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    Chapter LII

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    Chapter 56
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    Since I desire, in this chapter, to say an instructive word or two about
    the silver mines, the reader may take this fair warning and skip, if he
    chooses. The year 1863 was perhaps the very top blossom and culmination
    of the "flush times." Virginia swarmed with men and vehicles to that
    degree that the place looked like a very hive--that is when one's vision
    could pierce through the thick fog of alkali dust that was generally
    blowing in summer. I will say, concerning this dust, that if you drove
    ten miles through it, you and your horses would be coated with it a
    sixteenth of an inch thick and present an outside appearance that was a
    uniform pale yellow color, and your buggy would have three inches of dust
    in it, thrown there by the wheels. The delicate scales used by the
    assayers were inclosed in glass cases intended to be air-tight, and yet
    some of this dust was so impalpable and so invisibly fine that it would
    get in, somehow, and impair the accuracy of those scales.

    Speculation ran riot, and yet there was a world of substantial business
    going on, too. All freights were brought over the mountains from
    California (150 miles) by pack-train partly, and partly in huge wagons
    drawn by such long mule teams that each team amounted to a procession,
    and it did seem, sometimes, that the grand combined procession of animals
    stretched unbroken from Virginia to California. Its long route was
    traceable clear across the deserts of the Territory by the writhing
    serpent of dust it lifted up. By these wagons, freights over that
    hundred and fifty miles were $200 a ton for small lots (same price for
    all express matter brought by stage), and $100 a ton for full loads.
    One Virginia firm received one hundred tons of freight a month, and paid
    $10,000 a month freightage. In the winter the freights were much higher.
    All the bullion was shipped in bars by stage to San Francisco (a bar was
    usually about twice the size of a pig of lead and contained from $1,500
    to $3,000 according to the amount of gold mixed with the silver), and the
    freight on it (when the shipment was large) was one and a quarter per
    cent. of its intrinsic value.

    So, the freight on these bars probably averaged something more than $25
    each. Small shippers paid two per cent. There were three stages a day,
    each way, and I have seen the out-going stages carry away a third of a
    ton of bullion each, and more than once I saw them divide a two-ton lot
    and take it off. However, these were extraordinary events.
    [Mr. Valentine, Wells Fargo's agent, has handled all the bullion shipped
    through the Virginia office for many a month. To his memory--which is
    excellent--we are indebted for the following exhibit of the company's
    business in the Virginia office since the first of January, 1862: From
    January 1st to April 1st, about $270,000 worth of bullion passed through
    that office, during the next quarter, $570,000; next quarter, $800,000;
    next quarter, $956,000; next quarter, $1,275,000; and for the quarter
    ending on the 30th of last June, about $1,600,000. Thus in a year and a
    half, the Virginia office only shipped $5,330,000 in bullion. During the
    year 1862 they shipped $2,615,000, so we perceive the average shipments
    have more than doubled in the last six months. This gives us room to
    promise for the Virginia office $500,000 a month for the year 1863
    (though perhaps, judging by the steady increase in the business, we are
    under estimating, somewhat). This gives us $6,000,000 for the year.
    Gold Hill and Silver City together can beat us--we will give them
    $10,000,000. To Dayton, Empire City, Ophir and Carson City, we will
    allow an aggregate of $8,000,000, which is not over the mark, perhaps,
    and may possibly be a little under it. To Esmeralda we give $4,000,000.
    To Reese River and Humboldt $2,000,000, which is liberal now, but may not
    be before the year is out. So we prognosticate that the yield of bullion
    this year will be about $30,000,000. Placing the number of mills in the
    Territory at one hundred, this gives to each the labor of producing
    $300,000 in bullion during the twelve months. Allowing them to run three
    hundred days in the year (which none of them more than do), this makes
    their work average $1,000 a day. Say the mills average twenty tons of
    rock a day and this rock worth $50 as a general thing, and you have the
    actual work of our one hundred mills figured down "to a spot"--$1,000 a
    day each, and $30,000,000 a year in the aggregate.--Enterprise.
    [A considerable over estimate--M. T.]]

    Two tons of silver bullion would be in the neighborhood of forty bars,
    and the freight on it over $1,000. Each coach always carried a deal of
    ordinary express matter beside, and also from fifteen to twenty
    passengers at from $25 to $30 a head. With six stages going all the
    time, Wells, Fargo and Co.'s Virginia City business was important and
    lucrative.

    All along under the centre of Virginia and Gold Hill, for a couple of
    miles, ran the great Comstock silver lode--a vein of ore from fifty to
    eighty feet thick between its solid walls of rock--a vein as wide as some
    of New York's streets. I will remind the reader that in Pennsylvania a
    coal vein only eight feet wide is considered ample.

    Virginia was a busy city of streets and houses above ground. Under it
    was another busy city, down in the bowels of the earth, where a great
    population of men thronged in and out among an intricate maze of tunnels
    and drifts, flitting hither and thither under a winking sparkle of
    lights, and over their heads towered a vast web of interlocking timbers
    that held the walls of the gutted Comstock apart. These timbers were as
    large as a man's body, and the framework stretched upward so far that no
    eye could pierce to its top through the closing gloom. It was like
    peering up through the clean-picked ribs and bones of some colossal
    skeleton. Imagine such a framework two miles long, sixty feet wide, and
    higher than any church spire in America. Imagine this stately lattice-
    work stretching down Broadway, from the St. Nicholas to Wall street, and
    a Fourth of July procession, reduced to pigmies, parading on top of it
    and flaunting their flags, high above the pinnacle of Trinity steeple.
    One can imagine that, but he cannot well imagine what that forest of
    timbers cost, from the time they were felled in the pineries beyond
    Washoe Lake, hauled up and around Mount Davidson at atrocious rates of
    freightage, then squared, let down into the deep maw of the mine and
    built up there. Twenty ample fortunes would not timber one of the
    greatest of those silver mines. The Spanish proverb says it requires a
    gold mine to "run" a silver one, and it is true. A beggar with a silver
    mine is a pitiable pauper indeed if he cannot sell.

    I spoke of the underground Virginia as a city. The Gould and Curry is
    only one single mine under there, among a great many others; yet the
    Gould and Curry's streets of dismal drifts and tunnels were five miles in
    extent, altogether, and its population five hundred miners. Taken as a
    whole, the underground city had some thirty miles of streets and a
    population of five or six thousand. In this present day some of those
    populations are at work from twelve to sixteen hundred feet under
    Virginia and Gold Hill, and the signal-bells that tell them what the
    superintendent above ground desires them to do are struck by telegraph as
    we strike a fire alarm. Sometimes men fall down a shaft, there, a
    thousand feet deep. In such cases, the usual plan is to hold an inquest.

    If you wish to visit one of those mines, you may walk through a tunnel
    about half a mile long if you prefer it, or you may take the quicker plan
    of shooting like a dart down a shaft, on a small platform. It is like
    tumbling down through an empty steeple, feet first. When you reach the
    bottom, you take a candle and tramp through drifts and tunnels where
    throngs of men are digging and blasting; you watch them send up tubs full
    of great lumps of stone--silver ore; you select choice specimens from the
    mass, as souvenirs; you admire the world of skeleton timbering; you
    reflect frequently that you are buried under a mountain, a thousand feet
    below daylight; being in the bottom of the mine you climb from "gallery"
    to "gallery," up endless ladders that stand straight up and down; when
    your legs fail you at last, you lie down in a small box-car in a cramped
    "incline" like a half-up-ended sewer and are dragged up to daylight
    feeling as if you are crawling through a coffin that has no end to it.
    Arrived at the top, you find a busy crowd of men receiving the ascending
    cars and tubs and dumping the ore from an elevation into long rows of
    bins capable of holding half a dozen tons each; under the bins are rows
    of wagons loading from chutes and trap-doors in the bins, and down the
    long street is a procession of these wagons wending toward the silver
    mills with their rich freight. It is all "done," now, and there you are.
    You need never go down again, for you have seen it all. If you have
    forgotten the process of reducing the ore in the mill and making the
    silver bars, you can go back and find it again in my Esmeralda chapters
    if so disposed.

    Of course these mines cave in, in places, occasionally, and then it is
    worth one's while to take the risk of descending into them and observing
    the crushing power exerted by the pressing weight of a settling mountain.
    I published such an experience in the Enterprise, once, and from it I
    will take an extract:

    AN HOUR IN THE CAVED MINES.--We journeyed down into the Ophir mine,
    yesterday, to see the earthquake. We could not go down the deep
    incline, because it still has a propensity to cave in places.
    Therefore we traveled through the long tunnel which enters the hill
    above the Ophir office, and then by means of a series of long
    ladders, climbed away down from the first to the fourth gallery.
    Traversing a drift, we came to the Spanish line, passed five sets of
    timbers still uninjured, and found the earthquake. Here was as
    complete a chaos as ever was seen--vast masses of earth and
    splintered and broken timbers piled confusedly together, with
    scarcely an aperture left large enough for a cat to creep through.
    Rubbish was still falling at intervals from above, and one timber
    which had braced others earlier in the day, was now crushed down out
    of its former position, showing that the caving and settling of the
    tremendous mass was still going on. We were in that portion of the
    Ophir known as the "north mines." Returning to the surface, we
    entered a tunnel leading into the Central, for the purpose of
    getting into the main Ophir. Descending a long incline in this
    tunnel, we traversed a drift or so, and then went down a deep shaft
    from whence we proceeded into the fifth gallery of the Ophir. From
    a side-drift we crawled through a small hole and got into the midst
    of the earthquake again--earth and broken timbers mingled together
    without regard to grace or symmetry. A large portion of the second,
    third and fourth galleries had caved in and gone to destruction--the
    two latter at seven o'clock on the previous evening.

    At the turn-table, near the northern extremity of the fifth gallery,
    two big piles of rubbish had forced their way through from the fifth
    gallery, and from the looks of the timbers, more was about to come.
    These beams are solid--eighteen inches square; first, a great beam
    is laid on the floor, then upright ones, five feet high, stand on
    it, supporting another horizontal beam, and so on, square above
    square, like the framework of a window. The superincumbent weight
    was sufficient to mash the ends of those great upright beams fairly
    into the solid wood of the horizontal ones three inches, compressing
    and bending the upright beam till it curved like a bow. Before the
    Spanish caved in, some of their twelve-inch horizontal timbers were
    compressed in this way until they were only five inches thick!
    Imagine the power it must take to squeeze a solid log together in
    that way. Here, also, was a range of timbers, for a distance of
    twenty feet, tilted six inches out of the perpendicular by the
    weight resting upon them from the caved galleries above. You could
    hear things cracking and giving way, and it was not pleasant to know
    that the world overhead was slowly and silently sinking down upon
    you. The men down in the mine do not mind it, however.

    Returning along the fifth gallery, we struck the safe part of the
    Ophir incline, and went down it to the sixth; but we found ten
    inches of water there, and had to come back. In repairing the
    damage done to the incline, the pump had to be stopped for two
    hours, and in the meantime the water gained about a foot. However,
    the pump was at work again, and the flood-water was decreasing.
    We climbed up to the fifth gallery again and sought a deep shaft,
    whereby we might descend to another part of the sixth, out of reach
    of the water, but suffered disappointment, as the men had gone to
    dinner, and there was no one to man the windlass. So, having seen
    the earthquake, we climbed out at the Union incline and tunnel, and
    adjourned, all dripping with candle grease and perspiration, to
    lunch at the Ophir office.

    During the great flush year of 1863, Nevada [claims to have]
    produced $25,000,000 in bullion--almost, if not quite, a round
    million to each thousand inhabitants, which is very well,
    considering that she was without agriculture and manufactures.
    Silver mining was her sole productive industry. [Since the above was
    in type, I learn from an official source that the above figure is
    too high, and that the yield for 1863 did not exceed $20,000,000.]
    However, the day for large figures is approaching; the Sutro Tunnel
    is to plow through the Comstock lode from end to end, at a depth of
    two thousand feet, and then mining will be easy and comparatively
    inexpensive; and the momentous matters of drainage, and hoisting and
    hauling of ore will cease to be burdensome. This vast work will
    absorb many years, and millions of dollars, in its completion; but
    it will early yield money, for that desirable epoch will begin as
    soon as it strikes the first end of the vein. The tunnel will be
    some eight miles long, and will develop astonishing riches. Cars
    will carry the ore through the tunnel and dump it in the mills and
    thus do away with the present costly system of double handling and
    transportation by mule teams. The water from the tunnel will
    furnish the motive power for the mills. Mr. Sutro, the originator
    of this prodigious enterprise, is one of the few men in the world
    who is gifted with the pluck and perseverance necessary to follow up
    and hound such an undertaking to its completion. He has converted
    several obstinate Congresses to a deserved friendliness toward his
    important work, and has gone up and down and to and fro in Europe
    until he has enlisted a great moneyed interest in it there.
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    Chapter 56
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