around 1965 or so. Another Gold Run resident, hearing of this, walked out to the old Stewart place, in the Diggings, to see the looting for herself, and picked up a number of papers scattered in the mud.

Thirty years later, she let me see these papers. Among them was a letter written by Stewart, and dated to 1931, which described the discovery of gold at the head of Indiana Ravine, in 1851, and mentioned that the rich ground there was drift-mined, until, eventually, a Chinese company headed by one Tia Sing leased the old workings and hydrauliced away what remained.

Hence the Secret World, that isolated pit on the verge of the North Fork canyon, with its little stone cabin.

Now, one should not blindly trust historical sources, not even James Stewart, who grew up in this area. He was born too late to see hydraulic mining in full swing, although he did see it; in fact, there are photographs extant showing the young James Stewart, neatly dressed, watching a monitor at work, around 1895.

And the annual Report of the State Mineralogist, for 1896, records a Chinese company working at Indiana Hill. This can only be the very same company Stewart mentions, in his letter of 1931.

However, in 1896, this Chinese company could not have legally hydrauliced the old drift ground of the Secret World. Either we must imagine they operated illegally, or we must conclude that Stewart was mistaken. To me it seems much the more likely Stewart was mistaken, and that the Secret World was hydrauliced before the end of 1881, when the injunction against further discharge of mine tailings at Gold Run took effect.

That is, whatever the Chinese Company was up to in 1896, it was not hydraulic mining.

I wish I had known James Stewart. He seems quite an interesting man. He was the personal friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and of author Jack London, for instance. Could he have been acquainted, also, with author Hugh Wiley? The man who created the character of James Lee Wong, Chinese detective extraordinaire, Yale-educated James Lee Wong, a chemist?

Oh yes, James Stewart might have known Hugh Wiley; Hugh Wiley may well have stayed with the Stewarts at Gold Run, just as Jack London did.

At any rate, somehow, some way, Hugh Wiley came to know this area.

In 1921 Hugh Wiley wrote a short story titled "Joss." I will give a little excerpt, which the miracle of the Internet brought my way only this morning:

At twilight, in the placer-scarred bed of Canyon Creek, South of Dutch Flat, Ming Sun Tai lighted a stick of incense from the glowing end of his fifty-cent cigar. The incense burned dull red at the origin of the twisted thread of smoke which spun in the early moonlight that lay on the Western slope of Moody Ridge. He set the stick of incense on a grey boulder and fixed it upright with three little pebbles.

"Pai seung tai," the Chinaman whispered. "In the love of a man's ancestors, he accomplishes the worship of the gods." He continued his course up the bed of Canyon Creek. A thousand feet farther on he lighted another stick of incense. To his left lay a half mile of open flat, slashed and bruised and welted from the conflict which had waged in the days when yellow gold lay from the grass roots to bedrock beneath.

For more, see

That Wiley used the phrase "gold from the grass roots to bedrock" shows that he really knew something about this area; for, there was no cap of "young volcanics" hiding the Eocene-age auriferous gravels, as was so common to the south around Foresthill. It was gold-bearing at the surface, and all the way down to the bedrock, hundreds of feet below.

So. For all these years I never even suspected that an author named Hugh Wiley existed.

Follow the link, and read Wiley's "Joss." It's not the highest of all faluting, but it's worth a read. The difference between a diamond and a sapphire can mean everything.

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