As I approach 85k words, far more than I expected and so close to the end I can taste it, here is a short unedited excerpt from the story without giving much away from the plot. Enjoy!
The slaves followed a trodden path that wound through the pines, the grade sloping as it descended into the town of Dry Diggings. Shadowing them along the way were the hired hands, dark as coal amongst the trees as they kept a close watch on William’s property, guns primed and ready to fire. William caught up and led the way on horseback, his slightly bent frame towering over the beast, a messiah coming to an unenlightened land and bearing gifts of men to spread the good word of slavery.
They entered the town, which by now had attracted thousands of miners from around the world. Dirt and mud seemed to permeate everything here, a monochromatic and destitute place of men trying to exist at the edge of civilization. They appeared as blackened shadows cast among a dead land, with only the orange light of their fires offering any color to this low estate. Stumps of trees lay staggered among the outskirts of the town, fallen in the haste of men seeking to build shelter in their new surroundings.
Cabins and shanties sat about in makeshift fashion, with the main street more carefully lined with businesses. Dry Diggings held the El Dorado Hotel, with its own saloon, a merchant shop recently opened by Mark Hopkins, and a few dozen clapboard buildings all nestled between rolling hills with a creek running alongside the town. Men pushed wooden carts full of dirt towards the water, and some were well enough to have mules, oxen, or horses to pull it there for them, as the water was necessary to dredge the soil and separate the heavy gold metal enough to pluck from the bottom of the prospector’s pan. Some had set up the newer long-toms, wooden boxes that ran water through the excavated soil to wash it away and leave the gold. They busied themselves along that creek so one-minded as they were, they paid little notice to anyone around them. Some worked together, one to shake the long-tom while another poured dirt into the head, while still others seemed unaware that anyone else existed about them, and were dead set in panning the waters alone.
The men worked long hours with little rest, driven by the fever that gripped them with every finding of gold dust as they called it. Dry Diggings held a singular culture, a makeshift society of strangers all drawn to the hope of becoming rich. Somehow they made it from all parts of the world, some sailing from Europe, some from East Asia, most from the Americas. The Indians in these parts, who once thought nothing of the peculiar metal, found themselves joining the rush such was the madness.