University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


expand section 
1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




I MET men at every turn who owned from one thousand to
thirty thousand “feet” in undeveloped silver mines,
every single foot of which they believed would shortly be
worth from fifty to a thousand dollars—and as often as any
other way they were men who had not twenty-five dollars in
the world. Every man you met had his new mine to boast
of, and his “specimens” ready; and if the opportunity offered,
he would infallibly back you into a corner and offer as a favor
to you, not to him, to part with just a few feet in the “Golden
Age,” or the “Sarah Jane,” or some other unknown stack of
croppings, for money enough to get a “square meal” with, as
the phrase went. And you were never to reveal that he had
made you the offer at such a ruinous price, for it was only out
of friendship for you that he was willing to make the sacrifice.
Then he would fish a piece of rock out of his pocket, and
after looking mysteriously around as if he feared he might be
waylaid and robbed if caught with such wealth in his possession,
he would dab the rock against his tongue, clap an eye-glass
to it, and exclaim:

“Look at that! Right there in that red dirt! See it?
See the specks of gold? And the streak of silver? That's
from the `Uncle Abe.' There's a hundred thousand tons like
that in sight! Right in sight, mind you! And when we get
down on it and the ledge comes in solid, it will be the richest
thing in the world! Look at the assay! I don't want you to
believe me—look at the assay!”


Page 216



[Description: 504EAF. Page 216. In-line image of two men inspecting gold quality in a microscope.]

Then he would get out a greasy sheet of paper which
showed that the portion of rock assayed had given evidence
of containing silver and gold in the proportion of so many
hundreds or
thousands of dollars
to the ton.
I little knew,
then, that the
custom was to
hunt out the
richest piece of
rock and get it
assayed! Very
often, that piece,
the size of a filbert,
was the only
fragment in a ton
that had a particle
of metal in it—
and yet the assay
made it pretend
to represent the
average value of
the ton of rubbish
it came from!

On such a system of assaying as that, the Humboldt
world had gone crazy. On the authority of such assays its
newspaper correspondents were frothing about rock worth
four and seven thousand dollars a ton!

And does the reader remember, a few pages back, the calculations,
of a quoted correspondent, whereby the ore is to be
mined and shipped all the way to England, the metals extracted,
and the gold and silver contents received back by the
miners as clear profit, the copper, antimony and other things
in the ore being sufficient to pay all the expenses incurred?
Everybody's head was full of such “calculations” as those—
such raving insanity, rather. Few people took work into their


Page 217
calculations—or outlay of money either; except the work
and expenditures of other people.

We never touched our tunnel or our shaft again. Why?
Because we judged that we had learned the real secret of
success in silver mining—which was, not to mine the silver
ourselves by the sweat of our brows and the labor of our hands,
but to sell the ledges to the dull slaves of toil and let them do
the mining!

Before leaving Carson, the Secretary and I had purchased
“feet” from various Esmeralda stragglers. We had expected
immediate returns of bullion, but were only afflicted with
regular and constant “assessments” instead—demands for
money wherewith to develop the said mines. These assessments
had grown so oppressive that it seemed necessary to
look into the matter personally. Therefore I projected a pilgrimage
to Carson and thence to Esmeralda. I bought a
horse and started, in company with Mr. Ballou and a gentleman
named Ollendorff, a Prussian—not the party who has
inflicted so much suffering on the world with his wretched
foreign grammars, with their interminable repetitions of questions
which never have occurred and are never likely to occur
in any conversation among human beings. We rode through
a snow-storm for two or three days, and arrived at “Honey
Lake Smith's,” a sort of isolated inn on the Carson river. It
was a two-story log house situated on a small knoll in the
midst of the vast basin or desert through which the sickly
Carson winds its melancholy way. Close to the house were
the Overland stage stables, built of sun-dried bricks. There
was not another building within several leagues of the place.
Towards sunset about twenty hay-wagons arrived and camped
around the house and all the teamsters came in to supper—a
very, very rough set. There were one or two Overland stage
drivers there, also, and half a dozen vagabonds and stragglers;
consequently the house was well crowded.

We walked out, after supper, and visited a small Indian
camp in the vicinity. The Indians were in a great hurry
about something, and were packing up and getting away as


Page 218
fast as they could. In their broken English they said, “By'mby,
heap water!” and by the help of signs made us understand
that in their opinion a flood was coming. The weather
was perfectly clear, and this was not the rainy season. There
was about a foot of water in the insignificant river—or maybe
two feet; the stream was not wider than a back alley in a
village, and its
banks were
scarcely higher
than a man's
head. So, where
was the flood
to come from?
We canvassed
the subject awhile
and then
concluded it
was a ruse, and
that the Indians
had some better reason for leaving in a hurry than fears of a
flood in such an exceedingly dry time.

At seven in the evening we went to bed in the second
story—with our clothes on, as usual, and all three in the same
bed, for every available space on the floors, chairs, etc., was in
request, and even then there was barely room for the housing
of the inn's guests. An hour later we were awakened by a
great turmoil, and springing out of bed we picked our way
nimbly among the ranks of snoring teamsters on the floor and
got to the front windows of the long room. A glance revealed
a strange spectacle, under the moonlight. The crooked Carson
was full to the brim, and its waters were raging and foaming
in the wildest way—sweeping around the sharp bends at a
furious speed, and bearing on their surface a chaos of logs,
brush and all sorts of rubbish. A depression, where its bed
had once been, in other times, was already filling, and in
one or two places the water was beginning to wash over the
main bank. Men were flying hither and thither, bringing


Page 219
cattle and wagons close up to the house, for the spot of high
ground on which it stood extended only some thirty feet in
front and about a hundred in the rear. Close to the old river
bed just spoken of, stood a little log stable, and in this our
horses were lodged.
While we looked, the
waters increased so fast
in this place that in a
few minutes a torrent
was roaring by the little
stable and its margin
encroaching steadily on
the logs. We suddenly
realized that this flood
was not a mere holiday spectacle, but meant damage—and not
only to the small log stable but to the Overland buildings
close to the main river, for the waves had now come ashore
and were creeping about the foundations and invading the


Page 220
great hay-corral adjoining. We ran down and joined the
crowd of excited men and frightened animals. We waded
knee-deep into the log stable, unfastened the horses and
waded out almost waist-deep, so fast the waters increased.
Then the crowd rushed in a body to the hay-corral and began
to tumble down the huge stacks of baled hay and roll the
bales up on the high ground by the house. Meantime it was
discovered that Owens, an overland driver, was missing, and a
man ran to the large stable, and wading in, boot-top deep,
discovered him asleep in his bed, awoke him, and waded out
again. But Owens was drowsy and resumed his nap; but
only for a minute or two, for presently he turned in his bed,
his hand dropped over the side and came in contact with the
cold water! It was up level with the mattrass! He waded
out, breast-deep, almost, and the next moment the sun-burned
bricks melted down like sugar and the big building crumbled
to a ruin and was washed away in a twinkling.

At eleven o'clock only the roof of the little log stable was
out of water, and our inn was on an island in mid-ocean. As
far as the eye could reach, in the moonlight, there was no
desert visible, but only a level waste of shining water. The
Indians were true prophets, but how did they get their information?
I am not able to answer the question.

We remained cooped up eight days and nights with that
curious crew. Swearing, drinking and card playing were the
order of the day, and occasionally a fight was thrown in for
variety. Dirt and vermin—but let us forget those features;
their profusion is simply inconceivable—it is better that they
remain so.

There were two men—however, this chapter is long enough.