I was 5 years old when I was first bitten by the gold bug, although the gold fever was dormant for many years this is how it started for me. My grandmother Alice Canon was an avid rockhound and gold prospector, I had always taken an interest in her rock collection and her gold that she found. One year about 1970 my grandparents took us,my family dad, mom, sis and me to Byron Maine for a gold prospecting get away. We stayed in a pretty rustic camp, which I thought was awesome. Now my memory of this trip is sketchy but one thing I do remember for sure is that I was in the back of my grandfather’s ford bronco riding down this dirt road, it was really more like a trail, I can remember trying to drink a can of soda and when I tried to take a drink we would hit a bump and I would spill the soda all over my face and down the front of me, to be honest with you I think my grandfather was doing this on purpose he got a big kick out of it hahaha. We drove to the end of this road and parked, we got out and we forded a river, the East Branch of the Swift River, on the other side was an old rail road bed which the tracks had long been gone. We followed this rail trail down river, I couldn’t tell you how far I couldn’t judge distance very well at that age, but it seemed like a long way to me. We finally reached our destination, my grandfather said this is it and down over the bank sat this curious little camp in the middle of nowhere with a meticulous garden alongside the river. My Grandfather announced this is Carl’s’ place and we walked on into his humble camp. My grandparents introduced us to Carl Shilling The gold miner as they called him they also refered to him as the old prospector or the old hermit. Carl was and still is a bit of a local legend when it comes to prospecting. Carl had been living in that location roughly forty years when we met him that day, he had migrated to the United States from Germany. Carl was in his 80’s at this time.We were not the only ones there that day, there were a few others there as well, but they were out in the middle of the river panning for gold, they were green horns. I remember Carl shouting out to them asking ” Did you find anything” they just shook their heads and replied “no.” I could see them panning and not having very good luck, so the next thing you know Carl is heading out to their location and he gives them a demonstration, he takes their pan and shovels some material into it and he starts to pan and he works it down and he is pointing in the pan saying see there it is there’s the gold.He did a few more pans and came up with gold every time. Then he brought them back to the shore and he told them you really want to find some nice gold come over here, he brought them to a location on the bank and he told them here dig here, dig down about four feet and that’s where you are going to find the best gold. He came back over to visit with us. My parents, grandparents and he spoke for a while, I don’t recall what they spoke of but I am sure it had something to do with gold, and if my grandfather had anything to do with it I am sure they talked about fishing. I do remember one story that he told it was about a certain bear that had crashed through his house and I believe that he said the roof, to get to his stores, it was bacon or something. He invited us into his cabin. Upon entering the first thing you noticed was a large American flag hanging on his wall and I remember him saying that this American flag was his most prized possession and he loved the United States and that this was his country and he said it with such feeling and conviction that you know he ment it. We had left Carl’s camp,and I had left with a lasting impression, one that forty some odd years later I still remember. I had often thought of the old miner living on the East Branch of the Swift River. How he lived out in the wilderness, no electricity, no television growing his own vegetables, hunting for wild game, I thought he must have been one rugged individual living out there through those hard Maine winters all those years. I also thought he must have found a great deal of gold. The rest of our stay in Byron was a good one I enjoyed the rustic cabin we stayed in, it was very comfortable we had fun, it was a great family experience. The years had passed and I would visit my grandparents, I would spend time going over my grandmothers rock collection and admiring her gold from various places and talking about the old miner up in Byron Maine. If you care to read more about Carl Shilling you can find more of his story in a book by C. J. Stevens called The Next Bend In The River, Gold Mining In Maine, This is a very informative book with a lot of information about prospecting in Maine, you can find this book at www.appalachianprospectors.com in our on-line general store.
These photos were taken by my Grandparents George and Alice Cannon between the years 1967 and 1970, they had frequented the area much.