When we finally left for Esmeralda, horseback, we had an addition to the
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company in the person of Capt. John Nye, the Governor's brother. He had
a good memory, and a tongue hung in the middle. This is a combination
which gives immortality to conversation. Capt. John never suffered the
talk to flag or falter once during the hundred and twenty miles of the
journey. In addition to his conversational powers, he had one or two
other endowments of a marked character. One was a singular "handiness"
about doing anything and everything, from laying out a railroad or
organizing a political party, down to sewing on buttons, shoeing a horse,
or setting a broken leg, or a hen. Another was a spirit of accommodation
that prompted him to take the needs, difficulties and perplexities of
anybody and everybody upon his own shoulders at any and all times, and
dispose of them with admirable facility and alacrity--hence he always
managed to find vacant beds in crowded inns, and plenty to eat in the
emptiest larders. And finally, wherever he met a man, woman or child, in
camp, inn or desert, he either knew such parties personally or had been
acquainted with a relative of the same. Such another traveling comrade
was never seen before. I cannot forbear giving a specimen of the way in
which he overcame difficulties. On the second day out, we arrived, very
tired and hungry, at a poor little inn in the desert, and were told that
the house was full, no provisions on hand, and neither hay nor barley to
spare for the horses--must move on. The rest of us wanted to hurry on
while it was yet light, but Capt. John insisted on stopping awhile.
We dismounted and entered. There was no welcome for us on any face.
Capt. John began his blandishments, and within twenty minutes he had
accomplished the following things, viz.: found old acquaintances in three
teamsters; discovered that he used to go to school with the landlord's
mother; recognized his wife as a lady whose life he had saved once in
California, by stopping her runaway horse; mended a child's broken toy
and won the favor of its mother, a guest of the inn; helped the hostler
bleed a horse, and prescribed for another horse that had the "heaves";
treated the entire party three times at the landlord's bar; produced a
later paper than anybody had seen for a week and sat himself down to read
the news to a deeply interested audience. The result, summed up, was as
follows: The hostler found plenty of feed for our horses; we had a trout
supper, an exceedingly sociable time after it, good beds to sleep in, and
a surprising breakfast in the morning--and when we left, we left lamented
by all! Capt. John had some bad traits, but he had some uncommonly
valuable ones to offset them with.
Esmeralda was in many respects another Humboldt, but in a little more
forward state. The claims we had been paying assessments on were
entirely worthless, and we threw them away. The principal one cropped
out of the top of a knoll that was fourteen feet high, and the inspired
Board of Directors were running a tunnel under that knoll to strike the
ledge. The tunnel would have to be seventy feet long, and would then
strike the ledge at the same dept that a shaft twelve feet deep would
have reached! The Board were living on the "assessments." [N.B.--This
hint comes too late for the enlightenment of New York silver miners; they
have already learned all about this neat trick by experience.] The Board
had no desire to strike the ledge, knowing that it was as barren of
silver as a curbstone. This reminiscence calls to mind Jim Townsend's
tunnel. He had paid assessments on a mine called the "Daley" till he was
well-nigh penniless. Finally an assessment was levied to run a tunnel
two hundred and fifty feet on the Daley, and Townsend went up on the hill
to look into matters.
He found the Daley cropping out of the apex of an exceedingly sharp-
pointed peak, and a couple of men up there "facing" the proposed tunnel.
Townsend made a calculation. Then he said to the men:
"So you have taken a contract to run a tunnel into this hill two hundred
and fifty feet to strike this ledge?"
"Well, do you know that you have got one of the most expensive and
arduous undertakings before you that was ever conceived by man?"
"Why no--how is that?"
"Because this hill is only twenty-five feet through from side to side;
and so you have got to build two hundred and twenty-five feet of your
tunnel on trestle-work!"
The ways of silver mining Boards are exceedingly dark and sinuous.
We took up various claims, and commenced shafts and tunnels on them, but
never finished any of them. We had to do a certain amount of work on
each to "hold" it, else other parties could seize our property after the
expiration of ten days. We were always hunting up new claims and doing a
little work on them and then waiting for a buyer--who never came. We
never found any ore that would yield more than fifty dollars a ton; and
as the mills charged fifty dollars a ton for working ore and extracting
the silver, our pocket-money melted steadily away and none returned to
take its place. We lived in a little cabin and cooked for ourselves; and
altogether it was a hard life, though a hopeful one--for we never ceased
to expect fortune and a customer to burst upon us some day.
At last, when flour reached a dollar a pound, and money could not be
borrowed on the best security at less than eight per cent a month (I
being without the security, too), I abandoned mining and went to milling.
That is to say, I went to work as a common laborer in a quartz mill, at
ten dollars a week and board.