Hard rock miners were a superstitions breed. Among the most unusual of these were the “Tommyknockers.” These were mischievous little people who stood only two feet tall, had big heads, long arms, wrinkled faces and white whiskers.
It was said the little sprites sneaked into the luggage of the Cornishmen as they left for America. Once here they infiltrated the mines by hiding in the miner’s lunch boxes. It was claimed the Tommyknockers communicated with miners by tapping on the walls with a code similar to the one devised by Samuel Morse. Sometimes these tapings warned of pending disaster while others gave directions to rich pockets of ore. Many a hard rock miner swore his life was saved only because he heeded the tapping of the little people and made a hasty exit from the mine. Tommyknockers were credited with locating many a bonanza. But it was vitally important to listen to the tommy knocks. Miners claimed that if one heard “tap tap,” it meant “Dig here!” or “That’s it;” whereas “Tap tap tap” meant “Don’t dig here” or “It ain’t here!”
Gassy Thompson was one of those Cornishmen who benefitted from the Tommyknockers. His two assistants were a diamondback rattlesnake and a dog aptly named Digby. He trained the dog to do the digging. He’d found a baby rattler that had been orphaned and took it home and made a pet out of it. As the snake grew he noticed the population of pesky rats and mice diminished. He also figured that since the snake was much closer to the ground it could spot the gold nuggets he missed. So, he trained the big fellow to recognize gold. Whenever the snake found a nugget it would coil up around it and start rattling. Gassy claimed on one occasion the rattler found a pocket of gold worth almost three thousand dollars.
During the hot summers Gassy would search for gold in the cool confines of the abandoned gold mines. There he learned to communicate with the Tommyknockers and they would tell him where to look for gold then Digby would do the manual labor.
There were skeptics who were prone to doubt Gassy’s method of finding gold but one thing is certain—according to the local merchants claimed he always found more rich pockets of gold than all the other desert rats combined.