Discoveries of gold in the American West during the mid-nineteenth century inspired thousands of prospectors.
There were stories of gold simply lying on the ground, mountains of gold, and enough gold for all. The truth was quite different.
Finding gold has never been an easy task. Mining is dangerous and difficult and depends a lot on luck. Stumbling across gold out in the open is not common. If it were, and if there truly were enough gold for all, who would care? Part of gold’s importance is that it is rare and difficult to attain.
Not so for one prospector—Richard Stoddard—at least for a while. Like so many others, Stoddard and his partner set off in 1849 for the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range in California. In their search, they came upon a lake—filled with gold nuggets, so Stoddard said.
Stoddard and his partner stuffed their pockets with all they could carry and went to gather supplies and enlist help for gathering their fortune. It took weeks to find the way back to civilization, and Stoddard’s comrade died along the way.
Stoddard himself was in bad shape when he finally reached Sacramento, but he was anxious to get back to his lake of gold. The image of a clear mountain lake with the sun shining off layers of nuggets was tantalizing.
Backers financed a return trip to the lake with Stoddard. But Stoddard got lost in the mountains. He could not find his lake of gold. Finally, the financial backers gave him one last chance-24 more hours—to lead them to the gold, or they would hang him.
That night, Stoddard disappeared. The region where he claimed the lake of gold to be is called Last Chance Valley to this day.