Story type: Literature
When the current serves, the unseen monitor that directs our affairs bids us step aboard our craft, and, with hand firmly grasping the helm, steer boldly for the distant goal.
Philip D. Armour, the open-handed, large-hearted merchant prince, who has left a standing memorial to his benevolence in the Armour Institute at Chicago, heard the call to put to sea when in his teens.
It came during the gold fever, which raged with such intensity from 1849 to 1851, when the wildest stories were afloat of the treasures that were daily being dug out of the earth in California. The brain of the sturdy youth, whose Scotch and Puritan blood tingled for some broader field than the village store and his father’s farm in Stockbridge, New York, was haunted by the tales of adventure and fortune wafted across the continent from the new El Dorado. “I brooded over the difference,” he says, “between tossing hay in the hot sun and digging gold by handfuls, until, one day, I threw down the pitchfork, went to the house, and told mother that I had quit that kind of work.”
Armour was nineteen years old when he determined to seek his fortune in California. His determination once formed, he lost no time in carrying it out. As much of the journey across the plains was to be made on foot, he first provided himself with a pair of stout boots. Then he packed his extra clothing in an old carpetbag, and with a light heart bade his family good-by.
He had induced a young friend, Calvin Gilbert, to accompany him in his search for fortune. The two youths joined the motley crowd of adventurers who were flocking from all quarters to the Land of Promise, and set out on their journey.
Tramping over the plains, crossing rivers in tow-boats and ferryboats, and riding in trains and on wagons when they could, the adventurers, after many weary months, reached their destination. During the journey young Armour became sick, but was tenderly nursed back to health by his companion.
“I had scarcely any money when I arrived at the gold fields,” said Armour, “but I struck right out and found a place where I could dig, and in a little time I struck pay dirt.”
He entered into partnership with a Mr. Croarkin, and, with characteristic energy, kept digging and taking his turn at the rude housekeeping in the shanty which he and his partner shared. “Croarkin would cook one week,” he says, “and I the next, and we would have a clean-up Sunday morning We baked our own bread, and kept a few hens, too, which supplied us with fresh eggs.”
The young gold hunter, however, did not find nuggets as “plentiful as blackberries,” but he found within himself that which led him to a bonanza far exceeding his wildest dreams of “finds” in the gold fields.
He discovered his business ability; he learned how to economize, how to rely upon himself, even to the extent of baking his own bread.