Diversity and Values Stories

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The Prospector’s Story


Harrigan wanted gold. He wanted gold more than anything in the world. And he would do anything to get it.

Harrigan grew up poor. His home was the streets of New York. He fought for every scrap of food he ate. He wasn’t big, so he lost a lot of fights. But he grew tough. By the time he was fifteen, nobody messed with Harrigan. By the time he was a man, he ruled his neighborhood.
But Harrigan wanted more than a hot meal and a place to sleep. He wanted to be rich. He wanted gold.

So Harrigan set off to California. That’s where the gold was. Tons of gold. Mountains of gold, if the stories were true. Some men from New York walked across the country–2,000 miles. Some went by sea. Harrigan chose the sea.

The next six months were worse than the slums of New York. The whole ship was seasick half the time. The food wasn’t worth eating. Halfway there, the water was too bad to drink. Fights broke out among the bored miners. But Harrigan was tough. If there was anything to eat or drink, he got his share and more. If there was a fight, Harrigan won.

A lot of the gold seekers didn’t make it to California. Harrigan did. He walked down the streets of San Francisco. Thoughts of gold still filled his mind. He walked past store windows filled with riches. He saw men and women dressed in fine clothes. Gold bought all those things. Gold bought houses and food fit for a king. Gold bought power, real power.

Harrigan need equipment and he got it. He left another miner in a dark alley and walked out with his pack. He took food from one man and a pan and pickax from another. Then he set out to stake a claim.

That’s when Harrigan found out. Being tough can get you a pickax. It can’t get you gold. He searched. He dug. He panned the streams. He found nothing. He went further from the city. He went deeper into the wilderness. He lost his way.

And so, one day, Harrigan found himself in the desert. The sun beat down on him. He couldn’t find a pond or a stream. His canteen grew lighter and lighter. Finally, he stood alone in the California sun. He was tired. He was thirstier than he had ever been in his life. And he was afraid. He wasn’t thinking now about fine clothes and riches. He was thinking about water. His whole life had come down to finding water.

Suddenly, he saw it. In the distance, there was a gleam, like sun reflected from a pond. It could be a mirage, but Harrigan didn’t think so. It looked real. He ran. He stumbled. The gleam did not disappear. It was real. It was.

Harrigan dropped his pack, his canteen, his pickax. He ran and ran. And then he fell sobbing onto the ground. The gleam was real, allright. But it wasn’t water.

It was only gold.

Copyright 2002 by Helen Tracy

Story Information and Discussion Questions