J.C. Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 9-19-11
A prospector wandered in to the silver region of Colorado in the early 1880s with a burro named Lost Soul. He was a jovial man, well liked by all with whom he had contact. When he came to town for supplies, he paid the merchants with shiney Morgan silver dollars. The prospector had long hair, and a gray beard down to his belly.
After picking through the hills for months, the prospector came into town with one of the richest ore samples ever seen, strapped to the panniers of his burro, Lost Soul. Soon after seeing the results of the assay, the prospector fell over dead. Opportunistic prospectors then tried to entice Lost Soul to lead them to the spot where the dead prospector had dug the rich ore. The burro lead them up a steep ridge, then darted into the wilderness, not to be seen again. Since then, many folks hiking or hunting in the region have claimed to have seen a pure white burro dashing through the trees, but the burro was never caught by rope or camera.
In recent years, an old man who’d spent his life prospecting in the silver country was looking to get his affairs in order. He offered all his various patented and unpatented mining claims to a young fellow who bought them. While hiking on the lands he had purchased, the young fellow thought he saw a white burro trapped between two trees, but when he pryed his way through the underbrush he came upon an old mine hidden in the ravine with a cabin perched on the side of a 1,000-foot cliff. All the mine shafts were in tact with scaffolding of Bristlecone Pine wedged into the ribs of two vertical shafts.
Looking around for a water source, the young fellow loosened a large, flat rock near the jigback bull wheel, and found a neat stack of rusty 2-inch iron pipes about 2-feet long. A total of 101 of the iron pipes were packed with one hundred and fifty 1881 Morgan silver dollars each. The dollars bore no mark, meaning they were pressed at the Philadelphia mint, and thus most valuable of the Morgan issue.
The young fellow didn’t need a calculator to figure out that this was a treasure trove worth more than a thousand times what he’d paid for the land. He went back to tell the old man and offer him a share of the bounty, only to find the old man in severely failing health. “Ah,” the old man said, “good of you to think of sharing your discovery, but I’m not in much need of money these days, and you’d best not be, either.”
“Oh?” asked the young fellow.
“You seem to have found the Lost Soul Mine,” the old man said. “Tell you what: if you can find those pipes fulla money again, you can have them.”
The young fellow realized that in his excitement and haste – being preoccupied with thoughts of how to acquire a burro to haul out his fortune – he hadn’t marked a trail back to the mine. But he was certain he could find it again and secretly laughed at the old man’s challenge.
For months, however, the young fellow hiked the ravines and fought through the underbrush, never finding the old mine. He returned to the old man, now on his death bed, and admitted his inability to find the mine, yet he hoped the old man might provide clues.
“I found the Lost Soul myself,” the old man said. “Then I ran off full of big ideas and never found it again. The one time I did find it, I saw a white burro between two trees.”
“So did I!” the young fellow exclaimed.
“To find the mine, you first must find the burro named Lost Soul.”
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