I met men at every turn who owned from one thousand to thirty thousand
"feet" in undeveloped silver mines, every single foot of which they
believed would shortly be worth from fifty to a thousand dollars--and as
often as any other way they were men who had not twenty-five dollars in
the world. Every man you met had his new mine to boast of, and his
"specimens" ready; and if the opportunity offered, he would infallibly
back you into a corner and offer as a favor to you, not to him, to part
with just a few feet in the "Golden Age," or the "Sarah Jane," or some
other unknown stack of croppings, for money enough to get a "square meal"
with, as the phrase went. And you were never to reveal that he had made
you the offer at such a ruinous price, for it was only out of friendship
for you that he was willing to make the sacrifice. Then he would fish a
piece of rock out of his pocket, and after looking mysteriously around as
if he feared he might be waylaid and robbed if caught with such wealth in
his possession, he would dab the rock against his tongue, clap an
eyeglass to it, and exclaim:
"Look at that! Right there in that red dirt! See it? See the specks of
gold? And the streak of silver? That's from the Uncle Abe. There's a
hundred thousand tons like that in sight! Right in sight, mind you!
And when we get down on it and the ledge comes in solid, it will be the
richest thing in the world! Look at the assay! I don't want you to
believe me--look at the assay!"
Then he would get out a greasy sheet of paper which showed that the
portion of rock assayed had given evidence of containing silver and gold
in the proportion of so many hundreds or thousands of dollars to the ton.
I little knew, then, that the custom was to hunt out the richest piece of
rock and get it assayed! Very often, that piece, the size of a filbert,
was the only fragment in a ton that had a particle of metal in it--and
yet the assay made it pretend to represent the average value of the ton
of rubbish it came from!
On such a system of assaying as that, the Humboldt world had gone crazy.
On the authority of such assays its newspaper correspondents were
frothing about rock worth four and seven thousand dollars a ton!
And does the reader remember, a few pages back, the calculations, of a
quoted correspondent, whereby the ore is to be mined and shipped all the
way to England, the metals extracted, and the gold and silver contents
received back by the miners as clear profit, the copper, antimony and
other things in the ore being sufficient to pay all the expenses
incurred? Everybody's head was full of such "calculations" as those--
such raving insanity, rather. Few people took work into their
calculations--or outlay of money either; except the work and expenditures
of other people.
We never touched our tunnel or our shaft again. Why? Because we judged
that we had learned the real secret of success in silver mining--which
was, not to mine the silver ourselves by the sweat of our brows and the
labor of our hands, but to sell the ledges to the dull slaves of toil and
let them do the mining!
Before leaving Carson, the Secretary and I had purchased "feet" from
various Esmeralda stragglers. We had expected immediate returns of
bullion, but were only afflicted with regular and constant "assessments"
instead--demands for money wherewith to develop the said mines. These
assessments had grown so oppressive that it seemed necessary to look into
the matter personally. Therefore I projected a pilgrimage to Carson and
thence to Esmeralda. I bought a horse and started, in company with
Mr. Ballou and a gentleman named Ollendorff, a Prussian--not the party
who has inflicted so much suffering on the world with his wretched
foreign grammars, with their interminable repetitions of questions which
never have occurred and are never likely to occur in any conversation
among human beings. We rode through a snow-storm for two or three days,
and arrived at "Honey Lake Smith's," a sort of isolated inn on the Carson
river. It was a two-story log house situated on a small knoll in the
midst of the vast basin or desert through which the sickly Carson winds
its melancholy way. Close to the house were the Overland stage stables,
built of sun-dried bricks. There was not another building within several
leagues of the place. Towards sunset about twenty hay-wagons arrived and
camped around the house and all the teamsters came in to supper--a very,
very rough set. There were one or two Overland stage drivers there,
also, and half a dozen vagabonds and stragglers; consequently the house
was well crowded.
We walked out, after supper, and visited a small Indian camp in the
vicinity. The Indians were in a great hurry about something, and were
packing up and getting away as fast as they could. In their broken
English they said, "By'm-by, heap water!" and by the help of signs made
us understand that in their opinion a flood was coming. The weather was
perfectly clear, and this was not the rainy season. There was about a
foot of water in the insignificant river--or maybe two feet; the stream
was not wider than a back alley in a village, and its banks were scarcely
higher than a man's head.
So, where was the flood to come from? We canvassed the subject awhile
and then concluded it was a ruse, and that the Indians had some better
reason for leaving in a hurry than fears of a flood in such an
exceedingly dry time.
At seven in the evening we went to bed in the second story--with our
clothes on, as usual, and all three in the same bed, for every available
space on the floors, chairs, etc., was in request, and even then there
was barely room for the housing of the inn's guests. An hour later we
were awakened by a great turmoil, and springing out of bed we picked our
way nimbly among the ranks of snoring teamsters on the floor and got to
the front windows of the long room. A glance revealed a strange
spectacle, under the moonlight. The crooked Carson was full to the brim,
and its waters were raging and foaming in the wildest way--sweeping
around the sharp bends at a furious speed, and bearing on their surface a
chaos of logs, brush and all sorts of rubbish. A depression, where its
bed had once been, in other times, was already filling, and in one or two
places the water was beginning to wash over the main bank. Men were
flying hither and thither, bringing cattle and wagons close up to the
house, for the spot of high ground on which it stood extended only some
thirty feet in front and about a hundred in the rear. Close to the old
river bed just spoken of, stood a little log stable, and in this our
horses were lodged.
While we looked, the waters increased so fast in this place that in a few
minutes a torrent was roaring by the little stable and its margin
encroaching steadily on the logs. We suddenly realized that this flood
was not a mere holiday spectacle, but meant damage--and not only to the
small log stable but to the Overland buildings close to the main river,
for the waves had now come ashore and were creeping about the foundations
and invading the great hay-corral adjoining. We ran down and joined the
crowd of excited men and frightened animals. We waded knee-deep into the
log stable, unfastened the horses and waded out almost waist-deep, so
fast the waters increased. Then the crowd rushed in a body to the hay-
corral and began to tumble down the huge stacks of baled hay and roll the
bales up on the high ground by the house. Meantime it was discovered
that Owens, an overland driver, was missing, and a man ran to the large
stable, and wading in, boot-top deep, discovered him asleep in his bed,
awoke him, and waded out again. But Owens was drowsy and resumed his
nap; but only for a minute or two, for presently he turned in his bed,
his hand dropped over the side and came in contact with the cold water!
It was up level with the mattress! He waded out, breast-deep, almost,
and the next moment the sun-burned bricks melted down like sugar and the
big building crumbled to a ruin and was washed away in a twinkling.
At eleven o'clock only the roof of the little log stable was out of
water, and our inn was on an island in mid-ocean. As far as the eye
could reach, in the moonlight, there was no desert visible, but only a
level waste of shining water. The Indians were true prophets, but how
did they get their information? I am not able to answer the question.
We remained cooped up eight days and nights with that curious crew.
Swearing, drinking and card playing were the order of the day, and
occasionally a fight was thrown in for variety. Dirt and vermin--but let
us forget those features; their profusion is simply inconceivable--it is
better that they remain so.
There were two men----however, this chapter is long enough.