By the Great Horn Spoon! is a humorous tale of travel by a twelve-year old boy named Jack Flagg and his butler, Praiseworthy. It takes them from Boston to the gold fields of California in 1849. Along the way, they meet with a variety of setbacks that have the power to disrupt their main purpose in getting rich to help with family finances. But each time, something unique happens to turn their luck around. The phrase “By the great horn spoon” is an exclamation used in this time period, similar to “Wow!” or “Gosh!”
1 – “The Stowaways.” Jack and Praiseworthy have stowed away on the Lady Wilma to sail from Boston to the gold fields near San Francisco, California. Before they can board, however, they lose their ship fare to a thief. They introduce themselves to Captain Joshua Swain, who seems more concerned with beating another ship, the Sea Raven, in a race around the continents. The two work off their fare by shoveling coal into the furnace.
2 – “How to Catch a Thief.” Jack writes a letter home to his Aunt Arabella and two sisters, Constance and Sarah. Praiseworthy has a plan to catch the thief who stole their money. He says that whenever a guilty person touches a pig, she squeals. The passengers line up to touch the pig, who has been coated with coal dust. The person with clean fingers who didn’t touch the pig is the thief. It turns out to be Cut-Eye Higgins. They get their money back. Jack names the little pig Good Luck.
3 – “News of the Sea Raven.” The two now share a cabin with a few other passengers, including Dr. Buckbee and Azariah Jones. Good Luck the pig follows Jack. They come upon another ship that needs a tow for several days. Jack and Praiseworthy take time to study the constellations. They hear that the Sea Raven is ahead of them.
4 – “The Pig Hunt.” Jack has to hide Good Luck in a lifeboat so that the cook won’t cook him. The ship lands at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and everyone explores the city. When they come back to the ship, they discover that Cut-Eye Higgins is gone, having taken the life boat with Good Luck in it. He had also stolen the map to a gold mine from Dr. Buckbee.
5 – “Land of Fire.” The sailing is quite rough, at the southernmost tip of South America. Praiseworthy had warned Jack to watch for the fires on the shores of Tierra del Fuego, but they hadn’t seen them. The captain steered the ship through the Strait of Magellan instead of sailing around the Cape of Good Horn. The Lady Wilma passes the Sea Raven as a result.
6 – “Spoiled Potatoes.” The Lady Wilma is running out of water and fuel. It waits for wind to pick up its sails. In the meantime, Azariah Jones’ barrels of potatoes are spoiling, and another man’s grape vines are drying up. Jack suggests that the vintner buy the potatoes and stick the grape vines into the potatoes for moisture. This tactic works. The Sea Raven passes the Lady Wilma.
7 – “End of the Race.” The ship docks in the major seaport of Callao, Peru [which is now part of Lima]. Jack sends another letter home. Cats come on board and eventually have kittens. The Lady Wilma passes the Sea Raven. When they are one day away from San Francisco, the Sea Raven catches up. The Lady Wilma inches ahead as they come into port. After five months and 15,000 miles, they have made it to San Francisco! Now, on to the gold fields.
8 – “Saved by a Whisker.” Jack and Praiseworthy check in to the United States Hotel. Praiseworthy starts giving miners “free haircuts” in order to collect gold dust and make cash for travel. He keeps the gold dust in his left glove. They meet a miner named Quartz Jackson, who tells them they should go to Hangtown.
9 – “The Man in the Jipijapa Hat.” Jack and Praiseworthy sail to Sacramento, then take a stagecoach to get to the gold fields. A man sleeping on the stagecoach turns out to be Cut-Eye Higgins.
10 – “The Rogue Out-Rogued.” The stagecoach is stopped and robbed. When one of the robbers wants to take Aunt Arabella’s portrait from Praiseworthy’s bag, the butler punches him and sends him sailing. Praiseworthy asks Cut-Eye Higgins for the map he stole from Dr. Buckbee, and the thief says that he kept it in the coat that the robbers took.
11 – “Jamoka Jack.” The two reach Hangtown and check in to the Empire Hotel. Jack and Praiseworthy meet Pitch-pine Billy, who shows them how to stake a claim and to look for gold. Billy gives Jack his first drink of coffee and decides to call him “Jamoka Jack.” Praiseworthy learns how to pan for gold with his umbrella.
12 – “Bullwhip.” When Jack and Praiseworthy get back to town, some miners are waiting for them. They had heard about the way Praiseworthy took care of the stagecoach robber. They want to hear more of the story, and they nickname him “Bullwhip.”
13 – “A Bushel of Neckties.” Jack and Praiseworthy get a letter from Dr. Buckbee. He says he will give them half ownership in his gold mine if they can find that map that the robbers stole from Cut-Eye Higgins. Jack accidentally wins a bushel of neckties in an auction. The miners want Praiseworthy to fight a man named Mountain Ox. The butler says he can’t possibly do it until August 15th, after he and Jack strike it rich. Quartz Jackson and his new bride arrive in Hangtown, and all the miners want to look good for the only lady in town. Jack and Praiseworthy sell all of their neckties at a profit.
14 – “The Prospectors.” Jack and Praiseworthy buy a burro named Stubb. Then leave Hangtown for the gold fields.
15 – “The Man Who Couldn’t Sit Down.” Jack and Praiseworthy hear that Cut-Eye Higgins is posing as a dentist in Shirt-tail Camp. Jack goes hunting for game and falls into a miner’s hole. The man who pulls him out happens to be wearing the coat that Cut-Eye Higgins wore in the stagecoach. Jack holds the man at gunpoint (sort of) and demands that he give him the coat, which he does. Praiseworthy slices open the coat later and finds no map. Cut-Eye Higgins must still have it.
16 – “The Gravediggers.” Jack and Praiseworthy head for Shirt-tail Camp to confront Cut-Eye Higgins. When they arrive, they learn that the thief has stolen so much from the miners that they are ready to hang him. Higgins makes a deal with Jack and Praiseworthy—the exchange of the map for his release. Praiseworthy looks at the map and realizes that it is worthless, as it points to well-worked Shirt-tail Camp. Still, he makes a speech that stops the hanging party from its mission. Jack and Praiseworthy are assigned to dig a hole six feet deep for whenever Cut-Eye Higgins is eventually hanged and buried. They strike gold.
17 – “The Fifteenth of August.” After two weeks, the gold plays out. Jack and Praiseworthy have eleven heavy pouches of gold dust hanging on their belts. They head for Hangtown. In the boxing match, Praiseworthy beats Mountain Ox with his book-knowledge of boxing strategy, not by strength.
18 – “Arrived at the Long Wharf.” Jack and Praiseworthy travel back to Sacramento and then take a ship to San Francisco. They are almost there when the steamboat blows up. Both are thrown into the water, and both have to unbuckle their belts in order to swim and reach the surface. Their pouches of gold sink into the bay. They see the Lady Wilma in port, but no one is on board except for the cats. They meet Azariah Jones, who has now become an auctioneer. He says that the stores all have problems with rats. Jack and Praiseworthy collect and auction off the cats from the Lady Wilma and make $400. They are thinking about sailing back to Boston when they are surprised to meet Aunt Arabella, Constance and Sarah on the wharf. All agree to make California their new home, especially after Praiseworthy asks Arabella to marry him, and she says yes.