Nevada's Online State News Journal
By Henry DeGroot
[From The California Mining & Scientific Press, 1876]
Discovery and Early History of the Great Washoe Lode -- Singular Misapprehensions in Regard to the Facts.
That the Comstock lode, in the item of active production, surpasses every other gold and silver bearing ore channel of which we have any knowledge, admits of no question. Other veins may have been discovered and worked in both South America and Mexico, carrying ores of higher grade, and from which larger aggregate sums may in the course of centuries have been taken, but from none of them has the annual product of bullion been half or perhaps one-quarter so great as from this. These slow going countries, with their crude machinery and their man and mule power, required 10 years to accomplish what we, with the aid of steam and other modern inventions, accomplish in one. Throughout all the mining regions of Spanish America it was formerly, as it is almost everywhere, still the custom, to bring the ore to the surface on the backs of men, to raise the water in buckets and drive the arrastras and nearly all other machinery by mule power, as many as 1,400 of these animals having been kept for this purpose and for treading the patios, in the district of Guanajuato alone. The machinery employed on some half-dozen claims on the Comstock lode would be more than sufficient to perform the service exacted from these 1,400 overworked and underfed brutes, supplemented by whole armies of equally hard-faring men.
It is this capacity to
Perform Much in a Short Time
That gives to the mother lode of Washoe its superior importance as compared with the most renowned Veta Madre of these older and historically famous mining countries. And yet the out-turn of these latter has for more than 300 years been remarked upon by scientists and political economists as of vital consequences to the commerce and industries of the world. The chroniclers of the past notice it as a feat worthy of special comment that Mexico and South America combined should have been able to turn out gold and silver at the rate of $20,000,000 per year. Since the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, that country has produced an annual average of only about $8,000,000, this being the rate at which Peru and Bolivia, the great bullion producing countries of South America, have turned out the precious metals in the meantime.
The State of Nevada has yielded to date over $300,000,000, being at the rate of $20,000,000 per year since the business of mining was here first actively engaged in. Of this total about two-thirds came from the several mines situate on the Comstock range. The most prolific ledge in Mexico yielded during a period of 284 years an average of not quite $2,500,000 per annum, while the richest in South America, that of Cerro del Potosi, in Bolivia, yielded less than $5,000,000 per annum during the 250 years it was worked. From two claims on the Comstock the Crown Point and the Belcher covering jointly a lineal section of 1,480 feet of the ledge, there were extracted, in the space of three years, $50,000,000, of which one-half was disbursed in dividends to the shareholders. Within the past two years there have been taken from the Consolidated Virginia mine alone about $35,000,000, of which over $20,000,000 were net profits. During the year 1873 the dividends declared to shareholders in the various mines along the Comstock amounted to $22,000,000, a rate of clear earnings that has since been maintained.
That the Productive Era
Of an ore channel so vast and marked by features of such permanence will extend into the distant future may well be expected, this being in accordance with geological facts and all previous experience. History teaches that silver mines situated at these high altitudes and occupying great natural chasms never wholly give out. Mexican mines opened by the Aztecs still continued to yield well, and there are districts in Spain that were operated before the Christian era, which to this day richly repay the labor bestowed upon them. In many parts of Europe there are silver mines now being worked with profit that were opened from 500 to 1,000 years ago, though none of them exhibit the masterly proportions of the great dominating lode of Nevada.
That the facts connected with
The Discovery and Early History
Of a gold and silver bearing vein that has already yielded so largely of the precious metals, and is destined to occupy such a conspicuous place in the annals of mining, should have been so misapprehended, not to say strangely perverted, is a circumstance to be accounted for only on the hypotheses of sheer carelessness or indifference on the part of those who first undertook to make public record of this event. According to the generally received version of this affair, the finding of the Comstock lode was due to certain parties who, while excavating a hole to collect water for gold washing, threw up a quantity of earth mixed with free gold and the decomposed sulphurets of silver, this rich material consisting of the disintegrated outcrop of the main lode which here came to the surface. This excavation was made on the dividing line between the old Mexican and Ophir claims, being near the southerly end of the present Ophir ground. Prior to this incident, which occurred in the latter part of May or early in June, 1859 James Finney, commonly known as "Old Virginny," had located a quartz claim on the line of croppings a little to the west of the Comstock, afterwards known as the Virginia ledge, but had done no work upon it. This claim, which was recorded on the 22nd day of February, 1858, was taken up because the locator considered it to be on the ledge previously occupied and already extensively worked at Gold Hill, a mile and a quarter further south. These croppings, though quite bold, were not, however, on that ledge at all, or at least not on the main Comstock, which as has since been shown, lies several hundred feet to the east of them.
The Real Site of the First Discovery.
Now, it will not be denied that the ground of Consolidated Imperial Company is on and constitutes a section of the Comstock lode, and as this ground was occupied and extensively worked as early as 1857, it follows that the discovery of the lode must antedate that event. More than a year before Finney had taken up his claim on the croppings of the Virginia ledge and more than two years before Peter O'Reilly and Patrick McLaughlin, the gold washers, had dug the excavation mentioned, a number of arrastras were being run on the rich ores at Gold Hill, quite a hamlet having already sprung up at that place. That the parties operating here had little idea of the magnitude or importance of the lode they were working and were wholly ignorant of its extension either to the north or south must be admitted. But that they were really on the Comstock and were well advised as to its character at that particular point, cannot be questioned. If to any one, then, the credit of discovering this lode is due, it belongs to these quartz workers at Gold Hill, who had been opening it up and crushing its ores for so long a time before the rich surface deposits were struck upon it farther north at Virginia City. It is not claimed that there was much merit in their being there. They had worked out Gold canyon, which afforded fair placer diggings, and having arrived at its head and found there a heavy reef of rich quartz, went to work upon it, treating it simply as an auriferous ore, never dreaming that it would at greater depths run into silver, or that heavy deposits of that metal existed in the neighborhood.
The Grosch Brothers.
So far as searching after argentiferous ores was concerned, the idea does not appear to have entered the heads of any of these pioneer Washoe miners, if we except from the number H.B. and E.A. Grosch, commonly spoken of as the Grosch Brothers, two young men who came over to this region from Placerville, California, in 1852. While they made gold washing their principal business, they seem to have entertained the idea that there was silver also in the country, and being educated mineralogists, with some knowledge of metallurgy, spent much time in seeking after this class of ores. That they succeeded in finding what they considered silver-bearing lodes is well established, they having carried to California and there exhibited samples of ore carrying a considerable percentage of that metal. By some it has been claimed that they obtained these samples from the Comstock ledge. But this is obviously a mistake, unless we consider the ore channel that passes through the present Dayton claim as being on the mother lode, for there can be no question but they obtained their best specimens from that neighborhood. On a sort of bench, 200 feet above the American ravine, and on a line with the Dayton croppings, the remains of a shaft sunk by these young men are still to be seen, the fragments of a rude furnace erected near by and used by them in experimenting upon their ores being also visible in 1859. They probably never pushed their researches further north than Gold Hill.
Certain it is, if they had ever found any of the rich silver ores of the Comstock proper, or at least such as were first struck at Virginia City, they, being qualified to appreciate their value, would have taken measures to secure the discovery and turn it to practical account. The fact is, they never found any ores of that character; yet to these men more than to any others is due the merit of having first paid attention to the subject, and of actually engaging in a search after silver ores on the "Eastern slope;" and it is not improbable that they would, had their lives been spared a little longer, have been instrumental in making more important discoveries of this metal.
Next to these brothers in the list of those who may with any propriety claim even an indirect agency in bringing about the discovery of the great Washoe Veta Madres, stand the early Gold Hill quartz miners, followed by Finney, O'Reilly and McLaughlin and in the order mentioned, Comstock, whose name the lode bears having had no more to do with that event than the man who is supposed to occupy the lunar attendant on our planet. The circumstances that led to this singular and awkward misnomer will be explained in the next number of the Comstock Papers.
First Strike of the "Black Stuff." -- Conflicting Claims and their Adjustment. -- How the Great Washoe Lode Came to be Named.
As already related, the discovery of the Comstock lode at a new point near the present site of Virginia City, was occasioned by a couple of gold washers' digging a shallow pit to hold water for the use of their rockers. This event, which occurred in the month of June, 1859, was the result of the sheerest accident. These men were not hunting for silver nor ores of any kind. In so far as they had any idea about such substances, this was the thing they were most desirous of avoiding. While working up Six Mile canyon the year before, they and their companions, as they approached its head, had encountered a dark colored, heavy metallic rock, "black stuff" as they called it, which had caused them no little trouble, its weight being so nearly that of the gold obtained along the canyon that they found it difficult to separate the two in their rockers. All the gold dust gathered in that region of country, containing a large percentage of silver, was much lighter than the average California dust, and consequently more difficult to save by the process of washing. When, therefore, these honest miners detected in the pit they had sunk the presence of this detestable stuff -- the rich sulphurets of silver, they were disgusted thereat, and would have heaved it aside and paid no further attention to it had they not found mixed up with the earth thrown out a considerable amount of free gold. This was an article with which they were acquainted -- was, in fact, the thing they were searching for, wherefore they at once proceeded to take up a surface or placer claim at that point.
A Multiplicity of Claimants to the New Discovery
Now, so it was, this precise spot happened to be within the boundaries of the ground located by Finney the year before, or this, at least, was the view the old man chose to take of the matter, and not, perhaps, without some show of reason, as it was then the custom of the district to make square locations in taking up both quartz and placer claims, and it might well have been that his claim the croppings on which lay only a few rods further west, included this spot within its limits. Joseph Kirby, who had previously been washing along a small ravine a little below this place, also advanced some sort of claim to an interest in the new discovery, there being several others who, upon one pretext or another, were seeking a share in it.
Affairs being thus complicated,
Henry P. Comstock,
An old resident and common friend of all the contestants, was elected, or perhaps elected himself, to act as umpire in the premises; an office he seems to have performed to his own satisfaction, and for aught that appears to the contrary, to the satisfaction of all concerned. In adjusting the business it was so arranged that the umpire appeared on the record as the owner of most of the property in dispute, he having first awarded it to Finney, and then bought the latter out. The claim in question covered what are now known as the Bonanza mines, and also a part of the present Ophir ground. Within a year from the time the above transaction took place, it sold for a million of dollars. That the other parties to this contest should have so readily yielded their pretensions and acquiesced in the disposition thus made of the property is explained by the fact that they did not consider it of any special value, and had not, probably, much confidence themselves in either the justice or validity of their claims.
He Receives for his Mine an Indian Pony and Something to Drink Beside.
The consideration that moved the vendor to make over his estate in this mining claim consisted of a certain Indian pony, bobtailed, lean and aged, of which the purchaser was then and there possessed, this constituting the sum total of his available effects, save only a scanty supply of cabin traps, a roll of blankets, a gold rocker and a rifle, with a reasonable stock of whisky and tobacco, without which latter, existence with these early dwellers on the "Eastern slope" would have been intolerable, if nor wholly impracticable. While Finney did not guarantee title to the ground sold, the transfer thereof having been effected by simple quit claim deed, he did, on the other hand, require that his friend should in the bill of sale assure title to the animal made over to him, the abbreviated caudal appendage of the brute and some other marks about him pointing to a former ownership by the Piutes, against any claim from which quarter the old man was naturally desirous of protecting himself. According to some authorities, divers bottles of exhilarating fluids formed part of the consideration by Finney received on that occasion; a fact which no one having any acquaintance with the convivial habits and commercial usages of these Washoe pioneers will feel inclined to call in question. Indeed, that class of persons may be said to inferentially know that such was the case, a drink all 'round having been with these pioneers not only a pledge of friendship but a token with which they sealed all bargains.
He Sells His Claim to a California "Rock Sharp."
Very soon after he had acquired this claim, Comstock disposed of the greater portion of it to Judge Walsh, an enterprising and experienced quartz miner of Grass Valley, who, having heard of this discovery and seen some of the rich ore brought to his place, hastened over the mountains for the purpose of examining the deposit and making a purchase thereof, if the thing looked favorable. How little appreciation Comstock himself had of the real value of this property is evinced by the fact that he parted with his interest in nearly the whole of it for $6,000, congratulating himself that he had been able to dispose of it for even that much, and joining with his associates in making merry over the manner in which he had taken in what they facetiously termed, "the California rock sharp."
How His Name Came to be Conferred on the Lode.
In making out the deed whereby this claim was conveyed to Walsh, it was, for the want of a better name, described as the "Comstock ground," a style of description which, having been adhered to in all subsequent sales of the property or portions thereof, caused this term to be at length applied to all portions of the lode. Other than this there was no especial fitness in thus designating the great ore channel, the man whose name it bears having had nothing to do with its discovery, location or subsequent development, and who acquired all the interest he ever had in it at a very cheap rate.
An Error Corrected -- First Samples of Ore that reached California.
We find, on conversing with certain of the early Washoe miners, that we erred in the last number of these papers, in saying that Comstock owned the most of the rich ground purchased by Judge Walsh, and that the property so bought was described as the Comstock claim in, the deed of transfer made on that occasion. The facts connected with his first visit to Washoe, his return and subsequent purchases, as we have them from Judge Walsh himself, were these: Towards the latter part of June, 1859, B. A. Harrison, then keeping cattle on the Truckee meadows, brought some pieces of the rich Comstock ore over the mountains to Grass Valley, where the Judge was engaged in quartz mining. This ore had been given to Harrison while on his way to California by a man named Stone, with directions to take it over to Grass Valley and have it tested, its weight leading him to believe that it contained a good deal of metal of some kind or another. Stone, who resided at Stone & Gates' crossing, a well known locality on Truckee river, had been to the mines and there obtained this ore, and having a notion like many others, that it might be valuable, availed himself of the first opportunity that offered for having its character determined.
The Assay and its Results.
Judge Walsh, to whom Harrison had given these samples on his arrival at Grass Valley, took them to Melville Atwood, who was then carrying on the business of assayer at that place, and instructed him to make an assay of them, being himself satisfied that the ore was rich in the precious metals. Mr. Atwood made two assays from the same piece of ore and found it to contain $3,000 in silver and $876 in gold -- a total of $3,876 to the ton. These assays, undoubtedly the first ever had of the Comstock ore, were made on the 27th day of June, 1859. The two buttons obtained and the pieces of ore from which the assay samples were taken, handsomely mounted and inclosed under glass, are to be seen in the office of Almarin B. Paul, of this city, with the certificates of Atwood and Harrison, attesting their genuineness appended thereto. There was residing in Grass Valley at this time Richard Killala, an accomplished Irish metallurgist, also several German assayers, all of whom were well acquainted with this class of ores, and readily divined the importance of the discovery, having had more or less experience in silver mining countries.
The Ophir Ground -- How it was Held and the Prices Obtained for it.
Encouraged by the opinions of these men and taking council of his own judgment, Walsh at once set out for Washoe, the name by which the region of country where this deposit had been found then first began to be known. Arriving at the spot early in July, the Judge remained there a week or more during which time he became so well convinced that this ore-find was likely to prove valuable that he determined to buy out some of the parties laying claim to it. In pursuance of this purpose he came home, supplied himself with money and at once returned, reaching the mines toward the latter part of July. By this time a number of locations had been made along the supposed line of the main lode, to which latter there had as yet been given no name. The principal of these claims consisted of the Ophir, embracing 1,500 feet, with the Central 150 feet; the California 300 feet, and the Central No. 2, 100 feet, adjoining it in the order mentioned on the south.
Finney's claim to the rich spot on the Ophir ground having been gotten rid of in the manner already narrated, that location was now owned by the following parties: (100 feet, afterwards known as the Mexican ground, having previously been disposed of.) Henry P. Comstock, Joseph Winters, Peter O'Reilly, Patrick McLaughlin and Penrod, each one-sixth; Theodore Winters, one twenty-fourth; Houseworth, one twenty-fourth and Osborn one-twelth. Judge Walsh bought Penrod's one-sixth, paying him $6,200 therefor; also Comstocks one-sixth paying him about the same amount, besides $5,000 for one-third of the California ground, and some small and unimportant locations he had made further south. In the early part of August, Morrison and Hurst bought out McLaughlin for $2,500. Later in the fall John O. Earle and Judge Walsh purchased O'Reilly's interest paying $36,000 therefor, the Winters having retained their interest for a considerable length of time. In all the purchases and sales made by Judge Walsh, as well as in the other operations carried on by him in Washoe, Joseph Woodworth was his equal partner.
The Mexican Claim.
As stated above, 100 feet of the original Ophir ground had been disposed of before the sales here mentioned were effected. This section, commencing 200 feet from the south end of the claim and embracing the richest portion of it, had been given by the joint owners thereof to Penrod, Osborn, and Comstock, as a consideration for two cheap arrastras that they had put up for the use and benefit of the company. Penrod, who owned one-half of this section, sold the same in October to the Meldonado brothers, for $3,000, the other half having been sold by Osborn and Comstock to Hughes and others for about the same sum. The Meldonado's being of Spanish origin led to this piece of ground being called first the Spanish and afterwards the Mexican claim. In the early part of 1861 the Meldonado's sold this ground to the houses of Alsop & Co., and Duncan, Sherman & Co., for $200,000. These parties failing to manage the property with much energy or good judgment, tired of the ownership and afterwards disposed of it to the Ophir company for $30,000. It now forms a part of the present Ophir mine.
First Arrival of Ore in San Francisco -- Heavy Costs and Big Returns.
Early in the month of September. Judge Walsh came to San Francisco bringing with him 3,150 pounds of selected ore taken from the first opening made on the Ophir ground. This ore was worked by Mosheimer & Kustel, and netted him $4,871. The cost of transportation, there having been as yet no wagon roads built over the mountains, was, as a matter of course, very great. Later in this month, Walsh and his associates in the mine commenced the regular shipment of ore to the city, having by the first of November, when the snow rendered the mountains difficult of passage by wagons, sent down 38 tons, which, worked by the same parties, gave a gross yield of $114,000, exactly $3,000 per ton. The cost of freight and reduction on this lot was at the rate of $512 per ton.
The Washoe Excitement Begins.
This bullion, which was placed on exhibition in the banking house of Alsop & Co., first began to arouse the moneyed classes to the importance of this new discovery, and infect the popular mind with the idea of silver mining. A good many miners with some speculators, traders and adventurers in general, had already made their way over the Sierra Nevada, there having been gathered in the Washoe region a thousand or more of this class before the winter set in. The newspapers also, for several months before had teemed with favorable accounts of the mines over there. But these had been generally regarded as exaggerated or over colored statements, such as usually emanate from excited and interested parties, and had therefore produced no very market influence upon either capitalists, speculators or the working masses. The sight of this ore and the resultant bullion had the effect, however, to awaken up everybody, and before the winter was half over, thousands were making preparations to emigrate to the new land of promise.
Different Views Held by Different Parties.
Meantime, not a few who had secured interests in the new mines, being timid or acting under the advice of those presumed to be safe counselors, hastened to dispose of the same, realizing often very inadequate prices. Among others accorded a high reputation for scientific knowledge and claiming a practical acquaintance with silver mining, but who still entertained a very poor opinion of this Washoe discovery, was the French engineer of mines, M. Lauer, sent out by his government to examine and report upon the gold mines of California. So little faith had he in this discovery that he advised his friends to part with their interests as soon as they could realize the smallest profits, his course in this respect having been practically endorsed by some of our resident experts who had enjoyed a long experience at silver mining in South America and in different parts of Mexico.
Among those who had visited and examined the deposits in the new district, few shared in the opinion held by these more learned men; and it is but just to say the early Washoe miners, notwithstanding they were so ready to sell out, professed the greatest confidence in the richness and permanency of the mines themselves; this seeming inconsistency being explained by the fact that they were all very poor, and wished to make a small stake at the first opportunity; every one of them believing, moreover, that he would be able, as soon as he had sold these first claims, to go and find others equally valuable. Messrs. Woodworth and Walsh relate, that while camping with Comstock, near the claim purchased of him, he pointed to the spot where Virginia City now stands, and declared his conviction that it would soon become the site of a great city, and that the mine he was about to sell them would yet turn out to be one of the biggest in the world. It is true, such expressions as these might be attributed to that spirit of gasconade in which Comstock was so apt to indulge, and through the exercise of which he afterwards succeeded in having his name applied to the whole of this Washoe lode; yet the prediction seemed, under the circumstances, so improbable that one regarding it as somewhat prophetic, feels inclined to credit these utterances as having been made with a degree of sincerity at least.
Mineral Wealth of Western Utah -- Early Traditions and Opinions on the Subject -- First Silver Ore Found in '49.
It is an error to suppose that the discovery of silver mines east of the Sierra Nevada was to the people of California wholly a surprise. Antecedent to that event, many people in this State had, for various reasons entertained the idea that deposits of this metal existed in the expanse of country laid down on the early maps as the Great American desert, and latterly known as the Utah basin. First, the region lay contiguous to, and following the trend of the great mountain chains, directly in the path of the silver producing belts of Mexico. Then there were Spanish legends ascribing to it a great wealth of this kind, stories of successful expeditions thither in search of the precious metals having come down to us from former times. Many intelligent persons, more especially those conversant with Mexican history, cherished the belief that important discoveries would some day be made off that way. Among this number was Judge James M. Crane, an early settler in California, but who, impressed with this opinion, passed over the mountains in 1857, and took up his abode at Genoa, then the principal town in Western Utah, to represent which section he was afterwards chosen delegate to Congress. Crane, who had made himself familiar with the mining chronicles of Northern Mexico, was an enthusiast on the subject, and after traveling much over Western Utah, now the State of Nevada, predicted that it would soon become conspicuous for its production of the precious metals, and even outrank California in this respect. As this was before the discovery of the Comstock lode, the expression of this opinion may be supposed to have been due to some mental prevision of these after events. What was then foretold has already come to pass; the gray deserts of Nevada produce today more than twice as much bullion as the "Golden State."
The venerable pioneer and eminently good man,
When crossing the Black Rock country, in northwestern Nevada, observed there such signs of silver bearing lodes as induced him to return in 1858 and prospect that region, and but for his untimely death at the hands of Indians, while out on that expedition, it is probable enough that he would have attained the object of his search.
Nor was the existence of the precious metal in these desert lands to the east a mere matter of opinion or conjecture founded on traditions and theories alone. The survivors of the immigrant party, so many of whom perished in Death valley in the fall of 1849, while making their way over the mountains into California found and brought with them some pieces of very rich silver ore. So rich, in fact, was this ore that it attracted the attention of all whom saw it and led to many parties going afterwards to search for the place where it was found. Associating the locality with the scene of these immigrants' sufferings, the most of these parties sought for it in the vicinity of Death valley, going, as recent experience had shown, much too far east. Last year some miners prospecting in the Coso mountains, Inyo County, came upon the exact spot where this ore was obtained, its identity being established by the most ample and unmistakable proofs. It is situated in what is now known as the Lee district, the ledges from which this rich ore was broken off being at present owned by the Emigrant company, who are working them with capital results. The finding of this rich ore by these emigrants antedates the discovery of the Comstock lode nearly ten years during all which time the attention of prospectors and explorers was more or less occupied with the subject of mineral discoveries off in that direction.
Brewing of the Washoe Excitement.
With the public mind this somewhat prepared for an event of the kind, it is not at all strange that a large number of Californians were ready to credit the report and to take their departure for the "Eastern Slope," the name by which this trans-Alpine region had come to be known immediately upon the announcement being made of this rich metalliferous find over there. Only the year before many thousand miners had precipitately left the State for British Columbia, but meeting with only disappointment there, the greater portion of them had already returned to their old haunts. Once on the wing, however, the most of these men remained uneasy and ready for a new flight should anything occur to set them in motion. Being in this condition of industrial disorder and mental unrest, the discovery of these silver mines opened to this class a new and inviting El Dorado, the evidences of whose wealth rested not, as in the case of Frasier river, upon dubious rumors and the statements of interested parties, but on the more substantial proof of ore shipments and bars of bullion.
As already stated, Judge Walsh had before the end of 1859 brought to San Francisco, ore that yielded nearly $120,000 worth of gold and silver. In addition to this other parties had shipped to the city some small lots of rich ore and as there had been a considerable number of arrastras kept running at the mines, with some gold dust gathered from the placers, the total bullion product of these Washoe mines for the year must have exceeded $200,000; the whole of it produced with a comparatively small outlay of labor, and in the course of about six month's working time. There was no gainsaying this sort of evidence. Here were ocular and tangible proofs such as any reasonable mind would accept as conclusively establishing the great value of the mines. Such, at least was the views that the masses were pleased to take of this matter, and by the time that winter had set in these facts, growing as they spread, had become widely disseminated throughout the State, creating a great excitement among all classes, and inspiring multitudes everywhere with the purpose of an early emigration to a region that promised an easily gained fortune to all, and the opening up to capital and enterprise of a new and profitable industry. Already, then, by the end of the year there had been laid the foundation for a mining stampede of more formidable proportions than any that had preceded it, the movement having been partially restrained for two or three months until the snow had settled on the Sierra Nevada, these mountains, before the construction of wagon roads over them, having been difficult of passage during the winter.
Meantime, the adventurers who had already gathered on the
Had not been idle. Before the winter set in, through it commenced that year with much rigor, on the 2d of November, these wide-awake and active men had taken up every thing in the shape of quartz croppings along and adjacent to the line of the main lode. The surrounding country for a distance of fifty miles or more had been prospected and many new mining districts laid out, in each of which a great many company claims had been located and upon some of the latter much work had been done. Foreseeing the urgent necessity that would soon arise for the employment of propulsive power the waters of the Carson river, had for many miles been claimed for this purpose. All the more available creeks, springs, wood and farming lands had been taken up, the latter having in many instances been surveyed and partially secured by enclosure or other improvements. Some water driven arrastras had been put up along the Carson, and steps taken for the construction of more extensive and efficient reduction works, at the mines. Virginia City had been laid out and several substantial stone buildings, with a much larger number of wood, canvas or other temporary structures, erected on the spot. The hamlet at Gold Hill had doubled its size, while Carson City, which the summer before had drawn to it most of the business from the old Mormon town of Genoa, had grown from some half dozen housed into a good sized village. Numerous town sites had been selected at other supposed eligible points, upon all of which cities of magnificent proportions had been projected. Notwithstanding the difficulties and great cost of transportation over the mountains several traders were able to show very respectable stocks of goods, and had not the following winter proved to be one of unusual severity, there would have been provisions enough in the country to have subsisted the population until spring with comfort. As it was, many were forced to forego the use of most of their accustomed luxuries at the table, not few having been content before the winter was over to accept for rations a short allowance of beans and bacon.
It might prove interesting to the public of today to say something here of the history of this Washoe country, prior to the period of which we are now speaking, when it was as yet occupied by an almost evenly divided population of Mormons or Gentiles, whose religious and social differences led to animosities that made these remote secluded valleys the scenes of perpetual turmoil and strife, converting them not unfrequently into the theatres of fearful tragedies and revolting crimes, and we should feel inclined to devote a chapter to the narration of these strange and little known events, did not this involve such a wide departure from the original purpose of these papers as to forbid the undertaking.
A Hard Winter and its Results.
The winter of 1859 commenced early, as much as a foot of snow having fallen at Virginia City on the 2d of November; and, although this storm was succeeded by several weeks of pleasant weather, the winter that followed was a severe one. As yet not more than a dozen comfortable houses had been put up at Virginia City and Gold Hill; wherefore the several hundred adventurers who had gathered at the mines were compelled to live and lodge in tents, canvas houses, mud and stone built huts and such other temporary abodes as could be constructed from the rude and scanty material at hand, there being very little lumber to be had. Some, whose means were not very abundant, borrowed Indian fashion in dirt-covered holes dug in the ground, while a few even found shelter in the mouths of the tunnels that had been started for opening up the mines. The public lodging houses were well patronized institutions, every inch of space, even to the floors, having been utilized for sleeping purposes. In these places rows of bunks, reaching from floors to ceiling, one above the other, ran around the sides, with a double tier extending through the center of the building, each of these shelf-like bunks being furnished with a coarse hay mattress and a limited supply of woolen blankets. Of nights, chairs, tables and counters were made to do service as bedsteads. For this sort of accommodation one dollar per night was exacted, lodgers being charged half price for the privilege of spreading their blankets on the floor.
Huddled into these miserable dormitories, the weather much of the time stormy and intensely cold, a good deal of suffering was experienced before the winter was over; nor were the unhappy lodgers permitted always to enjoy even this sort of shelter without interruption and disturbance. Frequently the gales that came tearing down the sides of Mount Davidson would, in the middle of the night, when all were wrapt in sweet slumber, dreaming of rich croppings, black sulphurets and wire silver, rend to tatters their canvass dormitory, or taking it up bodily turn the thing inside out, leaving the hapless sleepers exposed to the peltings of the pitiless storm. To aptly describe the scenes that attended the sudden uncovering of these embryotic silver miners, howling and swearing as they sought to screen their half-naked persons under the fluttering fragments of their disruptured tabernacle, as they hastened off through the storm in search of shelter elsewhere, would require the pen of a Dickens.
A Hopeful Crowd and a Winter Emigrations. -- High Prices of Provisions and Provender.
But not withstanding their miserable situation few of these sojourners in the new El Dorado grew disheartened or sought greater comforts by a return to California. On the contrary such was their confidence in the mineral wealth of the country, that they resolved to hold out at all hazards till spring, when they believed they would be able, on the disappearance of the snow and the advent of good weather, to verify all that had been said of the richness of the mines and realize their fondest expectations. The high hopes entertained by those already over the mountains had the effect to so stimulate the excitement in California that quite an emigration was kept up throughout the winter, the population collected at the new mines having amounted by the end of April to about 2,000.
By this time the condition of things had become decidedly rough. The winter had proved to be one of the unusual length and severity. The early settlers in Carson Valley, a shiftless people at best, not having expected such a large influx of population nor anticipated so hard a winter, had failed to provide for these contingencies by gathering more hay and raising more farm produce than usual. Having their attention absorbed by mining matters they had, in fact, made hardly as great provision of this kind as in ordinary years. The consequence was, there soon began to be a dearth of these commodities, the prices advancing to enormous rates before spring. Hay, for example, sold at the rate of four and five and barley at six and eight hundred dollars per ton, provisions of all kinds being also excessively scarce and dear. Many of the horses and two-thirds of the cattle in the country died from starvation. The simplest fare, such as hardly more than sufficed to keep life in his body, cost the miner three-fold more than the most luxurious living would so in California. Believing, however, that relief would come with the spring, all bore these burdens and deprivations bravely. Knowing that supplies of all kinds would be rushed in from California as soon as the mountains became passable to pack trains, there was little murmuring or complaint.
Things Get a Set-Back -- An Indian War Foolishly Begun and Disastrously Ended.
While all were thus hopeful and patient and were even in the best of spirits, there occurred one of those foolish but fatal events which, through the want of a little forethought and practical sense on the part of the multitude, result often in disaster alike to individuals and the community at large. There were living on Carson river, 20 miles below Virginia City, three brothers named Williams, who there kept a sort of public house, their reputation for square dealing being none of the best. Among other evil practices imputed to these men was that of cheating the Indians and grossly abusing their squaws, in which account the Pah Utes cherished towards them a deadly animosity, awaiting only a favorable opportunity to be avenged upon them. Accordingly, one night, early in the month of May, 1860, a small band of savages attacked the house of these brothers and slew the occupants, four in number. It so happened that three of these were strangers, merely stopping there over night, only one of the Williamses having been amongst the slain. However much the brothers themselves might have deserved the fare that had overtaken one of their number, this butchery of innocent parties was not to be overlooked, nor would it do to allow the savages to redress their wrongs, fancied or real, in this summary way, anyhow. As soon, therefore, as
The News of the Massacre
Reached the settlements, it was determined that the guilty parties should be sought out and punished. As the Indians, before leaving, had set fire to and burnt up the house and all that was in it, the names of the strangers killed were never ascertained, they probably having been miners prospecting in the neighborhood. It was well known that only a small number of Indians had been engaged in the killing and that the head men and great mass of these people know nothing about it. Wherefore the older settlers in the valley advised that a few of their own number should visit the principle camps of the Pah Utes, and consult with the chiefs about the affair, offering a reward for the apprehension and surrender to the whites, of the guilty parties and threatening the whole of them with punishment if the offenders were not found and given up. Had this course been adopted the criminals no doubt would at little expense and trouble have soon been secured and properly dealt with. But there had by this time collected in the new mining region a good many young men, brave and chivalrous but impulsive and inconsiderate, who were not inclined to pursue this wise and considerate course, believing and advocating that an armed force should at once be fitted out and sent to inflict upon the savages instant, severe and indiscriminate punishment. Endorsing this view were a few men of a different stripe -- men of ruffian proclivities, who, believing that an Indian war would furnish them employment at the public expense, and possibly afford opportunities for securing Pah Ute ponies at a cheap rate, did all that lay in their power to promote a scrimmage of this kind.
The Avengers Go for the Savages but Meet With a Repulse.
The party of violence being thus in the ascendant, a company of something over a hundred men was raised, armed and mounted, and, under the command of Major Ormsby, of Carson City, started down Truckee river intending to first clean out the Indian rancheria situate on the border of Pyramid lake, at the mouth of that stream. The Indians, however, having got wind of their purpose, entrenched themselves behind the rocks on either side of a narrow gorge along the river through which their foes had to pass. The whites, ignorant of their presence, marched into this defile and when half-way through it were fired upon so suddenly that they were thrown into confusion and obliged to retreat precipitately, not being able to make any effective resistance. The Indians making pursuit killed some ten or fifteen of their enemies, wounding as many more, Major Ormsby having been amongst the slain. Only after they had drawn them from their covert did the whites succeed in killing any of the Indians, the number of the fallen having been about equal on both sides.
A Big Scare and a Bad Business Altogether.
When the discomfited survivors reached Virginia City, great was the excitement that at once ensued, it being generally supposed that the savages, emboldened by their success, would instantly march upon that place in overwhelming numbers. Consternation everywhere prevailed. Nothing was thought of but defense against the approaching foe, whose movements were watched by scouts sent out for the purpose. The approaches to the city were guarded and sentinels stationed on the hills around. The women and children were gathered into places of safety, the most of them having been corralled in a large half-finished stone house put up by Peter O'Reilly, which was then strongly barricaded. Couriers were dispatched to California, advising the people and authorities there of the critical situation and imploring them for aid; arms, troops, ammunition, grub and whisky having been hurried over the mountains in response to this call. Arriving, these auxiliary forces joined the veterans already in the field, and soon between three and four hundred men, well equipped and officered by Jack Hayes and other experienced Indian fighters, were on their way to give battle to the dread Pah Utes, every man of them fairly bloated with valor and a fixed determination to exterminate the hated race, leaving not so much as a papoose or a mehela behind. But the hated race had got well out of the way, having run off into the northern desserts, where the whites, finding they could not reach, decided not to pursue them. The Indians had, in fact, retreated north immediately after the fight on the Truckee, having been running in one direction while the whites were running in another. Nobody was therefore killed on either side during this second expedition, which returned to the abodes of civilization and the pursuits of peace without scalps or glory.
This scare, which had, as we have seen, so little foundation in fact, proved a serious detriment to all the leading interests of Washoe. To say nothing of the heavy public debt attending it, the country was set back fully a year through the alarm created and the check put upon enterprise and the influx of capital and population. Had the writer consulted his feelings alone he would have ignored the story of this miserable business altogether; but a sense of duty has constrained him to allude to it thus briefly, that a lesson so instructive might not be wholly lost to the future.
The Pioneer Locators on the Comstock -- Their Fate and Their Fortunes.
As some account of the history and subsequent fortunes of the men who first located claims on the Comstock lode, or who, through the purchase of interests, the construction of mills or otherwise, became prominently identified with its early annuals, might prove of interest to the general reader, we will at this stage of our remarks and before proceeding to speak of the era of its active development, give to the public such scraps of information on these points as we can now recall to mind or have been able to pick up from conversations with Washoe pioneers. It may be observed at the outset, that a large proportion of these men, once seemingly so favored of fortune or who enjoyed such rare opportunities for the easy acquisition of wealth, are now dead, only moderately rich, or abjectly poor. Although but little more than seventeen years have elapsed since the occurrence of these events, more than half the first locators on the Comstock lode are dead, while very few of the survivors are possessed of large pecuniary means; results attributable, in good degree, to their liberal and improvident habits, coupled very often with a rough and careless life.
Soon spent the proceeds realized from the sale of his different pieces of mining ground, amounting, perhaps, to twelve or fifteen thousand dollars altogether. After remaining about Virginia City for five or six years, during which he made many prospecting tours into the country adjacent, he left his old stamping grounds and went to Montana, where he perished from a pistol shot through the head inflicted by his own hand while laboring under temporary insanity. This condition of mind was induced by hardships and exposure suffered while on an exploring expedition in the mountains of that Territory during the winter of 1869. Failing in these prospecting tours to find any mineral deposits of value, he never succeeded in restoring his wasted fortune, but died leaving neither money nor possessions behind. For a number of years Comstock, as was the case also with many of his companions, made some money testifying in the courts of Nevada in regard to the early location of claims along the great lode that now bears his name, issues involving millions of dollars being some times dependent upon the testimony of these men.
Fennimore, "Finney," "Old Virginny,"
(For by all these names was he known,) the first mentioned being, no doubt, his true and proper cognomen, died in destitute circumstances near Virginia City, which was named after him, a couple of years after the outbreak of the Washoe excitement, a few of his old cronies having contributed to his support towards the last. His death was caused by advanced years and a rather free indulgence in alcoholic stimulants, a habit to which he appears to have been long addicted. As already stated, he received nothing for his interest in claims upon the great mother lode, nor did he, like many others, benefit by his knowledge of the locations first made along it, his demise having happened before any of the more important legal contests came on. Of all the original claim owners none fared so badly, in a pecuniary point of view, as "Old Virginny," a man who, in so far as there was any merit in being early on the ground, deserved to have profited from this, circumstances above all others.
Who realized more from his Comstock claims, perhaps, than any other of the original locators along it, having in the fall of '59 received from John O. Earl and Judge Walsh $36,000 for his interest in the Ophir ground, had for several years before been a resident of the Washoe country. Besides mining, he also engaged in farming, having been the owner of a well cultivated piece of land, situated two miles below Dayton, on the Carson river. O'Reilly was a man of good appearance and possessed of more education and intelligence than most of his companions, though exceedingly visionary and at times supposed to be a little flighty on some subjects. He engaged in a number of unprofitable enterprises, among others the erection of a capacious and costly stone edifice, commenced in the fall of '59 at Virginia City, having been the first structure of large dimensions undertaken in that place. He did not live to see it finished, having died the next year in a lunatic asylum, very far from being the Croesus that, in his dreams of great wealth, he imagined himself destined to become.
McLaughlin, The Winters Boys and Hammack.
Patrick McLaughlin the same fall disposed of his Ophir ground to Morrison & Hurst for the trifling sum of $2,500, nor did he ever after succeed in raising any large stake out of Washoe. He left the country poor, and has of late been following the laudable but illy requited and uneventful calling of a sheep herder in California, a bonanza that yields him probably from ten to fifteen dollars per month of net profits. Of the Winters Brothers, John D., Joseph and Theodore, who at one time owned amongst them extensively in the best mines at Virginia City and Gold Hill, all are living on or near a large ranch owned by Theodore on Putah creek in this state. These boys removed with their parents from California to the "Eastern slope" some years before the discovery of the Comstock lode, having been residents of Washoe valley at the time of that event. They followed farming and freighting over the mountains, having belonged to what was in early times denominated the "bullwhackers' brigade." The mother of these boys was a woman of great energy and decision of character, and the sons took after her, exhibiting at times rather an excess of action and animal spirits. What with the sale and working of their mining properties, they made at first a good deal of money; but being no niggards, it went at the same time pretty freely, Theodore being now the only one of their number who has much property left.
A. G. Hammack, one of the primitive stock of miners on Gold canyon, managed to secure, partly by location and partly by purchase, considerable interest in the Central. Chollar and Yellow Jacket grounds, the 100 feet he held in the latter having been received from the owners for running a short open cut on the claim. He sold his interest in the Central for $20,000, got several thousand dollars besides for his other interests and left in the fall of '59, returning to his family in Alabama, who were said to have been in needy circumstances. Hammack enjoyed a good reputation among his companions for honesty and square dealing, and possessed many strong traits of character. He is reported to have been killed during the Rebellion, fighting on the Confederate side, though his advanced age, over sixty, renders this statement somewhat problematical.
Although the State of California has a reputation throughout the world as the "land of gold," the citizens of her metropolis are much more interested in the silver mines of the adjoining State than in the gold mines of their own. In fact, as a general thing they manifest a remarkable apathy in connection with them. They do not care to post themselves about the California mines, much less foster them, but utilize their spare time and cash in developing the silver interests of Nevada. We all acknowledge that the Comstock is the most wonderful and richest of all ledges; but that it is the only thing in the mining line which is worthy of attention is by no means true. There are in California today, hundreds of gold mines which only need a small capital and intelligent labor to develop to good paying properties.
But of the mines here that are paying well now, very little is known. As most of them are private companies with no stock for sale, little attention is paid to their operations. The local papers published in the vicinity of these mines speak of them occasionally, but as most of the city papers only refer to such mines as are dealt in at the stock boards, the class of mines referred to are not widely known. The PRESS has always made a specialty of collating the mining news of the week from all parts of the coast and presenting in the "Mining Summary" the latest news from all these mines, whether on or off the boards. We flatter ourselves that by so doing we have benefited the California mines particularly, for the reasons above mentioned.
A glance over the "Mining Summary," published on other pages of this issue will show that among the mines mentioned this week only, many of them are paying handsomely, and that more real genuine work is being done than most people imagine. Taking a few items as they appear in the "Summary," they prove that California mines are by no means "played out." On the Main Feather River company's claim in Butte county, work has been commenced to tap the river bed by a novel system. In Calaveras county the Champion mine has just cleaned up $11,000 from 65 tons of ore, an average of about $170 per ton. They do not find so very much ore outside this State that actually works up to that figure. In the St. Lawrence mine in El Dorado county, on the 800-foot level, exceedingly rich ore has been found. In Inyo county the base bullion yield is increasing, and a number of these new mines are yielding immensely rich ore in large quantities from large ore bodies. In Mariposa county several old mines are being reopened. The North Bloomfield hydraulic mine in Nevada county shows $15,800 as the partial proceeds of a 22 days' run, with a profit to the company of $8,000. This mine is not fairly in its work yet, but when all opened will increase the yield for many years. In the Cold Spring gravel claim, in the same county, they have struck the channel where formerly the gravel has yielded $100 to the pan. In Placer county, in the upper part, are immense bodies of gold bearing gravel deposits which will all in time be worked. Those now being worked are paying well. In the same county, in the Old St. Patrick, they have just struck rich rock in the new shaft. The new 20-stamp mill of the Green Mountain company in Plumas county started up last week. In Trinity county the other day, some boys struck a pocket which has yielded to the hand $30 to $40 per day. In Tuolumne county the Independent mentions a mine which is taking out from $20,000 to $25,000 a month. Other mines in the county are mentioned as paying very well.
Brief Sketches of Washoe Pioneers, Continued.
John Osborne, who, as we have already stated, owned one-twelfth of the Ophir and one fourth of the Mexican ground, went to Western Utah at an early day, having been engaged in placer mining along Gold canyon for several years prior to the discovery of the Comstock lode. Being a native of Kentucky, he was known among his companions as "Kentuck," the claim at Gold Hill so named having been called after him. He was a large owner in this as well as in several other valuable locations besides those above mentioned, and was at one time worth a good deal of money. For his interest in Ophir, sold to Donald Davidson and General Allen, he received a handsome sum, though we do not recollect exactly how much.
Osborne, who was marked by that lack of thrift so characteristic of the first settlers on the "Eastern slope," parted with his money freely, and, therefore, as may be well supposed, pretty fast, having been reduced at the time of his death to rather moderate circumstances. He died at Silver City, a small hamlet on Gold canyon, four miles below the town of Virginia, in 1864, his death having been caused by a fractured limb that failed to mend readily, hastened, it is said, by grief arising from an unreciprocated attachment unwisely cherished for a young woman with whom he met a short time before. It may seem improbable to some that one so long separated from refined society,. and almost a stranger to female influences, should have been seriously troubled by a feeling of this kind. But it is notorious that this sort of partial exile is apt to render men all the more susceptible to the tender passion, many of these Washoe pioneers, after they had acquired some wealth, having given way to this weakness in a remarkable manner. Comstock, within a year after he received his money, was despoiled of the most of it through the machinations of an artful woman, several of his companions having in like manner been cajoled out of their money, and sometimes into hasty and ill-advised wedlock and that not always with women of the most exemplary or deserving kind.
UNHAPPY EFFECTS OF SUDDENLY ACQUIRED WEALTH ON THE MARITAL RELATIONSHIP.
In some cases the staid and previously well behaved wives of these financially fortunate men took it into their heads, upon their husbands becoming rich, to play an imperious and overbearing part, persisting in which, they generally succeeded in securing the larger share of his effects, and in rupturing the marital bonds that had bound them together. It was so with poor Berry, whose spouse, (the supernumerary wife of a Washoe Mormon who had unsealed and set her adrift,) so soon as she had got fairly wedded, deftly relieved her loving and unsuspecting husband of all his spare cash, and then took her departure for the City of the Saints, leaving him to die poor and deserted. It was so with Wm. McNulty, once a well-to-do merchant in Ohio, afterwards a prosperous business man in California, who went to Washoe in '60, put up a mill and made money, lost some of it, took to drinking, mistreated his wife, who left him, having first secured the fragments of his fortune, all of which drove the despondent and ruined man to commit suicide, which he did by shooting himself at the Eagle hotel, in Sacramento, in the year 1865. It was so with poor Joseph Hastings, whose wife left him, perhaps not without cause, and afterwards married J. R. Hardenberg, of San Francisco. Hastings sold out his interests in Washoe, which consisted of mining grounds, water franchises, arrastras, etc., and realized from the same a handsome sum as early as 1860. He died a few years after, old and quite poor, his wife, a nephew and some other parties having secured a portion of his wealth, and thus saved it from going as the most of it had already gone, without any resultant benefit to any one.
So also fared Hiram Bacon, once the owner of the famous Bacon Claim, now a portion of the Empire-Imperial ground, situated at what was long considered the very core of the Gold Hill bonanza. He owned also other valuable ground in the vicinity and became at an early day, through the sale of these properties, a man of large wealth, after which his evil star arose in the shape of a termagant and ungrateful wife, who having set herself systematically at work to plunder him, succeeded so well with the job that he was compelled at last to seek relief from his poverty and sufferings in the almshouse at Placerville, where he died a pauper only a few years after his unfortunate marriage. Other examples might be cited tending to illustrate the infelicitous effects of suddenly acquired riches upon that class of people to which these Washoe pioneers belonged.
In our next paper we will speak of a class of men the very opposite of those we have just been considering, for a few such were to be found in those Washoe silver regions almost from the start.
The Washoe Pioneers and Their Successors -- Herman Camp and His Eccentric Fortunes.
Very unlike the men spoken of in the last number of these papers -- the original locators of the Comstock lode -- were their immediate successors, the parties who bought them out, paying what were at the time considered extravagant prices for their claims. Foremost among this more shrewd and better educated class of men was Herman Camp; not that he was the first to secure through purchase permanent ownership of a portion of the rich deposits on the great mother lode, this distinction being due to James Walsh and Joseph Woodworth, but Camp was the first to effect such a purchase, agreeing to pay for the interest secured a price denoting something like a proper appreciation of the worth of the new-found silver mines. Arriving in Washoe towards the latter part of July, 1859, Camp, who was a man of quick perception and possessed of a bold and speculative turn of mind, took in the situation at a glance and forecast the future of the country with wonderful correctness. He estimated the new ore find as being of the first importance, and rightly divined that an active mining industry would here grow up, requiring costly reduction works and a considerable town for its accommodation. Impressing these views upon other parties possessed of more money than their sanguine and eloquent adviser, he readily induced them to give him a contract for putting up a number of stone buildings in close proximity to the mines, no town site having as yet been laid out.
A Persuasive Talker.
Camp was not only an active, wide awake sort of person, but a most persuasive talker; the fact that he succeeded in causing Comstock, at their first interview, to deed over to him his entire interest in the Ophir ground for a moderate consideration, only one dollar of which was paid down, being sufficient evidence of his power in this respect. This transaction took place on the 6th of August, on which day the purchaser was duly installed into the premises and commenced taking out ore from the excavation already opened. That night Comstock, meeting with his companions, was so much badgered on the foolish bargain he had made, that he concluded, with their promised assistance, to go at once and take possession of the claim which he had, by a legally executed deed, transferred to another party, then in lawful and peaceable occupation thereof. This was accordingly done, and when Camp came in the morning to resume work he found the pit in the possession of an armed gang of ruffians, who threatened him with instant death should he attempt a forcible re-entry upon the ground.
A Fatal Mistake.
Being an eminently good natured and peace-loving man and feeling that he could by no possibility be in this manner ousted from his claim, Camp proposed that the matter be referred to a jury of miners, agreeing to abide by their decision in the premises, a proposition that his adversary readily acceded to, well knowing that he could give to this assemblage such a moral complexion as would insure a decision in his favor. The friends of Camp cautioned him against pursuing this course, pointing out the danger to which he would be exposed in doing so. Dr. Henry Degroot, who had long been acquainted with, and knew him to be an energetic, honorable man, well able and likely to perform all he had undertaken in his contract with Comstock, advised him strongly against submitting the question of his right to retain the ground to any such sort of arbitration, urging him to go at once to Genoa, the county seat, and put his deed on record, and then, if in fear of personal harm, to leave the country, trusting to the courts for the vindication of his rights, and the ultimate restoration of his property.
Not wishing just then to go away, and confident that but one result could be reached by the proposed tribunal, Camp preferred to submit to them the matter for settlement. As had been foreseen, this meeting, when it came to assemble, was made up mainly of Comstock's old cronies, a whisky sodden set, who having already prejudiced the case, decided as a matter of course against Camp, who, in accordance with his pledged word, surrendered his deed and gave up the contest. In relinquishing his claim to this property the acquisition of a splendid fortune was defeated when already within his grasp. Camp afterwards acquired large interests in the Gould & Curry and other valuable ground on the Comstock lode, and but for attempting to carry too much and sometimes holding on too long, might have come out largely ahead; as it was his Washoe experiences benefited him but little in the end, his wealth when he came out having been reduced to the zero point, about where it stood when he started in.
James Walsh and Joseph Woodworth.
As already stated, these gentlemen bought no mining ground on their first visit to Washoe, which occurred in the latter part of June, 1859. At that time their attention was mainly occupied with the mines at Gold Hill, the rich and easy working ores of which induced them to put a series of arrastras on Carson river for their reduction. Comstock had on various occasions importuned them to purchase his mining, interests, but not until the 10th day of August did he succeed in making a sale to these parties, the conditions of which have in these papers heretofore been mentioned. They also soon after bought into several other claims, ranking before the end of 1860 among the largest mine owners along the Comstock. During that year Judge Walsh parted with the greater portion of his interests, realizing fair but not extravagant prices therefor. Woodworth, who held on to the most of his, became very wealthy, being able at one time to sell out for a million of dollars. Extending his operations at a period when labor and material were enormously high, and the methods of ore reduction were as yet both costly and imperfect, he met with heavy losses, and finally retired from Washoe with but a remnant left of his once large fortune. Judge Walsh, who undertook to treat the refractory ores of White Pine and other interior districts, erecting expensive smelting works for that purpose, also lost much money, coming out of the country where he had at first succeeded so well, with an exchequer even more seriously depleted than that of his enterprising confrere.
Among the Men Who Became Largely Interested in the Comstock Mines.
Almost at the start, visiting them in person or purchasing on the representation of others, the following embraces perhaps a tolerably full list: Donald Davidson, after whom, because of the active and intelligent interest he took in the development of the new silver bearing region, the most conspicuous peak in the Washoe range was named. General Allen, partner with Donald Davidson in the purchase of Ophir, the two being early and quite extensive buyers into that ground. George Hearst and William Morrison, the latter being for a time at first superintendent of the Ophir, William M. Lent and B. F. Sherwood, owning and afterwards operating jointly and pretty largely in Washoe properties. Richard Ogden and J. Downes Wilson, who bought freely at the opportune moment and, through judicious management, made a good deal of money, some of which was afterwards sunk in the erection and running of a mill, a perfectly legitimate but not at that day always profitable line of business. Erastus Sparrow and Joseph French, who bought the French & Sparrow ground at Gold Hill and soon after put up a large mill on the American ravine, which from Davidson, B. F. Sherwood, E. Sparrow, E. S.Gross, William N. Thompson, H. H. Raymond, John Atchison and J. Neely Johnson, the two last mentioned having died at Salt Lake City, where they had gone, the first to look after mining, and the other to attend to some legal affairs.
The Washoe Argonauts -- How they Saved and How they Squandered.
Before proceeding to speak of the early developments made on the Comstock lode and of the first mills and reduction works put up for the treatment to its ores, some further, but brief, remarks may not be out of place concerning the fate and fortunes of the pioneer owners along that lode; a class of persons to whose histories the rare opportunities they enjoyed for acquiring large wealth have imparted an interest that neither their intrinsic merits nor any other incidents connected with their lives could ever have inspired. In other words, it is these fortuitous events rather than the men that awaken curiosity and prompt us to inquire what became of the individuals themselves. We naturally like to know what use men so situated made of their opportunities; suddenly and easily acquired riches producing often very unlike effects upon the human mind, as is exemplified in the story of these Washoe pioneers, some of whom made the most of their good luck, economizing and adding to their gains until they became millionaires, while others (and this was much the largest portion of them), recklessly spending their money as fast as they received it, remained as they had always been, impecunious, shiftless and generally indebted to all who would trust them. A few of them were men of education and refinement, reticent, cautious and thrifty; more, however, were garrulous, imprudent and spendthrift; almost the whole of them being men of generous impulses, free-hearted, and even liberal towards their friends or those whom they happened to like, to a fault.
The first parties who realized any money from the Comstock mines were
The Owners of the Small Rich Claims at Gold Hill,
Where a number of arrastras were being profitably run several months before the silver bearing deposit in the Ophir ground was opened or even discovered. These Gold Hill claims, beginning on the north, consisted of the following, applying to them the names by which they were latterly and more generally known: The Triglone, 311/4 feet; the Imperial-Empire, 123 feet; the Bacon, 45 feet; Empire North, 55 feet; Eclipse, 30 feet; Trench, 20 feet; Empire South, 20 feet; Plato, 10 feet; Bowers, 20 feet; Piute, 20 feet; Consolidated, 51 feet; Rice, 13 1/3 feet; Imperial South, 65 2/3 feet; Challenge, 50 feet; Confidence, 130 feet; the most of these claims being now covered by the ground of the Imperial-Empire Company. Small as they were, the majority of them were shared by two or more partners, their extreme richness justifying such subdivision of ownerships. With the transfer of of these properties that frequently took place, they often changed names, being sometimes known by one name and sometimes by another.
Among the principal owners in the claims along at first was
Generally known as Sandy Bowers, owner of the ground that bore his name. Though of Scotch descent he hailed from Missouri, whence he came overland and, tarrying on the Eastern slope, had been following the business of placer mining along Gold canyon for several years, when the notable silver find occurred. He was a rough, honest fellow and well liked by his companions, though not so canny and circumspect in his worldly affairs as his countrymen are commonly reputed to be. He owned originally but 10 feet on the main lode, the additional 10 having been the property of his wife, acquired by her before their marriage. Mrs. Bowers was also of Scotch origin, a hard working, industrious body, who, having repaired to the little hamlet of Gold Hill in the spring of 1859, was there living in a very rude and comfortless sort of abode as late as the month of August of that year. She did the washing for the miners, a business that paid well at that day, there being, as yet, no Chinamen in the country, and had gathered not a little gear prior to her marriage with Sandy.
Bowers' claim proved very rich and he made a great deal of money along at first. Afterwards he built a large mill near his mine, and still later a splendid mansion over in Washoe valley. The mill was not a success, which, with some pecuniary reverses afterwards sustained, reduced his accumulations materially prior to his death, which occurred some 10 or 12 years ago at his residence in Washoe. His widow still lives and is reputed to be endowed with something of that occult power that enables the possessor to foresee future events. In the exercise of this faculty she has frequently prognosticated ore developments on the Comstock, some of which are said to have been verified by subsequent events.
Was the owner of the once well known Plato claim, which, although it contained but 10 feet, turned out for some time a large amount of extremely high grade ore, having been even richer than the Bowers ground, which it adjoined on the north. Plato was a man of extraordinary physical powers, and although not a professional athlete, was much addicted to feats of skill and strength, having, as is apt to be the case with men so constituted, injured himself by over-indulgence in exercises of this kind. He was an early resident of Washoe, and obtained his ground at Gold Hill for a trifling consideration. He was one of the few of those pioneers who not only made money, but possessed the faculty of keeping and employing it to advantage. He died in San Francisco about 10 years ago from general debility, his death having been hastened by a wound caused by the bursting of a gun, while on a visit to Carson valley. His widow, who was left in good circumstances, afterwards married Mr. Howard, now one of the rich men of the city.
Who was part owner in several good claims, one of them situate at Gold Hill, put up the first permanent house erected on the site of Virginia City. This was a stone building and was completed in the month of August, 1859. It afterwards enjoyed the infamous distinction of being the house on which the first and only secession flag ever hoisted in Nevada was run up. This event happened in the spring of 1861, and came well nigh costing the proprietor his life. In this house Newman shortly after killed a man, and, as it was at the time alleged, without any sufficient cause or provocation. As the country was then without courts or law, no notice was taken of the crime. This man was a tailor by trade, but honored the calling by leaving it and betaking himself to less reputable pursuits. He came to San Francisco a few years after the discovery of the Washoe mines, and there married a woman greatly his superior, being a person of some education and pretensions to literary taste. He died soon after, leaving some real estate but not much money behind. Of
Very little is known. He was quite a young man, was in the country when the silver mines were discovered, and obtained interests in many valuable claims at both Virginia City and Gold Hill. He was also largely interested in the Flowery district, then considered a promising mining locality. Rodgers was noticeable for his quiet and retiring habits, and without being intimate with any, stood well in the estimation of all who knew him. One morning in the summer of 1860, he was found dead in his room in Virginia City, shot through the head by a pistol ball. Whether it was a case of suicide or assassination never was ascertained. The fact that he had no enemies seemed to favor the theory of self destruction, while the still stronger fact that no trace could be found of his money or other effects argued that he had been murdered by parties who had already taken measures for securing his property, knowing that in the loose state of society that prevailed no very searching inquiries would be instituted as to the manner or causes of his untimely taking off. If Rodgers had any friends living the fact never came to light, nor did they probably ever receive any portion of his really valuable estate, this having in some mysterious way been absorbed by strangers.
Coppers and Mills.
Among other original or very early owners in the various small but rich claims at Gold Hill were Paul Coppers and John H. Mills, proprietors of what was for a time known as the Coppers & Mills ground, which for several years made a large and profitable production. Joseph Webb, an assayer by profession, owned one half of Coppers' interest, the two being joint proprietors of and running a saloon at Gold Hill meantime. Webb passed from the earth plane a good while ago, and if he has since been keeping company with Dives, it will not be because he died possessed of the riches imputed to that unhappy personage. Webb's estate was by no means hurtfully large, having barely sufficed to defray his funeral expenses and make his accounts square with the world. Coppers also suffered a financial collapse, after which he emigrated to Idaho, where he is said to have again made some money. John H. Mills still lives at Gold Hill, where he continues to be interested in mines and mining affairs, his fortunes since the period we are speaking of having fluctuated widely. At times he has been accounted rich, and is now said to be at least tolerably well off. He enjoys the reputation in the community where he lives of being a man of integrity, energy and first-rate business capacity. He is one of the most popular men in Nevada, having held a number of high official positions, among others that of Speaker in the lower branch of the State Legislature.
The Eclipse Ground,
Covering 30 feet on the richest part of the Gold Hill bonanza, was purchased from Comstock in 1859, by Wm. and Alexander Henderson, brothers, who that summer arrived in Washoe overland from Missouri, two of their companions, named Allen and Hudson, having afterwards become equal partners with them in the ownership of this property. The consideration paid Comstock for this piece of ground, consisted of an old horse and $40 in money. Being unacquainted with the business of mining, these men, notwithstanding the low price at which they had bought their claim, ran themselves in debt in their attempts at working it. The following year DeLand, who had advanced them considerable money to enable them to keep operations in progress, took the management of the mine, seeing no other way to save himself from loss. At first the ore which paid well was reduced at custom mills; when funds enough had in this manner been accumulated a mill of their own was put up, the net earnings of which sufficed for a long time to pay a monthly dividend of $25,000, being $5,000 to each proprietor, DeLand having by this time become a one-fifth owner. In 1861 Allen was killed, having been shot through the head while prospecting near the town of Aurora in the State of Nevada. Alexander Henderson returned to Missouri. William, his brother, married in Washoe and afterward settled in San Jose, California, where he has a fine residence and is now living, being in good circumstance; Hudson we have lost sight of and DeLand is a denizen of San Francisco, still actively engaged in mining, milling and kindred pursuits.
Logan and Holmes
Bought, in the summer of 1859, a section of the rich ground at Gold Hill, which so long as they continued to own it, went by the name of the Logan & Holmes claim. In the fall of that year they put up several water-driven arrastras on Carson river, near the site of the present town of Dayton then called Chinatown The next year they erected on this spot extensive reduction works, and for awhile prospered and made money. The cost of these works, coupled with an unfavorable turn in their mine and some other untoward events led to a turn of luck, and finally to such embarrassments that the most of their property passed from their hands, leaving them comparatively poor. Holmes, during his prosperous days, married a young wife, but survived this event only a short time, having died in 1865, leaving little money or property behind. Logan still lives and has, in the role of prospector and miner, been for many years past pursuing the fickle and fugacious Goddess of Fortune in the mountains of central and eastern Nevada without being able to quite overtake her. At White Pine he caught a glimpse of her vanishing form, and afterwards at Pioche actually laid his hand upon her, but somehow she managed to elude his grasp. The active and persevering Logan is not, however, the man to give up, and will yet possess himself of a fair share of this world's lucre if only his lease to earth life shall be renewed for a year or two longer, as he is said to own some very promising locations which only require a little capital to make their wealth practically available;
Of all these early-day Gold Hill nabobs, none were more heard of at the time, nor did any scatter their money with a freer hand, than
John Harrold,Who, with his partner, John Drynan, owned one of the best claims at this famous locality. Born at the South, and bred to the business of overseer on a large slave plantation, his naturally frank and generous disposition was apt to manifest it self in such an imperious way as often involved him in trouble with others. It was this sort of schooling that led him, on the outbreak of the late civil war, to take such a pronounced stand on the side of the South, that the United States authorities felt compelled to arrest and imprison him; a proceeding that greatly exasperated him and his friends at the time, but which Harrold himself did not afterwards very strongly condemn. For two or three years he realized from his claim a great deal of money, but, having one or two actual and perhaps many more "quasi" partners, with hosts of boon companions, political confreres and hangers on, amongst whom he shared his income freely, he failed to get much ahead, even while his mine was yielding princely revenues. With deeper working the ores depreciated in value, while the cost of extracting them rapidly increased, and but few years elapsed before Harrold, with his lavish expenditures, was forced to part with his ground; and, although he still retained an interest in several other claims about Gold Hill, they failed to replenish his coffers; and his old friends falling away or being unable to assist him, he was finally borne on one of those tidal waves of excitement that occasionally swept over Nevada across the deserts towards the east, fetching up at last with the great army of the dead broke upon the Pogonip-enveloped hills of White Pine, where he became enfeebled in health and utterly cleaned out in purse. After drifting about for a while in that desolate region, aided by some friends, he joined a party that had been formed for working the gold mines of Honduras. This company are said to be meeting with fair success, and expect in the course of a year or two to take out a good deal of money. Harrold, being in feeble health, does the cooking for his companions and thus manages to maintain his interest in the concern, and, should his life be spared, it is not improbable that he will once more partially recuperate his fortunes and return to the scenes of his former successes and failures. Drynan, his partner, who was a different style of man, saved some money and returning afterwards to California, bought a homestead and settled in Oakland, where he is now living, having for some time past held the position of usher in the mint.