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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XXVI

Roughing It

Chapter XXVI


By and by I was smitten with the silver fever. "Prospecting parties"
were leaving for the mountains every day, and discovering and taking
possession of rich silver-bearing lodes and ledges of quartz. Plainly
this was the road to fortune. The great "Gould and Curry" mine was held
at three or four hundred dollars a foot when we arrived; but in two
months it had sprung up to eight hundred. The "Ophir" had been worth
only a mere trifle, a year gone by, and now it was selling at nearly four
thousand dollars a foot! Not a mine could be named that had not
experienced an astonishing advance in value within a short time.
Everybody was talking about these marvels. Go where you would, you heard
nothing else, from morning till far into the night. Tom So-and-So had
sold out of the "Amanda Smith" for $40,000--hadn't a cent when he "took
up" the ledge six months ago. John Jones had sold half his interest in
the "Bald Eagle and Mary Ann" for $65,000, gold coin, and gone to the
States for his family. The widow Brewster had "struck it rich" in the
"Golden Fleece" and sold ten feet for $18,000--hadn't money enough to buy
a crape bonnet when Sing-Sing Tommy killed her husband at Baldy Johnson's
wake last spring. The "Last Chance" had found a "clay casing" and knew
they were "right on the ledge"--consequence, "feet" that went begging
yesterday were worth a brick house apiece to-day, and seedy owners who
could not get trusted for a drink at any bar in the country yesterday
were roaring drunk on champagne to-day and had hosts of warm personal
friends in a town where they had forgotten how to bow or shake hands from
long-continued want of practice. Johnny Morgan, a common loafer, had
gone to sleep in the gutter and waked up worth a hundred thousand
dollars, in consequence of the decision in the "Lady Franklin and Rough
and Ready" lawsuit. And so on--day in and day out the talk pelted our
ears and the excitement waxed hotter and hotter around us.

I would have been more or less than human if I had not gone mad like the
rest. Cart-loads of solid silver bricks, as large as pigs of lead, were
arriving from the mills every day, and such sights as that gave substance
to the wild talk about me. I succumbed and grew as frenzied as the
craziest.

Every few days news would come of the discovery of a bran-new mining
region; immediately the papers would teem with accounts of its richness,
and away the surplus population would scamper to take possession. By the
time I was fairly inoculated with the disease, "Esmeralda" had just had a
run and "Humboldt" was beginning to shriek for attention. "Humboldt!
Humboldt!" was the new cry, and straightway Humboldt, the newest of the
new, the richest of the rich, the most marvellous of the marvellous
discoveries in silver-land was occupying two columns of the public prints
to "Esmeralda's" one. I was just on the point of starting to Esmeralda,
but turned with the tide and got ready for Humboldt. That the reader may
see what moved me, and what would as surely have moved him had he been
there, I insert here one of the newspaper letters of the day. It and
several other letters from the same calm hand were the main means of
converting me. I shall not garble the extract, but put it in just as it
appeared in the Daily Territorial Enterprise:

     But what about our mines? I shall be candid with you. I shall
     express an honest opinion, based upon a thorough examination.
     Humboldt county is the richest mineral region upon God's footstool.
     Each mountain range is gorged with the precious ores. Humboldt is
     the true Golconda.

     The other day an assay of mere croppings yielded exceeding four
     thousand dollars to the ton. A week or two ago an assay of just
     such surface developments made returns of seven thousand dollars to
     the ton. Our mountains are full of rambling prospectors. Each day
     and almost every hour reveals new and more startling evidences of
     the profuse and intensified wealth of our favored county. The metal
     is not silver alone. There are distinct ledges of auriferous ore.
     A late discovery plainly evinces cinnabar. The coarser metals are
     in gross abundance. Lately evidences of bituminous coal have been
     detected. My theory has ever been that coal is a ligneous
     formation. I told Col. Whitman, in times past, that the
     neighborhood of Dayton (Nevada) betrayed no present or previous
     manifestations of a ligneous foundation, and that hence I had no
     confidence in his lauded coal mines. I repeated the same doctrine
     to the exultant coal discoverers of Humboldt. I talked with my
     friend Captain Burch on the subject. My pyrhanism vanished upon his
     statement that in the very region referred to he had seen petrified
     trees of the length of two hundred feet. Then is the fact
     established that huge forests once cast their grim shadows over this
     remote section. I am firm in the coal faith.

     Have no fears of the mineral resources of Humboldt county. They are
     immense--incalculable.

Let me state one or two things which will help the reader to better
comprehend certain items in the above. At this time, our near neighbor,
Gold Hill, was the most successful silver mining locality in Nevada. It
was from there that more than half the daily shipments of silver bricks
came. "Very rich" (and scarce) Gold Hill ore yielded from $100 to $400
to the ton; but the usual yield was only $20 to $40 per ton--that is to
say, each hundred pounds of ore yielded from one dollar to two dollars.
But the reader will perceive by the above extract, that in Humboldt from
one fourth to nearly half the mass was silver! That is to say, every one
hundred pounds of the ore had from two hundred dollars up to about three
hundred and fifty in it. Some days later this same correspondent wrote:

     I have spoken of the vast and almost fabulous wealth of this
     region--it is incredible. The intestines of our mountains are
     gorged with precious ore to plethora. I have said that nature
     has so shaped our mountains as to furnish most excellent
     facilities for the working of our mines. I have also told you
     that the country about here is pregnant with the finest mill
     sites in the world. But what is the mining history of Humboldt?
     The Sheba mine is in the hands of energetic San Francisco
     capitalists. It would seem that the ore is combined with metals
     that render it difficult of reduction with our imperfect mountain
     machinery. The proprietors have combined the capital and labor
     hinted at in my exordium. They are toiling and probing. Their
     tunnel has reached the length of one hundred feet. From primal
     assays alone, coupled with the development of the mine and public
     confidence in the continuance of effort, the stock had reared
     itself to eight hundred dollars market value. I do not know that
     one ton of the ore has been converted into current metal. I do
     know that there are many lodes in this section that surpass the
     Sheba in primal assay value. Listen a moment to the calculations
     of the Sheba operators. They purpose transporting the ore
     concentrated to Europe. The conveyance from Star City (its
     locality) to Virginia City will cost seventy dollars per ton;
     from Virginia to San Francisco, forty dollars per ton; from
     thence to Liverpool, its destination, ten dollars per ton. Their
     idea is that its conglomerate metals will reimburse them their
     cost of original extraction, the price of transportation, and the
     expense of reduction, and that then a ton of the raw ore will net
     them twelve hundred dollars. The estimate may be extravagant.
     Cut it in twain, and the product is enormous, far transcending
     any previous developments of our racy Territory.

     A very common calculation is that many of our mines will yield
     five hundred dollars to the ton. Such fecundity throws the Gould
     & Curry, the Ophir and the Mexican, of your neighborhood, in the
     darkest shadow. I have given you the estimate of the value of a
     single developed mine. Its richness is indexed by its market
     valuation. The people of Humboldt county are feet crazy. As I
     write, our towns are near deserted. They look as languid as a
     consumptive girl. What has become of our sinewy and athletic
     fellow-citizens? They are coursing through ravines and over
     mountain tops. Their tracks are visible in every direction.
     Occasionally a horseman will dash among us. His steed betrays
     hard usage. He alights before his adobe dwelling, hastily
     exchanges courtesies with his townsmen, hurries to an assay
     office and from thence to the District Recorder's. In the
     morning, having renewed his provisional supplies, he is off again
     on his wild and unbeaten route. Why, the fellow numbers already
     his feet by the thousands. He is the horse-leech. He has the
     craving stomach of the shark or anaconda. He would conquer
     metallic worlds.

This was enough. The instant we had finished reading the above article,
four of us decided to go to Humboldt. We commenced getting ready at
once. And we also commenced upbraiding ourselves for not deciding
sooner--for we were in terror lest all the rich mines would be found and
secured before we got there, and we might have to put up with ledges that
would not yield more than two or three hundred dollars a ton, maybe. An
hour before, I would have felt opulent if I had owned ten feet in a Gold
Hill mine whose ore produced twenty-five dollars to the ton; now I was
already annoyed at the prospect of having to put up with mines the
poorest of which would be a marvel in Gold Hill.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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