Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Lesson Learned or How An Old Trunk Helped Me Mark My Progress

The Original Inspiration
Photos Lindy Miller 2011
     For those that read my blog, you might have noticed that I've learned a lesson or two on my journeys to replicate past objects. The most valuable lesson I've discovered is the importance of finding the "patience" to fully enjoy this hobby. My desire to recreate something might be immediate but the time spent towards a successful project, can be longer than anticipated.  I've found that I need to embrace the whole creative process. It's not only about the research or hunting down those obsolete materials but it's about developing my technical skills as a craftsman as well.

Front View
Inside View of Original Trunk
Note the Door in the Lid
      In the back of my mind there is a list of things I would like to make. Some I'll probably never get around to but so far I've whittled the list down pretty good. When I get to the point of starting a project, everything necessary has finally come together either by plan or by chance or both. This post has a little of both. Around 30 years ago, I purchased a fragile relic of a trunk at an antique mall in Southern California. My initial emotion was to save the poor thing and what-the-heck, it was cheap. At the time there was a craze for "fixing up" old trunks and turning them into decor but that's not what I intended. I saw this little wreck of a thing as a prime candidate for replicating someday. There was a lot that crumbling trunk could teach me but for the time being, it was wrapped up and put away. It was probably best, as I wasn't quite ready yet to tackle such a project.

     In 2004, during a shopping trip to Nevada, my wife and I were visiting one of our favorite fabric stores, Mill End Fabrics of Reno, when I noticed that they had a bin of large leather pieces. The prices were fair and I found myself wondering what I could make from such an opportunity. Like a light bulb going on in my head I suddenly thought of that nearly forgotten trunk. I ended up purchasing half a cowhide of upolstery leather because the weight, feel and finish seemed like it might be a match to the covering of that relic trunk. The anticipation of a new project was pretty exciting. Yeah man !

My Replica Trunk
Note the Sewn Leather Handle
     When I dug out the original trunk, I was happy to see the new leather would work but I immediately realized that if I wanted to make a viable replica, I was facing a very involved project. The important thing was, I felt I was ready to tackle it.

Straight on Front View
Note the Straps and Lock Flap
     This style of travel-trunk is pretty interesting in that it has a soft-top design that acts as an additional compartment to store clothing or linens. As you can see in the pictures, there's a trap door on the inside of the lid for access. The core body of the original trunk is made of a soft wood, probably poplar or pine. I already had custom wide pine boards of the right dimension at my workplace in Columbia along with plenty of cut nails from Tremont Nail Co. so that part was covered.

     The hunt for hardware was next and I really lucked out when I discovered an amazing resource online called The Trunk Shoppe in Harrisville, West Virginia. These good people have created a unique offering of early trunk hardware that's unparalleled. Their trunk locks are exact copies of early to mid-19th century originals, so I needed to grab one of those. They even have the original style cast brass domed tacks with a square shank but the cost would have killed me.The original trunk has a zillion tacks. I opted for high dome brass tacks from Crazy Crow Trading Post of Pottsboro Texas. Many of these early trunks have tinned or sheet iron corner protectors and in my case, they were tinned and japanned with asphaltum varnish. When the time came, I used ProCraft Asphaltum Varnish, thinned with Lacquer Thinner( a good drying agent) to a brushable state. Over the bright tin, the varnish's golden brown color is a classic period look that can't be imitated.

Inside View of My Replica
Close-up of  Replica's Lid
Showing Facsimile of Original Label
     The project began by building the wooden box / body and the inner panel for the lid. I then created and installed a pair of sheet iron hinges to match the originals. The next step was to glue and tack the leather panels to the outside of the box. The hand sewn leather handles of the original trunk had to be carefully duplicated and installed with clinch-nails through the box sides. After morticing a pocket on the inside front of the box, I mounted that beautiful replica lock with clinch-nails as was the original. Next came making and glueing in the paper lining. Even though the orignal paper was printed, I think that my stencilled version matches pretty close. Assembling the leather top was a challenge as I first had to line all the pieces with a nice cotton tick before I hand sewed the end's welted seams. Once the major parts were assembled,  I carefully mounted those zillions of tacks and the tin panelled corners.  Lots of other details were added to the inside lid including a facsimile of the original label. It was really starting to look like something now but I had to take it a step further.

     Some of the elements that are usually missing from many original and most replica trunks, are the buckled straps that secured a trunk's lid and the leather flap to protect the lock. I wanted my replica to have all of the flaps, straps and buckles of a new original. I found that by studying mid-19th century trade cuts like those reproduced in Clarence P. Hornung's "Handbook of Early Advertising Art",1956, I could find clues as to how period trunks looked when new. The majority of these  trunks were intended to be used as luggage and more often than not ended up on top of a coach, exposed to the weather. From those originals that I studied, it appears that style and function went hand in hand and I think my replica celebrates that notion. It was a great project and worth the "patience" it took to get to the point to make it happen and now I have somewhere cool to stash my stuff !

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How I Finally Got Around to a Childhood Dream or Some Things Are Worth the Wait

The Seed
     I'm running the risk of giving away my age with this post but what the heck. Back in 1963 I saw the cover of the February issue of the American Rifleman Magazine and I was smitten. The cover's picture was of a brace of pistols. Not just any old pistols but a matched pair of R. Johnson U.S. 1836 Flintlock Pistols. The last flintlocks issued to U.S. troops and still in service during the Mexican-American War.  Around the same time, I discovered Dixie Gun Works of Union City, Tenn.  DGW offered parts for restoring and building just about any kind of blackpowder gun you could imagine. Back then, there weren't many people offering anything even close to Dixie. Among their offerings was a smattering of parts for the 1836 Waters and Johnson pistols (Waters was the other contractor making the original pistols). Trying my best to make a long story short, I purchased some parts for the lock plus a barrel blank and started dreaming of my replica pistol. Being that I was just a kid with no gunsmithing skills, I started to lobby my dad, who among other things was a machinist. Even though the project never really got past a couple of starts and the semi-finished parts landed in a box somewhere, the initial desire for a replica never went away.

My Long Awaited Replica Pistol
Photos Lindy Miller 2011
Another View
From the Top
Last One
       Fast forward to about 7 or 8 years ago and that old desire returned when I found out about  The Rifle Shoppe of Jones Oklahoma. They've been in business for over 25 years making high quality investment castings of antique gun parts for restorers and builders. Their parts can be pricey but I think that they are worth the outlay if you want the quality. No one else offers the variety of parts that they do. You've probably figured out already that they had everything for me to build my replica flint pistol. When I finally purchased all the castings, machined parts and screws, the project suddenly became very intimidating. I really needed to put aside the time and find the confidence to do this. Even though the parts constitute a kit, you are on your own to build it. This is no place for beginners. I had already built a couple of guns, but neither were replicas of specific firearms. All the Rifle Shoppe castings come "in the rough", with some flashing and sprues to be removed. You must drill and tap all the holes and carefully polish and in some cases harden the parts. The Rifle Shoppe's semi-inletted stock helped but some of the hardest detail work still had to be done to bring it together.

    Over a period of several months, I spent many evenings and weekends feeling my way through the project, broken taps and all. I relied heavily on research and a little bit of instinct to get through the many choices. The internet provided me with plenty of pictures of original pistols as they are not that uncommon. Many surviving pistols show hard use and in many cases, over-restoration. I tried very hard to make mine as authentic as I could, as if it was just issued by the armory. I think it turned out pretty sweet and I think even my Dad would have agreed. As I said in the beginning, some things are worth the wait.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eureka Moments #4, With a Vested Interest or How They Hid Their Wealth.

Original Gold Pokes
Image Source Unknown
     History records that in the very beginning of the rush for riches, the abundance of gold and the initial ease of mining, helped contribute to an atmosphere of honesty and civility among those earliest argonauts. As more and more gold seekers arrived in California, that initial atmosphere soon evaporated as did those finer qualitys of humanity. If you were successful and found yourself handling and transporting large amounts of gold, it was in your best interest to use some method to hide and secure the gold on your person. This need for security explains the popularity of money belts and vests, called Gold Porters during the period.

Original Elongated Poke
With Belt Attachment
Image Source Unknown
      Raw gold dust was typically kept in a tied leather bag called a poke and elongated versions were sometimes attached to a belt that helped secure them under your clothing. It was quite common for miners to convert their raw gold into gold coins as soon as they became available. Before the U.S. mint was established in San Francisco in 1854 and even a little after, many small, privately owned mints sprung up creating their own gold coins in common denominations. These coins and larger nuggets could be secretly secured in a money belt or Gold Porter, worn under your clothing.

Money Belt Used By John Watkins
Image Source Unknown
     For some reason (who needs a reason ?) I was fascinated by the idea of these hidden accessories, with their specific purpose. I though it might be fun to make a replica of an original Gold Porter in order to show how gold was secured at the time. As I studied several original examples, it became apparent that there was a sameness to many of them. They almost always seem to have white china buttons on the pocket flaps and more often than not, have these little diamond shaped, red moroccan leather covered button holes. They also usually have several support straps, as you can imagine the weight of a fully loaded vest.

Robert W. Pitkins'  Gold Porter
Courtesy of Columbia State Historic Park
     I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study an original Gold Porter in the collection at Columbia State Historic Park. Curator Thonni Morikawa kindly allowed me to photograph, measure and draw the classic example they have. This Gold Porter was owned by Robert W. Pitkins and according to the record, was possibly in use from 1850-'64.  I decided that this was the one I wished to replicate.The next step was to start rounding up the materials necessary for the project.

Detail of Pitkins' Porter

     I purchased several tanned buckskins on Ebay that were all a natural yellowish-grey color. Luckily, I bought enough of them to match several for the project.  The original Porters I studied, usually had their raw edges bound with some kind of narrow cloth tape or ribbon. I found a nice linen tape from Wooded Hamlet Designs that I could dye to match the original. The original tape on Pitkins' Porter was woven in a two color stripe but I could only dye mine to match the side that showed on top. The closest I could come on the  support straps was a natural cotton twill tape that I amended with a blue line of stitching, close to the edge. The two pieces of belting that connect the two halves of the original porter, were going to be the hardest to match. I found some cotton belting with a similar weave but had to shrink it to the right width. After it was dyed indigo blue, I had to pick out some of the woven threads and replace them with a contrasting white thread. This simulated the woven stripes of the original. Now that was a pain in the rear!  I traded with my friend Nick Kane for some red moroccan leather and the final hurdle was to craft the pronged steel buckles (3), as nothing even similar is available. 

     To assemble the leather parts, my ever patient wife Lindy agreed to sew the pocket panels with her machine. Yes, many of the originals are machine sewn. My wife is a precision sewer and she did her magic as she always does. I hand sewed the tape binding as was the original and finished the details to complete the project. All in all a pretty darn good replica and yes Thonni, I did write my name and the date of creation, under a pocket flap. I never want to get on the bad side of a curator.
My Replica Gold Porter
With a Copy of an 1850's Advertisement
"The Miner's Heavy Buck Indispensible Gold Porters"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eureka Moments #3, Recreating a Miner Piece of Pistol Packin' History

"Packing Iron" by
Richard C. Rattenbury
pg. 65
     This post should be of interest to the viewer for several reasons. First, it's about an amazing piece of Gold Rush history and second, I finally get to "show" the process of how to recreate something. In the past I never really paid much attention to visually documenting how I make anything but now with my blog, it's worthwhile to do it on current and future projects. This story starts with the book "Packing Iron, Gunleather of the Frontier West", by Richard C. Rattenbury, 1993. It's an incredible achievement that charts the development and history of how the guns that "won the west" were carried. On page 65, there is a holster that immediately caught my eye.  In the book, it is described as, "Civilian Flap Holster for Colt Model 1851 Revolver". and the text continues "....clearly was intended for the California Gold Rush market." Oh yes, I was in  l-o-v-e !

    As the picture clearly shows, the holster is almost completely covered with embossed designs. On the flap, you'll find most of the elements of the newly designed California State Seal and on the body there is the depiction of a Woodland  Indian, stepping out from behind a tree and drawing his bow. Is that amazing or what?  It makes you wonder if it's a social comment on the pride the Argonauts felt about their new State or is it just pure decorative fun? Whatever it is, I needed to figure out how to make a decent reproducion of this rare and special piece of Californiana.

Gold Rush Daguerreotype Showing the
California Holster in Use
Image Courtesy
Heritage Auction Gallery
Close Up of the Flap
Photo Courtesy
The Witte Museum, San Antonio
    The book states that the pistol was from the Donald Yena collection so that seemed like a good place to start. I discovered that Donald Yena is a well known western artist who resides in Texas. I wrote to Mr. Yena, inquiring about the holster and my desire to make a replica. I asked if there was a chance for more photos.  He kindly responded with a hand written letter informing me that he had sold it to the Witte Museum of San Antonio, Texas. When I contacted them, it was encouraging to learn that their curator, Bruce M. Shakelford remembered a holster similar to my description, in their collection. After considerable time passed, I was delighted to receive an email with attatched photos of the rare holster.Thank You Witte Museum ! A few close-ups of the designs and a  nice back view gave me the courage to start the project. Before I wrote to Mr. Yena, I stumbled on a daguerreotype of a miner wearing the same holster so I've including it here for those skeptics that might feel that such fancy holsters were probably never used by rough-n-tumble 49ers.

Clay Positves Being Set-up For Casting
the Plaster Negatives
Photo Lindy Miller 2011
Main Leather Parts with the Plaster
Embossing Dies and Bone Folder
Photo Lindy Miller 2011
     Luck would have it, I already own a Colt Second Generation '51 Navy, so it was easy to mock-up a full size pattern of the holster's molded body. The embossed designs, on the other hand, were going to be a challenge. It's obvious that this was not a "one-off " creation by some leather artist but rather, a mass produced article, with die stamped ornamentation. I started with a scaled drawing of the design elements and then using modeling clay, sculpted them in relief, on a board. Over the clay positive, I cast a plaster negative, that would act as my embossing die. I talked my friend Derek Manov into joining me on this project. If he threw in the leather, I would share my dies, so he could create his own version of the original holster. As you can see in the pictures, the moistened (about 5 ounce) oak tanned leather, took the designs quite nicely, after I pressed it into the dies. I then used the bone folder's rounded point to chase around the designs and enhance the details before the leather dried. I colored the leather using Fiebing's light brown dye, which ended up a little darker than I wanted, but still okay. The brass closure button was turned from a scrap of brass rod and riveted onto the body. With waxed linen thread and a saddle stitch, I sewed the belt loop on the back first, then attached the flap and finally stitched up the side seam. For the brass end-cap, I silver- soldered the cylinder shape out of thin, brass flat stock and then slid it onto a wooden support. This way I could scribe the decorative lines while turning it on my wood lathe. Since the indented lines grabbed the wooden support, I had to char it with a torch for it to release the brass. After the end-cap was polished and riveted to the leather, I lightly waxed the holster and called it done. When I tried out the Colt, it fit it like a glove.

My Replica Holster
Photo Lindy Miller 2011

        As with all my attempts at replicating the past, I'm always my own worst critic. My best work has always been when I had the original in front of me but when this is not the case, I am quite comfortable with the honest effort of a respectable, close copy. This holster is an example of a close but not a perfect copy. In the world of reproductions, it's almost impossible to achieve perfection and that's not a bad thing. Past people and past things should remain special and undiminished by our vain attempts at bringing them back.

     Due to the interest this post has generated, I've included all of the pictures of the original holster that the Witte so kindly sent me.

Back View of Original Holster
Images Courtesty of
The Witte Museum of San Antonio

Close Up of Design on Original Holster
Full Front View of Original Holster
Full Flap View of Original Holster

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eureka Moments # 2, I Was There, I Bought the Shirt to Prove It.

     This post is pretty straight forward so I can spare the reader from a long winded build-up.  Okay.....maybe just a little explanation might help set the stage, so here goes.  It's such an everday thing, to see T shirts or any other apparel, emblazoned with some design, logo or event commemoration, that it's easy to asssume it's a modern or at least, recent concept. I mean, if you go to the concert, you just have to buy a T, right ?  Could such a notion have existed in the California Gold Rush ?  Really ??  Well, let's check it out. Read on.

 Catalog of the Exhibit at the
Oakland Museum 1998
A Bible for Historians
     This tale goes back to around 1996 when a friend of mine, John McWilliams, met with me in Columbia. John is a well respected Daguerreotype collector and a Western Americana expert. He had brought a binder of pictures to show me. I was excited to discover the binder was full of amazing early Gold Rush images, copies of original Daguerreotypes that John and friends owned. John told me that some were to be featured in a future exhibit at the Oakland Museum. The museum would be commemorating the sesquicentennial of the discovery of gold and the exhibit, entitled Silver & Gold, would showcase some of the rarest cased images of the Gold Rush ever assembled. There was also to be a published catalog of the exhibit under the same name. As I flipped through John's binder one of the pictures just blew me away. It was a portrait of a miner wearing a classic miner's overshirt with a twist. This shirt was covered with the repeat printed design of a Pick and Shovel motif and  a Miner standing with a shovel. I couldn't believe my eyes. This image was so compelling that I talked John into giving me a copy if I promised not to show it around until after the exhibit opened.

One of the Shirted Miners
Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg
Image Courtesty of The Daguerreian Society
Close-up of Same Image
Courtesy of
Matthew R. Isenburg
     Granted, it took me a few years to get around to it but as you might expect by now, I eventually had to make a copy of this amazing shirt. More evidence has come to light since '96 and I believe at this time, 5 different pictures have surfaced of miners wearing the same print,  but not the same shirt. I have seen 3 versions myself.  Some skeptics might think it was a mere photographer's prop, but it wasn't, they are different shirts. I'm no fabric historian but the photographic evidence suggests the shirt's designs might have been  resist printed because they are so bold. The fabric itself was most likely wool but that's only an assumption, as no original shirts have surfaced for study and none are likely to. I'm still hopeful that a tiny scrap of the fabric may have landed in a quilt somewhere for me to study. So far no luck.

My Version
Note the Print Direction
Rear View
     The best I could hope for was to create an "impression" of the original . Maybe someday I will reach the level of sophistication to attempt a resist printed version, or more information will be discovered as to how they were actually done. To jumpstart the project, my wife provided me with a nice piece of red wool flannel. After I scaled out the designs and their repeat pattern, I used a small, hand-held silk screen to print the motifs in a white fabric ink. Quirky as it seems, whomever made the original shirts sometimes chose to run the print upside-down on the front, when they assembled the sections of the garment. During this time period, some shirts were made with a single piece of fabric running from the back, over the shoulder, to the front. This is what I interpreted in my recreation.  In the original version I copied, the plastron front piece contrasts by having the print right side-up, thereby reading correctly to the viewer. I love stuff like this, it's not what you would expect at all. Apparently it just didn't matter. All in all, I think the shirt turned out well and captures the fun and spirit of the original. So, now I have the shirt but I was only "there" in my imagination.

How I Dug a Little Deeper Into California Gold Rush History and Recreated a Few "Eureka" Moments of My Own

Contemporary Comment on the Gold Rush Adventure
A Topical Mid-19th Century Textile
Image Source Unknown
     I'm the first to admit that I am in love with my State's history. I mean come on already, there is no place like this place. It's no surprise that California was gutsy enough to declare itself a State before Congress had even voted on it. Fueled by the instant wealth of the Gold Rush, cities were created, literally overnight, that rivaled the established trading centers of the east that had taken 100 years to build. California has an almost mythical history that transports the curious reader to an unbelievable time of wonder. What saddens me is that in the minds of so many people our Gold Rush history has been reduced to a few time-worn cliches. Even worse,  it's been dismissed by some modern apologist / historians as a greedy slug-fest of drunken, racist and murderous Anglo Americans. Don't get me wrong, mid-19th century California could be brutal and no place for the timid or the weak.  A lot of what went on is hard for us to swallow, let alone understand with our modern sensitivity and high moral ideals of fairness but just for the moment let's think of the Gold Rush as one of the greatest adventures in human history. Why not, a lot of the participants did and freeley expressed their experiences in hundreds of accounts of which dozens have been published. It was one of the few times, if any, in history when common people from around the world had the chance to aquire real wealth through their toil. The same toil that earned them a $1 or less a day back home. Who can deny that a long time ago, in a far off place called California, the bottom fell out of the everyday world and the world has never been the same since.

Hispanic Miners Panning With a Batea
and Digging With a Bar
Image Courtesy Library of Congress
    Over many years, my wife and I have accumulated a sizeable library of Gold Rush titles. Reading the accounts sets my imagination to wonder about the lives of these gold seekers. Being the material culture junkie that I am, I'm naturally fascinated with objects that breathe life into my understanding of the Gold Rush experience. In the next four or so posts, I'm going to explore several of these objects that spoke to me of the uniqueness of the events and the people who helped develop one of the richest and most interesting places on earth.

      My first Gold Rush post will explore the tools of the common Hispanic miner. For some unknown reason, this little tidbit of history has been ignored and neglected so I think it deserves a closer look. Some of the earliest miners to arrive in California after the discovery of gold on January 24, 1848, were Spanish speaking. Many of them were professional miners from regions like Sonora, Mexico. These Gambusinos knew their trade well and applied their skills using proven tools, some as ancient as Native America itself. There weren't all that many knowledgeable miners in the very begining of the Rush and many greenhorns learned the trade from watching these experts and even using their tools.  According to John S. Hittell's "Mining in the Pacific States of North America" published in 1861, "They (Hispanics) seldom use any other tools except the small crow-bar, which is pointed at both ends, the batea and the horn spoon, with which they scrape and rake the soil, after first loosening it with the bar."

Original Batea
(note the tin patch over a crack)
Image Courtesy of the Oakland Museum
of California

     The first of these tools we will explore is the wooden Batea (bah-tay-yuh) or gold bowl. This style gold pan is pure native technology, found in South America and parts of Asia, (where it is called a Dulang).  Bateas are large and can be used as winnowing trays for dry mining, wherein the miner tosses the rich, dry earth into the air or carefully shakes it over the edge of the bowl and lets the wind separate the waste dirt from the heavy gold. Jacques Antoine Moerenhout noticed Mexican miners dry washing the gulches above the American River and wrote about them in his letters to the French Authorities. His observations took place only a few months after the January discovery. Morenhout was the French consul in California and his detailed reports are an amazing account of the immediate riches that were harvested very early in the Gold Rush. He also gives an accounting of his personal attempt at using a Batea to pan for gold. Bateas are excellent for wet washing the dirt as well, as I can speak from personal experience although I'm still trying to master the dang thing.

"Mexican Bowl" Illustration
Hutchings' California Magazine
September 1860
Modern Ecuadoran Indian With His Batea
an Ancient Tradition Continues
Image Source Unknown
             In order to create my own Batea, I began to gather information and immediately discovered that there was considerable latitude in their design. This came as no surprise as they are handmade objects following a basic traditional form. Almost every local museum, up and down the Mother Lode, has at least one original Batea in their collections. From "Basic Placer Mining", Special Publication 41, California Division of Mines & Geology, I learned that Bateas ranged from 15 to 24 inches in diameter and had an inside angle of from 150 to 155 degrees. What makes them work as a gold pan is that they are generally cone or bowl shaped, with a low center, serving as a trap for the gold. For my Batea, I settled on 18 inches and 150 degrees. From an associate, I scored a block of seasoned pine that was 20 inches square and 4 inches thick. To rough out the back side, I used a hatchet and hollowed out the inside with a wide gouge and inshave. To reduce the weight and follow the original examples I had surveyed, I tried to keep the finished thickness to about 1 inch in the center, tapering to 3/4 - 5/8 inch at the edge. I did not over-finish the surface as the tool marks are part of its creation and authenticity.

     Next thing I needed to add to my Hispanic miner's tool kit, was their short, iron digging bar. According to Hittell, it was a light, small crow bar, pointed at each end. This tool basically took the place of a pick. Luck would have it, my friend and fellow historian Nick Kane owns an original Mexican digging bar and was gracious enough to let me copy it. George Cantrell, my blacksmith / friend, did his usual awesome job on my replica. The round bar is 24 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. One end is tapered to a chisel wedge and the other end is shaped to a point with 4 tapered sides. This copied the original design to a T and you can see how it relates to a period pick in the way it's shaped.

Horn Spoon Described as a "Scoop" in
Hutchings' September 1860
     Last but not least in the kit was the horn spoon. A simple miner's tool that has taken on epic status due to Sid Fleischman's book, "By the Great Horn Spoon". This book tops the reading list of almost every 4th grader in the State of California and for better or for worse is a fun and rousing tale of a young boy, Jack, in the Gold Rush. Once Jack found out what the spoons were for, he was determined to get one and thus the title ( In truth, the title is an ancient Scottish oath by which one swears on the Big Dipper constellation). The ever helpful Hittell describes this classic tool as half a bullock horn, from 6 to 8 inches long and up to 3 inches wide. Because of the natural curve of the horn, there is a low center and many times the spoons were used to wash a little rich earth to see if it was a good prospect. For my replica, a nice thick cow horn produced a decent copy example, comparing well to surviving originals I have seen.

     Now for one final note, my three replica tools can rightly claim the status of "Movie Stars" as they were featured in the 2006 American Experience film "The Gold Rush". I was a paid consultant on the film and lucky for me the director, Randall MacLowry of Yellow Jersey Films, was a stickler for authenticity. All three tools were used in the scene recreating the begining moments of Antonio Franco Coronel's staggering harvest of 134 ounces of gold in three days ! Can you even imagine that ? It's one of my favorite scenes in the film, you should check it out. Look for the solid "brass" nuggets. A little movie magic courtesy of George Cantrell.


My Replica Batea, Digging Bar and Horn Spoon
Muy oro aqui amigo?