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    Chapter XLIV

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    Chapter 48
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    My salary was increased to forty dollars a week. But I seldom drew it.
    I had plenty of other resources, and what were two broad twenty-dollar
    gold pieces to a man who had his pockets full of such and a cumbersome
    abundance of bright half dollars besides? [Paper money has never come
    into use on the Pacific coast.] Reporting was lucrative, and every man
    in the town was lavish with his money and his "feet." The city and all
    the great mountain side were riddled with mining shafts. There were more
    mines than miners. True, not ten of these mines were yielding rock worth
    hauling to a mill, but everybody said, "Wait till the shaft gets down
    where the ledge comes in solid, and then you will see!" So nobody was
    discouraged. These were nearly all "wild cat" mines, and wholly
    worthless, but nobody believed it then. The "Ophir," the "Gould &
    Curry," the "Mexican," and other great mines on the Comstock lead in
    Virginia and Gold Hill were turning out huge piles of rich rock every
    day, and every man believed that his little wild cat claim was as good as
    any on the "main lead" and would infallibly be worth a thousand dollars a
    foot when he "got down where it came in solid." Poor fellow, he was
    blessedly blind to the fact that he never would see that day. So the
    thousand wild cat shafts burrowed deeper and deeper into the earth day by
    day, and all men were beside themselves with hope and happiness. How
    they labored, prophesied, exulted! Surely nothing like it was ever seen
    before since the world began. Every one of these wild cat mines--not
    mines, but holes in the ground over imaginary mines--was incorporated and
    had handsomely engraved "stock" and the stock was salable, too. It was
    bought and sold with a feverish avidity in the boards every day. You
    could go up on the mountain side, scratch around and find a ledge (there
    was no lack of them), put up a "notice" with a grandiloquent name in it,
    start a shaft, get your stock printed, and with nothing whatever to prove
    that your mine was worth a straw, you could put your stock on the market
    and sell out for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. To make money,
    and make it fast, was as easy as it was to eat your dinner.

    Every man owned "feet" in fifty different wild cat mines and considered
    his fortune made. Think of a city with not one solitary poor man in it!
    One would suppose that when month after month went by and still not a
    wild cat mine (by wild cat I mean, in general terms, any claim not
    located on the mother vein, i.e., the "Comstock") yielded a ton of rock
    worth crushing, the people would begin to wonder if they were not putting
    too much faith in their prospective riches; but there was not a thought
    of such a thing. They burrowed away, bought and sold, and were happy.

    New claims were taken up daily, and it was the friendly custom to run
    straight to the newspaper offices, give the reporter forty or fifty
    "feet," and get them to go and examine the mine and publish a notice of
    it. They did not care a fig what you said about the property so you said
    something. Consequently we generally said a word or two to the effect
    that the "indications" were good, or that the ledge was "six feet wide,"
    or that the rock "resembled the Comstock" (and so it did--but as a
    general thing the resemblance was not startling enough to knock you
    down). If the rock was moderately promising, we followed the custom of
    the country, used strong adjectives and frothed at the mouth as if a very
    marvel in silver discoveries had transpired. If the mine was a
    "developed" one, and had no pay ore to show (and of course it hadn't), we
    praised the tunnel; said it was one of the most infatuating tunnels in
    the land; driveled and driveled about the tunnel till we ran entirely out
    of ecstasies--but never said a word about the rock. We would squander
    half a column of adulation on a shaft, or a new wire rope, or a dressed
    pine windlass, or a fascinating force pump, and close with a burst of
    admiration of the "gentlemanly and efficient Superintendent" of the mine
    --but never utter a whisper about the rock. And those people were always
    pleased, always satisfied. Occasionally we patched up and varnished our
    reputation for discrimination and stern, undeviating accuracy, by giving
    some old abandoned claim a blast that ought to have made its dry bones
    rattle--and then somebody would seize it and sell it on the fleeting
    notoriety thus conferred upon it.

    There was nothing in the shape of a mining claim that was not salable.
    We received presents of "feet" every day. If we needed a hundred dollars
    or so, we sold some; if not, we hoarded it away, satisfied that it would
    ultimately be worth a thousand dollars a foot. I had a trunk about half
    full of "stock." When a claim made a stir in the market and went up to a
    high figure, I searched through my pile to see if I had any of its stock
    --and generally found it.

    The prices rose and fell constantly; but still a fall disturbed us
    little, because a thousand dollars a foot was our figure, and so we were
    content to let it fluctuate as much as it pleased till it reached it.
    My pile of stock was not all given to me by people who wished their
    claims "noticed." At least half of it was given me by persons who had no
    thought of such a thing, and looked for nothing more than a simple verbal
    "thank you;" and you were not even obliged by law to furnish that.
    If you are coming up the street with a couple of baskets of apples in
    your hands, and you meet a friend, you naturally invite him to take a
    few. That describes the condition of things in Virginia in the "flush
    times." Every man had his pockets full of stock, and it was the actual
    custom of the country to part with small quantities of it to friends
    without the asking.

    Very often it was a good idea to close the transaction instantly, when a
    man offered a stock present to a friend, for the offer was only good and
    binding at that moment, and if the price went to a high figure shortly
    afterward the procrastination was a thing to be regretted. Mr. Stewart
    (Senator, now, from Nevada) one day told me he would give me twenty feet
    of "Justis" stock if I would walk over to his office. It was worth five
    or ten dollars a foot. I asked him to make the offer good for next day,
    as I was just going to dinner. He said he would not be in town; so I
    risked it and took my dinner instead of the stock. Within the week the
    price went up to seventy dollars and afterward to a hundred and fifty,
    but nothing could make that man yield. I suppose he sold that stock of
    mine and placed the guilty proceeds in his own pocket. [My revenge will
    be found in the accompanying portrait.] I met three friends one
    afternoon, who said they had been buying "Overman" stock at auction at
    eight dollars a foot. One said if I would come up to his office he would
    give me fifteen feet; another said he would add fifteen; the third said
    he would do the same. But I was going after an inquest and could not
    stop. A few weeks afterward they sold all their "Overman" at six hundred
    dollars a foot and generously came around to tell me about it--and also
    to urge me to accept of the next forty-five feet of it that people tried
    to force on me.

    These are actual facts, and I could make the list a long one and still
    confine myself strictly to the truth. Many a time friends gave us as
    much as twenty-five feet of stock that was selling at twenty-five dollars
    a foot, and they thought no more of it than they would of offering a
    guest a cigar. These were "flush times" indeed! I thought they were
    going to last always, but somehow I never was much of a prophet.

    To show what a wild spirit possessed the mining brain of the community,
    I will remark that "claims" were actually "located" in excavations for
    cellars, where the pick had exposed what seemed to be quartz veins--and
    not cellars in the suburbs, either, but in the very heart of the city;
    and forthwith stock would be issued and thrown on the market. It was
    small matter who the cellar belonged to--the "ledge" belonged to the
    finder, and unless the United States government interfered (inasmuch as
    the government holds the primary right to mines of the noble metals in
    Nevada--or at least did then), it was considered to be his privilege to
    work it. Imagine a stranger staking out a mining claim among the costly
    shrubbery in your front yard and calmly proceeding to lay waste the
    ground with pick and shovel and blasting powder! It has been often done
    in California. In the middle of one of the principal business streets of
    Virginia, a man "located" a mining claim and began a shaft on it. He
    gave me a hundred feet of the stock and I sold it for a fine suit of
    clothes because I was afraid somebody would fall down the shaft and sue
    for damages. I owned in another claim that was located in the middle of
    another street; and to show how absurd people can be, that "East India"
    stock (as it was called) sold briskly although there was an ancient
    tunnel running directly under the claim and any man could go into it and
    see that it did not cut a quartz ledge or anything that remotely
    resembled one.

    One plan of acquiring sudden wealth was to "salt" a wild cat claim and
    sell out while the excitement was up. The process was simple.

    The schemer located a worthless ledge, sunk a shaft on it, bought a wagon
    load of rich "Comstock" ore, dumped a portion of it into the shaft and
    piled the rest by its side, above ground. Then he showed the property to
    a simpleton and sold it to him at a high figure. Of course the wagon
    load of rich ore was all that the victim ever got out of his purchase.
    A most remarkable case of "salting" was that of the "North Ophir."
    It was claimed that this vein was a "remote extension" of the original
    "Ophir," a valuable mine on the "Comstock." For a few days everybody was
    talking about the rich developments in the North Ophir. It was said that
    it yielded perfectly pure silver in small, solid lumps. I went to the
    place with the owners, and found a shaft six or eight feet deep, in the
    bottom of which was a badly shattered vein of dull, yellowish,
    unpromising rock. One would as soon expect to find silver in a
    grindstone. We got out a pan of the rubbish and washed it in a puddle,
    and sure enough, among the sediment we found half a dozen black, bullet-
    looking pellets of unimpeachable "native" silver. Nobody had ever heard
    of such a thing before; science could not account for such a queer
    novelty. The stock rose to sixty-five dollars a foot, and at this figure
    the world-renowned tragedian, McKean Buchanan, bought a commanding
    interest and prepared to quit the stage once more--he was always doing
    that. And then it transpired that the mine had been "salted"--and not in
    any hackneyed way, either, but in a singularly bold, barefaced and
    peculiarly original and outrageous fashion. On one of the lumps of
    "native" silver was discovered the minted legend, "TED STATES OF," and
    then it was plainly apparent that the mine had been "salted" with melted
    half-dollars! The lumps thus obtained had been blackened till they
    resembled native silver, and were then mixed with the shattered rock in
    the bottom of the shaft. It is literally true. Of course the price of
    the stock at once fell to nothing, and the tragedian was ruined. But for
    this calamity we might have lost McKean Buchanan from the stage.
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    Chapter 48
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