A Prospector is 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 underexplored land. As such, this is a very common Western Character Trope.
The stereotypical image of the Prospector is an older man with a grey beard, missing teeth, a pickaxe and a trusty mule, dressed in faded work garb. 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.
He may be different from a Miner, who extracts ore from an established mine shaft. The prospector might pan for gold, chip away at surface veins, or search for undiscovered wealth in some other way. If he finds a major vein, he might settle down and become a Miner, or he may just sell the claim to someone more qualified to extract the ore.
In particular, the California Gold Rush brought many people west to seek their fortune. That specific subgroup of Prospectors are known as Forty Niners.
Game and Story Use
- Prospectors come with numerous standard plotlines.
- Claim jumpers try to get the prospector out of the way by means of 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.
- Con Men might be up to the classic scam called Salting the Mine, looking to sell a useless piece of land under false pretenses.