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TRUE knowledge of the nature of silver mining came fast
enough. We went out “prospecting” with Mr. Ballou.
We climbed the mountain sides, and clambered among sage-brush,
rocks and snow till we were ready to drop with exhaustion,
but found no silver—nor yet any gold. Day after day we
did this. Now and then we came upon holes burrowed a few
feet into the declivities and apparently abandoned; and now
and then we found one or two listless men still burrowing.
But there was no appearance of silver. These holes were the
beginnings of tunnels, and the purpose was to drive them hundreds
of feet into the mountain, and some day tap the hidden
ledge where the silver was. Some day! It seemed far enough
away, and very hopeless and dreary. Day after day we toiled,
and climbed and searched, and we younger partners grew
sicker and still sicker of the promiseless toil. At last we
halted under a beetling rampart of rock which projected from
the earth high upon the mountain. Mr. Ballou broke off some
fragments with a hammer, and examined them long and attentively
with a small eye-glass; threw them away and broke off
more; said this rock was quartz, and quartz was the sort of
rock that contained silver. Contained it! I had thought
that at least it would be caked on the outside of it like a kind
of veneering. He still broke off pieces and critically examined
them, now and then wetting the piece with his tongue and
applying the glass. At last he exclaimed:


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 210. In-line image of four men celebrating in front of a rock wall and boulder.]

“We've got it!”

We were full of anxiety in a moment. The rock was
clean and white, where it was broken, and across it ran a
ragged thread of blue. He said that that little thread had
silver in it,mixed
with base metals,
such as lead and
antimony, and
other rubbish,
and that there
was a speck or
two of gold visible.
After a
great deal of effort
we managed
to discern some
little fine yellow
specks, and
judged that a
couple of tons
of them massed
together might
make a gold
dollar, possibly.
We were not jubilant,
but Mr.
Ballou said there
were worse ledges
in the world
than that. He saved what he called the “richest” piece of
the rock, in order to determine its value by the process called
the “fire-assay.” Then we named the mine “Monarch of
the Mountains” (modesty of nomenclature is not a prominent
feature in the mines), and Mr. Ballou wrote out and stuck up
the following “notice,” preserving a copy to be entered upon
the books in the mining recorder's office in the town.


Page 211


“We the undersigned claim three claims, of three hundred feet each
[and one for discovery), on this silver-bearing quartz lead or lode, extending
north and south from this notice, with all its dips, spurs, and angles, variations
and sinuosities, together with fifty feet of ground on either side for
working the same.”

We put our names to it and tried to feel that our fortunes were
made. But when we talked the matter all over with Mr. Ballou,
we felt depressed and dubious. He said that this surface quartz
was not all there was of our mine; but that the wall or ledge of
rock called the “Monarch of the Mountains,” extended down
hundreds and hundreds of feet into the earth—he illustrated by
saying it was like a curb-stone, and maintained a nearly uniform
thickness—say twenty feet—away down into the bowels of the
earth, and was perfectly distinct from the casing rock on each
side of it; and that it kept to itself, and maintained its distinctive
character always, no matter how deep it extended into the
earth or how far it stretched itself through and across the hills
and valleys. He said it might be a mile deep and ten miles long,
for all we knew; and that wherever we bored into it above
ground or below, we would find gold and silver in it, but no
gold or silver in the meaner rock it was cased between. And
he said that down in the great depths of the ledge was its richness,
and the deeper it went the richer it grew. Therefore,
instead of working here on the surface, we must either bore
down into the rock with a shaft till we came to where it was
rich—say a hundred feet or so—or else we must go down into
the valley and bore a long tunnel into the mountain side and
tap the ledge far under the earth. To do either was plainly
the labor of months; for we could blast and bore only a few
feet a day—some five or six. But this was not all. He said
that after we got the ore out it must be hauled in wagons to a
distant silver-mill, ground up, and the silver extracted by a
tedious and costly process. Our fortune seemed a century

But we went to work. We decided to sink a shaft. So,
for a week we climbed the mountain, laden with picks, drills,


Page 212
gads, crowbars, shovels, cans of blasting powder and coils of
fuse and strove with might and main. At first the rock was
broken and loose and we dug it up with picks and threw it out
with shovels, and the hole progressed very well. But the rock
became more compact, presently, and gads and crowbars came
into play. But shortly nothing could make an impression but
blasting powder. That was the weariest work! One of us
held the iron drill in its place and another would strike with
an eight-pound sledge—it was like driving nails on a large
scale. In the course of an hour or two the drill would reach
a depth of two or three feet, making a hole a couple of
inches in diameter. We would put in a charge of powder, insert


Page 213
half a yard of fuse, pour in sand and gravel and ram it
down, then light the fuse and run. When the explosion came
and the rocks and smoke shot into the air, we would go back
and find about a bushel of that hard, rebellious quartz jolted
out. Nothing more. One week of this satisfied me. I resigned.
Clagget and Oliphant followed. Our shaft was only
twelve feet deep. We decided that a tunnel was the thing
we wanted.

So we went down the mountain side and worked a week;
at the end of which time we had blasted a tunnel about deep
enough to hide a hogshead in, and judged that about nine
hundred feet more of it would reach the ledge. I resigned
again, and the other boys only held out one day longer. We
decided that a tunnel was not what we wanted. We wanted
a ledge that was already “developed.” There were none in
the camp.

We dropped the “Monarch” for the time being.

Meantime the camp was filling up with people, and there
was a constantly growing excitement about our Humboldt
mines. We fell victims to the epidemic and strained every
nerve to acquire more “feet.” We prospected and took up
new claims, put “notices” on them and gave them grandiloquent
names. We traded some of our “feet” for “feet” in other
people's claims. In a little while we owned largely in the
“Gray Eagle,” the “Columbiana,” the “Branch Mint,” the
“Maria Jane,” the “Universe,” the “Root-Hog-or-Die,” the
“Samson and Delilah,” the “Treasure Trove,” the “Golconda,”
the “Sultana,” the “Boomerang,” the “Great Republic,” the
“Grand Mogul,” and fifty other “mines” that had never been
molested by a shovel or scratched with a pick. We had not less
than thirty thousand “feet” apiece in the “richest mines on
earth” as the frenzied cant phrased it—and were in debt to
the butcher. We were stark mad with excitement—drunk
with happiness—smothered under mountains of prospective
wealth—arrogantly compassionate toward the plodding millions
who knew not our marvellous canyon—but our credit was not
good at the grocer's.


Page 214

It was the strangest phase of life one can imagine. It was
a beggars' revel. There was nothing doing in the district—
no mining—no milling—no productive effort—no income—
and not enough money in the entire camp to buy a corner
lot in an eastern village, hardly; and yet a stranger would
have supposed he was walking among bloated millionaires.
Prospecting parties swarmed out of town with the first flush
of dawn, and swarmed in again at nightfall laden with spoil—
rocks. Nothing but rocks. Every man's pockets were full of
them; the floor of his cabin was littered with them; they
were disposed in labeled rows on his shelves.