The summer of 1876 was unbearably hot. What was then known as “The Dakota Territory” was a barren and unforgiving place. The Black Hills were experiencing an enormous gold rush, one that has not been matched in the Americas since. Prospectors came flooding in, at an inestimable rate, looking to seize opportunity and carve their fortunes to secure their futures. Folks from all other walks of life followed the flow of prospectors. Services needed to be provided in mining camps. Cooks, doctors, entertainers, saloon keeps, whores, and clergy men all poured into camps alongside their prospector counterparts. Men carrying pick axes stood shoulder to shoulder with men carrying banjos. It takes all sorts to make life possible in a mining camp.
In the latter part of July, one particular gold claim began to show unbelievable promise. Mr. Jack Thompson, a poor European immigrant, began to pull nuggets of gold from the earth. These peculiar pieces of gold that Mr. Thompson was uncovering soon became the talk of the Territory. Not only were these nuggets remarkably large, but each individual piece held their own distinct and precise shape. Hunks of gold shaped like perfect roses, serving spoons, bells, ornate teacups, and apples were unearthed. Word of these unexplainable pieces spread quickly and before the first snow in October, Mr. Thompson had become a very wealthy man. Aristocrats, collectors of curiosities, and the obscenely rich were willing to spend whatever it took to acquire these exceptional pieces. Soon, Mr. Thompson was not only rich, but globally famous. As his claim grew, so did the crew of men that he had hired to help him strip these phenomenal pieces from his mine.
By the spring of 1878, the men who worked the Thompson Mine had become restless. They had watched their taskmaster become wealthy beyond any of their wildest dreams over the course of a few short months. Resentment and envy spilled into the camp and spread like wildfire. On May 28th, 1878, Thompson’s miners, on a night spent indulging in whiskey and acrimony, devised a plan to assassinate Mr. Jack Thompson. Their scheme called for Thompson’s immediate murder, followed by a concealment of his passing. His untimely death would need to be hidden for a period to allow the murderous miners to strip what was left of his gold claim before absconding to the west coast with their new found riches. They decided that night that they would carry out their plan immediately.
Mr. Jack Thompson was stabbed that night thirty-seven times, once by each of his thirty-seven men. His body was buried in the bottom of the deepest mine shaft on the property. It was never recovered.
Thompson’s miners quietly continued with their work the next morning. They dug harder and worked faster than they ever had before. It became clear very quickly that something had changed at the Thompson Mine. Nuggets that used to be found regularly and with relative ease were suddenly nowhere to be found. The miners dug for eight days and nine nights straight without finding a single ornate nugget, let alone any sign of significant color. By the ninth day, restlessness had once again set in. The miners began to turn on one another. Fifteen men left camp all together while others began grouping off and plotting against others in camp. On the tenth day after Mr. Thompson’s murder, a significant discovery was made. The largest single piece of gold ever discovered at the Thompson Mine was exhumed from the very same mine shaft that Mr. Thompson himself was buried in. An eighteen inch long chunk of gold weighing in at close to one hundred pounds showed itself. It wasn’t shaped like a rose or a teacup or an apple. It was a cat.
The remaining miners celebrated the find. Surely such a piece would make them all rich beyond measure. One hundred pounds of gold split amongst twenty-two men would be enough to secure each of them for a very long time. As is the nature of man, greed rapidly overtook sensibility. The infighting began once again. What started out as verbal squabble soon turned violent. It is unclear what exactly happened that night, but what is written as fact is this: Twenty-one of the remaining miners were found dead at the Thompson Mine on June 9th, 1878. Their wounds were numerous and the scene was particularly grisly. The precious feline was not found on the scene that day.
The golden cat that the miners uncovered at the Thompson claim did not resurface again until September of 1906 in the side show of the Engals Brothers Traveling Carnival. Billed as “El Gato Dorado”, the cat was displayed in a triple-thick glass case and was guarded by armed men around the clock. Claimed to possess mystical and unexplainable powers, the one hundred pound solid gold cat attracted visitors from all around the world. As the Engals Brothers Carnival traveled up and down the American West Coast and into Mexico, the notoriety of the curious cat grew. Some claimed that El Gato could heal the sick. Others claimed that El Gato could actually speak to those that it deemed worthy of the glory of its voice. Rumors of miracle healings swirled around El Gato Dorado. Others spoke of gaining divine inspiration just from being in the presence of the golden cat. Others, still, claimed to be able to actually hear the cat reciting lines of poetry and telling them stories. For twelve years, El Gato Dorado traveled up and down the coast line to the delight of its spectators. In 1918, on the heels of the first World War, the Engals Brothers Carnival went out of business. El Gato Dorado again disappeared.
It was thought that Terrance Engals, the former proprietor of the Engals Brothers Carnival, had retired El Gato Dorado to his personal collection of curiosities when his business went under. As it turns out, Terrance Engals did no such thing. After falling into financial ruin in 1919, Mr. Engals sold El Gato Dorado to a private collector. Pierre Boucher, a wealthy Frenchman residing in New Orleans, is said to have purchased the famous golden cat as a gift for his wife, Juliette. Juliette Boucher was a woman of extravagant tastes, refined style, and vapid aspiration. Mrs. Boucher flaunted her newest prize possession to all who were willing to look. Juliette Boucher even hired a team of two men for the sole purpose of carrying her golden cat with her at all times, her vanity on full display.
Juliette Boucher began, in the winter of 1920, to claim that El Gato Dorado was speaking to her. Her husband, Pierre, being a busy and aloof business man, was disinterested in her tales and thought her to be exaggerating her claims. Over the course of the next four years, Pierre looked on as his wife descended into complete and utter madness. She claimed that El Gato Dorado whispered to her in the night. She claimed that it asked her to do terrible things. She claimed that El Gato wanted her soul for itself.
Juliette Boucher was found hanging by the neck in the butler’s quarters of her Louisiana mansion in January of 1924.
After the discovery of Mrs. Juliette Boucher’s body, Mr. Pierre Boucher ordered his wife’s prized cat to be destroyed. When the man he sent to have the cat destroyed went to retrieve it, it was nowhere to be found.
El Gato Dorado disappeared once again, this time for a great many years. People reported seeing the golden cat in various places over the next several decades. Legend of the golden cat grew. Some claimed that it was, indeed, destroyed in Louisiana. Others have said that the cat was stolen from the Boucher property and sold to a Russian businessman for an astronomical sum. One thing that recurred through the years are the tales of El Gato’s true power.
It wasn’t until nearly ninety years later that the golden cat finally reemerged. It is said that El Gato Dorado was found in the bottom of the Heart River in North Dakota by a band of vagabond musicians on a day trip in the fall of the year 2015.
Rechristened “El Gato Del Rio” on that day and there forth, Katrina La Musa, Ripley Crow, and El Verdugo took the golden cat into their home. They all could hear the whispers. They all could feel the power. El Gato Del Rio told them to conceal their faces and they listened, for the tales that she needed told would require absolute discretion. El Gato Del Rio told them that she needed another conduit, and then she led them to a man named Grande. He could hear the whispers.
She has whispered to them her stories of love, loss, murder, joy, folly, and escape. They listen. They transcribe. They share her tales with the world. They make music to please El Gato Del Rio. They keep her happy. They know that she could do to them what she has done to others before if they displease her. El Gato Del Rio is where she belongs now. She is back in the Dakota Territory, down by the river where the red ferns grow, with people she has chosen for herself.