The "flush times" held bravely on. Something over two years before, Mr.
Goodman and another journeyman printer, had borrowed forty dollars and
set out from San Francisco to try their fortunes in the new city of
Virginia. They found the Territorial Enterprise, a poverty-stricken
weekly journal, gasping for breath and likely to die. They bought it,
type, fixtures, good-will and all, for a thousand dollars, on long time.
The editorial sanctum, news-room, press-room, publication office, bed-
chamber, parlor, and kitchen were all compressed into one apartment and
it was a small one, too. The editors and printers slept on the floor, a
Chinaman did their cooking, and the "imposing-stone" was the general
dinner table. But now things were changed. The paper was a great daily,
printed by steam; there were five editors and twenty-three compositors;
the subscription price was sixteen dollars a year; the advertising rates
were exorbitant, and the columns crowded. The paper was clearing from
six to ten thousand dollars a month, and the "Enterprise Building" was
finished and ready for occupation--a stately fireproof brick. Every day
from five all the way up to eleven columns of "live" advertisements were
left out or crowded into spasmodic and irregular "supplements."
The "Gould & Curry" company were erecting a monster hundred-stamp mill at
a cost that ultimately fell little short of a million dollars. Gould &
Curry stock paid heavy dividends--a rare thing, and an experience
confined to the dozen or fifteen claims located on the "main lead," the
"Comstock." The Superintendent of the Gould & Curry lived, rent free, in
a fine house built and furnished by the company. He drove a fine pair of
horses which were a present from the company, and his salary was twelve
thousand dollars a year. The superintendent of another of the great
mines traveled in grand state, had a salary of twenty-eight thousand
dollars a year, and in a law suit in after days claimed that he was to
have had one per cent. on the gross yield of the bullion likewise.
Money was wonderfully plenty. The trouble was, not how to get it,--but
how to spend it, how to lavish it, get rid of it, squander it. And so it
was a happy thing that just at this juncture the news came over the wires
that a great United States Sanitary Commission had been formed and money
was wanted for the relief of the wounded sailors and soldiers of the
Union languishing in the Eastern hospitals. Right on the heels of it
came word that San Francisco had responded superbly before the telegram
was half a day old. Virginia rose as one man! A Sanitary Committee was
hurriedly organized, and its chairman mounted a vacant cart in C street
and tried to make the clamorous multitude understand that the rest of the
committee were flying hither and thither and working with all their might
and main, and that if the town would only wait an hour, an office would
be ready, books opened, and the Commission prepared to receive
contributions. His voice was drowned and his information lost in a
ceaseless roar of cheers, and demands that the money be received now--
they swore they would not wait. The chairman pleaded and argued, but,
deaf to all entreaty, men plowed their way through the throng and rained
checks of gold coin into the cart and skurried away for more. Hands
clutching money, were thrust aloft out of the jam by men who hoped this
eloquent appeal would cleave a road their strugglings could not open.
The very Chinamen and Indians caught the excitement and dashed their half
dollars into the cart without knowing or caring what it was all about.
Women plunged into the crowd, trimly attired, fought their way to the
cart with their coin, and emerged again, by and by, with their apparel in
a state of hopeless dilapidation. It was the wildest mob Virginia had
ever seen and the most determined and ungovernable; and when at last it
abated its fury and dispersed, it had not a penny in its pocket.
To use its own phraseology, it came there "flush" and went away "busted."
After that, the Commission got itself into systematic working order, and
for weeks the contributions flowed into its treasury in a generous
stream. Individuals and all sorts of organizations levied upon
themselves a regular weekly tax for the sanitary fund, graduated
according to their means, and there was not another grand universal
outburst till the famous "Sanitary Flour Sack" came our way. Its history
is peculiar and interesting. A former schoolmate of mine, by the name of
Reuel Gridley, was living at the little city of Austin, in the Reese
river country, at this time, and was the Democratic candidate for mayor.
He and the Republican candidate made an agreement that the defeated man
should be publicly presented with a fifty-pound sack of flour by the
successful one, and should carry it home on his shoulder. Gridley was
defeated. The new mayor gave him the sack of flour, and he shouldered it
and carried it a mile or two, from Lower Austin to his home in Upper
Austin, attended by a band of music and the whole population. Arrived
there, he said he did not need the flour, and asked what the people
thought he had better do with it. A voice said:
"Sell it to the highest bidder, for the benefit of the Sanitary fund."
The suggestion was greeted with a round of applause, and Gridley mounted
a dry-goods box and assumed the role of auctioneer. The bids went higher
and higher, as the sympathies of the pioneers awoke and expanded, till at
last the sack was knocked down to a mill man at two hundred and fifty
dollars, and his check taken. He was asked where he would have the flour
delivered, and he said:
"Nowhere--sell it again."
Now the cheers went up royally, and the multitude were fairly in the
spirit of the thing. So Gridley stood there and shouted and perspired
till the sun went down; and when the crowd dispersed he had sold the sack
to three hundred different people, and had taken in eight thousand
dollars in gold. And still the flour sack was in his possession.
The news came to Virginia, and a telegram went back:
"Fetch along your flour sack!"
Thirty-six hours afterward Gridley arrived, and an afternoon mass meeting
was held in the Opera House, and the auction began. But the sack had
come sooner than it was expected; the people were not thoroughly aroused,
and the sale dragged. At nightfall only five thousand dollars had been
secured, and there was a crestfallen feeling in the community. However,
there was no disposition to let the matter rest here and acknowledge
vanquishment at the hands of the village of Austin. Till late in the
night the principal citizens were at work arranging the morrow's
campaign, and when they went to bed they had no fears for the result.
At eleven the next morning a procession of open carriages, attended by
clamorous bands of music and adorned with a moving display of flags,
filed along C street and was soon in danger of blockade by a huzzaing
multitude of citizens. In the first carriage sat Gridley, with the flour
sack in prominent view, the latter splendid with bright paint and gilt
lettering; also in the same carriage sat the mayor and the recorder.
The other carriages contained the Common Council, the editors and
reporters, and other people of imposing consequence. The crowd pressed
to the corner of C and Taylor streets, expecting the sale to begin there,
but they were disappointed, and also unspeakably surprised; for the
cavalcade moved on as if Virginia had ceased to be of importance, and
took its way over the "divide," toward the small town of Gold Hill.
Telegrams had gone ahead to Gold Hill, Silver City and Dayton, and those
communities were at fever heat and rife for the conflict. It was a very
hot day, and wonderfully dusty. At the end of a short half hour we
descended into Gold Hill with drums beating and colors flying, and
enveloped in imposing clouds of dust. The whole population--men, women
and children, Chinamen and Indians, were massed in the main street, all
the flags in town were at the mast head, and the blare of the bands was
drowned in cheers. Gridley stood up and asked who would make the first
bid for the National Sanitary Flour Sack. Gen. W. said:
"The Yellow Jacket silver mining company offers a thousand dollars,
A tempest of applause followed. A telegram carried the news to Virginia,
and fifteen minutes afterward that city's population was massed in the
streets devouring the tidings--for it was part of the programme that the
bulletin boards should do a good work that day. Every few minutes a new
dispatch was bulletined from Gold Hill, and still the excitement grew.
Telegrams began to return to us from Virginia beseeching Gridley to bring
back the flour sack; but such was not the plan of the campaign. At the
end of an hour Gold Hill's small population had paid a figure for the
flour sack that awoke all the enthusiasm of Virginia when the grand total
was displayed upon the bulletin boards. Then the Gridley cavalcade moved
on, a giant refreshed with new lager beer and plenty of it--for the
people brought it to the carriages without waiting to measure it--and
within three hours more the expedition had carried Silver City and Dayton
by storm and was on its way back covered with glory. Every move had been
telegraphed and bulletined, and as the procession entered Virginia and
filed down C street at half past eight in the evening the town was abroad
in the thoroughfares, torches were glaring, flags flying, bands playing,
cheer on cheer cleaving the air, and the city ready to surrender at
discretion. The auction began, every bid was greeted with bursts of
applause, and at the end of two hours and a half a population of fifteen
thousand souls had paid in coin for a fifty-pound sack of flour a sum
equal to forty thousand dollars in greenbacks! It was at a rate in the
neighborhood of three dollars for each man, woman and child of the
population. The grand total would have been twice as large, but the
streets were very narrow, and hundreds who wanted to bid could not get
within a block of the stand, and could not make themselves heard. These
grew tired of waiting and many of them went home long before the auction
was over. This was the greatest day Virginia ever saw, perhaps.
Gridley sold the sack in Carson city and several California towns; also
in San Francisco. Then he took it east and sold it in one or two
Atlantic cities, I think. I am not sure of that, but I know that he
finally carried it to St. Louis, where a monster Sanitary Fair was being
held, and after selling it there for a large sum and helping on the
enthusiasm by displaying the portly silver bricks which Nevada's donation
had produced, he had the flour baked up into small cakes and retailed
them at high prices.
It was estimated that when the flour sack's mission was ended it had been
sold for a grand total of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in
greenbacks! This is probably the only instance on record where common
family flour brought three thousand dollars a pound in the public market.
It is due to Mr. Gridley's memory to mention that the expenses of his
sanitary flour sack expedition of fifteen thousand miles, going and
returning, were paid in large part if not entirely, out of his own
pocket. The time he gave to it was not less than three months.
Mr. Gridley was a soldier in the Mexican war and a pioneer Californian.
He died at Stockton, California, in December, 1870, greatly regretted.