Peter O'Reilly was one of the pioneer miners of Washoe and one of the discoverers of the Comstock silver minesone of the men who turned up to the light of day that glittering ore which was the first of over $200 million since taken from the great vein then hit upon.
Before going to work on Six-Mile Cañon, at the head of which the great silver discovery was made, Peter O'Reilly mined on Gold Cañon, a long and large ravine heading on the opposite side of Mount Davidson, a mile south of the canyon first named. There he wrought with pan and rocker at washing placer gold from the sand and gravel of the bed and bars of the cañon.
"Pete" was fond of rambling away alone along the meanderings of the stream in search of rich spots, where he could be by himself and mine in his own way. Provided he could find a few "colors" (small specks of gold) he would dig and pan away for days, quite confident that his luck would at last lead him to the right spot and that in the end his labors would be richly rewarded.
Pete was not only a spiritualist, but was also a firm believer in luck and in all manner of signs and omens. The last mining he ever did on Gold Cañon was when he started in to prospect a bar on which he found already located a squatter in the person of a frog, which frog began in a short time to give him a great deal of trouble.
He constructed a small dam or reservoir to turn the small rill running in the ravine into a little ditch leading to his panning hole near the bar. The reservoir held but about a dozen hogsheads of water, and it was soon after this was completed and filled that Pete first had notice of the presence on his claim of the frog. He had sunk a pit almost down to the bedrock and had washed out two or three pans of dirt that yielded well. He was down in his prospect hole digging up and filling his pan with some particularly fine-looking gravel when he heard a small, squeaky voice sing out, "Struck it?"
Pete was at the moment deeply absorbed in the work in which he was engaged, and the shrill, squeaking voice ringing out so near at hand and asking a question that so exactly chimed in with the train of the thought running through his head so startled him that his pick almost fell from his hands. He pricked up his ears and looked about in all directions to see whence proceeded the cheery little voice. He half expected to see a little red-mantled fairy standing in some neighboring clump of willows or peering out at him through a tuft of the rank grass growing along the margin of the rill. As he thus stood gazing about in open-mouthed amazement, the little voice again piped out: "Struck it? Struck it? Struck it?"
Turning his eyes in the direction whence proceeded the inquiring voice, Pete presently descried a small green frog mounted upon a stick that projected an inch or two above the surface of the water in his reservoir. The frog was but a rod or two away and seemed, as Pete thought, to be looking inquiringly into his eyes.
"Struck it?" again said the frog.
"It is a good omen," said Pete. "The little fellow says I have struck it. Though he is no countryman of mine, I belave in me sowl I have struck it in this very hole."
So saying, Pete carried the pan of dirt he had dug to his panning place, panned it out, and did not get a color. He was not a little astonished at this result and had a notion to call the frog a liar, but on turning to look for him the little fellow was gone. Pete went back to his pit and dug another pan of dirtlistening all the time to hear what the frog would say about it. Not a word did the frog say, however.
Pete washed out the pan of dirt and got nearly a dollar. "Aha! ye little divil!" cried he, "where air ye now? Ye hadn't a word to say this time!"
Well pleased with his luck, Pete began digging another pan of dirt from the place where he had got the last, expecting a rich haul. He had been at work but half a minute when the voice rang out sharp and clear: "Struck it? Struck it? Struck it?"
"Oh, yes, ye little fool; it's aisy for ye to say 'Sthruck it! Sthruck it!' afther seein' what I got in me last pan!"
"Struck it! Struck it! Struck it!" cried the frog in what to Pete seemed a triumphant tone.
"All right, me bye!" cheerily assented Pete, nodding his head toward the little fellow that sat winking and blinking on the end of the stick. "All right, me byeav course I've sthruck it!"
He carried the pan to his water hole, washed it out, and didn't get a color. "Ye'r the warst liar I iver saw!" cried Pete, rising up from his work and shaking his fist in the direction of the frog. Not a sign of the frog did he see, however; the little fellow having very prudently retired to the bottom of the pond.
Pete grumbled for a time and then went and dug another pan of gravel; the frog again stuck his head above the water and said "Struck it?" and again the dirt yielded no gold when washed out. Thus it went; when the frog said nothing he got a good yield of gold, but when he made his usual inquirysneering inquiry, Pete now considered it to beno gold was found.
At last Pete had washed so many pans of dirt out of which the frog had charmed all the gold that he began to grow very angry. He was also not a little discouraged. Finally, just as he began to scrape the dirt out of the bottom of a very promising crevice, and just as he was beginning to think the frog would this time hold his tongue, out came the little fellow with his "Struck it? Struck it?"
Pete quietly laid down his crevicing spoon, slyly gathered two or three big rocks, then softly, on tiptoe, began stealing toward his little persecutor, and just as the frog cried, "Struck it?" Pete let drive at him with a rock so huge that it could have been hurled by no lesser than Ajax, missing his mark but raising a great commotion in the pond.
Thinking he had given his bad angel a fright that would last him a fortnight, Pete returned to his work. He had almost filled his pan with very rich-looking dirt when up came the frog's head and out came his tantalizing, "Struck it? Struck it?"
Pete threw the pan of dirt as far as he could send it and made for the frog, determined on its destruction. He would stand no more of its infernal nonsense. Shovel in hand, he waded into the middle of the little reservoir and scooped and tore about in it with the vigor and venom of a mad bull. Once or twice he saw, or imagined he saw, the frog dart through the discolored water and brought down the back of his shovel upon the spot with such a "spat" that the blow might have been heard half a mile away. At length, not seeing anything more of the frog, Pete concluded that he had killed him. He gave him a parting curse and, being now wrought up to such a pitch of excitement and nervousness that he could work no more that afternoon, strode away, put on his coat, and went home.
The next morning he returned to his claim and his work. He had washed out several pans of dirt and was getting good pay out of them when suddenly there fell upon his ear the shrill cry of "Struck it?"
The first note sent a thrill through Pete's frame like the sharp shock of an electrical battery, then a chill fell upon his heart, and his hair almost rose on end. His evil genius, as he now firmly believed the little green frog to be, was still there, alive and at his old tricks.
He kicked over the pan of dirt he had dug and made a rush for the reservoir, the frog plumping under the water at his approach. Pete again went into the reservoir with his long-handled shovel and charged about at a furious rate, but he could see nothing of the frog or anything that looked like it. Being determined to do for his tormentor this time, Pete went for his pan and began trying to bail out the reservoir. Finding this too great a task, he got a pick, dug down the embankment of dirt and rocks forming the little dam, and eagerly watched, with uplifted shovel, for the frog as the water ran off. The water all ran out but the frog was nowhere to be seen.
Pete then waded out in the oozy bed of the pond, digging and plowing about with his shovel, but he failed to start the goblin frog. He then arrived at the very reasonable conclusion that the little imp had gone down the stream with the body of water that rushed out of the reservoir when it was opened. He cruised about the spot for an hour or two, going down the channel of the ravine, turning over rocks and beating tufts of grass with his shovel, but saw nothing of the frog. Thinking his evil genius had been washed down through the cañon into the Carson River, Pete concluded to rebuild his dam in order that he might have water ready for use in the morning. This job done he went home, feeling quite sure that he had either killed or permanently ousted his little enemy.
The next day he returned to his work. Before starting in, however, he walked around the reservoir several times, peering keenly into the water and kicking every bunch of grass about its margin. The frog was nowhere to be seen or started. Pete then went to his prospect hole and began to dig, stopping occasionally to cock an eye toward the pond and to listen for the frog. All promised well for Pete. He had dug a pan of dirt without the hated interruption and was on his way to wash it out when "Struck it? Struck it?" was squeaked from the pond by the goblin frog.
This was too much for Pete. The pan dropped from his hands, his under jaw fell, and he sank down upon the nearest rock, where he sat and considered the matter. As he was wondering if it was possible for him ever in any way to rid him himself of the evil thing that destroyed his luck, the frog again sang out, cheerily as ever, "Struck it? Struck it?"
"May the divil burn ye!" cried Pete. "I haven't sthruck it, and what's more I never will wid ye there, ye dirty little blackguard! Must I come afther ye again, ye unclane baste of the divil?"
"Struck it?" said the frog.
"Ye think so!" said Pete, and catching up his pick, he rushed to the reservoir and began digging down the embankment.
Presently he paused in this work and said: "It's of no use. Haven't I tried to get him in all ways? No; when I get the wather off he'll be gone. He's no human frog! I'll jist let him howld possession and I'll hunt me another place. Divil the lick will I ever sthrike here again; it's the divil's own child he is!"
Pete began to gather up his clothes and tools with the intention of vacating the place, when he stopped and gazed wistfully at his prospecting hole. "A promising place it was, too, in the main," said he. "Now, shall I be tormented away by a dirty little baste like yon? No; I'll give him a warmin' yet and all the likes of him. I'll pepper him tomorrow!" So saying, Pete put on his coat and struck out for home, turning to shake his fist toward the pond as he departed.
The next morning Pete went up to Johntown and borrowed a shotgun; he then bought a quantity of powder and shot and returned to his claim, saying as he strode along: "I'll kill that frog if it's among the possibilities!"
On reaching his claim, he crawled to a rock near the edge of the pond and, seating himself upon it, watched for some hours, but the goblin frog was neither to be seen nor heard.
"He has run away," said Pete, "but I'll kill him if he is anywhere on the face of the green earth!"
He then moved along down the cañon and presently saw what seemed to be his tormentor. He blazed away and stretched the creature dead on the margin of the rill. He was just beginning to rejoice over the victory he had gained when up from the spot sprung another frog, the very picture of that he had killed. Pete looked at this new apparition and then turned and gazed upon the slaughtered animal to be sure it was dead. Finding it stretched lifeless on the ground, he went after the second frog. This was finally slaughtered, and he continued his hunt down the cañon. All that day he hunted frogs, blazing away at everything that moved in the water or that looked at all like a frog.
The next day he bought more ammunition and again went on the warpath along the cañon, firing so frequently that some of the miners above thought that the Piutes had attacked the settlers at the mouth of the cañon. The next day and the next, and right along for a week, Pete hunted the cañon, always beginning with the pond on his claim, and keeping up a murderous fire as often as he saw a frog or the suspicion of one. Not satisfied with this, he hunted the banks of the Carson River for a mile or two up and down the mouth of the cañon. He talked of nothing but frogs for a fortnight, bought and fired away whole sacks of shot and pound after pound of powder, and seemed to be almost insane on frogs. But he at last concluded that he had cleaned them all out and the goblin frog among the rest.
One morning, to the surprise of his neighbors in the camp who had been watching him curiously for some days, instead of starting out with his gun he took his pan and crevicing spoon and departed down the cañon in the direction of his claim.
An hour later Pete came tearing back to camp. "I'll niver sthrike pick intil the cañon again!" cried he. "That imp o' hell is still there on me claim! I was but liftin' me dirt for me second pan whin he raised his head from the wattur and says, 'Pete, have he sthruck it?' sez he. 'May the divil bless me,' said I, 'if ye can't have the whole bloody cañon; I'll niver sthrike pick intil it again.' No more I will. That frog is no human frogit's a child o' hell!"
Pete kept his word; he never mined in the cañon again. He left for Six-Mile Cañon to hunt a place not haunted by a demon frog, and he had not mined many weeks before he and his partner, Pat McLaughlin, struck it! struck it! struck it!struck the great Comstock silver lode, the hidden treasure house of the gnomes and the wonder of the whole mining world. He was, as he always believed, driven into this great good fortune by a goblin frog.