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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




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


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 307. In-line image of two men talking and looking at a sign that says, "Great Monarch."]
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


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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


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 309. In-line image of two men standing outside of a coffee store talking.]
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


Page 310
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


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 311. In-line image of two men standing over top of a mining shaft looking into the hole.]
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
ledge, sunk
a shaft on it,
bought a
wagon load
of rich “Comstock”
dumped a
portion of it
into the shaft
and piled the
rest by its
side, above
Then he
showed the
property to a
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”


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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.