It was an unusually hot day in late October 1901 when Panamint Pete arrived in Ballarat.  It was so hot that the vultures refused to fly, preferring to waddle about until they found a carcass, at which they listlessly picked.  The tumbleweed barely budged for lack of any kind of wind.

Pete came from the mountain range that gave him his name, which lay just east of Ballarat.  He was one of those men who seemed to have been born old, for one could not picture him as ever having been young.  His face had more furrows than a newly plowed field, he was missing half his teeth and what remained of his hair was grayer than Jeb Stuart’s backside.  He came with a mule laden with two sacks full of gold nuggets the size of a big man’s fist. He headed straight for the assayer’s office, where the gold was weighed.  The value was assessed at eight thousand dollars.

With his newfound wealth, Panamint Pete made his way to one of the town’s seven saloons.  There

he settled in for a spell, ordering a bottle of whiskey and some food.  When asked, he refused to join a game of poker, for he was not a gambling man.  He continued to sit, taking in the atmosphere and listening to an out-of-tune piano being played by a man with only six fingers.

Every community has its undesirables, and Ballarat was no exception.  A couple of rapscallions named Mojave Jim and Dan Cranston were about as low as they come.  The former was a half-breed; long, lanky, and not the sharpest spine on the cactus.  The latter was on the stocky side and so shifty that no two raindrops ever hit him on the same spot.  Neither one had ever done an honest day’s work, nor even knew the meaning of the expression.  They observed Panamint Pete enter the assayer’s office with those bulging sacks and emerge with them empty, tucked in his jeans pocket.

“Looks like that ol’ timer has made hisself a killin’,” Jim said.

“Could be, could be,” Cranston replied, rubbing his scraggly chin.

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