Word of a major gold strike on the Fraser River of Canada in 1857 reached gold camps as far away as the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon. Mining had become hard work and Herman Reinhart was ready to move on to richer strikes.
In February 1858, Reinhart arranged for his mines to continue working, and headed with several others for Canada’s Fraser River. In Kerbyville, Ore., he had met an old friend who wanted to sell a Navy handgun. Reinhart offered him a fine gold nugget, perfect for a watch chain, worth about $20 and the pick of another nugget from a set. The gun was worth about $27. The man selected the largest piece from the set, a move Reinhart considered “hoggish.”
Later at camp, Reinhart and his companions did some target practice. When Reinhart fired his new Navy handgun, he thought he noticed some smoke coming out of the barrel, but he fired it again. The gun nearly exploded in his hand. He had not noticed a large crack in the top of the barrel that had been carefully filled with clay.
Reinhart learned the hard way that gold-fever attracts treacherous friends.
Source: Reinhart, Herman F. The Golden Frontie :The Recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart 1851-1869. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1962, pp. 109-13.