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. A few decades later, Canada would have its own Gold Rush in the Yukon Territory (specifically, the Klondike region), which brought settlers and adventurers up into the northwest.
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. (See our page picture.) 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. Expect a crusty accent, the local wildlife being referred to as "varmints," and some con-sarn antiquated expletives, dagnabbit. You will rarely see a young, well-groomed prospector in fiction.
Typical plotlines include: "Claim jumpers" trying to get the prospector out of the way by swindle or force to steal his claim; a dying prospector giving the protagonist a map to his lost mine; a "worthless" claim turning out to be extremely valuable because there's a different mineral than what was expected.
See also Mountain Man for a similar archetype who makes a living with a different commodity, and Asteroid Miners for several elements of this trope Recycled In Space. Has nothing to do with with Gold Digger, which is more about hooking up with someone for money.
- EC Comics' "Tales from the Crypt" ran a story called "Gas-tly Prospects", about a classic white-haired snaggle-toothed prospector named Whitey Whittaker, who travels to California in the 1849 Gold Rush, gets murdered by a claim-jumper, and manages to get revenge from beyond the grave without ever actually coming back to life. His Funetik Aksent is so potent that at the end, even the Cryptkeeper finds himself accidentally slipping into it.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- As seen in the works of Carl Barks and Don Rosa, Scrooge McDuck did quite a bit of prospecting on his way to becoming the richest duck in the world. He worked in quite a lot of famous gold rushes, including the Australian and South African ones, before settling in the Yukon Territory and striking literal gold in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896.
- Don Rosa has another enriched prospector with some importance, Howard Rockerduck. His importance is owed to: he's the reason Scrooge's #1 Dime, an American coin, was in Scotland to begin with; he's the father of John D. Rockerduck, a rival of Scrooge who inherited his initial fortune from Howard; and he taught Scrooge how to be a prospector, thus being indirectly responsible for Scrooge being rich.
- Lucky Luke: Bearded prospectors with ten-gallon hats made many, many appearances.
- 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.
- One accompanies the stagecoach carrying his gold out West... only to lose it all to Pat Poker (as there's nothing to do on the stagecoach but gamble).
- One causes no small trouble in "Rantanplan's Inheritance", where he makes Rantanplan the heir to his fortune, and names Joe Dalton as next in line if the dog dies. And at the end of the story, it turns out he wasn't even dead.
- In "The Tenderfoot", an Englishman comes to claim his inheritance, accompanied by a unflappable butler. At the end of the story, the butler becomes a prospector in the Yukon, where in a sequel story, Waldo and Luke go to rescue him after he's kidnapped for his claim.
- "Daltons in the Blizzard" shows Canada's take on prospectors: the miner enters the bar after six months in the wilderness and gives a sack of gold dust to the bartender, who weighs it. Everyone rushes the bar, drinking like there's no tomorrow until the bartender announces the gold's value has been used up. The red-nosed miner then cheerfully exits the bar, announcing he'll be back in another six months.
- One Punisher comic features a pair of modern prospectors, George and Tony Leung, searching for uranium in the desert. When they find some, a Mega-Corp sends in goons to run off the Leung brothers and their neighbors. One of those neighbors fought alongside Punisher in Vietnam and summons him to even the odds.
- Strange Adventures: In "The Electric Man" in issue #54 (published by DC Comics), an old-fashioned prospector looking for gold shares a waterhole with a young scientist prospecting for "earth power".
- Attack of the 50-Foot Woman: Spoofed when 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 Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology movie of different stories set in The Wild West. One segment, "All Gold Canyon", is very nearly a one man show, focusing on an unnamed prospector played by Tom Waits and his efforts to find a gold vein he nicknames "Mr. Pocket".
- Blazing Saddles: Gabby Johnson and his Authentic Frontier Gibberish.
"And no sidewindin', bushwackin', hornswagglin' cracker croaker is gonna rowway BISICUTTER!"
- The Bravados: Douglass's closest neighbor is a bumbling silver hunter named John Butler, who is unfortunate enough to encounter the fleeing outlaws. He's also a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, as he's the real killer of Mrs. Douglass.
- Canyon Passage: Being a mining town, Jacksonville is filled prospectors. Poor, doomed 'Mac' MacIver probably best fits the stereotype.
- The Chechahcos involves two prospectors in the Klondike who wind up adopting a little girl they save from a sinking ferry boat.
- Cowboys & Aliens features a few straight examples, and an alien gold-mining expedition as antagonists.
- I Shot Jesse James has numerous prospectors, as Creede, Colorado is in the middle of a silver rush. One of them, Soapy, is a Cool Old Guy who helps main character Robert Ford make his fortune finding some of the silver.
- The Man from Snowy River: Spur 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 Naked Spur: Jesse Tate is a frustrated old prospector who joins up with a Bounty Hunter.
- Pale Rider: The protagonists, except the Preacher, are part of a prospecting camp.
- 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.
- Comic Relief character Chico in Rimfire. He can't tell real gold from fools gold and, when he discovers the stolen gold stashed in a cave, apparently doesn't realise that gold does not naturally occur in ingots.
- In Revenge of the Virgins, Pan Taggart is a grizzled old prospector who knows there is gold in the hills, but can't get it out because of the Indians. He persuades Potter to finance an expedition to extract it.
- Sword of the Beast: Several prospectors are illegally panning for gold on Shogunate land. Some of them decide it's easier just to steal the most successful prospector's stash.
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Walter Huston's character Howard is a classic example; he's a grizzled codger who actually knows what he's doing when it comes to gold-mining, unlike his two greenhorn partners. And yes, he does a gleeful little dance when they first find their big strike.
- In Tumbleweed, Jim meets a stereotypical old prospector, complete with mule, as he is heading for the alkali flats. The prospector gives him news about the Yaquis.
- The Walking Hills: Old Willy has spent forty years searching the hills for gold, knows the story of a lost wagon train with untold riches, and help convince the others to look for it.
- In Wild Horse Phantom, Ed Garnet is a grizzled old coot who pretends to be a ghost to drive outsiders away from his mine.
- There Will Be Blood starts with the protagonist Daniel Plainview prospecting for silver alone by himself and finding oil, his first step on becoming a robber baron oil tycoon.
- The Belgariad: There's an unnamed Old Man (well, two of them, maybe, the evidence is inconclusive) who works as one of these (or at least claims to). The one in the Malloreon admits that he has a pretty nice cache already, and really only prospects because it gives him a good excuse to spend a fair bit of time away from civilization while still being able to wander back when it gets too lonely.
- Bret King Mysteries: Ol' Whiskers in the second book is a territorial, unkempt man who's spent decades mining gold at Hermit Peak.
- 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.
- Escape from Hell (2009): While crossing the Valley of Desolation — a newer area of the Seventh Circle, a Polluted Wasteland reserved for the violent against nature — Allen and Sylvia encounter one of several camps of Gold Rush-era prospectors. Having been sentenced to Hell for their thoughtless harming of nature and human life alike in their pursuit gold through dangerous, wasteful, and crude strip-mining, they now spend the ages digging at the slopes of the Valley in hope of amassing enough gold to buy their way out of Hell, but are endlessly hampered by their slipshod rigs that periodically collapse, sending waves of filthy mud, rubble and prospectors towards the hideously polluted bottom of the valley.
- John Carter of Mars: John Carter was prospecting for gold in Arizona when he got transported to Mars.
- Louis L'Amour
- In Sackett, Tell Sackett more or less stumbles into becoming a prospector when he finds the trail to an old mine that was never completely finished while riding cross country to visit his brothers.
- Shorty Wilson in the short story Hattan's Castle discovered a rich ore vein when he drunkenly grabbed onto an embankment to keep from falling over drunk and pulled loose some dirt rot reveal gold. He is shorty afterwards murdered for it by the founder of the shady boom town established nearby.
- The short story What Gold Does to a Man follows a quintet of miners who find a vein of gold (a few hundred dollars a piece) before having to deal with both a Native American war party unhappy with their trespassing and one of the miners trying to murder his partners for their shares.
- In The Empty Land an unnamed prospector gets rich from some gold at the beginning then, after the death of his family, returns to the area hoping to find more and die in the middle of the adventure. He does indeed die, although his partners find the gold he was taking them to, and soon go from prospectors to major mine owners.
- In Comstock Lode Val Trevallion mines silver in between hunting the murderers of his parents. Many of the supporting characters also count.
- Nat Bodine in the short story Desert Death Song is accused of being an outlaw partially based on Suspicious Spending that is later revealed to be the result of an ore deposit he found.
- In the short story Murphy Plays his Hand Brad Murphy spends three months trapped inside a canyon as the result of a landslide while on a prospecting expedition and finds gold, which he spends those three months digging out of the ground before he gets rescued by some outlaws who then try to kill him and take the gold as soon as they find out about it, [and find out they've messed with the wrong guy.
- Wetherton in The Trap of Gold, who nearly suffers from Death by Materialism by digging for a little too much in an unstable shaft before coming to his senses.
- Ed Pearson (one of the murder victims in Borden Chantry).
- In The Vanished Blonde, one of his detective stories, the titular character inherited money from an old man who'd kept prospecting into the twentieth century.
- Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not: A stereotypical grizzled old prospector, looking for his missing mule, plays a major role in the solution of the mystery in "The Forlorn Death of Sally at the Crossroads" (which features Sherlock Holmes in The Wild West).
- Swallows and Amazons: In Pigeon Post, the gold-crazy, claim-jumping aspect is donned by the children (even the scientific Dick), while the methodical modern scientific aspect is pushed off onto the armadillo. Slater Bob manages to inhabit both visions, depending on who is with him at the time.
- Dirk Pitt Adventures: Luis Marquez (who discovers the MacGuffin on his claim) has spent a decade prospecting for colored gemstones in Montana, Nevada, and Colorado and investing his profits in real estate.
- The Hardy Boys
- Bart Dawson and his mining partners (along with a few other old timers still hanging around town) were this in the backstory of both versions of Hunting for Hidden Gold) digging a fortune in gold out of the ground before an attack by thieves forced Dawson to flee with the gold, causing an injury that gave him amnesia after he hid it, and before he could regroup with the others.
- Lucky Moeller in The Alaskan Adventure is an older man whose spent decades panning the occasional gold nugget out of the Yukon without ever striking it rich, and has befriended the local bear. Moeller has given up hopes of getting rich panning gold by the events of the novel, and instead hopes to have his gold panning site serve as a tourist attraction for a theme park arriving in the area, and work as a guide until he earns enough money to retire to Florida.
- Much Ado About Grubstake: The Dying Town of Grubstake (a mining community with few remaining minerals)'s current population is sixty-two, mostly prospectors who lack the resources to move and still manage to extract just enough gold dust to pay some of their bills.
- Stinger: Inferno, Texas was founded by a prospector who came looking for gold but found copper instead, accidentally disturbed an Indian Burial Ground, and went on to found a mining company that the town depends on.
- The Brady Bunch: In two of three appearances, Jim Backus appears as a prospector living in a ghost town in California, convinced that the Brady family was there to jump his claim. He locks them in the town jail cell and rides off in their car, with the camper still attached. He returns 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.
- Chuckle Vision: Mad Mack Midas from "Gold Rush".
- Deadwood takes place during the Black Hills gold rush, so there are quite a few prospectors around.
- Doctor Who: Milo Clancy in "The Space Pirates", an Argonite miner and frequent victim of the titular pirates.
Milo Clancey: Rubbishy newfangled solar toasters!
- Married... with Children: When their car breaks down in a dusty old town, the Bundies run into an almost cartoonishly stereotypical one of these who was looking to retire. Playing to the family's (as well as the Darcy's) greedy natures, he's able to get them to buy his claim for a substantial amount of money. Unfortunately, a park ranger reveals, this turns out to be a scam the prospector pulls on rubes all the time. This does not sit well with either family.
- The Mentalist: One episode has a prospector as the Victim of the Week. He lives in an area that has minor gold deposits that attract many amateur prospectors but are not commercially viable for serious gold mining. When he's found dead, people immediately suspect that he found a rich gold deposit and was killed by a claim jumper.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000:
- In 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".
- The Painted Hills is about two prospectors such as these. And Lassie, of course.
- Prospectors, from the Weather Channel, is about, well... prospectors. Claim jumpers, also known as high graders, are a very real problem.
- Rush (1974) was set on the goldfields of colonial Australia, so naturally prospectors abounded.
- Saturday Night Live: 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.
- The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have several reality shows about prospectors, including Alaska Gold Rush note , Bering Sea Gold note , and Ice Cold Gold note .
- "Uranium Fever", an obscure song by country singer Elton Britt, tells the tale of a guy who traded his car in for a Jeep, bought a cheap Geiger counter (an instrument used to detect ionizing radiation), obtained some maps from a contact at the Atomic Energy Commission and headed off to find uranium and stake a claim. Only problem is, seventeen other guys have already staked claims on the most promising lead he had. But he doggedly carries on, hoping to still strike it rich.
- The Marshall Tucker Band: "Fire on the Mountain" is about a man who gets caught up in the allure of the California gold rush and uproots his family from their home in the Carolinas to seek fortune. However, what they actually experience is the hardship of the journey, only finding enough gold to sustain themselves from its sale, and the decadence and violence of the towns, and the man ends up getting killed for his claim.
And there's fire on the mountain, lightning in the air
Gold in them hills and it's waiting for me there
- Robert Service's Narrative Poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee", a classic of Gold Rush literature. The title character is a prospector from Plumtree, down in Tennessee, who complains constantly about the cold of the Yukon, and forces the narrator - his travelling companion - to promise that, if Sam freezes to death, his remains will be cremated so that he can at least be warm in death.
- Deadlands: "The Prospector" is a character who serves as the narrator for several of the supplements.
- Rocket Age: There are a tonne of prospectors kicking around the solar system. They're most commonly seen on Venus, Ganymede and in the Asteroid Belt, trying to stake out claims before other prospectors or the large corporations get involved.
- Transhuman Space: A vignette in the Designer's Notes for 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?"
- Warhammer 40,000: The Gaiden Game Gorkamorka has the special character Nazgrub Wurrzag. A Scrap Prospector, Nazgrub is a loner who wears a big floppy hat and carries a pickaxe-shaped choppa. He spends his time searching for that one big score that will lead to unimaginable wealth and has the special rule Scrap Fever that makes him Hate any model he sees carrying a Scrap counter.
- Fallout: New Vegas has a number of prospectors, appropriately considering the heavy influence the game draws from classic Westerns. But instead of gold and minerals, these prospectors pick over old ruins for ancient pre-War electronics. In other games in the series, they are referred to by the less flattering term “scavengers”.
- Inscryption features the Prospector(or rather, Leshy wearing a prospector mask and putting on a voice) as the boss of the Woodlands and Warmup Boss, though with the noticeably darker twist that he seems to have been driven insane by Gold Fever. His gimmick is that upon losing his first candle, he will kill all cards on your side and replace them with Gold Nuggets that have 2 health and can't be sacrificed.
The Prospector[about to use his pick]: There's gold in them cards!
- Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time has the Prospector Zombie. They carry dynamite in their back pocket which will launch them behind the plants when it detonates, allowing them to eat your defences from the back. To counter this, either use ice to put out their dynamite, kill them before their dynamite goes off, or use a split pea to shoot them when they're behind the plants.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: The general profession 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.
- Sunless Skies: Lustrum is full of them, all searching for Hours (the solidified, material form of time itself, which has many applications and of which London has a huge, steady demand). Ever since Old Tom struck it rich, there's been an entire Gold Rush-esque push where prospectors of all types and levels of expertise and equipment have flooded the little town staking their own claims, as well as the people that cash in on that amount of prospectors by selling (often subpar) digging equipment. And they all hate the fact the Windward Company installed a refinery and their own mechanized mine there, believing they're stealing claims that are rightfully theirs.
- In The Yukon Trail, you play as a prospector, traveling from Seattle up to the Klondike looking for gold.
- Zeus: Master of Olympus: the silver miner walker is definitely this (despite, y'know, the game being set in Ancient Greece), having the accent and the line "There's silver in them thar hills".
- Crazy Pete, a party member from West of Loathing. His out-of-combat skill is to give you more money from mining, including extra Meat Ore nuggets. He's got enough spare lanterns that he smashes them over enemy heads as his basic attack, and he levels up by showing you cool rocks he found.
- Poison Ivy Gulch: Pickaxe Paul. Strips with Paul show him out of town, searching for places to dig for riches. He fits the image too, having a long shaggy beard and carrying either a pick or shovel.
- Avenger Penguins: The Doc from Saskatoon, or more commonly, simply Doc, is a frequent patron of the Penguins favourite ice cream parlour. He fits the appearance of the ol' prospector type and is prone to telling tall tales of his days in The Wild West. Voice by Rob Rackstraw.
- Bravestarr: Roughly half the settlers on New Texas are prospectors looking for veins of Kerium, a precious ore with literally dozens of uses. Most of the other half are criminals trying to steal it.
- Count Duckula: Mad McGraw and his mule from "Ghostly Ghost", where the Count travels to the Yukon to search for gold. A similar character shows up in "Deadeye Duck", again voiced by Jimmy Hibbert.
- Home on the Rails shows a man who makes his living panning for gold. He's thrown into despair when an encroaching railroad forces him off his claim.
- Inspector Gadget: Gadget has met a paranoid prospector who assumes that everyone is after his gold.
- Gravity Falls: Old Man McGucket isn't a prospector by trade (he was actually a brilliant scientist before he went crazy from frequent use of his mind eraser on himself), but his character plays into the stereotype and is shown panning for gold at a town festival in one episode.
- Ivor the Engine: Mr Dinwiddie the gold miner closely follows this archetype, but is also something of a Mad Scientist due to his knowledge of geology. He also subverts the trope with the revelation that, while he's an extremely successful miner, he doesn't much care for money and so just puts the gold back into the ground when he finds it.
- Looney Tunes: Yosemite Sam has played claim jumpers in a couple of shorts.
- Molly of Denali: In the episode "Gold Strikeout," in the bunkhouse, the trio finds a book about the gold rush in Alaska, as well as a pan. They assume that the people who left it there were trying to find gold. Later on, Molly, Tooey, and Trini try to become gold prospectors themselves, but things go horribly wrong.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: One of Rudolph's companions on his journey is Yukon Cornelius, a prospector who looks for at first gold, and then silver, before striking it rich on a peppermint vein. His usual method is to throw his pickaxe in the air and then taste it after it lands in the snow.