Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pay Dirt - A book review by Jerry L. Bryant

 The story of how Uncle Torwal and Whitey were chawed off their Ranch by Grasshoppers and went up in the Black Hills to Sluice Gold for a spell.
Pay Dirt by Glen Rounds - 1938    Holiday House, New York

For those who would like a short taste of what life was like during the Automobile Gold Rush, the children’s book “Pay Dirt” is an absolute delight. The story told is of the Great Depression as seen through the eyes of a ten year old named Whitey. The book describes searching for gold and sluicing in 1931 in and around Hill City, South Dakota. While it was written for children, it contains a wealth of ideas and terms associated with placer mining and also hosts a visit to the Golden Eagle mine, where the mine supervisor, his Uncle’s friend, explains hardrock mining to Whitey. The following is a brief sample of the book’s narrative:

This is a drawing from inside the book.
The author did all of his own drawings.
“Whitey admired Uncle Torwal’s droopy red mustache more than a little bit. Somewhere he had heard that he could grow one like it by putting cream on his lip and letting the cat lick it off. But although nothing had come of the treatment so far, he was far from discouraged……Uncle Torwal wore his drawers outside of his shirt, cutting slits in the top for his suspender straps to run through before they fastened to his overalls. This left about an inch of the drawers showing all the way around between the pants and the shirt, and Whitey thought it a very elegant style indeed. He could hardly wait until he wore drawers like that so he could do the same.”

Several Dakota place names are mentioned throughout the book, and even as an adult reader, I found it difficult not to imagine myself delightfully along the same stream panning gold with Uncle Torwal and Whitey.

Author Glen Rounds was a South Dakota Native. He was born in a sod house near the Badlands in 1906. He grew up in South Dakota and on a horse ranch in Montana. He studied art at the Art Institute of Kansas City with Jackson Pollock. Rounds wrote or illustrated 150 books over a 60-year period. He died in North Carolina in 2002. In a brief computer search, I could only find four copies of this book in South Dakota Libraries, and all of them were at the State Library in Pierre. Of the many books by Rounds, "Pay Dirt" was his third book