November 21, 2005

Nevada's Online State News Journal

 

.
   
   
 
Nevada History:

UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

CLARENCE KING DIRECTOR

__________________

 

COMSTOCK

MINING AND MINERS

 

By ELIOT LORD

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV.

THE MINING CAMP.

 

          The surface of the lode had been barely scratched at Gold Hill and on the northern claims, but a ledge of silver ore had been uncovered beyond question.  The early prospectors had done their part by ignorantly revealing the existence of this vein.  Men of a different stamp were needed to take up the work at this point and carry it on to a successful completion.

          Examine the true proportions of the work undertaken in 1859.  The task presented to capital and labor was the development of a silver lode cropping out on the slope of a barren mountain more than a mile above the level of the sea.[1]  North, east, and south the mountain was surrounded by deserts.  West lay the white capped range of the Sierras, a barrier penetrable only through a few steep passes blocked with snow during the winter months, which led over its summit and down the western slope to the young cities of California.

          The range, in the heart of which the lode was placed, was a lumpish ridge of discolored rocks and earth, partly covered but not concealed by underbrush and scrawny cedars.  During the dry season no water flowed down into its ravines, and in the spring only meager brooks ran through the main cañons.  On its parched and rocky slopes no vegetation could flourish except the indomitable sage-brush "that covers the desert like a coat of hair."[2]

          If a city was to be built on the line of the lode, it must be a foreign creation. Water must be made to flow from the rocks or conducted from distant lakes; roads must be cut and blasted through the cañons and along the edge of mountain precipices; the frame-work of the houses and

(56)

THE MINING CAMP.       57

the timber used in the mines must be cut from the trees of the Sierras and dragged up to the mountain camp; food, clothing, tools, and supplies of all kinds must be transported by slow and costly methods from the Pacific sea-board.

          The Spanish proverb, quoted by the peon miners in 1850, is not complete.  Not only a gold mine was requisite to work a mine of silver such as this, but energy incessant and untiring faith which no discouragements could shake, and skill born of years of varied experience.  California furnished the men, the methods, and the means.

          Prospectors began to flock to the new camp as soon as the news of the discovery of silver was announced,[3] but the great majority of them knew nothing of the characteristics of silver ledges, and croppings of barren rock of any description were equally as valuable to their ignorant eyes.  The slopes of the Sun Peak and the contiguous hills were soon covered with stakes and rudely scrawled notices of location, and later the mountain district for miles around was claimed by a constantly increasing and never-satisfied swarm.  When the croppings were taken up, pits were sunk a few feet in the ground, and as soon as the bed-rock of the mountains was reached "blind ledges," so-called, would be located and held without an attempt often to prospect further.[4]

          The little Johntown colony was soon merged in this stream of fortune hunters.  Rough-haired mustangs, gaunt mules, and sure-footed little "burros" climbed the Sierras loaded with stacks of blankets, bacon, flour, kettles, pans, picks, shovels, and other articles of a miner's outfit.  The ravines and brown hillsides were dotted with a restless swarm. Thin wreathes of smoke rose from hundreds of little camp-fires on the hills, and the sharp strokes of falling picks startled the lizards from their hiding places in the rocks.

          Little work except prospecting was done during the summer and fall of 1859, but the Gold Hill claims taken up by Finney and his companions in January were steadily opened up and their product constantly increased.

58      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

          The only other productive claims of importance were those located by Comstock and his partners on the eastern slope of the Sun Peak, and the claim of Corey lying next their boundary on the south.[5]

          Comstock was so grasping in his methods of acquisition that it was natural to suppose that he would show equal selfishness in managing his claim and hoarding his gains.  On the contrary, after attaining his point he seemed to care little about making the most of his good fortune.[6]  He preferred to talk by the hour to any listener of the richness and extent of the mineral deposits in the range and the future greatness of the city which he foresaw would be built up in the mountains.  Visionary and thriftless, he at once magnified and belittled his own possessions.  Although proclaiming in boastful vagaries the value of his pretended discovery, he was actually persuaded to make over his interest in the new ledge to Herman Camp, a shrewd speculator, without. any tangible consideration.[7]  The deed of transfer was formally drawn and signed, but Comstock was so unmercifully laughed at when his action was known that he repented and bethought himself how he might get his mine back again. His method was a simple one. Camp was induced to allow a jury of miners to sit in judgment upon the validity of his deed from Comstock. This jury was composed of Comstock's friends and companions, who had indistinct notions of proceedings in equity, but a clearly defined dislike to the newcomers from California who were fast taking the control of the district out of their hands. Consequently, after a short deliberation they decided to tear up the deed, which was done with all due gravity, in spite of the protest of the luckless assignee.

          Comstock did not long keep possession of the claim so easily regained.  Mr. James Walsh, one of the party which came to the mines from Grass Valley in July, had been quietly testing the silver ore of the ledge and had satisfied himself fully of its remarkable richness.[8]  He obtained permission from Comstock and his partners to send a sample sack of the black sul-

 THE MINING CAMP.      59

phuret ore to Joseph Mosheimer,[9] a leading assayer in San Francisco, and later two larger consignments of 500 and 3,500 pounds.  Meanwhile he obtained a bill of sale of Comstock's interest in the 1,400 feet of the united claims, as well as other titles of less value, for the sum of $10 in hand paid and the agreement to pay the further sum of $10,990 at a later date, in accordance with the provisions of a private agreement.[10]

          The bargain was more profitable to Comstock than his former one with Camp, but the terms were decidedly favorable to Mr. Walsh, as he had an opportunity to cancel the agreement at trifling loss to himself if the product of the ore taken from the claim did not equal his expectations.  The sale was completed, however, and additional interests were bought up as well by Walsh and other speculators, so that before the spring of the following year (1860) none of the original holders of the first location on the Comstock ledge, except John D. Winters, retained their shares.  Five-sixths of this location, or 1,166 feet, were sold for $70,601, or at the rate of about $60 per foot.[11]  The purchasers and subsequent assignees, in order to develop their claims, united with John D. Winters in an informal association, which was organized under a corporation charter in April, 1860, as the Ophir Gold and Silver Mining Company.

          With the disposal of their claims Comstock and his partners fell out of their chance position of prominence and took no further part in shaping the history of the lode. The little fortunes which they acquired by the sale of their claims were wasted rapidly in most instances, and they drifted back into the congenial pursuit of prospecting for ledges and placers, passing so completely out of sight that the manner of their after lives and deaths could only be learned by extended inquiry, the result of which is briefly outlined in another connection.

 60     HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

Corey, Bishop, and the other early locators, with few exceptions, followed the example of Comstock.[12]  The sums which they received for their claims were not large, varying from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but to prospectors living from hand to mouth the bargains were satisfactory, as they assured a brief season at least of idleness and pleasure; besides, the actual worth of their claims was undetermined.  They knew nothing of underground mining or of the methods of reduction of silver ores, and were too poor or too impatient to undertake any systematic course of exploration.  Their surface working, as a rule, disclosed nothing of value, and if they were on the line of a silver lode there was as yet no knowledge of its continuance in depth or of the distribution of its ore bodies.  Weighing the chances of gain and loss as they stood in 1859, the prospectors had no cause to reproach themselves for lack of foresight.  The Californian speculators were venturesome and liberal enough in their offers, buying in the dark as most of them did, and more than one was ridiculed at first by his friends in San Francisco for his absurd investments. John O. Earl, for instance, buying O'Riley's interest for $40,000, after a careful examination and test of the ore in a claim of proved value, was regarded as a wild enthusiast,[13] and Alva Gould, who sold a claim on the line of the same croppings for $450,[14] was not laughed at as he rode down Gold Cañon at night, shouting with drunken self-complacency, "Oh, I've fooled the Californian!"[15]

          At the close of the year 1859 the hill-inclosed basin at the foot of the Sun Peak presented a curious picture. The ground was torn up in all directions with shallow cuts and pits; diminutive adits pierced the hillsides like the holes of sand swallows in a mound, and the gray carpet of sage-brush was buried under unsightly heaps of sand and crumbling rocks.

          This ignorant expenditure of energy had accomplished little or nothing. The reserved claim of Comstock and Penrod and the northern portion of the Corey claim were the only plots of ground shown to be valuable

 THE MINING CAMP.      61

in addition to the Gold Hill tract, 250 feet in length, and the southern 200 feet of the Ophir claim.[16]  An organization, self-styled the Central Company No. 1, held possession by purchase of the northern 150 feet of the Corey claim,[17] and the 100 feet reserved by Comstock and Penrod had been transferred, on payment of $9,500,[18] to Gabriel Maldonado and Francis J. Hughes, who constituted what was called the Mexican Company.

          The seam of black sulphurets of silver running through the claims of the Central and Ophir companies had been rudely developed by digging large pits following its course downward,[19] and the rich ore as well as its metalliferous casing of reddish-white quartz had been cut out with picks and raised to the surface.  The quartz body was a broken, seamy ledge, 20 feet in width,[20] inclosing a vein of sulphurets from 4 to 15 inches wide at the level reached by the pits on the 1st day of November, 1859, 30 feet from the surface.  The course of the vein was a little west of magnetic north, and it ran downward with the dip of the ledge at an angle of 48° west, increasing in width as the stringers of ore gradually united in a well-defined and compact seam.[21]

          The Ophir Company employed ten miners at wages of from $3 to per day, and had sunk two inclined shafts by the 1st of November to the 30-foot level, opening up the ledge at this point by a large excavation.[22]  The Central Company had an equal number of workmen employed, and the bottom of their shaft had reached the same level.  Fifty-five tons of sulphurets had been taken out by the two companies, and about 1,000 tons of mineralized quartz.  The sulphuret ore was broken up in small pieces and transported in boxes and sacks, on the backs of mules, across the Sierras.[23]

          The first consignment of ore from the mines was carried to San Francisco by James Walsh and Henry Comstock, who arrived on the 30th

62      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

of August, 1859. They sold their freight, 3,151 pounds in all, for $1.50 per pound without difficulty.[24]  This success induced the owners of the "Ophir claim" to ship their rich sulphuret ore to San Francisco as rapidly as it could be extracted, and before the 1st of November, 1859, at which date the freighting season was practically closed, 38 tons had been sent away and delivered to Joseph Mosheimer, of San Francisco, for reduction.[25]  The gross yield of this ore when crushed and smelted was $112,000, so that the profits of the Ophir Company were very large, although the expenses of reduction were $412 per ton and the freightage charges for transportation to San Francisco were $140 per ton.[26]

          The books of J. R. Whitney, consignee's agent at Sacramento, showed that 41,400 pounds of ore were shipped to San Francisco by the Central Company during the season of 1859, and though no record of its value is now attainable, it may safely be assumed that the gross yield was fully $50,000.[27]

          No systematic work was undertaken by any other companies during 1859 except by the Mexican company, which by the end of October had just reached the black sulphuret vein.  Still the metalliferous quartz of their ledge, when crushed in arrastras, yielded a fair return, as did also the mound claims at Gold Hill, though worked rather indolently in most instances.

          The following table, compiled from various sources, furnishes probably the best approximate record attainable of the bullion yield during 1859 and the previous year:

GOLD CANON CLAIMS.

YEAR                Number of       Number of miners.     Daily earnings.           Total.

                        working days.          

1858                120 X              60[28] X                          $3[29] =                           $21,600

                        220 X               20 X                             3=                                  13,200

                                                                                                                        $34,800

THE MINING CAMP.       63

GOLD CANON CLAIMS.

YEAR.               Number of       Number of miners.     Daily earnings.           Total.

                        working days. 

1859                120 X               40 X                             $5 =                             $24,000[30]

CARSON RIVER PLACER.

1859                280 X               50[31] X              $2.50 =                        $35, 000

                                                                                                                        $59,000

COMSTOCK LODE.

Ophir mine, ore smelted                                            $112,000[32]      

Ophir mine, ore reduced in arrastras                       18,000[33]

Central mine, ore smelted                                         50,000[34]          

Central mine, ore reduced in arrastras                    12,000[35]

Mexican mine, ore reduced in arrastras                  15,000[36]          

Gold Hill claims, arrastras and rockers                     50,000[37] =                    $257, 000

                                                                                                                        $316, 000

          On the 2d of November, 1859, a storm came up from the west, burying the hills a foot deep in snow.[38]  The winter had set in early and work on the claims was generally abandoned.  Some of the miners found quarters in the valley towns, but the main body remained near their claims at the foot of the Sun Peak, which had received the more prosaic name of Mount Davidson, in honor of a San Francisco banker, one of the incorporators of the Ophir Company, to whom the shipments of sulphuret ore were consigned.

          Two little towns had sprung up on this ground, one at Gold Hill taking the name of that mound,[39] and the other about the Ophir claim named Virginia City[40] after the first locator of the Virginia ledge and the Gold Hill mound claims, "Old Virginny." A single street had been laid out in October, 1859, by Herman Camp and Henry de Groot, along the supposed line of the Comstock ledge, running therefore nearly north and south, except when it was necessary to make a detour to avoid cabins

64      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

whose owners refused to move.[41]  On the line of this street two houses of roughly cemented stone had been built, surrounded by straggling lines of flimsy huts.[42]  Tents of dirty, ragged canvas pieced out with tattered clothes coated with grime—hovels of pine boards roughly nailed together and pierced by bent and rusty stove-pipes—heaps of broken rocks with shapeless crevices into which men crawled like lizards—shallow pits partly covered over with boards and earth—and embryo adits, dark slimy holes into which the melting snow dripped with a monotonous plash—these were the winter homes of the citizens.

          Fierce whirlwinds, which the shivering miners with invincible humor christened Washoe zephyrs, swept down the sides of Mount Davidson with blinding gusts of snow, unroofing the huts and tossing the mangled tents over the rocks.  The miners swore at the snow and the wind and the market prices, but had no thought of abandoning their camp.  When they had no wood they cut the dry sage-brush and managed to cook their daily bacon over the light crackling fires.  If the snow drifted through the chinks of their huts and covered them with an icy powder, they rolled their blankets more tightly about their bodies and closed their ears to the blasts which howled above their heads.  The sacred thirst for gold had made them insensible to cold, hunger, and fatigue, and they longed for the coming of spring, therefore, not so much as a relief from the sufferings of the winter as because they could begin again their untiring search for hidden veins of ore.  Meanwhile they passed the tedious days in gambling, drinking, and discussing the prospects of the next season.

          On the other side of the Sierras, in cheerful homes of San Francisco, men waited for the spring-time with scarcely less ardent impatience.  The mountain barrier was still covered with snow when that extraordinary movement, called tersely the "Rush to Washoe," had already begun. "Rushes" to different mining districts were common, but since the mighty migration by land and sea toward California in 1849 there had been no excitement equal to this.

          The discovery of gold was already a twice-told tale; the discovery of

THE MINING CAMP.       65

silver was a novel sensation.  The bars of white bullion from the furnaces of Mosheimer were followed by a gathering crowd as they were borne through the streets of San Francisco, and a throng of excited spectators stood all day before the windows of the bankers, Alsop & Co., in which they were displayed.[43]  To some the silver was merely a novel product of neighboring mines; to others the bars were pregnant with dazzling images.  The treasures of Potosi, the ransom of Montezuma, the deep-laden galleons of Spain, and a host of vague memories were awakened by the sight of these masses of bullion. The fever spread rapidly; merchants closed their counting-rooms and clerks left their desks; sailors deserted their ships and mechanics their work-shops; the ranchmen from the plains and the restless swarm of gold-placer miners swelled a migration not unlike the train of children drawn on by the entrancing notes of the piper of Hamelin. How to reach the silver ledges was the absorbing thought, for beyond the Sierras the riches of their dreams appeared before them, and neither inexperience nor poverty could deter such passionate pilgrims from joining the odd troop which began its march over the mountains while the passes were still impassable.

          The boat from San Francisco to Sacramento left the wharf reeling under its load of freight night after night—its decks lumbered up with packages of food, tents, blankets, kettles, and tools, and covered with sprawling figures discussing the interminable silver question and their Washoe Mecca in a dozen different tongues, or snatching uneasy moments of sleep amid the confusion of the moving babel.[44]

          From Sacramento the old emigrant trail led by the way of Placerville over Johnson's Pass into the Valley of the Carson. Although this had been the path of the great overland migration, the road was a rudely-broken track, scarcely fit for wagons even in summer, and when the advance guard reached Placerville the movement was checked by the snow blockade[45] and hundreds of tons of freight accumulated in the streets of the town which could not be dragged across the mountains, although 50 and 60 cents per pound were freely offered to teamsters.[46]

66      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

          The stay was only a transient halt. Pressed on by the crowd behind and the wish to be first at the goal, the vanguard mounted the pass toiling through the snow.[47]  Pack animals carried the necessary food, blankets and tools, or rude sledges were hastily framed and pulled by sure-footed mules harnessed in line over the summit.  Cold, fatigue, and the dangers of the passage were disregarded.  The fear of falling behind in the race for the ledges was the only dread.

          Among this headstrong troop were a few shrewd traders, who saw a richer prize in the fortune-hunters than in their loadstone.  None gauged the demand in the new district more accurately than John L. Moore, who left San Francisco on the 9th of March with his stock of goods, which consisted chiefly of 200 pairs of blankets, costing $2 per pair; 20 dozen tin-plates, costing 22 cents per dozen; 10 gallons brandy, costing $6 per gallon; 10 gallons gin, costing $3.50 per gallon; 30 gallons whisky, costing $3.75 per gallon; 10 gallons rum, costing $3 per gallon; and 70 gallons assorted wines and liquors of various kinds.  The total weight of his invoice was 2,100 pounds. This load he was able to transport by wagon to Placerville, where he counted himself fortunate in securing a pack-train to carry it over the mountains to the new camp at the charge of 50 cents per pound. Emerging, at length, from the snow-drifts, he reached the camp on the last day of March, 1860.

          The gaunt, liquor-laden mules were welcomed by the thirsty miners as well-springs in a desert are hailed by weary travelers. They could scarcely wait while he unpacked his stores, and grumbled at the delay in erecting his canvas tent, 15 by 52 feet in size. The first carpet laid in Virginia City was spread upon its floor, and the first American flag raised in the camp waved from its roof. A canvas partition divided the tent into bar-room and lodging-room, and the new hotel was then open for guests. The side-board of an emigrant wagon served as bar counter, resting on stakes driven into the ground. Before this elaborate preparation was completed the day was far advanced and the miners were ready to sack the store-house. When the precious liquors were at last ranged beside the bar an irresistible rush was made toward the counter, and

THE MINING CAMP.       67

the customers drank faster than they could be served.  Two hundred dollars worth of liquor was sold before night-fall, but the thirst seemed unabated.

          Thirty-six guests slept that night in the lodging-room, 15 by 30 feet in size, paying the charge of $1 for the use of a pair of blankets spread on the ground, and more than fifty applicants for lodging were turned away.  A few favored inmates laid their heads down on pillow ticks stuffed with hay, but the stuffing cost 50 cents per pound, and only a few pounds were to be had at that price.  To fill out the pillows shavings were brought from Gold Hill, but as the bundle was carelessly left outside the tent the starving mules of a pack-train devoured it before morning.

          Fresh supplies of liquor continued to arrive, but food was still scanty. When the first load of flour was brought into camp the demand was so great that it was sold at auction for not less than a dollar per pound.  Nails were in equal request, selling for a dollar per pound, and shovels brought $9 apiece.  The profits of the retail trade may be surmised from the fact that Moore refused a cash offer of $8,000, five times the cost of his whole outfit, "for the lot" on the day before reaching the camp.[48]

          As the snow melted on the mountains the prices of supplies fell somewhat, while the stir of travel increased.  The camp was growing like a mushroom, when the news of an Indian outrage was brought to the mines.  Colored and garbled to suit the narrator's demand for vengeance the story ran that the Nyumas[49] had attacked without provocation a well-known station on the overland route, 20 miles from Virginia City, killed the owners, Oscar and Edwin Williams, as well as three strangers, their guests, and left the charred bodies in the ashes of the burnt cabin.  James Williams, brother of the two station-keepers, alone escaped to tell of the massacre.[50]

          The probable inaccuracy of this report was observed by a few of the cooler heads, but the majority did not stop to hear the other side of the story. Many did not care whether the Williams brothers were the original

68      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

aggressors or not.[51]  It was enough for them to know that the Indians had assumed to act as judges and executioners, for pioneer lynch-law was very different from Pi-Ute lynch-law.  So the appeal for vengeance was echoed by a hundred throats and a motley company mustered from the mining towns and the settlements in the valley, poorly mounted and armed as a rule with wretched muskets and shot-guns, but elated with the transient excitement and the fancied opportunity of "teaching the red devils a lesson."[52]

          The Pi-Utes had been so inoffensive and placable that the idea of their offering any organized or stubborn resistance never entered the minds of the one hundred and six avengers who constituted the irregular posse and intended to administer even-handed justice to the offenders by putting to death as many of the tribe as fell into their hands. Fortunately they met no stragglers on the march down the valley, as the fires of the Pi-Utes, kindled from hill to hill, had given warning of the movement of the enemy, and the tribe was massed near Pyramid Lake, at the mouth of the Carson River.[53]  Besides, the whites advanced so openly and boisterously that no herald was needed to clear the way before them.

          They passed the burnt station and followed the course of the Carson through the desert. As they entered the narrow, rocky valley near the shore of Pyramid Lake they saw a body of mounted Indians on a ridge half a mile distant, and when they approached nearer four or five Indians were observed to separate from the main body and gallop up and down before the advancing force of whites, brandishing guns or spears in a defiant manner as was thought.[54]

          One chief rode forward holding aloft a white object on the end of a staff. Strangely enough this flag of truce appeared to the whites "a shining battle-axe or tomahawk of tin,"[55] and a shot was fired at the bearer, causing him to wheel his black horse suddenly and ride back to his companions.

THE MINING CAMP.       69

          At this rebuff the Indians "yelled like demons," and dismounting from their horses, which remained standing motionless,[56] descended the ridge and began firing at the whites.

          The leader of the attacking company, Major Ormsby, then gave the order to charge, and as the men rushed up the ridge the Indians fell back, and remounting, charged over the valley-bed in squads, wheeling and circling about in the deep sand so rapidly that the tired horses of the whites could not follow them.[57]  At the same moment a second body of Indians on foot attacked the scattered company on the flank[58] and a desultory skirmish began which lasted until the whites, by Ormsby's order, retreated to a deep gulch near the bank of the river, content to maintain a position of defense.

          Here the Indians were held in check for some minutes, when a third division, three or four hundred strong, were seen to advance from the river with the evident intention of attacking the whites in the rear and cutting off their retreat.  Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, "a great panic seized us," said McDonald, one of the leaders, "and a majority of our men broke for the river." The remainder were obliged to follow, a few halting stubbornly and firing last shots with desperate courage.[59]

          Inflamed by success, the Indians swept through the valley in pursuit like hounds when the fox is in sight,[60] overtaking and burying one victim after another under the weight of their writhing bodies.  So Ormsby died with twenty hands at his throat, though shielded for a moment by Natchez, grandson of the old chief.[61]  The retreat became a mad race for life, and only half of the fugitives reached the valley towns in safety.[62]

          The contempt for Indian strategy and prowess was changed instantly to a natural but probably causeless fear. The Pi-Utes had made a skillful defense under the direction of their young chief, Winnemucca, and his

70      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

lieutenant, Joaquin,[63] but they had no intention of following up their advantage by an aggressive movement; in fact the elder Winnemucca, patriarch of the tribe, had counseled peace, and it was by his advice that the flag of truce was borne by Joaquin.[64]

          The Indians had been harassed in many ways by the increase of the white settlers, but had endured the necessary evils with singular patience.  Their fish-preserves had been pre-empted by squatters and their pastures about Pyramid Lake eaten bare by intruding cattle.[65]  They protested against the action of the stockmen,[66] but retaliated in no way until two young girls of the tribe were decoyed by the Williams brothers into their station and most brutally treated.[67]  After an anxious search the relatives of the girls found their prison, and in the natural fury of revenge cut down the offenders and set fire to their cabin.  No innocent person was harmed, and the punishment of the guilty was in accordance with the tribal customs and frontier notions of justice.  When the tribe was attacked indiscriminately by the party under Ormsby the lesson given was a wholesome one, but neither expected nor pleasing.  It was so instructive, however, that the mistake of undervaluing their opponents was not committed a second time.

          The news of the fight at Pyramid Lake was telegraphed across the mountains to California, and a force of cavalry, artillery, and irregular militia troops were dispatched in answer to the panic-stricken call for help.[68]  Virginia City was put under martial-law.[69]  Some of the women and children were sent across the Sierras and the remainder were placed in a rude stone block-house.[70] Prospecting holes and tunnels were deserted; the miners enrolled themselves hastily in companies; rusty arms were furbished up; old scraps of lead and water-pipes were melted and cast in bullet-molds; the camps and valley settlements were scoured for stray flasks of powder; guards were stationed at different points in the town and patrols watched outposts on the surrounding hills.[71]

 THE MINING CAMP.      71

          Some more phlegmatic spirits laughed at the warlike fever, but the alarm was contagious.[72] Finally, a force of 1,000 men was assembled in the valley and marched against the Pi-Utes, the regulars under command of Captain J. Stewart and the militia under their chosen colonel, John C. Hays (May 29, 1860).[73]  The Indians resisted bravely in a sharp skirmish near the place of their former action,[74] but were overmatched and fled to the deserts extending to the northeast,[75] and after a vain attempt at pursuit the little army of whites returned to the valley and disbanded.

          Meanwhile the rush to Washoe, which had been checked by the report of the Indian victory, was renewed with greater vigor than before.  The motley train which stretched in a broken line from Sacramento to the mines calls to mind the grotesque march to Finchley.  Old men and young, waifs from many nations, who had drifted during ten years to the Californian gold fields, with every variety of dress and equipment, mounted and on foot, driving pack-mules, burros, horses, and oxen—dusty, muddy, tired and foot-sore—this oddly-assorted company was knit together by the bond of a common purpose.  In the little stations on their route Piedmontese and Cornishmen, Jews and Catholics, mechanics and scholars, honest men and rogues, snatched their food hastily from the same rude board, splashed with all the stains which the medley of dishes could furnish, and slept at night on the same bed of straw.  When morning came they crawled out from the straw unwashed, unkempt, stiff, bitten by fleas and bugs, and began again their tedious march to the valley of the Carson.

          Along the South Fork of the American River the road during the spring months was for miles a trough of mire, so deep that the mud was often pushed along by a wagon body for rods until the creaking cart came to a stand still, only to be plucked out by the help of a following team, which could not otherwise pass. Volleys of oaths urged the struggling mules up the steeper grades, and the mountain walls re-echoed the incon-

72      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

gruous sounds with startling effect.[76]  The descent to the valley led through Carson Cañon, a precipitous gorge, down which the wagons slipped, pitching and creaking, while the grating shoe-brake squeaked incessantly.

          "The jolts and jars became a torture," wrote a passenger descending in one of the over-crowded coaches.[77]  "We left the stage with one accord and watched it rolling and pitching about among the rocks.  The wheel-horses, threshed about by the jerking, swaying pole, stagger and groan, and the leaders stop and look about them in amazement, wondering, no doubt, at the cool impudence which could locate a road in such a place."  Yet a city in the desert must be built up and sustained by supplies transported over this Sierran barrier. Wagons succeeded pack-mules and sledges.  Through the slough along the bank of the American River only one-third of a full load could be pulled,[78] and to carry 1,500 pounds of freight 50 miles from Placerville $120 was paid in April, 1860.  In May more than 2,000 animals were employed in the work of transportation as the road became more passable, and freight charges fell to 18 cents per pound from Placerville to the mines,[79] or $630 for an average wagon load of 3,500 pounds.

          In September, 1860, three hundred and fifty-three wagons, drawn by four or six mules generally, were counted going and returning between Placerville and Carson Valley,[80] and fifty additional wagons were said to be loading and delivering goods at each end of the route. The round trip was made in from twelve to twenty days, and an average of eight trips during the season. Consequently (453 by 3,500 by 8) 12,764,000 pounds were transported by freight wagons alone, beside nearly 1,000,000 pounds more by pack-mules and other conveyances.[81]  If the amount of custom freight be put at 13,500,000 pounds and the average tariff at 10 cents per pound—a low estimate—the amount paid for transportation in 1860 was $1,350,000.   

          Words can scarcely picture the chaotic confusion in which the camp was plunged by the arrival of these motley swarms. Wretched huts of

THE MINING CAMP        73

canvas, wood, and cobble stones covered the slope, forming a shapeless city traversed by three main lanes[82] styled streets by courtesy.  A restless crowd blocked these narrow passages, flowing in and out of their bordering saloons and gambling houses.[83]  The cheerless hovels were deserted for these lighted rooms, the real homes of the citizens.  Little stacks of gold and silver fringed the monte tables and glittered beneath the swinging lamps.  A ceaseless din of boisterous talk, oaths, and laughter spread from the open doors into the streets.  The rattle of dice, coin, balls, and spinning-markers, the flapping of greasy cards and the chorus of calls and interjections went on day and night, while clouds of tobacco smoke filled the air and blackened the roof-timbers, modifying the stench rising from the stained and greasy floors, soiled clothes, and hot flesh of the unwashed company.[84]  Sometimes the sharp crack of a pistol would bring the players to their feet and the doorway would be choked with a wild rush of all except the two who were settling a trifling dispute by an effective Washoe duel across a table.  When one or both of the disputants were proved to be in the wrong by the issue of the trial by combat, the scattered crowd returned to their former seats with a universal call for liquors, simple and compound.

          Without and within doors a fever of speculation raged without check.[85]   Sales of claims for money were comparatively rare, but barters were incessant.  "Feet" in a thousand locations on cropping rocks or bare ground were bought and sold indiscriminately.  The position or existence even of most of these so-called ledges was scarcely known, but this made little difference, for all claims had a nominal, if fictitious, value and were serviceable for purposes of exchange.  Paper fortunes were made in days by shrewd sales or rumors of rich "strikes" and "assays."  Pockets and hands were filled with bits of quartz or country rock and samples were brandished in the faces of friends and strangers wherever met.  Eyes were strained to detect invisible specks of metal; pyrites was boastingly pointed out as gold, and pieces of worthless galena were gravely presented as black sulphurets of silver.

74      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

          Working miners formed a small part of the speculative troop which had crossed the mountains. Probably half were a swarm of drones, many of whom were penniless and worthless as laborers in any capacity. They could sleep on the sage-brush and in holes like gophers, but they could not eat bitter wood or sand, yet they contrived to subsist by various devices—borrowing money from lucky gamblers, haunting free-lunch counters, pledging "feet" with reckless butchers and bakers, or picking the pockets of good-natured friends. The healthy growth of the camp was hindered by the access of these vagrants even more than by the presence of the unorganized band of bravos who began to bluster about the streets—for one was a clog, the other merely a gad-fly.

          The Indian war had demonstrated the utter inefficacy and feebleness of the civil authority of the district, vested in a justice of the peace and constable at Virginia City and a probate judge at Gold Hill. This was, indeed, so clearly evident before that meetings had been held during the previous year to elect delegates to a so-called Constitutional Convention, which had actually assembled at Genoa July 18, 1859, and framed a constitution ratified at a popular election for State officers, September 7, 1859.[86]  Unfortunately no provision had been made for defraying the expenses of this independent government, and as the legislative assembly-elect was powerless to levy taxes or enforce its authority, it adjourned after gravely receiving the first annual message of the governor, Isaac Roop, and passing a sufficient number of well-intended resolutions.

          The first apparent result of this malcontent demonstration and the appeals to Congress to dismember Utah by creating a new Territory out of its western counties, was to call down upon the heads of the impertinent colonists the long gathering indignation of the Utah Church Council, expressed in vigorous language by the editor of the Salt Lake Mountaineer, a prominent member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. After emptying a vial of wrath in a long and bitter rebuke, he shook out the last drops with the concluding malediction: "Since the first organization of the Territory, Carson has been a most unremunerative burden upon

THE MINING CAMP.       75

Utah.  What is she now?  A worthless unaccountable scab, which cannot find a place in any class of an honest vocabulary.  So let her remain, dried up, buried, and forgotten!"[87]

          Thus gall was given where oil was needed and the citizens of the district were left without relief.  The natural confusion incident to the rapid growth of a new mining camp and the clashing of its turbulent elements was aggravated beyond endurance by the lack of any dominant authority.   The irregular provisional government proved an ineffective farce; the legal Territorial government was estranged and sullenly inactive, and the few county officers were scarcely more than figure-heads.

          The floating scum of the Californian mining towns drifted naturally to the new camp, and their number was swelled by accessions from the volunteers for the Indian war.[88]  They had been tacitly allowed to equip themselves for the alleged defense of Virginia City by levies of all sorts for the good of the service, and this guerrilla method of carrying on the war had rendered them absolutely reckless of any restraint.[89]  They lolled on gambling tables and the bars of saloons and swaggered about the city at all hours of the day and night.  Peace-loving citizens avoided them, but made no effort to call them to account for their frequent outrages, for no jury could be obtained to convict them, and the attempt was certain to expose the complainant to the. malice of the gang dreaded with cause.  When they shot or stabbed one another in their brutal orgies there was a general feeling of relief, but the place of one dead scoundrel was soon filled by a new-comer.

          No adequate conception of this seething life can be given by the method of separate generalities, as Carlyle terms it,[90] but characteristic incidents must be sought for.  The most prominent figure of the crew was a burly ruffian known as Sam.  Brown, who had killed thirteen men in Texas and California, as was reported, before his arrival at Virginia City.[91]  The terror and aversion which this man inspired recall the nursery tales of the days of ogres and their victims.[92]   In the summer of 1859 an agent of the

76      HISTORY OF THE COMSTOCK LODE.

leading western express company called at a station which Brown was then keeping on the Humboldt River and desired something to eat. Brown pointed to a hanging strip of bacon, and the traveler requested the loan of a knife to cut off a slice. With an odd smile Brown pulled out his immense sheath-knife, but immediately thrust it back into his boot-leg, remarking that he had killed five men with that knife and was superstitious about lending it to cut bacon. The visitor was equally scrupulous, and left the cabin without the meat.

          One of Brown's first exploits in the new mining district was a murder, which illustrates vividly the character of the man and the camp. A weak, underwitted bar-room lounger, whose feeble discretion was lost in liquor, staggered up to Brown one day in a saloon and made some remark which the latter considered offensive.[93]  Without a word the giant wound his muscular arm about his victim and, holding him as easily as a cat does a mouse, drove a sheath-knife twice into his quivering body, turning it "Maltese fashion" in his vitals.[94]  Then he flung the bleeding sufferer on the floor, and when, a few moments later, a party took up the man, still breathing faintly, from the red pool beneath the bar, Brown was seen sleeping as calmly as a child on a billiard table in the room.[95]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

[1] Ledge croppings about 6,400 feet above sea-level.

[2] "The Arizonian," Joaquin Miller.

[3] San Juan Press, July, 1859; Sacramento Union, July 26,1859; Marysville Democrat, July 26,1859; Sacramento Union, July 28,1859.

[4] Sacramento Union, September 13, 1859.

[5] Sacramento Union, October 25, 1859; La Porte Mountain Messenger, October 22, 1859.

[6] Joseph Woodworth, William Wright, Henry de Groot.

[7] Henry de Groot, San Francisco, California; Comstock Papers, No. 8; Mining and Scientific Press, November 4, 1876.

[8] James Walsh; Joseph Woodworth.

[9] J. Mosheimer.

[10] Virginia Mining Records, Book A, pp. 75, 76. Deed signed August 12, 1859.

[11] Virginia Mining Records, Book A, pp. 1, 77,128,253, 337; Book B, p. 100; Book C, p. 100; Book D, p. 257. Gold Hill Mining Records, Book A, pp. 5,20; Book B, p. 64. J. A. Osborn was the partner, so-called, of V. A. Houseworth, and assigned to him "for value received" (Gold Hill Records, Book A, p. 10) one-half of his interest or one-twelfth of 1,400 feet on the ledge.  Houseworth assigned one-twenty-fourth of 1,400 feet to B. F. Settle (G. H. R., Book A, p. 5) "for $1 in hand paid."  Strictly speaking, therefore, nineteen-twenty-fourths of 1,400 feet were sold for $70,600, and one-twenty-fourth later, together with one-tenth of 1,500 feet known as the Crown Point Ledge, was sold for $3,000.--(Deed of Settle to Winters; Gold Hill Records, Book A, p. 20.)

[12] Comstock Papers, Nos. 9—14 ; Mining and Scientific Press, November 25, December 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, 1876.

[13] John O. Earl, San Francisco, Cal., 1880.

[14] Deed of Gould to Black, Virginia Mining Records, Book A, p. 86.

[15] Henry de Groot, San Francisco, Cal.

[16] Sacramento Union, October 28, November 4, 1859; Special Correspondent, "Ophir Diggings," October 22, October 30, 1859.

[17] Virginia Mining Records, Book A, pp. 42, 57. Gold Hill Mining Records, Book A, p. 46.

[18] Virginia Mining Records, Book A, p. 128, Book C, p. 100.

[19] Sacramento Union, September 13, 1859.

[20] Sacramento Union, October 25, 1859.

[21] Philip Deidesheimer, Superintendent Hale and Norcross S. M. Company, Virginia City, Nev.

[22] Sacramento Union, November 9, 1859; Special Correspondent, October 31, 1859.

[23] John O. Earl, San Francisco, Cal.; Sacramento Union, November 4, 1859.

[24] James Walsh, March 22,1881.

[25] James Walsh; Joseph Mosheimer.

[26] John O. Earl, San Francisco, Cal.

[27] Sacramento Union, November 4, 1859; report from books of J. R. Whitney, consignee's agent, Sacramento, Cal.

[28] Sacramento Union, March 13, 1858; William Naileigh, Virginla City, Nev., 1880.

[29] Sacramento Union, March 13,1858; William Naileigh, Virginla City, Nev., 1880.

[30] Sacramento Union, October 28, 1859; Special Correspondent, Ophir Diggings, October 22,1859.

[31] Chinese miners chiefly.

[32] J. Mosheimer.

[33] Sacramento Union, November 9, 1859.

[34] Report of J. Whitney, consignee's agent.

[35] Sacramento Union, November 9, 1859; Special Correspondent, Washoe District, October 31, 1859.

[36] Sacramento Union, November 9, 1859; Special Correspondent, Washoe District, October 31, 1859.

[37] La Porte Mountain Messenger, October 22, 1859.

[38] Henry de Groot, San Francisco, Cal., 1880; Census Marshal for Western Utah, 1860.

[39] Named February 8, 1859.-(Territorial Enterprise, June 20, 1875.)

[40] Named at meeting in September, 1859. James Walsh; testimony under oath; S. C. Barnes et al. vs. Consolidated Virginia Mining Company.

[41] Henry de Groot, San Francisco, Cal., 1880.

[42] Early Times.—(Territorial Enterprise, June 20, 1875.) Henry de Groot.

[43] Joseph Mosheimer, San Francisco.

[44] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, March 27, 1860.

[45] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, March 30, 1860; Special Correspondent, Placerville, March 28, 1860.

[46] Sacramento Union, March 31, 1860.

[47] San Francisco Bulletin, April 9, 1860.--(Special Correspondent, Carson City, April 2, 1860.

[48] John L. Moore, Virginia City, Nev.

[49] Popularly termed the "Pi-Utes."

[50] Sacramento Union, May 9, 10, 1860; San Francisco Evening Bulletin, May 12, 1860; Adolf Sutro, Bulletin Correspondent, May 9, 1860; San Francisco Herald Correspondent, Carson City, May 16, 1860; Henry de Groot.

[51] Henry de Groot, Isaac E. James, Frank Soule.

[52] Sacramento Union, May 14, 15, 1860.

[53] Natchez, grandson of Winnemucca, chief of tribe, 1860.

[54] Adolf Sutro, Correspondent San Francisco Bulletin, Virginia City, Nevada, May 15, 1860. Full report from statements of Capt. A. McDonald, Joseph Baldwin, and others, "the most trustworthy members of attacking party."

[55] Sacramento Union, May 31, 1860.

[56] A resemblance worth noting to the training of the horses of the Suebi.—(De Bello Gallico, Comm. III, chap. I, II.)

[57] Adolf Sutro, May 15, 1860.

[58] Natchez, grandson of Winnemucca, 1880.

[59] Sacramento Union, June 4, 1860; Carson Valley Correspondent, May 29. 1860.

[60] Ira A. Eaton, San Francisco Alta Correspondent, May 15, 1860, Virginia City.

[61] Natchez.

[62] "Seventy-six killed;" William Wright, "Big Bonanza," p. 120; Editor of Sacramento Union, June 4, 1860. "Fifty-nine, including wounded;" record from company rolls furnished San Francisco Evening Bulletin by A. B. Trask, probably more accurate.

[63] Natchez, grandson of the elder Winnemucca.

[64] Natchez.

[65] Frank Soule, writing from Virginia City, April 21, 1860.

[66] Henry de Groot.

[67] Sarah Winnemucca, granddaughter of Winnemucca; Henry de Groot.

[68] Indian Campaign, 1860.--(Territorial Enterprise, June 21, 1872.)

[69] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, May 13, 1860.

[70] Henry de Groot, Isaac E. James. San Francisco Evening Bulletin, May 21, 1860.

[71] Henry de Groot.

[72] Sacramento Union, May 19, 1860.

[73] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, June 7, 1860; Special Correspondent with troops, May 30, June 1, June 2, 1860.

[74] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, June 2, 1860

[75] Sacramento Union, June 9, 1860. A few months later they were permitted to return unmolested to their homes on Pyramid Lake, and to mingle as curious visitors with the citizens of the mining camps.

[76] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, April 9, 1860.

[77] Sacramento Union, November 15, 1859.

[78] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, April 9, 1860.

[79] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, May 12, 1860.

[80] Territorial Enterprise, September 29, 1860.

[81] Placerville Democrat, September 29, 1860.

[82] Henry de Groot.

[83] San Francisco Evening Bulletin, March 16, 1860.

[84] Sacramento Union, April 25 and October 8, 1860.

[85] Harpers' Magazine, December, 1860; Peep at Washoe, J. Ross Browne.

[86] Territorial Enterprise, July 13, 1860, "Nevada, its Past and Present;" Nevada Directory, 1862, "Political History of Nevada;" Territorial Enterprise, June 13, 1872, "Historical Reminiscences."

[87] Sacramento Union, December 22, 1860.

[88] Henry de Groot. San Francisco Evening Bulletin, May 31, June 1, 1860.

[89] Henry de Groot, William A. Stewart, James Morgan.

[90] Carlyle's Essays—Burns.

[91] William A. Stewart.

[92] Territorial Enterprise, July 13, 1861. "Brown's Obituary."

[93] Henry de Groot, first Census Marshal Nevada Territory.

[94] Frank Soule, May 25, 1860, Correspondent San Francisco Alta.

[95] James Morgan, eye-witness, San Francisco, Cal.