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Prospector
"The Old Prospector" by Alfredo Rodríguez
There's GOLD in them-there hills! Eheheheh!

A character who searches for mineral resources, traditionally gold.

The profession of prospector is actually quite an old one, for as soon as humans understood that there were valuable minerals to be had, some of them spent their lives looking for new supplies. But it came into its own in The Wild West, with its large tracts of unexplored land.

In particular, the California Gold Rush brought many people west to seek their fortune. (See Forty Niner for this specific incident.) After the initial gold rush was over, some miners stubbornly refused to quit the profession and spread over the Western territories. At first, gold and silver were the desired commodities, but later oil, radium and uranium became the hot items to search for. (Some would spend any money so manically after a rich haul that it raises suspicion that they wanted to get back to the profession regardless.)

The stereotypical image of the Prospector is an older man dressed in faded work garb, with a grey beard, missing teeth, a pickaxe and a trusty mule or burro. (Find a picture of Gabby Hayes in costume. Like that.) He'll be subject to intense bouts of Gold Fever, wild celebration when he does find a rich deposit, and suspicion of anyone who gets too close to his claim.

Typical plotlines include: "Claim jumpers" try to get the prospector out of the way by swindle or force to steal his claim; a dying prospector gives the protagonist a map to his lost mine; a "worthless" claim turns out to be extremely valuable because there's a different mineral than what was expected.

See also Mountain Man.


Examples:

Comics
  • In the story "The Electric Man" in Strange Adventures #54 (published by DC Comics), an old-fashioned prospector looking for gold shares a waterhole with a young scientist prospecting for "earth power."
  • As seen in the works of Carl Barks and Don Rosa, Scrooge McDuck did some prospecting in the Yukon territory on his way to becoming the richest duck in the world.
  • Bearded prospectors with ten-gallon hats made many, many appearances in Lucky Luke. The first was the appropriately-named Dick Digger, who was the laughingstock of the whole town because they all knew his claim was worthless. And having finally been convinced of it, he gives one last pickaxe blow... which uncovers gold.

Film
  • Gabby Johnson and his Authentic Frontier Gibberish from Blazing Saddles.
    "And no sidewindin', bushwackin', hornswagglin' cracker croaker is gonna rowway BISICUTTER!"
  • Walter Huston's character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic example.
  • Spoofed in the 1958 B-Movie Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, where a stereotypical grizzled prospector is seen carrying a Geiger counter and griping to his mule about how everyone wants uranium instead of gold these days.
  • The protagonists of Pale Rider (except the Preacher) are part of a prospecting camp.
  • Spur in The Man from Snowy River covers this and the Mountain Man trope, complete with a bushy, unkempt beard and typically rough clothing. His stubborn insistence that his mine will one day pay out is Played for Laughs throughout the first film, and vindicated in the second, which reveals that shortly after his death a motherlode of gold was discovered there.
  • The Quick and the Dead opens with a mad prospector who sees the Lady riding in his general direction, and shouting that she's not going to get his gold shoots her off her horse. Or her hat at least. The Lady chains him to a cartwheel and leaves him there, but he drags the wheel all the way into town to challenge her to a duel.
  • Cowboys and Aliens features a few straight examples, and an alien gold mining expedition as antagonists.
  • Jesse Tate is a frustrated old prospector who joins up with a Bounty Hunter played by James Stewart in The Naked Spur.

Literature
  • Tell Sackett more or less stumbles into becoming a prospector in Louis L'Amour's novel Sackett.
  • There's an unnamed Old Man (well, two of them, maybe, the evidence is inconclusive) in The Belgariad who works as one of these (or at least claims to).
  • What Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars was doing in Arizona when he got transported to Mars.
  • Fredric Brown's "Puppet Show" begins with a trope-standard grizzled prospector arriving in town with his trusty mule — which is carrying an alien visitor he met out in the wilderness. Invoked Trope: it turns out that the "prospector" is a member of the alien delegation (as is the mule) and his claimed meeting with the alien was set up as a way of introducing the alien ambassador to humanity.

Live-Action TV
  • Deadwood takes place during the Black Hills gold rush, so there are quite a few prospectors around.
  • The live rehearsal version of a never aired SNL skit on the best of Will Ferrell DVD featured an old prospector named Gus Chiggins who was embedded with an US army unit that was headed to Afghanistan.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Final Sacrifice", Mike comes down with Grizzled Old Prospector's Hair thanks to being exposed to a Yosemite Sam-esque in the movie. Symptoms include development of shaggy hair and beard, smoking a corncob pipe, and saying outdated phrases like "consarn it".
  • In two of three appearances in The Brady Bunch, Jim Backus appeared as a prospector, living in a ghost town in California, convinced that the Brady family was there to jump his claim. He locked them in the town jail cell and rode off in their car, with the camper still attached. He returned the next day because he only wanted to get to the county office to register his claim, apologizing to the Bradys for locking them up. They, being the Bradys, let him off the hook.
  • An episode of The Mentalist had a prospector as the Victim of the Week. He lived in an area that had minor gold deposits that attracted many amateur prospectors but were deemed not commercially viable for serious gold mining. When he is found dead people immediately suspect that he found a rich gold deposit and was killed by a claim jumper.
  • Milo Clancy in the Doctor Who serial "The Space Pirates", an Argonite miner and frequent victim of the titular pirates.
  • The Weather Channel's show "Prospectors" is about, well... Claim jumpers, also known as high graders are a very real problem.

Tabletop Games
  • "The Prospector" is a character who serves as the narrator for several of the Deadlands supplements.
  • A vignette in the Designer's Notes for Transhuman Space: In The Well, set during the terraforming of Mars, features a prospector who is paranoid that he will be lured away from his find, and a Martian Ranger trying to convince him the terraforming process is underway. His last thought is "Where did that claim-jacker get all this water?"

Theatre

Video Games
  • This is one of the professions in the Settlers series of computer games.
  • The MECC game The Yukon Trail, unsurprisingly, is all about prospectors.
  • Some characters in Fallout: New Vegas consider themselves this... it sounds better than scavengers or looters.
  • ''Plants vs. Zombies 2 has the prospector zombie. They carry dynamite in their back pocket which will launch them behind the plants when it detonates. To counter this, either kill them before their dynamite goes off or use a split pea to shoot them when they're behind the plants.
  • The general profession in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is hunting for rare artifacts and (usually) selling them off to traders for vast amounts of money. Of course, given the environment of the Zone, this is often a hazardous undertaking.

Western Animation
  • Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2, especially the behavior of his marionette in the Show Within a Show.
  • Good old Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
  • Yosemite Sam has played claim jumpers in a couple of Looney Tunes shorts.
  • Inspector Gadget met a paranoid prospector who assumed that everyone was after his gold.
  • Mr Dinwiddie the gold miner from Ivor The Engine was basically this character, albeit he was also something of a Mad Scientist due to his knowledge of geology. He also subverted the trope with the revelation that while he was an extremely successful miner, he didn't much care for money and so just put the gold back into the ground when he found it.
  • Roughly half the settlers on New Texas in Bravestarr were prospectors looking for veins of carium, a precious ore that had dozens of uses, literally. (Most of the other half were criminals trying to steal it.)

Other
  • The Lone Ranger sometimes masqueraded as a prospector, referred to as "Old Prospector".
  • Some fantasy dwarves will do this, although most seem to prefer working already-established mines with their brethren.
  • There is a restaurant chain called "The Claim Jumper."


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