February 1, 2012

Nevada's Online State News Journal




Nevada History:

 ["Silver Pen," Letter from Washoe, Alta California, March 7, 1860]




VIRGINIA CITY, February 29th, 1860.

Crossing the Sierra.

            The growing importance of this Territory, its acknowledged mineral wealth, and the excitement now existing in relation to it, justify me in giving you the result of my experience and observation, after two weeks residence in the heart of the mineral district. As I propose to write nothing but my own observations, I will commence at Placerville, which is the point of departure and place of outfit for those who contemplate visiting this country. Just two weeks ago to-day I found myself at Placerville — of course ignorant of the necessary requirements for the trip. I can, in a few words, give you the idea of everything wanted for the journey : Warm, coarse, strong clothing ; thick water-proof boots ; not less than four pair of blankets, which may be packed through, for they are not required till you arrive. You will have a mule for the trip from Placerville for the first twenty or twenty-five miles. A thick, warm overcoat and gloves are all that are needed, as you find roadside hotels, with beds and accommodations, all the way. The journey is made to Genoa in two days and a half — from Genoa to Carson City (eighteen miles) is made in stages, at $3 ; from Carson to Virginia (eighteen miles) expenses were $4. Beds are fifty cents per night ; meals $1 each.

            The story of hardships, snows, severe colds, and all kindred perils, is pure romance ; a lady can make the trip, and many have made it within the past few days. The journey is a most delightful one. As you get among the magnificent trees, in the midst of snows, with deep ravines, towering mountains, beetling cliffs, roaring torrents, and beautiful streams leaping down rocky caρons, and coursing through valleys, the scene is inspiriting and grand. Nothing can be more sublime than when the early morning sun lights up mountain and forest, covered, as they are, to their summits, with snow, and the trees, bearing upon every leaf and sprig and limb, the sparkling ice-drops and the frosted snow. The view from the summit of the Sierra, embracing the Bigler Lake, the lengthened valley, and the surrounding hills, is truly sublime. After leaving the Lake Valley, which lies between the summits, you descend to Hope Valley, a cold, bleak, and bad place. It is the St. Bernard of the Sierras.

Carson Valley.

            You enter Carson Canon, and reach a roadside inn, called Woodfords, which is the first house in Carson Valley. From Woodford's to Genoa is through the valley, with farm-houses and farms lining the way. At Genoa don't stop at Sands' Hotel.

            Genoa is a small place, of perhaps twenty or thirty board houses. It is the capital of Carson county ; has a clerk of the U. S. District Court, a Recorder, Justice of the Peace, and all the Federal and Territorial officers in this part of the Territory.

Carson City.

            Carson City is the central town of the valley, and in the opinion of all who are not too nearly identified with other places, it is supposed will be the distributing point of this region. It is claimed under original possession, is laid off in straight rectangular streets, lies on a plain, has a great absurd bleak Plaza in the centre of it, contains two or three hotels, some adobe houses, more board shanties, a printing office, two or three law firms, and one or two lawyers. John C. Fall has a store there. Lindner & Co., Comstock & Co., Cook, Kelly & Mott, and perhaps others, have established mercantile houses, have a large stock of goods, and are charging large prices for them. On the road from Carson to Virginia, you pass the mining region of the Devil's Gate, and Gold Hill districts. John Town and Silver City, are mining camps struggling for the position and dignity of towns.

Virginia City.

            The caρon for ten miles before reaching Virginia is being worked for gold, and is paying largely. Virginia is a mining camp, located in the midst of barren and now snow-clad hills, contains some fifty houses, with people enough to fill at least two hundred — many are living in tents, some in holes in the ground, and not a few in the mouths of tunnels. Then are here some fifteen substantial and comfortable stone houses, the remainder are frail board tenements and cloth houses. Lumber cannot be obtained at any price, unless it has been contracted for before hand, and then, delivered at Virginia City, is worth $200 per thousand feet.

            Substantial meals of rough fare are roughly served at one dollar per meal.

List of the Principal Silver Leads.

            Virginia City is the centre of the silver mining, although mines of metal are found as far up the Carson river as Genoa. North of us is the Galena district, where very remarkable specimens of galena have been found, and is supposed to be rich also in silver. Nearly all the silver contains lead ; and it is supposed that when lead is found in so pure a state, much silver will be with it. The most reputable mines in the Galena district are the Steamboat and the Phoenix.

            The Flowery District lies to the east of this place, and has the best reputation fur silver leads of any district ; in it lie the Desert mine, the Rogers and the Mammoth Lead, upon which is the Lady Bryan Company, supposed to be the most prolific of silver in the Territory (always excepting the Comstock lead, to which I will refer hereafter.) The Mammoth crops out higher, and has a broader width of ore visible than any other lead. The Marco Polo company lies upon the same lead, near by it. The Morning Star lead and the Cedar Company are of growing reputation. The Rock Island, Independent, and many others, have good names, and command good prices. The Gold Hill district lies immediately south of us. The Gold Hill lead, the Sucker load, and the Emigrant lead, are of some repute ; the last is rich in gold. South of the Gold Hill lies the Devil's Gate, or Silver City, and is, so far as I can ascertain, next to the Flowery district, one of the best in the Territory. Its distance, and my newness in this region, prevent me from giving names of leads or companies or reliable prospects.

The Great Comstock Lead.

            In the Virginia district lies the famous Comstock lead. Upon this the Ophir Company, the Mexican Company and the Central Company are now engaged in extracting ore of fabulous richness. These Company's shares command high prices. I have acted as the agent in a proposition to pay the Mexican Company $100,000 in cash for 50 feet of their lead. The proposition was refused.

            The Ophir Company's ground indicates richer ore than the Mexican, and commands high prices ; to buy into one of these companies is like buying a banking house for less money than is exposed upon the trays, with a chance at the treasure of its vaults. In my opinion, and in the opinion of men of calm judgment, there is more than $100,000 worth of ore visible already, extracted from the Mexican claim. This mine is worked more and better than the Ophir. It is, however, proper to say, that the Mexican Company have, from a low point, run a tunnel to drain their claim, and have passed some eighty feet beyond their location, and have not struck the lead. The theory of Macy therefor, is, that the mine possesses no depth, and by a possibility, may be only an offshoot or slide from the Virginia lead, which lies higher up upon the mountain in the rear of the Comstock lead, and running parallel to it

            There is very great excitement here in relation to silver discoveries, and many, very many, are destined to severe disappointment. Leads are located and companies formed, where there is no more indication of silver than on Telegraph Hill. I have seen no certain evidence of silver ore, except upon the Comstock, Mammoth, Rogers', and Desert leads. Still, I have do doubt of the inexhaustible mineral wealth of the Territory. But the man in San Francisco who would buy an interest in this Territory, without either by himself or a reliable agent first examining the ground — and, above all things else, examining the record — is a gambler at desperate chances. Three-card monte and the string game are nothing compared to buying blind silver leads.

Prospecting in Washoe.

            Each mining district is provided with a Recorder, who writes out in a book, in the order of presentation, all locations, transfers, etc. Prospecting is the substantial business of the great number here. A small party of two or three is formed ; a jackass to carry blankets and grub procured ; a pick, bottle of nitric acid, salt, tallow candle, and glass tubes are the necessaries of the expedition. A bottle of whiskey is also deemed desirable. A cropping of quartz rock invites examination, if the tests discover silver, or indicate any such mineral, the claim is located to the extent allowed by the mining laws — 200 or 300 feet — the names of friends or fictitious names are inserted, to cover all the visible or probable lead. The Recorder charges fifty cents per name. The rock is brought in and submitted to further test ; if rich, the speculator buys, sometimes very low ; then commences the blow and brag to pull it into notoriety ; then follows a rush to locate at either extremity of the lead, or alongside of it, or on top of it, as the case may be. There are very few claims of any value not in the utmost confusion of title and mystery of description. If there shall ever be established here a judicial system, there is a beautiful prospect of litigation ; if there be no courts, then there is too much reason to fear force and violence

Law and Government.

            At present there are no court and no laws in force. One or two murders have been committed, and no arrest ever made. The Territorial Judges are absent, and those Judges holding commissions from the Utah Legislature are not respected. The strong feeling against the Mormons prevents any recognition of their authority.

            There is a Judge at Genoa, called Probate Judge, holding commission from the Governor of Utah. His jurisdiction is most ample and extended, having the powers of a District Judge in California ; also probate jurisdiction. He is Supervisor and Auditor of the county. In the exercise of the functions of his office he is clothed with a most unbounded discretion. Among the Californians coming in here there is a growing disposition to recognize his authority, deeming it better to have Mormon law than no law — better to have Mormon authority than chaos. The return of Judge Cradlebaugh is anxiously looked for, and it is hoped Congress may do something towards forwarding the interests of the Territory. I cannot give you an idea of the character of the laws enacted by the Mormon Legislature ; their book of statutes is very rare here. I have only seen one copy. I had that long enough to see that legislation at Salt Lake is calculated to protect Mormons and to fleece Gentiles passing through their territory. Their Attachment Law is very remarkable. I will give you an idea of it, and other laws, in some future communication.

Every Man worth $50,000.

            There are many San Franciscans here — some are prospecting, some speculating. Some buying parties are here who contemplate the erection of smelting furnaces — or, at least, works for the reduction of ores. I have seen almost every known mineral in the world here — gold, silver, copper, lead, copperas, antimony, bismuth, plumbago, etc., etc. Lead I have been in an almost pure state ; also copper. Already mines of silver, or, at least, silver indications, have been discovered for an extent of country of sixty miles in length, and, perhaps, fifteen miles in width.

            Everything bears the appearance of California in 1849. Red shirts and gray are moving to and fro with blankets, pick and pan. In the towns rude houses are hastily thrown together. The saloons are crowded. Gambling is conducted openly — faro and monte tables are in active operation in every camp, and heavy betting indicates an abundance of money. However, there is more prospective wealth than present coin. Men have claims in their own estimation worth thousands of dollars, without a cent in their pockets. Everybody talks rich. I have seen no man yet who thinks himself worth less than $50,000 ; but I have seen a good many get trusted for drinks and meals.