Those early California gold camps with their boardwalks and muddy streets, false-front buildings and tent dwellings were as vivacious at their names implied. Towns like Whiskey Bar, Hangtown, Devil’s Retreat. Flapjack Canyon, Red Dog, You Bet, Gouge Eye, Gomorrah and Rough and Ready beckoned the prospectors like the fabled Sirens who attempted to lure Jason and his Argonauts to their island with their beautiful songs. Most of the towns had short lives, or as one scribe wrote: “When the gold ran out, so did the miners. These restless Argonauts were always eager to pack up and move on to some more desirable bonanza rumored to be just over the next mountain.
In the days before the mints began turning out coins for currency, purchases for such things as drinks were made by the “pinch” method whereby the bartender simply reached into a miner’s poke sack with his thumb and forefinger and took out as much dust as he could squeeze between the two. The amount taken was usually worth between seventy-five cents and a dollar, depending on the size of the bartender’s fingers. It goes without saying the saloon owners used to observe prospective employees carefully, employing only the ham-handed ones whenever possible.
A story was told of one enterprising bartender who would “accidentally” spill small amounts of his pinch during the course of transferring the dust from the poke sack to the money box. Several times during his shift he would step outside the back door where he had created a small mud hole. After muddying his boots, he’d re-enter the bar walk and walk back and forth over the spilled gold dust. This being accomplished, he would walk over to his bucket and scrape the mud off his boots. After his shift was over he’d take his bucket home and pan out the dust. This might sound a bit tedious to the observer, but it was said on weekends alone, the resourceful bartender could pan out a hundred dollars’ worth of gold dust.