My gold uncle

That new Canadian gold coin is valued at the daily market price of gold, which makes sense if you want to buy my late uncle's stem-wind Hamilton watch, but is a new way to fix the denomination of coinage. the advertising made me remember that in 1932 a Canadian double-eagle was minted in the United States of America. I had one then, and I spent it lavishly in all directions on a wedding trip to Prince Edward Island to visit the uncle, who was my gold uncle. Uncle Sam, he was, and in 1896 at the age of 19 he had gone over Chilcoot Pass to reach Bennett Lake and stake a rich claim. It was said that he "didn't do a tap of work afterwards."

He was my mother's only brother, older than she, and as a boy he started "going to the harvest." He, as did my mother, lived on a tidy red-mud farm on Prince Edward Island, some cows and sheep and pigs and chickens, and each summer he would sign up to go to Saskatchewan to help harvest the grains of the prairies. A trainload of volunteers would make up in Charlottetown and be hauled forthwith to Saskatoon, where the braw young Scots of "The Island" would disperse among the farms to operate the reapers and bring in the sheaves. Sam drove mules on a binder.

It was in 1896 that he came to supper after stabling down his mules and heard the big news that gold had been discovered in The Klondike. Sam and three of his pals from "down east" chucked their wheatfield prosperity and gambled on a "strike." Instead of waiting for the next spring's break-up, as did the great horde of the prospectors who swarmed into The Klondike, these boys shouldered their gear and were among the first to negotiate the famous Chilcoot, driven to incredible discomforts by that "auri sacra fames" so well know. So there they were, claims staked and mines operating, when the crowd came. Sam didn't work his mine too long, he took out his pile and then sold, and he did come out of it with quite enough to keep him well into a comfortable old age. He never married.

He came down to Washington and Oregon from the gold adventure, and he loved the climate of that part of the Pacific Coast. But as his father aged on the farm back on "The Garden of the Gulf," Sam came east to help with the chores. He was back to shearing sheep and digging 'taties, and nobody who looked upon him in his farm duds would ever suppose he had his bullion in the bank. There was one small evidence of his nugget-hunting days that I cherish -- I was maybe eight or ten and Mother had me to "The Island." I went to Finnegan's Brook and brought back a trout of some size. Uncle Sam climbed into the house loft and brought down his steelyard with the little pan for weighing dust, and my trout went on record at one pound and seven onces, troy weight.

Uncle Sam did many a tap of work on the old farm, but from the day he sold his claim in The Klondike he was never gainfully employed. It was his fancy to give gold coins as gifts, and thus he sent a twenty-dollar goldpiece to my bride and me -- but I believe Canada didn't mint gold then, and it was "YAnkee" money. We did spent the twenty as we went to P.E.I., and we had a good visit with Uncle Sam. He was spare, pink-cheeked and twinkly-blue in the eye, and proprietor of a handsome, even dashing, handlebar moustache. He showed me his woodpile, and it was tiered in the shed in meticulous precision, each stick looking as if it had been washed for exhibition. Sam did give his baby sister, my mother, a Klondike nugget away back long ago, and I'm sure Mother still has it. Wonder what it would scale out at today on his steelyard?

When Uncle Sam returned to his Island home after this rather short absence, there was great curiosity among the clan about the quantity of his success. Many an old beard backed him into a sheep corner to swing the conversation so Sam might reveal his worth. Sam adroitly parried all such efforts, being of an opinion that this was nobody's business, but one day old Chollie ross tossed him the question right in front of a bunch. "How much did ye git for your claim, Sam?" Chollie asked, and all the ears cocked for the answer. Sam stared everybody down and said, "I got what I as't."

No doubt he could do the same again today.

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