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Courtesy Sutro Libiary 



The Story of the Comstock Lode 






Printed in the United States of America 


In memory of a journey to the Comstock 

















THE KING!" 268 







Adolph Sutro Frontis. 

Henry Thomas Paige Comstock, Senator John P. 

Jones, William S. O'Brien, John W. Mackay 22 

Discovery of the Comstock Lode 46 

A pioneer artist's picture of the first rush to the 

Comstock 74 

Wells, Fargo & Company building in Virginia City 100 

A street scene in Virginia City when news of a 

new bonanza was exciting the town 100 

Piper's Opera House, Virginia City 126 

Office of The Territorial Enterprise 126 

James G Flood, William Sharon, James G. Fair 164 

A group of Comstock miners 190 

View of "C" Street, Virginia City, in the 'seventies 216 

Panorama of Virginia City in the 'sixties 216 

Sectional views of the Belcher Mine 246 

On the way to the mine 270 

Map of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode 296 

Visiting the Comstock Mines 33 

All that is left of the Wells, Fargo & Company 

building, Virginia City 3 5 * 





IN Storey County, Nevada, a few miles southeast 
"of Reno, a barren mountain lifts its head amid a weary 
jnonotony of desert hills. 

Through the valley at the mountain's foot come 
'a few rough-clad white men, passing wearily. Next 
comes a dusty caravan of covered wagons, groan- 
ing slowly westward. A weary group stops be- 
side a feeble river and buries a mother and child, dead 
-'from the hardships of the long journey. The trav- 
,,elers slaughter a footsore ox, rest for a day or two and 
move on. The pioneers of that long trail from East 
to West ignore the mountain. 

A begging Piute squaw tells them it is Sun Peak. 
What of that? It is a poor insignificant mountain 
compared with those they have surmounted back 
yonder in the Great Rockies. They ignore it and 
turn their eyes upon the high Sierras, beckoning to 
Jthe end of their journey. 

The weeks go by, and other caravans and groups 
of men and animals appear out of the desert wastes 
to the eastward, wind slowly through the valley of 



the Carson, camp, and trudge on toward their goal 
amid the new- famed California gold-fields. 

So among the plodding emigrants appeared a weary 
group with a dozen saddle-horses and a few ox-teams. 
They had toiled across the plains from St. Louis to 
the Rocky Mountains, and across the mountains to 
the western desert. They were ragged and unkempt, 
long of limb, stooped of shoulder, dull of eye. All, 
save one. 

That one was a boy of eighteen years. But eighteen 
years could mean manhood in 1849 when the gold- 
rush to California gave youth a trial. This was a 
broad-shouldered boy, with dark curling hair above 
a fine forehead, deep-set shrewd eyes under well- 
marked brows, a strong nose, a straight firm mouth 
which curled easily into a smile or set as quickly in 
lines of grim determination above the jaw of a fighter. 
He was James Graham Fair, born in Clogher, County 
Tyrone, Ireland, of a Scottish mother and an Irish 
father. He had been in America six years, at school 
and at work in rural Illinois. Though still a boy in 
years he stood out among these emigrants like an oak 
among bending willows. 

He was master of his party. He had proved it in 
both diplomacy and strength. Near Salt Lake City 
the weary party had camped upon the plain. Wagons 
were drawn up in a square, horses hobbled, oxen 
turned loose to graze. The slatternly women of the 
party were cooking a meager supper over fires of 
twigs and buffalo chips when a cloud of dust ap- 


peared upon the horizon and bore down upon the 
camp. Alarmed, the men herded in their horses and 
gathered within the square of their wagons, with 
weapons ready to hand. 

They had crossed mountain and plain without 
trouble from the Indians, but they could take no 
chances. They had heard from returning stragglers 
that here in Utah the Mormons were treating travel- 
ers with scant courtesy. They trembled at the ap- 
proach of the little band of horsemen. Fair, though 
a boy, did not tremble. Instead, he assumed com- 
mand and when he saw that the approaching group 
numbered fewer than the men in his own party, in- 
vited them courteously to stop and share the rough 
meal which was being prepared. The strangers ac- 
cepted. In the course of the meal they began to speak 
of the Mormons in most uncomplimentary terms. 
Before his associates could agree, Fair spoke. 

"Pardon me, gentlemen; it pains me to hear you 
speak so of a worthy people. Many Mormons whom 
I met in Missouri were good men, peace loving, honest 
and industrious. It will be time enough to think ill 
of them when they have given me cause." 

The strangers exchanged glances, and changed 
the subject. The next day Fair recognized several 
of the men in the streets of Salt Lake City, apparently 
at home. He had sized them up correctly and acted 
with a shrewd diplomacy worthy of a much older and 
more experienced man. His party had no cause to 
complain of ill treatment either in the Mormon 


stronghold or on the continued journey across the 

So James Graham Fair traveled cheerfully through 
the Carson Valley, giving no more thought than the 
thousands of other emigrants to the barren peak jut- 
ting up from the Washoe Mountains to the north- 
ward. Once across the Sierras he bent his strong 
back eagerly over shovel and rocker in the California 
placers. The reward at first was meager, but his en- 
thusiasm and energy were great. Two years went by 
and he had gained nothing but experience. Then he 
joined with an older man named Talton Caldwell in 
working a placer prospect at Shaw's Flat in Calaveras 

Sweat and experience continued to be his only re- 
ward until curiosity stirred within him at the spec- 
tacle of a group of Chileans who passed his cabin 
occasionally and always returned in a few hours with 
enough gold dust to finance a spree at the main camp 
below. Fair trailed the party and found their dig- 
gings in a creek bottom. 

Immediately, with Caldwell, he located adjoining 
ground, set up his rocker and shoveled in sand and 
gravel. Within a few weeks the partners stripped 
the sand-bar down to bedrock. Their takings, 
weighed in at the nearest gold scales, came to one hun- 
dred and eighty thousand dollars. 

James G. Fair, who was to attain fame and f ortune, 
was on the road to greatness in his early twenties. He 
had been on that road several years earlier when he 


passed Sun Peak, later Mount Davidson, in the Washoe 
Mountains. But like thousands of overland travelers 
to California he had passed that desolate treasure- 
house in ignorance. His was a long road which would 
lead him back eventually to that same despised moun- 
tain and reward him with as many millions in silver 
as he now boasted thousands in gold. 

In the meantime he was young, filled with energy, 
enthusiasm, laughter and the joy of life. So, moving 
from Shaw's Flat to Angels' Camp, he met and mar- 
ried Theresa Rooney, proprietress of the leading 
boarding-house in Carson Hills. For a time he re- 
mained in the placer mines. He was in interesting 
company, whether or not he recognized it. In mine 
and camp and straggling town scattered along the 
western slopes of the Sierras and on to Sacramento, 
Stockton and San Francisco were other young men 
of similar character, energy and ambition, who were 
to be his associates, his friends or his enemies, and 
always factors in his fortune. 

John William Mackay, also an Irish immigrant boy, 
some four years younger than Fair, was at work in 
another camp. Unlike Fair, he had not passed the 
foot of historic Mount Davidson. Working as a 
lad in a ship-builder's office in New York, whither 
he had come from Dublin, Mackay also was caught 
by the gold fever. The sea, even broken by the pes- 
tilential jungles of Panama, appeared to him a better 
route to the gold-fields than that across the continent. 
He came to San Francisco by ship. 


The route was of minor importance. Any route 
to the California gold-fields in those days was a bitter 
test of a man's purpose and stamina. Young Mackay 
was equal to its trials. With pick and shovel in a hand 
more accustomed to wielding a pen, he plodded up the 
gulches of Sierra County and bent to his task. More 
than a decade of bitter experience went to the 
strengthening of his back and the hardening of his 
hands and his purpose before he was to look upon the 
treasure-house below Mount Davidson. A hard 
school was needed to prepare him for the great days 
and great duties to come. He learned its lessons by 
the sweat of his brow. 

And in the meantime James C. Flood, of stock and 
stamina similar to that of Mackay and Fair, but born 
in New York, and trained in the psychology still evi- 
dent in Wall Street or Broadway, was studying the 
ways of the West with greater native shrewdness than 
either Mackay or Fair. Flood, twenty-three years 
old, landed on the plank streets of San Francisco with 
the first rush by sea in 1 849. He was not long in de- 
ciding that he might cultivate both wisdom and cap- 
ital more successfully from a high point of observa- 
tion than from the bottom of a gulch. 

A fourth Irishman, William S. O'Brien, agreed with 
Flood. Shrewdly studying and analyzing, the two 
men definitely rejected pick and shovel on the sand- 
bars of the placer streams in favor of towel and bottle 
on the mahogany bar of a saloon strategically placed 
near the site of San Francisco's mining stock ex- 


change. Flood saved his hands and used his brains. 

The leading mining men of the day and place, 
warmed to the proper point by the excellent liquors 
served by the firm of Flood & O'Brien, were his in- 
structors not only in the theory of mining but in the 
practise of the high finance and promotion which has 
always led mining profits by several shovel-lengths. 

The faculty of this practical university of the ma- 
hogany bar included such savants as James R. Keene, 
Darius Ogden Mills, Solomon Hydenfeldt, James B. 
Haggin, John W. Gashwiler and John T. Bradley. 
The saloon of Flood & O'Brien became a forum for 
the dissemination of the concentrated wisdom and ex- 
perience of the shrewdest mining men, market oper- 
ators, promoters and bankers of the day. It was no 
squalid pothouse, no rendezvous of roistering miners, 
drunken Sydneymen and painted percentage girls. 
Flood & O'Brien saw to that. Flood wanted his in- 
formation and education from the fountain heads, 
warmed perhaps by his hospitality but never diluted. 

How carefully he listened, how well he learned, 
and how shrewdly he applied his education is history 
which will be set down with its proof in the course 
of this narrative. Without that wisely won course in 
high finance, illustrated by the daily experience of 
those who gave it a even the energy, ambition and 
practical skill of Fair and Mackay probably would 
not have produced and retained the fortunes which 
are still a factor in the economic and social life of 


Flood was to become the financial expert as Fair 
and Mackay were to be the mining experts, and 
O'Brien a more or less silent partner of the company 
of Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien, to go down in 
history as the bonanza kings of the Comstock. 

A varied and versatile directorate is needed for the 
successful operation of a business so vast as the busi- 
ness at the foot of Mount Davidson was to become. 
An inscrutable Fate seemed to be preparing this di- 
rectorate in the golden days of California in the 
'fifties. Each of the four, unknown to the other, had 
traveled thousands of miles, by barren desert, by the 
stormy seas around the Horn, across the fever-ridden 
jungles and mountains of Panama to meet and make 
history upon a desolate hillside. 

But such history is no one-man or even four-man 
tale. Such a story needs its villain, its hero and its 
lovers. And these also were preparing while the fu- 
ture bonanza kings were mopping a damp brow or 
a damp bar. 

William Sharon, destined to be the founder and 
chief of the greatest monopoly ever known in the 
United States up to his day, had already passed the 
foot of Mount Davidson, as unsuspecting and indif- 
ferent to the scene of his future fame as the youthful 
James G. Fair. A man of parts was Sharon, shrewd, 
ambitious, ruthless, daring. Trained in the law, he 
was a man of education far superior to that of most 
of the residents of California in those early days. 
But there was little practise of law in the gold dig- 


gings. Each camp made and posted its own "rules 
and regulations," and enforced them as it saw fit. So 
Sharon, having no aptitude for pick and shovel and 
little respect for the second greatest activity of the 
frontier, the liquor business, turned to real estate. In 
it he won and lost a small fortune. He demanded a 
large one, and was prepared to make it. How fye did 
so may make him either a hero or the villain of this 
history, as the reader chooses. 

Other men as important to the budding drama 
were there. Adolph Sutro, later to be branded by 
many leaders of the Comstock as the real villain of 
the piece, but? lifted to a hero's pedestal in the mem- 
ories of many persons still living, was an insignificant 
young merchant in San Francisco. He had come 
from his birthplace in Aix-la-Chapelle to New York 
in 1 8 5 at the age of twenty. It was an age peculiarly 
susceptible to the gold fever, and Sutro had promptly 
taken another ship and crossed the Isthmus to the 
new land of opportunity. 

Thwarted in his first search for gold, Sutro con- 
tinued unwavering in ambition and energy. Neither 
miner, bartender, lawyer nor realtor, Sutro survived 
the disappointments and difficulties of the rough life 
of the frontier, bending to each storm, but never 
breaking. Born of a race which centuries of persecu- 
tion had served not to destroy but to strengthen in 
pride and purpose, he was indomitable. 

The hard school of the frontier drove him to make 
scientific research into better methods of reclaiming 


the treasure which was being lost in the crude rockers, 
pans and sluices of the time. His practical studies 
were supported by a compelling intellectual curiosity. 
Since childhood he had been a student. His educa- 
tion improved with his experience. His character 
toughened to the needs of his environment. Disap- 
pointment did not 'dull but stimulated his ambition. 

Ten years of this made him a man to be reckoned 
with. How seriously he was to be reckoned with, in 
the face of rebuffs and opposition such as perhaps no 
other man in the history of the West has ever met 
and conquered, is an amazing part of this true record. 
His name is still engraved, literally, upon the Corn- 
stock, for the traveler to see below the crumbling 
slopes of Mount Davidson. 

Still others were being assembled for the drama by 
an unseen casting director, and each schooled for a 
part. William M. Stewart, John P. Jones, D. CX 
Mills, "Lucky" Baldwin, coming by way of Cape 
Horn, the Isthmus of Panama, or through the barren 
valley of the Carson River below Mount Davidson, 
"have their exits and their entrances. " Even a chorus, 
a ballet, low comedians, hoofers, and "ladies and gen- 
tlemen of the ensemble" were gathering. 

And as with any well-staged drama or pageant, 
even a publicity department, critics and commen- 
tators were being gathered to praise and flay, to re- 
view and record. 

Mark Twain presently was on his way to loll lazily 
against the backdrop of Mount Davidson while the 



"Old Pancake," for whom the Comstock Who rejuvenated Virginia City through 
Lode ot Nevada was named his discovery of the rich Crown Point 

bonanza in 1871. 

Courtesy Banctofl Libiary. 

Courtesy Bancroft Library. 


stage carpenters built their shaft-houses, their "gal- 
lows frames/* their shacks, saloons, livery stables, 
stamp mills and other appurtenances of a mining 
town preparing for high finance, fight and frolic. 

First as plain Sam Clemens, late of the Mississippi 
River, noted even among the unkempt frontiersmen 
for the studied disarray of a slouch hat upon a wild 
bush of hair, flannel shirt and clay-smeared breeches 
stuffed carelessly into cowhide boots, he lounged about 
the set, preparing himself subconsciously for his part. 
Gradually his lazy satisfaction in the hectic scenes 
about him succumbed to the mad energy of the time. 
The feverish struggle for wealth which had assembled 
the principals of the drama caught up even the indif- 
ferent spectator. Tolerant amusement at the mad- 
ness about him was succeeded by as high a fever of 
his own. No man could escape that contagion. Sam 
Clemens was rushing in a frenzy to each new "strike," 
locating claims, gambling in "feet, 53 sweating with 
pick and shovel in prospect holes, freezing in sodden 
blankets under a lowering sky, hungry, elated, 
thirsty, dejected, eager, alive. 

But as a miner Sam Clemens proved himself to be 
an excellent story-teller. And despite his bitter dis- 
appointments the drama was still comedy to him. As 
"Josh" he began to set down incidents of the play in 
print. The Territorial Enterprise proved a rare 
school for his genius. Its editor allowed "Josh's" 
imagination free play. It is doubtful that in later 
life he would have been proud of the crudities in 


which he joyed at that moment. But then he was 
part and parcel of a life distinguished by its crudity. 
He was proud of his work. He gloried in it. 

He felt that he must attain better identification, 
more distinction. The name "Josh," was too com- 
monplace. He felt that he must sign his effusions 
with a pen-name far more distinctive. Pseudonyms 
were the fashion among the writers of that time. Sam 
Clemens sought for one outstanding, and at last 
abandoned Josh, and announced himself to readers 
of The Enterprise as "Mark Twain/ 3 It was not an 
original name. An old river pilot of the Mississippi 
had used it, but had died without giving it fame. 
The two words, sung out by a leadsman in a difficult 
channel, had always a pleasant connotation for a pilot. 
They meant two fathoms saf e water. Josh became 
Mark Twain. 

He was not alone in his labors. More valuable in 
fact if not in fancy was William Wright, known and 
long honored among the miners of the West as Dan 
DeQuille. Joseph Goodman, proprietor of The Enter- 
prise, Arthur McEwen, C. C. Goodwin and Sam 
Davis were others, eager and able to report the drama, 
both grave and gay. 

So the stage was set, the actors trained for their 
parts, and the critics and the chroniclers prepared for 
the big bonanza, a drama full of sound and fury, and 
signifying much. The play can never be forgotten, 
though the playhouse after only half a century lies 
in ruins. 


A once busy city, the greatest mining town upon 
the continent, is literally sinking into the earth which 
gave it birth ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The 
iron doors of the Wells-Fargo Express office, through 
which passed five hundred million dollars in bullion, 
sag drunkenly in a wall which threatens daily to crash 
upon the other ruined walls behind. A few graybeards 
eye a passing tourist and spit into the street from be- 
neath which, half a century ago, they took coin silver 
with their picks from dripping steaming walls, or fled 
in panic from such subterranean fires as might rival 
the terrors of Vesuvius. 



THE Mormon Church, just coming into power 
at Salt Lake City, had been looking upon California 
with calculating eyes. Brigham Young and his elders 
were dreaming of a nation of their own which would 
stretch from western Wyoming and Colorado to the 
coast of Oregon and California. In the midst of their 
dream they were awakened by the cry of "Gold!" in 
California. They had scarcely rubbed the sleep from 
their eyes when the throngs of adventurers began to 
stream through the Mormon capital to the land of 
promise. Then they saw clearly, and acted swiftly. 
The tents and cabins of thousands of bold but 
heretical Americans dotted the land west of the Sier- 
ras. The Latter-Day Saints realized that much of 
their dream must be abandoned. They could, how- 
ever, materialize the rest. So they organized the State 
of Deseret, comprising what is now Utah, Nevada, 
Arizona, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and south- 
ern California. Immediately they set out to colonize 
this great area. One of their newly established sta- 
tions was in the Carson Valley. There a settler washed 
out a little gold, which was reported promptly to the 



The next year a Mormon emigrant train, camping 
in Carson Valley to rest and recuperate their animals, 
devoted a little time to prospecting. They discovered 
a little gold at the mouth of what later became known 
as Gold Canyon. Knowing nothing of geology, they 
did not understand the significance of the deposit 
there. They abandoned the search shortly for what 
they believed to be greater opportunity beyond the 
Sierras. But snow in the mountains drove the party 
back to Carson Valley, where William Prouse, Nich- 
olas Kelly and John Orr passed the time by continu- 
ing a casual search for gold. Orr in fact dug a nug- 
get from a crevice in the rocks and was sufficiently 
thrilled to christen the place Gold Canyon. He 
failed to appreciate that gold in the canyon indicated 
a source of far greater riches higher up the slopes. 

With the advance of summer and the opening of 
the passes across the mountains the entire party of 
Mormons moved on into California. In the mean- 
time Congress refused to accept the Deseret bound- 
aries as specified by the Mormon Church, and the 
elders were confirmed in their decision that they must 
control the area by colonization. A second station 
was established in Carson Valley, and a second time 
the lure of gold destroyed it. 

Instead of going on to California, however, as their 
predecessors had done, these Mormon settlers and 
their hangers-on merely neglected their barren little 
farms to search for gold in the near-by Washoe Hills. 
One by one they strayed up Gold Canyon with pick 


and pan. Among them was a drunken, irresponsible 
teamster later known in the history of the West as 
James Finney or Fennimore, otherwise "Old Vir- 
ginia," for his habit of boasting of his native state. 

Thus for several years the mining interests in Gold 
Canyon continued to thwart the agricultural and po- 
litical interests of the Mormon Church in the Carson 
Valley below. But there seemed to be no such gold 
and no such opportunity as had brought thousands 
to California. The settlement in Gold Canyon sel- 
dom boasted more than one hundred inhabitants. 
And this number dwindled to less than a dozen each 
year as the advancing summer dried the feeble streams 
and made placer mining impossible. Even when pro- 
duction was at its height, few men could earn more 
than five dollars a day. The average was about two. 
This was not especially attractive in a country where 
flour occasionally went to two and one-half dollars 
a pound, and potatoes cost almost as much. 

Still the miners and the Mormons struggled on un- 
til in 1 8 57 Brigham Young abandoned his part of the 
enterprise and recalled all settlers to Salt Lake City. 
Four thousand of the Latter-Day Saints were gathered 
up by eighteen hundred ox-teams sent out to remote 
sections of the desert throughout the West. Pro- 
duction of gold from the pans and rockers of the Gold 
Canyon miners had fallen to one-tenth of its best 
year's record. The desolate Carson Valley was aban- 
doned, with its cabins, sawmills, truck farms, mining 
claims and water ditches. 


Three weekj after the Prophet's messengers had 
sounded the recall throughout the desert, four hun- 
dred and fifty Carson Valley Mormons, forming a 
cattle and wagon train two miles long, were plodding 
back to Salt Lake City. Three years later Orson Hyde, 
Mormon apostle, wrote to the owners of a sawmill he 
had erected and abandoned in the Washoe Valley. His 
letter reveals the first appreciation of the error of the 
Mormon Church. After demanding restoration of 
the abandoned property, Apostle Hyde concluded: 

"This demand of ours remaining uncanceled shall 
be to the people of Carson and Wassau Valleys as was 
the Ark of God among the Philistines. You shall be 
visited by the Lord of Hosts with thunder and with 
earthquakes, with floods, with pestilence and with 
famine, until your names are not known among 


In part the prophecy was fulfilled. Fire and flood 
and pestilence did indeed visit the district. But be- 
tween these visitations of the Apostle's vengeful Lord 
of Hosts came other things which Hyde had coveted 
for himself but had failed to prophesy riches, 
power, luxury. Even the nickname of the worth- 
less, drunken and heretical James Finney, Old Vir- 
ginia, promises to live as long as that of the bearded 
prophet himself. 

In the -meantime, however, the Washoe district, 
abandoned as worthless desert by the Mormons, was 


in need of some form of government. A few sturdy 
men still prospected, mined and farmed in the vicin- 
ity. The Utah authorities, then farther away than is 
Tokio at this moment, still claimed jurisdiction for 
election, revenue and judicial purposes. The regis- 
tration records of mining claims had been removed 
by the retiring Mormons. The remaining inhabi- 
tants were cut off from Salt Lake City by six hundred 
miles of burning desert in summer, from California 
by the impassable snows of the Sierras in winter. 

The men of the region were such men as might be 
expected to inhabit a land of rock and sand and sage- 
brush swept from season to season by hot sand-blasts 
and bitter blizzards, wresting a little gold from the 
gravel, a meager crop of beans from the bottom- 
lands, and sustaining life upon these beans, bacon, 
flapjacks and whisky. The worst of them settled 
their differences and established their rights in per- 
sonal encounters with knife and pistol. The best of 
them petitioned Congress to form the Territory of 
Nevada, and provide a government. This in due 
time was done. 

But before its accomplishment, western Utah had 
lost even the momentary importance which it had en- 
joyed through the Mormon trading posts on the 
main travel route to California placer mines. The 
California placers appeared to be nearing exhaustion 
in the late 'fifties. Travel through the Carson Valley 
had decreased to one- tenth of the maximum which it 
had reached in 1 8 54. Chinese laborers had taken the 


abandoned claims and farms of the whites at the orig- 
inal "Mormon Station," on Carson River. The settle- 
ment had even come to be identified as Chinatown, 
much to the disgust of the few whites who remained, 
'and who advised the occasional travelers that the 
town was "Mineral Rapids." The name failed to 
register. They changed it to "Nevada City." That 
too failed. In the days of its resurgence, however, 
it became Dayton, and that name remains upon the 
maps of western Nevada, though the town itself has 
almost vanished. 

The real center of activity in the district was John- 
town, a settlement of a dozen shanties and a score 
of huts, tents and dugouts, located some four miles 
from Dayton, up Gold Canyon. There in the 
shadow of Sun Peak, later identified in government 
maps as Mount Davidson, a hundred miners wielded 
pick and shovel, pan and rocker, to extract a meager 
living from the earth. From this primitive settle- 
ment they wandered into adjacent canyons upon the 
slopes of Mount Davidson, taking a pokeful of dust 
here and there along the gravel bottoms. Up Gold 
Canyon on the south side of Mount Davidson they 
worked. Up Six-Mile Canyon to the eastward 
they labored, stripping the surface of such gold as 
their pans and rockers might reveal, but apparently 
never realizing that this gold must have come from a 
richer source in the decomposed outcroppings above. 

From month to month as they ascended the slopes 
their gold became less fine. The bankers in Placer- 


ville, California, who bought the dust, reduced the 
price gradually from eighteen to thirteen dollars an 
ounce, explaining that it was mixed with a growing 
percentage of silver. The miners complained, and 
still failed to understand the significance. Still they 
worked upward, probably because they knew of no 
better way to provide their beans and bacon and 

On Saturday nights they gathered at Dutch Nick's 
saloon for the weekly dance at which the Piute prin- 
cess, Sarah Winnemucca, and the three white women 
of Johntown provided a foretaste of the night club 
of to-day. On the rare days when the Placerville 
stage came in with the coined reward of their toil 
they gathered in the store of Jacob Job, the camp's 
only merchant, and bucked the tiger until Job had 
traded experience for cash and sent them back to 
their picks and shovels. 

Among the men were names which, despite the 
curse of Apostle Orson Hyde, have not been for- 
gotten. There was Henry Thomas Paige Comstock, 
a lanky, loud-voiced, boastful, bullying prospector 
with a short chin beard and a shaven upper lip which 
gave him a sanctimonious air entirely out of keeping 
with his real character. He was known familiarly as 
"Old Pancake," because he subsisted chiefly upon 
flapjacks, insisting he was always too busy to make 
the sour-dough bread of the miners. There was James 
Finney, the Old Virginia who had drifted into the 
region as a teamster with the Mormon expedition of 


1851, and remained to become as famous as he was 
bibulous. There were Peter O'Riley, Patrick 
McLaughlin, Manny Penrod, Jack Bishop, Joe 
Winters, and a few other choice spirits with some 
claim to fame. 

Less famous, as they were less infamous, but more 
deserving of mention because their part in the de- 
velopment of the district was based upon intelligent 
effort rather than accident, were the Grosh brothers, 
Ethan Allen and Hosea Ballou, sons of a Pennsylvania 
preacher. The brothers had gone to California by sea 
from Philadelphia in 1849. Failing to make more 
than a bare living in the placers, they drifted eastward 
across the Sierras into the Washoe district and began 
to mine in Gold Canyon. The Grosh brothers identi- 
fied the first silver in the region. 

Silver was a new idea to the miners of the time and 
jlace, but one which the Grosh brothers were capable 
of entertaining. But silver mining required capital 
which the mining of placer gold did not require. In 
search of such capital the brothers returned to Cali- 
fornia. There they obtained a grub-stake and con- 
tinued their exploration of Gold Canyon. They 
wrote to their father that they had discovered pure 
silver, resembling thin sheet lead broken very fine. 
The gold-miners had made the same discovery but 
believed the metal to be lead, and threw it away with 
curses and contempt. Not so the Groshes. They 
continued to prospect for silver ore, and traced veins 
which their diagrams, drawn at the time, indicate 


were the south end of the great Comstock deposits. 

They even described the ore which years later made 
up the bulk of the big bonanza. "Its colors are violet- 
blue, indigo-blue, blue-black and greenish-black/ 5 
They obtained an assay showing thirty-five hundred 
dollars' worth of silver to the ton of ore. That was 
too good to be true. But they located claims upon 
what apparently was the Comstock lode, and labored 
on with their gold rockets to earn enough money for 
development. At the same time they tried to inter- 
est capital. They had indeed obtained a promise of 
sufficient funds to open their silver claims on a com- 
mercial basis when the capitalist was murdered by 
desperadoes, and their hopes were dashed. 

Then, when a vast fortune had been dangled before 
their eyes and snatched away, Hosea injured his foot 
with a pick. Blood-poisoning set in. Within a 
month he was dead. Ethan Allen Grosh, sixty dollars 
in debt through his brother's illness and funeral, de- 
cided once more to go to California to raise funds. 
But first he felt it necessary to pay off his debt. Work- 
ing for wages to that end occupied him until late in 
November. The first snows had swept down upon 
the Sierras. 

But Ethan Grosh and a friend, Richard Maurice 
Bucke, later a distinguished physician and writer in 
Canada, could not wait. Though the brothers had 
lived apart from the roisterers of Johntown and 
managed to keep secret their knowledge of the silver 
deposits, they could not be certain that the informa- 


tion would remain their secret indefinitely. So Ethan 
Grosh and Doctor Bucke loaded a burro with supplies 
and started through the snow-bound mountains, 
more than one hundred miles from Johntown to 
Placerville on the lower west slope of the Sierras. 

On the first night in mountains, the burro, wiser 
than the men, slipped his hobbles and headed back 
toward the comparative comfort of the desert. Four 
days were wasted before the animal was found, re- 
loaded and driven upward into a driving snow-storm. 
Storm followed storm as day followed day while men 
and burro toiled onward. In Squaw Valley at last, 
near the top of the western ridge, rain alternated with 
snow and freezing weather with thaws until the 
travelers, unable to move, had consumed the last of 
their provisions and killed the donkey for food. 

On crude snowshoes they climbed again, only to 
be lost in the drifts and driven back to their pitiful 
refuge. Again they tried, and reached a mountain 
cabin beyond the summit. And again the snows 
closed down upon them. Outside movement would 
have been suicide. They remained until even their 
donkey meat was almost gone. Matches and gun- 
powder had been ruined by the dampness. The two 
men threw away everything, and ran for their lives, 
stumbling, falling and sliding down the steep slopes. 
At night they burrowed in the snow for shelter. For 
four days they continued in this frozen wilderness 
until at last they came upon a snow-bound mining 


Their feet were frozen, their eyes snow-blinded, 
their stomachs unable to assimilate the coarse food 
provided. Both became delirious, and after twelve 
days Grosh died. With him died the first secret of the 
Comstock. Bucke, broken in health, returned to 
Canada. The clue was lost. 

Only Old Virginia and Old Pancake, and their 
drinking, boasting, stupid associates remained on the 
slopes of Mount Davidson, cursing the heavy blue 
stuff which clogged their gold rockers, and throwing 
it away with bitter maledictions. Intelligent practi- 
cal effort to a definite end had ceased for the time. 

Still the little group of men who made up the camp 
of Johntown must work to live. They had to pro- 
duce something to pay for the meager rations supplied 
by the few remaining farmers along the Carson River. 
And in search for dirt which would yield them enough 
gold to buy food and the "tarantula juice" whisky 
which they required, they toiled slowly upward 
through the canyons. Thus a group which included 
Henry Comstock, Old Virginia, John Bishop, Aleck 
Henderson and Jack Yount on a January day of 1 8 59 
took samples from the slope on the upper east side of 
the canyon and washed the dirt in a tiny spring near 
at hand. Each pan of dirt showed from eight to fif- 
teen cents* worth of gold. 

It was nothing to be greatly excited about. But 
those men were of the type of the true prospector. 
They drank enough tarantula juice whisky to make 
the snakes and tarantulas which bit them very sick, 


but there was within them an urge for mining dis- 
covery even stronger than the whisky. Despite the 
fact that the new claims which they staked were 
several miles from their permanent camp at John- 
town, and as much farther from their source of 
supplies in the Carson Valley, they started eagerly to 
work on the new location. 

They set up tents and brush huts and named the 
settlement Gold Hill. Old Virginia took up a spring 
in the ravine and the miners carried their dirt by hand 
for w^fa^ng. For a few weeks they earned little. But 
they persisted^despite the sneers of the miners at 
Johntown in their Saturday night gatherings. Then 
the product of their rockers began to increase as they 
delved deeper into the earth. The returns mounted 
to ten, fifteen and twenty dollars a day. 

That was enough for the Johntowners, who were 
earning an average of four dollars. Johntown moved 
to Gold Hill. The slopes swarmed with prospectors. 
But the rich ground was limited. When picks and 
shovels strayed from a definite line the reward fell 
off sharply. Although they did not suspect it, they 
were in reality working on a deposit of decomposed 
outcroppings, nature's concentration of one end of 
the true Comstock lode. Their discovery was in fact 
the discovery of the Comstock, though it did not go 
into the records as such. 

There was not enough rich ground to provide 
profitable claims for the seventy or eighty men who 
made up the settlement. They scattered, searching 


for more. Prospecting interest centered for a time 
near the head of Six-Mile Canyon. There, in the 
spring of 1 8 59, Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaugh- 
lin, who had been mining in the district for several 
years, opened a trench from which they took a wage 
of one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars a day. It 
was poor pay. The Irishmen were discouraged. They 
wanted to get away to a new placer strike on Walker 
River, of which there was much talk in the camp. 
But they were broke. They needed one hundred 
dollars for a grub-stake. So they remained, and toiled 
and sweat, and instead of one hundred dollars, re- 
ceived forty- three thousand five hundred dollars* 



PETER O'RxLEY and Patrick McLaughlin were in 
fact the practical discoverers of the Comstock lode, 
though the name and fame went to Henry Thomas 
Paige Comstock. Neither man nor justice has changed 
greatly in the seven decades since the two Irishmen 
cleaned their first rocker load of rich ore which 
topped the mine which was to become world famous 
as the Ophir. 

The spring in which they washed their dirt was 
claimed by Comstock. By sheer force of a loud voice 
and some cunning understanding of human nature, 
he had made himself a figure in the rough community. 
It happened that upon the day when OTRiley and 
McLaughlin made their first clean-up, amounting to 
more than two hundred dollars, Comstock was 
searching the slopes for a horse which he had turned 
out to rustle for a living. He had found the horse and 
was riding back to Gold Hill when he came upon the 
Irishmen, cleaning their rocker for the day. 

One glance was sufficient. "You've struck it, 
boys!" he shouted, and promptly declared himself 
in. "The only trouble is that you've struck it on my 
land. You know I bought this spring from. Old Man 



Caldwell. And I took up on? hundred and sixty 
acres here for a ranch/* 

The Irishmen protested, as well they might. It 
was possible that Comstock had posted a notice claim- 
ing the land for agricultural purposes. Men of the 
time were always posting such notices and never hav- 
ing them recorded or securing title. It was a fact that 
Comstock, with Manny Penrod and Old Virginia, 
had bought the water and some old sluice-boxes from 
a miner named Caldwell in the previous year. But it 
was also a fact that he had never recorded title to the 
water rights. 

Bu ( t Comstock nevertheless made his demand and 
his bluff convincing. His legal rights were negligible, 
if indeed they existed at all, but his character was such 
as perhaps might justify the fame which came to him 
in this doubtful manner with the naming of the 
Comstock lode. A captious historian might insist 
that the vast silver deposit was improperly and inade- 
quately named; that the man whose name it has 
immortalized was in no way worthy of the honor; 
that his part in the epochal development of the day 
was insignificant if not disreputable. Such a conten- 
tion would be true in fact but false in spirit. 

Henry Thomas Paige Comstock was a figure so 
congenial to the time and place that the application 
of his name to the most spectacular silver deposit in 
history completes a perfect picture. The very fact 
that he could bluff the actual discoverers of the first 
rich mine on the lode into giving him an interest 


superior to their own", and that he promptly assumed 
such importance as to identify the entire lode with 
his name is indicative of the spirit which launched 
hundreds of millions of dollars into the world. 

Comstock's tall figure and air of sanctimonious 
dignity impressed the ignorant newcomers who soon 
began pouring into the district. They accepted him 
at his own valuation as a man of great affairs. He 
located dozens of claims and hired Indians and whites 
to work them while he assumed the airs of a great 
proprietor. He gained so much naive satisfaction 
from the part that frequently he paid out in wages 
more than the diggings produced. Undoubtedly he 
was greedy for gold, but even more greedy for the 
limelight. So he seized naturally and properly upon 
the position of prominence opened to him with the 
opening of the lode. And he played the part of lead- 
ing citizen of such a district to perfection, and at any 

Shortly after the opening discovery, a group of 
women from the little town of Genoa in the Carson 
Valley visited the scene. Miners in the Ophir were 
taking fifty dollars to one hundred dollars in gold 
from a single pan of the crushed ore. A practise had 
originated in the California placer camps to honor 
women visitors by washing out a pan of sand for their 
edification and giving them the resulting gold. Corn- 
stock proceeded to do the honors for his visitors. 

He advised the man in the cut to fill the gift pans 
with the richest ore in sight. Each woman thereby 


profited to the amount of one hundred and fifty dol- 
lars to two hundred dollars, with equal satisfaction to 
herself and Comstock. But noticing an especially 
pretty young woman in the group, Old Pancake, 
always susceptible, secretly dropped a handful of dust 
from his pocket into the pan set aside for her. His ex- 
tra gift must have been in the neighborhood of one 
hundred and fifty dollars, for the pan consigned to 
beauty netted three hundred dollars. And Comstock 
was amply repaid by the smile which resulted. 

This susceptibility to feminine charms eventually 
gained him wider notoriety throughout the district. 
An insignificant Mormon immigrant arrived at the 
diggings one day with a wife and all his worldly goods 
in a dilapidated wagon. The wife immediately in- 
trigued Old Pancake's interest. He determined to 
keep her in camp, and to that end hired her husband 
to work in the Ophir mine, of which he was acting 
superintendent. Then he proceeded to win the 
woman. It seems to have been a simple task. In a 
week he carried her away to the Carson Valley, and 
was married by a so-called clergyman who did not 
recognize the Mormon ritual. Then he introduced 
the bride in Carson City. The honeymoon was pro- 
gressing happily when the Mormon husband appeared 
and protested. Comstock bought him off with a 
horse, a revolver and sixty dollars in cash, for which 
he received a regular bill of sale for the woman. 

A day or two later he decided to go to San Francisco 
on business. The trip was difficult for a woman, and 


he left the bride in Carson City. At Placerville, on 
his return, he received word that his wife had eloped 
with a Carson City youth and was on her way to 
California. She had to come through Placerville. 
Comstock lay in wait with a few friends, caught the 
woman, took her to his room and talked the matter 
out. She convinced him that she was sorry and would 
thenceforth be a good and faithful wife. Comstock 
carried the glad news to the waiting friends and in- 
vited them all to meet the repentant bride. But no 
bride was in the room. She had climbed out a back 
window and departed again with her more youthful 

A reward of one hundred dollars was promptly 
offered for the capture and return of the runaways. 
The next day they were driven into Comstock's 
presence at the point of a revolver. He paid the re- 
ward, locked up the wife and turned the young man 
over to his friends. The youth vanished and the wife 
was taken back to Virginia City where Comstock 
managed to keep her until the following spring, when 
she ran away once more with a strolling miner. That 
ended Comstock's matrimonial adventure while it 
widened his fame and revealed unsuspected features 
in his character. 

In the meantime, however, he had sold his entire 
interest in the Comstock lode to Judge James Walsh 
for eleven thousand dollars, and set up a store in the 
metropolis of Carson City, with a branch in Gold 
Canyon. There he trusted all comers, and after a few 


months the Piutes came in and carried away the re- 
mains of the stock as a free gift from the proprietor. 
Thus, within a year of the discovery, Comstock van- 
ished from the lode to which he gave his name. 

Although he never reappeared upon the scene, he 
came once more into the public eye in an effort to 
justify his place in history. And the effort, if not the 
facts, does help to justify it. In Butte, Montana, 
where eventually he ended his own life in poverty, 
Comstock wrote a letter which was published in the 
St. Louis Republican and republished in numerous 
western papers. In part, it reads : 

"The first discovery of the Comstock lode was 
made in this way: In the middle of January, 1 8 59, 1 
saw some queer looking stuff in a gopher hole. I ran 
my hand in and took out a handful of dirt and saw 
silver and gold in it. At that time big John Bishop and 
Old Virginia were with me, when I found it; they 
were sitting upon the side of the hill, Gold Hill, a 
couple of hundred yards from me. I took up five 
claims. A couple of weeks from that time, and where 
the Ophir is now located, I found the same prospects, 
and told the boys at Gold Hill I was going to work as 
good a mine as the first discovery. . , * Riley and 
McLaughlin were working for me at the time of the 
discovery. I caved the cut in and went after my party 
to take up the lead and form my company. Manny 
Penrod, Peter Riley, Patrick McLaughlin, 'Kentuck' 
or Osborne, and myself formed a company. With my 


party I opened the lead and called it the Comstock 
lode; that is the way they came by their interests; I 
gave it to them. 

et . . . I also located the Savage claim; showed the 
ground to old man Savage. I located the Gould and 
Curry went into the valley and got old Daddy 
Curry to come down, and put him in possession of it. 

"I also owned the Hale and Norcross, and kept 
Norcross for a year to work that ground. I also 
owned the principal part in Gold Hill and leased it out 
to Walsh and Woodruff. . . Now I will tell you how 
I sold it. It has never been told as it ought to be told 
throughout the United States for my benefit, and it 
shall be. 

"Sandy Bowers, I gave him his claim of 20 feet in 
Gold Hill. Bill Knight, I gave him his claim; Joe 
Flato, I gave him his. Joe is dead now and his widow 
is awful rich. . . . 

"I went on working and Judge Walsh and Wood- 
ruff were there for two months, trying ever y day to 
buy me out. My health being bad I sold the claim to 
them on these terms: I was to get $10,000, and did 
get it at last; and I was to receive one-eleventh of all 
that ever came out of the claim during my natural 
life, and at my death was to will it to whoever I 
pleased; also, to receive $100 a month. 

"That was the contract; and two men, Elder Ben- 
nett and Manny Penrod witnessed it; but my health 
was bad and before I had the contract of sale recorded, 
Woodruff and ^alsh sold out. Having taken no lien 


on the property, I never got a dollar, from that day to 
this, except what was at first received. . . ." 

So went Comstock's story. The fact that it is 
largely incorrect is beside the point. The fact that 
the man could so brazenly claim not only the dis- 
covery of the lode but title to virtually all the best 
ground on it, contrary to unimpeachable evidence, 
casts a vivid light upon his character and accounts in 
a large degree for his prominence. Proof of its falsity 
is contained in the record of sale by Comstock to 
Judge Walsh for eleven thousand dollars of all his 
rights and property in the district. 

It is clear that Comstock, in common with all his 
pioneer associates, did not for a moment suspect the 
vast extent and potential wealth of the district. Few 
men did. They were gold-miners. They stripped 
the surface of gold, but could not conceive of a deposit 
of silver ore which would run into hundreds of 
millions. In the first rush of Calif ornians to the new 
district the pioneers who were able to sell claims for 
as much as five hundred dollars or one thousand dol- 
lars openly boasted of having made shrewd deals. 

jfylvah Gould, for instance, half -owner of the Gould 
& Curry, a mine destined to produce millions, sold his 
interest for four hundred and fifty dollars, and went 
galloping down Gold Canyon shouting, "Fve got 
away with the Calif ornians ! " Some years later, when 
his sale had netted enormous fortunes for the buyers, 
Gould was keeping a peanut stand in Reno. 


The Calif ornians whom he "got away with" in- 
cluded one man named George Hearst. In that four- 
hundred-and-fifty-dollar purchase was part of the 
foundation of the Hearst fortune, multiplied many 
times and made famous and powerful through the 
journalistic energy and originality of its first heir, 
William Randolph Hearst, 

In the beginning, however, records apart from 
Comstock's subsequent letter reveal that the bull- 
dozing pioneer induced O'Riley and McLaughlin to 
include his name with those of Penrod and J. A. 
("Kentuck") Osborne in the location notice which 
they had previously posted. The claims covered 
fifteen hundred feet of ground along what became 
known to the world as the Comstock lode. 

But even with two hundred and fifty dollars* worth 
of gold in a buckskin poke as the product of a single 
day's labor, it did not occur to the miners that they 
had struck a deposit which would startle the world. 
They were simple, ignorant men. How simple and 
how ignorant is best revealed by their subsequent 
actions. While the mine was producing five hundred 
dollars to one thousand dollars a day from the surface 
workings, McLaughlin sold his interest for thirty- 
five hundred dollars. Penrod sold for eighty-five 
hundred dollars. Osborne sold for seventy-five hun- 
dred dollars. Comstock sold for eleven thousand 
dollars. O'Riley, who held on longer than any of the 
original locators, received forty thousand dollars, 
which he promptly lost in stock speculation. 


McLaughlin became a cook at forty dollars a 
month, and died a pauper. O'Riley died in an insane 
asylum. Comstock, almost starving, committed 
suicide. Old Virginia was thrown from his horse and 
killed while on a protracted spree. Their associates, 
such as Winters, Bishop, Osborne, almost equally 
prominent in the spectacular discoveries of 1 8 59, died 
equally poor. 

But in the meantime there was such wild activity 
upon the slopes of Mount Davidson as only a free 
gold camp can inspire. Claims were located in all 
directions. A few old prospectors had sufficient ex- 
perience to trace the richer outcroppings and claim 
valuable ground. But all were placer miners. They 
had no knowledge of geology or of quartz formations 
and possibilities. They scratched and dug at the sur- 
face, washing sand and gravel, or breaking the harder 
ore in crude Mexican arrastras and shoveling it into 
their rockers. 

Always they cursed and threw away the heavy 
blue-black deposit which clogged the riffles and 
carried away their quicksilver. No one recognized 
this black stuff as the rich silver ore which was the true 
wealth of the Comstock. Still the camp thrived. 
Tent houses and saloons sprang up in the sage-brush. 
Men thronged to the workings and labored and sweat. 

With the lack of originality common to prospectors 
they named the camp Pleasant Hill., Some called it 
Mount Pleasant Point. A miners 5 meeting, called to 
arrange some system of registration and transfer for 


the claims which were changing hands almost hourly, 
decided to call it Winnemucca after the chief of the 
Piute Indians native to the country. Then Old 
Virginia, happily drunk as he had been for weeks since 
money and whisky had circulated freely, finished a 
night's revel by falling at the door of his cabin and 
breaking his bottle. Rising to his knees, he waved the 
bottle neck and shouted, "I baptize this ground 
Virginia Town." The name was promptly and 
generally accepted, though for years the "town" was 
generally ignored, and "city" finally was appended. 

Within a few weeks the settlement was recognized 
as the most important place in the Washoe district. 
Then a California rancher, happening to visit the new 
workings, in July of 1859, carried away a sample of 
the blue-black ore which was causing the miners so 
much grief. In Grass Valley, a leading gold camp on 
the west slope of the Sierras, he presented the specimen 
to Judge James Walsh, a leading citizen, who had it 
assayed. The assay revealed a value of several thou- 
sand dollars per ton, mostly in silver. 

It was a shock to a gold-minded man, but a shock 
which he was able to survive. Having been told by 
the rancher that the Washoe miners were throwing 
away tons and tons of this blue-black ore, Judge 
Walsh acted promptly. With a friend, Joe Wood- 
worth, he packed a mule and started before daybreak 
for Washoe* 

He was none too soon. No news in the world 
spreads with the sapidity of the report of a new strike 


in a mining community. No group of men in the 
world acts as promptly and unanimously upon such 
information. Only by driving the mule and them- 
selves to the limit of their powers did Walsh and 
"Wbodworth reach the Washoe district ahead of half 
the residents of Grass Valley. Hardly had they pur- 
chased an interest in what appeared to be the more 
promising locations than the rush of Calif ornians was 
upon them. 

Hundreds of men, afoot or on muleback, swarmed 
across the Sierras, rounded Lake Tahoe, descended into 
the Carson Valley, and ascended Gold Canyon to Gold 
Hill and Virginia City. Pioneers of several years* 
standing who had never known more than a score of 
neighbors, awoke in their huts to find throngs of 
strangers wielding pick and shovel and erecting loca- 
tion monuments at their very doors. Wild days were 
to come. 



CASUAL placer mining in Nevada gave way to some- 
thing far greater upon the day when word reached 
the Washoe district that the black stuff which the 
ignorant miners had been throwing away for weeks 
was in reality silver ore which assayed as high as 
$4,79 1 in silver to the ton. With that word came the 
vanguard of such a motley army of rich men, poor 
men, beggar men, thieves, merchants, miners and bar- 
room chiefs as the world has seldom seen. 

Eastward across the Sierras, reasonably safe in 
summer, came the majority. From all parts of 
Nevada to which prospectors had penetrated, came 
others. The rocky sage-brush slopes of Mount David- 
son, Gold Canyon, Six-Mile Canyon, Seven-Mile 
Canyon, Flowery Ridge, and neighboring hills and 
valleys were dotted with location monuments for 
miles around. A few of the original settlers and a 
few of the early arrivals upon the trail of Walsh and 
Woodruff fixed their claims upon the visible outcrop- 
pings of the ledge to which Comstock had arbitrarily 
given his name the Comstock lode. These claims in- 
cluded some which were to become as famous as the 
first mine the Ophir, They included the Yellow 



Jacket, Mexican, Gould & Curry, Hale & Nor- 
cross, Chollar, Potosi, Belcher, and more. 

But having erected their monuments, most of the 
swarming invaders could do little more. Even those 
who were willing and eager to work, did not know 
how to work a silver mine. They had had their train- 
ing in the gold placers of California. They could 
wield a pick, open a surface deposit, shovel sand and 
gravel into a rocker, and wash it for gold. This was 
not the way to recover the silver which predominated 
in the new diggings. The newcomers for the most 
part occupied themselves in trading "feet" in their 
holdings, carousing in the saloons which sprang up 
overnight on the mountainside, or prospecting for 
further discoveries. 

In order to trade, however, it was necessary to have 
some semblance of recorded title* There had been 
virtually no government in the district since Brigham 
Young had withdrawn his Mormon settlers and his 
paternalistic control. Gold Hill, the leading camp 
prior to the O'Riley and McLaughlin discovery, had 
assumed to rule the region under a constitution drawn 
up by the leading miners. That document, still pre- 
served, is worthy of quotation in part: 

"Whereas the isolated position we occupy far from 
all legal tribunals and cut off from those fountains of 
justice which every American citizen should en- 
joy . . . renders it necessary that we organize in body 


politic for our mutual protection against the lawless 
and for meeting out justice between man and man; 
therefore, we, citizens of Gold Hill, do hereby agree 
to adopt the following rules and laws for our govern- 
ment* . 

Rules and Regulations* 

"Sec. 1 . Any person who shall wilfully and with 
malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, 
upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty 
of death by hanging. 

"Sec. 2. Any person who shall wilfully wound 
another shall, upon conviction thereof, suffer such 
penalty as the jury shall determine. 

"Sec. 3 . Any person found guilty of robbery or 
theft, shall, upon conviction, be punished with stripes 
or banishment, as the jury may determine. 

"Sec. 4. Any person found guilty of assault and 
battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon 
conviction, be fined or banished as the jury may de- 


There were more laws, equally crude, but the good 
faith in which they were drawn is revealed in the 
dramatic manner in which occasionally they were en- 
forced. William Wright, a contemporary of Mark 
Twain on Virginia City's leading newspaper, The 
Territorial Enterprise, in his History of the Big 
Bonanza, published in 1876, has left a detailed ac- 
count of one such incident. 


"In August, 1 8 59, two thieves who gave the names 
of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of 
cattle at Chinatown (now Dayton), and driving 
them to Washoe valley, offered them for sale at a 
price so low that they were at once suspected of hav- 
ing stolen the animals. They were arrested, and it 
having been proved that the cattle had been stolen 
from the ranch of a Mr. Campbell, near Dayton, the 
sentence of the jury was that they have their left ears 
cut off, and that they be banished the country. 

". . . Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe 
valley, was appointed executioner. He drew out a 
big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not 
finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes 
across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking 
a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated 
by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. 

"As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentle- 
man was observed to wear a cunning smile. He 
seemed very much amused about something. The 
executioner, however, meant business, and tossing 
Reise's ear over to the jury ... he went after 
Ruspas. . . . Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow's hair, 
which he wore hanging down upon his shoulders, and 
lo! there was no left ear; it having been parted with on 
some previous similar occasion. 

"Here was a fix for the executioner! His instruc- 
tions were to cut off the fellow's left ear, and there 
was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner 
now looked him in the face and laughed aloud. . . . 


Sturtevant now appealed to the jury for instructions. 
The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, but be- 
ing in a good humor said they would reconsider their 
sentence; that rather than anyone should be disap- 
pointed the executioner might take off the prisoner's 
right ear if he had one. 

"The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas 
as he felt Sturtevant's fingers securing a firm hold on 
the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant 
gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas 5 ear over 
to the jury, saying as he did so that they now had a 
pair of ears that were lights and lefts 5 and therefore 
properly mated/* 

Under men capable of such enforcement of their 
own crude laws, the system of recording title to the 
mining claims which were almost their only property 
was strangely ineffective. The miners of Gold Hill 
first elected V. A. Houseworth, a blacksmith con- 
sidered as honest as Longfellow's, to be Recorder. 
Evidently Houseworth considered others as honest as 
himself. He thought to complete his duties by plac- 
ing a blank book on a shelf behind the bar of a saloon. 

There the miners were allowed to enter the records 
of their locations as they saw fit. Further, they could 
erase and alter either their own records or those of 
their associates whenever and however they wished. 
The book, still preserved, shows ample evidence of 
many such erasures and alterations. Even unaltered 
records were so indefinite as to be almost valueless. 


O'Riley and McLaughlin, discoverers of the Ophir 
claims which launched the Comstock, signed one 
recorded notice which reads: "We the undersigned 
claim this spring and stream for mining purposes/ 5 
Another record appears: "We the undersigned claim 
2,000 feet on this quarts lead, ledgg, lode or vein, be- 
ginning at this stake and running north." There are 
scores of such records which fail even to identify the 
claims as being in Nevada, let alone any definite part 
of Nevada* They are amusingly remindful of the 
historic notice of Doc Trotter, locating the famous 
lost Breyfogle mine: 

"Commencing at this big monument of stone on a 
cold rainy night and running 3 5 hours with Indians 
after him come to a big canyon that runs up to the 
North with two big rocks on side of the mouth of 
the canyon the one on the right round and smooth, 
the one on the left rough and rugged. These rocks 
stand 20 feet high. Follow up this canyon about five 
hours on burros or one and one-half hours on horse- 
back you will come to the forks of the canyon. Take 
the left hand one and ride hard for about two hours 
and you will come to an old stone corral. Go to the 
right of this about 9,000 feet and you will come to 
a small gulch leading up to the right. Go up this 
about a quarter of a mile you will come to a small 
water hole; sometimes it is dry. Water your animals 
here, fill your canteen and then go until the gulch 
forks again, then take the right hand one until it 


forks, then lead up the left one just a little ways you 
will discover the find we have been unable to locate* 
The canyon is yet and we take this means of locating 
the big find." 

On such an unstable foundation lawsuits blossomed 
almost as profusely as the sales and trades of mining 
property. Such suits started as soon as the vast po- 
tential value of the Comstock lode was appreciated. 
Among the first was one against the Ophir Company, 
promoters of the first paying mine in the district. 
Comstock and his associates having sold control of the 
Ophir to Judge Walsh and Joe "Wbodworth, another 
company purchased neighboring ground which had 
been located by Old Virginia in the previous year. 
As soon as the Ophir workings revealed the real riches 
of the lode the neighboring company sued the Ophir 
on the theory that the Ophir was really a part of their 
vein. The basis of the suit, as in later similar suits, 
was the vague description in the location records. 

In this case it became necessary to produce the 
original notice deposited at the scene of location by 
Old Virginia. But the parties bringing the suit could 
never get the old reprobate sufficiently sober to find 
the notice. Finally they grew desperate and locked 
the old man up in a mining tunnel all night. In the 
morning they found him sober but savage. He re- 
fused to do anything for them until they had given 
him half a tumblerful of whisky. Then he marched 
up the hill, pulled a stone from among the outcrop- 


pings, and produced the notice which had been buried 
there. The plaintiffs netted sixty thousand dollars 
from that notice. Old Virginia's profits were an old 
horse, a pair of blankets and a bottle of whisky. 

With the basic business of the camp on such pre- 
carious footing, the more intelligent men who had 
come in with the first great rush to invest, to mine, 
or to build and operate mills for the reduction of the 
ore, quickly reorganized the system of recording 
titles. An official Mining Recorder was elected to 
keep the records straight. The first days of wild 
speculation passed into comparative calm. There was 
work for some of the men who wanted to work, but 
no more fortunes to be picked casually out of the 
ground. The price of food was almost prohibitive, 
and many of the newcomers were driven back to 
California to escape starvation. But even those dis- 
appointed ones helped to spread the news that the 
silver wealth of the world appeared to be concentrated 
in the Washoe district. 

By the time the extent and nature of the Corn- 
stock lode had been so advertised, late in the autumn 
of 1859, snow was falling in the Sierras. The single 
narrow, rocky, precipitous emigrant wagon road from 
Carson Valley to Placerville was virtually impassable 
by the time the certainty of unlimited riches had 
penetrated to San Francisco. But when it did pene- 
trate, the adventurous spirits who made up the 
majority of the state's population were rarin* to go. 

Even the heat of enthusiasm generated by stories 


of millions to be gained could not thaw the drifts and 
avalanches which blocked the mountains in that 
deadly winter. Most of the invaders were checked 
at Placerville. A few struggled on to snow-bound 
stations higher in the mountains. Perhaps a few 
dozen reached Virginia City. Perhaps a dozen, 
starved and frozen out of the brush huts and dugouts 
which were the chief habitations on the snow-swept 
slopes of Mount Davidson, reached the Sacramento 
Valley, with frozen hands or feet and cases of 
pneumonia to warn the waiting throngs of the terrors 
of the mountain passes. 

It was a bitter winter. There were fifty feet of 
snow in the Sierra passes. The Washoe Mountains 
were stripped of their scrub pines to provide firewood 
for the miners. The two water-power arrastras which 
had been built by Woodworth and Hastings on the 
Carson River to reduce three tons of the silver ore 
per day were frozen frequently. The four-stamp 
horse-powered mill constructed by Logan and 
Holmes, the first stamp mill in the district, did little 

Still, bars of bullion, the first silver ever produced 
in Nevada, appeared in the windows of San Francisco 
banks and added a white flame to the fires of excite- 

The actual development of the Comstock was 
negligible. Work was almost at a standstill. There 
was, however, some opportunity for the organization 
of local government, the saner study of the district's 


possibilities, and the formation of more intelligent 
plans of mining* So when the first breaking of winter 
in the Sierras allowed the movement of the hardiest of 
the waiting throngs, the newcomers found a self- 
conscious if not yet a self-respecting community. 

Those few starved and frozen residents of Virginia 
City who had reached California during the winter 
carried the news that flour was selling at seventy-five 
cents a pound, and all food at similar prices. Blankets 
were almost beyond price, and a tent was worth the 
price of a modern bungalow. Moved by such op- 
portunities for profit, daring traders packed mules 
with food, whisky and blankets, and invaded the 
Sierra passes before the end of February. The mules 
sank to their bellies in the drifts. The blankets were 
unloaded and spread upon the snow to give a safer 
footing. Still the attempt failed. 

Not until March did a trader reach Virginia City 
with his pack-train. There he erected a tent, sold 
two hundred dollars* worth of drinks before night- 
fall, and rented blankets and space to roll them on the 
floor to forty men at one dollar each. Close upon his 
heels came others, until the frozen passes of the high 
mountains swarmed with men and mules. 

The river steamers from San Francisco to Sacra- 
mento, whence the land ^trip began by way of 
Placerville, were loaded to the sinking point with 
freight and men bound for Washoe. Only one who 
has witnessed the unparalleled excitement of a new 
mining camp in a land whose prosperity is built upon 


mines can imagine the situation. Farmers abandoned 
their fields, merchants their stores, mechanics their 
tools, teachers their schools, to take part in the in- 
vasion of the land of promise. 

Tons upon tons of miscellaneous freight littered the 
roadside above Placerville, with the owners vainly 
offering fifty cents a pound for its transportation to 
Virginia City. Every possible form of conveyance 
was impressed. Carts, wagons, pack animals, even 
wheelbarrows labored up the rutted muddy road from 
Placerville to the first stage station at Sportsmen's 
Hall, eleven miles away. There, weaklings began to 
drop out, while others struggled on to Junction Hill, 
the highest point west of the main ridge of the Sierras. 

By that point the line was definitely thinning. 
Mules mired in the mudholes, wagons sunk to their 
hubs, abandoned packs in the roadway helped to im- 
pede the traffic. But the hardier spirits trudged 
onward and upward, and the wealthier travelers rolled 
slowly past them in the swaying stages of the Pioneer 
Company, or joined their ranks and plodded through 
the muddy snow on steeper slopes where the stage 
horses could not pull their load. 

The travelers were never out of sight of other 
travelers, and never out of sight of the tragic evidence 
of disaster which had overtaken other adventurers. 
Ruins of abandoned freight wagons, carcasses of 
mules, broken wheelbarrows, picks, shovels, looted 
packs littered the way. Now and again through the 
rain and fog and snow there loomed a wayside tavern 


built of wagon bottoms, packing cases and burlap, to 
welcome the wayfarers with whisky, and table d'hotes 
consisting of beans, bacon and potatoes. More pre- 
tentious places such as "Pete's," "Dirty Mike's," the 
"Strawberry Hotel," or "Woodford's" offered a 
night's shelter in addition to the whisky and food. 

Strawberry Hotel, in what is still known as Straw- 
berry Flat, high in the Sierras, was the most preten- 
tious of the stopping-places. It was a large log house 
with a main room containing an immense fireplace. 
Huge lags blazed on the hearth, throwing out a heat 
which must have been welcome to the half -frozen 
travelers, though it drove them to the benches ranged 
around the walls. When the dining-room opened the 
crowd rushed the doors and filled the benches around 
the rough board tables. A tin plate heaped with 
beans, potatoes and bread was thrust before each. A 
tin cup filled with scalding black coffee, sweetened 
with molasses, supplemented the fare. Each hungry 
wayfarer wiped up his plate with the last scrap of his 
bread and it was ready for the next customer. 

Then the diners were herded out like cattle into the 
main room, and the rush was repeated. Eight or ten 
times at each meal this occurred, and by the time the 
last of the travelers was fed, three hundred men lay 
rolled in their blankets on the floor of the main room, 
packed together like logs in a raft. The overflow, 
numbering forty or more on many nights, were 
packed similarly upon the floor of another room less 
than twenty feet square. 


Long before daylight the weary men struggled into 
their boots and renewed the evening's invasion of the 
dining-room. Then they hoisted their packs and 
went out into the crackling air of the snow-bound 
mountains. No vehicles of any kind were attempt- 
ing to make the grade over the crest of the range at 
this season. The stage company provided saddle 
mules for its passengers. A few men had their own 
animals. The majority faced the icy peaks on foot. 
A bitter night had frozen the snow, beaten to a 
muddy slush by the travelers of the previous day. 
The footing was solid, if slippery. Save when a mule 
slipped and broke a leg in an ice-lined hole, or a man 
slid and rolled down the grade, progress was com- 
paratively rapid. 

By noon the crest of the mountains might be 
reached. But by noon on comparatively mild days 
the surface had thawed and been churned to slush in 
which animals mired hopelessly and men sank to their 
hips when they could not advance by leaping from 
rock to rock. On the stormy days which predomi- 
nated at the time of this early invasion the traveler was 
blinded by snow, driven by terrific winds. But be- 
yond the crest there was no way to go but down. And 
down they went, slipping, sliding, stumbling and roll- 
ing for some four or five miles to the Lake Valley 
House, in the Lake Tahoe Basin. 

It was a bitter test of men and animals. No weak- 
ling survived. Avalanches alternated with blizzards 
to blot out the trail, which was little better than a 


goat path at best. Stretches of sticky clay where the 
mountain had been swept bare by wind or slides alter- 
nated with ice-coated rocks to trap and trip the feet 
of the wayfarer. Men who passed safely through 
the ordeal were men who might fit naturally into the 
maelstrom of excitement and labor and hardship and 
ruthless accomplishment, good or bad, which was 
Virginia City in that spring of 1 8 60. 

Four days by stage and muleback, or six days on 
foot, were consumed in the journeys undertaken in 
March and April of that year between Placerville and 
Virginia City. By May, when the last of the season's 
storms were diminishing in the Sierras, some thou- 
sands of these passionate pilgrims, stark mad for sil- 
ver, were crowded in and around the huddle of huts, 
tents, shacks and dugouts which marked the town. 
And still they came. 

Some, broken by poor food and exposure, returned 
to Sacramento on foot. These met a perfect torrent 
of adventurers, still pouring over the mountains from 
Placerville to the Carson Valley. The disillusioned 
ones reasoned and expostulated with the newcomers, 
explaining that not one man out of fifty in the camp 
had either a job or a mine. The newcomers laughed 
and pushed ahead. Of such stuff were the pioneers 
of Virginia City. 

It was an epochal period in the history of the West, 
second only to that which followed the discovery of 
gold in California a decade earlier. In many features 
it was more spectacular than the California gold-rush. 


While the rush to California had brought adventurers 
across the continent, around the Horn, or across the 
Isthmus, to scatter them through half the state, the 
great rush to the silver fields of Nevada concentrated 
a similar migration within a few weeks upon a single 
trail into a limited area. It also marked the settle- 
ment of a state, just as the rush to California had done. 
And to add to its color in the history of pioneering 
America, an Indian war speedily developed. 

The Pony Express had been instituted late that 
winter. One newspaper account of an early trip to 
Washoe mentions a meeting with the first rider of 
that historic service. "On the very summit we met a 
lonely rider dashing along at a tremendous rate. We 
wondered what could possibly induce him to go on 
through that gale, and thought it must be some very 
important business. It was the Pony Express." 

Hardly had this service been instituted when an ex- 
press rider reported to Virginia City that Piute In- 
dians had murdered two or three men and burned the 
buildings at Williams* Station on the Carson River. 
Excitement mounted high. Major Ormsby of Car- 
son City organized a band of one hundred and five 
volunteers to quell what was believed to be a general 
uprising of the Indians. Finding only blackened 
ruins at Williams* Station, the volunteers marched 
on toward Pyramid Lake, the headquarters of the 
Piutes in western Nevada. Most of the volunteers 
were untrained adventurers, seeking entertainment. 
They found it in a canyon a few miles below the lake. 


There they discovered their first Indians and 
opened fire. The Indians returned the volley and fell 
back up the slopes of the narrow canyon. The vol- 
unteers pursued. Suddenly they were confronted by 
two or three hundred Indians who arose from behind 
rocks and poured a deadly fire into the mounted and 
unprotected whites. Horses and men fell dead by 
scores. The survivors turned to flee. But a second 
band of Indians cut off retreat through the canyon. 
The whites took cover in a clump of trees. A deadly 
battle followed. Only twenty-five men of the one 
hundred and five who had enlisted so eagerly in the 
brief campaign survived to reach Virginia City. It 
was a massacre and a rout. 

When the survivors, wounded and exhausted, 
straggled into the mining town they attempted to 
justify their defeat by explaining that the Piutes 
mustered five hundred armed men, that they were 
equipped with the best of guns and ammunition, and 
that they had thousands in reserve for the task of 
sweeping the white invaders from their ancestral hills 
and plains. A call for help was sent immediately to 
California. Volunteer companies were formed in 
Sacramento, Nevada City and Downieville, and 
brought across the mountains to save the settlers and 
the mines. 

A rude stockade was built in Virginia City for the 
shelter of women and children. The foundation walls 
of a new stone building were used for a similar pur- 
pose. The miners reverted to the methods of their 


forefathers and melted up every bit of lead in the 
community for bullets. What was in effect martial 
law was declared: "Resolved, that during the next 
sixty days, or until the settlement of the present In- 
dian difficulties, no claim or mining ground within 
the Territory shall be subject to re-location, or liable 
to be jumped for non-work/' 

All business was virtually suspended. The faint- 
hearted fled precipitately to California. The strong- 
hearted erected forts and prepared to defend their 
property with their lives. After nearly two weeks 
of such excitement the second expedition against the 
Indians marched out of Virginia City. It included 
two hundred and seven regular soldiers and five hun- 
dred and forty-nine volunteers, all well equipped. 
They came upon the Piutes in the same canyon where 
the first battle had occurred. In the engagement 
which followed the whites killed one hundred and 
sixty Indians and wounded scores, while they them- 
selves lost but two. One of these was Captain E. F. 
Storey, for whom Storey County, Nevada, later was 

The war was over, as abruptly as it had begun. 
Like many Indian wars in the settlement of America, 
it reflected more color than credit upon the civiliza- 
tion of the whites involved. Subsequent investiga- 
tion revealed that the murders at Williams 5 Station 
had not been committed by Piutes at all, but by men 
of the smaller Bannock tribe. In the absence of Wil- 
liams, proprietor of the station, his men had seized, 


mistreated, and locked up two young Piute squaws 
who were married to Bannocks and lived at "Walker 

One of the Bannocks, searching for his squaw, 
found her imprisoned in a cave near the station. 
When he demanded her release, the station tenders 
drove him away with abuse. He reported to the Pi- 
ute chief at Walker Lake and demanded redress. It 
was refused. The Piutes wanted no trouble with the 
whites. They were not a warlike tribe. The Ban- 
nock went to old Winnemucca, chief of the Piutes 
at Pyramid Lake. The old man refused to interfere. 
The young buck then went to young Winnemucca, 
war-chief of the tribe, and for the third time met 
refusal, being told to report to the white authorities 
at Carson City if he wanted redress. 

Furious then he went to his own tribal chief and 
was given thirty men who descended upon Williams* 
Station, murdered the men who had abused the 
squaws, and burned the buildings. With their blood 
lust aroused, the Bannock warriors murdered several 
prospectors in cold blood on their way homeward. 

Old Winnemucca, suing in person for peace after 
the second battle of Pyramid Lake, disclaimed any re- 
sponsibility for these murders. He insisted that his 
son, in charge of the warriors who met and defeated 
the first attacking party under Major Ormsby, had 
tried to avoid battle. They had hoisted a white flag 
to gain time for negotiations before the first shot was 
fired. But the whites had ignored the flag and shot aa 


Indian. The Indians had then fought in self-defense. 
Many records of the old man's peaceful character and 
desire to live in amity with the whites tend to support 
that statement. 

In any event, however disgraceful, the first and 
last Indian war in Nevada was ended, and the primary 
business of the Comstock lode quickly forced all such 
memories into the background. 

Summer was upon the slopes of Mount Davidson. 
A population of thousands swarmed upon the hills 
where a few hundred had toiled in the previous sum- 
mer. The trails up Gold Canyon from the Carson 
Valley, and over the narrow ridge from Gold Hill to 
Virginia City had been broadened to a road which 
could accommodate freight wagons and stages. A 
laborer could get bed and board for four dollars a 
day, and earn a wage of five if he were willing to work 
hard in the shafts, tunnels and drifts which were 
sinking into the lode from the open diggings at first 

The district was settling and solidifying on a 
foundation of silver. Among the miscellaneous as- 
sortment of adventurers, gamblers, prospectors, mer- 
chants, miners and laborers, were men of ability and 
energy sufficient to assure the success of any com- 
munity. Unnoted in the motley throng were the 
men who were to become kings of the Comstock in 
three successive dynasties. 

The first to attain prominence, though never the 
glory of a king of the Comstock, was William M. 


Stewart, one of the few great men of the region who 
were American born. None, unless it might have 
been Stewart, stood out among the flaring lights and 
flamboyant characters which marked the Virginia 
City of that first year of fame and progress. Latdf; 
he was aptly described by the Gold Hill News as 
"towering above his fellow citizens like the Colossus 
of Rhodes, and having as much brass in his constitu- 
tion as that famous statue/* 

Stewart indeed was a giant physically, and far 
above the average run of mining camp lawyers men- 
tally. But in the excitement and turmoil of those 
early days even Stewart was undistinguished. The 
days of his power in the Comstock and the years when 
he was to become the most picturesque figure in the 
United States Senate were still unsuspected. 



wondrous city of Virginia/* which welcomed 
the half-frozen, half-starved multitude pouring 
across the Sierras in the early months of 1860 was 
graphically described by a visitor of the day. 

"Frame shanties pitched together as if by accident; 
tents of canvas, of blankets, of brush, of potato sacks 
and old shirts, with empty whisky barrels for chim- 
neys; smoking hovels of mud and stone; coyote holes 
in the hillsides forcibly seized by men; pits and shan- 
ties with smoke issuing from every crevice; piles of 
goods and rubbish on craggy points, in the hollows, 
on the rocks, in the mud, on the snow every- 
where scattered broadcast in pell-mell confusion, 
as if the clouds had suddenly burst overhead and 
rained down the dregs of all the flimsy, rickety, filthy 
little hovels and rubbish of merchandise that had ever 
undergone the process of evaporation from the earth 
since the days of Noah. 

"The intervals of space, which may or may not 
have been streets, were dotted over with human beings 
of such sort, variety and numbers that the famous 
ant hills of Africa were as nothing in compar- 



ison. To say that they were rough, muddy, unkempt 
and unwashed would be but faintly expressive of 
their actual appearance. They seemed to have caught 
the diabolical tint and grime of the whole place." 

There were in fact no streets in the Virginia City 
of those early hectic days. Three ill-defined lanes 
straggled through the jungle of tents and huts scat- 
tered over the lower slopes of Mount Davidson. 
Neither the district nor the townsite had ever seen a 
surveyor. Wherever a pack train could most con- 
veniently make a trail around the mountain after 
topping the divide which separated Gold Hill from 
Virginia City, there, by courtesy, was a street. Even 
courtesy did not always figure. A weary traveler 
might dump his pack and erect his tent on any com- 
paratively level spot. If this happened to be in the 
way of a following traveler with a more extensive 
outfit, the second man could take his choice of cir- 
cling the obstruction or removing it. Frequently he 
removed it, and dumped the household goods un- 
ceremoniously aside. So were formed what served as 

As the spring advanced and traffic increased, these 
streets were widened and straightened automatically, 
and at last differentiated as A, B and C Streets. Even 
then they were neither graded nor paved, and the 
connecting thoroughfares continued for a long time 
to be simply precipitous trails. Indeed, they are 
more or less that to-day. But Virginia City had 


money, and even more stimulating, promise. The 
ten thousand newcomers of that first hectic year de- 
manded food, drink, clothing, blankets and shelter. 

Moore, the trader who brought the first commer- 
cial consignment of whisky, blankets and tin plates, 
and erected a teflt which served as saloon and dorm- 
itory in March, was followed quickly by others. One 
Lyman Jones maintained a canvas "hotel," eighteen 
by forty feet in size, with a bar and fixtures consist- 
ing of an old sluice-box, a dozen tin cups, a pitcher 
and a barrel of very hard liquor. The side of a wagon 
box, carried from the Carson Valley on muleback, 
formed another bar. Into such places the grimy 
miners crowded for entertainment and shelter. The 
climate was bitter. Furious gales swept down from 
the ice-clad Sierras and whirled around Mount David- 
son. There is a sidelight upon the buoyant tempera- 
ment which marked the men of the camp in that even 
while picking up the ruins of their huts demolished 
by these storms, they came to call the winds the 
"Washoe zephyrs." 

But with their quickly growing prosperity the pio- 
neers demanded such comforts and luxuries as always 
have been the first evidence of succe* in a mining 
town expensive food, drink and raiment. It did 
not matter that during the previous winter they had 
seen hundreds of cattle starve and freeze to death in 
the valley below. It did not matter that some of the 
miners themselves had frozen and starved. The fact 
that they had considered themselves fortunate to be 


able to buy flour at seventy-five cents and sugar at 
fifty cents a pound was forgotten. Now they wanted 
oysters and caviar and champagne. Coming out of 
the muddy tunnels and shafts which were now ex- 
tending one hundred feet into the lode, they wanted 
broadcloth and linen and fine boots to display their 
prosperity and prove their triumph over stubborn 
nature and hardship. They wanted mahogany bars 
at which to drink their liquor, and fine glass for its 
service. And what they wanted, they got. 

The demand for adequate transportation was tre- 
mendous. The Pioneer Stage Company, Swan & 
Company, and numerous lesser organizations hurried 
to satisfy it. The old Emigrant Road which led from 
Carson City through the Sierras to Placerville had 
almost reverted to nature after the first few years of 
the gold-rush to California. Storms and avalanches 
had buried it or broken it away to a dangerous rocky 
trail at many points. It was almost impassable to 
teams and wagons, even when the passes were bare 
of snow in summer. In winter it was chaotic. After 
the difficult, costly and occasionally tragic passages 
of the spring of 1860, the leading stage companies 
and freighters found it profitable to mend the worst 
stretches of the road. Such expenditures were repaid 
by the quicker and safer transportation of passengers 
and freight, and the saving on animals and vehicles. 

The transportation lines quickly proved more 
profitable than many of the mines. Before the sum- 
mer was over the Carson-Placerville route had been 


improved sufficiently to accommodate four-horse 
teams with safety. A second road through Sierra 
City, Downieville and Nevada City was open to heavy 
traffic. The trail up Gold Canyon had been improved 
to a fair road. Freight wagons groaned over the nar- 
row ridge from Gold Hill to Virginia City. Lum- 
ber dropped from four hundred dollars to eighty 
dollars a thousand feet. Carpenters and masons, at- 
tracted by what was considered the enormous wage 
of eight dollars a day, flocked to the scene. The build- 
ing of a city began in earnest. 

Peter O'Riley completed the stone building whose 
foundation had served as a stockade for the protec- 
tion of women and children in the panic of the Indian 
uprising. The Sandy Bowers mentioned by Corn- 
stock as recipient of one of his rich gift claims, was 
erecting an imposing edifice in the Washoe Valley. 
It was a residence which he designed to make worthy 
of his riches, with solid silver door-knobs, mahogany 
paneling, goldfish ponds and similar evidences of 
taste and luxury. A hundred other buildings were 
going up rapidly in place of the original shacks and 
tents. When winter again drove the men of the dis- 
trict from their blanket rolls under the stars there 
were many substantial roofs for shelter. 

The city boasted two quartz mills, eight hotels and 
boarding-houses, nine restaurants, ten livery stables, 
twenty-five saloons, thirty-eight stores, and offices, 
warehouses, blacksmith shops and private residences 
in proportion. 


The mines were flourishing. Thirty-seven com- 
panies had been incorporated before the close of the 
year, with a total capital stock of thirty million 
dollars, and that in a district which had yielded a 
total of two hundred and seventy-five thousand dol- 
lars in the previous year. The Ophir, first of the 
great mines on the lode, had sunk a slanting shaft 
nearly two hundred feet, and had found the ore body 
widening steadily to thirty, forty and fifty feet 
something unprecedented in mining history. 

The one-horse windlass or whim which had sup- 
planted hand power to draw up buckets of ore, was 
replaced by a fifteen-horsepower steam engine, the 
finest piece of machinery in the Comstock. But even 
in that early day and at that comparatively slight 
depth the mines were encountering the seepage of 
water which was to prove their greatest source of 
tribulation, and the cause of their most spectacular 
struggle through twenty years to come. The water 
frequently drove the miners from their work, helped 
to cave in the walls of the shafts and ore chambers, and 
otherwise demoralized operations. Before the sum- 
mer was over a forty-five-horsepower engine sup- 
planted the first, and devoted its energy to pumping 
out water when it was not hoisting ore or miners. 

The situation was typical. No story of the big 
bonanza would be complete without sufficient di- 
gression to explain the tremendous mechanical diffi- 
culties encountered and overcome in all the mines of 
the district. Such difficulties were especially trying 


in that first year of ore production, for the simple 
reason that they presented problems never before en- 
countered by the workers involved. As any history 
worth recording depends upon the character of the 
men who make it, so the character of those early Com- 
stockers must be revealed in the light of their accom- 
plishments. Only by making clear the difficulties 
over which they triumphed can the magnitude of 
their triumph be understood. 

The ore body in the Ophir, and to a slightly lesser 
extent in the adjacent mines, was soft and crumbling. 
The ore chambers or stopes whence the ore was re- 
moved to the surface were immense. The larger these 
emptying chambers became, the more difficult was 
the problem of bracing up the walls and roof. The 
timbering which was done was based upon the miners* 
experience in the narrow veins and small stopes of the 
California quartz mines. It consisted of posts and 
lintels logs set up with other logs across their tops 
to hold the roofs. Such arrangement quickly proved 
its inadequacy in the huge stopes of the Comstock. 
Caves were frequent. Lives were crushed out in one 
and another of the mines. The men could not pick 
down the rich ore behind the lintels. The looseness 
of the ore and the surrounding "country rock/* with 
the weight of the mountain overhead resulted in 
slacking and swelling of the ground which twisted 
and splintered great logs like matchwood. Some of 
the mines stopped work. Others reduced their out- 
put. Still the ore bodies widened as they became 


richer with depth. No miner could stand by and see 
all that wealth barred from him by such a condition. 

One inquiring director of the Ophir discovered in 
San Francisco a German miner named Philip Deide- 

"What would you do if you had a quartz lode 
fifty or sixty feet wide?" the director demanded. 

Deidesheimer doubted that there was such a de- 
posit in the world. 

"Go to Virginia City and see it," said the director. 
"And then figure out how we can mine it." 

Deidesheimer went, saw and conquered. After 
a few weeks of experiment he evolved a method of 
timbering never before used. So effective and prac- 
tical did it prove that it is still in use throughout the 
world, seventy years later. It was a simple system, 
designated as "square sets," formed of short timbers 
which could be built up in a system of interlocking 
cribs, similar in appearance to a child's mechanical 
building toys of to-day. These cribs could be con- 
structed one upon another to any needed width or 
height, and roofed or floored with planks upon which 
the miners worked to dislodge the ore above. 

Mining engineers came from all parts of the world 
to Virginia City to examine the system and adopt it 
for their own use. Deidesheimer made no attempt 
to patent it, and indeed explained it and helped to in- 
stall it in the other great ore chambers of the Corn- 
stock. The first serious problem had been solved. So 
progress continued. 


The problem of reducing the rich ore to bullion 
was contemporaneous. But this was a task for which 
chemists and metallurgists had been preparing for 
generations. The simple mule-power arrastras of the 
Mexican silver-miners were quickly supplemented by 
stamp mills. Almarin B. Paul, an able quartz mill su- 
perintendent of Nevada City, organized the Washoe 
Gold and Silver Mining Company and signed con- 
tracts in June for the reduction of ore in August. 
Only then did he order necessary machinery built in 
San Francisco, and lumber from the forests of the Si- 
erras. And in August, true to his word, the twenty- 
four stamps of the Pioneer mill began to crush ore. 
On the same day a nine-stamp mill built by Coover 
and Harris began operations. Before the year passed, 
PauPs company was constructing a sixty-four-stamp 
mill. Smaller mills, patios and arrastras lined the 
canyons and stretched along the Carson River* 

Inconspicuous among them was a little plant owned 
by Adolph Sutro, in Dayton. Sutro was a keen-eyed, 
strongly built man of thirty, of German- Jewish par- 
entage, and an immigrant like so many of the men 
who were to make the Comstock famous and to be 
made famous by it. He had come to New York in 
1850, and across the Isthmus to San Francisco, lured 
by the gold-rush. There he had met with indifferent 
success, but had remained optimistic and energetic in 
his search for an opportunity to make his fortune in 
some mining venture as he saw so many young men 
doing. This opportunity he appeared to have found 


after ten years, in a reclamation plant which proved 
so successful in the early days of the Comstock that 
indirectly it launched its owner upon a scheme which 
was to shake the lode literally to its foundations, leave 
Sutro's mark upon it forever, and put him in the 
way of leaving his mark upon history. 

All such activities inspired others, until the district 
fairly seethed with life. The demand for timbers in 
the deepening mines stimulated a lumber trade which 
made vast fortunes, and almost denuded the eastern 
slopes of the Sierras. The movement of these timbers 
to the mines constituted a huge business. The bet- 
ter working of the mines and mills produced millions 
of dollars to finance greater expansion, and to build 
a greater community. The resulting excitement 
among the thousands already interested in mines in 
California prompted speculation in Virginia City and 
San Francisco alike. 

Residents of the Comstock were literally in a 
frenzy in that summer as ore which assayed from 
fifty dollars to two thousand dollars a ton poured 
from the Ophir, the Mexican, the Savage, the Gould 
& Curry, and other mines on the lode. It was easy 
for men of the adventurous type which filled the 
district to imagine that there must be hundreds of de- 
posits equally rich throughout those desert moun- 
tains. Why should the silver be limited to one 
narrow vein? The desert was all alike. One had but 
to look upon its monotony to be assured of that. 

So they went out, staked and recorded a thousand 


claims, and rushed back to the hectic town with 
samples to show and "feet" to sell to the daily new- 
comers, who knew no more about mines than they. 
"Bargains" were offered in the Lady Bryant, the 
Wooly Horse, the Mammoth, the Bobtailed Nag, the 
Root Hog or Die, the Grizzly Hill, at prices ranging 
from ten to seventy-five dollars a foot. A thousand 
more claims were recorded, and a thousand more, and 
interests in them offered on the local market. 

In the excitement of the moment many such offer- 
ings were snapped up, and their buyers trekked back 
to San Francisco, assured that their fortunes were 
made. So complete was the self -hypnosis that many 
of the mad promoters promptly turned and invested 
the profits of their frauds in the frauds of their asso- 
ciates. For twenty-four hours of each day the saloons 
resounded with the clamor of frenzied men. The 
overflow crowds in the streets conducted an im- 
promptu curb exchange which Broad Street in its 
palmiest days could not surpass in excitement. 

Life could hardly continue at such heat. Reaction 
became apparent in San Francisco even before the 
first fever abated on the Comstock itself. The ship- 
ping clerks and merchants and professional men who 
had been lured by excitement to put their money in- 
to the wildcats, found that they had bought shares 
in barren rock. The promoters tried to keep up in- 
terest and income by levying assessments to develop 
the worthless hills. Valuations crashed. 

The few conservative miners and business men of 


Virginia City bitterly resented the mad speculation 
and consequent reaction against the prosperity of 
their city. One resident wrote at length to the San 
Francisco Bulletin, a letter which reveals the situa- 
tion with singular clarity: 

"We are informed that there is a panic in San Fran- 
cisco in relation to our mining stocks; that nothing 
will sell; that even Ophir, Washoe, Chollar and Cor- 
sair are drugs on the market; that banks will not dis- 
count "Washoe speculators* paper; that the bottom 
has fallen out, confidence gone and that there is a 
general collapse. 

"Two months ago these wise men of Gotham who 
are now decrying the mineral resources of Washoe 
went to sea in a bowl and got badly wet. Two months 
ago everything would sell. People bought blindly. . . . 
The price and number of feet were the only matters 
of interest to the buyer; fools at your end of the tele- 
graph were deceived by knaves at our opd; and we 
sent you mysterious hints of new disCcftflferies that 
never existed, accounts of sales which never took 

"Your prudent men who would not buy a foot of 
land in San Francisco or make a loan without a care- 
ful search of title, have risked thousands without a 
thought. Your greedy folly was taken advantage 
of by our avarice, and you became the victims of your 
own sublime stupidity and dishonesty. A change 
comes and a panic. There are prudent men in San 


Francisco and honest men in Washoe, and when this 
class of men had time to exchange opinions and stem 
the current of senseless and blind speculation it was 
found that many of the transactions in silver mines 
were but sales and exchanges in stone heaps. The re- 
sult was, naturally enough, a reaction. Wildcat 
claims became valueless and good claims staggered 
under the blow." 

Even the steady producers slumped in price, and 
the wise miners working in their depths bought up 
the scattered interests at a hundredth part of their 
value. There was no question in the minds of the 
more intelligent men on the lode that here were 
fortunes. Ore assaying less than fifty dollars a ton 
was being thrown away because the crude milling 
methods of the time could not take sufficient profit 
from it. Ore worth more than fifty dollars was be- 
ing produced in such quantities and refined with such 
profit that^jpndreds of thousands of dollars in cash 
were codfBf in to finance expansion, improvement, 
and the building of a city. 

The reaction was a benefit to the Comstock though 
it broke the hearts as it broke the bank accounts of 
innumerable first "investors 55 whose greed was equaled 
only by their ignorance. It cleared the air as it cleared 
the area of useless citizens. Most of those left in the 
district when the snows of that winter again isolated 
the Comstock were workers. 

The year had marked some great accomplishments. 


A town stood in the place of a huddle of huts. Mines 
were opened far into the mountain where they could 
be worked through the bitterest winter days. Mills 
were operating to turn the ore into bullion. Men of 
ability were in charge of development in the place of 
such feeble citizens as Old Virginia and Old Pancake. 
Adequate roads were ready to assure supplies for fur- 
ther improvement. Capital and brains, undisturbed 
by the losses and disappointments of the foolhardy, 
were ready to go on with the work. A great future 
was assured, but not without further and greater 

In December a howling blizzard swept down from 
the Sierras upon the Washoe district. It was the worst 
storm within the memory of the oldest inhabitants 
of mountains and desert. When it had passed, snow 
stood six feet deep in Virginia City and Gold Hill, 
where such old-timers as Comstock had never seen 
more than a foot of snow. Gold Canyon and the 
other canyons sloping from Mount Dlttifson to the 
Carson River were impassable. The^Jpts were 
banked high around every quartz mill and shaft 

Then a warm rain set in. The flood was terrific. 
Half the buildings in Gold Canyon were swept away. 
New mills and hoisting works were destroyed. Every 
mining shaft in the line of the flood was filled to the 
surface. Stores of hay, grain and ore were carried 
down into the valley. Trees three feet in girth, which 
evidently had stood from fifty to a hundred years, 


were uprooted and swept away, and huge boulders 
rolled upon their sites. 

Many of the more efficient pioneers who had 
brought money, experience and ability to the devel- 
opment of the lode were ruined in a single night. 
Among them was the mining lawyer, William M. 
Stewart. He had already acquired a half interest in 
a mine at Gold Hill, and had built one mill in Gold 
Canyon and another on the Carson River. He had 
refused an offer of five hundred thousand dollars for 
his holdings only a month before the great storm. 
Now the mills were swept away and the mine filled 
with rubble and water. 

Stewart announced that he had lost five hundred 
thousand dollars in a single night. Perhaps he had. A 
mine or mill was worth then, as now, what one could 
get for it. And certainly upon the day after the flood 
Stewart could get nothing for his property. He had 
himself been active in the operation of both mills and 
mine. T^^SJfwere men upon his pay-roll and mules 
at his f e^K^xes. He had neither money for the men 
nor grain for the mules. But already he had a com- 
manding influence upon the Comstock. 

He tested his credit with a boarding-house keeper 
and found it adequate. He tested it again with a hay 
dealer and found it sufficient. The boarding-house 
keeper agreed to feed the men for a time on credit and 
the hay dealer agreed to feed the mules, with barley 
costing two bits a pound. And Stewart's credit was 
not limited to the Comstock. He had made a name 


for himself in various parts of California, and num- 
bered among his friends one Chris Reis of San Fran- 
cisco. Reis was well to do. Stewart determined to 
find him, obtain working capital by a mortgage on 
the mining property, clean out the diggings, pay off 
his local obligations and resume operations. 

But San Francisco was three hundred miles away, 
across the Sierras. It was December and the high 
mountains were deep with snow. The road, to be 
sure, was better than that fearsome trail which had 
cost the life of Ethan Allen Grosh on a similar quest 
for funds a few years earlier, but it was no garden 
path. Regular traffic had been stopped by the moun- 
tain storms. Stewart, undaunted, faced the ordeal 
on foot and alone. No better evidence of the man's 
giant strength could be offered. 

With the storm still raging, the lawyer set forth, 
and reached the stage station known as "Yank's" on 
the Salisbury grade that night. A hundred men were 
crowded into the station houses, waitingfij^ the storm 
to pass. Stewart rolled in a blanket upaS^fee floor, 
and greeted the day with undiminished energy. The 
mountain road was buried, with drifts in spots to 
the height of the telegraph poles. Stewart bucked 
the drifts, and reached the summit. A valley and an- 
other summit lay beyond him. 

Pausing for breath upon the height, he made out 
the figure of a man staggering toward him through 
newly falling snow. It was a man whom he knew, 
one of the Salisbury brothers for whom the grade was 


named. Salisbury had fought his way across the 
mountains from California. He warned Stewart 
that the way was now impassable, that no human be- 
ing could make it, 

In strength and stamina Stewart evidently felt 
himself more than human, and with some justifica- 
tion. He rejected the advice, and plunged on. He 
had gone less than two hundred yards, according to his 
own subsequent account, when the roar of an ava- 
lanche behind him made him turn. Dimly through 
the falling snow he saw Salisbury running. Then the 
avalanche swept over the man. It was six months 
later when the last of the melting snow disclosed the 
broken body. 

Stewart shook his head, and waded onward, sight- 
ing from tree to tree in order to keep his course 
straight. So after weary hours he reached the easier 
going of Strawberry Flat, and came in the darkness 
to the Strawberry Hotel, a fairly commodious way 
station. A Comfortable bunk under the slab roof, 
and a huge breakfast of ham, eggs, flapjacks and cof- 
fee prepared him for another day of tremendous 

Rain alternating with snow had filled each wash 
and ravine with a raging torrent. Avalanches and 
landslides roared down the slopes before and behind 
the traveler. Stewart labored on, watching carefully 
the ground beneath his feet, and the tottering trees 
and slipping earth and snow on every hand. The sec- 
ond summit was passed, and the south fork of the 


American river lay below him, a thousand feet 
down. The traveler stopped to breathe and absorb 
the spectacle. The earth quivered under him. Trees 
swayed above. The ground was slipping. The river 
leaped to engulf it. 

Stewart turned and ran. Snow, rocks, earth and 
giant trees swept over the spot where he had stood 
and roared down the precipitous slope to the river. 
Beyond its path of ruin he could see the swaying walls 
of another stage station. When the avalanche had 
passed he picked his way across the muddy swath for 
an eighth of a mile to the ruined station. Horses and 
barns had been carried away, but the station proper 
stood, sagging upon the edge of ruin. Its people v ere 
paralyzed with fright. 

Stewart dragged them back to something near co- 
herence by demanding food. Hot coffee and bread 
were forthcoming, and the undaunted Comstocker 
went on. Now his path lay steadily downward, and 
almost clear of snow. Walking and running, he 
reached the town of Placerville, well down on the 
western slopes of the Sierras. He had accomplished 
the impossible. But he was far from through. The 
storm which had almost destroyed the Comstock had 
been equally severe on the western slope of the moun- 
tains. The Sacramento Valley was a flowing lake. 
The traveler purchased a horse and rode to Folsom 
at the edge of the flood, only to find the railroad to 
Sacramento washed away. He waded his horse for 
miles to a rise of ground a few miles from the town 


of Sacramento, where he found two boatmen. He 
traded his horse for a boat and rowed to the town, 
only to find it standing in water up to its second 

A friend welcomed him to a bed and uncooked 
food. The next day dawned, still raining. River 
steamers had left their moorings and were wandering 
widely across the valley in search of refugees. An 
itinerant boatman was found and hired to go in search 
of a steamer bound for San Francisco. Stewart stood 
in the stern and hailed each passing steamer as it 
circled barns and orchards until at last he found pas- 
sage to the city. That evening he found his friend, 
Chris Reis, obtained thirty- two thousand dollars on a 
mortgage on his mine, and started back to Sacra- 

The man was of brass, as the Gold Hill News de- 
scribed him. A week after he had left the discour- 
aged party of a hundred men at Yank's, waiting out 
the storm, he was back among them, with such a 
journey to his credit as few human beings have ever 
made. The waiting men would not believe his tale. 
But the thirty-two thousand dollars was convincing 
evidence. Stewart had no difficulty in satisfying the 
boarding-house keeper, or the hay dealer who had fed 
his mules. 

Already the Comstock was recovering from its 
first major catastrophe. With the resilience of youth 
and enthusiasm, it cleaned the boulders from its 
shafts, the mud from its floors, the debris from its 


mills, and went merrily on. Within ten days after 
his return, Stewart sold his mine for sixty thousand 

Of such fiber were the men who built Virginia 
City. Can one imagine a business man of this mod- 
ern day either willing or able to climb over blizzard- 
swept mountains and work his way through ava- 
lanches and floods on a six-hundred-mile trip in one 
week to rescue even the greatest of businesses from 
ruin? Only a physical giant could have accomplished 
that journey. With such men among its citizens the 
town of Virginia could survive almost any disaster. 

As a town it was growing self-conscious. Shortly 
after Stewart's return it was incorporated by an act 
of the Utah legislature, January 16, 1861. Corpo- 
rate powers and duties were vested in a board of five 
trustees. Nine sets of candidates appeared on the 
ticket for the first municipal election. 

The elected board was inducted into office in time 
to welcome James W. Nye, first governor of the newly 
created Territory of Nevada. The trustees did the 
honors bravely. Escorted by the Virginia City brass 
band and the Virginia Union Guards, a uniformed 
militia organization, the trustees rode in state to the 
head of Gold Canyon where it was joined by the Gold 
Hill Guards. The united pageant stood at attention 
before the incoming governor while the band played 
Hail to the Chief. The guards presented arms, the 
trustees arose in their carriages with heads uncovered, 
and the populace cheered. 


The procession, with the governor's carriage sur- 
rounded by a guard of honor, then moved over the 
ridge from Gold Hill to Virginia City, "under a 
splendid arch made by the ladies of the city," greeted 
by vociferous cheers and irregular salvos of guns. At 
Union Square the orator of the day welcomed Gov- 
ernor Nye in behalf of the city, and the governor re- 
plied amid continuous cheering. Then followed a 
"splendid" dinner at the International Hotel, with 
another orgy of speeches and toasts. Everything was 

The good citizens of Virginia seemed to be realiz- 
ing their hope that the occasion would pass without 
any untoward incident which might indicate to the 
new governor the youthful crudity of their enthusi- 
asms when an argument developed before the door of 
the International Hotel. 

A contemporary account says "a citizen named 
Butler made himself too prominent with his pistol. 
A deputy sheriff, John Williams, undertook the dis- 
agreeable duty of arresting him, when the usual im- 
promptu Washoe duel took place. Williams was the 
best marksman, for in less than a minute Butler re- 
ceived one ball in the side of his knee and one in his 
shoulder, while a third scraped his face roughly. 
Then he yielded, somewhat to the disgust of the on- 
lookers who did not consider him entitled to with- 
draw on the score of being seriously wounded." 

Probably the incident was not especially disturb- 
ing or surprising to Governor Nye. No doubt he had 


been advised that there was still room for improve- 
ment in the city government of Virginia. 

"Williams was a good example of the irregular po- 
lice," Eliot Lord's history comments, "always ready 
to take part in a fight, but loath to spoil one by un- 
timely interference. In default of any better method 
of settling a dispute, trial by combat was practically 
accepted as satisfactory to the general public , . , 
for there was no prison in the city and consignments 
to the community jail at Carson were simply farcical. 
Until November, 1 861, this place of confinement was 
a little log shanty, standing among the principal 
drinking saloons, from which with slight help from 
confederates, or unassisted, criminals of ordinary ac- 
tivity escaped at will, and their recapture was seldom 
attempted. The conviction of a murderer by an or- 
dinary jury was an anomaly, and capital punishment 
by process of law had never been inflicted in Carson 
County or the new Territory ( 1 8 63 ) ." 

Murder generally was punished or avenged by ven- 
dettas. Many of the residents of the Comstock dis- 
trict in those early days were immigrants from below 
the Mason and Dixon line. Vendettas and feuds 
were familiar to their thought. It seemed logical and 
proper to them to make vengeance upon a murderer 
a personal matter. The results frequently were star- 
tling. One Virginia City lawyer in 1 8 61 traced thir- 
teen consecutive deaths growing out of one untried 


murder case. This reign of lawlessness culminated 
in the death of one John Blackburn, a Territorial Mar- 
shal. Blackburn was a terror to the desperadoes. He 
was a man of extraordinary physical courage, of ath- 
letic build, quick, alert and well armed. Most of the 
cowardly ruffians of the district gave Blackburn a 
wide berth. 

He had proved his ability in numerous knife and 
gun encounters when one evening he was standing in 
a crowded saloon in Carson City. A desperado named 
Mayfield shouldered through the throng and pulled a 
bowie-knife before the marshal. Blackburn drew a 
pistol but was so hampered by the crowd that he 
was stabbed fatally before he could fire. The mur- 
derer escaped, was captured, broke jail and escaped 
again. Eventually he was killed in a saloon brawl in 

The murder of Blackburn, however, so aroused 
public opinion that the first district territorial court 
actually tried, convicted and punished several crim- 
inals, and a new jail was built in Carson City to check 
the repeated scandals of jail breaks. It was made ef- 
fective by chaining all prisoners to a huge beam run- 
ning the length of the main room. At one time in its 
history sixteen prisoners, nine of whom had been con- 
victed of murder, were chained to this beam. 

Virginia City was improving. It discarded its first 
charter after a year and was reincorporated with an 
improved charter. In the meantime a foretaste of its 
great future appeared with the new rush to 


early in 1 8 61 , a rush which differed greatly from that 
of the previous spring. In numbers it was much 
smaller. In excitement it was comparatively cold. 
But in the quality of its men and the value of its bur- 
dens of freight it was far greater. 



the passing of the first year of silver produc- 
tion on a large scale in the Comstock district, the men, 
the mills and the business of the country were get- 
ting well down to business. Deidesheimer having 
solved the problem of timbering the vast ore cham- 
bers, and various mill men having developed recov- 
ery processes which outclassed the original crude 
arrastras, the actual work of taking out the fortunes 
available in the lode proceeded more profitably than 
the most optimistic pioneers of the previous year had 
imagined possible. 

The road to Placerville and the chief source of sup- 
plies had been so improved that four hundred four- 
horse teams were employed in freighting through the 
summer. Virginia City had everything it needed and 
much that it did not need in the way of food, drink, 
clothing, machinery and building material. The 
mines were producing enough to pay for these sup- 
plies and give a profit to some companies. But the 
chaotic condition of local and territorial government, 
and the inadequacy of courts and records, were prov- 
ing a great handicap to progress. 

Lawsuits over mining titles were tying up pro- 



duction in some of the richest workings. When the 
suits did not stop production, hand to hand battles 
frequently did so. When J. Ross Browne, a mining 
expert and writer of the time, entered Virginia City 
he found a crowd "engaged in a lawsuit. . . . The 
arguments used on both sides were empty whisky 
bottles. . . . Several of the disputants had already 
been knocked down and convinced, and various 
others were freely shedding their blood in the cause." 
The records indicate that this situation was typical. 

Here were mines appraised by the best available 
engineers at from one million dollars to ten million 
dollars each an appraisal which eventual production 
proved far too small. And with the vague mining 
laws and inadequate records of the day, two or more 
companies frequently were claiming the same ground. 
Too many location notices had been written and 
claims recorded to cover "this vein with all its dips, 
spurs, angles and variations. 3 * 

The Comstock lode lay in a fissure about four miles 
long and from two hundred to fifteen hundred feet 
in width, filled with vast bodies of stone and clay, be- 
tween which at irregular intervals lay the silver- 
bearing ore. The ore of course lay at various angles 
and in veins of various width and length. A shaft 
might follow a rich vein down one hundred feet and 
find it pinched out between walls of barren rock, or 
bent sharply to the right or left. An adjacent shaft 
might sink a hundred feet through country rock and 
then strike the vein which 'had been followed down 


by the adjoining mine. So it developed in a score of 
instances, and always there ensued a battle, as both 
groups of miners claimed the ore. In the absence of 
adequate courts, such battles developed into hand- 
to-hand encounters as often as they progressed to 
legal argument and adjudication. 

The original locators and miners clung to the 
principle that their claims should follow the vein, 
wherever it might lead. The later purchasers and 
developers insisted that the rights as defined on the 
surface must extend straight downward, regardless 
of the turn of the ore. 

The rich surface deposits of the Ophir, Mexican 
and others led downward at an angle toward the west. 
A little distance away toward the west other com- 
panies were following another vein straight down- 
ward. Two met and clashed one hundred and 
seventy-five feet underground. Both companies, the 
Ophir and the McCall, had money. Bloody noses and 
black eyes among the miners quickly convinced the 
owners that the dispute had better be settled in the 
courts, such as they were, before it led to murder. 
Ophir engaged William M. Stewart, who already had 
impressed his rugged fighting personality upon the 
district. Stewart filed suit to dispossess the McCall 
interests on what was known as the Middle lead, and 
to establish the Ophir's title to the ore. The suit came 
to trial before Judge Cradlebaugh in the little town 
of Genoa in the Carson Valley. 

Interest was intense throughout the Comstock as 


a precedent which would affect the entire district was 
anticipated. The tiny room commonly used for the 
court could not hold one-tenth of the eager spectators. 
Court was moved to a loft over a livery stable which 
would accommodate the crowd. Several hundred 
men filled the court-room, and almost every man was 
armed. The fact that the court admitted them, pis- 
tols and all, is sufficient evidence of its limited ability 
to insure justice. 

But apparently Judge Cradlebaugh had sufficient 
personal authority to prevent gun-play in the court- 
room. The only shooting which attended the trial 
was directed at witnesses on their way to and from 
the scene. Plaintiff and defendant were equally will- 
ing to ignore this, and the discreet judge knew of it 
only by hearsay. 

Stewart's opponent in the case was the notorious 
David S. Terry, a fiery Kentuckian who had been on 
the Supreme Court Bench of California. Terry was 
a man of imposing size and violent temper. He was 
known as a fighter, having killed Senator David 
Broderick of San Francisco in a duel only the year 
before. He had come to the Comstock with a group 
of southerners and seized surface claims on an out- 
cropping parallel to that on which the Ophir had been 

The Terry group had actually fortified their 
claims, and announced their intention of holding the 
property by force if necessary. Their contention 
was that the vein which they held was distinct from 


the main lode upon which the Ophir was working. 
The Ophir maintained that the whole Comstock was 
one lode, and the manner in which it was divided near 
the surface was of no importance. 

On this basis the trial progressed to a disagreement 
of the jury. No precedent was set. Apparently only 
Stewart profited. Soon he was collecting legal fees 
of two hundred thousand dollars annually. 

Eventually Ophir bought out the McCall claims 
and continued to mine. For the moment the chief 
result of the trial was to convince the miners that 
they must settle their own differences. While scores 
of suits were filed, the men below ground worked 
on the theory that might was right. "When fists 
would not settle the difficulty for a day to allow a 
particularly rich deposit to be stoped out and hoisted, 
pick handles were brought into play. "When pick 
handles failed to clear the drifts and stopes so that 
the embattled miners might mine instead of bat- 
tle, "stink-pots" copied from the Chinese were used. 
It was the origin of gas warfare underground. 

Professional fighting men were hired in some places 
at wages as high as ten dollars a day more than 
double the wage of the miners themselves. These 
mercenaries, armed with guns and knives, drove op- 
position miners from disputed sections and held them 
back while their own men worked frantically to pick 
down and haul away the richest ore. 

One such professional fighting man is worthy of 
description. He was the notorious Sam Brown, whose 


name appears in numerous scandalous incidents of the 
early days of Virginia City. He had drifted in with 
other bad men from the California placers in the sum- 
mer of 1860, and had immediately proclaimed him- 
self a "chief" of the barroom ruffians, announcing 
frequently that he had killed more than a dozen men 
in his career, and exhibiting a bowie-knife with which 
he said the deeds had been committed. But there 
were several such self-constituted "chiefs" in the 
camp, and Brown was not especially noticed among 

This piqued his vanity, and after a few days of 
boasting he essayed to prove his title by picking a fight 
with an insignificant loafer in one of the saloons and 
literally carving him to pieces with the bowie-knife. 
To impress the citizenry still further, Brown then 
stretched himself upon a table and went to sleep while 
the remains of his victim were gathered up from the 
floor. It was a simple matter for such a man to get 
a job as a professional fighter when such fighters were 

Though a bully and a braggart, suspected by many 
of being a coward, Brown unquestionably was feared. 
Even such a man as William Stewart took no chances 
with him. On one occasion Stewart met him at close 
quarters, with entertaining results. The lawyer had 
been engaged to arbitrate a mining dispute, and with 
the principals had retired into the tiny back room 
of the Devil's Gate Toll House in Gold Canyon. 

The witnesses were telling their stories when a 

Dressier photo, 

Through which some hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of bullion was shipped. 
This photograph was taken after the big bonanza but while iron door and shutters 

were still intact 

Dressier photo. 




clattering of spurs and a loud voice were heard from 
the bar which occupied the front end of the little 
house. Stewart recognized the voice as that of 
Brown. The sounds indicated that the "chief" was 
primed for trouble. 

William Stewart was no man to run from trouble. 
Like all the provident citizens of the Comstock, he 
carried arms. It is a sidelight on the man's character 
that his weapons were derringers, which fired a single 
heavy ball, the shock of which would be likely to put 
a man out of commission even if it did not kill him, 
something which a hard-pressed man could not be 
sure of with a light bullet. The derringers were ac- 
cepted as the only sufficiently efficient weapon ex- 
cept a knife for close-range fighting. Naturally they 
were the weapons carried by a man of Stewart's type, 
one in either pocket of his overcoat. 

So when he heard the voice of Brown, and realized 
the close quarters in which any encounter must oc- 
cur, he cocked his pistols in his pockets, and waited, 
with the guns pointed at the door. 

Brown swaggered into the room and demanded to 
be sworn as a witness. Stewart agreed, had the man 
sworn, and examined him on his evidence. The testi- 
mony concluded, the parties to the arbitration ad- 
journed to the barroom, with Brown in the lead, and 
Stewart bringing up the rear. The lawyer had pre- 
viously denounced the "chief " and was expecting 
trouble. He took no chances, but walked into die 
bar with both derringers trained on the bad man. 


Brown used the common method of provoking a 
quarrel by demanding that Stewart take a drink with 
him. The lawyer wisely agreed. They drank and 
Brown departed, declaring profanely that Stewart 
was a great lawyer and a smart man, and that they 
would soon be friends and business associates. That 
was almost his last appearance. 

A day or two later the bad man stopped for din- 
ner at a freight station operated by a man named 
Van Sickles in the Carson Valley. Invariably quar- 
relsome with men whom he thought he might intim- 
idate, Brown cursed the waiter for the manner of his 
service, and knocked the man down with the barrel 
of his pistol. Van Sickles, a mild and peace-loving 
man, protested. Thereupon Brown drew a second 
gun and fired upon his host. But the bad man was a 
knife fighter, and his bullet went wild. Van Sickles 
dodged out of the room and escaped. Brown swag- 
gered out, mounted and went on his way. 

But when he had aroused the quiet Van Sickles he 
had started a potential terror. The station keeper 
waited only to let the killer out of pistol-shot, and 
then hurried back to his own arsenal and selected a 
shotgun loaded with buckshot. He mounted a good 
horse and set out on the trail, turning aside through 
the sage-brush to circle the bad man and reach the 
next station before him. Toward dusk he reached 
the station and entered the barn. The killer arrived 
a few minutes later, and according to custom rode 
directly through the 'wide door. Before he could 


dismount, the muzzle of a shotgun pressed into his 
ribs. Van Sickles waited only long enough to allow 
Brown to realize his finish, and pulled the trigger. 
The "chief" fell dead. Van Sickles was elected the 
first sheriff of Douglas County. 

All trouble makers were not removed so expertly. 
The battles became almost as dangerous as the suits. 
Bajazette and Golden Era miners cut a drift into the 
Grass Valley mine, rushed the enemy with pick 
handles and drove them to the surface. The Key- 
stone waged its war on the surface, drove away the 
adjacent Peerless miners, and filled the Peerless shaft 
with waste rock. Then they descended their own 
shaft, leaving an armed guard at the mouth, and pro- 
ceeded to clean out the disputed ground. That 
worked so well that the Uncle Sam did the same thing 
for the Centerville. 

The weaker groups, unable to stand up to a barrage 
of guns, knives and clubs, started sulphur smudges 
which filled the enemy's workings with fumes and 
stopped production completely. Yellow Jacket min- 
ers opened a drift into the Gentry shaft and smoked 
out their rivals. Gentry workers retaliated with such 
a volume of stinking gas that every connecting mine 
on the lode was filled, and fumes writhed upward 
from the ground throughout the town until mer- 
chants and householders protested bitterly at the odors 
which swept almost every house. 

Such a situation could not continue indefinitely. 
Gradually the fighters were withdrawn and the own- 


ers decided to abide by the judgment of the courts. 
There it was discovered that many of the suits were 
virtually no more than blackmail. The Grosh Gold 
and Silver Mining Company, for instance, was organ- 
ized and capitalized at ten million dollars with the 
frank purpose of seizing thirty-seven hundred and 
fifty feet of ground in the best part of the Comstock 
on the basis of a vague claim of the Grosh brothers* 
original discovery of the lode. Stock in the company 
was peddled to provide funds for the battle. Suits 
were filed and pressed against all the companies work- 
ing on that section of the lode. It soon became evi- 
dent that the Grosh brothers* untimely deaths had 
prevented them from securing title to the ground, 
even if they had discovered it, and the suits were lost. 
Again the lawyers alone profited. 

The chaotic condition of justice was revealed 
vividly in some of the suits. Billy Chollar sued the 
adjoining Potosi Company for its four hundred feet 
of rich ground. The case was set to come before 
Judge Gordon N. Mott in the First District Court. 

The Potosi Company officials believed that both 
Judge Mott and Chief Justice Turner were biased in 
favor of the Chollar Company* They therefore 
sought to obtain the appointment of James W. North, 
a lawyer friendly to them, to the place of Mott. At 
the psychological moment Mott resigned, and North 
was appointed to the bench. The method of this 
legal accomplishment is indicated in a blunt state- 
ment published in The Territorial Enterprise: 


"We assert that Judge North's place on the bench 
was bought for him. The price paid was $25,000, 
The payee was Gordon N. Mott. The person paying 
it was John Atchison in behalf of the Potosi company. 
We believe there was some flimsy pretext of railroad 
business which glossed over the payment of the money 
to Mott, but it will not be pretended that the object 
of paying Mott was any other than to get North on 
the bench/* 

That the newspaper's assertion, which was en- 
dorsed by the rival Gold Hill News, was accurate is 
indicated by the fact that damages for libel were 
neither sued for nor collected. 

Most of Judge North's rulings favored the Potosi 
Company. In a subsequent suit growing out of this, 
Stewart, still counsel for the plaintiff against the 
Potosi interests, decided that the jury was packed and 
bribed against him. Some of Stewart's amazing suc- 
cess may be better understood in the light of his 
handling of this situation. 

He suspected the bailiff, a former race jockey 
named Billy Brown, who was in charge of the jury, 
but realized that the bailiff would not dare to tell 
the truth. To provide against that difficulty, the 
lawyer purchased a locally famous race-horse and 
tied it just outside his window. Then he interviewed 
the bailiff. 

The ex- jockey was torn between avarice and fear. 
If he gave the lawyer the requested details of the brib- 


ing of the jury, he might earn a fat fee. The fee 
would not save his life if any of the bribed jurors 
traced the information to him, which seemed inevit- 

Stewart indicated the way out of this quandary by 
indicating the fast horse, saddled, bridled and tied 
in the street below. The ex-jockey realized that no 
one could catch him on that horse. A reward of 
fourteen thousand dollars in greenbacks in addition 
to the horse completed his undoing. 

He told the story of the bribery in detail, seized 
his fourteen-thousand-dollar fee, mounted the horse 
and vanished, nevermore to be seen upon the Corn- 

Armed with his detailed information Stewart 
faced the jury in the argument on the following day 
with supreme confidence. He began his argument 
with a discussion of the two theories involved, that of 
many separate veins in the lode, upon which the sur- 
face rights extended straight downward, and that of 
a single deposit of ore, which the surface workers had 
a legal right to follow, with all its dips, spurs and 

Counsel for the Potosi Company had concentrated 
their witnesses and based their argument upon the 
many-ledge theory, which was most popular in the 
district as it promised to give more men working titles 
in the ore. The court-room was crowded and the 
spectators were evidently delighted at the apparent 
trend of the case. They believed Stewart's innocuous 


opening argument to be in effect a confession of 

But the wily Stewart had been playing with his 
auditors. Abruptly he changed his tone and his 
method, and approached the first juror of the eight 
whom he had been told were bribed. Shrewdly charg- 
ing no one with bribery or the acceptance of bribes, 
the lawyer approached the subject with generalities 
to indicate the importance of this case before the 

Illustrating his points he repeated presumably 
imaginary conversations between venal jurors and 
unscrupulous litigants. But each conversation so 
offered dealt shrewdly with the exact amount of 
money each juror had received, the method of his ap- 
proach and the manner of his acceptance. By the 
time counsel had finished this byplay of argument 
the eight bribed jurors were satisfied that he had suf- 
ficient evidence to send them to the penitentiary. 
Stewart then finished his argument on the merits of 
the case. 

The jury disagreed, and while Stewart did not win 
his case in court, he accomplished the chief purpose 
of his clients. Potosi stock fell to five dollars a share, 
and the lawyer wired his clients in San Francisco to 
buy control. They did so, and avoided necessity of 
another suit. 

Such was the practise of law, and the procedure of 
the territorial courts of the time. Judges were ignor- 
ant and frequently venal. Stewart openly denounced 


Judge North and Chief Justice Turner as corrupt, 
and Judge Locke as too ignorant for any authority. 
He obtained documentary evidence of a five- 
thousand-dollar bribe paid to Turner, and when dis- 
barment proceedings came before the Supreme Court 
first North and then Turner resigned. Locke, under 
pressure, followed immediately. 

Still the battles raged. The Burning Moscow suit 
was famous. The company claimed twenty-four 
hundred feet between Central and Virginia ledges. 
Its stock was boomed on the San Francisco exchange 
and its war chest was full. It brought suit against the 
Ophir, The Garrison, the Whitbeck and the McCall 
companies followed. Ophir eventually bought out 
the three smaller companies and continued the fight 
against Burning Moscow. The courts of Nevada and 
California rocked with the battle. Burning Moscow 
sank a million dollars in the litigation. In the same 
period it spent enough in the physical exploration of 
its claims to prove that they were virtually worthless. 
Its stock fell from four hundred dollars to five dollars 
a share, and Ophir bought it out at that figure. In 
similar manner most of the legal troubles over min- 
ing titles eventually were settled. 

The twelve leading mines of the district were 
parties to two hundred and forty-five separate suits. 
The cost of the litigation has been estimated conserva- 
tively at ten million dollars. The figure is easy to 
believe when we know that a single fee of one hundred 
and sixty-five thousand dollars was paid to William 


M. Stewart by the Belcher Company. General 
Thomas H. Williams, a lawyer who rivaled Stewart, 
retired from the contest worth five million dollars, the 
market value of mining property which he had ac- 
cepted as fees. 

Slowly out of the turmoil came stability. Such 
sensational suits and hand-to-hand battles as marked 
those early days of Virginia City helped to advertise 
the Comstock throughout the world almost as much 
as did the actual silver production. It all helped to 
keep the district in the limelight and maintain public 
interest in its productive mines. 

While the vast amount of litigation was so expen- 
sively serving its purpose of shaking out the crooks, 
blackmailers and pikers, with the establishment of 
unimpeachable titles to the best properties, the lust 
for easy wealth was serving a similar end by con- 
centrating attention upon the Comstock lode proper. 

Even after the first boom and slump in I860 the 
excitement was sufficient to make it easy for smooth- 
tongued promoters to interest capital in mining 
possibilities throughout Nevada. Millionaires were 
few enough in the early 'sixties so that the fame of 
one hundred such fortunes among the one hundred 
thousand residents of California, all made in the gold- 
rush, was known throughout the land. It was easy 
for imaginations to multiply the reports of similar 
ortunes in Nevada. 

Eastern capitalists combined with western, and 
between them lured thousands of small investors to 


put their savings into the exploration of hundreds of 
miles of Nevada desert. The enthusiasm which at- 
tended the announcement of new strikes was astonish- 
ing. There seemed to be no limit to the credulity of 
the public. Mark Twain's description of the excite- 
ment and strenuous efforts of himself and friends in 
the Esmeralda district, in Roughing It, is not only 
vivid but accurate. And Mark Twain's experience 
was only one of thousands. 

Literally millions of dollars were thrown into the 
ground in Esmeralda. A city grew like a mushroom, 
and wilted and died almost as quickly. In the 
Palmyra and Indian Springs districts the sage-brush 
gave way to promising towns overnight, and over- 
night the towns in turn gave way to the sage-brush. 
In the Pine Woods district eastern capitalists bought 
lava outcroppings at the price of ore. Marietta and 
the Panamints lured their victims and cast them out, 
broken and broke. In the environs of Virginia City 
itself ten million dollars obtained from the sale of 
promotion stock and subsequent assessments upon the 
stockholders was spent in sinking shafts and running 
drifts in worthless ground. But even greater days 
were impending. 



DESPITE their troubles, the great mines of the 
Comstock lode continued to produce silver in such 
quantities that fortunes were being made daily. 
Word of such fortunes was sounded throughout the 
world. The incident of Sandy Bowers, to whom 
Comstock claimed to have given a tiny share in the 
lode, is typical. 

Bowers, a Gold Hill placer miner before the dis- 
covery of the Comstock, owned ten feet of ground 
on the Gold Hill end of the lode* The camp laundress 
owned ten feet adjoining. Bowers, taking his cue 
from the mergers going on all around him, married the 
laundress. Or perhaps she married him. She had had 
some experience, having married and divorced two 
Mormons since her immigration from Scotland. Her 
maiden name was Eilley Orrum. 

Bowers was the only one of the original owners of 
the lode who cashed in a fortune. That must have 
been due either to chance or to his Scottish wife, as his 
subsequent activities indicated that he had little more 
intelligence in the accumulation or handling of money 
than Old Pancake or Old Virginia. He did, however, 
retain his holdings while they were producing hun- 



" "*"""" ""' 1^ MM^ l^___ 

dreds of thousands of dollars from the rich bonanza 
near the surface, mined at minimum cost. The 
result was wealth beyond the dreams of the miner and 
the washerwoman. 

With long years of toil and poverty behind them, 
even the imaginations of the couple had been dulled 
by undernourishment. The best they were able to do 
in the immediate display of wealth was the construc- 
tion of a palatial home in Washoe Valley, near the 
ugly camp which had given them riches. With the 
stimulus of attendant publicity, the Bowers' imagina- 
tion arose to greater heights. 

They chartered the International Hotel, Virginia 
City's best, to provide a banquet worthy of their 
affluence. Every person of any importance in the 
camp was invited. Every luxury which San Francisco 
could provide was ordered, and San Francisco was 
already famed throughout the world as a center of 
extravagance. The party was literally a howling 
success. Not the least of its features was Bowers' 
speech, duly reported in The Territorial Enterprise: 

"I've had powerful good luck in this country, but 
now I've got money to throw at the birds. Ther arn't 
no chance for a gentlemen to spend his coin in this 
country, an' so me and Mrs. Bowers is goin' to Yoorup 
to take in the sights. Ther arn't many folks worth 
seein' in America. Mebbe Horace Greeley and like- 
wise Governor Nye and old Winnemucca. But what 
we've really set our hearts on is seein' the Queen of 


England and all the other great folks of them 


So Sandy and Mrs. Bowers departed for "Yoorup" 
in a blaze of glory, and did their part toward spread- 
ing the fame of the Comstock and attracting the 
money of investors from both sides of the Atlantic. 
The fact that he continued to throw his money at 
the birds made him a perfect publicity agent for a 
mining town. The facts that his mine ceased to pay 
after a few years, that Sandy died, and that Mrs. 
Bowers, reduced to poverty, became widely known as 
"The Seeress of Washoe," are beside the point. 

The Bowers incident is merely illustrative of the 
spirit of the time and place. Another mining man 
put door-knobs of solid silver throughout his house, 
some sixty-five years ahead of Frankie Lake, an early 
bootleg beer baron of Chicago. Human nature has 
not changed. The superintendent of the Overman 
mine in his first days of riches filled his water tank 
with champagne for the guests at a wedding. The 
offices, residences and even the stables of the officials 
of the leading mines were constructed and decorated 
with an extravagance unprecedented. Men who had 
never bestrode a saddle animal better than a mule ap- 
peared in the streets of Virginia City on thorough- 
bred horses. Men who had never read a line of 
literature better than that of The Territorial Enter- 
prise bought whole libraries bound in morocco. 
Whatever was most costly in the way of food, drink, 


apparel and furnishing was considered a necessity. 

When an itinerant preacher offered his first sermon 
on a corner of the rising camp the hat which he passed 
came back to him literally filled with silver and gold. 
When a traveling stock company from Salt Lake City 
introduced the drama to the town in a play called 
Swiss Swains, the financial reward left the actors 
literally gasping. One may be sure that the story 
which such artists carried on did the reputation of 
Virginia City no harm. All that mad extravagance, 
all that fury of litigation, all that wildcat explora- 
tion and failure of surrounding territory, all that 
feverish activity of construction served to define the 
Comstock lode and start it definitely on its way to a 
spectacular place in the history of the "West. 

The incidental activities and business of a city 
develop contemporaneously and naturally. The 
Territorial Enterprise, started as a weekly newspaper 
in the village of Genoa in December of 'fifty-eight, 
came by way of Carson to Virginia City in November 
of 1860. The Evening Chronicle appeared at about 
the same time, and The Gold Hill News covered the 
same territory. Thereafter the history of the Com- 
stock was a matter of daily record. Only one com- 
plete file of The Territorial Enterprise, owned by a 
collector in Salt Lake City, is known to be extant. 
The Bancroft Library at the University of California 
treasures an incomplete file. There also are files of 
The News and The Chronicle to assist students of 
history in the making. 


The Enterprise, as the journalistic school of Mark 
Twain, C C Goodwin, and Dan DeQuille (William 
Wright) soon led the field. Its first office in Virginia 
City was a small frame building with a lean-to on one 
side, provided with bunks, a kitchen stove and a 
Chinese cook for the staff. Its columns included not 
only reports of the activities of the mines and mills 
but a striking revelation of the social life of the day. 

Of Mark Twain's apprenticeship as a cub reporter 
in Virginia City so much has been written that it has 
become almost legendary. He himself has gone into 
it at considerable length in Roughing It. On the 
whole the picture he has drawn there is accurate, 
though its details are colored by his imagination and 
sense of humor* 

The Enterprise office was almost a club for the 
members of its staff. They were a jovial, irresponsi- 
ble, light-hearted crew, thoroughly impregnated with 
the gambling spirit typical of the Virginia City of 
their day. After the paper was put to bed in the small 
hours of the morning they gathered with visiting 
celebrities or congenial spirits of the town and made 
merry with guitar and banjo and song assisted by an 
ample supply of lager beer, and occasionally planned 
their campaigns of journalistic horseplay. Their 
humor was largely of the practical joke variety, and 
lengths to which they would go to formulate such 
jokes were astonishing. 

Mark Twain had joined this interesting aggrega- 
tion as a result of letters written to The Enterprise 


while he was burning in the high fever of the wildcat 
camp of Aurora, one of the most excited offshoots of 
the Comstock. Broke and in debt after his mining 
ventures, Clemens somewhat against his inclination 
and judgment accepted an offer from Joseph T. Good- 
man, owner and editor of The Enterprise, to join its 
local staff at a wage of twenty-five dollars a week. 

He had walked one hundred and thirty miles across 
the desert in mid-summer, carrying his personal be- 
longings on his back from Aurora to Virginia City 
to take the job. How well he fitted into the job and 
into the hectic life of the Comstock may be under- 
stood by the reader of his own account in Roughing 

Senator William M. Stewart has left in his Remi- 
niscences, a less eulogistic account of the appearance 
and work of Mark Twain in those untrammeled days 
of cub reporting, than is indicated by the admirers of 
Clemens. Stewart's memory of the budding journal- 
ist pictures an unkempt, lazy, inconsiderate individual 
who would rather write about men and events from 
his imagination than to take the trouble to obtain 

Complete indifference to the ill effects of his 
diatribes was one of the outstanding features of Mark 
Twain's writing in those early days, according to 
Stewart. An excuse entirely satisfactory to Twain, 
the senator maintained, was that he was paid a salary 
to write, and that therefore he wrote, and inasmuch as 
he himself had no personal malice toward any one 


whom he might ridicule in print the object of such 
ridicule should bear no malice toward him. 

Such an argument would have been quite in keep- 
ing with the spirit of the times and the journalism of 
The Enterprise. Fake stories and practical jokes were 
unquestionably an outstanding feature of the news- 
paper. Albert Bigelow Paine's biography of Mark 
Twain covers this phase of the humorist's experience 
and training on the Comstock in minute detail. 

The same authority dismisses Stewart's uncom- 
plimentary comments with a brief statement that the 
senator had never forgiven the humorist for certain 
liberties taken in print with the senatorial dignity. 
Perhaps that is true. There is evidence that some of 
Stewart's memories concerning Twain were not ac- 
curate. For instance, he ascribes a practical joke hold- 
up of Twain to an effort of victims of Twain's pen to 
avenge themselves upon the writer while he was still 
a member of The Enterprise staff. 

The facts are that the hold-up which Stewart 
describes in a manner calculated to bring ridicule 
upon Twain did not occur until some time after the 
Author had left The Enterprise staff* He had returned 
to Comstock to give his famous lecture on The Sand- 
wich Islands. His reception had been so flattering 
and so many persons had been turned away from the 
hall that his friends begged him to repeat. He refused 
on the ground that he had no other lecture material. 
The friends then planned the fake hold-up with the 
double purpose of giving him material for another 


talk, and making it financially necessary for him to 
speak to refill his emptied purse. It was an idea 
typical of the Comstock one in which a short time 
earlier Mark Twain himself might easily have been a 
leading spirit. But in this case it went astray, and 
Twain canceled the second lecture date and left 
Virginia City at'once and forever as soon as he learned 
of the joke. 

It appears that both his conscience and his humor 
were showing some slight refinement from the crudi- 
ties of his first reporting days. Study of the news- 
paper files shows that Samuel Clemens unquestionably 
was one of the most irresponsible reporters who ever 
reported, and the fact that The Territorial Enterprise, 
Nevada's leading newspaper, not only tolerated but 
encouraged his vagaries and similar vagaries on the 
part of other members of its staff, throws an illumi- 
nating light on what was expected and accepted in 
Comstock journalism. 

Further illustrative of this journalism, particularly 
as practised by Mark Twain, is a story and comment 
taken from The Gold Hill News of October 28 and 

"Horrible! The most sickening tale of horror that 
we have read for years is told in The Enterprise this 
morning; and were it not for the responsible source 
from which our contemporary received it, we should 
refuse it credence. The account is given at length 
and from our limited space we are compelled to con- 


dense it. It is nothing less than the murder of a family 
consisting of the mother and seven children by the 
hand of the father, Philip Hopkins, and the suicide 
of the murderer. 

"The unf ortunate family resided between Empire 
City and Dutch Nick's, and Hopkins has been for 
some time supposed to be insane. About ten o'clock 
on Monday evening Mr. Hopkins dashed into Carson 
on horseback, with his throat cut from ear to ear and 
bearing in his hand a reeking scalp from which the 
warm smoking blood was dripping, and fell in a dying 
condition in front of the Magnolia saloon. He ex- 
pired in the course of five minutes without speaking. 
The long red hair of the scalp he bore marked it as 
that of Mrs. Hopkins. 

"A number of citizens headed by Herman Gasherie 
mounted at once and rode down to the Hopkins house 
where a ghastly scene met their gaze. The scalpless 
corpse of Mrs. Hopkins lay across the threshold with 
her head split open and her right hand almost severed 
from the wrist. Near her lay the axe with which 
the murderous deed had been committed. In one of 
the bedrooms six of the children were found, one in 
bed and the others scattered on the floor. They were 
all dead. Their brains had evidently been dashed out 
with a club as every mark about them seemed to have 
been made with a blunt instrument. Julia and Emma, 
aged respectively fourteen and seventeen, were found 
in the kitchen, bruised and insensible, but it is thought 
their recovery is possible. The eldest girl; Mary, must 


have taken refuge in her terror in the garret, as her 
body was found there frightfully mutilated and with 
the knife with which her wounds had been inflicted 
sticking in her side. 

"Mr* Curry says Mr. Hopkins was about 42 years 
of age, and a native of western Pennsylvania. He was 
always affable and polite, and until very recently he 
had never heard of his ill-treating his family. He had 
been a heavy owner in the best mines of Gold Hill 
and Virginia City but when the San Francisco papers 
exposed the game of cooking dividends in order to 
bolster up their stocks, he grew afraid and sold out 
and invested an immense amount in the Spring Valley 
Water Company of San Francisco. The stock soon 
went down to nothing and the ruined man was driven 
mad by his misfortunes/* 

That concluded the story of the murder. The next 
day appeared the following: 

"That Sell. The horrible story of a murder which 
we yesterday copied in good faith from The Enter- 
prise turns out to be a mere witticism of Mark Twain. 
In short a Lie entirely baseless and without a shadow 
of foundation. The Enterprise is the pioneer news- 
paper of the Territory, is more widely known than 
any other, and having been ably and respectably con- 
ducted, has heretofore been considered a reliable 
medium of information. The terrible tale related in 
its columns yesterday was believed here and will be 


believed everywhere wherever The Enterprise is 
read. It will be read with sickening horror, and the 
already bloody reputation of our Territory will re- 
ceive another smear. When the readers of the soul- 
sickening story are informed that it was a mere babble 
of 'wit/ they will feel relieved, although they may 
utterly fail to see the humor of the point/* 

Many modern readers no doubt will agree with the 
concluding reflection of The Gold Hill News. Un- 
questionably Mark Twain's sense of humor in that 
early day was peculiar, to say the least. He did not 
have in the editor of The Enterprise the wise, gentle, 
but discriminating critic whom he was later to love 
and marry, and of whom his biographer, Albert Bige- 
low Paine, wrote: "For Mark Twain's reputation it 
would have been better had she exercised her editorial 
prerogative even more actively." 

The Enterprise gave to Mark Twain an opportunity 
to practise the trade of writing for print but despite 
the local prestige of its editor it gave him little train- 
ing in the art of letters* The advantages which it 
afforded were negative rather than positive. It re- 
frained effectively from molding the author's style 
within the narrow forms of modern news reporting. 
Witness an example of what purported to be a news 
story from the Clemens pen, published in The Enter- 
prisf a little later than the above. Note the freedom 
between news and comment, fact and opinion, as- 
sumed by the writer and permitted by his editor. 


"Eight left Virginia yesterday and came down to 
Dayton with Mr. Sutro. Time 3 minutes distance 
8 or 9 miles. There is nothing very slow about that 
kind of travel. We found Dayton the same old place 
but taking up a good deal more room than it did the 
last time I saw it, and looking more brisk and lively 
with its increase of business, and more handsome on 
account of the beautiful dressed stone buildings with 
which it is being embellished of late. 

"Just as we got fairly under way, and were ap- 
proaching Ball Robert's bridge, Sutro's dog, "Carlo/ 
got to skirmishing around in the extravagant exuber- 
ance of his breakfast, and shipped up a fight with six 
or seven other dogs whom he was entirely unac- 
quainted with, had never met before and probably 
has no desire to meet again. He waltzed into them 
right gallantly and right gallantly waltzed out again. 

"We also left at about this time and trotted briskly 
across Ball Robert's bridge. I remarked that Ball 
Robert's bridge was a good one and a credit to that 
bald gentleman. I said it in a fine burst of humor 
and more on account of the joke than anything else, 
but Sutro is insensible to the more delicate touches of 
American wit, and the effort was entirely lost on him. 
I don't think Sutro minds a joke of mild character 
any more than a dead man would. However, I re- 
peated it once or twice without producing any visible 
effect, and finally derived what comfort I could by 
laughing at it myself. 

"Mr. Sutro being a confirmed business man, replied 


in a practical and businesslike way. He said the 
bridge was a good one, and so were all public blessings 
of a similar nature when entrusted to the hands of 
private individuals. He said if the county had built 
the bridge it would have cost an extravagant sum of 
money, and would have been eternally out of repair. 
He also said the only way to get public work well and 
properly done was to let it out by contract. 

" Tor instance/ says he, 'they have fooled away two 
or three years trying to capture Richmond, whereas 
if they had let the job by contract to some sensible 
business man, the thing would have been accomplished 
and forgotten long ago/ It was a novel and original 
idea and I forgot my joke for the next half hour in 
speculating upon its feasibility." . . . 

Why a newspaper of the stability and reputation of 
The Enterprise should give space for such rambling 
reports is almost as difficult to understand as why it 
should lend itself to such a hoax as the preceding 
tale. Also it must remain a mystery as to why Mark 
Twain considered the murder tale either humor- 
ous or clever. The explanation given later, that it 
was designed to rebuke certain San Francisco news- 
papers for their ill-considered use of news bearing on 
the Comstock, perhaps was accurate, but never suffi- 
cient to overcome the first reaction. There were 
plenty of real murders to report in Virginia City in 
those days. 

A copy of The Enterprise printed not long after 


reveals a sufficiently brisk business in shooting, slash- 
ing and assault to satisfy the cravings of any cub re- 
porter. One day's record, fully substantiated, cites 
half a dozen sanguine affairs. 

P. H. Dowd, proprietor of the Gem Saloon, 
quarreled with William Janes, a bartender in Daley's 
saloon and formerly a partner of Dowd's. Dowd 
threw a glass tumbler at Janes. Janes hurled his own 
glass in the face of Dowd. Both men then drew pis- 
tols and fired. Both shots went wild but Janes* 
second shot drilled Dowd through the body. Patrick 
Cox, a swamper in Dowd's saloon, seeing his boss fall, 
seized a pistol and fired at Janes, but missed. By this 
time most of the hangers-on in the barroom were 
vanishing through doors and windows. Two local 
officers named Lackey and Terry, however, seized 
Janes as he was turning his weapon upon Cox, dis- 
armed and arrested him. Janes' first bullet had torn 
a hole through Cox's vest but had not wounded him. 

The second shooting of the day's report occurred 
between one Jack McNabb and an unidentified 
stranger in the Clipper Saloon. The stranger was 
abusing a harmless individual known as "Drunken 
Jimmy," when McNabb remonstrated. The stranger 
promptly drew a revolver and fired two shots, one of 
which went wild while the other was deflected by a 
packet of letters in McNabb's vest. McNabb's 
answering shot marked the stranger's forehead but 
left him sufficient energy to escape. 

The third incident of the day's record developed 


between two residents who started with an argument 
about a chicken fight and finished with a resort to 
derringers. One man was shot through the hand and 
the other escaped. 

The fourth feature was an ax murder. John Boyd, 
a wood chopper working in Newton Canyon, a few 
miles from Virginia City, was found murdered and 
mangled in his cabin. The murder, according to the 
newspaper account, was attributed to an Indian in 
Boyd's employ. The Indian, a pair of blankets, a 
large butcher knife, a quantity of provisions, and four 
dollars in cash known to have been in Boyd's pockets 
were missing. 

A fifth item recites: "Gurley, the man who was 
shot the other night by the fellow Sief eldt is now in 
a fair way of recovery." 

A sixth says: "There was something of a muss 
Sunday night in a C Street hurdy-house. Grand 
result: a whipped Mexican and a victorious Irishman* 
No arrest." 

Those were hard men, tough hombres. What they 
craved was whisky and action. It mattered little 
what form the action might take. Their pleasures 
were as hard as their labors, as violent as their passions. 
Barrooms, gambling-houses, dance-halls and brothels 
were filled with the motley crowd. 

Prize fights were a popular form of entertainment. 
In one such battle, the pugilists had fought for four- 
teen rounds in an open-air arena when the referee 
declared a foul. Practically every man present had 


a wager on the fight. They did not purpose to be 
cheated of their profits by the arbitrary word of a 
referee. The crowd instantly started a fierce dispute. 
Within a minute knives and guns were flashing. 
Pistol-shots combined with yells and curses to com- 
plete the confusion. The horses, tied outside the 
circle, stampeded. Friendship was forgotten. Every 
man present was engaged in a hand-to-hand battle. 
It was a scene typical of the men who made up the 
majority of the population of the Comstock in that 

The same citizens flocked with equal enthusiasm 
to see a battle between a bear and four bulldogs at 
McGuire's Opera House. Another popular contest 
was a fight between wildcats and bulldogs. The 
Enterprise reported this engagement with all the 
solemn dignity which it might have given to a 
serious dramatic performance. For that reason direct 
quotation from its account should prove illuminating: 

"The great wildcat and bulldog fight came off at 
the Opera House last night according to programme 
and was witnessed by a full and excited house. . . . 
There was rigged up on the stage a large cage. To- 
ward the roof of the cage, placed so as to perfectly 
light up the interior, were eight gas jets. All being 
in readiness, Fight No. 1 took place. The smallest 
cat was let into the den and shortly afterward Mr. 
Gage's large white bulldog, 'Hero. 3 He went after 
that cat c thar jand then/ The cat stood his first charge 


and then began to want to leave. After a few wild 
plunges about the cage the dog got a square hold on 
the beast and promptly killed it. . . /* 

A second battle resulted in victory for the cat, and 
a third was staged with a fresh dog. The Enterprise's 
dramatic critic described this contest as "a really 
terrific battle. The cat now for the first time found 
it necessary to use her teeth as well as her claws. Over 
and over they rolled, fighting so rapidly that it re- 
minded one of a big bunch of firecrackers exploding 
and whirling about. The cat at last began to try to 
get away, but the spunky little dog kept after her and 
she had to get down to her work again. The fight 
lasted over twenty minutes, and finally the dog was 
victorious, not only whipping but killing the cat. 

"The little bulldog was cheered by the crowd and 
all dispersed declaring the new Opera House troupe 
a decided success.* 5 

The brutality and crudity of such forms of enter- 
tainment, however, did not suffice for all the residents 
of Virginia City. "The refining influences of the 
stage were also clearly marked," according to one 
contemporary critic. "Well enacted plays of the 
better class have been as well received on the Corn- 
stock Lode as in communities whose pretensions to 
culture are greater, and an increased sale of standard 
dramatic literature has been one of the more easily 
recognized effects of these representations. During 
the brief engagement of John McCullough at the 


Virginia City Theatre, to cite one recent instance, 
thirty full copies of costly editions of Shakespeare's 
works were purchased. If performances with slight 
traces of sense, humor, ingenuity or decency have also 
been popular, few cities at present could cast the first 
stone at the Washoe mining towns." 

Despite its feverish life and the variety of its popu- 
lation, Virginia City was really settling down. 
Churches, schools and fraternal organizations were 
forming. Still, in these first two or three hectic years 
the town was strangely without any great man or 
outstanding leadership, unless the young lawyer, 
William M. Stewart, could be considered great, 
Mackay, Fair and Sutro were still unmarked among 
the throngs. John P. Jones, William Sharon and 
James Flood were unheard of. The fortunes which 
were coming out of the ground were being scattered 
with scandalous waste for lack of organization and 
businesslike direction. 

Yet wealth was there in silver ore blocked out to 
the value of many millions, visible in a dozen mines. 
It was inevitable that such potential rewards should 
attract and develop men of business ability sufficient 
to command a chaotic situation. 



LACKING oustanding leadership in its first excited 
years of prosperity, the development of the Comstock 
advanced under economic pressure, without direc- 
tion. The producing mines supplied great sums of 
money. At the same time they attracted thousands 
of workers. The demand for machinery, building 
materials, mine timbers, and miscellaneous supplies 
increased steadily. 

Supplying of this demand and the consumption of 
supplies was carried on almost without organization. 
The waste was appalling. The mine owners, workers 
and merchants of the district operated with an in- 
dependence unique in history. The good mines 
produced money enough to pay for anything, and 
appeared to produce it from an inexhaustible source. 
Three hundred, four hundred, five hundred feet down 
they went, and opened up chamber after chamber of 
rich ore. 

When one pinched out, a neighbor would come in 
with greater wealth than before. While one delved 
down through borrasca or barren rock to search for 
new rewards at deeper levels, another extracted 
millions from the bonanza in which it found itself. 



While one paid dividends running into millions, and 
expended other millions in continued development, 
another assessed its stockholders to provide the sinews 
of its war with nature. In either case money was 
always available for supplies and pay-rolls. 

No untoward difficulties, hardships or tragedies 
could check the sweeping economic forces which were 
stimulating development of mines and city. By the 
close of 1862, forty companies had built shaft houses 
on the main lode, and twelve were operating steam 
engines for hoisting and pumping. 

The summit of Mount Davidson looked down upon 
a four-mile line of smoking shaft-houses and mills, 
and heaps of rock and sand which grew like gigantic 
ant-hills at the mouth of every pit and tunnel. To 
carry out the illusion, men, mules, horses and oxen 
swarmed about these vast dumps, scurrying about on 
a thousand errands with the same direct and definite 
purpose as a colony of ants. Trains of men and 
wagons gathered about the dumps of the chief ore 
producers, the Ophir, Mexican, Gould & Curry, 
Chollar, Potosi, and smaller claims, and moved away 
to give place to others. Wagon-trains moved in and 
out through the adjacent streets, blocked from time 
to time by confusion of traffic at a busy corner, and 
at last escaped toward the mills, while others struggled 
up the slopes which they had left. 

Amid such activities even great physical disasters 
failed to check the general development. In the 
summer of 'sixty-three the city trembled from end to 


end with the roar and concussion of a great collapse 
of rock and timber in the Mexican mine. The entire 
workings, to a depth of two hundred and twenty-five 
feet, dropped with a force which swept rock and 
timbers like straw into the adjoining galleries of the 
Ophir. "The whole mine/* wrote an admiring eye- 
witness, "was a lovely chaos." 

More than an acre of ground caved into the shafts, 
tunnels and stopes below. Fifty feet of the Ophir 
drifts were obliterated as if by a blast. The galleries 
of the second and third levels collapsed under the 
jsudden pressure, dragging shaft-houses, machinery 
and all the surface workings into the pit of ruin. 
Twenty miners escaped with their lives only by rare 
good luck. 

Later a great collapse at Gold Hill wrecked the 
upper levels of the Imperial, the Empire and the 
Eclipse mines. Earth, rock and timbers weighing 
hundreds, of thousands of tons settled into the depths 
with one mighty crash, producing a concussion which 
rocked the town of Gold Hill, and which hurled 
fragments of rock from the three-hundred-foot level 
of the Imperial mine straight up the shaft to crash 
against the roof of the hoisting works. 

Hardly had the ruin in the Mexican and Ophir 
works been cleared away sufficiently to allow some 
resumption of mining when the first disastrous fire 
swept Virginia City. Nearly half the frame buildings 
which made up the greater part of the town were 
laid in smoking ruins. Hundreds of miners were left 


homeless, and scores of business houses and incidental 
activities were cut off in an hour. 

No such hardships daunted the energy or enthusi- 
asm of the Comstockers. Promoters, business men 
and miners alike hurled themselves into the work of 
restoration. While the ruins smoked above one mine, 
the rich ore was pouring from the shaft of another 
to provide the wherewithal for continued growth and 
development of the community as a whole. Men who 
had escaped death in a subterranean disaster laughed 
away the incident and invited friends to drink their 
health in dozens of riotous saloons. 

With such variety of citizenship, labor, trial, dif- 
ficulty and accomplishment, Virginia City grew and 
waxed great. Gold Hill, just across the narrow divide 
at the head of Gold Canyon, was not far behind. 
Each extended toward the other until they virtually 

Dayton, once Chinatown, and before that Mormon 
Station and other names, became a thriving center 
of mills and transportation, a few miles below the 
lode, on the Carson River. Carson City, a few miles 
more distant on the main route to California assumed 
airs familiar to modern travelers who have witnessed 
the booming of real-estate subdivisions in Florida or 

Amid such activities almost any man could get a 
job and earn a living. The smallest capitalist could 
start some business of his own. It was every man for 
himself, and the devil take the hindmost. There was a 


constantly growing demand for all the necessities and 
most of the luxuries of life. Quite logically such de- 
mand inspired organization to reap its potential profit. 

The great toll roads across the Sierras were one of 
the first developments, and simultaneously came the 
great transportation companies. The first session of 
the legislature of the newly organized Territory of 
Nevada was swamped by applications for toll-road 
franchises. The rights were granted only to those 
who could give satisfactory evidence of their financial 
and engineering ability to build and maintain the 
roads. Nevada was not yet experienced in the possi- 
bilities of politics. Good toll roads had proved their 
value in the development of California in the preced- 
ing decade, and several companies which had con- 
structed and operated them at a profit were eager to 
repeat their success across the Sierras. 

But it was a tremendous task and the franchises 
were divided among several builders, of which Swan 
& Company probably was the largest, with an allot- 
ment of twenty miles in the mountains. All went 
to work promptly with large gangs of laborers, mostly 
recruited from the Chinese coolies who then swarmed 
on the Pacific Coast. Modern road builders under the 
direction of county, state and federal government, 
who point with pride to their engineering achieve- 
ments would be surprised at the perfection of the 
mountain grades, cut through rock on precipitous 
slopes and paved with macadam and slabs fitted as 
neatly as bathroom tiles, which were the perfected 


work of those pioneer road builders of the early 

No better indication of their smooth perfection can 
be given than the vast weight of the numberless 
wagon-trains which moved over them. Where, in 
the spring of 1860, pack-mules struggled and were 
lost between slides, rocks and bottomless mud-holes, 
eventually teams of ten to twenty mules were hauling 
wagons with trailers and loads weighing as much as 
eighty-four thousand pounds. The figures are 
astounding but beyond question. They are on record 
in the books of the weigh-masters of the time, who 
checked the ore freighters from mines to mills. 

The business grew to immense proportions as the 
demands of the Comstock district increased. The 
wagons extended iii an almost unbroken line over the 
entire hundred miles from Virginia City to Placer- 
ville. Frequently, during the summer months, if a 
wagon broke down or for some other reason was 
forced out of line its driver might have to wait for 
hours before he could find sufficient space to move his 
ten or twenty mules and wagon with two to four 
trailers into the procession. 

Stations which included stables, hotels, blacksmith 
shops, saloons and stores, sprang up at average inter- 
vals of two miles all along the road. The amount of 
traffic on this colorful highway was almost beyond 
conception. Comstock-bound wagons carried moun- 
tains of machinery, furniture, lumber, provisions 
and merchandise of all descriptions. Outgoing 


wagons, at least until the development of adequate 
mills to handle all the Comstock ore, carried huge 
freights of high grade for reduction on the Coast, or 
even in England, to which it was shipped around the 
Horn as ballast. 

The river of incoming freight began in New York, 
Philadelphia and Liverpool, coming across the Isthmus 
of Panama or around Cape Horn to San Francisco, 
where it was transferred to river steamers, and again 
transferred at Sacramento to the waiting caravans of 
Washoe freighters. All along the toll roads smaller 
streams of traffic converged and added to the flow. 
Orchards, vineyards, truck gardens, hay, grain and 
cattle ranches throughout more than a hundred miles 
of California valley and foot-hill land contributed 
their quota of freight. Farms which had been 
abandoned or neglected for years were brought back 
into production to take advantage of the high prices 
prevailing throughout Nevada. The farmer's plow 
team and buckboard vied with the twenty-mule 
freighters for a place in the Comstock-bound trains. 

Swan & Company cleared fifty thousand dollars a 
year on their toll-road franchises, after paying an 
average of five thousand dollars a mile for mainte- 
nance. The toll for the entire route was fifteen dol- 
lars for a four-horse team, and a dollar and a half for 
each additional animal. The average cost of handling 
freight from Sacramento to Virginia City in these 
conditions was six cents a pound. It was something 
to excite the interest of Huntington, Stanford, 


Crocker and Hopkins, then contemplating the con- 
struction of the Central Pacific Railroad* 

Partly to that interest we owe figures on the amount 
of traffic involved. The railroad investigators made 
a careful check and estimated that one hundred 
million pounds of freight were being hauled over the 
Placerville route annually, and half that amount over 
the Downieville route* It was worth building a rail- 
road for. The Sacramento Union in 1863 declared 
that 2,772 teams, employing 14,652 animals, were 
regularly employed on the freight routes. Total 
annual freight costs, which of course included the 
road tolls, mounted into the millions. 

Even more colorful, and little less profitable were 
the great passenger stages which careened over the 
mountains to the crack of whips and the shouts of 
their drivers, punctuated occasionally by the gasps 
or cries of their passengers. The Pioneer Line held 
almost a monopoly of passenger transportation on the 
popular Placerville route. It had entered the field 
while saddle mules were still substituting for vehicles 
on the more difficult stretches. As the road improved, 
the company seized all the best sites for its stations. 
In these stations it maintained more than six hundred 
fine horses, and employed scores of hostlers. 

The stage drivers were the kings of the highway. 
They drew salaries as high as two hundred and fifty 
dollars a month. They spoke only with scorn to the 
freighters and with condescension to the passengers. 
The California Company and the Nevada Company 


used the route through Downieville, and carried per- 
haps half as many passengers as the Pioneer. The 
latter carried twenty thousand passengers a year at a 
fare of twenty-seven dollars between Sacramento and 
Virginia City, 

The trip became world famous among travelers in 
the 'sixties. It can be but feebly appreciated now by 
motorists or auto-stage tourists who follow the Placer- 
ville route as far as Lake Tahoe. The difference is 
not only the difference between a seat upon the top 
of a swaying stage drawn by six galloping horses, and 
the interior of a modern closed car. It is the greater 
difference between a picturesque roadway, alive with 
colorful movement, and an almost deserted mountain 
boulevard. Where masked and armed bandits once 
appeared from the depths of a pine forest and con- 
verged upon stage and panic-stricken passengers, only 
an imposing monument in commemoration of one 
such spectacular incident now stops the tourist with 
a bronze tablet to satisfy a fleeting curiosity. 

The South Fork of the American River, to be sure, 
still flashes white and blue in the canyon far below 
the grade, disappearing and reappearing in the opening 
vistas of pines and rocks. Patches of snow against 
black peaks still rise overhead. A haze of heat still 
films the wide Sacramento Valley from points of ex- 
ceptional view. It is still a highway of thrilling 
beauty and inspiration, but it is no longer a pulsing 
artery in the body of the nation. 

Perhaps the Downieville Road, though even less 


traveled to-day, gives a better suggestion of what 
went on through those rugged mountains seventy 
years ago. There the modern traveler encounters at 
least the names of such early mining towns as Red 
Dog, Rough and Ready, Brandy City, and the pictur- 
esque remnant of Downieville itself, and Sierraville 
and Sierra City. The Yuba River below the narrow 
grade is as beautiful as the American. The pines are 
as straight and tall. The vistas are as wide and deep. 
And the atmosphere of the days which made these 
mountain passes famous throughout the world is more 
easily conjured up in a dark and ruined village street 
than upon the present broad pavement which leads 
from Sacramento through Auburn and across the 
mountains to Reno. 

Even the ability to drive one's private car over the 
historic routes to-day is a handicap. It is too easy. 
It tends to put one in a mood scornful of the drivers 
of that other day, when driving was a profession of 
high skill and higher honor. The stage-drivers of 
the 'sixties maintained upon their high seats a position 
which no aspirant to social honors could scorn. Those 
drivers would have felt that they were honoring a 
president of the United States with an invitation to 
the coveted seat beside them. Such Jehus would have 
scorned Mrs. Gann's interest in a certain position at 
the White House table, but would have understood, 
and perhaps refused, her application for a seat upon 
the stage box. 

They were men of skill and courage as well as social 


prominence. The guiding of six-horse stages, fre- 
quently at a run, around the curves of those mountain 
grades required trained hands and eyes, strong arms, 
and quick judgment. The time they made proves 
conclusively that they possessed all these attributes. 
The three-day schedule over the one hundred and 
sixty-two miles from Sacramento to Virginia City in 
the first great year of travel was cut to eighteen hours 
with the improvement of the road. On one occasion, 
to serve three wealthy mining operators in an emer- 
gency, the run was made in twelve hours and twenty 
minutes, an average of about thirteen miles an hour. 
Even modern automobiles do not scorn such speed 
over some parts of the grade to-day. 

And on the whole the accidents were less frequent 
than they are with the more modern conveyances. 
The plodding freight teams gave right of way to the 
dashing stages, but droves of catties were not always 
so accommodating. Occasionally a wild steer would 
tangle up the stage horses and upset the coach. On 
one occasion a grizzly bear, ambling across the road, 
frightened the team so badly that they wrecked the 
outfit, though the passengers escaped unhurt. On 
another occasion only a lone pine, providentially 
standing below the edge of the grade, saved an entire 
stage load from death at the bottom of the canyon, a 
thousand feet below. The stage, turning a sharp 
corner, toppled over the grade and landed in the soli- 
tary pine. The horses were killed, but the passengers 
saved themselves by climbing down the tree. 


No adequate appreciation of the life and spirit of 
the time can be had without some understanding of 
these Jehus of the passenger lines. Equally important, 
though less spectacular, were the freight-drivers, bull- 
whackers, mule-skinners, who manned the great 
Washoe freight wagons. The necessities of the situa- 
tion bred men and mules to meet them* So in the 
story of the Comstock is found one more vivid ex- 
ample of the spirit and energy which has made 
America great. Always, in every emergency of our 
national life a man or men have arisen capable of 
coping with the emergency. 

The freight lines across the Sierras required the 
services of men as honest and patient as they were 
physically hard and courageous. Promptly such men 
appeared. They were ranchers from the mountain 
valleys who saw opportunity for more profitable use 
of their horses and wagons on the long haul than in 
their fields; they were veterans of the Santa Fe and 
Salt Lake trails; they were men who had pioneered 
with the covered wagons across the continent, and 
had cracked their long whips through the valleys of 
California for a decade. They were a class by them- 
selves, a definite factor in the pioneering of the 
West not prospectors, not merchants, not gamblers, 
but self-respecting and self -sufficient men of business 
in their own right. 

They were men who had to be able to wrestle and 
stow a two-hundred-pound bale of drygoods in a 
shifting load, who had to be able to handle ten to 


twenty mules with a heavy wagon and two or three 
trailers on the mountain grades, who occasionally had 
to stand off highwaymen with their long rifles, whose 
honesty had to be accepted to the extent of thousands 
of dollars* worth of goods for which only a personal 
receipt was given* They were men revealing a strange 
mixture of qualities as sentimental as they were 
practical under their weather-beaten exteriors. The 
oaths with which they encouraged or castigated their 
mules might even give way with astonishing inno- 
cence to devout prayers as they rolled in their blankets 
under the stars. 

Living as they did in the open, walking for miles 
beside their teams through the mountains, working 
hard, sleeping soundly, frequently these men de- 
veloped into philosophers of the simple life almost as 
worthy of a place in literature as in history. The 
story is told of one such freighter retired many years 
later to a job as station tender on the Goldfield- 

"In a way we was doin* things just as important as 
any of 'em. Ox teams and mules and freight wagons 
is just as important openin* up a new country as what 
gold is. And we was haulin* freight, and f eedin' folks, 
and bringin* in tools and things to make life comfort- 
able and all. And while some of the rich ones was 
soberin 5 up from their champagne wine jags, and 
f eelin* mean, and figurin* out how they could open up 
another bonanza or bilk somebody out of a claim or 


something I was f eelin' good out on the desert under 
the stars, and what you might call possessin' my soul 
in peace. . . . 

"I ain't never been opposed to prayin*, exactly; 
only there's ways and ways to pray* I figure you 
don't always have to get down on your knuckle bones 
and talk turkey to the Lord. If you're standin* out 
beside a freight wagon in the hills in the early mornin', 
watchin 5 the dark blue of the sky turn to pink and 
gold, and the blue of the desert turn to gray and silver, 
and you feel all sort of warm and worshippin* inside, 
I figure it's just as good as gettin* down on your knees 
and talkin' to Him about it." 

The same man doubtless was as able to burn a 
mule's ear with his curses as he was to slit that ear with 
the lash of his long whip. It is recorded that the same 
man, Jed Alcott, "was a kind and generous man; 
especially when drunk*" 

In any event the men of that hard procession of 
freighters retain a vital significance in the develop- 
ment of the Comstock, and in the character of its life. 

The freighters persisted in retaining their indepen- 
dence. No such great organizations as the passenger- 
carrying trade were formed among them. But the 
economic urge of supply and demand did tend to 
reveal the possibilities of profit in organization. The 
Ophir's steady buying of the neighboring properties 
which contested its rights and harassed production 
was another example to the same end. 


The growing need for large quantities of timber 
to build the square sets necessary to continued devel- 
opment of the mines furnished another stimulus to 
organization. The pioneer sawmills established and 
abandoned by the Mormons of Washoe in the preced- 
ing decade had quickly stripped the limited timber 
from the nearest hills. They had built logging roads 
to more distant forests and employed scores of ox- 
teams to drag the logs within reach of their mill- 
ponds. Still the growing demand exceeded the 
supply, and companies were formed to supply this 
demand. Prominent among those pioneers of organi- 
zation were Yerington, Bliss & Company, and a lum- 
berman named Haines. 

Business organization quickly developed business 
methods. The costly system of mountain logging 
roads could not satisfy the demand. The old mills 
could not prepare even the rough timber which 
was provided. The costs of handling were enormous. 
The demands of the mine superintendents for more 
and more timbers were a constant stimulus to the 
lumber companies. 

Improved machinery followed in the mills, and 
box flumes supplanted many of the logging roads up 
the Sierra canyons to the forests. Haines, operating 
in Kingsbury Canyon, followed this improvement 
with the more economical and practical V-flume, 
which carried logs down the slopes and on trestles 
across canyons at a minimum of expense. The mines 
profited with the provision of more adequate timbers 


at more reasonable costs, and the lumber companies 
proved the value of organization on a large scale. 
Within a few years the business was to develop into 
a monopoly of large proportions, but in the early days 
it was only a step in advance of the chaotic conditions 
which hampered all the development of the Corn- 
stock region. 

But always through this chaos the clear force of 
economic law served in lieu of individual human 
leadership to expand the camp and improve the city. 
Virginia City grew despite its chaos, its waste and its 
errors. Installation of larger machinery at the mines 
called for construction of machine shops and foun- 
dries. The chemical processes used in reduction of ore 
in the mills required salt, copper sulphate, borax, 
alum, and oxide of manganese. 

The veteran prospectors of the district eagerly 
answered the call. Prospectors are always available 
around a mining camp. They are a type as distinct 
from working miners as were the wagon freighters 
of that time from the railroad men of to-day. The 
true prospector is never a miner. He is a searcher for 
mines in the waste places of the earth. His only use 
for pick and shovel and dynamite is to do the assess- 
ment work necessary to open and hold his claim until 
it can be sold, leaving him free for new wanderings. 
But he frequents mining towns for recreation, for a 
grub-stake, for tips on new fields to explore, and for 
acquaintance with men whom he may interest in his 
next big strike, always just around the point of a hill. 


He would almost as soon go to work in a haberdashery 
as to labor in the depths of a mine. He needs the stars 
and the sun overhead. He is an explorer and discov- 
erer, looking upon the actual miner almost with con- 

So the need of certain minerals and chemicals in the 
Comstock mills quickly turned prospectors to a 
search which might supply that need at a cost less 
than that of importation. Some copper ore was dis- 
covered on Walker River and mined to provide the 
sulphate for which the mills provided a market. Salt, 
alum and borax deposits were discovered and used. 
Business progressed and expanded* 

With the growing importance of the mining stock 
exchange in San Francisco, there was need for better 
and quicker communication than that provided by 
the Pony Express. The first telegraph line from Vir- 
ginia City to California had been stretched across the 
mountains from tree to tree and from rock to rock. 
Poles had been installed only where there was no 
natural point upon which to attach the wire. The re- 
sult was what any intelligent man might have antici- 
pated. The first mountain storm, swaying the trees, 
broke the wires in a score of places, and left it looped 
upon the ground. As fast as it could be repaired it 
was broken again. The service was suspended most 
of the time. The term "grape-vine telegraph," con- 
temptuously used to denote a doubtful source of in- 
formation, originated with this line. The trailing 
wires resembled the trailing wild grape-vines of Cali- 


fornia, and were about equally useful for the trans- 
mission of messages. Within another year, however, 
the demand for adequate telegraph service promised 
sufficient profit so that the Overland Company 
stretched a substantial line upon poles, and operated 
it successfully. 

Banking service also developed to meet the de- 
mand. In the first days of prosperity for the Ophir 
and a few other mines, while gold was still the chief 
revenue of the surface diggings, the miners entrusted 
their gold to the care of Lyman Jones, proprietor of 
one of the two canvas hotels in the camp* Jones kept 
the sacks, labeled with the names of their depositors, 
in a drygoods box under his bed, "without charge 
and without responsibility," as he was always careful 
to announce to depositors. Frequently there was as 
much as twenty-five thousand dollars 5 worth of gold 
in this depository, and so far as the records reveal 
there was never a loss. 

As the deposits grew in value, and money began to 
come in from the silver bullion refined from the first 
ore shipped to San Francisco, this service proved as in- 
adequate as it was unsafe. The Wells-Fargo Express 
Company, which had grown rich and respected 
through its service in all the early California mining 
towns, opened a Virginia City office, which gave 
banking service* The banking business grew and 
prospered with the education and prosperity of the 
town. Its possibilities soon were to bring into the 
camp a man who was to rule and to develop it with 


the ruthlessly efficient hand of a dictator. Such po- 
tential forces as were evident in the Comstock could 
not continue indefinitely without producing a leader 
for their control and exploitation. 



THE Territory of Nevada had been organized by act 
of Congress, March 2, 1 8 6 1 . A city government was 
operating. "The Bad Man from Bodie," later made 
famous by Mark Twain, had vanished. Cherokee 
Bob, perhaps the prototype of the gambler in Bret 
Harte's Outcasts of Poker Flat, had flashed and faded. 
"El Dorado Johnny* 5 had groomed himself carefully 
"to look nice if he was used up/* in an encounter with 
a man whom he sought to kill, and had accomplished 
the former purpose though he had failed in the latter. 
Fighting Sam Brown had succumbed to the buckshot 
of the peaceful Van Sickles. The "Big Chiefs" of 
the Comstock bad men had succumbed to the ad- 
vance of civilization. Mines and mills were produc- 
ing and traffic lines busy. Opportunity was open for 
the potential chiefs of big business. 

First of such chiefs to appear was William Sharon, 
second king of the Comstock, if we are willing to 
dignify Comstock himself as the first monarch of 
that succession of dynasties. Sharon, physically, was 
an unimposing man. He was small, blue-eyed, with 
a jutting underlip and hair receding from a high fore- 
head* Neat in dress to the point of foppishness, he 



was not the man one might have expected to rule the 
rough citizens of the Comstock. But he did rule 
them, and how! 

Born of a Quaker family in Ohio in 1821, Sharon 
had been educated for the law, and practised for a 
time in St. Louis. Dissatisfied, he had started a small 
retail business in Illinois. "When the California rush 
started in 1 84? he was living not far from the emi- 
grant trail, and was drawn into the excitement 
quickly. He arrived in Sacramento that summer and 
started a store which was wrecked the following 
winter by floods from the Sacramento River. Then 
he removed to San Francisco and opened a real-estate 
office. This, his first successful business, netted him 
one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in three years. 

But Sharon had the instinct of a gambler. The 
wild speculation in Comstock mines on the San Fran- 
cisco exchange quickly absorbed his fortune. Foot- 
loose once more, with nothing but experience to show 
for his long years in California, Sharon obtained from 
William C. Ralston, of the Bank of California, a com- 
mission to transact some business for the bank in Vir- 
ginia City. He executed this commission with such 
profit to the bank that he was appointed manager of 
a Virginia City branch. Ralston was not a man to 
condemn another for speculation. He himself was 
the greatest promoter and booster which the state of 
promoters and boosters has even yet produced* 
Sharon took up his duties with a free hand and the 
confidence of his employer* His rise was spectacular. 


Partly through shrewd judgment, partly through 
sheer good luck, partly through unwavering con- 
fidence in the depth and value of the lode, partly 
through his ability to back this confidence with the 
money of the Bank of California, and partly through 
a ruthless willingness to seize and force a profit at any 
cost to others, Sharon succeeded* 

His power was the power of money* The Bank of 
California was the leading financial institution on the 
Pacific Slope, and from the moment of his appoint- 
ment Sharon wielded the strongest single influence in 
the Comstock district. 

Many of the mines had exhausted the bonanzas 
which had marked their first years. The very slump 
in Comstock securities which had put Sharon into the 
district by wiping out his private fortune had pro- 
vided a fertile field for his operation as a banker. 
Ophir, Mexican, Savage, Overman and other mines 
had looted their ore chambers of the last visible pound 
of bonanza ore. Gould & Curry and some others 
were still producing. Gould & Curry took out nine 
million dollars in bullion in 1 863-64. 

On October 3 1 , 1 8 64, President Lincoln had signed 
the proclamation announcing Nevada's admission to 
the Union as a state. James Nye, formerly territorial 
governor, and William M. Stewart, master of min- 
ing juries, had been elected to the United States Sen- 
ate. A miners* union had been organized and won its 
first fight against reduction of wages from four dol- 
lars to three dollars and fifty cents a day. But the 


Comstock as a whole was in its first serious depression. 

Still, Virginia City was now in fact a city. It 
could not be destroyed in a season as Esmeralda and 
similar wildcat camps had been destroyed. There 
were many mills, each worth from a hundred thou- 
sand dollars upward. There was equipment at the 
mouth and in the depths of each of a score of mines 
which had been installed at a total cost of millions. 
There was a great investment in stores, business blocks, 
residences and real estate. There was a huge and 
profitable business in transportation, and another in 
lumbering. And most important of all, there was 
still bonanza ore visible in the Gould & Curry and a 
few other mines. The district was in a slump, but it 
could not so easily be destroyed. 

Sharon had gained access to the mines and mills 
with capable experts and appraisers at his side to judge 
the value of securities offered his bank for loans. He 
had a clear idea of the possibilities of the Comstock 
lode as a whole. "What matter if some of the mines 
were out of bonanza and into borrasca? They were 
still working, sinking shafts, running drifts. The 
fact that the money with which they continued these 
operations in most cases was now coming from assess- 
ments upon stockholders was comparatively unim- 
portant. Indeed it seemed an advantage to Sharon. 
It made the mines and mills more eager to borrow 

Local banks and capitalists were lending to mer- 
chants and mill owners at from three to five per cent. 


a month. Even Sharon, accustomed to the fabulous 
rates, the criminal waste and the sudden fortunes of 
California in the 'fifties, gasped. And promptly he 
offered the Bank of California's money on the same 
security at a paltry two per cent, a month. The bank 
promptly got the business. 

While the mines were producing ore and the mills 
reducing it to bullion at the high prices of that day 
they could easily pay even such rates of interest. But 
as the ore gave way to country rock, and mine after 
mine began hoisting waste instead of ore, the mill 
owners were soon in trouble. The ordinary life of 
the town was less disturbed. Pay-rolls in the mines 
continued even when they were shut off at the mills. 
Merchants still did business at high prices and with 
high profits. When a mining company's operating 
reserve was exhausted there were always stockholders 
who would pay assessments rather than allow their 
holdings to be sold out. 

Sharon's interests were broad and his optimism 
high. He continued to lend the bank's money on the 
mills, and came down upon them like one of their 
own huge steam-driven stamps when the notes fell 
due. Mortgage after mortgage was foreclosed. It 
did not take long for interest at twenty- four per cent, 
a year to eat up an idle mill worth two hundred thou- 
sand dollars. The mill men were nearly all private 
owners and operators. They had no stockholders to 
assess. Seven of the largest and most modern mills 
fell into the hands of the Bank of California in the 


first year of severe depression* Ralston became wor- 
ried and visited Virginia City to investigate. 

The bank director was shocked. He protested to 
Sharon that too much of the Bank of California's 
funds had been loaned on the mill and mining prop- 
erty. Even interest of two per cent, a month could 
not justify such extension of credit if the security 
proved insufficient, and at the moment it appeared 
decidedly insufficient. A two-hundred-thousand- 
dollar mill in the White Pine district was offered for 
five thousand dollars and found no buyer. A sixty- 
thousand-dollar mill nearer the lode was sold for 
three thousand dollars. 

Their heavy stamping machinery, steam engines 
and other bulky equipment were virtually valueless 
without local demand for their service, and this de- 
mand was falling steadily. The cost of transporta- 
tion by team back to California was greater than the 
junk value of the machinery. As most of this ma- 
chinery had been designed especially for reduction 
of Comstock silver ore, there was no market for it 
in the mining towns of California. Besides, they had 
their own machinery. 

The scores of Mexican arrastras which had lined 
Gold Canyon and the banks of the Carson River from 
Dayton to Genoa in 1860 had long since given way 
to stamp mills, amalgamation mills, and other mod- 
ern improvements. Fortunes totaling several million 
dollars had been invested in these plants, and for- 
tunes had been earned from them. Approximately 


one hundred mills were operating in the district in 
the spring of 1863. Kelly's First Directory of Ne- 
vada listed eighty-two mills as operating in the pre- 
ceding winter. And when Ralston visited the lode in 
1864 less than four hundred tons of ore a day were 
being hoisted to employ a milling capacity of four 
times that amount. 

The spirit of depression struck Ralston like a 
physical blow. The Bank of California had perhaps 
two million dollars of its money out on Comstock se- 
curities. The situation was extremely dangerous. 
But little could be done about it. If the Comstock 
failed the bank probably would fail with it. But if 
the Comstock revealed new bonanzas at greater depth, 
the mining property which had been foreclosed upon 
would mean profits beyond the wildest dreams. 

Sharon assured Ralston that eventually such profits 
would be inevitable. The fact that the leading finan- 
cial institution of the Pacific Slope had become prac- 
tically a supply company for a group of questionable 
silver mines and mills on the Comstock lode appeared 
unfortunate, but nothing worse for the moment. 
The legal and ethical regulation of banks in 1 8 64 was 
not what it is to-day. If the bank continued to sup- 
port the further exploration of the lode, and opened 
the ore bodies which engineers and geologists assured 
Sharon were available at greater depths, its reward 
was certain. If it took its losses and withdrew, the 
Comstock almost certainly would fail, and the bank 
would fail with it. 


In that vein Sharon, an optimist as all mining men 
must be, argued with Ralston and won his point. 
Ralston submitted somewhat doubtfully and re- 
turned to San Francisco. Sharon continued to lend 
the bank's money until three and one-half millions 
were out in the Comstock. Mortgages upon dozens 
of mining properties, timber lands, and other re- 
sources were in the vaults of the bank. 

Before the year had passed, Yellow Jacket, Chollar- 
Potosi and several other mines increased their produc- 
tion sufficiently to justify Sharon's faith and policy 
in part. The bank survived. There were hard days 
still to come, but Sharon had been tried and tough- 
ened in the fire to withstand them. He was develop- 
ing the power as well as the instincts and abilities of 
a monopolist. He recognized opportunity and was 
prepared to seize upon it. 

Why not form a company to buy and operate the 
holdings obtained by the bank through foreclosure? 
This would let the bank out in safety, and give the 
owners of the proposed company all the vast contem- 
plated profits instead of giving such profits to the 
bank's stockholders. These suggestions he offered to 
Ralston. The plan was no more ethical than that 
which built the first transcontinental railroad, or than 
some financial schemes of to-day's promoters, but it 
appeared legally sound at that time. After all, if the 
Comstock failed the bank would fail, and Ralston, 
and his associates would fail. If the Comstock suc- 
ceeded On anything like the scale forecast by Sharon 


the bank would profit. But why distribute such 
immense profit among stockholders when it might be 
distributed among officials? In either case the bank's 
risk would be no greater. 

Sharon won that argument too* The famous 
Union Mill and Mining Company was organized with 
William Sharon, W. C Ralston, D. O.~ Mills, Alvinza 
Hayward and a few others in control. Gradually it 
took over the mills and other properties upon which 
the bank had foreclosed. Organization and leader- 
ship at last were apparent upon the Comstock. It 
was to be hated and cursed for years as a grinding 
vicious monopoly, but it was to direct the progress 
of the district with a shrewd and ruthless profit- 
seeking efficiency without which the big bonanza 
might not have been developed for decades. 

In the meantime, however, another force had been 
developing in the district. At first it was only the 
force of a dream, but the desire to make dreams come 
true is a feature of American character which has 
built the nation. This dream was conceived in the 
ambitious mind of Adolph Sutro, then as insignificant 
a member of the community as were Mackay, Fair, 
and the few others who eventually were to wrest 
power, wealth and fame from the desert mountains. 

Adolph Sutro had come to the Comstock with the 
first rush across the Sierras from San Francisco in the 
early spring of 1 860. He was then thirty years old. 

Sutro was a powerfully built young man, a little 
above medium height, broad-shouldered and mus- 


cular. His forehead was high, his eyes reflective and 
calculating, his nose and chin aggressive. Energy, 
ambition and an indomitable will were apparent in 
face, figure and every movement. 

His first business venture in the Comstock had been 
in a small amalgamation mill at Dayton. There he 
had instituted an improved process, worked out in a 
laboratory in San Francisco, and had taken a profit 
of ten thousand dollars a month from a contract with 
one of the leading mines until his mill had burned. 

Riding on horseback between his mill in Dayton 
and the mines of Virginia City, Sutro had become 
thoroughly familiar with the topography and the sur- 
face geology of the entire Comstock district. From 
early boyhood he had been an omnivorous reader with 
a retentive mind. Throughout his years in California 
he had studied mines, mining and metallurgy. He 
knew something about the subject. Also he was a 
practical business man. He recognized and con- 
demned the waste consequent upon the chaotic meth- 
ods of mining and milling in the Comstock. 

The first mines on the lode had simply followed the 
scattered veins downward into the side of *Mount 
Davidson, looting the ore as fast as it was uncovered, 
and taking out country rock at an expense equal to 
that of raising the ore. There was no comprehensive 
engineering, no plan, no system. Only when the 
shafts grew too deep to raise the buckets by hand or 
mule-power were the first steam engines installed. 
Only when the water which was being constantly 


encountered in the depths appeared in such quantities 
as to flood out the miners, were steam pumps in- 
stalled. Only when thousand-dollar or hundred- 
dollar ore gave place to fifty-dollar ore were the mill 
processes improved to work the cheaper product at 
a profit to both mine and mill. 

Sutro knew these facts. They irked his thrifty 
and efficient soul. Millions were being thrown away. 
Evidence of the waste was all about him. Something 
ought to be done about it. But what? Why hoist 
ore and waste rock if it could be run out of the mines 
by gravity through a tunnel? "Why pump water 
hundreds of feet up through a shaft and waste it on 
the desert hillside if it could also be drained out 
through a tunnel and concentrated for irrigation? 
Why pay for equipment and maintain machinery to 
ventilate the depths of the mines if fresh air could 
be circulated naturally? The expensive and waste- 
ful methods were absurd. A tunnel would eliminate 
them all. So Sutro, riding up the slopes from Dayton 
to Virginia City, conceived the tunnel which was to 
tear the Comstock apart, literally and figuratively. 

His many journeys over the hills between Virginia 
City and the Carson Valley had revealed to his in- 
spired vision a possible route for such a tunnel. His 
confidence in the depth and rich future of the Com- 
stock lode was at least equal to that of William 
Sharon. In no temporary state of depression such as 
that which had alarmed Ralston and given Sharon his 
opportunity did Sutro's faith waver. 


Drive this tunnel from a point on the slope above 
the Carson River, four miles into the mountain and 
it will cut the lode at a depth of two thousand feet 
below the surface of the mines, he said to himself. 
That will prove conclusively and at lower cost than 
driving down from above, that the ore bodies extend 
to depths below the ability of man to work. The 
greatest geologists of the world are agreed that the 
Comstock is a true fissure vein. That means that its 
ore bodies extend downward many thousands of feet. 

Drive this tunnel and we will not only save the for- 
tunes which are being used in hoisting rock and 
pumping water and providing artificial ventilation, 
but we will increase by two thousand feet the depth 
to which the lode eventually can be worked. The 
picture was as clear to his mind as if he stood at 
the face of the tunnel and watched the cars of ore 
and the streams of water running outward to the Car- 
son slopes. 

His mill had burned. His contract with Gould 
& Curry had expired. Depression was in the air. 
Innumerable mills were idle. He was free to act. 
And he did act. He went straightway to the Nevada 
legislature and asked for a franchise for the tunnel 
which he proposed to build. The fact that his private 
capital was approximately one hundred thousand dol- 
lars, and that even the first crude estimates of the 
tunners cost exceeded two million dollars, he ignored. 

He was able to fire the legislators, many of whom 
were practical miners, with his own enthusiasm. He 


would be able as easily to inspire capital with equal 
enthusiasm, he felt* The franchise was granted, "au- 
thorizing A. Sutro and his associates to construct a 
Mining and Draining Tunnel," through a specified 
right of way, beginning one year after April 4, 1865, 
and to be finished in eight years. 

The Sutro Tunnel Company was organized im- 
mediately with William M. Stewart, D. E. Avery, 
Louis Janin, Jr., H. K. Mitchell and A. Sutro as trus- 
tees and directors. 

The hero or the villain of the great Comstock melo- 
drama, depending upon the point of view, had 
appeared. William Sharon and the Bank of Cali- 
fornia syndicate, also hero or villain as the case might 
be* had already taken the first steps toward control. 

The human forces of the Comstock were organiz- 
ing for war, though at the moment none recognized 
the fact. * 



IT DID not take long for the Union Mill and Mining 
Company, officered by Sharon, Ralston, D. O. Mills 
and kindred spirits, financed by the Bank of Cali- 
fornia, and stimulated by wealth and ambition, to 
seize control of most of the Comstock. The syndi- 
cate started with seven mills to which the bank had 
obtained title by foreclosure, and this while there was 
not enough ore coming out of the mines to keep one- 
fourth of the mills of the district busy. 

Sharon wielded the whip of the bank's financial 
power without mercy. "Give our mills your busi- 
ness or we shut down on your credit.** It was a suc- 
cessful ultimatum. As fast as their contracts with 
independent mills expired the mines bowed to the 
lash. The syndicate*s mills ran night and day, while 
scores of independents rusted in idleness. Within 
two years the syndicate had taken title to seventeen 
mills. They were capable of crushing and refining 
every pound of ore being produced on the Comstock, 
and they did handle most of it. 

Their prices were still high. The syndicate was 
almost literally a mint, regardless of the fact that 
many of the mines continued in borrasca. There 



were always enough producing to keep the wagons 
of the ore freighters piled high with food for the 
jaws of the syndicate's great stamp batteries, with 
consequent financial nourishment for the syndicate 

"What matter that a dozen mines were living on as- 
sessments wrung from their scattered stockholders? 
They were still sinking their shafts, running their 
drifts and crosscuts, exploring the lode at greater and 
greater depths* "What matter that the money for their 
pay-rolls and supplies was coming from speculating 
bank clerks in New York, widows in Philadelphia, 
fur dealers in St. Louis, waiters in San Francisco, 
washerwomen in Placerville? It was coming to the 
extent of a vast total. Ten mines in the history 
of the Comstock sunk in their exploration work a 
total of $17,000,000 without ever paying a single 
cent in dividends. The amounts ranged from $1,- 
030,000 in the Utah to $3,230,000 in the Justice. 

But this money was just as good for local business 
in Virginia City and the neighboring Gold Hill as if 
it had come from the ground beneath their feet. The 
city thrived. Schools, churches, clubs and business 
blocks continued to spring from the desert mountain- 
side, while thousands of men delved and blasted in the 
earth below. 

Sharon and his associates could afford to look with 
satisfaction upon this- situation. All the work in all 
these unproductive mines was helping to develop and 
reveal the character of the lode, producing valuable 


information when they did not produce ore, and 
without cost to the monopolists. And many of those 
which never produced a dividend did produce bullion. 
Overman, for instance, took out $3,250,000 worth 
of silver. Very likely this was the reason it was able 
to obtain $3,162,800 in assessments on its stock- 
holders to continue its work between the scattered 
ore bodies within its ground. Others, notably the 
Yellow Jacket and the Sierra Nevada, worked much 
richer ground, produced millions in silver and actu- 
ally alternated assessments with dividends. The fact 
that the former collected assessments of $2,454,000 
and the latter $3,747,500 was incidental to the prog- 
ress of the town. The figures are cited merely to in- 
dicate the scale upon which the business of the dis- 
trict was conducted. 

It was a veritable paradise for promoters. The 
wildest schemes imaginable were suggested and con- 
sidered in good faith. Outstanding among such 
schemes, imposing an impossible burden upon present- 
day credulity, was one project for the construction of 
a "sunlight tunnel." It was an idea so obviously ab- 
surd that the very fact of its apparently serious con- 
sideration warrants giving it space here as an illus- 
tration of the credulous character of the Virginia 
City of that day. The Territorial Enterprise actually 
devoted a column of its limited news space to an- 
nouncement of this weird promotional plan to ex- 
tend the sunlight hours of the town. 

The plan was to build a huge tunnel, two and one- 


fourth miles long, through the top of Mount David- 
son, to carry sunlight into the town after the sun 
disappeared behind the peak, leaving the town in 
shadow after three o'clock in the afternoon. 

"By an ingeniously arranged system of mirrors 
some hundreds of mirrors will be used the rays of 
the sun will be caught up and conveyed through the 
tunnel to any desired point at will," The Enterprise 
explained. Small mirrors were to collect the sun's 
rays on the western side of the mountain, send them 
to a grand reflector, and so through the mountain to 
be distributed by small reflectors at the city end. All 
of the mirrors were to be regulated by clockwork to 
follow exactly the movement of the sun. "One mir- 
ror of the largest size used in distribution will, it is 
calculated, shed a warm and glowing light over a 
sidewalk for the length of a block. 3 * 

But the Virginia City imagination did not stop 
there. The reflected rays were not only to extend the 
daylight hours in the camp but were to be concen- 
trated to melt and dry out the snow and mud of 
winter, "in fact boil it down at once." 

The announcement stated that the company 
already had an agent in New York who "writes that 
men of capital there are eagerly awaiting the issue of 
the stock, looking upon the project as one of the most 
feasible and easily comprehended in all its details of 
any yet broached/ 5 

Had Mark Twain still been a member of The En- 
terprise staff, probably the reaction to that story 

Cwtrtc&y Bancrvf- L^rnry 

Courtesy Bancroft Library 

Courtesy Bancroft Li 


would have been a roar of hilarity throughout the 
district. But Mark Twain and his well-known repu- 
tation for crude humor and practical jokes had dis- 
appeared from the Comstock long since, and the 
article was generally accepted in good faith. The 
idea received much favorable consideration and com- 
ment, but there were more pressing needs and more 
practical promoters in the community. 

Sharon had engineered his monopoly into a strong 
technical position. If the mines produced, the mill 
company worked the bulk of their ore. If the mines 
did not produce, they assessed their stockholders and 
continued to support the general business of the com- 
munity, including Sharon's timber business. Every 
time a new body of ore was opened in an assessment 
mine the stock boomed on the San Francisco market. 
If the amount of ore was large and the grade high, 
the mill company took a large profit in the working. 
If the new ore body was limited and poor, the specu- 
lative stock buyers, not the monopoly, stood the loss. 

Sharon had his representatives in almost every shaft 
in the district. The method of his operation was 
revealed later in sworn testimony before the House 
Committee on Mines and Mining, in Washington. 
Adolph Sutro was examining Wesley Newcomb, 
member of the government's committee which had 
been investigating the situation on the lode. 

Mr. Sutro. Professor, I want to ask you 
whether, from your observation, those mines are 


worked legitimately for mining purposes or 
whether they are worked for stock-jobbing pur- 

A. I think when they strike a bonanza they 
are worked for mining purposes. But when they 
do not, they work them in the stock board in San 

Q. Do you know of any instance where they 
had a body of ore they had discovered, where they 
didn't let the public know? Did you ever hear 
of any such instance? 

A* They struck in the Belcher while we were 

Q. Was it known the day they struck it? 
Did the public generally get that information at 

A. We were examining these mills at the time 
at some distance off, and a party came riding on 
horseback with a very nice specimen, and handed 
a note to the president of the mill company. 

Q. Who was he? 

A. He was Mr. Sharon. 

Q. He was with you, was he? 

A. Well, we were with him. He was taking 
us out in his carriage, very kindly, to show us the 
mill property, and we saw that this was a matter 
of considerable importance to him. We rather 
urged him to turn back, thinking that he might 
be required at his office. He did so, and tele- 
graphed to San Francisco for the purchase of stock 


of the Belcher Company. . . . He told me after- 
ward that he had secured control of the mine. 

Probably Sharon and his syndicate made millions 
from that one deal. At the time of the incident men- 
tioned Belcher stock was selling at about $ 6.00 a share. 
Three months later it was up to $1,525. The mine 
was always one of the most profitable as well as one 
of the most speculative on the lode, its stock ranging 
back and forth between $.25 cents and $ 1 , 5 2 5 a share. 
It paid a total of $16,000,000 in dividends. Quite 
evidently William Sharon and his monopoly were in 
a position to make money out of their control of Corn- 
stock activities. 

Viewed from a strictly pragmatic standpoint they 
deserved the reward. Unquestionably Sharon's 
shrewd business ability, coupled with ruthlessness and 
an abiding faith in the riches of the lode was the 
greatest single human factor in the development of 
the district to the point where Mackay, Fair, Flood 
and O'Brien could carry it on to its most sensational 
heights. The fact that he was cordially hated and 
feared by all the independents of the district, and that 
a certain poetic justice eventually struck his monop- 
oly, merely adds to the melodrama of the big bonanza. 

At the moment he seemed all-powerful. He used 
his power shrewdly and constructively in many mat- 
ters. The fact that he made millions for himself and 
his associates out of the blood and sweat of lesser men 
can not detract from the fact that he made the Com- 


stock great. He applied business methods far in ad- 
vance of his time to the problems which pressed upon 
every side. He cut down much of the wasteful ex- 
travagance of the mines which he controlled directly 
and indirectly. He cut down the attendant waste in 
the mills, or at least diverted it to the pockets of the 
syndicate instead of allowing it to be thrown away. 
Under his direction the average milling costs of the 
district were reduced from the fifty dollars which 
was paid gladly on the first ore locally refined, to an 
average of about fourteen dollars a ton. The direct 
result, of course, was that vast quantities of ore which 
otherwise would have been discarded, could be worked 
with profit both to mines and mills. It was construc- 
tive work. However great the syndicate's profit, and 
however arbitrary the monopoly's rule, the net re- 
sults were beneficial to the district. 

Analyzing the business situation after he had set- 
tled thoroughly into the life of Virginia City, Sharon 
was quick to see that tremendous sums were being 
expended in wagon freights from the mines to the 
mills along the Carson River. Why pay independent 
bull-whackers and mule-skinners high rates for haul- 
ing ore to the mills in such inefficient manner? Why 
should not his syndicate build a railroad, and not only 
pay the freight to themselves but stimulate business 
generally with lower freight rates on all commod- 
ities? The imminent completion of the first trans- 
continental railroad, which would give contact by 
rail with San Francisco by way of Reno, only a few 


miles north of the Comstock, was making the country 
railroad-minded. Sharon saw opportunity for con- 
trolling not only local ore freights but for supplant- 
ing the entire wagon freight business with a modern 
transportation system under his own control. He 
called in J, E. James, superintendent of the Sierra Ne- 
vada Company, the man believed to be the best engi- 
neer in the district. 

"James, can you run a railroad from Virginia City 
to the Carson River?" 


"Do it at once." 

That was the sort of conference in which Sharon 
delighted. There was never any long-winded debate 
with him. He approached each problem with an open 
mind, obtained all possible information bearing upon 
it, and then asked his vital questions and made his de- 
cisions. In this case he had already calculated the 
savings and consequent profit possible through the 
substitution of railroad for wagon-trains. He had 
even made tentative plans for financing the road, 
without using his own or his associates* money. In 
that he was peculiarly a pioneer of the big business 
of to-day, just as the whole Bank of California 
monopoly was an exact prototype of innumerable 
gigantic trusts to come. 

Numerous visionaries on the Comstock previously 
had dreamed of a railroad to supplant the freight 
teams hauling ore to the mills on the Carson River, 
and returning with wood and other supplies for the 


mines and city. Some of these had even applied for 
franchises, and obtained them from the Nevada legis- 
lature. Some had surveyed rights of way. All had 
estimated the profits. None, however, had possessed 
the necessary energy, executive ability or funds to 
make their dreams come true. 

Sharon had all these essential qualifications. Also 
he had more insistent reasons for acting. The rail- 
road, especially if financed with public funds and left 
under his control as he planned, would not only net 
his monopoly a tremendous profit but would tighten 
its hold upon the entire district. At the moment it 
appeared even necessary, to save the Bank of Cali- 
fornia. The bullion production of the lode had fal- 
len from a million and a half a month in 1 864 when 
Sharon assumed control of the bank in Virginia City 
to hardly more than half a million a month when he 
decided to build the railroad. He knew that the re- 
duction in mining and milling expenses which would 
be made possible through the railroad might easily 
mean the difference between abandoning the lode and 
continuing to work it as it could be worked at re- 
duced costs. 

Some of the earlier railroad dreamers had prepared 
figures. The estimated cost was $1,105,743. The 
estimated gross annual revenue was $ 1,3 68,320. The 
net profits had been estimated at sixty per cent, of 
gross revenue. It was an alluring prospect for such a 
man as Sharon, especially when it promised safety in- 
stead of destruction for all the syndicate's great in- 


vestments in the district. All this he knew when he 
spoke to James. All he needed was the engineer's as- 
surance that the road could be built. 

The very next day a dozen groups of surveyors 
were in the field. But before the first transit was set 
up Sharon had organized the Virginia, Carson and 
Truckee Railroad Company, with virtually the same 
directorate as that of the Union Mill and Mining 
Company. Within the single month required to com- 
plete the survey he had bought out the rights of the 
various moribund companies which had earlier ap- 
plied for charters. To play safe he had also secured 
a new charter from the Nevada legislature. Reveal- 
ing his politico-financeering ability still more profit- 
ably, he had obtained legislative authority for an 
issue of five hundred thousand dollars' worth of bonds 
by Storey and Ormsby Counties as a free gift to the 
contemplated road* 

The chief engineer reported that facilities afforded 
by the Truckee River would doubtless create an im- 
mense business in the transportation of low-grade ore 
for reduction there, and that rock assaying as low as 
twelve dollars a ton could be worked with profit to 
the mines, mills and railroad. This promised new 
life to the Comstock. Sharon promptly carried the 
information to the independent mines and signed 
them up for subscriptions to the railroad totaling 
seven hundred thousand dollars. The financing of 
the road was assured without the expenditure of one 
nickel by the Sharon group. 


Five hundred thousand dollars as a free gift from 
the county governments and seven hundred thousand 
dollars subscribed by the mines assured completion, 
while Sharon's shrewd methods of organization as- 
sured him control. As soon as the survey was fin- 
ished, seven hundred and fifty graders were at work 
on the right of way. In another month twelve hun- 
dred men were working from thirty-eight camps 
along the twenty-one-mile route between Virginia 
and Carson City. Other gangs were cutting ties in 
the Sierras. Rails had been ordered from England. 
By the time the rails arrived the grading had been 
virtually completed, and ties scattered over its en- 
tire length. Eight months after Sharon had given 
James the order, "do it at once," the railroad was in 
operation from Carson City to Virginia City. 

It was a monumental work, as interesting for its 
engineering accomplishments as it was illustrative of 
the tremendous energy which moved the Comstock. 
In the first thirteen miles of road below Virginia City 
there was a drop of sixteen hundred feet, and curves 
which totaled seventeen complete circles. The cost, 
including equipment, was $1,750,000. Sharon had 
taken $1,200,000 of this from the public, and made 
them like it. Why not? 

Wood was the only fuel of the district. Mills were 
consuming 223 cords daily, mines 72 cords, and 
domestic users 60 cords, at prices ranging from $14.00 
to $ 17.00 a cord. The district was using 23,83 0,000 
board feet of lumber annually, of which 17,910,000 


feet were going into the mines for timbering. The 
new road promised to cut the price from $29.00 to 
$21.00 per thousand feet. The annual freight costs 
on 30,000 tons of merchandise coming into the dis- 
trict by wagon was $1,800,000. The promised con- 
nection of the new road with the recently completed 
transcontinental line at Reno or Truckee would cut 
this cost $90,000. The Comstock was assured that 
the total savings conferred upon it by the new rail- 
road would be at least $895,000 a year. Of course 
they liked it. 

So Sharon salved the public. For the business men 
who had signed up for $700,000 and the taxpayers 
who were paying for the $500,000 bond gift, he had- 
the more specious argument that the road would 
bring incalculable profit to the district by permitting 
the refinement of twelve-dollar ore. This would, he 
explained and demonstrated, allow reopening of nu- 
merous closed mines, and increase the annual bullion 
production of the lode by $2,500,000 to $5,000,000. 

Sharon's Bank of California syndicate reaped huge 
profits. Incidentally, it tided the Comstock district 
over the leanest years it had suffered since 1865* 
Leadership had come to the Comstock in the time of 
its peril, and was making itself felt with a vengeance. 
Sharon believed the laborer to be worthy of his hire. 

No sooner had the syndicate perfected its monopo- 
listic control of the mills and transportation than 
Sharon's acquisitive abilities turned to new fields. 
Two other main items of supply were essential to the 


life and progress of the region. These were wood 
and water. 

The amount of timber going into the mines at in- 
creased depths was staggering. Millions upon mil- 
lions of board feet of timber sawed into lengths for 
square-sets were being dumped at the shaft-houses, 
lowered into the mines and buried for ever to brace 
shafts, drifts and stopes against the crumbling moun- 
tain. The average life of these timbers in the steam- 
ing, dripping, sagging depths of the lode was two 
years. Even mines which were doing comparatively 
little work were forced to keep timber crews employed 

The railroad had a monopoly upon the transporta- 
tion of this vast amount of timber. "Why shouldn't 
it take the additional profit from production? With 
Sharon, to think was to act. Immediately he began 
to buy up or foreclose mortgages upon timber lands, 
sawmills and flumes on the slopes of the Sierras. As 
fast as the bank foreclosed mortgages, title was pur- 
chased by the subsidiary syndicate. When there was 
no mortgage, Sharon offered owners shares in the 
monopoly, or even excellent cash prices when he could 
get the property in no other way. Soon the syndicate 
was taking new profits from the sale of timber and 
cord wood to mines, mills and individuals; taking still 
more profits from the transportation of these sup- 
plies, and still more by adding these costs and keeping 
up its milling rates proportionately. 

It was a sweet arrangement for the bankers. Just 


how sweet was indicated later in the lavish personal 
expenditures of William Sharon. It is still indicated 
to-day in the fame of such fortunes as that of the late 
philanthropic and altruistic D, O. Mills* 

Transportation, milling and timber supply having 
been effectively monopolized, the final necessity, 
water, held Sharon's attention. Twenty-four mills, 
of which the syndicate owned seventeen, were paying 
the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company $5,410 
a month for water. It irked Sharon to feel that he 
was not getting that money. But the water problem 
had been one of the most difficult in Virginia City 
ever since Henry Comstock had used his alleged title 
in a feeble hillside spring to extort an interest in the 
original Ophir diggings from O'Riley and McLaugh- 
lin. The pioneer city had managed with difficulty 
on the supply available from springs and wells. But 
when such water was available it was of poor and 
even dangerous quality, impregnated with alkali, ar- 
senic and other chemicals. 

As each dry summer advanced water became more 
and more scarce and dangerous. That which was 
pumped from the mines was so foul as to be utterly 
useless. As the underground workings extended, 
honeycombing the earth beneath the town, fre- 
quently the bottom would literally drop out of the 
wells. Dan DeQuille describes a typical incident in 
his History of the Big Bonanza. 

"A lady resident of the town one day went to a 


well in her door-yard to draw some water* Being in 
haste, she let the bucket go down from the windlass 
'by the run/ and the instant it struck the water, out 
dropped the whole bottom of the well. Every drop 
of water instantly disappeared and nought was seen 
where it had been but a black yawning chasm in 
which hung and dangled the bucket. Amazed almost 
beyond the power of speech, the lady for a time stood 
and gazed into the bottomless well, then rushed to the 
house. She had considered the matter and compre- 
hended it. 

** 'What did I tell you?* she cried, addressing her 
rather easy-going husband. *I knew that the men 
who dug that well were taking no pains with their 

" 'What is the matter now?' said the husband. 

tc 'Matter? Matter enough! The bottom has 
dropped out of the well!* 

c< 'Bottom dropped out of the well?' exclaimed the 
husband, beginning to become interested. 

" 'Yes; the bottom has dropped out of the well, 
and I am not at all surprised. I am not one bit aston- 
ished. I knew when I saw the men putting the bot- 
tom in that well that it would never be of any ac- 

"The cause of the accident was simple enough. 
The well had been dug in the line of a tunnel advanc- 
ing from a distant point below. The miners, all tin- 
conscious of the presence of the well, had drifted 
under it, and at no great distance from its bottom. 


Being without adequate support the bottom must 
have fallen out soon of its own accord, but the sudden 
jar of the bucket on the surface of the water un- 
doubtedly precipitated the event." 

Not all the wells of Virginia City had come to so 
sudden and spectacular an end in the early years of 
the town, but nearly all had gradually allowed their 
water to seep away into the growing labyrinth of 
underground workings. The few springs in the dis- 
trict went the same way. "Water rights became 
almost as valuable as mining claims. Hundreds of men 
prospected the surrounding hills and canyons for 
water. Small canyons were dammed to store the 
melting of the winter snows. Old shafts were util- 
ized as reservoirs. Still the water was inadequate and 
of poor quality. The Virginia and Gold Hill Water 
Company controlled the larger part of the local sup- 
ply, and sold it at high rates, but the future was dark. 
There was too little pure water for domestic use and 
too much poisonous seepage flooding the mines. 

The company, however, was independent. It had 
a prosperous small monopoly of its own. Sharon was 
unable at the moment to add the water supply to his 
milling, transportation, timber and finance monop- 
olies. Although he was recognized as the unques- 
tioned dictator of the Comstock, he was bitterly hated 
and distrusted by numerous important men in the 
region. The situation was aptly described in a para- 
graph which appeared in The Enterprise: "Bejabers! 


The whole of Virginia is comprised in two blocks, and 
them two blocks consist of one corner, and that cor- 
ner is the Bank of California." 

Still those who were free of debt or otherwise in- 
dependent of the Bank of California, and who had 
the courage of their convictions, opposed Sharon 
openly. Among them was Adolph Sutro. 

Sutro had stepped afoul of the syndicate early in 
his work of promoting the tunnel which he believed 
would solve all the Comstock's problems of drainage, 
ventilation, cheaper mining and cheaper transporta- 
tion. At first he had been diplomatic and con- 
ciliatory, but soon, believing himself tricked and 
betrayed by the greed and power of the bank ring, he 
had declared war. 

That war was to be the most dramatic human fea- 
ture in the history of the Comstock lode. At first it 
appeared to be a feeble David against an almost 
omnipotent Goliath. 



ADOLPH SUTRO'S first franchise and right of way 
for his proposed tunnel to drain and develop the Corn- 
stock lode had been obtained from the Nevada legis- 
lature at about the time William Sharon assumed 
management of the Bank of California's business in 
Virginia City. At that time each man apparently 
enjoyed the respect of the other. Sutro had been on 
good terms with W. C. Ralston, Sharon's superior 
officer, in San Francisco. He started his tunnel propa- 
ganda in Virginia City on good terms with Sharon. 
He had with him as a director Senator William M. 
Stewart, then the most influential man in the state. 

But he lacked money. In order to get it he must 
sell stock in his promotion. To sell stock in a district 
so dominated by the Bank of California it was neces- 
sary to obtain the bank's endorsement of the project. 
Sutro obtained such an endorsement, signed by 
Sharon, Ralston, and scores of prominent men in the 
district, including the superintendents of all the lead- 
ing mines. 

Then he canvassed the mines and obtained con- 
tracts from nineteen in which they agreed to pay 
the Sutro Tunnel Company two dollars per ton for 



all ore extracted after the tunnel had drained the 
mines. The drainage and ventilation, of incalculable 
benefit, were to be free. In return for this pledged 
royalty the company was bound to start work by 
August 1, 1867, with three million dollars subscribed 
capital, and spend at least four hundred thousand 
dollars annually in driving the tunnel. 

But the same depression which gave Sharon his 
opportunity to monopolize control of the Comstock 
hampered Sutro's ability to raise money. He could 
sell comparatively little stock in the West, where the 
Comstock's depression was felt most seriously. He 
decided to interest eastern capital. To do so it was 
necessary to have more endorsements and more pub- 
licity. Sutro shrewdly used the very depression which 
was blocking his work to excite the interest of the 
press of the Pacific Coast, explaining that only 
through the tunnel could the Comstock be restored 
to full productivity and consequent stimulation of 
business. Every newspaper of any importance in 
California and Nevada carried news and editorial 
comment urging construction of the tunnel. 

Sutro drew up a petition to Congress urging gov- 
ernment aid for the tunnel as a public necessity for 
the stimulation of mining in the West. The memorial 
was signed by thousands. It was further supported 
by individual scientific and economic endorsements 
from a score of economists, professors and mining 
engineers of international reputation. To avoid any 
late difficulty through possible questioning of the Ne- 


vada franchise through federal land, he drew up a 
bill which was presented by Senator Stewart and 
passed by Congress, confirming not only his franchise 
and right of way but giving additional privileges and, 
most important of all, making the titles of all mining 
companies thereafter registered dependent upon their 
adherence to the tunnel contract. 

Going to New York to interest capital, Sutro pre- 
sented letters signed by Ralston, which gave him audi- 
ence with such men as Commodore Vanderbilt and 
"William B. Astor. They were interested but cautious. 
If it is as good as you say, they told him, you should 
be able to raise money at home. Show us five hun- 
dred thousand dollars' worth of subscriptions from 
Comstockers and Calif ornians and we will raise the 
rest. He returned to Virginia City and began to ob- 
tain subscriptions. But they were not sufficient. His 
time limit was expiring. He induced the mining 
companies which had signed contracts to extend his 
time for starting work by one year. Then he turned 
to the Nevada legislature once more for additional 
support and induced it to adopt resolutions addressed 
to Congress calling for a federal subsidy for the tun- 
nel on the ground that it would so far stimulate the 
production of bullion as more than to pay the na- 
tional debt incurred in the Civil War, just ended. 
Backed with this official memorial, he went again to 
Washington and succeeded in having the House Com- 
mittee on Mines and Mining recommend to Congress 
a loan of five mil lion dollars for the tunnel company. 


"That was the fatal step which caused the envy 
and avariciousness of some of the leading men on the 
Comstock, at the head of whom was William Sharon/* 
said Sutro some time later. "He argued with his 
friends, and especially with William C. Ralston, who 
had been my particular friend, that this was a fine 
chance of getting a large sum of money out of Uncle 
Sam. He said that if I could be put out of the way, 
they could get five or ten millions from Congress." 

But even before he recognized and branded that 
error, Sutro had made another, and perhaps more se- 
rious mistake. Continuing his sales promotion of 
tunnel stock, he developed the added argument that 
by completing the tunnel, and providing a cheap and 
easy way of transportation of ore from the two-thou- 
sand-foot level to the tunnel's mouth above the Car- 
son River, the company could refine the ore at less 
than half the milling costs set by the monopoly's mills. 

There indeed he was striking at the heart of the 
monopoly. If he could cut the milling costs in half, 
all the seventeen mills owned by the Sharon ring 
would be worthless, the syndicate would be ruined, 
and Sutro would supplant Sharon as ^dictator of the 
Comstock. The promoter discovered the extent of 
that error when next he visited the offices of the Bank 
of California in New York on his first trip to Europe 
in search of f unds for the promotion. 

"I found a placard posted up, saying that the Sav- 
age Company had repudiated its subscription to the 
tunnel company," Sutro explained later. "I was as- 


tonished to find in a banking office in New York a 
placard like that. Everybody from the Pacific Coast 
would come in and read it, and would think I had 
committed some crime, or had been guilty of some 
rascality. They wanted to ruin me in New York so 
I could get no money there." 

That conclusion was partly true. The Bank of 
California ring by this time had turned definitely 
against Sutro. The battle-lines were drawn. Sharon 
had decided to crush the pretender to his throne. 
But it was not only to crush Sutro but to increase the 
monopoly's immediate power and income that the 
Savage mine's subscription to tunnel stock had been 
repudiated. Sharon had decided to build his railroad. 
He could kill two birds with one stone handicap 
the threatening tunnel competition and assist the rail- 
road financing by bringing pressure on the mining 
companies to cancel their tunnel subscriptions and 
turn the funds to the railroad. Much of the seven 
hundred thousand dollars obtained from the mining 
companies to help Sharon build the railroad had pre- 
viously been pledged to the tunnel. 

And where Sharon could not thus obtain a trans- 
fer of the subscription from the tunnel to the rail- 
road, he could operate in other ways to destroy Sutro. 
Thus at the Annual election of the Crown Point Mine 
he succeeded in turning out the president and super- 
intendent and installing his own agents who promptly 
repudiated that company's seventy-five-thousand- 
dollar subscription to the tunnel. The paper capital 


of one million dollars obtained by Sutro withered in 
his hands to a few thousands subscribed by personal 

The power of Sharon, of the Bank of California, 
and of the monopoly, proved itself with a few dev- 
astating blows. Even the respected Senator Stewart 
took his orders and resigned from the directorate of 
the tunnel company. Lesser persons followed his lead. 

"Nearly all the persons who had stood by me now 
deserted me," said Sutro years later. "They shunned 
me as if I had an infectious disease. Every miserable 
cur and hireling of that bank turned the cold shoulder 
on me. But the ring had got hold of the wrong man. 
I was not so easily to be disposed of. When I found 
that these traitors, after having signed contracts, 
after having urged and helped me to expend time and 
my friends* money, after having induced me to labor 
almost day and night for several years, which I did 
with zeal and enthusiasm I say when I found that 
they were determined to rob me of my labors, I made 
a sacred vow that I would carry out this work if I had 
to devote the remainder of my life to it, and would 
defend my rights as long as the breath of life was in 


So Sutro invaded Europe in search of funds. He 
obtained audiences with the leading bankers of 
France, Germany and England. But there also he 
failed, and returned to America. Private financing 
appeared impossible. The Bank of California's op- 
position was too powerful. He centered his efforts in 


Washington, and actually succeeded in inducing the 
Committee on Mines and Mining to report favorably 
a bill to advance five million dollars of federal funds 
for construction of the tunnel. But again Congress 
adjourned before the bill came to a vote, and 
Sutro returned to the Comstock, almost despairing. 

There he found general conditions almost as de- 
pressed as he was himself. The bank syndicate was 
virtually the only organization in the district that 
was making any money. The workings had reached 
a depth where the floods of water, the intense heat, 
and the reduced efficiency of the miners were raising 
overhead costs to a point where even the good ore 
bodies available were hardly paying expenses. The 
prospects were dark for Sutro, and not too brilliant 
even for the bank syndicate. 

It was the spring of 1 869, perhaps the most critical 
period in the history of the Comstock lode. Sharon 
was promoting the new railroad, and promising to 
rehabilitate the mines by reducing transportation and 
milling costs. Sutro was as yet only promising even 
greater benefits from the proposed tunnel. The lode 
was at its lowest point of production. Officials and 
miners were equally depressed. It was whispered that 
the Comstock had paid its last dividend. 

The men in the depths were working under agoniz- 
ing conditions. Some went insane amid the fumes of 
arsenic, antimony and sulphur which arose in an over- 
powering stench from the floods of hot water in every 
deep shaft and crosscut. Others succumbed to heart 


troubles. The blowers installed for ventilation of 
the stopes and headings could make little impression 
upon the foul atmosphere. Temperatures arose to 
one hundred and twenty degrees in many parts of 
the labyrinth. Vast quantities of ice were used to 
help the men and the mules survive the heat of the 
depths. "Even with this help," said The Enterprise, 
"four picked men in some stopes have found them- 
selves unable to do the work of one man in a cool 

Still Sutro and Sharon, each bitterly opposed to 
the efforts of the other, maintained an equally amaz- 
ing confidence and optimism in the future of the 
lode. Each persisted in his own way, despite all op- 
position and disappointment. 

Then circumstances conspired for a day to give 
Sutro a new footing for his next blow at the over- 
powering monopoly. For five years he had been 
merely a potential menace. Suddenly he developed 
into an active one. 

On April 7, 1869, fire broke out in the Yellow 
Jacket mine, which connected underground with the 
Crown Point on one side and the Kentuck on the 
other. The blaze spread quickly to the timbers in 
the adjoining workings. There were literally millions 
of feet of these timbers underground. All the main 
shafts were down to a depth of one thousand feet or 
more. At every one-hundred-foot stage of this depth 
drifts and crosscuts had been run. In every foot of 
shaft and drift timbers stood thickly. In the great 


ore chambers which had been stoped out these 
timbers had been piled one upon the other in the 
square-set method, sometimes to a height of two 
hundred feet. Plank floors had been laid every six 
feet up through these great frame structures. Thus 
millions of feet of lumber were ready for the con- 

No one knew the extent of the danger more clearly 
than the miners and their families. The alarm call- 
ing the Virginia City and Gold Hill fire apparatus had 
hardly gone out when frenzied women and children 
began to flock to the mouth of the Yellow Jacket, 
Crown Point and Kentuck shafts. Smoke and 
stifling gas were pouring out. As fast as the hoisting 
machinery could run, the cages were dropped to the 
various levels and jerked upward to the surface. But 
few men were found aboard them, and in most in- 
stances those few were unconscious from their ride 
upward through the fumes. 

The first man out told a harrowing story of the 
situation below. In the Crown Point so many men 
crowded upon the first cage, designed to carry a 
maximum of sixteen, that the shift boss was afraid to 
give the signal to hoist. It would have been death to 
a dozen attempting to cling to the cage. For five 
minutes it stood in the inferno with men battling in 
frenzy for places before the hoisting bell was 
sounded. As the cage started upward several of the 
men left behind threw themselves to death in the 
shaft in their panic. 


Other men, running wildly through the drifts to- 
ward the shafts and hope of rescue, miscalculated 
their distance in the darkness and plunged down to 
death* Others were suffocated without ever a chance 
to reach the cages. All attempts to enter the mines 
in the first two hours of the fire were useless. Any 
such effort would have been suicide. For these 
hours the scenes around the shaft-houses of the three 
mines were heart-rending. Wives and children who 
knew their men were trapped in the depths from 
which these clouds of smoke and gas billowed, had to 
be held back by force. The officials could do noth- 
ing after the cages had been lowered and raised two or 
three times. 

There had been small fires in the mines before, but 
nothing to compare with this. In the smaller fires 
the method of fighting had been to block off the 
drift or stope involved, and pump the closed area full 
of steam. This method could not be applied to the 
whole mine at once. It would have been certain 
death to the men below. There was nothing to do 
but wait futile, helpless, agonized. 

After two hours of such waiting, while practically 
the whole population of Virginia City and Gold Hill 
crowded around the shaft-houses of the burning 
mines, the smoke suddenly ceased to roll from the 
mouth of the Kentuck. Some unexplained force of 
the fire below evidently had reversed the draft. The 
smoke and gas were going down instead of up. 
Volunteers immediately descended in a cage, as far 


as the air permitted. They recovered two bodies but 
found no living man at the limit of depth to which 
they could penetrate. 

The Crown Point was still impenetrable. The last 
cage which had been hoisted there had lost four of its 
passengers who had been suffocated by the fumes and 
fallen back to death in the shaft. Still those who 
survived were certain that other men were alive in the 
depths. They induced the hoisting engineer to send 
down the cage once more. A lighted lantern was 
placed on the cage floor, with the following message: 

"We are fast subduing the fire. It is death to at- 
tempt to come up from where you are. We shall 
get you out soon. The gas in the shaft is terrible and 
produces sure and speedy death. Write a word to us 
and send it up on the cage, and let us know where you 


The cage was lowered slowly, stopping at each 
level on the way down to the bottom at one thousand 
and one hundred feet, and stopping again to show its 
signal light at each level on the return trip. When it 
reached the surface there was no reply to the message. 
The lantern was out. 

Five hours after the start of the fire, smoke and gas 
in the Yellow Jacket drew away into the southerly 
workings. Miners and firemen risked the descent. 
Every man but one known to have been at work on 
the level explored was brought up dead. The up- 


draft had renewed itself in the Kentuck, and any 
further activities of firemen or rescue squads were cut 
off there. The Yellow Jacket had become a little 
cooler. Firemen descended with a hose to the eight- 
hundred- foot level and began to fight the flames. 

Not one of the imprisoned miners had been brought 
up alive in the last four hours. Hope for all those 
below had virtually expired. Still the crowds, 
divided between hysteria and the dazed silence of 
terrified misery, surged around the shaft-houses. 
One by one the firemen, exhausted and almost suf- 
focated, began to come to the surface, to have their 
places taken at once by others, eager to risk their lives. 

It was a form of battle which would try the hearts 
and intelligence of the best-trained and best-equipped 
fire fighters of New York or Chicago to-day. Let 
the reader imagine, if he can, a fire in the Wbolworth 
building, with that building framed in timber in- 
stead of steel. Let him understand that as the fight- 
ing firemen extinguish the flame upon each timber or 
in each set of timbers it is necessary to rebuild that 
portion of the wrecked structure to prevent collapse 
of the whole before the firemen can advance to the 
next room or the next floor. Only so can one have 
some realization of the struggle which went on in the 
depths of these burning mines. 

Firemen and timbermen battled side by side. As 
fast as the firemen extinguished a blaze, or were 
blocked by caves and slides which followed collapse 
of weakened timbers, miners would rush into the 


breach and shovel out the debris frantically, while 
timbermen worked above and beside them, installing 
new braces. As fast as the way was cleared and made 
comparatively safe for a moment, firemen pressed to 
the front again, to be displaced again by the miners. 

All this tremendous effort was going on in an at- 
mosphere composed of far greater parts of smoke, 
steam and gas than of oxygen, and in a heat which 
wilted the strongest men in from five to ten minutes. 
In places the rock was so hot that the water turned to 
steam the moment it touched the walls. The hands 
of scores of the men wrestling with fallen rock and 
weakened timbers were burned to the bone. Water 
actually boiled in puddles on the rocky floor. 

Still volunteers succeeded volunteers as fast as the 
burned, gassed and exhausted men were brought to 
the surface* Despite the deadly peril and killing 
strain of the work the fight went on. Many of the 
firemen and miners returned again and again to the 
battle after an hour in the open air had restored their 
strength. A stream was kept going all day on the 
eight-hundred-foot level of the Yellow Jacket. At 
nine o'clock in the evening the fire was again rising, 
and a second line of hose was led into the shaft and 
put to work on the seven-hundred-foot level. 

By two o'clock in the morning, nineteen hours after 
the discovery of the fire, thirteen bodies had been re- 
covered. Some had been found at the bottom of the 
shaft, eleven hundred feet deep, where they had fallen 
from higher levels. Others were picked up in the 


drifts at the one-thousand-f oot level, just where they 
had fallen under the poisonous gases. 

Early the next day the situation in the Crown Point 
mine became such that it appeared advisable to cut 
the air pipes on the eight-hundred-foot level. John 
P. Jones, a veteran of the California quartz mines, 
who was superintendent of the Crown Point, himself 
undertook the extremely hazardous task. With one 
volunteer associate accompanying him to hold a light, 
Jones stepped aboard the cage in a cloud of smoke 
and gas, and was dropped into the inferno. Jones was 
already a popular and influential man in the com- 
munity and the hundreds who watched him vanish 
into the fiery pit stood in agony, awaiting the outcome 
of his heroism. 

Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed without a signal 
on the hoisting bell. Hope had almost been aban- 
doned when the three taps calling for a lift sounded 
beside the hoisting engineer. The clutch was thrown 
in and the cage jerked upward in record time. When 
the platform reached the surface both Jones and his 
assistant lay unconscious upon it* A few minutes in 
the air, however, brought them back to consciousness. 
They had completed their task, and succumbed to the 
gas only on the return trip up the shaft. Jones was a 
popular hero thenceforth. 

During the morning ten more bodies were re- 
covered. One dead man was found with hands still 
gripped upon a ladder, fifty feet above the level from 
which he had tried to escape. Nine bodies were 


heaped together beside an unjointed air pipe on the 
nine-hundred-foot level of the Crown Point. 

Two days later the officials of the mines and of the 
city government decided that there was no hope of 
the rescue of any living men. The fire had been burn- 
ing for more than three days, and appeared to be in- 
creasing rather than diminishing in violence. The 
only hope of checking it seemed to be by cutting off 
the air. 

The shafts therefore were closed and sealed with 
planks, blankets and wet earth. Steam from the 
boilers of the hoisting engines was forced down the air 
pipes to the lower levels. This continued for two days. 
The shafts were then reopened, volunteers descended 
and recovered several more bodies. But the influx of 
fresh air revived the flames, and the rescuers again 
were driven out. Again the shafts were sealed and 
pumped full of steam for two more days. Then the 
steam was shut off to give the workings a chance to 

Three days later, ten days after the start of the 
fire, the shafts were opened once more and some ex- 
ploration made. Spots of fire were found in numerous 
drifts and stopes, and extinguished where they could 
be reached, but the air was so foul that scores of the 
explorers fainted, and were brought to the surface 
only with difficulty. Forty-one bodies had been re- 
covered. Hospitals and homes were filled with men 
in serious condition from burns, gas, or accident in- 
curred in the long struggle. Four bodies were known 


to be still in the upper levels of the Kentuck. Effort 
after effort was made in vain attempt to recover them. 

Three weeks after the start of the fire it was again 
gaining headway. The connections between the 
Yellow Jacket, Crown Point and Kentuck were all 
sealed, and the shafts again closed. The works were 
abandoned until May eighteenth, thirty-nine days 
after the start of the disaster. Then once more they 
were reopened and men were able to enter almost 
every level, rigging air pipes and restoring timbers 
to put the mines in working condition. Two days 
later another body was found on the one-hundred- 
foot level of the Kentuck, leaving only three known 
to be somewhere in the upper levels of that mine. 

But once again the incoming fresh air revived the 
fire on the eight-hundred-foot levels of the Kentuck 
and Crown Point. In desperation the superintendents 
ordered the miners to wall up those drifts and abandon 
them permanently in the hope that the fire might 
eventually burn itself out. It did so, but how long it 
required is in doubt. When these walled furnaces 
were opened three years later the rocks in their depths 
were found to be red hot. Only charred bones of the 
three missing men whose bodies had never been re- 
covered were found in these abandoned drifts. 

The most tragic scene in the melodrama of the 
Comstock had been enacted, and at a period when the 
district was already in the depths of its worst financial 
depression. Now not only the mines were in a de- 
plorable situation because of their lack of good ore, 


but the miners had been roused to a panic of terror and 
indignation. Not all of Sharon's wealth and power 
could correct this situation. 

But Adolph Sutro, himself on the verge of collapse 
with the apparent failure of his years of effort in pro- 
motion of the tunnel, was able to see the possibilities 
which the fire opened for him. Here was an argu- 
ment and a weapon for the tunnel, fashioned from 
the bodies of forty-five dead men, tempered by the 
agonies of hundreds, ready to his hand. He pro- 
ceeded to use it. 

In the meantime, however, some relief from the 
tension which had gripped the district was necessary. 
With the elasticity of its youth Virginia City found 
this relief in the excitement of the competition af- 
forded by the rival pony expresses carrying mail from 
the railroad at Reno to the Comstock. The district 
might go to ruin if it would, but the Comstockers 
would have a little entertainment by the way. 

Since the completion of the railroad across the Sier- 
ras from San Francisco through Reno, all of the mail 
and express business of the Comstock as well as most 
of the freight had come by that route. Mail and ex- 
press were picked up at Reno by two rival express 
companies and carried to Virginia City on fast ponies. 
Wells, Fargo & Company conducted one line and 
the Pacific Union the opposition. Comstockers 
did not care particularly which company proved 
superior, so long as it happened to be the one on which 
they had bet their money on any certain day. The 


point for their entertainment was a relay horse race 
of notable quality. 

Each evening the Comstockers lined the streets of 
Virginia City to cheer on the winning pony, settle 
their bets, jeer at their rivals and lay new wagers for 
the next day. Even the local newspapers took notice 
of the event, and helped to turn public attention from 
the town's troubles to its possibilities of entertain- 
ment, A few excerpts from The Enterprise, written 
daily at the scene, will give a more realistic idea of the 
importance of the event than any comment of to-day: 

"Mr. Bennett of Wells, Fargo & Company last 
evening came in from Reno, riding the company's 
pony, in one hour and twelve minutes. The state of 
the roads considered, this is remarkably good time. 
, The Pacific Union pony got the start in Reno and was 
first over the bridge on the river, but was soon passed 
by the Wells, Fargo & Company rider, who held the 
lead through to this city. In Reno there is every day 
as much excitement about the starting of the ponies 
as there is here at the time of their coming in." 

Five days later The Enterprise described a "special 
race," amid "much excitement," with "many bets 
from drinks to hundreds of dollars." In this contest 
Wells, Fargo & Company employed eight horses and 
three riders, while the Pacific Union Company used 
ten horses and two riders, and still lost the race by 
eight minutes. 


"C Street was lined with eager spectators. The 
victory gained by Wells, Fargo & Company was in a 
great measure owing to W. P. Bennett, superinten- 
dent, who although forty-four years old, went out 
and rode through one station himself, using a couple 
of stage horses that the younger riders were afraid to 
straddle. . . . Whether we are to have any more racing 
is not announced, but we know that a race every day 
would just suit the excitable people of this city, most 
of whom would stop speculating in stocks and go to 
betting on the ponies." 

But this diversion was comparatively limited and 
brief. The real sporting event on the Comstock was 
the more important though less spectacular contest 
between Sutro and Sharon. This promised to take 
on new excitement since the disastrous fire in the 



THE Yellow Jacket fire had been a serious blow to 
Virginia City. All the ballyhoo attendant upon the 
railroad building then in progress could not change 
that fact* At the moment of the fire the greatest 
hope of the district had rested in the Yellow Jacket 
mine, where a stringer of ore recently discovered on 
the nine-hundred-foot level was being followed 
eagerly in the belief that it would lead to new 
bonanzas. The work of tracing this promising clue 
was delayed indefinitely by the fire. 

In the meantime Yellow Jacket was hoisting le^i 
than one-fourth its average yield of earlier yea*3|p 
Crown Point, also stricken by the fire, had paid no 
dividends for two or three years, and had called upon 
its stockholders for more than two hundred thousand 
dollars in assessments to continue its exploration work. 
John P. Jones, the superintendent who had made him- 
self a popular hero in the Crown Point fire, managed 
to keep the exploration work going largely because 
of his own optimism and his reputation with the 
stockholders, by whom he was known to be a highly 
efficient mining engineer. 

Jones, like so many men who were to become f a- 
mous on the Comstock, was of foreign birth, though 



he had been brought to America from England in 
infancy by his parents. At the time of the Crown 
Point fire he was forty years old. He was known 
throughout Nevada, as he had been in the California 
mining towns, equally for his jovial good-humor and 
his driving energy. He had come to California with 
his brother Henry from Ohio in 1850, having joined 
a party on Lake Erie and helped to sail their boat all 
the way down the St. Lawrence River, around Cape 
Horn and up the Pacific Coast, to San Francisco. At 
first in the placer mines and later in the deep mines 
of California he had gained experience, reputation as 
a most efficient engineer, but little money. The 
Crown Point mine, its greatest bonanzas apparently 
exhausted, had finally enticed him to come from his 
engineering job in Calaveras County, California, to 
superintend the work of search for new ore bodies. 
Crown Point stock had fallen after the fire to a 
price which rated the entire property, including one 
hundred and forty thousand dollars invested in equip- 
ment, at a total of twenty-four thousand dollars. 
Kentuck also was in borrasca, and calling constantly 
for assessments to continue operation. Other fa- 
mous mines such as Ophir, Gould & Curry, Belcher, 
Hale & Norcross, Chollar-Potosi, were either working 
entirely in country rock or were hoisting but a frac- 
tion of their previous production of ore. Though 
these mines were not in the path of the great fire, the 
general reaction was a menace to their continued de- 
velopment. All prices dropped. 


In this situation John Mackay and James Fair 
stepped from their jobs as superintendents into owner- 
ship of their first mine. Mackay, later to become the 
famous father of a famous son, was an Irish immi- 
grant, like Fair. He was an unpretentious young 
man who had been easily ignored in the miscellaneous 
throngs of the Comstock* Only the level gaze of his 
keen gray eyes, set deep under abrupt brows beneath 
a straight high forehead would have differentiated him 
from the rabble for a close observer. The patrician 
effect of a slightly Roman nose probably would have 
been ignored as entirely out of keeping with the rough 
costume of a working miner which he had worn dur- 
ing most of his years in Virginia City. 

John W. Mackay had quit a clerk's job in New 
York in 1852 to make his fortune in the California 
placers* He had been too young to come with the 
first rush in 'forty-nine and 'fifty, as the other great 
men of the Comstock had done. Still a boy in years, 
though a man in character, he had entered the placers 
too late to seize an easy fortune. In eight years of 
labor, however, he had accumulated a few thousand 
dollars, which he had invested in the Comstock with 
the first rush. And promptly he had lost it. With- 
out complaint, he went to work as a mucker in one 
of the mines at four dollars and fifty cents a day. His 
energy and skill soon won him a job as timberman, 
with more possibilities of experience but no more 
money. He had worked at that for years, familiariz- 
ing himself with all the underground workings of 

A KING is BORN" 201 

the Comstock, saving his money, and adding to it a 
little by judicious stock speculation when he had 
personal inside information as to developments in the 
mines where he was employed. Eventually he had 
been made a shift boss and then superintendent of the 
Caledonia Tunnel and Mining Company. 

Fair had had long experience as superintendent of 
the Ophir. Both men knew the miles of underground 
workings below Virginia City and Gold Hill as well 
as they knew the paths from shaft to home. They 
were students of geology as well as capable mining 
engineers. They had accumulated a little money, and 
a mutual respect for each other's ability. 

So they used their capital to buy control of the 
Bullion mine at a low price. Its holdings lay in unpro- 
ductive ground between the rich workings of Virginia 
City and Gold Hill, but it was ground which the 
friends and partners believed must contain good ore 
at depth. Mackay went into the mine as superinten- 
dent. He did not have the reputation which he later 
acquired, and the stockholders were allowing their 
holdings to be sold out rather than pay more assess- 
ments. Mackay and Fair largely financed the work. 

At about the same time Mackay took advantage of 
the great depression in stocks which followed the fire 
in the non-productive Kentuck, to buy heavily into 
that property. Then, with Fair, he investigated the 
Hale & Norcross, one of the richest of the early mines. 
Its shares had risen to twenty-one hundred dollars 
each on the San Francisco exchange in 1 8 68, and then 


dropped to forty-two dollars. The company owned 
a large section of unexplored territory, and had used 
its early profits to install the best machinery avail- 
able. At forty-two dollars it seemed a rare bargain, 
although it was producing practically nothing at the 
moment. Mackay and Fair, like Sharon and Sutro, 
had an unquenchable faith in the future of the lode. 
And their faith was based upon personal knowledge 
much more accurate than that of the promoter of 
the bank monopoly and the promoter of the tunnel. 

Incidentally, they formed a working agreement 
with two San Francisco men who eventually were to 
attain wealth and importance equal to their own as 
bonanza kings. These men were the financiers of the 
group, James C. Flood and "William S. O'Brien. 

Flood and O'Brien were saloon keepers in San 
Francisco. Like Mackay and Fair, they were Irish, 
though Flood was born in New York, in 1826. He 
was a thick-set powerful man, of much the same type 
as Fair, genial in social contacts but exacting and 
domineering in business. O'Brien was less forceful in 
character, as he was in appearance, having much more 
the aspect of an efficient head waiter or butler than 
of a conspicuously successful business man. He never 
aspired to rise, nor did he rise, socially, far above the 
level of the more convivial card-playing friends of 
his saloon-keeping days. Still he was shrewd, though 
not notably ambitious or energetic. 

The partners had both come to San Francisco in 
1849, and had engaged in various ventures before 

"A KING is BORN" 203 

they became associated in a popular bar in the fi- 
nancial district of the city. When the mining stock 
exchange was opened, this bar was a convenient and 
popular resort for the stock gamblers. Flood & 
O'Brien dispensed good liquor at high prices to the 
mining speculators, and acquired some capital. At 
the same time they acquired a wide and friendly ac- 
quaintance among the more successful operators. It 
was the successful speculators, not the losers, who 
frequented the expensive bars, and usually they were 
in an expansive and generous mood. 

Some of them, inspired both by the easy profits in 
hand and by the quality of the Flood & O'Brien 
liquors, occasionally offered the saloon men a tip on 
the market. Flood & O'Brien were shrewd. They 
knew that more men lost than won on that board. 
They knew that while they were serving such men as 
Lucky Baldwin, Jim Keene, Bill Lent, Johnny Skae 
and General Gashweiler at the mahogany bar, others 
ruined by the stock gamble were at the rear door beg- 
ging a hand-out from the kitchen which prepared the 
saloon's elaborate free lunch. 

They did not plunge. Instead they watched the 
ups and downs of the stocks which they were advised 
to buy or sell. So they learned who among their 
generous customers were the most consistent winners. 
Then, and not until then, they began to follow the 
advice of those speculators whom practical results 
proved to be wise and well-informed. Operating on 
advice thus proved, Flood & O'Brien began to beat 


the market, "What was more important, they began 
to learn it. 

Their profits increased with their experience. Wis- 
dom and caution increased with both. They saw 
clearly that authentic inside information was essential 
to successful operation on a large scale. No one could 
follow the eccentric gyrations of Comstock prices 
indefinitely on tips, or upon any system. Informa- 
tion had to be prompt and accurate. How else had 
William Sharon been able to buy Belcher stock at 
$6.00, and hold it until it climbed to $1,525? Not 
every one could have the luck of Lucky Baldwin, who 
had given orders to sell out his Comstock holdings at 
a low figure, sailed to Hawaii forgetting to endorse 
the certificates, and had returned to find himself still 
in possession of securities which had been multiplied 
in value a hundred times. 

There was no rhyme or reason in that market. The 
Alpha's stock, without ever declaring a dividend, 
sold at $1,570 in a February, fell to $33.00 in Sep- 
tember, rose to $62.00 the following February, sank 
tb $11.00 in October, rose to $21.00 in March, sank 
to $3.00 in September, rose again to $100, and 
dwindled to nothing when the shareholders refused to 
pay further assessments and the mine was abandoned. 
Its career was typical. No wise man could play such 
a market without accurate information, straight 
from the mining superintendents who were tracing or 
hoisting the ore. 

Flood & O'Brien were wise. 


Through interests which they had obtained in the 
Kentuck and the Hale & Norcross mines they became 
acquainted with Mackay and Fair when the latter 
bought into these properties. They recognized the 
practical wisdom and invaluable strategic position of 
the engineers. Mackay and Fair recognized the ad- 
vantage of being associated with such shrewd oper- 
ators on the exchange. An informal agreement was 
reached. The group of men who were to go down in 
history as the true bonanza kings was formed. 

Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien soon owned con- 
trol of the Bullion, the Kentuck, the Hale & Norcross 
and the Savage. Even Sharon, occupied as he was 
with the completion of the railroad and the strength- 
ening of his grasp on the mines, mills, transportation 
and supplies of the district, was forced to sit up and 
pay attention to this Scotch-Irish combination. 

Hitherto, Adolph Sutro, a German Jew, was the 
only man who had questioned and dared to oppose the 
Sharon dictatorship of the Comstock. Sharon be- 
lieved he had crushed Sutro, though that tenacious 
individual was still battling, having carried his prob- 
lem to the miners themselves. Now it seemed that 
Mackay and Fair were daring to assert themselves, to 
threaten the powers of the Bank of California and its 
monopolistic syndicate headed by Sharon. Some- 
thing would have to be done about it. 

But Sharon was a busy man of vast and complicated 
affairs. Before he could plan and start his campaign 
to depose Mackay and Fair or buy them out with the 


monopoly's money, the Hale & Norcross mine struck 
a small bonanza under Fair's skilful engineering, and 
paid seven hundred and twenty-eight thousand dol- 
lars in dividends, at least half of which went into the 
pockets of Fair and his associates. The opposition war 
chest was beginning to fill up. 

At the same time the persistent Sutro ceased the 
mosquito-like buzzing which had annoyed Sharon for 
years, and stabbed. The disastrous fire in the Yellow 
Jacket, Kentuck and Crown Point mines had aroused 
the miners of the district to a frenzy which the ordi- 
nary hardships of withering heat, bad air, and 
tuberculosis acquired in the mines had failed to in- 
spire. The miners had never been afraid of Sharon. 
They were independent. Good miners could always 
get a job. No others would enter the mines. If un- 
tried laborers did enter, they could accomplish noth- 

The workers had tolerated conditions as workers 
have done throughout the history of the world. Each 
day they carried their lunch buckets from homes and 
boarding-houses, and sweated and strained in the 
mines, simply because it was their routine of life. 
Many had families to maintain. Others spent their 
wages in riotous relaxation in the saloons, gambling- 
houses and brothels of the town. They worked 
because it is the habit of civilized men to work. But 
they were ripe for revolt. 

Adolph Sutro recognized the opportunity. He 
saw in these thousands of workers a potential power 

A KING is BORN" 207 

greater than Sharon's. Without the daily labor of 
these hard men there could be no ore raised from the 
mines to feed the mills to provide dividends to nour- 
ish the monopoly. There could be no traffic to 
maintain the Sharon railroad, and no demand for 
timber to pay the lumber company. There could be 
no business, no profit and no city. 

Sutro possessed some of the powers of a demagogue. 
Also he possessed an imagination equal to his energy 
and far in advance of the ordinary business men of his 
time. He engaged an artist and directed the prepara- 
tion of a lurid poster, at a time when lurid posters did 
not have the competition on wall and fence and 
bill-board which they have to-day. The artist de- 
picted a cross-section of the Yellow Jacket mine, 
revealing the shaft a thousand feet deep with drifts 
and crosscuts swept by crimson flame and billowing 
smoke, with falling timbers, burning ladders, and 
collapsing walls amid which hundreds of men were 
shown plunging to death, writhing amid the fire, 
buried by the rocks, while wives and children 
screamed and wrung their hands in despair at the 
mouth of the shaft. Adjoining this scene was an- 
other, of the same mine in flames, while the miners 
escaped in orderly fashion through the Sutro tunnel, 
pictured as completed below. 

It was a telling poster in the circumstances. Posted 
on every available wall and fence around Virginia 
City, it recalled and revived the terror which had 
swept the district at the time of the fire. The at- 


tendant message that Adolph Sutro would speak at 
Piper's Opera House on a specified night was im- 
pressed on every mind. And when the night came the 
hall was filled and a crowd clamored in the street to 
hear the message. It was an impassioned message, in- 
spired in part by Sutro's own bitter disappointments 
in five years of struggle with the Sharon monopoly, 
in part by his unfaltering conviction that only 
through the tunnel could the Comstock be saved, and 
in part by the gift of demagogic appeal which was his. 
George "Wharton James, historian and biographer, 
describes the speech as "a revelation of the spirit of a 
man of growing power; a man who unconsciously 
was preparing himself to be a Voice for the common 

Be that as it may, Sutro opened the flood-gates of 
an oratory so natural, and so apparently devoid of 
political trimming or straddling that he held his audi- 
ence spellbound. 

"Laboring men of Nevada, crush out that hydra- 
headed monster, that serpent in your midst the 
Bank of California. . . . The enemy who has spun 
his web around you until you are almost helpless has 
bribed your judges, packed your juries, hired false 
witnesses, bought legislators, elected representatives 
to defend their iniquity, imposed taxes upon you for 
private benefit, and now dares you to expose them. . . . 
Rouse up then, fellow citizens. You have no Andrew 
Jackson among you to crush the bank which has 


taken your liberties, but you have the power within 
yourselves* I do not mean to incite you to vio- 
lence, . . . That would be unwise, unnecessary, and 
would recoil upon yourselves. But I do mean to say 
you can destroy your enemy by simple concert of 
action. . . . They know full well that the first pick 
struck into the Sutro Tunnel will be the first pick into 
their graves. . . . Come forward then, and subscribe 
your names. Pay in your money promptly; drop all 
prejudices; let all objections fall to the ground; let 
all make one joint, grand, unanimous effort, and 
victory will be ours." 

The crowd liked the speech. They felt Sutro's 
driving power. They liked a fighter. They liked 
fair play. They greeted the peroration with a roar of 
applause, and pressed forward in a body to subscribe. 
Their money came quickly into the tunnel company's 

On October 19, 1869, amid flaunting banners and 
broadly smiling faces, with the blare of all the brass 
bands which could be collected in western Nevada, 
Adolph Sutro broke ground with a pick on the slope 
above the Carson River where the tunnel was to start. 
It was a month before the celebration at Gold Hill 
which Sharon staged to welcome the first locomotive 
over the completed railroad from Carson City. Sutro 
was a better showman than Sharon. 

But though Sharon felt the stab of Sutro's violent 
and persistent energy, he was occupied with more 


imminent matters. Why bother with a mosquito 
when a hawk threatened. He forgot that the 
mosquito might carry the lingering death of yellow 
fever. He could not forget the fact that Mackay, 
Fair, Flood and O'Brien were assuming importance 
upon the lode. Fortunately for his peace of mind he 
did not know that a defection in the ranks of his own 
syndicate also threatened. 

Sharon concentrated all his great business skill and 
energy upon the operation of his new railroad to the 
syndicate's mills in the Carson Valley, upon the move- 
ment of timber into the mines, and upon the extension 
of the line to Reno for connection with the newly 
completed Central Pacific. Thus would he consoli- 
date his position, monopolize all the freight and 
passenger traffic of the Comstock, drive the last of 
the silk-popping stage-drivers and mule-skinning 
freighters from the highways, add their profits to 
his own, and by tightening the grasp of his monop- 
oly squeeze out the upstart Irish. The Jew could 
wait. Plenty of time to deal with him later. 

For a moment Fate again played into his hands. 
Mackay and Fair sank the profits of their small Hale 
& Norcross bonanza in the unproductive Bullion and 
the almost equally unproductive Savage. Sharon 
watched Bullion and Savage stock slip steadily down- 
ward on the San Francisco board, and rubbed his 
hands with satisfaction. Their threat to compete 
with the power of the Bank of California seemed to 
have flared and faded. They were not the first men 

A KING is BORN" 211 

who had made a million dollars in the Comstock, and 
quickly lost it in the same hole from which it was dug. 
Mackay would soon be back with a pick and shovel 
at four dollars a day in the head of a drift. Fair, 
chastened by his failure to compete with such fi- 
nancial and executive genius as that of Sharon, prob- 
ably would be a good and valuable dog. He had 
certain recognized ability as a mining superintendent 
which the bank ring could use. Very well. The 
syndicate chief heaved a sigh of relief* 

Immediately it turned into a groan. The official 
awoke to discover that stock in the Crown Point had 
skyrocketed from two dollars to ninety dollars a share, 
and that the controlling interest was held privately by 
its superintendent, John P. Jones, hero of the Crown 
Point fire, and Alvinza Hayward, a minor member 
of Sharon's own ring. 

The cue of the melodrama then was for Sharon, 
Ralston and Mills to rise in off ended dignity and de- 
mand if there could be no honor among thieves. But 
they missed it. This was no play to them. Being 
merely pragmatic business men of extraordinary 
ability they took the blow standing, shook their heads, 
and decided not to trust Jones and Hayward again if 
they could avoid it. 

The Crown Point mine, owning five hundred and 
forty feet on the lode, had paid no dividends for 
several years. In fact it had levied two hundred and 
forty thousand dollars in assessments, which ac- 
counted for its price of two dollars a share. At this 


price the total valuation of the mine was one-fifth 
the actual cost of the machinery which had been 
installed. In that situation Hayward had obtained 
the appointment of Jones, a mining superintendent 
who had developed a great reputation for "a nose for 
ore 5 * in California, to direct continued exploration 
work in the mine. 

For two years Jones had been running drifts at the 
nine-hundred-foot, one-thousand-foot, and the 
eleven-hundred-foot levels without cutting a single 
stringer of ore which promised to lead to a profitable 
deposit. Disgusted, he started in the summer of 
1870 to make his final cut. With the drift two or 
three hundred feet along, the hard gray country 
rock which he had met on every hand began to 
grow softer and reveal thin streaks of quartz. Then 
he encountered a seam of clay. Cutting through 
this he f ound a soft white formation containing small 
knobs of ore* 

Superintendent Jones reported privately to Hay- 
ward, who had obtained the job for him. Together 
they began to buy the two-dollar shares very quietly, 
wherever they could be picked up from stockholders 
who had long been disgusted by repeated assessments 
and no dividends. They did not inform their friends 
in the bank syndicate. Steady buying, however, 
gradually began to have an influence in the market 
and the price climbed slowly. Stocks of scores of 
Comstock mines had risen so frequently in the ten 
years of the lode's activity, and had fallen so swiftly 


time after time, that no one was greatly excited by the 
slow rise of Crown Point. Hayward and Jones ob- 
tained control before the public or even the Bank of 
California realized that here in their midst was a new 
bonanza. Then the price hit ninety dollars with a 
bang which awakened the entire district. A few 
weeks later Jones opened another drift at the twelve- 
hundred-foot level and cut the same body of white 
quartz and ore. The price jumped to one hundred 
and eighty dollars. 

The entire district was stimulated by the news. 
Hayward and Jones suddenly had become rich men. 
It was like the old days. The Comstock was not ex- 
hausted as many persons had feared. All it needed 
was men willing and able to dig and dig and keep on 
digging. Below every ore chamber was another ore 
chamber. Its riches were inexhaustible. True, the 
richer ores might be hidden two or three or four hun- 
dred feet below and to one side of the next previous 
bonanza, but they were there, waiting to reward the 
patience and confidence of those men who would seek 
them out. The district took on a new lease of life. 
The energy and optimism which had been flagging 
through 1868 and 1869 were restored. 

The temporary threat of Mackay, Fair, Flood and 
O'Brien to the ascendency of the Bank of California 
was forgotten. Jones and Hayward had assumed 
greater importance. They had left the bank in the 
lurch. And while they were doing it they decided to 
do a thorough job. They would not even give the 


Union Mill and Mining Company a contract to crush 
and refine Aeir ore, They had money to do as they 
pleased, They organized the Nevada Mill and Min- 
ing Company as a rival to the bank's milling monop- 

It was Sharon's first definite defeat in the six years 
in which he had been building a great monopoly on 
the Comstock, and building up the Comstock through 
this monopoly, Poetic justice will be seen by some 
readers in the fact that it was a defeat which came 
through defection in his own ranks, and through 
methods which his reputation indicates he would not 
have scrupled to use himself. 

But there were other defeats to come. The true 
bonanza kings had been born on the Comstock, 



THIS then was the situation ten years after the first 
rush eastward across the Sierras to "the greatest silver 
deposit in the history of the world," in the Washoe 
district of Nevada. Virginia City had grown from a 
huddle of huts on the slope of Mount Davidson to a 
city of twenty thousand inhabitants, had burned 
down, slumped to half that number, and was again 
growing toward the metropolitan population of forty 
thousand which was to mark the height of its pros- 
perity in the days of the big bonanza. 

William Sharon, operating for the Bank of Cali- 
fornia, had organized the business of the district as 
only an unscrupulous monopoly can organize busi- 
ness. He had suffered his first defeat through the 
defection of Alvinza Hayward and John P. Jones. 
But he was still the greatest power on the Comstock. 
Jones' discovery and exploitation of the Crown 
Point bonanza had given sudden and powerful 
stimulus to the business of the district, which had 
slumped painfully with the exhaustion of the earlier 
bonanzas. Sutro had started work upon his tunnel 
with fifty thousand dollars subscribed by the miners, 
after six years of failure to raise the millions which he 



needed. Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien were a 
threat in the background, with control of four mines, 
two of which, the Hale & Norcross and the Kentuck, 
promised riches, while two, the Bullion and the Sav- 
age, appeared to be failures. 

Virginia City still straggled down the side of Mount 
Davidson and over the divide to the south toward 
the adjacent Gold Hill. Gold Hill still straggled 
down Gold Canyon, along the old road toward 
Dayton, Carson City and California. Saloons and 
dives where a murder a week was common, and three 
a week not especially exciting, lined the canyon below 
Gold Hill. A long row of whitewashed cabins and 
cottages housed the "good time women" below but 
convenient to C Street, the main thoroughfare 
through Virginia City. Below this street again 
stretched the shacks and cabins which constituted the 
Chinese section of the town. Still farther down, 
lower even than the Chinese, and far lower than the 
painted women, lived the Indians, picking a precari- 
ous living from the garbage cans of their neighbors up 
the slope, or occasionally picking up a left-over job 
as they picked up a left-over loaf. 

As in the history of all successful mining camps, 
the engrossing business of wringing fortunes from 
the earth had come to occupy the attention of the 
leading citizens to the complete exclusion of other 
civic interests. Such men as Sharon, Jones, Mackay, 
Fair> Sutro, seemed to have entirely too much on their 
minds to leave room for anything on their consciences. 


A murder a week or a murder a day in the dives was 
to them an incident and nothing more as long as the 
principals were not men of immediate use to them. 
And the principals in such affairs seldom were of use* 

The courts were of interest only in so far as they 
could be relied upon to give the magnates the best of 
every civil contest. The criminal courts were of no 
interest whatever. As long as a coroner's jury re- 
ported that "John Doe came to his death at the hands 
of a party or parties unknown to the jury," and did 
not identify John Doe as a man of prominence, the 
incident was dismissed as neatly and sufficiently 
closed. The robbery of a mill, of course, was dif- 
ferent. Then the entire organisation of justice would 
be thrown into the task of detecting the criminals 
and punishing them to the utmost. But the criminals 
were quite aware of this, and confined themselves 
largely to hold-ups of drunken wayfarers, or to 
gambling frauds and consequent knife and gun-play 
in the lower saloons. 

The murder of one card-sharper by another was on 
the whole considered rather a good thing. It saved 
the community expense* Why bother to punish the 
murderer? Another card-sharper or a fighting drunk 
would get him in another week or two. As long as 
they confined their attentions to each other they could 
be ignored, safely and economically. 

There had been one notable exception to this rule, 
or perhaps merely a variation of it. The murderers 
had chosen a victim who probably they believed 


would not be seriously mourned, and therefore would 
not subject them to any serious attention from the 
authorities. She was a woman of the class which the 
journalists of Virginia City identified as "fair but 
frail/* But to the great discomfiture of the criminals 
involved, she proved to be far more than that. 

The woman's name was Julia Bulette, a beauty of 
French extraction who might well have been the pro- 
totype of the famous Cherry Melotte in Rex Beach's 
Alaskan novel, The Spoilers* She had ruled for 
several years as queen of that row of white cottages 
lying just above Chinatown, and incidentally was a 
member by special appointment of the Virginia City 
Engine Company, a social as well as a fire-fighting 
organization. The fair Julia had enjoyed a certain 
community of soul as well as body with the hard- 
shelled miners and business men of the Engine Com- 
pany. Indirectly she had wielded considerable power 
in the town. 

Then she was found robbed and murdered in her 
bed. The fire company arose en masse to do honor 
to her public spirit. It typified the spirit of the Corn- 
stock. So the men of the Engine Company, some of 
them even defying their wives, clad themselves in their 
dress uniforms of light blue with huge pearl buttons, 
and followed the coffin of their patroness from church 
to cemetery. The wives of those few who had wives 
stared with hard eyes from behind closed blinds and 
prepared for the private speech which awaited the 
home-coming of such public-spirited citizens. 


That had been a great day for Virginia City, an 
opportunity for self-expression such as is seldom 
granted to a community. But a greater day was to 

An ordinary murder could be ignored, but not this. 
The last honors conferred upon Julia Bulette would 
not have been complete in the minds of the Com- 
stockers without a valiant effort to bring her killer to 
the gallows. The effort was made. 

A French adventurer known as John Millain was 
arrested and charged with the crime. The evidence 
indicated that two other men had induced him to ac- 
company them to the woman's house with the promise 
of a job concerning which they did not give details. 
One of them had entered the house and the other had 
left with Millain after a brief period of waiting out- 
side, and had returned much later in the evening. 
Leaving Millain outside, he had then entered the house, 
returning to the waiting man after a half -hour had 
passed. The first man also appeared then, with his 
arms full of furs and other loot, including two gold 
watches and some valuable jewelry. 

Millain testified that he had not suspected a murder 
even at that time, and had even protested the robbery, 
but that the other men told him he had implicated 
himself by acting as lookout, and that he might as 
well have a share in the loot. He believed them, and 
acceptedand sold some of the stolen goods. Not until 
the next day did he know that murder had been com- 
mitted, he said. Then when excitement mounted be- 


cause of the unsuspected popularity of the victim, he 
had fled the camp, together with the killers. Millain 
had been captured and brought back, but the others 
made good their escape. 

But the aroused citizenry demanded blood in ex- 
piation of the murder of their patroness, and Millain 
was convicted of the crime. Then an interesting 
psychological situation developed. The more pain- 
fully respectable women who had watched the funeral 
of the fair Julia from behind closed shades looked 
upon the prisoner as a romantic figure who had re- 
lieved them of the competition of a professional 
charmer who had proved herself a power among the 
men of the community. 

Though they did not condone murder, they were 
thankful that since a murderer had been moved to 
strike, his blow had fallen upon Julia Bulette. They 
were willing to view the prisoner as an instrument of 
divine justice. The fact that the instrument was to 
be destroyed was just one more indication of the in- 
scrutability of Providence. Their men had defied 
them in the incident of the funeral. They could now 
assert their own independence by extending sympathy 
to the convicted man. They extended it most cheer- 
fully in the form of the finest delicacies that they 
could prepare. Few condemned men in history, un- 
less it may have been some prepared for primitive 
sacrifice or cannibalistic feast, have been nourished 
as was John Millain. 

On the day of his execution the entire city turned 


out. Gingerbread balconies all along the line of 
march from the sheriff's office to the gallows a mile 
north of town were crowded. The sidewalks were 
jammed. A uniformed company of sixty of the 
National Guard, surrounding the closed carriage in 
which the prisoner rode with two priests, had diffi- 
culty in pressing back the throngs to make way for 
the cortege. The crowds lined the roads far beyond 
the city limits, and other crowds swarmed upon the 
hillsides which afforded a view of the gallows. Hun- 
dreds had brought their lunches. Peddlers did a thriv- 
ing business in peanuts, popcorn and red lemonade* 

Men, women, children and babies were there. 
Chinese, Indians, Cornishnien, Mexicans and Amer- 
icans mingled. Piute squaws with babies on their 
backs struggled for a place between women of the 
town. The most respectable wives seized the op- 
portunity to turn their backs upon the trollops, but 
never upon the gallows. Children munched peanuts 
and sandwiches. Pasty-faced miners who seldom saw 
the sun passed the bottle and puckered their eyes 
against the glare. 

Millain mounted the gallows with an easy step, 
kneeled for the blessing of the priests, denied his guilt 
in a ringing voice, thanked the women who had 
brought delicacies to his cell, dropped, jerked, died 
and dangled at the end of his rope. Virginia City 
trudged homeward, strewing the shells of hard-boiled 
eggs, the bones of fried chicken lunches, and scraps 
of food for half a mile over the hillside, 


It was truly a Roman holiday. Virginia City had 
much of the spirit and some of the morals of Rome 
in the days of the decline. But the law could not 
always find such a spectacular example for the 
demonstration of justice. So many murders went 
unpunished that some citizens were increasingly 
pained by the demoralization of the police and crim- 
inal courts. These were lesser citizens from the view- 
point of official power. They could not displace a 
judge or destroy a chief of police* They could, how- 
ever, usurp some of the misplaced power if they did 
so secretly. The successful operation of the vig- 
ilantes in the demoralized San Francisco of the *fif ties 
was fresh in the minds of many. The example could 
hardly be ignored. 

So when one Arthur Perkins Heffernan so far for- 
got himself as to choose the bar of the town's most 
respectable hotel instead of an ordinary boozing den 
in which to kill an enemy, an organization quickly 
sprang into existence to take the action which was 
not expected of the courts. Heffernan had been ar- 
rested and was in jail, but the vigilantes had known 
other men, equally guilty, to walk out of that jail to 
freedom and carousal with the jury which had ac- 
quitted them. An exception in this case was deter- 
mined upon. 

Masked men were stationed at midnight at the four 
corners of the block which housed the jail. Every 
one seeking to enter the block was turned back with- 
out explanation. "Go back!" emphasized by a rifle 


with bayonet attached, was sufficient. It was all very 
sober and efficient. And just as quietly and effi- 
ciently another group of masked men entered the jail, 
awakened the sheriff and a deputy, took their keys 
and held them quietly while still others unlocked the 
cell occupied by Heffernan, or Perkins as he was com- 
monly known, and led him away. 

Half an hour later a cannon boomed from an 
abandoned fort on the outskirts of the city. The 
vigilantes were following closely the ritual of their 
San Francisco predecessors, who always announced 
their hangings by the ringing of a fire-bell. At day- 
light the body of the murderer was found hanging 
from the old hoisting frame over an abandoned shaft. 
Upon it was a card bearing the numerals U 601." 
Thereafter the vigilante organization was known as 

Virginia City took the news quietly. It was that 
sort of city. Its leading men who had no time to 
bother with the enforcement of criminal law, had no 
more time to bother with the enforcement of lynch 
law. The coroner's jury which found that "Arthur 
Perkins Heffernan came to his death at the hands of 
a party or parties unknown to the jury,** finished and 
labeled and tucked away that case as neatly and 
finally as similar juries had tucked away innumerable 
murder cases. 

No effort was made to discover the lynching party. 
Only those few citizens who had been met by the 
masked vigilantes and turned back f rosi the Jjeigh- 


borhood of the jail while the murderer was being re- 
moved for execution had any personal interest in the 
case* And they were sufficiently intelligent not to 
speak in personalities. Several of them had been 
called by name by the masked guards. If the guards 
knew them, they perhaps suspected the identity of 
the guards, but they maintained a discreet silence on 
that point. 

The hanging had only a slightly chastening effect 
upon the community, and none whatever upon the 
courts. Soon therefore the old cannon boomed again 
at midnight, and the following morning one George 
B. Kirk was found dangling from a rope's end. And 
on his body also were the fateful numerals 601. 

This incident aroused a little more interest. If 
601 were really operating to relieve the community 
of bad men, and correct the condition of free and 
easy murder which had marked the dens and dives of 
the district, regardless of the inefficiency of established 
authority, perhaps it was worthy of respect. Some 
informal investigation into the record of Kirk fol- 
lowed, and was given publicity. 

The man was identified as a murderer who had 
killed a man in California. He was also an ex- 
convict from the Nevada state prison. He had re- 
ceived a "ticket of leave" from 601 ordering him to 
quit Virginia City and stay quit. He had done the one 
but not the other. On the night of his return he was 
identified immediately. Evidently 601 had a com- 
prehensive system of espionage. A report was carried 


quickly to those most interested that Kirk was to be 
found in one of the houses of the whitewashed row 
which lay just above Chinatown. A group gathered 
at the house, seized the man who had defied unofficial 
authority, marched him to the north end of town, 
and hanged him from the flume of the Sierra Nevada 

This lesson struck terror to the hearts of the bad 
men of the district. Scores departed without waiting 
for tickets of leave. No one who had received such 
a ticket ever came back after the word went abroad 
as to what had happened to Kirk. For the time being, 
Virginia City had cleaned itself up. It was prepared 
to enjoy the lighter side of life. 

Entertainment at Piper's Opera House varied from 
a barnstorming production of Toadies to Shakespear- 
ean repertoire and from the wildcat and bulldog fights 
to a battle between a bull and a bear. Most of the 
residents of Virginia City took their entertainment 
raw, as they did their whisky* 

After a shift in the mines, twelve hundred feet be- 
low the surface, in temperatures as high as one hun- 
dred and twenty degrees, amid a poisonous fog of 
powder smoke and steam from dripping walls, what 
the miners wanted was recreation. They cared little 
whether it was "The Montgomery Queen's Great 
Show, with an African Eland, an Abysinnian Ibex, 
Cassowaries, and the Only Female Somersault Rider 
in the World/ 5 or a battle to the death between a 
badger and half a dozen dogs. The influence of Mark 


Twain's crude humor in The Enterprise had not been 
toward a delicate taste in literature or drama. His 
subsequent humorous lecture about the Sandwich Is- 
lands had been enjoyed, but forgotten. 

The Comstockers craved action fight or frolic. 
Frequently either one became the other. Either 
Adolph Sutro's address to their passions, or a horse- 
race in the sage-brush would draw a crowd. A pub- 
lic hanging could be, and was, turned into a picnic, 
or a picnic could be organized with equal success in 
its own right. 

Four thousand residents of the district moved in 
mass to make merry at the Washoe Valley estate of 
the late great Sandy Bowers, the same who had an- 
nounced at his extravagant banquet in the Interna- 
tional Hotel a few years earlier that he had money to 
throw at the birds. He had, and did. The product 
of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers' united twenty feet on the 
Gold Hill end of the lode had brought them from fifty 
to one hundred thousand dollars a month for many 
months. It had paid for the grand tour through Mrs. 
Bowers' native Scotland, and through England, 
France and Italy. It had purchased innumerable Paris 
gowns for the former washerwoman and boarding- 
house keeper, and innumerable ponies of Napoleon 
brandy for the former mule-skinner. It had pur- 
chased jewels, a throne carved with fleur-de-lis, state 
bedroom sets including hand-painted wash-bowls and 
slop jars, and other furnishings of similar taste and 
quality, all shipped from Europe around the Horn to 


San Francisco and freighted across the Sierras to 
adorn the stone mansion in Washoe Valley. It had 
purchased caviar and truffles and champagne for the 
roughneck miners who attended the Bowers* recep- 
tions. It had financed hundreds of miners and pros- 
pectors seeking grub-stakes from their friend Sandy. 
But it had not saved their two babies and Sandy from 
death, or provided funds to maintain the mansion 
after the failure of the mine in 1868. 

Mrs. Bowers had been forced to turn the place into 
a resort, with its elaborate grounds and swimming 
ponds. She opened for business with "The First 
Grand Annual Rural Entertainment of the Pacific 
Coast Pioneers/ 3 Five brass bound locomotives had 
started from Virginia City drawing twenty flatcars 
crowded with picnickers, brass bands, waving flags 
and yowling children, while the hoisting works of a 
dozen mines screamed a farewell from their whistles. 
At Gold Hill five more crowded cars joined the train 
and the entire force of the Rock Island mine lined up 
to salute the party as the train sped by at fifteen miles 
an hour. More cars and more crowds joined at eyery 

The thousands descended upon the Bowers place, 
opened hampers and ate and drank. The ladies played 
discreetly at croquet, while a few of the bolder joined 
in the archery contest. The children swarmed on the 
swings and the "flying horses," and fell into the ponds. 
The National Guard exhibited its skill at target 
shooting. Every one danced in the new pavilion 


which Mrs. Bowers had had erected for the occasion. 
Between these varied activities every one ate and 
drank some more. A fight here and there and now 
and then enlivened proceedings and prevented mo- 
notony. It was a great day, and one of many great 
days on the Comstock. 

Mrs. Bowers wasted no pity upon herself in her 
reduced state. She was still the hostess, though the 
guests paid. She was certain that her mine would 
soon **come in" again. If it did not, some other mines 
would, and probably by that time she would own an 
interest in them. Few of the Comstockers ever felt 
sorry for themselves. They were Comstockers. 
They seized with avidity, even with greed upon 
whatever life might have to offer, and went on, feebly 
or valiantly to the next thing. 



THE future glittered more brilliantly in Virginia 
City than it had in any of its ten years of fluctuating 
fortune. John P. Jones was blocking out a bonanza 
of millions in the Crown Point. Sharon was extend- 
ing his railroad northward to connect with the Cen- 
tral Pacific and give cheap and speedy connection to 
either coast. Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien were 
continuing their careful search of the lode for greater 
bonanzas. Adolph Sutro recognized the necessity of 
renewed action on his part. 

The fifty thousand dollars which he had obtained 
from the miners as the result of his Piper's Opera 
House appeal was a bagatelle. He needed perhaps a 
hundred times that much. The bill for five million 
dollars* subsidy from the government had been for- 
gotten by Congress in the excitement attendant upon 
the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Still 
his best hope seemed to lie in Washington. He 
reached there just in time to prevent the Bank of Cali- 
fornia's political henchmen from obtaining repeal of 
the measure which had made Comstock mine titles 
dependent upon adherence to the tunnel contracts. 
And while the iron was hot he struck again, further 



strengthening his technical position by obtaining a 
change in the federal mining laws which would pre- 
vent similar attacks from his enemies in the future* 

Then he stook ship for Europe. In Paris he found 
a leading banker who had been impressed by his 
victory in Congress, and was further impressed by 
Sutro's arguments. The banker endorsed the project 
and agreed to raise fifteen million francs to put into 
the tunnel. The promoter was elated. Success was 
within sight at last. Three million dollars would 
complete the tunnel in three years, or before the 
shafts reached to its level on the lode. The profits of 
his company would be millions, and the advantage 
to the mines tens of millions. He set about joyously 
to expand his enterprise by raising funds in England 
for building the great group of improved mills at 
the mouth of the tunnel to work all Comstock ore 
at greatly reduced prices, and incidentally to put the 
Bank of California's monopoly of mills and ore trans- 
portation out of business. 

Before he could make more than a few preliminary 
moves, however, war was declared between France 
and Prussia. The French banker's promise of fifteen 
million vanished in the smoke of battle, exactly as the 
once promised five million dollars from the United 
States Government had vanished in the fog of debate 
over the Johnson impeachment. 

The entire world seemed to be conspiring to crush 
one man. He was not to be crushed. He returned 
once more to the Comstock and began once more to 


peddle stock to local men in Virginia City and San 
Francisco, getting a hundred dollars here and a thou- 
sand there. Any amount was acceptable if it kept 
even a few miners at work in the tunnel, now a few 
hundred feet into the mountainside. When he had 
no prospect for a single share of stock, he stripped his 
own powerful body to the waist and labored beside 
the muckers. 

In the spring of 1871, Jones* and Hayward's 
Crown Point bonanza guaranteed an added produc- 
tion of $5,000,000 to the lode. The stock which 
Jones and Hayward had started to buy secretly at 
$2.00 a share was worth more than $1,000 a share. 
"Within another year it was to reach $1,825, giving 
a valuation of $22,000,000 to a property which had 
been rated at a total of $24,000 only eighteen months 
earlier. Belcher, adjoining Crown Point, struck pay 
dirt. It was owned largely by the Sharon group. 
Its stock boomed. 

Though Sharon and the Bank of California might 
be chagrined by the defection of Jones and Hayward 
and the establishment of the Nevada Mill and Mining 
Company to compete with the monopoly's mills, their 
chagrin was tempered by the attendant profits. All 
the stocks on the lode, good or bad, paying dividends 
or levying assessments, moved up in sympathy. The 
speculating and investing public was excited once 
more. Unchastened clerks and widows and waiters 
appeared to take the places of those who had lost their 
entire capital in previous speculation. 


The total valuation of properties in the district in- 
creased by forty-five million dollars. For the first 
time in several years the Bank of California was clearly 
out of the woods. All the properties upon which it 
held mortgages were now worth far more than the 
money loaned. The timber business and the railroad 
business and the milling business were returning large 
profits. Sharon shrewdly cashed in on what he be- 
lieved to be the more precarious holdings. 

The renewed activity all along the line was seized 
upon by Sutro as another argument in favor of the 
tunnel, just as the period of depression had been used 
similarly. Here were shafts and drifts and stopes a 
thousand feet deep, and headed into the second thou- 
sand feet, while the men who worked them were be- 
ing drowned out by subterranean floods, poisoned by 
bad air, and generally reduced in efficiency. Some 
mines were lifting a hundred times as much water as 
they were lifting ore and waste rock combined. As 
far back as 1864 Ophir had struck a water pocket 
which filled the shaft to a depth of one hundred and 
sixty feet and defied the pumps, while production 
stopped. Belcher had pumped as much as one million 
gallons a day. Whenever the machinery failed, as it 
did frequently under this tremendous load, weeks 
were required to clear the mine for continued produc- 
tion. The greatest pumping machinery yet devel- 
oped had been installed in the wetter mines Ophir, 
Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, Overman, Justice, Un- 
cle Sam. The cost was terrific, the results unreliable. 


Now with the evidence of greater bonanzas at 
deeper levels luring new millions into the district for 
investment, the wet mines were hoisting ten million 
gallons of water daily. The deeper the miners drilled, 
the higher the lift, and the greater the amount of 
these floods. Also the higher were the costs and the 
greater the uncertainty of being able to take out the 
bonanza ore, even if found. 

Sutro promised to correct all this with his tunnel. 
He would not only drain the mines but he would ven- 
tilate them. He would not only drain and ventilate 
them, but he would do it without machinery, and 
absolutely free. His first contracts had pledged the 
tunnel company to that. The only money which the 
company was to get was two dollars a ton royalty on 
each ton of ore removed from the mines after the con- 
nection was completed. He would not only make 
possible and economical the removal of all the deep 
bonanzas now promised by the discovery in Crown 
Point, but would assure the opening of the lode to 
twice the depth possible without the tunnel. He 
would in effect establish another surface level at the 
tunnel level, two thousand feet below the shaft-houses 
in Virginia City. 

It was a good argument, but the Bank of Cali- 
fornia, Sharon, Jones, Mackay , Fair and Flood ignored 
it. Such a development might be good for the Corn- 
stock as a whole, but it promised no immediate profit 
for their own pockets, and personal profit was what 
they desired. In the long run, if Sutro accomplished 


his purpose he would also ruin the milling monopoly 
which was one of their great sources of income. So 
the powers on the Comstock remained obdurate, and 
Sutro carried his argument again to Congress. 

Apparently he was a king of lobbyists, for on this 
visit to Washington he succeeded in having Congress 
authorize a commission to go to Nevada and report 
upon the entire tunnel project as an enterprise of in- 
terest to the economic welfare of the nation. The 
Treasury Department, if not Congress, realized that 
the two or three hundred millions in bullion already 
extracted from the Comstock lode had been of incal- 
culable assistance to the government in preserving 
national credit during the financing of the Civil War 
debts. More specie was greatly to be desired. 

The House Committee on Mines and Mining had 
once visited the Comstock, and though guided by 
Sharon and his cohorts only through such mines as 
he wished them to see, had been met frequently by 
Sutro above ground and advised of conditions which 
they had not seen. So they were interested, and the 
bill for the commission was passed. President Grant 
signed it. Two army engineers and a civil expert 
were appointed to investigate and report upon the ad- 
visability of the federal government subsidizing the 
tunnel projected as a development of national impor- 
tance. The commissioners were Major-General L G. 
Wright, Major-General John G. Foster, and Professor 
Wesley Newcomb, a mining engineer of note. 

The government's experts journeyed at once to 


Nevada. Sutro welcomed them with open arms and 
detailed warnings against accepting the bank's guid- 
ance in their investigation. They repulsed his ad- 
vances and suggestions. They were government 
engineers. They knew a great deal more about mines 
and mining than any promoter or banker. But Sutro 
was accustomed to repulse, and impervious to insult* 
The tenacity of purpose which was perhaps his most 
outstanding characteristic brought him back quickly 
to his normal optimism. And at last, for a change, 
it was rewarded. 

Agents appeared from some British bankers whom 
he had impressed with his sales talks in London. They 
were interested in the practical financial promise of 
the tunnel. They were entirely outside the influence 
of the Bank of California, economic, social or po- 
litical. They studied the situation intensively, re- 
turned to England, reported to their principals, and 
Sutro was summoned by cable. He went eagerly, 
willing even to leave the federal engineers to the 
malign influence of the Bank of California. His 
eagerness, his enthusiasm, his intimate knowledge of 
the problem and his force of character proved con- 
vincing. He talked the financial powers behind the 
McCalmonts* bank of London into a pledge of two 
million, five hundred thousand dollars toward the 
financing of the tunnel. He returned to America 
with a draft for six hundred and fifty thousand dol- 
lars on New York* 

The tunnel operations which had started feebly 


with money subscribed by miners and a few friends, 
now advanced with a rush. Sutro obtained the best 
men, machinery and mules available in the country. 
He started a town, named for himself, at the mouth 
of the tunnel, a few miles below Virginia City. 

Sharon realized that "Sutro's coyote hole/' which 
he had opposed for years as a threat against his own 
power and prosperity on the Comstock had become 
a real menace. To be sure, it still had three and one- 
half miles to go, and needed perhaps three and one- 
half million dollars before it could start collecting 
royalties from his mines, and taking the ore from his 
mills, but it was nevertheless becoming a definite 
menace. It annoyed him. 

But even more annoying, though somewhat com- 
pensated by the renewed prosperity which they were 
stimulating throughout the district, were the activ- 
ities of Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien, whom 
Sharon was coming to consider as the immediate pre- 
tenders to his throne as king of the Comstock. 

Mackay and Fair were revealing unsuspected abil- 
ity as mining superintendents with extraordinary 
vision. And vision was what the Comstock needed 
vision to see through hundreds of feet of barren por- 
phyry into the depths of the lode where new and 
greater bonanzas waited. Flood and O'Brien espe- 
cially Flood were revealing unsuspected ability as 
financiers, organizers and market operators. Guided 
by the accurate inside information supplied by 
Mackay and Fair, Flood and O'Brien were beating the 


market regularly, providing ample funds for Mackay 
and Fair to continue their purchases of footage on 
the lode, and their exploration and development of 
such holdings as they controlled. 

While Crown Point, owned by Jones and Hayward, 
leaped from $2.00 to $1,825 a share, Belcher, near 
by, controlled by the Sharon group went from $1.50 
to $1,525* Greater production from several mines 
followed, and the Union Mill and Mining Company 
was able to keep most of its stamps crushing ore. 
Greater demand for mine timbers was inevitable. 
Whole forests on the eastern slopes of the Sierras fell 
before the axes of Sharon's employees, were flumed 
to Sharon's sawmills, cut to size for use in the mines, 
transported over Sharon's railroad, and sold to the 
developing mines. 

Virginia City was upon the crest of a rising tide of 
silver. The columns upon columns of legal notices 
which had filled The Territorial Enterprise in 1868, 
'69 and '70, advertising for sale the stocks upon 
which owners would no longer pay assessments, gave 
place to advertisements of a more cheerful trend. 
Piper's Opera House announced new attractions 
dwarfing even the memory of "The Menken/* who 
had come from the Gaietie in Paris to take San Fran- 
cisco by storm, and had done as much for Virginia 
City in a classical lady-godiving exhibition entitled 
The Mazeppa. The International Saloon's famous 
sign announcing that "Jim Gray, the Handsomest 
Man Living, runs this institution by day/* etc,, 


was faced with competition in tlie advertisement of 


(Formerly Black Crook Melodeon) 
Will open this evening with a grand concert and free 


Six Pretty Girls 

Direct from New York by Steamer Constitu- 
tion will attend the wants of customers. The 
Bar will be supplied with the finest Wines, 
Liquors and Cigars. Also in connection an 
Oyster Bar where will be found every luxury 
obtainable in this market. 

Other places of public entertainment did as well. 
Virginia City was coming back with a rush. The 
city saw new possibilities of growth, prosperity and 
glory. Nothing should stand in its way to becoming 
a metropolis. 

But one thing did stand in its way. Since the ear- 
liest days the problem of water supply had restricted 
the city's growth. The poor quality and restricted 
supply of water had caused illness, restricted business, 
increased the cost of living, and limited development. 
Now the growing city realized that this problem must 
be solved. There was an unlimited supply of pure 
cold mountain water in the Sierras twenty-five miles 
away. It must be brought to the Comstock. But 
how? This was many years before such engineering 


feats as the Catskill aqueduct for New York and the 
Owens Valley aqueduct for Los Angeles had even 
been considered. No such problem had been at- 
tacked by a city since the days of the Roman aque- 

Even the ancient Romans, great builders that they 
were, did not have to drop their water into a valley 
seventeen hundred and twenty feet below Rome and 
raise it again to the altitude of the city. But that 
was Virginia City's problem. The Washoe Valley, to 
that depth below the level of Virginia City, lay be- 
tween the town and the sources of water supply in the 
high Sierras. How could the water be brought across 
this valley? 

It was not a matter of expense. Virginia City 
again had plenty of money to pay for whatever it 
wanted. The engineering problem was paramount, 
But the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company had 
solved other problems and profited thereby* It had 
pierced a dozen mountains within a few miles of the 
town, built reservoirs, laid pipes and served its cus- 
tomers after a fashion. Too often, however, it had 
seen its potential profits cut by the necessity of put- 
ting its towns on limited rations. Now, with the 
towns booming and promising to double their popu- 
lation, the possibilities of profit were enormous if the 
demand could be supplied. 

The company looked around, and engaged Henry 
Schussler, who had engineered the Spring Valley 
waterworks of San Francisco. Schussler examined the 


tentative route from the Sierras to Mount Davidson, 
declared the engineering problem one of the greatest 
yet undertaken in hydraulics, and proceeded to under- 
take it. It would require an inverted siphon of pipe 
capable of withstanding a pressure of eight hundred 
pounds to the square inch. 

The company ordered him to go ahead, as casually 
as Sharon had ordered James to build a railroad. 
Schussler surveyed the proposed route, and diagramed 
every foot of the twenty-five miles. Hobart Creek 
in the Sierras was to be the source of supply. An 
open flume could carry the water fourteen miles to 
a point two thousand feet above the floor of the 
"Washoe Valley. From there it must be piped, around 
rocky buttes, down into steep ravines, up over cliffs, 
down into the depths of the Washoe Valley, and up 
the slope of the Washoe Mountains to Virginia and 
Gold Hill. With every foot of pipe specified to pro- 
vide for curves, the order was given to a San Francisco 
foundry. The pipe was to be of cast iron for the 
strength and permanency necessary. The foundry 
estimated that a year would be required to make the 
thousands of variously curved molds required, and 
cast the pipe. And in the year it was done. The 
flumes were completed, the pipe was laid, and water 
from the Sierras flowed into Virginia City. 

Two million dollars had been expended by the 
water company. An unprecedented engineering feat 
for that day had been accomplished. Virginia City 
and Gold Hill were saved from death by thirst. The 


towns celebrated with as great a popular outpouring 
as they had at the hanging of John Millain. 

Cannons were fired, brass bands played in the 
streets, fireworks blazed over the mountainside. The 
Comstock was proving its greatness as it proved its 
ability to meet emergencies. Now it had a railroad, 
an adequate water system and richly producing mines. 
It had proved superior to its hardships and its handi- 
caps. "Whatever could be done by man, the men of 
the Comstock would do. The days of its depression 
were well behind it. 

But the war of the men behind this greatness was 
nearing a climax. As the future promised greater 
riches than the past, it contained the elements of more 
desperate conflict. 

"The king is dead; long live the king," was soon to 
be heard through the streets of the city. 



THE Comstock was close to its big bonanza per- 
haps the greatest bonanza in all the world's history 
of mining. It was to produce one hundred and ninety 
million dollars in pure bullion, raising the valuation 
of two mines alone from forty thousand dollars to 
one hundred and sixty million dollars. It was to 
stimulate the whole district proportionately. It was 
to raise to power a new dynasty of kings of the Com- 
stock. It was to establish fortunes and power which 
are still a notable influence in the world. And even- 
tually it was to bring banks, business houses and spec- 
ulators throughout the Pacific Slope crashing down in 
chaos with a loss of three hundred and eighty-six mil- 
lion dollars in three months. 

Mackay and Fair in the depths of the lode, sup- 
ported by Flood and O'Brien in the San Francisco 
mining exchange, had never for a moment wavered 
in their confidence that greater riches awaited them 
in the depths of the Comstock than had ever been 
seen or imagined. They had taken some money from 
the Kentuck and the Hale & Norcross, and had lost 
as much in futile prospecting in the Bullion and Sav- 



The two superintendents had followed ore and 
country rock down every foot of the way from the 
surface diggings opened by O'Riley and McLaughlin 
in 1 8 59, to the twelve-hundred-foot level where John 
P. Jones opened his Crown Point bonanza in 1871. 
They were intimately acquainted with every foot of 
many miles of underground workings. They were 
seeking with all their powers of mind and body to be- 
come masters of the greatest mines in the world. 

The fact that Mackay had labored at four dol- 
lars a day had never dulled his mind or imagination 
to the stupid level of the common laborer. Even with 
a fortune from the Hale & Norcross in hand, a for- 
tune which would have insured him ease and inde- 
pendence for life, he did not think for a moment of 
quitting the work. Why be satisfied with a hundred 
thousand dollars when a hundred million beckoned? 
Wealth and power, power and wealth, awaited in- 
telligent effort. His life was centered in the Corn- 
stock, where he had toiled for more than a decade. 
He had become as much a part of the Comstock as its 
stubborn ledges. The toughness of the rock which he 
had drilled and blasted for years had entered into his 
character. This great silver lode was a foe worthy 
of his steel. He would conquer it. In the victory he 
would justify that spirit which has provided the 
world with gold and silver and all the useful metals 
since the beginning of civilization. In this attitude 
he was one with Fair, as they both were one with the 


Virginia City was their home. Their sole interest 
in life, their sole excuse for living, lay there. Fair 
had married Theresa Rooney in California before 
coming to Virginia City, but had established his first 
permanent home in the Comstock, where a second 
daughter, later to be a Vanderbilt, had been named 
Virginia in honor of the city. Mackay had found 
a wife upon the Comstock. She was Louise Hunger- 
ford Bryant, daughter of Colonel Dan Hungerford 
of Downieville, California, and widow of one of the 
pioneer physicians of Virginia City. He had met 
Mrs. Bryant in the boarding-house of Mrs. Moch, a 
kind-hearted and industrious Jewish woman who en- 
joyed a high place in the respect and affections of 
her boarders. Mrs. Bryant earned her living as a seam- 
stress. She was a woman of charm and culture, 
speaking French fluently. The daughter of one pio- 
neer, the widow of another, she understood the Vest. 
Mackay, introduced by the boarding-house keeper, 
found time between his long shifts in the depths of 
the mines to woo and win her. They were congenial 
souls, ambitious, intelligent, energetic, tenacious. 
The wife inspired and supported the rising miner even 
while she held him more closely bound to the Corn- 

Mackay and Fair together had found opportunity 
to look into other mines than their own. It was a fact 
which they could not justify in their knowledge of 
geology and practical mining that the Savage mine, 
which they had explored at great expense, apparently 


held no ore, though it lay between their profitable 
Hale & Norcross and the profitable Gould & Curry 
which they did not own. Adjoining the Gould & 
Curry to the north again lay the rich two hundred and 
twenty-four feet of the Best & Belcher. Between 
that and the tremendously rich Ophir were thirteen 
hundred and ten feet of unproductive ground which 
had been owned and mined by various companies un- 
til assessments had frightened out practically all the 
stockholders and reduced the value of the property 
to a few thousand dollars. 

As experts they felt that a true fissure vein such 
as the Comstock appeared to be could not have rich 
deposits of ore in the Ophir and in the Best & Belcher, 
and have nothing in the thirteen hundred and ten feet 
which lay between the two. They took Hood and 
O'Brien into their confidence and began secretly buy- 
ing the neglected stock of the Virginia seven hun- 
dred and ten feet adjoining Best & Belcher and the 
equally despised stock of the California, which ex- 
tended to the boundary of the Ophir. 

Although the entire thirteen hundred and ten feet 
of these two properties was valued at less than forty 
thousand dollars when they began to buy, the stimu- 
lation of the Comstock which had started with the 
Crown Point bonanza, coupled with the effect of their 
secret buying, slowly lifted the price of the neglected 
property until they had paid one hundred thousand 
dollars for control. Then they assessed themselves 
more than one hundred thousand dollars, and the 


minority stockholders a proportionate amount, and 
proceeded to explore the neglected ground. They 
were confident in the belief that it must contain rich 
ore, as it lay between two highly profitable mines. 

Fair was superintendent* A capable miner can 
dig quite a hole with two hundred and twelve thou- 
sand dollars, the amount which he had available from 
assessments. Fair did so. He sank a shaft on the 
property, and at the same time made arrangements 
to push an exploration drift from the Gould & Curry 
into Consolidated Virginia ground at the eleven- 
hundred-foot level. At last he cut a seam of rich ore 
less than one-eighth of an inch thick. He turned the 
drift immediately to follow this seam, until it pinched 
out. It was a bitter disappointment but Fair was 
superior to it. Also he had the confidence of his as- 
sociates who were contributing equally with him to 
pay the miners, the supply bills, the hoisting charges 
and other costs. After a few weeks the thin seam of 
ore was picked up again. Fair and his miners fol- 
lowed it like ferrets after a rat in a pile of sacked grain, 
twisting and turning with every twist and turn of 
the ore seam. 

One hundred feet inside the Consolidated Virginia 
ground the stringer of ore was lost again when Fair 
became ill and was kept out of the mine for a time. 
Returning, however, he picked up the trail once more. 
And incidentally the four associates picked up more 
blocks of stock which had again slumped from the 
momentary height gained when their control had 


been announced. The independent stockholders 
again were protesting against assessments. 

Then the knife-blade vein widened abruptly to 
seven feet. The ore assayed sixty dollars a ton. At 
the average price of milling made possible through 
the railroad, water and mill improvements, this ore 
would return forty-five dollars a ton. Assessments 
were at an end. A few feet more into the vein and 
the ore body widened to twelve feet. Work on the 
shaft which had been started from above was rushed 
with three shifts of men. A new drift was started 
from the bottom of the shaft, and after two hundred 
and fifty feet of tunneling this drift cut the true 
bonanza, fifty-four feet wide at this point. The date 
should be historic, but no day can be named. It takes 
more than one day to cut through fifty-four feet of 
ore. But the month was March, and the year 1873. 

The Consolidated Virginia began to hoist ore as 
soon as the mass could be blocked, measured and 
sampled. But it hoisted secretly through the shaft 
of an adjoining mine. The assays, which ranged 
from ninety dollars to six hundred and thirty dol- 
lars a ton, also were kept secret. The controlling 
owners were still busily buying all the stock available, 
and buying it at the lowest possible prices. 

It speaks volumes for the ability of Mackay, Fair, 
Flood and O'Brien as organizers and disciplinarians 
that even the good news leaked out slowly, and the 
stock did not boom. It was merely rumored in Vir- 
ginia City that the Consolidated Virginia promised to 


be a good mine. A score of comparatively insignif- 
icant bonanzas in earlier years had caused a hundred 
times the excitement. The partners were able to buy 
more stock at comparatively low prices. Then the 
directors met and increased the capital stock to one 
hundred and eight thousand shares of one hundred 
dollars par value each. 

The bonanza kings were ready for their coup. 
Fair drove to the office of The Territorial Enterprise 
and made his announcement with dramatic indigna- 
tion: "Those city papers have been abusing us long 
enough. I won't stand it. Where's Dan? I want 
him to go down to the mine. I'll show him what 
we're doing." 

Circumstantial evidence indicates that Fair's in- 
dignation probably was entirely assumed. Although 
popular with his miners and the masses of Virginia 
City, the superintendent bore the nickname of "Slip- 
pery Jim'* among the intelligentsia of the region. He 
was recognized as a wily operator as well as an effi- 
cient mining man. The fact that the San Francisco 
papers which he denounced before The Enterprise 
staff had been saying for a long time that there was 
no ore in the Consolidated Virginia had played into 
the hands of Fair and his associates so perfectly that 
one must doubt that it was a coincidence. It seems 
much more likely that such reports had been secretly 
promoted by Fair and his friends in order to keep 
prices down as long as possible while they bought the 
outstanding stock. 


But now, with the bonanza carefully blocked out, 
and the assays safely in the office safe, Fair could as- 
sume indignation at the sneers of the San Francisco 
press, and announce the bonanza. Stock for which 
they had paid three and four dollars a share would 
then skyrocket to three and four hundred dollars. 

He revealed more shrewdness and understanding 
of human nature in the method of his announcement* 
The "Dan" for whom he called to go into the mine 
and inspect the bonanza was Dan DeQuille, other- 
wise William Wright, a veteran of The Enterprise 
staff, and its best mining expert, widely known 
through the West for the accuracy and conservatism 
of his mining news. A story in The Enterprise signed 
by Dan DeQuille would be copied by most of the 
newspapers in the country which were interested in 
mining, and would be believed. 

"This was before any one had definite knowledge 
of the strike," said the reporter afterward. "When 
I had been in the mine before I could not get into 
those drifts. Fair spoke pretty loud, as if he only 
wanted to shut up the city papers, but probably he 
had all the stock he wanted and had just got ready 
to tell the truth; I don't know. Anyway, I jumped 
up and ran when I had the word; you never saw a re- 
porter go faster. We drove to the mine and went 
down to the richest place in the bonanza. 

"Fair said: "Go in and climb around. Look all 
you want, measure it up, make up your own mind; 


I won't tell you a thing; people will say I posted you!" 
And so he went away. That just suited me. After I 
was through I went to The Enterprise office and 
wrote two articles. . . . That was the first authentic 
account of the big bonanza, and that was the way 
The Enterprise had a scoop/' 

What Dan DeQuille found, and announced in the 
columns of his newspaper, was a crosscut running 
ninety-five feet through "the finest chloride ore filled 
with streaks and bunches of the richest black sul- 
phurets," such ores as his experience indicated would 
assay up into the thousands of dollars. The sides and 
top of the stope from which ore was then being re- 
moved glistened with streaks and wires of virgin 
silver. The extent and richness of the ore actually in 
sight astounded the mining reporter. He made his 
measurements, estimated the total value of the ore 
body, cut his figures in half for safety's sake, and an- 
nounced to the world that there was $ 1 1 6,748,000 in 
sight. It was the greatest mass of natural mineral 
wealth that had ever been disclosed to human eyes. 

The year between its discovery and its announce- 
ment to the world had been used with great profit by 
the bonanza kings. They had taken out only enough 
ore to pay for their continued work of exploring and 
preparing the bonanza for exploitation. Not until 
May, 1874, did they declare their first dividend of 
three dollars a share. In the meantime the value of 
their stock had doubled, redoubled and redoubled 


again, and they had continued to buy at the advanc- 
ing figures as they continued to extend their under- 
ground view of the actual extent and richness of the 
ore body. 

And now they gave the market another upward 
push through clever publicity. Dan DeQuille's 
estimate of one hundred and sixteen million dollars 
was encouraging, but why stop there? The West 
owned mining technicians whose word should have 
even more weight than the reporter's. Philip Deides- 
heimer, inventor of the square-set, former superin- 
tendent of the Ophir, and known and trusted among 
mining men and investors in the West for twenty 
years, was called in to examine the big bonanza and 
make a public report. 

Deidesheimer spent several days in the mine and 
reported to the directors that there was one billion and 
five hundred million dollars in sight and that the Con- 
solidated Virginia and California mines each ought to 
pay five thousand dollars a share under proper man- 
agement. Such a statement on such authority natu- 
rally was broadcast to the world, and had its expected 
influence on the market. " A billion and a half dollars 
in two mines !** The public gasped. 

Later developments were to touch that report with 
scandal. One authority says Deidesheimer proved his 
good faith by investing every cent he could raise in 
the mines. Another, albeit a prejudiced and angry 
one, ascribed the superlative optimism of the report to 
the fact that the engineer had been let in by Mackay, 


Fair and company for several hundred shares of Con- 
solidated Virginia at a very low price. 

But the stocks were going up. Give them another 
boost. The director of the mint was called in to look 
at the bonanza. With several assistants, he climbed 
and measured and inspected, and announced that 
there was not less than three hundred million dollars 
in sight, and no apparent limit to the extent of the 
ore bodies out of sight. 

Later this report also was to be touched by scandal. 
"Recent investigation of the official transactions of 
Linderman (director of the mint) has disclosed the 
fact that the wife of that gentleman became the owner 
of a large number of shares at about the time of the 
'disinterested* report by her husband," an opponent 
of the bonanza kings announced later in a pamphlet 
for which he was never sued on libel charges. 

To the credit of the newspaper profession, it might 
be noted that no scandal ever attached to the report 
of Dan DeQuille. Apparently all he got for his esti- 
mate of one hundred and sixteen million dollars in the 
big bonanza was his regular salary of fifty dollars a 
week. Despite his opportunity for inside and advance 
information he was never a stock gambler. Years 
later, ill and broke when The Enterprise finally sus- 
pended publication, he was given transportation to 
Florida, maintenance and a small pension by John W. 
Mackay, but the deed was one of pure friendship for 
an honest man. And incidentally, Dan DeQuille's 
estimate of the riches of the big bonanza was the most 


accurate estimate published in advance of its actual 

Both the actual riches and the subsequent scandals, 
and all the excitement and turmoil and good and evil 
of the big bonanza were just beginning with its initial 
dividend. Forces which were to extend from the 
Comstock throughout the Pacific Slope, and eastward 
to New York and even to Europe were loosed. 

Before the snow flew in the first year of discovery 
Consolidated Virginia was taking out two hundred 
tons of ore a day, and shortly shipping two hundred 
and fifty thousand dollars' worth of bullion a month. 
The California, with six hundred feet adjoining the 
Consolidated Virginia, had not yet struck the bo- 
nanza, but every foot of ground advanced in the latter 
indicated that the rich ore extended into the Cali- 
fornia's ground. That mine was capitalized at the 
same figure as the other* The bonanza was cut and 
proved again at the fourteen-hundred- and fifteen- 
hundred-foot levels. California stock took its place 
with Consolidated Virginia stock in the high good 
graces of mining stock gamblers throughout the 

They were great days on the Comstocfc. Virginia 
City was almost at the height of its glory. And cir- 
cumstances were conspiring to depose the king, 
Sharon, who had ruled for ten hectic years. 



Adolph Sutro returned from London with 
six hundred and fifty thousand dollars of the McCal- 
monts* money, and a pledge of more, he hurled it into 
the work of driving his tunnel with all the pent-up 
energy accumulated in the eight years of his disap- 
pointments* In his eagerness to buy machinery, hire 
the best men available, and press the work in every 
possible manner, he even forgot the federal mining 
commission which he had left under the influence of 
Sharon. When he recovered from his first orgy of 
spending, and had perfected an organization to push 
the work without his immediate personal supervision, 
he hurried back to Washington to urge the federal 
subsidy when the commission's report came in. 

That was in January, 1872. Snow held up the 
feeble train in the Rocky Mountains for days. When 
the tunnel builder reached the capital the report had 
been submitted, and the Bank of California's friends 
were chuckling. Sutro was amazed. The report de- 
clared the tunnel unnecessary as a means of draining 
and ventilating the mines of the lode. It agreed with 
his own promotion arguments only to the extent of 
saying that the mines could be worked more econo- 



mically by removing waste and ore through a tunnel 
than by hoisting. Incidentally, it favored the tunnel 
also as the best means of continued exploration. 

Analysis of the report revealed to Sutro that the 
arguments against the tunnel as a necessity for drain- 
age and ventilation were based almost entirely upon 
the reports of various mine superintendents whom he 
knew to be under the domination of Sharon and the 
Bank of California. So he demanded a hearing be- 
fore the Committee on Mines and Mining at which 
he might impeach this phase of the report. No doubt 
he was a lobbyist par excellence. The Grundys and 
the Shearers of the present day are futile amateurs by 

Sutro induced the Secretary of War to call the 
hearing. Sharon's agents in "Washington immediately 
reported that fact to their employer. Sharon sent 
the shrewdest lawyer available (Sunderland) to up- 
hold the commissioners and harass Sutro's examina- 
tion. The Bank of California also sent a dozen wit- 
nesses, including leading mining superintendents, to 
advise with the attorney and testify. Among them 
were Requa of the Chollar-Potosi, Day of the Ophir, 
Batterman of the Gould & Curry, and Luckhardt, the 
bank's confidential mining expert and investigator. 

The promoter, confident of the righteousness of 
his cause and the evil of his enemies, rushed eagerly 
into the battle. Before it was finished it was to fill 
eight hundred and thirty-five printed pages of testi- 
mony in a government report. Aside from its 


technicalities it furnishes reading matter almost as 
engrossing as a popular murder trial. Sutro tied up 
the government experts, and the monopoly's hirelings 
alike in hard knots. He made them contradict their 
testimony, impeach their records, and resort again and 
again to the "I don't remember/' and "I can not re- 
call," of witnesses sinking in their own words. 

And Sutro, single-handed, won the battle against 
the federal commission and all the expert mining and 
legal forces provided by the Bank of California. 
When the hearing was finished the House Committee 
on Mines and Mining in effect brushed aside the find- 
ings of the commission and based its action upon the 
arguments of the promoter. It believed one man 
against a dozen. And it recommended to Congress a 
bill for a loan of two million dollars to the Sutro 
Tunnel Company. 

It was a simple task then to get another advance of 
eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars from the 
McCalmont bank to prosecute the work of tunnel 
building while Congress was getting around to vote 
upon the subsidy. The tunnel was now in th~ moun- 
tain nearly two thousand feet. The promoter 
carried the new financial munitions into his war 
against the stubborn rock. His enemies were im- 
pressed more than his friends. "That German Jew 
will undermine the Comstock," they said. And to- 
ward the iinderniining of the Comstock he devoted 
his great energies, though not in the manner his 
enemies had meant. 


The town of Sutro grew to nearly a thousand pop- 
ulation. Four hundred miners were employed in the 
tunnel and its shafts* Many had wives and children. 
Schools, a church, a newspaper, stores and saloons 
were started. Scores of machinists, blacksmiths, 
carpenters, mule-drivers and roustabouts were there. 
It was a thriving town, a town eager for its work, a 
town with a large pay-roll. 

Then came the opening of the Consolidated Vir- 
ginia bonanza, and the continued prosperity of the 
Crown Point bonanza had a rival in the stimulation of 
Virginia City. The activities of Sutro driving into 
the mountain, and of Mackay, Fair, Jones and Sharon 
to strip the lode of its wealth before Sutro could begin 
to charge them two dollars on each ton of ore re- 
moved, took on the character of a race. It was a race 
for a prize of millions of dollars. And aside from the 
millions of dollars which were being expended to win 
tens of millions, the contest took on the character of 
a sporting event of titanic proportions. 

The entire Pacific slope thrilled to the tension of 
the struggle. The gamblers on the mining stock ex- 
changes in effect bet millions upon the outcome. Even 
without such financial and sporting-news pages as 
we know to-day, and more than half a century before 
the radio would keep the world informed play by 
play of the classic struggles of Notre Dame and 
U. S. C., or the world series between Chicago and 
Philadelphia, this contest in the depths of Nevada's 
desert mountains was recognized and followed 


eagerly, alike by the bankers of New York and 
London and the bartenders of San Francisco. 

Several thousand athletes, stripped to the waist, 
glistening with sweat, pale but skilful from years of 
training in subterranean caverns, sped downward 
through the lode. Several hundred, equally strong 
and skilful, bored inward through the base of the 
mountain. The fact that they did not recognize each 
other as athletes, but spoke contemptuously of their 
rivals as muckers and powder monkeys when they did 
not identify them as Dagos or Micks or Cousin Jacks, 
did not change the situation. They were rivals, 
struggling toward a single goal the point below the 
bonanzas where the tunnel would cut the lode. 

The fact that they were athletes, though unap- 
preciated by them, is proved by their physical accom- 
plishments. Men who can literally hold up a 
mountain while tearing out its foundation must rival 
even the mythical Hercules in any imagination. 
Records of their accomplishments are still available. 

The men in shafts, drifts, stopes and tunnel alike 
labored in withering heat* They saw the weight of 
the mountain come down upon them, crushing their 
braces of twelve-inch-square timbers like match- 
wood. They dug out the fallen rocks, inserting new 
timbers as they dug, held up the mountain and pressed 
on into its depths. They saw the very floor rise under 
their feet, squeezed upward by surrounding pressure 
as the inside of a baked potato squeezes upward under 
the hand of a skilled waiter* They cut the rising floor 


away again and again, relaid the rails of their dump- 
car lines and filled the cars with rock. 

Muckers with the physique of Olympic discus- 
throwers hurled the hot rocks into the waiting cars, 
drove the mules away from the air pipes with whip 
and club, and hurried the waste to the outer dumps. 
Drillers sank their steel into the rock more swiftly 
than drills had ever been sunk by hand power. 
Powder men filled and tamped the holes and cut their 
fuses short to the danger point in order to lose as little 
time as possible. 

Illustrative was the experience of four men in the 
bottom of the Ophir shaft. They had drilled and 
charged four holes and cut the fuses short. Then they 
signaled for the cage. When it came down to lift 
them to a point of safety, they lighted the fuses, 
scrambled on to the cage, and signaled for the rise. 
The cage did not move. Frantically they signaled 
again. Still it did not move. The fuses were spit- 
ting fire under their feet, and in desperation the men 
sprang to tear them from their tamped holes. But 
the short fuses had already burned into the rock be- 
yond their reach. The four men attempted to climb 
the timbered sides of the shaft. They had gone but a 
few feet when the explosion occurred. One man was 
killed. The others escaped by a miracle. Scores of 
somewhat similar accidents were recorded in the mines 
and in the tunnel. The workers merely carried out 
their dead or injured comrades, hurried back to their 
jobs, and continued to cut their fuses short. 


But hand drilling was too slow. Fuse firing was 
too unreliable. Expense was of no consideration if 
speed could be increased. Compressed air drills were 
introduced into the working of mines and tunnel, and 
though erratic and expensive proved far more effi- 
cient than hand-driven drills* Electric devices were 
tried at some of the headings to fire the blasts. But 
this machinery also was new to the time and was out 
of order all too frequently. The time, it must be 
remembered, was nearly sixty years ago. Edison had 
not even conceived his invention of the incandescent 
electric light. Still the new drilling and blasting 
equipment was an improvement over the old. 

Sutro engaged Carl O. Wederkinch, superintendent 
of the recently completed Hoosac tunnel in Massa- 
chusetts, with his most expert helpers, and the best 
Burleigh drills then obtainable. Work in the tunnel 
speeded up. Work continued more rapidly on the 
four shafts which he was sinking on the line to venti- 
late the tunnel and provide new headings at which 
work could be prosecuted in both directions. 

"Faster! Faster!" Sutro cried to his miners and 
shift bosses. "Every ton of ore being taken from the 
bonanzas loses our company two dollars." 

"Faster! Faster! 5 * Mackay, Fair, Jones and Sharon 
cried to the superintendents of their mines. "The 
national financial panic (of 1873) has increased the 
value of bullion. Get it out while the price is high." 

The mines still refused to recognize Sutro as a 
contender for the dictatorship of the ComstocL The 


actual battle for leadership was still between Sharon 
on the one hand and the rising bonanza kings, 
Mackayv Fair, Flood and O'Brien, on the other. John 
P. Jones was merely an independent, rich and power- 
ful in his own right by reason of control of the Crown 
Point bonanza, but more or less indifferent to the 
others. Also Jones had broadened his interests rather 
than concentrated them by being elected to the 
United States Senate, where William M. Stewart had 
already succeeded in impressing the importance of 
Nevada and its riches upon the government. 

So business moved into the year 1874. Virginia 
City probably was the most prosperous town of its 
size in the world. The panic which had shaken the 
economic structure of the United States to its founda- 
tions in the preceding year had but served to settle 
and solidify the bullion resources of the Comstock. 
Nevada literally manufactured its own money. The 
government had established a mint at Carson City. 
Ore which lay in the depths of the mountain on one 
day could be circulating as coined silver in the town 
a week later. Depreciation in the value of paper 
currency, or credit, could not hurt the district. On 
the contrary the troubles of the rest of the country 
stimulated the mines, and raised the state to unex- 
pected and perhaps unjustified influence in national 

Sharon decided that he must take advantage of this 
situation. The Bank of California had almost lost its 
financial ascendency because the big bonanza group 


was actually producing more money than the bank 
group. If the bank syndicate wished to maintain its 
paramount power without financial control, it must 
do so by other methods. So Sharon announced him- 
self as a candidate for the United States Senate. 
There were honor and potential power in the post. 
Incidentally there would be opportunity to strike an- 
other blow at Adolph Sutro and his tunnel by work- 
ing and voting against the two-million-dollar subsidy 
which had been recommended to Congress. 

Sutro recognized that possibility and that potential 
threat. Also, he was thoroughly convinced by this 
time that Sharon was an unmitigated evil genius 
whose influence in any position could be only for the 
worst. Therefore Sutro also announced himself as 
an independent candidate for the Senate. 

That was many years before the direct election of 
United States Senators. The office was filled by the 
votes of the legislature. The primary contest then 
was in the election of the legislators. It was a heated 

Election methods in Virginia City did not differ 
greatly in that day from those most effective in New 
York, where Boss Tweed had recently been deposed 
from the peak of power which first made Tammany 
Hall famous and infamous. Venal politicians could 
always be found to do the dirty work of the bosses. 
Cowardly ward heelers could always be found to 
intimidate cowardly voters. 

Dan DeQuille has left us an amusing illustration 


of the popular conception of politics in the campaign 
of John P. Jones. During his campaign Jones and 
several friends were chatting and "sipping their wine" 
in a barroom when a bullet-headed, long-armed, 
tough and ugly ruffian lounged in and asked the min- 
ing magnate for a few minutes of his time. Jones, 
always democratic, allowed himself to be led to a back 

"Mr. Jones, sir, you don't know me," said the in- 
truder, "but when you lived in old Tuolumne, I war 
also in that part of Californey. Mr. Jones, I'm the 
Taranteler of Calaveras; Fm the war-hoss of the hills 
and a fighter from hell! I'm here to tell you, you are 
goin' into this here contest, an' it's liable to be a pretty 
lively one. About 'lection day it'll be all-fired hot. 
Now what you'll need will be a good fighter; a feller 
to stand up, knock down, and drag out for you; a 
man who can go to the polls and knock down right 
and left wade through everything!" 

Jones was amused but polite, and asked the price of 
such services. 

"I couldn't undertake the job short of a thousand 
dollars. Thar's a terrible rough set over here. These 
Washoe fellers are nearly hell themselves, and they are 
more on the cut and shoot than is healthy. I'm liable 
to be chopped all to pieces, riddled with bullets and 
either killed outright or crippled for life." 

Jones, who had a keen sense of humor, appeared to 
deliberate. "If I am to have a fighter, I want the 
best," he said. "I don't want a fellow that will be 


kicked and cuffed around town by every bummer." 
The remark had its desired effect* The man struck 
a menacing pose. 

"TO1 anybody kick and cuff me?" he demanded. 
"Me, the war-hoss of the hills; the Taranteler of 
Calaveras? Not much!" 

"Show me," said Jones. "I have another man in my 
eye. It lies between the pair of you. The best man is 
the man for my money." 

"Damn your man! Bring him on. Damn me, I'll 
devour him! Show him to the Taranteler!" 

Before leaving the barroom Jones had seen there a 
man named James N. Cartter, widely known on the 
Pacific Coast as Big Jim Cartter. He stepped out 
and told Cartter the situation, and the latter promptly 
fell in with the joke. 

"So this is the lop-eared cur of Calaveras who comes 
here to set up as a fighter?" said Cartter, displaying a 
sixteen-inch bowie-knife on one hip and a revolver on 
the other as he started to twist out of his coat. 

"Mr. Jones," cried the war-hoss of the hills, "this 
man is a friend of yours. I can't fight a friend of 
yours. With any friend of yours Fm a lamb. I could 
not harm a hair of his head." 

"No friend at all. He is a fighter like yourself. 
If you whip him I hire you as my fighter. That's all." 

"I can't fight in a room," said the Taranteler. "I 
have never yet had a fight in a room. I don't like it." 

"It is rather close," said Jones, and handed the man 
a twenty-dollar gold piece. "Take this. I hire you 


for my open-air fighter. You are never to fight for 
me except in the open air where there is a good chance 
for you to run/* 

"Thank you, Mr. Jones/ 5 said the "war-hoss," and 
made for the door. There he turned. "It's all very 
nice, Mr. Jones, but that is either Jim Cartter or the 
devil, and you can't ring him in on me." 

Jones capitalized such stories as that in his cam- 
paign. He was popular with all classes in the Corn- 
stock district, and won his election in a walk. Not 
so Sharon. He was cold, hard, efficient, successful in 
business, but never popular. 

Sharon's enemies asserted that the election cost the 
banker half a million dollars. The charge was never 
proved. Certainly the job would have been worth 
that much to a man of Sharon's ambition and wealth. 
All the newspapers in Nevada, with the single excep- 
tion of the frankly subsidized Independent published 
in the town of Sutro, supported the banker. In- 
cidentally they flayed Sutro without mercy. 

Representative of their attitude was an editorial in 
The Alta California, that state's leading newspaper. 
The Alta had been advised that Congress was about 
to act upon the two-million-dollar subsidy for the 
tunnel company. Here was an opportunity to kill 
two birds with one stone to attack Sutro and his 
tunnel project, and at the same time improve its own 
standing with the powerful Bank of California by 
assisting the Virginia City executive to his desired 
place in the senate. 


"We are accustomed to the introduction of out- 
rageous schemes of plunder in our legislatures, but we 
are not yet reconciled to the favor shown them/* said 
the newspaper. "One of the worst in our official 
records is the Sutro Tunnel BilL ... At the rate of 
progress made in the last ten years he would finish it 
in about two centuries; but if Congress will assist him 
unscrupulously in his plunder scheme, he may live to 
enjoy the honor and fame of being the founder and 
finisher of one of the most disgraceful enterprises in 
the United States/' 

The same thought was echoed in virtually every 
newspaper in Nevada and northern California. And 
Sharon was elected to the United States Senate. The 
Bank of California's political power was consolidated 
as its financial power had been. Then Congress re- 
jected the mining committee's bill for the two- 
million-dollar loan to the tunnel company. 

Immediately all the important powers in the Corn- 
stock formed a tentative organization for the purpose 
of ridding themselves permanently of the tunnel 
threat to undermine their control of the lode. 

Sharon recognized the importance of Mackay, Fair 
and Flood in one group and of Jones and Hayward in 
another. The mines which they controlled, together 
with the mines ruled by the bank ring represented at 
least nine- tenths of the resources of the district. The 
three groups combined for the purpose of battle, and 
sued to abrogate all contracts between the Sutro 


Tunnel Company and the various mines, on the 
ground that the company had not fulfilled its tech- 
nical obligations in point of time. 

Sutro was groggy from his overwhelming defeat 
in the senatorial campaign and from his latest disap- 
pointment in Washington, but he still enjoyed the 
confidence of the McCalmonts, and had access to their 
bank resources. He was able to fight, and he did 



THE Consolidated Virginia and the California mines 
were now producing more millions than the entire 
district had been producing in the past. Consolidated 
Virginia shares rose to six hundred and ten dollars 
and shares in the California to seven hundred and 
eighty dollars. The stock valuation of these two 
mines alone reached one hundred and sixty million 
dollars. There was not enough gold west of the Hud- 
son River to buy the mines at the top price. But the 
mines were not for sale. Mackay, Fair, Flood and 
O'Brien were paying themselves more than one million 
dollars a month in dividends. They insisted they were 
not interested in the stock-market. But others were. 

"Never before in all the mining excitements of 
the Pacific Coast did such demoralization seize upon 
the community/* said one contemporaneous writer in 
San Francisco. "Bankers, retired capitalists, manu- 
facturers, merchants, shopkeepers, clerks, farmers, 
mechanics, hodcarriers, servant men and servant 
women, clergymen, lawyers, doctors, wives and 
widows poured in their orders for the purchase of 
bonanza stocks. . . Capital was withdrawn from all 



the varied industries of the country. . . . Real estate 
was sold or mortgaged to procure the coin that could 
be invested with prospects of such immense returns." 

That was the big bonanza. The excitement spread 
from Virginia City to San Francisco, to New York, 
to London. Even the canny Scotch McCalmonts con- 
tinued to provide Adolph Sutro with funds in the 
belief that his tunnel eventually would control this 
output of scores of millions. 

It was a period of extravagance and folly through- 
out the country. The national panic had been 
weathered. President Grant was nearing the end of 
his second term, to which he had been elected against 
the opposition of Horace Greeley. High tariff and 
low morals had stimulated industry and corruption 
alike throughout the land. The mad speculation and 
extravagance of the Comstock district and San 
Francisco were in a popular spirit. 

The two big bonanza mines alone were returning 
two million dollars 3 worth of bullion each month. 
The Crown Point was producing richly. The various 
mines controlled by the Bank of California syndicate 
were doing well. The mills owned by the syndicate, 
the private mill of Jones and Hayward, and the mills 
constructed or purchased by the new bonanza kings 
to handle their own ore, were all reaping their share 
of the enormous profits. The transportation and 
timber monopoly were doing equally well. 

Champagne, caviar, truffles, and oysters and lob- 


sters brought all the way from the Atlantic on ice 
were on the regular menu at the International Hotel 
in Virginia City, where the wealthiest citizens had 
been happy to get beans and bacon a few years earlier. 
Similar conditions were in evidence in San Francisco. 

William C. Ralston, cashier and leading director of 
the Bank of California, and first sponsor of William 
Sharon on the Comstock, entered upon such an orgy 
of promotional spending as a Solomon or a Caesar 
might have envied. Among other things he promoted 
the Palace Hotel, which eventually was to cost six 
million dollars a tremendous sum for a hotel more 
than half a century ago. It was to be the most mag- 
nificent hostelry on earth. No furnishings were avail- 
able good enough for Ralston's idea, so he promoted a 
factory to make them. He promoted ferry lines, and 
innumerable other developments which brought to 
the city its share of the Comstock millions. He built 
a palace for himself in the midst of a magnificent 
private park at Belmont on the San Francisco penin- 
sula. Other multimillionaires of the day followed his 
example. Luxury and extravagance ruled the Pacific 
Slope, and that at the time when Sitting Bull and 
Crazy Horse were leading the Sioux warriors in the 
great insurrection which was to culminate in the 
Custer massacre. 

In this situation the price of shares in the Comstock 
mines had risen to such a point that few buyers could 
finance outright purchases. They began to learn 
the technique of margins. Every one who could 

From "The Story of the Muic," by Chailcs 
Howard i/wt Copyught, i8$6 f by D. Applcton 
& Co. Repioduccd by permission 



raise a hundred dollars bet it on the Comstock. A 
new exchange, the third, had to be organized in San 
Francisco to handle the tremendous business. 

The situation in the West was similar to the na- 
tional bull market which came to its peak in the 
autumn of 1929. The market was overbalanced. 
There were no available cash resources in the West 
to support it in emergency. So when "bears" man- 
aged to circulate a rumor that the big bonanza was 
exhausted, panic seized the Pacific Slope. Consoli- 
dated Virginia dropped two hundred dollars a share 
in one week. California lost sixty per cent, of its en- 
tire market valuation. The market price of the two 
companies dropped twenty- four million dollars. 

All the business of the Comstock staggered for a 
moment under the blow. The Bank of California 
mines were hard hit, but the syndicate's control of 
mines and mills and railroad survived. Mackay, Fair, 
Flood and O'Brien appeared to be untouched. "It is 
no affair of mine," said Mackay for publication. "I 
am not speculating in stocks. My business is min- 
ing legitimate mining. I see that my men do their 
work properly in the mines and that all goes as it 
should in the mills. I make my money here out of the 


Probably that was true at the moment. The big 
bonanza was enough to keep any four men busy and 
contented. But the statement reveals a somewhat 
hypocritical smugness when we recall that Mackay's 
and his associates' superior position had been gained 


largely through that same stock speculation to which 
he now referred with such contempt. 

In any event, it was a fact that the big bonanza 
firm was not injured by the panic. Probably Mackay 's 
contempt for the stock speculators did not influence 
his own action when the brief panic cut prices once 
more to a profitable purchase point. Knowing what 
the world knows of the bonanza kings, it seems more 
than probable that they seized this opportunity to buy 
even a larger share of Consolidated Virginia and Cali- 
fornia at the new bargain quotations. 

In 1875 the market recovered steadily. Still -the 
bullion production of the Comstock increased, arid 
popular confidence mounted again with the dividend 
reports. By summer, prices were well up. And then 
again came rumors of the exhaustion of the big bo- 
nanza. Once more prices crashed on the exchanges. 
Comstock securities lost a total of sixty million 
dollars in a few days. 

And this time the Bank of California did not sur- 
vive. It went down in the crash just as the cigar 
salesmen, haberdashers, cooks and laundresses went 
down. The bank which had been the greatest finan- 
cial poVer on the Pacific Coast for more than a 
decade closed its doors. Failure after failure followed, 
throughout Nevada and California. Hundreds of 
businesses and individual depositors were ruined. 

Even Ralston's fame, and the extraordinary con- 
fidence in which he was held throughout the West 
could not save the day. Once before he had stppped 


a threatening run on the bank by borrowing one 
million dollars in gold coin from the mint in San 
Francisco and stacking it up in the windows of the 
bank. Now a million dollars was nothing. But 
knowing the confidence in which he was held by rich 
and poor alike, Ralston stood on the steps of the bank 
and assured the frantic throngs that the concern's 
resources were sufficient to meet all liabilities. He 
pledged his private fortune to protect the depositors. 
The crowd believed him and dispersed. 

When the directors met on Friday, August 27, 
1875, Ralston was not allowed to be present. A hasty 
check of the books had indicated that he was short 
one million and five hundred thousand dollars in his 
cash. D. O. Mills, president of the bank, came from 
the meeting and demanded Ralston's resignation, 
Ralston signed on the dotted line. Two hours later 
his body was found floating off North Beach, where 
he had long been accustomed to swim. The bath- 
house keeper said he had appeared, overheated from a 
long walk, gone into the water immediately, and 
drowned when stricken by cramps. Others, ruined 
by the bank's failure, insisted he had committed 

It was Black Friday in the history of California. 
The depositors and business men throughout the West 
gave up hope at the news of Ralston's dismissal and 
sudden death. The man to whom they had looked as 
the greatest constructive power on the Coast had 
failed them. They could trust no one. Then came 


the news that Ralston's unsecured liabilities totaled 

All the subsidiary interests of the Bank of Cali- 
fornia staggered under the blow, and most of them 
fell. The monopoly's grip on the Comstock, omnipo- 
tent for more than a decade, was broken by the 
ensuing forced liquidation, 

Sharon finally succeeded in reorganizing and re- 
opening the bank with subscriptions of one million 
dollars from himself, D. O. Mills, and others of the 
directorate. The bank met its obligations, but to do 
so it was obliged to liquidate many of its holdings in 
the Comstock and elsewhere. As king of the Com- 
stock, Sharon was dead. The Sharon dynasty had 
followed the Old Virginia-Comstock dynasty into 
the shadows. 

"Long live the king!" The Mackay-Fair-Flood- 
O'Brien group had been waiting at the palace gates. 
No sooner had Sharon been deposed than the new 
bonanza kings marched into the throne room. How- 
ever much Mackay may have scorned the stock- 
market, he did not scorn opportunity. Neither did 
his associates. Flood had developed a genius for 
organization, finance and executive control as great 
as the genius of Mackay and Fair for constructive 

The group organized the Nevada Bank of San 
Francisco. They had millions in cash. The forced 
liquidation of the Bank of California's assets was their 
opportunity. They did not hesitate. They did not 


overlook one tiny ramification of the former monop- 
oly's holdings. By the time Sharon was able to ex- 
tract himself from the chaos brought on by Ralston's 
overreaching in the promotion of San Francisco, the 
new bonanza kings were seated even more firmly in 
control of the Comstock than Sharon had ever been. 
The sworn testimony of James C. Flood in a suit 
to set aside a fraudulent mining deed is startling in 
its revelation of their power: 

Q. Who are the owners of the Pacific Mill and 
Mining Company? 

A. Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien are the 
principal stockholders. 

Q. Who are the owners of the Pacific Wood, 
Lumber and Flume Company? 

A. Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien are the 
principal stockholders. 

Q. Who are the owners of the Virginia and 
Gold Hill Water Company? 

A. The principal stockholders are Mackay, 
Fair, Flood, O'Brien, W. S. Hobart, John Skae and 

Q. Is there any other corporation from which 
the company draws supplies of any character of 
which Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien are not the 
trustees and principal owners? 

A. I don't know of any. 

It seems clear that the new bonanza kings had 


seized the Bank of California's monopoly and ex- 
panded it with a vengeance. To the rank and file of 
Virginia City the change made little difference. In- 
deed they could see and feel no change. The mines 
were just as hot, the air just as foul, the mules a$ 
stubborn, the wages the same under four masters as 
under one. The fire which swept the town in that 
year burned just as hotly as the fire which had swept 
the Yellow Jacket, Kentuck and Crown Point mines 
in an earlier year under the Sharon dynasty. 

A drunken man attempting to light his pipe from a 
kerosene lamp in a lodging-house, upset the lamp. In 
a moment the flimsy walls, dried to tinder by the 
desert sun and wind, were in flames. As usual, a 
Washoe zephyr was blowing. 

The cry of "fire" swept the town. The fire itself 
spread almost as rapidly. The triangle in front of 
the Virginia Engine Company house sounded its call. 
The four other fire companies in the town responded 
with speed. The light blue coats and pearl buttons 
which had graced the funeral cortege of the murdered 
Julia Bulette were forgotten. Here was work. 

Flames were sweeping from frame building to 
frame building almost as swiftly as a man could run. 
The firemen struggled in vain. Gold Hill poured its 
hose carts and pumps over the narrow divide into the 
streets of Virginia City. But the flames roared on, 
while women and children wrung their hands and 
screamed as their homes vanished in bursts of flame 
which had almost the force of explosions. Then the 


city actually rocked to a real explosion. A magazine 
near one of the shafts had been ignited. 

The firemen became more cautious. The flames 
gained headway. A hundred houses had burned in 
half an hour. Two hundred more burned in another 
half -hour. A thousand burned in the next hour, 
while giant powder tore shaft-houses to pieces in half 
a dozen places, and the helpless, homeless people of the 
town flocked away from the inferno, up the steep 
slopes of Mount Davidson, down into the narrow 
valley below, over the ridge to Gold Hill and Gold 
Canyon, carrying what pitiful possessions they had 
been able to snatch from the devouring flames. 

Flaming brands, carried by the wind or thrown by 
the explosions of stored dynamite, leaped across the 
lines of fighting firemen and set a blaze to houses a 
block or more away. Again and again groups of men 
were trapped by the flames on every side and literally 
fought their way out of the furnace. 

The shaft-houses and hoisting works of the various 
mines within the city were among the most costly and 
important buildings, and the struggle soon centered 
about these works. There were hundreds of men 
available who were skilled in the use of dynamite. 
These men under the direction of the mine superin- 
tendents blasted away all near-by buildings in frantic 
effort to save the mine works. The roar of these 
blasts mingled with the roar of unpremeditated ex- 
plosions. The city and the mountain shook with the 
recurring concussions. 


The flame and smoke could be seen and the uproar 
heard fifteen miles away in the Carson Valley. Busi- 
ness houses, residences, public buildings, lumber yards, 
hotels, churches and schools added their fuel to the 
fire. At the Ophir shaft one thousand cords of wood 
and four hundred thousand feet of mine timbers 
caught and burned. So terrific was the heat in the 
supply yard of the Ophir that a pile of car wheels was 
fused into a solid mass of iron. 

No human effort could be maintained against such 
odds. The blaze drove back firemen and dynamiters 
alike, and leaped the spaces left by the razed buildings 
to seize upon shaft-houses, offifces, supply rooms and 
hoisting works of the mines. Not only the houses 
and possessions of the people but the jobs from which 
they might hope to regain some of their losses appeared 
to be going up in the billows of lurid smoke. 

To add to the panic, rumor spread that the fire had 
descended into the mines. It was, in fact, burning 
four hundred feet down the Ophir shaft. The horror 
of the Yellow Jacket fire was still fresh in the minds 
of the people. The families of the miners were torn 
between the fear of losing possessions and even life in 
the burning of their homes, and the fear of losing 
husband and father in the burning of the mines. The 
crowds surged back and forth between the burning 
city and the burning shaft-houses. On the one hand 
they risked death in the trap of the flames which 
leaped from house to house with lightning speed. On 
the other they risked death in the explosions of stored 


dynamite and caps near the hoisting works. Prob- 
ably no such frantic pandemonium has ever accom- 
panied the burning of a city. 

The slow and steady destruction of San Francisco 
over a period of three days in 1906 must have been an 
orderly and unexciting affair compared with it. 
Perhaps the early fires which devastated the San 
Francisco of the 'fifties when it was a city of frame 
shacks were more similar. 

Runners from the mines, however, soon informed 
the milling crowds that the blaze had been checked at 
the surface of most of the shafts and subdued in those 
which it had entered. Every miner had been brought 
to the surface and held under guard until his name 
was checked. Then the great doors had been dropped 
to close the shafts, and covered with several feet of 
wet sand to shut out the fire. The mines and the men 
were saved. The refugees took what comfort they 
could from that. 

The city was in ruins. Two thousand out of its 
three thousand structures lay in smoking ashes when 
the blaze had burned itself out. More than two- 
thirds of its people were homeless. Hundreds had 
been more or less severely burned or otherwise injured 
in their frantic efforts to save themselves and their 
household goods. But the third who had escaped the 
holocaust turned energetically to the work of re- 
habilitation. Every remaining building in Virginia 
City housed double its normal quota. Gold Hill, only 
a mile away, but saved from destruction by the inter- 


vening ridge, opened its homes and public buildings. 
Silver City, the little town down the canyon, tripled 
its population in an hour. Dayton, on the Carson 
River, provided a refuge for hundreds. Carson City 
opened its homes to the homeless and fed the hungry. 
Even the little town of Sutro at the mouth of the 
tunnel took them in and made them welcome. 

Commenting upon the situation the day after the 
fire, The Territorial Enterprise, printing with type 
borrowed jfrom a Gold Hill contemporary, said: 

"People wandered through the debris of Virginia 
City yesterday with such a look on their faces as men 
and women wear when they gather around the coffin 
to look upon one who in life was very dear, but who 
is gone forever. It was a look simply at the remains. 
Probably the burning over of no other half-mile 
square in the world would have inflicted so much 
misery, near and remote, as the half-mile square which 
has been swept by fire here. 

"In most places the ruins are still too hot to admit 
of any attempt at rebuilding, but here and there 
lumber is being unloaded, and no doubt within a day 
or two the sound of hammer and saw will be con- 
tinuous. In this connection we trust the authorities 
will not delay ordering a new survey of the city that 
uniform grades may be established, streets straight- 
ened and widened where possible, and boundaries 
definitely decided. . . . 

"No estimate can yet be made of the extent of the 


damage to the boilers and heavy engines of the mills 
and hoisting works. . . . Next to the homeless ones, 
the burnt machinery of the different hoisting works 
is the most pitiable sight to be seen amid the universal 
wreck. They are but scarred and shapeless ruins now. 
But three days ago they were Titans, so radiant with 
movement and strength that they seemed almost 
alive. . . . 

"We have not seen a business man who is not de- 
termined to resume as soon as a tent can be pitched." 

And resume they did. Before the ashes were cold, 
new houses began to spring up on the sites of the old. 
The spirit which had made Virginia City and carried 
it from bonanza through borrasca and into bonanza 
again was a spirit which could not be destroyed by 
fire. Carloads of food, blankets, medicines, and 
other emergency supplies were started from San 
Francisco while the embers of the city were still steam- 
ing under the hose of the exhausted firemen. Relief 
committees were organized in a dozen towns and 
cities. Trainloads of lumber and brick were rushed 
to the scene. The rebuilding was almost as spec- 
tacular as the fire. 

Superintendents of the most seriously damaged 
mines wired for new machinery and supplies. By the 
time the new hoisting engines, pumps and other ap- 
paratus were received, new shaft-houses were in place 
with gallows-frames designed on more modern lines 
to carry the equipment. Gas lights were raised high 


throughout the ruined area so that work could be 
rushed by night as well as by day. The hundreds of 
men whose jobs had been cut off by the destruction of 
the surface works of the mines were given employ- 
ment in the burned district. Timbermen from the 
closed mines became carpenters on the surface. 

And a week later, a "Washoe zephyr, grown to the 
violence of the historic wind which once wafted a 
kicking burro over the pioneer camp of Virginia, 
struck the rising city and leveled it again. The Com- 
stockers merely shook their heads stubbornly, picked 
up their scattered lumber and returned to their work 
of rebuilding. 

The Chollar-Potosi, Hale & Norcross and Savage 
mines had been fortunate. Shortly before the fire 
they had opened a combination shaft, and had ordered 
a double-reel hoisting engine, the finest thing of its 
kind in the district. The engine arrived only a few 
days after the fire. In the meantime the old founda- 
tions had been dismantled, new ones laid, and a shaft- 
house erected. The new engine was installed quickly, 
and work in these mines was resumed only thirty days 
after the fire. 

Consolidated Virginia and California, the two big 
bonanza mines, had lost buildings, equipment and 
supplies valued at one million, four hundred and 
sixty-one thousand dollars. They replaced the losses 
with new and improved buildings and machinery, and 
resumed operations fifty days after the fire. They 
did not miss a dividend. 


Within two months the city had been rebuilt. The 
population was housed more comfortably than before. 
A supplementary water system and storage reservoir 
for eight million, three hundred thousand gallons was 
developed and four miles of fire pipe lines were laid. 
A loss of ten million dollars had been written off. 

Incidentally, a new enemy had been made who was 
to cause the bonanza kings much grief and embarrass- 
ment over a period of several years, giving them a 
sort of publicity which only consciences toughened by 
the consciousness of a million dollars a month income 
could have defied. Due directly to this fire we have 
legal and journalistic records still available which re- 
veal a remarkably seamy side of the big bonanza. 



THE Virginia- City fire had caused a property loss of 
ten million dollars. But the Comstock could better 
afford to write off a loss of ten millions in the year 
1 875 than in any other year of its history. The new 
kings Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien in that 
year milled twenty-five million dollars 5 worth of ore 
from their Consolidated Virginia and California 
mines alone. The nation had almost recovered from 
the panic of 'seventy- three. Despite the failure of the 
Bank of California and the attendant business failures 
throughout the state, the financial situation on the 
Pacific Slope was sound. 

In any survey of the economic situation in the 
Vest of that day it is necessary to consider western 
Nevada and central California, and especially Vir- 
gina City and San Francisco as a unit. Although the 
two cities were three hundred miles apart, their busi- 
ness relations were so intimate that whatever touched 
one was felt immediately in the other. All the big 
mining and milling companies of Virginia City had 
their main business offices in San Francisco. The lead- 
ing business men almost commuted between the two 
cities. Much of the profits of the Comstock were 
deposited or invested in California. 



And California was without a rival in the broad 
distribution of its wealth. One out of every thirteen 
persons in San Francisco owned real estate. Savings- 
bank deposits in California in that year totaled 
seventy-five million dollars, for a total state popula- 
tion of less than one million. San Francisco boasted 
two hundred and fifty thousand population. Los An- 
geles was smaller than Virginia City. All business was 
flourishing. The economic situation was excellent. 

So the bonanza kings and Virginia City in general 
met their losses easily and proceeded to greater gains. 
Sharon had taken a back seat, comforted by some fif- 
teen million dollars in his personal estate, by his po- 
litical position as a United States Senator, and by his 
social position as host in the most palatial residence 
and most extravagant private park in the West the 
former home of W. C. Ralston at Belmont on the 
San Francisco peninsula, taken over after the bank 

Fair was planning a mansion on Nob Hill in San 
Francisco which should be worthy of his name, fame, 
fortune, and the social ambitions of his family. 
Mackay had set up a magnificent establishment in 
London and another in Paris, where Mrs. Mackay, 
charming, accomplished and rich beyond the imag- 
ination of the Europeans, was becoming a leader of 
titled society. Flood was contenting himself with 
power and a magnificent home in Menlo Park, on the 
peninsula. O'Brien, still the genial and convivial 
Irish saloon-keeper despite his millions, was satisfied 


to spend his afternoons in the back room of Mc- 
Govern's saloon on the site of the present Chronicle 
Building in San Francisco. There he played pedro 
and drank with his cronies. Always at his elbow was 
a stack of silver dollars from which his less fortunate 
old friends were always free to help themselves. 

Those were pleasant days for the Comstockers. 
But trouble was brewing. Squire P. Dewey, a prom- 
inent capitalist and mining man of San Francisco, 
with considerable investments in the two big bonanza 
mines, had gone to Fair immediately after the big fire 
at Virginia City and sought information upon which 
to base his operations in the stock-market. And 
Dewey had lost a fortune as a result. He attributed 
this loss to false information maliciously conveyed 
by Fair. Promptly and loudly, he swore vengeance. 
The bonanza kings merely shrugged their shoulders. 
They had the money and the power. Also, there was 
a more serious threat against their ascendency, which 
needed to be taken care of. 

Adolph Sutro, who had fought Sharon and the 
Bank of California with every weapon upon which he 
could lay his hands for ten weary years, was assuming 
more menacing proportions. Sharon, the bank, and 
the rising powers of the Comstock had generally been 
too busy, too concerned with making money, to take 
him very seriously. But they had always been aware 
of his presence, buzzing, threatening, stabbing like an 
angry hornet. They had slapped at him subcon- 
sciously when they were more occupied with other 


affairs. Occasionally they had injured him and driven 
him away. But always he had returned. At times 
his persistence had seemed a real danger, and they had 
taken time and made a real effort to crush him. In 
vain. Always and incessantly, when more important 
things did not occupy them, the Sharon monopolists 
had found Sutro on their necks. 

Now, since Sharon had been deposed from the 
throne, the new kings were aware of the menace. 
They too tried first to ignore him and then to wither 
him with contempt. Fair commented: "Poor old 
Sutro. He's working away at his tunnel boring the 
earth, and boring public men in Washington. He's 
a man of very little weight. If two Congressmen hap- 
pen to be talking in the street in Washington, and 
they see Sutro coming, they'll quietly turn their backs 
so as not to see him, but he doesn't care for that; he 
just walks up and commences on them about his tun- 
nel. Well, I'd like to see the tunnel go through. It 
would be a good thing for us, I think." 

But this pose of tolerant contempt was only a pose. 
The bonanza firm soon realized the force of Sutro's 
character and the potential menace of the tunnel. If 
their bonanzas were as great as they had led the public 
to believe, they would reach far below the two- 
thousand-foot level at which the tunnel was aiming 
to cut the lode. Then they would not only have to 
pay Sutro two dollars royalty per ton on each of their 
hundreds of thousands of tons of ore, but would be 
likely to lose much of their milling monopoly business 


to the more convenient and modern mills which Sutro 
was planning to build at the mouth of the tunnel. 
They might even lose their strangle hold upon the 
Comstock. At least the tunnel was likely to reveal 
the exact situation and value of their mines at the 
deeper level, and would therefore end the stock fluc- 
tuations which were such a valuable source of income 
for those who knew the inside of the mines. 

So the bonanza firm recognized the menace as well 
as the irritation of Sutro's activities, and pressed their 
suits and legislation to thwart the tunnel builder. At 
the same time the race between the tunnelers and the 
miners continued unabated. 

Mackay and Fair explained that speed was neces- 
sary both for safety and for profits. The bonanza 
ore must be hoisted before some physical disaster 
could wreck the mines. The hot clay, rock and ore 
seethed and bulged as the miners sweated in drift and 
stope. Foul air and moisture were destroying the 
forests of timbers in the workings. A fire would re- 
sult in caves and slides which might close the mines 
for years, if not for ever. Every ton of bonanza ore 
hoisted was just one more ton snatched from beneath 
a tottering deadfall. 

A situation developed worthy the attention of an 
Edward Gibbon and a John Stuart Mill combined. 
While bullion was pouring out of the Comstock mills 
in a silver stream more than equal in value annually 
to all the money in circulation west of the Mississippi 
River, an economic situation was being promoted 


which threatened to ruin the business of the Pacific 
Slope. Concentrated in Virginia City and in San 
Francisco, tragic forces were developing. They were 
economic and moral forces far beyond the ability of 
any human being to control. 

Any student of economics in the light of history 
who wishes to understand the collapse of the world's 
greatest empire through five centuries of demoral- 
ization, may find the essential forces concentrated in 
clear miniature in the little mining city of the Corn- 
stock. Instead of an empire reaching from the North 
Sea to the Indian Ocean, he need consider only the 
limited territory of western Nevada and central Cali- 
fornia. Instead of extending his research through 
five centuries, he may confine it within five years. 

Economic and human forces are little changed. 
As Gibbon reveals in history, and such authorities as 
Lauderdale and Rae emphasize in economics, the con- 
centration of private riches may be a menace rather 
than an advantage to the public. The economic 
effect of the big bonanza in the West indicates the ac- 
curacy of this theory. Also it indicates the similarity 
of the economic forces here to those which helped to 
destroy Rome. The human forces were equally the 
same greed, ambition, selfishness, envy, and a sud- 
denly stimulated desire for luxury in idleness. 

Mackay, Fair and Flood had sowed the wind. A 
harvest of the whirlwind was inevitable. Once 
started, the development could not be checked, even 
if its sponsors had desired. And there is no evidence 


that they did so desire. On the contrary, there is 
ample evidence that they acted with savage ruthless- 
ness to continue concentration of wealth and power 
in their own hands, indifferent to the ruin which such 
action brought upon the public. 

The end may have justified the means. The Mac- 
kay fortune especially has served some altruistic pur- 
poses and some commercial purposes of benefit to so- 
ciety. The Mackay School of Mines has fitted many 
men for productive work in the world. The Mackay 
millions have contributed to the world's system of 
communication. The Flood and Fair fortunes like- 
wise have assisted in some constructive purposes. 
Whether the combined benefits to society in the use 
of these fortunes have offset the ruin worked in their 
accumulation will be doubted by many. There is no 
doubt that in the brief years of their accumulation 
they blighted the country from which they were 

As has been stated, in 1 875 California led the world 
in the wide distribution of its wealth. Every one had 
jobs, constructive energy and a share of prosperity. 
Then came the big bonanza. Then came the new 
kings of the Comstock. Then came the forces which 
destroyed an almost idyllic commonwealth. Un- 
limited money easy money appeared to await any 
one who would reach out and grasp it. And nearly 
every one abandoned his normal activities and reached. 
The fable of the dog and the mirrored bone was re- 
enacted by thousands of human beings. 


First, the bonanza kings increased the Consolidated 
Virginia monthly dividend from $324,000 to $1,- 
080,000. Hints and rumors that it would soon be 
doubled and trebled again were circulated. Capital 
was withdrawn from all the varied industries of the 
Pacific Coast which up to that time had been in a 
healthy state of development, and thrown into the 
Comstock mining stock market. All the mines on 
the lode acted in sympathy. The valuation of Ophir, 
adjoining the bonanza, increased to $31,000,000. 
Best & Belcher, Mexican, Gould & Curry,_ Savage, 
Exchequer, Yellow Jacket, Overman, Bullion, and 
others reached quotations of from $3,000,000 to 
$20,000,000 each. The total valuation of the Com- 
stock mines rose to $393,253,440. Speculation and 
stock transfers were proportionate* Marginal spec- 
ulation became universal. 

The results in San Francisco were more spectacular 
than in Virginia City. Probably there has never been 
a period or a place of more extravagant luxury since 
the days of ancient Rome. The fortunate speculators 
built magnificent homes. Servants and gardeners 
were imported from England, chefs from Paris, 
blooded horses direct from Arabia, rugs from the 
Orient, objects of art from Italy, furnishings from the 
world's centers of fine craftsmanship, food and drink 
from the world's greatest caterers. 

In the Nevada and California of 1875, much as 
in the Rome of the Antonines, according to Gibbon, 
"the tranquil and prosperous state of the empire was 


warmly felt and honestly confessed by the provincials 
as well as the Romans. They acknowledged that the 
true principles of social life, laws, agriculture and sci- 
ence, which had first been invented by the wisdom of 
Athens, were now firmly established by the power of 
Rome. . . . They celebrated the increasing splendor 
of the cities, the beautiful face of the country, cul- 
tivated and adorned like an immense garden, . . . 
It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries 
should discover in the public f elicity the latent causes 
of decay and corruption." 

In the American West, only two years after this 
felicitous period, as in the divided Roman Empire 
after Diocletian with "the distractions of empire, the 
license of the soldiers, the inroads of the barbarians, 
and the progress of despotism," there was corrup- 
tion and decay. 

As the economic factor of concentration of wealth 
and the moral factor of profligate luxury brought 
Rome to ruin, similar powerful economic and moral 
influences brought the capital of western America to 
a tragic pass. 

San Francisco turned its energies from productive 
labor to unproductive speculation. The city which 
had stood foremost in the world in the general distri- 
bution of its wealth in 1 874 was reduced to desperate 
poverty in 1877. Even those few business men who 
were not gambling in mining shares could not obtain 
money for legitimate business purposes. It was all in 
the stock-market. Most of the twenty thousand 


owners of real estate in San Francisco had mortgaged 
their property and put the money up on margins in 
the Comstock. Business came to a standstill. 

And in that situation, in January of 1 877, the Con- 
solidated Virginia, greatest of the Comstock mines, 
passed its regular monthly dividend of one million, 
eighty thousand dollars. The market crashed. 

Literally thousands of the residents of San Fran- 
cisco and other California and Nevada towns who 
had been substantial, prosperous, progressive, pro- 
ductive citizens were reduced to beggary in the 
streets. Men who had owned and directed large 
enterprises, employed scores of wage-earners, main- 
tained luxurious homes, driven fine horses, and built 
prosperity upon a firm foundation, were to be found 
begging hand-outs at back doors or lunch counters 
along with those who had been in their employ. No 
well-dressed man or woman could venture upon the 
streets without being importuned by hungry beggars. 
Countless businesses which had furnished employ- 
ment were closed. There was no work to be had. 

Organized charity, promoted by the San Francisco 
city government, the churches, and such citizens as 
had retained their fortunes, could not begin to meet 
the needs of the derelicts. Twenty thousand persons 
were fed in a day from charity in a city of hardly 
more than ten times that number. When the city 
government offered employment at manual labor in 
public works promoted for the emergency, thousands 
applied, eager to wield a shovel at one dollar a day. 


The applicants included former executives, profes- 
sional men and skilled workers of every type. 

"In Pauper Alley," wrote Charles Howard Shinn, 
"one can walk any time in business hours and see 
creatures that once were millionaires and leading oper- 
ators* Now they live by free lunches in beer cellars 
and on stray dimes tossed to them *f or luck/ Women 
too form a part of the wretched crowd that haunt the 
end of the alley where it joins its more prosperous 
neighbor streets, and beg speculators to give them a 
pointer or to carry a share of stock for them. These 
are the 'dead mudhens* as the men are the 'dead ducks' 
of the Comstock share gamblers. Horrible things 
one sees and hears of here. Old friends you thought 
were prosperous but had not heard of for years shove 
themselves out of the huddle and beg for the price of 
a glass of whisky. There stands a once prosperous 
printer in rags. He took flyers on the street too 
many times. Yonder beggar lost four hundred thou- 
sand dollars in a single summer, all good gold. The 
ghost of many a murdered happiness walks among 
these half -insane paupers as they chatter like apes of 
lost fortunes and of the prospects of their favorite 
stocks. Really it is a frightful thing to walk there 
and look at the seamy side of the silken garment of 

And most tragic of all was the fact that little or 
none of the wealth which had made the West a region 


of general affluence had been destroyed. On the con- 
trary, the Comstock mines had added some two hun- 
dred million dollars in tangible assets to the combined 
riches of the region in the very years of the demoral- 
ization. The big bonanza of the new kings of the 
Comstock alone produced one hundred and five mil- 
lion dollars in bullion. The trouble was that the 
wealth which had been distributed among thousands 
of citizens, in thousands of separately owned pieces 
of real estate, in hundreds of factories and stores, was 
now concentrated in the hands of a few men. 

It is true that without the medium of the mining 
stock exchange which allowed thousands of individ- 
-uals to contribute their financial support, large or 
small, to the development and prosecution of mining 
upon the Comstock lode, the lode must have been 
abandoned long before the opening of the big bonan- 
zas at deeper levels. Without some such method of 
financing through speculation, no mine that did not 
pay its expenses from the grass roots downward could 
ever have been developed. There were no individual 
fortunes equal to the task of digging through hun- 
dreds of feet of borrasca such as was encountered in 
the Justice, the Bullion and the Overman, each of 
which assessed its stockholders more than three million 
dollars, and never paid a dividend. Without specu- 
lative possibilities no stockholders would ever have 
paid such assessments. But though the spirit of spec- 
ulation did provide for the exploitation of the great- 
est mines on the continent, the tragedy was none the 


less complete for the vast majority of those who fig- 
ured in it. 

Primarily, only through the stock exchange could 
Flood, Mackay and Fair have financed their original 
developments and carried them through to the big 
bonanza. Only men with the ruthless ambition of 
these three, determined to rule, indifferent to all in- 
terests outside their own, possessed of extraordinary 
ability, combining shrewdness with daring, moved by 
visions of world power, armored with gold against 
the groans and denunciation of their victims, could 
have made the dynasty of the big bonanza kings the 
power which it had become. 

Still, though they had risen to the throne with the 
sudden development of the big bonanza and the fall 
of Sharon, they were not without troubles. Sutro was 
still digging his tunnel with its threat of disastrous 
competition. Squire P. Dewey, roused to anger by 
losses which he ascribed to the selfish treachery of 
Fair, was preparing to take away forty million dol- 
lars of their profits and bring down upon them the 
bitter denunciation of the press and most of the people 
of the Pacific Coast. 

Fair had merely indicated the diplomatic character 
which made him popular with some classes of the 
Comstockers and gained him the name of "Slippery 
Jim" with others, when he referred to the boring ac- 
tivities of "poor old Sutro/' and asserted that the tun- 
nel might be a good thing for the lode. Either that 
or he was promptly overruled by his associates. In 


the month that Consolidated Virginia had declared 
its first dividend, the bonanza firm had joined with 
the other leading interests on the lode to abrogate all 
the original contracts with the Sutro Tunnel Com- 
pany. The Mining Committee's bill for a govern- 
ment loan of two million dollars to the company had 
just been defeated. 

Sutro, however, was not helpless. He had behind 
him an agreement with the McCalmonts to under- 
write eight million dollars* worth of bonds if neces- 
sary to complete the tunnel. He hired the best attor- 
neys available and proceeded to fight the suit aimed 
against his contracts. At the same time he continued 
to push the tunnel with all the force of skilled work- 
men, improved machinery, mules and dynamite 
which he could find room to employ. 

The tunnel at last actually seemed in a fair way to 
completion. But the producing mines pressed their 
suit. The demurrer filed by Sutro's counsel was over- 
ruled. This action was given wide publicity in Ne- 
vada and California newspapers, many of which were 
under the domination of the bonanza kings as they 
had previously been under the domination of the 
Bank of California. 

Then when the disastrous slump in the price of 
Comstock shares took place, completing the economic 
ruin already started by withdrawal of money from 
legitimate business for stock speculation, the public 
was furious. 

"Manipulated by Flood in the interests of the 


bonanza kings/' said Squire P. Dewey, Sutro and nu- 
merous enemies of the firm. 

But the financial papers of New York and London 
merely carried the news of the cessation of Consoli- 
dated Virginia dividends, and the great crash in min- 
ing stocks. Sutro saw the danger of losing the sup- 
port of the McCalmonts, who had not sold the tunnel 
bonds, but were still supplying money from their 
private resources. He wrote an appeal to the bankers 
in which he stated that the machinations of their 
enemies threatened the tunnel plan at a most critical 
time, but that if the bank would furnish funds to 
continue the work for four or five months, a point 
would be reached where Sutro could raise all the 
needed funds on the Pacific Coast. If they did not 
furnish the funds, the millions already invested would 
almost certainly be lost. 

The appeal served its purpose. The bank continued 
to supply money to meet all bills for some months. 
The tunnel was opened for more than three of its 
necessary four miles by the time the scene was set for 
the denouement of the melodrama. 



THE mining stock speculators who constituted a ma- 
jority of the residents of Virginia City and San Fran- 
cisco were in a frenzy of despair and bitter hate. The 
savings and hopes of a lifetime, for most of them, 
had been destroyed. Those who had not seen their 
businesses or jobs dwindle away to ashes through the 
withdrawal of money from normal business for spec- 
ulation, had lost all or most of their capital in the 
crash which followed the first failure of the Con- 
solidated Virginia dividend. 

Starving men and women, citizens who had been 
substantial factors in their communities and were now 
reduced to beggary, looked up in their misery to see 
Mackay, Flood, Fair, Sharon and Jones riding by be- 
hind spirited horses, entertaining in palaces, wining 
and dining upon the finest delicacies the world could 
provide. The sight stirred the losers almost to mad- 
ness. They knew that the money which they had lost 
had not been destroyed. It had merely been con- 
centrated in the hands of the few who were now 
flaunting it in the faces of the beggars. 

In the two and one-half years of tremendous pros- 
perity just preceding, Mackay, Flood and Fair had 



come to be synonymous with the big bonanza in the 
minds of the public. These were the bonanza kings. 
These then must be the men whose accumulated 
wealth must have been taken from the public. 
Threats against their lives were heard in Virginia City 
and San Francisco. The public was desperate. 

In these circumstances the annual meeting of stock- 
holders of Consolidated Virginia was called in the 
company's main business offices in San Francisco. The 
minority stockholders were ready and eager for revolt. 
All had seen their own holdings crash in value with 
the failure of the dividend. They blamed the 
bonanza kings for not advising them of the state of 
affairs in time to avoid the crash. 

A leader of this minority was Squire P. Dewey. 
He had been a bitter enemy of the bonanza kings, and 
especially of Fair, since his losses in the market follow- 
ing the Virginia City fire. So he attended this annual 
meeting prepared to make trouble. For moral and 
voting support he took with him an English capital- 
ist and former Member of Parliament named James 
White, who owned two hundred thousand dollars 5 
worth of stock in the Consolidated Virginia. 

The meeting opened with conventional routine 
which could not conceal or restrain the hostility of the 
minority stockholders. Dewey quickly gained the 
floor, charged Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien with 
corruption and fraud in the management of the mine, 
and demanded that they be replaced by honest men. 
The meeting was instantly in a turmoil. 


But Dewey held the noor and elaborated his 
charges, supporting them in part with evidence. He 
asserted that the bonanza kings had operated the 
mines from the very start of the big bonanza in such 
manner as to rob the stockholders and bring the en- 
tire Pacific Slope to the verge of ruin. Going into 
detail, he asserted that the Pacific Mill and Mining 
Company, the bonanza kings* milling monopoly 
which had succeeded Sharon's Union Mill monopoly, 
had literally robbed the mine stockholders of sixteen 
million, seven hundred thousand dollars in bullion. 
This bullion, he said, had been taken by the bonanza 
kings who owned the Pacific Mills from the tailings 
of the mine's ore, the residue left after the first work- 
ing of the ore from the mine. These tailings, he said, 
and cited the mill's contracts to prove it, were re- 
served to the Pacific Mill monopoly, without provi- 
sion for the mine stockholders. In other words, the 
bonanza kings worked over the ore, paid themselves 
high rates for the service, paid themselves and the mi- 
nority mine stockholders dividends from the bullion, 
and then worked over the tailings again and put the 
money amounting to sixteen million, seven hundred 
thousand dollars in their pockets instead of dividing it 
among the stockholders with the original dividends. 

Not only that, he said, but the mill monopoly fur- 
ther robbed the stockholders of ten per cent, of their 
ore by arbitrarily receipting for only ninety per cent, 
of the weight of ore at the shaft, on the absurd theory 
that there was a ten-per-cent. loss between mine and 


mill This fraud, he estimated, had also run into 

Not content with this, Dewey charged, the 
bonanza firm's milling monopoly was robbing other 
mines throughout the district by similar practises. 
In substantiation of that charge he cited the fact that 
the Ophir, with a production of two million, three 
hundred and fifty thousand dollars in bullion in the 
past year, had not declared a dividend because all the 
profits had been absorbed by the bonanza firm in the 
form of milling fees and so forth. The Chollar- 
Potosi, yielding an average of one hundred tons of 
ore a day for five years, had paid five hundred dollars 
a day to the mills and not one cent to its stockholders. 
The Belcher had paid one thousand dollars a day to 
the mills and nothing to its stockholders. Dewey 
further emphasized the point that the Consolidated 
Virginia, largely owned by the bonanza firm, had 
paid the Pacific Mill company owned by the same 
men, five million, three hundred and twenty thou- 
sand dollars in thirty-two months in addition to the 
sixteen million, seven hundred thousand dollars which 
it had handed them in the bullion of its tailings. 

Nearing his climax, Dewey then asserted that 
Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien had prospected the 
bonanza with diamond drills in advance of actual 
mining operations, and upon the information as to 
extent and quality of ore so gained had manipulated 
stock prices to their own great profit and at the ex- 
pense of the minority. 


Mackay indignantly denied that charge. 

Dewey promptly cited official reports of Fair to 
prove that the diamond drill was used and Mackay 
was a liar. 

Mackay and his associates were growing restive un- 
der the bitter attack and damning charges. E. C. 
Platt, evidently a friend of the bonanza firm, sought 
to shut off the pestiferous Dewey with a resolution: 

"Resolved, That all the matters and things, acts, 
contracts, transactions and disbursements made and 
entered into, agreed upon or executed by the Board 
of Trustees during the last year be, and the same are 
hereby ratified, approved and confirmed." 


That almost started a riot. Half a dozen share- 
holders were on their feet at once. There were 
threats of personal violence. But Dewey displayed 
such calm logic as gave force to all his previous utter- 
ances. Such a resolution is entirely unnecessary if 
the actions of the board have been proper and legal, 
he said. If the board's actions have been improper, 
certainly the stockholders do not wish to whitewash 
them. Platt's resolution was howled down, and the 
debate proceeded to personalities. 

James White, the British capitalist, interposed a re- 
mark in general support of Dewey's charges. Mackay 
flew into a rage, with a revelation of character 
which he had been at some pains to conceal. He sug- 
gested that a suggestion of dishonesty came very 


poorly from an Englishman. He (Mackay) was in 
London at the time of the Flagstaff trouble, and did 
not believe there was an honest man in London. 

Friends, fearful of the effect of such an outburst, 
made an effort to check Mackay. He subsided with 
the remark that, "All I wanted was to give them a 
little hint on their own side." 

It all came to little except to put the charges 
against the bonanza kings definitely on record. 
Dewey's hope to depose them, of course, was futile. 
They held the majority of the stock and naturally 
voted it exclusively in their own interests. But the 
meeting did serve the purpose of preserving to pos- 
terity some evidence and much contemporary opin- 
ion to the effect that the bonanza kings were a greedy, 
ruthless, unscrupulous group, morally beyond the 
pale, even if legally within it. Also it prepared the 
way for the subsequent suits for recovery of $40,- 
444,068 alleged by minority stockholders to have 
been wrongfully diverted by the ruling powers. 

The press of San Francisco was almost unanimous 
in its denunciation of the bonanza firm. The Mail 

"The magnificent Mackay, who is indignant at the 
public want of appreciation of the disinterested 
course pursued by his firm in kindly looking after 
Consolidated Virginia for the trifling remuneration 
of about ninety cents of every dollar it produces, 
loftily rebukes Mr. Dewey as a 'stock gambler/ 


There is an ice-clad altitudinous height of impudence 
about this that is not readily grasped by the ordinary 
mind. The four modern representatives of the orig- 
inal forty of Arabian Nights memory, having fallen 
upon the wayfarer, divided his shekels, and cast lots 
for his raiment, reproach him betimes for being out 
over night. A 'stock gambler* is good. 5 * 

"The whole history of this bonanza deal," said 
The Chronicle, "is a history of duplicity, fraud and 
cunning venality without precedent or excuse of any 
kind. They (the bonanza kings) have won the 
memorable distinction of having preferred to be mil- 
lionaires by tricky stock jobbing, when they might 
have been millionaires by honest mining. So they 
must expect the natural reward the hatred and con- 
tempt of mankind." 

Said The News Letter: "This gentleman (White) 
was treated by the rude-tongued Mackay in a way cal- 
culated to disgrace himself, discredit the State, and 
damage certain mining and banking management." 

But though the popular cry was "Down with the 
kings!" they did not fall. They were still too well 
buttressed by wealth and political power. 

Dewey continued the fight outside the meeting, 
declaring that Flood, a member of the San Francisco 
Exchange, had manipulated prices by means of wash 
sales through his broker. In evidence of the extent 


of such sales Dewey cited the broker's retirement with 
a fortune of half a million dollars, gained from com- 
missions of one-fourth and one-half per cent., indi- 
cating sales of vast numbers of shares. The records 
of the exchange were dug up to prove that in the 
previous year, 1876, seven hundred and fifty thou- 
sand shares of Consolidated Virginia had changed 
hands on the board, although the entire capital stock 
was only five hundred and forty thousand shares. 
Dewey offered these figures as sufficient evidence of 
the truth of his charges of wash sales for manipu- 
lative purposes. Incidentally, he said, the Nevada 
Bank, controlled by the bonanza firm, had assisted 
such stock jobbing to the advantage of Flood and his 
associates by extending or calling loans at critical 

Altogether the weight of evidence and opinion 
indicated quite conclusively that Mackay, Fair, Flood 
and O'Brien formed no philanthropic organization. 
It also indicated that the public was in a state of 
financial hysteria. 

"Within three months after the first failure of the 
dividend, Consolidated Virginia and California alone 
dropped a total of one hundred and forty million dol- 
lars. The value of every mine on the Comstock fell 
in sympathy. Even mines in California which had 
been producing steadily for a quarter of a century 
dropped in value. 

Banks went to the wall throughout California and 
Nevada. Businesses of all kinds failed. Within a 

THE KINGS!" 307 

few months there were four hundred and fifty forced 
bankruptcies of major proportions. And this despite 
the fact that the industrial and agricultural produc- 
tion of California six months earlier had been at the 
highest point in their history. The cause lay clearly 
in the mining stock market. 

One San Francisco newspaper said: "Then men 
who have soaked their stock in the maelstrom will 
agree that over the door of the Bank of Nevada should 
be written in letters of fire: * All who enter here leave 
hope behind! '" 

Economists found what comfort they could in the 
theory that the catastrophe had demonstrated to 
the world that the bonanza firm virtually owned the 
Comstock and operated it strictly in their own inter- 
ests. This knowledge, said the optimists, will work 
a general good. It will force money out of stocks 
and into legitimate channels. 

As a theory that might have been encouraging, but 
the sad fact was that nearly all the available money 
in the West had been concentrated in the hands of the 
bonanza kings. There was little help for the non- 
speculating business men who had seen their businesses 
ruined in the general slump, and who could not come 
back because of the wide-spread reduction of buying. 
Their bankrupt owners blamed the bonanza kings. 
The stock gamblers blamed the bonanza kings. The 
newspapers blamed the bonanza kings. Feeling ran 
high. The lives of Mackay, Flood and Fair were in 


Dewey extended his attacks with the intimation 
that the bonanza firm had indirectly bribed Deides- 
heimer and the Director of the Mint to make their 
first glowing announcements of the fabulous amount 
of riches in sight in the big bonanza. 

"Recent investigation of the official transactions of 
Linderman (Director of the Mint) has disclosed the 
fact that the wife of that gentleman became the 
owner of a large number of shares at about the time 
of the 'disinterested' report by her husband," Dewey 
wrote for publication. "This was the report that 
captured French capital. Even the officials highest 
in authority, including the President of the United 
States (Grant) , members of the Cabinet, and heads 
and subordinates of departments were lured into con- 
fidence and became contributors to the exchequer of 
the bonanza firm/' 

Even the thick-skinned bonanza kings, armored in 
gold against attack, could not quietly tolerate and ig- 
nore such charges. They inspired a long anonymous 
attack upon Dewey in the San Francisco Bulletin, 
attempting to show that he had been a bad loser in 
the bonanza gamble, that he had sought personal in- 
formation from Fair through which to recoup his 
losses, and that having failed to get satisfactory in- 
formation he had threatened Fair and was now vent- 
ing his spite upon the firm. 

Dewey promptly accepted the gage of battle, and 


published a categorical reply to the anonymous at- 
tack, citing facts and figures to contradict some of 
the aspersions, and more facts and figures to prove the 
bonanza kings were greedy, unscrupulous and utterly 
selfish money grubbers, untrue to their minority 
stockholders and corrupt to the verge of criminality. 

Just how much was fact, how much hearsay, and 
how much venom in the Dewey pamphlet is difficult 
to say at this late day. We know, however, that the 
sympathy of the public was with him. We know 
also that subsequent developments in the mining 
stock market and in the mines and mills of the Corn- 
stock tended to give weight and verisimilitude to his 

'Tat least had sense enough to know that Mr- Flood 
was a moral pachyderm whose sensibility was not to 
be stimulated to the point of justice by any ordinary 
sense of shame or fear of exposure/* Dewey wrote. 
And apparently the best that Fair could reply was 
that Dewey was a stock gambler. Even that, strictly 
speaking, was not the truth. Dewey was a man of 
twenty-five years* residence in California, with a for- 
tune acquired in legitimate business, and a reputation 
for good citizenship. 

In any event, the panic which had been started by 
the passing of the Consolidated Virginia's dividend in 
January continued to take its toll of all business and 
most private fortunes on the Coast through the spring. 
Dividends were suspended through February, March 
and April. By that time the market quotations on 


Consolidated Virginia were down to bargain prices. 
It is difficult not to believe that the bonanza firm took 
advantage o such prices to buy heavily before they 
resumed dividends in May, with resulting stimulation 
in stocks. 

In the same period production had fallen off 
greatly in the other mines of the lode. A score of 
mines were working entirely in borrasca, not hoisting 
a pound of ore. These mines were living on assess- 
ments levied upon their stockholders. And the 
stockholders were very weary of that. Columns 
upon columns of legal notices filled the newspapers, 
advertising for sale the stocks of hundreds of per- 
sons who had failed to meet their assessments. The 
Comstock was ripe for another economic revolution. 
But for the fact that the bonanza kings were still 
in the strategic position, enjoying the inside in- 
formation which had made them great, a fourth 
dynasty might have arisen to power. But no 
one had sufficient influence to lead a revolution. 
While minority stockholders watched their holdings 
sold out and their fortunes destroyed, Mackay, Fair, 
Flood and O'Brien maintained control and prepared 
for another coup. Only Adolph Sutro found some 
comfort in the strained situation. 

"I would much rather see mining stocks way 
down," he wrote to a friend in San Francisco, early 
in the collapse of 1877. "I have little doubt that 
such will be the case during the next year or two. 


The state of affairs which must follow would be 
greatly in our favor, for while stocks are down and 
assessments being paid, people will look to every pos- 
sible advantage which can be secured, while on the 
other hand while stocks are up and large dividends 
being paid, the savings which could be secured by 
proper working of the mines are entirely overlooked." 

The bore was advancing steadily toward the lode, 
through physical difficulties of heat, foul air, hard 
rock and swelling seams of clay such as man hats 
seldom overcome. And Sutro was right in the con- 
tention that the unprofitable period which the lode 
had reached was inspiring a demand for the more 
economical mining conditions which a completed 
tunnel would produce. 

The bonanza kings felt the force of this popular 
demand, and writhed under the hatred in which they 
were held by the losers on the lode and in business. 
When facts could not be cited against them, gossip 
was circulated freely. One such story revealed in 
contemporary records may be cited as typical: 

"It seems that when Mackay returned from Europe 
the last time, he ascertained by looking over his ac- 
counts that Fair had him $100,000 worse off than 
nothing. He wrote a blank check for $100,000 and 
calling Fair into the room simply said, 'God damn 
you; sign that or I'll kill you/ Fair signed. How is 
that for a story? There are some who believe it." 


Sutro himself wrote to his bankers in London: 

"Mr. James Fair, one of the bonanza firm, has made 
his appearance in Washington a most suspicious cir- 
cumstance, though he may have come on business 
other than what concerns us. This brings the entire 
council of conspirators representing the three largest 
interests on the Comstock lode here together in Wash- 
ington; Mr. Sharon representing one, Mr. Jones an- 
other, and Mr. Fair the third and most important. 
Great jealousy exists between these parties and I think 
they would be afraid to move for fear that either one 
of them might make a secret combination with us 
for the purpose of defeating the others. 33 

So the first months of the slump in the big bonanza 
drifted along. Both the persistent energy of Adolph 
Sutro and the forces set in motion by Squire P. 
Dewey annoyed the bonanza kings. The suits pro- 
moted by Dewey finally were filed in the name of one 
John H. Burke, demanding forty million dollars of 
the bonanza firm's allegedly ill-got gains for the mi- 
nority stockholders. The minority had organized 
to finance and press the suits. Another committee 
of small stockholders was urging completion and use 
of the tunnel to reduce mining costs, and save their 
depreciated stocks from complete ruin. 

A report gained circulation and credence to the 
effect that Mackay wished to compromise with the 
tunnel company, assist that work to completion, 


drain and ventilate the mines, prove up the ore bodies 
at the lowest levels and resume production through- 
out the lode. The same report added that Flood was 
weakening under the denunciation heaped upon him 
by the press of San Francisco since the suspension of 

Early in the summer, however, Consolidated Vir- 
ginia resumed dividends and business generally im- 
proved. Just as Sutro had explained, when the mines 
were paying, interest in more economical mining and 
milling methods decreased. The hoped-for com- 
promise was forgotten. For the moment they did not 
appear to need the tunnel. 

Then Robert McCalmont, head of the banking 
house which had been financing the tunnel for years 
in face of all opposition and disappointment, was 
stricken with paralysis. Other members of the firm 
refused to advance more money. Sutro, with his 
tunnel nearly four miles long, within one thousand 
feet of the point at which it was to intercept the lode 
and start collecting royalties, faced collapse of his 
dream, his work, and the hope of fortune and power 
which had stimulated him for all the years since he 
had come to the Comstock in 1 860. 

Desperately he set out to raise funds elsewhere. 
But the bonanza firm with its Nevada Bank directly 
or indirectly exercised a powerful influence over most 
of the money in the West. What it did not control 
or influence, the Bank of California, again prosperous 
since its reorganization by Sharon, did. And both 


were enemies of Sutro. They blocked his every move 
to obtain funds through ordinary commercial chan- 
nels. Private fortunes alone offered any field for his 
cultivation. He proceeded to cultivate. Just as he 
had done ten years earlier, he peddled stock in his 
tunnel personally wherever he could find a buyer. 
But the stock buyers of the West had been badly 
burned. They shunned the fire. It was a soul- 
killing job. Still Sutro managed to bring in some 
money to continue operations. 

In the spring of 1878, the bonanza firm, working 
in the nineteen-hundred-foot levels of the Consoli- 
dated Virginia and the California, began to realize 
that the remaining ore was limited. A second sus- 
pension of dividends appeared to the experienced 
miners 5 eyes of Mackay and Fair to be inevitable. 
However, they did not let the public in on the 

On the contrary, Mackay made a public announce- 
ment that there was twenty million dollars' worth of 
ore in sight. In so doing, doubtless, he expected to 
stimulate the market sufficiently so that the bonanza 
firm could unload some of its stock at a good figure. 
The public, however, remembered that Deidesheimer 
once had reported one billion, five hundred million 
dollars* worth of ore in sight when the big bonanza 
first was opened, and that only one hundred million 
dollars had been taken out. Stock-buyers were not 
quite so gullible as they had been. Many of those 
who might have been gullible were broke. The 


twenty-million-dollar ore report failed to boost 
prices greatly. 

So, when in May and June of 1 878 the Consolidated 
cut dividends in half, prices slumped again. The 
bonanza firm was still holding control. It would be 
poor business, entirely out of keeping with their 
reputation for shrewd stock jobbing, to sell at the low 
figures. They must keep up the price as well as 
possible while they unloaded. 

They did not admit that the bonanza was nearing 
exhaustion. The reduction of dividends was ex- 
plained as due to the bad physical condition of the 
mine which increased mining costs greatly. Economy 
and eventual profits made it advisable to shut off pro- 
duction entirely for two of three months while ex- 
tensive repairs in timbering and machinery were 

The explanation was not very generally believed. 
Stock prices continued to slump from the position 
regained after the resumption of dividends in the pre- 
vious year. And while the bonanza kings sweated 
with the problem of stimulating a profitable market 
on which to unload their depreciated holdings, the 
tunnel builders sweated in their final desperate effort 
to reach the lode in readiness for royalties which they 
expected with the resumption of ore production. 

The thrill of vast and easy wealth which had kept 
the Comstock in a fever of excitement for four years 
had ended. Still the extraordinary confidence of its 
great men in unlimited bonanzas at greater depth 


helped to maintain a semblance of the old activity 
and enthusiasm in the community. The investors, 
speculators and mines which were in borrasca were 
strengthened by memories of the history of the lode. 

They recalled that its eighteen years of life had 
been marked repeatedly by just such periods of de- 
pression as that which now gripped the district. The 
initial years of fabulous fortunes wrung from the 
upper levels of the Ophir and near-by mines had been 
followed by years of trial during which only the Bank 
of California's money and monopoly under Sharon's 
powerful hand had kept the shafts sinking and the 
town alive. The comparatively small production of 
those lean years was similar to the rate of production 
now. But that depression had been followed by the 
Crown Point bonanza which gave new life and pros- 
perity to the district. That in turn had been followed 
by the Consolidated Virginia bonanza, and the Cali- 
fornia bonanza, which had brought wealth, fame and 
activity unbelievable to the Comstock. 

The "true fissure" nature of the lode, indicating to 
geologists and mining experts a formation containing 
recurring bonanzas to unlimited depths, was widely 
accepted. They had been in borrasca before. They 
would be in bonanza again. The old adage of the 
Mexican silver mines "as many days as you spend in 
borrasca, that many shall you spend in bonanza** 
was recalled to hearten them. Some mines had delved 
and dug for eighteen weary years, supported almost 
entirely by assessments on their stockholders, without 


ever paying a dividend. They might continue to 
operate on that basis. Others had rich reserves in 
their treasuries. They also could go on. The miners 
and mill-workers cared little where their wages came 
from, so long as they came regularly. 

The thrill of quick fortunes was gone for the 
moment, but it would return again, Virginia City 
believed. In the meantime there was another thrill 
to hold the interest of the district the more sporting 
thrill of the continued race between the Sutro tunnel 
and the mines, each seeking to be first at the point 
where the tunnel would intercept the lode. 

Thus came the last melodramatic climax in the 
story of the Comstock. 



WHEN the Consolidated Virginia reduced its regular 
monthly dividend of one million, eighty thousand 
dollars to half that amount, in May of 1878, the 
Sutro tunnel was still six hundred and forty feet from 
the lode. The McCalmonts' financing of the work 
had just been stopped by Robert McCalmont's acute 
illness. Adolph Sutro was raising funds by valiant 
effort to continue his progress through stubborn rock, 
foul air, steaming floods and bulging walls two thou- 
sand feet below the level of Virginia City. 

The California mine, owned equally with the Con- 
solidated Virginia by the bonanza kings, declared its 
regular monthly dividend of one million, eighty 
thousand dollars. So far as Sutro and the great 
majority of persons interested in the Comstock knew, 
there were still many millions' worth of ore waiting 
to pay the tunnel company two dollars a ton royalty 
as soon as the tunnel connection was made. The 
tunnel drove onward hopefully. 

Those mines which were still working in ore were 
now close to the two-thousand-foot level. Recently 
they had struck new floods of poisonous hot water 
which destroyed the efficiency of the miners, bur- 


dened the machinery far beyond its strength, and 
otherwise added to their costs of mining and explora- 
tion in search of new ore bodies. In these circum- 
stances the Savage, Hale & Norcross, Crown Point, 
Belcher and several other leading companies dissolved 
their combination against the tunnel company, 
abandoned their suits, and announced their intention 
of abiding by the original contracts, signed twelve 
years before. 

Most of the mines, it appeared, had little to lose and 
much to gain tlirough the completion of the tunnel 
and their adherence to the terms stipulated for its 
use. As long as they took out no ore they would have 
to pay nothing for the invaluable service of draining 
and ventilating their workings. If they hoisted ore 
they could afford to pay. It was the argument Sutro 
had used for years. And at this late date it was ac- 
cepted by nearly all the companies which were not 

The big bonanza mines still opposed the plan. Al- 
though the Consolidated Virginia had reduced its 
dividend it was still taking out tons of ore, and the 
California was producing richly. If they came into 
line on the tunnel project they would have to pay 
Sutro a great deal of money, and were likely to lose 
the milling monopoly which Dewey had proved was 
netting them millions. 

In these circumstances the tunnel pressed onward 
at the rate of ten feet a day. Early in July the sweat- 
ing miners at the heading of the tunnel felt the jar of 


blasts of the miners in the depths of the Savage shaft, 
a few yards away. A few days later the directors of 
the Consolidated Virginia passed even the reduced 

The next day, July 8, 1 878, Adolph Sutro, stripped 
to the waist in the stifling heat, like the drillers and 
muckers around him, fired the blast which broke the 
tunnel heading through into the Savage shaft. 

The cheer of the Workmen in the tunnel almost 
equaled in volume the roar of the blast. Promptly it 
was echoed by a cheer from the workers in the Savage. 
And instantly the cheers were smothered by the rush 
of dust, smoke and foul air which roared from the 
tunnel through the drifts of the Savage, through con- 
necting corridors to other mines, and up the shafts 
to the surface at Virginia City. Workers in the mines 
were almost suffocated for a time. Workers in the 
tunnel were almost swept from their feet by the 
force of the sudden draft, clearing the tunnel of gas 
and fumes which had been accumulating for years. 
But miners and tunnel workers alike grinned at the 
momentary inconvenience while they shook hands, 
slapped backs, and roared with excitement over the 
accomplishment. The working miners of the district 
had long been partisans of the tunnel project. A 
great many of them held stock in it. Laboring in 
the super-heated fetid air of the deeper workings, they 
had looked forward eagerly to the day when the 
tunnel would circulate cool fresh air to make their 
toil more endurable. At the moment of connection 


between the tunnel and the Savage drift, the only 
emotions apparent were of excitement and good-will. 
Still the tunnel company had its powerful enemies 
on the Comstock. The local newspapers, definitely 
under the thumb of the bonanza kings, as they had 
earlier been under the thumb of the Bank of Cali- 
fornia, belittled the accomplishment with the briefest 
of announcements that the tunnel connection had 
been made. A correspondent of the San Francisco 
Chronicle wrote a slightly more colorful report, in- 
cidentally revealing the tension which still existed. 

"The town of Sutro was aglow with enthusiasm last 
night/* said The Chronicle, "on account of the con- 
nection with the Savage. Salutes were fired, Sutro 
made a speech, and wine, beer and whisky were free to 

"Mr. Sutro and a party of ladies and gentlemen 
informed Mr. Gillette, superintendent of the Savage 
mine, by telegraph, that they would start from the 
mouth of the Sutro tunnel to go up the Savage shaft 
to Virginia City at 4 p. M., this day. Mr. Gillette 
telegraphed that he would ask permission from the 
San Francisco office. When the party reached the 
Savage drift they were informed that permission 
would not be granted, and it leaked out that General 
Thomas H. Williams, president of the Savage Mining 
Company, no doubt acting under instructions from 
the bonanza firm, refused the passage of Mr. Sutro 
and his party. Mr. Sutro thereupon concluded to 


manage to get up the shaft in spite of the refusal, and 
succeeded in reaching the surface at Virginia City. 

"At a banquet which succeeded at that place the 
health of the Miners' Union was drunk, and three 
groans were given the directors of the Savage mine/ 5 

The following day The Chronicle printed a state- 
ment that the miner who had permitted Sutro and 
his party to pass up the Savage shaft was promptly 
discharged at the order of Williams. "There is a good 
deal of feeling among the miners at this narrow- 
minded action." 

It was evident that the race between tunnel and 
mines, which had been looked upon popularly as a 
thrilling sporting event, was a deadly serious matter 
to the principals, and that any victory must be forced, 
not conceded. 

On the same day that the connection was made, the 
directors of the California mine reduced their 
monthly dividend from one million, eighty thou- 
sand dollars to five hundred forty thousand dollars, 
just as their associated Consolidated Virginia had 
done two months earlier. So close was the race be- 
tween the tunnel company and the big bonanza. 

And now, with the twenty-thousand-foot tunnel 
actually communicating with one shaft sunk two 
thousand feet through the lode from the slope of 
Mount Davidson, the lines were drawn for the final 

Certain opponents of the tunnel company had 


threatened to use the bore, if completed, to drain the 
flooded mines without agreeing to pay the royalties 
specified. Sutro had no such idea. 

He prepared to check such invasion of his property 
by the simple expedient of closing a water-tight bulk- 
head with a movable gate near the heading of the 
tunnel. This would check arbitrary drainage from 
the mines and force the steaming water back into the 
drifts and shafts from whence it came. The good- 
will which had marked the meeting of miners and 
tunnel builders on the day of the connection vanished 
with the prospects of a fight. 

While the miners were threatening, the tunnel 
workers were putting the finishing touches on the 
bulkhead. Then the miners invaded the tunnel, 
armed with picks, shovels and revolvers. The tunnel 
workers produced similar arms. Deputy sheriffs ap- 
peared upon the scene and dragged the embattled 
laborers to the surface. An injunction was souglit 
to prevent the use of the bulkhead. Again the 
workers clashed. 

But now, for the first time in his twelve years of 
warfare with the recurring monopolies on the Corn- 
stock, Adolph Sutro had the upper hand. Although 
the bonanza mines still refused to make a working 
agreement with the tunnel company, Sutro could sit 
back for a moment and wait for the heat, steam and 
water to bring his enemies to terms. 

He did not have long to wait. Almost in the first 
moment of relaxation there came word that the Julia 


mine, an independent in no way connected with the 
bonanza firm, had struck a reservoir which had 
flooded all the lower workings. Promptly on the 
heels of the report came the officers of the mine. 

Would Mr. Sutro enter into a contract with the 
Julia for drainage and ventilation upon a royalty basis 
similar to the early and repudiated contracts? 

Mr. Sutro would upon his own terms. The con- 
tract which was quickly signed provided for a pay- 
ment of one hundred thousand dollars toward the 
cost of constructing the tunnel onward to the Julia 
shaft, together with renewal of the original royalty 
agreement. Drainage could not begin until the 
fourteen-hundred-foot extension had been com- 

The dyke was breaking. The boy had pulled his 
finger from the leaking hole. The Combination mine 
struck a reservoir, and the mine quickly flooded be- 
yond the capacity of its pumps. Its officials came to 
Sutro. No extension was necessary to drain this mine. 

Would Mr. Sutro agree to drainage at once on con- 
dition of renewal of the royalty agreements? 

Mr. Sutro would not. All the companies on the 
lode must come into a new agreement. To drain one 
mine would drain a dozen, as many of their workings 
were connected. Besides, a covered drain must be 
constructed in the tunnel to prevent the poisonous 
fumes of the steaming water from asphyxiating men 
and mules. If all the mines on the lode would agree 
to pay a monthly sum equal to two per cent, on the 


capital investment in the tunnel, and would agree to 
the royalty, he would proceed to drain the lode, using 
half the monthly income to build the necessary 
covered drain and extend the tunnel to all mines. The 
officers of the Combination mine trudged back to 
their directors and reported. The directors refused 
to agree* 

Then the Belcher mine found itself unable to com- 
pete with the rising floods in its depths. Its directors 
called upon Sutro. He stated his terms. They could 
accept or drown. They retired without a decision. 

Virginia City and Gold Hill were on edge with 
excitement. Here was a contest much more exciting 
than the battle between the bull and the bear which 
had filled Piper's Opera House with a crowd of wager- 
ing miners. The main purse in that battle had been 
five hundred dollars offered by the owner of the bear 
against ten head of cattle put up by the owner of the 
bull. But here was a purse of probable millions. 
"Word of the impasse reached San Francisco, clamor- 
ing for resumption of production on the Comstock 
since the failure of bonanza dividends. 

"If he (Sutro) says a thing shall be done; it is 
done," commented The Alta California. "If he says 
water shall not go through the tunnel until all the 
companies sign the contract; that water will not 
travel to the Carson river through the town of Sutro." 

And the newspaper was right. The Hale & Nor- 


cross pump broke repeatedly tinder the strain of lift- 
ing water two thousand feet. Its superintendent 
turned the steaming flood into the tunnel. Sutro 
promptly closed his bulkhead. The flood backed up 
into the mine. 

Then the California mine, which had cut its 
dividend in half on the day when the tunnel con- 
nected with the Savage shaft, passed the reduced 
dividend. The big bonanza was at an end. The days 
of glory on the Comstock were over. Yet few men 
recognized the fact. The public was calling for more 
production and more dividends. If they could be 
obtained by operating through the Sutro tunnel, by 
all means make the necessary agreements to do so. 
Pressure upon the various directorates became enor- 

Stocks which had been crashing and rising to crash 
again ever since the first suspension of Consolidated 
Virginia dividends in the first four months of the 
preceding year, crashed once more. Scarcely a mine 
of the thirty then working on the lode was producing 
enough ore to pay the wages of it laborers. In this 
situation the Sutro tunnel became the chief hope of 
the Comstock. 

Again the columns of The Enterprise were filled 
with legal advertisements of stocks offered for sale to 
cover unpaid assessments. Still many of the directors 
and superintendents of the various companies were as 
certain as ever that new bonanzas awaited explora- 
tion of the lode at greater depths. The chief difficulty 


was that of obtaining funds to prosecute this explora- 
tion and deeper mining work. The Pacific Coast 
investors had been generally frightened out of the 
mining gamble, or so completely stripped of money 
that they could not meet the demand. In such cir- 
cumstances any method of cheaper operation was ap- 

One by one the various boards of directors sent their 
representatives to Sutro with offers to capitulate. 
Even the bonanza kings, still in control of the Con- 
solidated Virginia and California, joined the proces- 
sion. A compromise was reached which included but 
one insignificant concession from Sutro. He agreed to 
reduce his two-dollar royalty to half that amount on 
any ore assaying less than forty dollars a ton. But 
against that concession he forced the mines to ad- 
vance, without interest, seventy dollars for each foot 
of the lateral branches of the tunnel to be extended 
into the various workings. 

Sutro's triumph was complete. For the moment he 
was in fact king of the Comstock, the head of the 
fourth dynasty to rule that kingdom of wealth and 
power. The annual Pacific Coast Mining Review, 
published at the moment of the man's triumph and the 
Comstock's collapse, summed up the victory: 

"No other man probably on all the earth's surface 
could have perfected that scheme and brought it to 
successful issue in the face of such difficulties as 
Adolph Sutro has encountered for over fourteen years. 


History will remember Sutro for centuries to come, 
not only as the projector of the greatest mining enter- 
prise on the American continent, but as a man who, 
in carrying out his mighty task, met with obstruc- 
tions of all kinds and conditions that would have ap- 
palled many as stout hearts as his, perhaps at the very 
outset. There is something majestic in the way Sutro 
overrode all obstacles. * . . No other man than Sutro 
could have done all this no other would have dared 
attempt it." 

It was in fact a brilliant achievement. And Sutro 
took his profit, sold the bulk of his own stock in the 
company when the tunnel stock was virtually the 
only security in the district commanding a market, 
and resigned his kingship within two years of his as- 

The first kings, Comstock and Old Virginia, had 
sold out for a song, and abdicated. The second king, 
Sharon, had ruled with an iron hand for ten years, 
and had been deposed by a combination of fate and 
even shrewder men. His title had been seized by 
Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien, who had been pre- 
paring for years to become "the bonanza kings. 55 
This third dynasty in turn had been deposed from the 
ruins of their kingdom by Sutro, favored for the 
moment by fate, after fourteen years of buffeting. 

Comstock's brief rule had been the rule of an 
ignorant bully, placed by chance in a position to exer- 
cise such talents when the pioneers around him were 


equally ignorant, and less assertive. Sharon's rule had 
been that of a shrewd and ruthless organizer and 
monopolist. The rule of the "bonanza kings" had 
been that of intelligent miners and shrewd financiers, 
merciless alike in their stripping of the natural wealth 
of the lode and in their stripping of too-credulous 
stockholders. Sutro's rule was that of power attained 
through the circumstance that his long constructive 
labor had been completed at the psychological mo- 
ment when the failing mines were forced by economic 
pressure to turn to his tunnel as the only practical 
method of exploring unproductive depths. 

The abdicating Henry Thomas Paige Comstock, 
having done nothing but give his name to the district 
and help to attract the first constructive capital, de- 
parted in poverty. The deposed Sharon, having de- 
veloped the mines, the railroad, the mills and other 
improvements under a dictatorship which should 
make Mussolini blush with failure, had reaped a 
personal fortune of fifteen million dollars and a place 
in the United States Senate. The "bonanza kings" 
had accumulated fortunes aggregating probably two 
hundred million dollars. They might well have 
sneered at the looted kingdom left to the new poten- 
tate. Whether they were deposed or abdicated makes 
little difference. They alone were to go down in 
popular history as "the bonanza kings." The latest 
monarch, Adolph Sutro, ruled a crumbling kingdom 
briefly, resigned his scepter to the directors of his com- 
pany and went his way with a million or two. 


But one brief flash of the old color and enthu- 
siasm, one recurrence of the old holiday spirit which 
had always appeared in the Comstock at the slightest 
excuse, marked this period. It was inspired by the 
visit of General Grant, Mrs. Grant, and their son, 
Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. The fame of the Comstock 
had been thoroughly impressed upon the nation and 
upon Grant himself as President. He wanted to see 
the source of the hundreds of millions in bullion 
which had gone far toward maintaining the value of 
the American dollar in the reconstruction days fol- 
lowing the Civil War. 

Virginia City was eager to play the host to a 
national figure so celebrated. For days it forgot its 
troubles in the task of preparation. Flags and bunt- 
ing waved throughout the town as if a dull day had 
never been known. 

The former President and party, escorted by the 
Governor of Nevada and staff, arrived at the Gold 
Hill station in the palace car "Calif ornia," and were 
greeted by fifteen hundred school-children and al- 
most every adult citizen of Virginia and Gold Hill. 
A carriage with six horses took the distinguished 
guests through the triumphal arches and gay hang- 
ings of C Street to a state dinner and reception at 
which the former President was made an honorary 
member of the Society of Pacific Pioneers. Virginia 
City was still doing its best. 

On the following day, according to the account in 
The Daily Alta California: 


Cotittcsy California State Library. 

Left to nght. U. S Grant, Jr, Mrs Grant, General U S Grant, Mrs. 
James G. Fair, Kneeling Guide 


"An early morning start took the party through 
the city in a four-in-hand turnout, by way of Silver 
City and Dayton to the town of Sutro where they 
were welcomed by the ringing of bells and discharge 
of dynamite bombs. Mrs. Adolph Sutro received the 
party at the old Sutro mansion. Breakfast at the 
Sutro home was an elaborate affair. While assembling 
on the porch of the mansion, preparatory to starting 
for the mines, much merriment was occasioned at the 
General's appearance in the costume of the miner. 

"The party was placed aboard mine cars and amidst 
the cheers of assembled crowds disappeared in the 
darkness of the tunnel. A thirty-five-minute trip 
underground preceded their leaving the cars, and 
walking, the better to examine the underground 
workings of the mine and witness the execution of 
the powerful drilling appliances required in driving 
a work of this character. The covered boxes which 
convey the steaming water from the Comstock mines 
were also an object of considerable interest. 

"The trip continued south where the party were 
hoisted to the surface at Virginia City. Shortly after 
noon General Grant visited the Union and North 
Consolidated Virginia shafts and inspected the mas- 
sive machinery in company with Messrs. Mackay and 

"The party left that night for Reno and points 

east. 5 ' 

There have been no kings of the Comstock since 


that day. The ancient seat of monarchs has been un- 
worthy of such a title for fifty years. The kingdom 
became a republic. The republic disintegrated. 

But so great a glory could not fade in a day or in a 
year. Throughout the half -century which has fol- 
lowed the end of the big bonanza, men have continued 
to labor in the mines. For half a century the Sutro 
tunnel has been in operation. Occasionally small 
bodies of ore, as rich as in the days of glory, have been 
uncovered, mined and milled. The Comstock has 
had its ups and downs in this half-century as it had 
in the preceding two decades. But the "ups" have 
never been so high, nor the "downs" so low in con- 

The general trend has been downward until the 
once great Virginia City itself is literally falling into 
the labyrinth of abandoned shafts, drifts, tunnels, 
winzes, stopes and crosscuts which make up more 
than two hundred miles of underground diggings. 
In the fifty years which have passed since the exhaus- 
tion of the big bonanza, many added millions of dol- 
lars' worth of bullion have been taken from the 
labyrinth. But nearly always the silver with its sprin- 
kling of gold has been uncovered and removed at a 
cost greater than its worth. 

From time to time rumors have spread among min- 
ing men that a new bonanza has been discovered. 
Only a few years ago one such rumor brought to the 
district several million dollars in outside money for the 
construction of new mills and the improvement of 


old mining facilities to take a new and greater fortune 
from the depths. But when the writer visited the 
scene huge trucks and trailers, which must have 
startled the ghosts of the great men and little men 
buried in the crumbling cemetery beyond the city, 
were hauling away this machinery from the last of 
the great mills, dismantled and fallen into ruin. 

Still some heirs to that enthusiasm, if not heirs to 
the wealth which inspired it, labor in the depths. 
One, James Leonard, now the great man of a ruined 
kingdom of wealth and power, virtually controls 
what is left of the Comstock. The water company, 
the Sutro tunnel, and some of the mines where a few 
men still search for new bonanzas are under his rule. 
And proving himself the proper heir to the king- 
dom, if not to its scattered riches, Leonard asserts 
optimistically that the potential resources of the 
Comstock have scarcely been scratched. 

Leonard scorns the fact that the famous Ophir 
mine, first and one of the greatest of the Comstock 
treasure-houses, once quoted in the mining stock 
market at one thousand and four hundred dollars a 
share is now listed at one cent, without sales, and that 
others have fallen similarly low. He looks forward 
with certainty to a day when the Comstock will be 
greater than ever. In that he is typical of the men 
who made the Comstock great, and who were made 
great through it. 

Let us hope that he is right. Such a town as Vir- 
ginia City in the days of the big bonanza offers a thrill 


to the pride oi? Americans. Its accomplishments 
were greater than its wickedness. It should stand in 
memory close beside the great vanished herds of buf- 
falo, the trains of covered wagons, the settlements of 
sod houses, which marked the development of our 
great prairies. The latter can never return. But if 
the hope and courage and tenacious energy which 
made Virginia City a monument in the history of 
American mining are justified for their heirs, some- 
thing inspiring might still arise from its ruins. 

It is doubtful. The glory of Virginia City now 
rests in its memories, and probably must remain there. 
Only the vast wealth which it produced, and the 
quality of the men concerned, carry on. This wealth 
and those men must give it a permanent place in the 
history of the United States. 

Their heirs are scattered to the world, but their 
influence has continued through the years. When 
the big bonanza was exhausted, when the stocks 
which had soared to a valuation of half a billion dol- 
lars began their downward march to a valuation of 
one-thousandth part of that sum, the leaders in the 
rise and fall were still active men. How they contin- 
ued to use their energies, strengthened by years of 
fierce struggle, and how they used the fortunes gained 
from that struggle, are an important sequel to the 
story of the big bonanza. 



THE glory of the Comstock could not fade so quickly 
as the bonanzas faded. Although the mines which 
had produced its fame were exhausted, both the fame 
and the fortunes upon which it had been built were 
very much alive. The men whom the mines had 
made great were still upon the paths of glory. 

Of the bonanza kings, perhaps Mackay was the 
most interesting in activities subsequent to the col- 
lapse of the bonanza, as he was the youngest and 
richest of the group. Early in the activities of the 
firm Mackay had purchased the interest of a fifth 
member named "Walker, and had carried this extra 
fraction with consequent added profit through all 
the subsequent prosperity of the group. 

Mackay was a man of energy and ambition equal 
to his vast wealth. He was not one who could sit 
back quietly in futile effort to spend his income. 
Also he had a charming and socially ambitious wife. 
San Francisco did not appeal to their ambitions, and 
Mrs. Mackay maintained an elaborate salon in Paris, 
and was prominent also in the wealthiest circles of 
New York and London. 

The Irish clerk who had become a day laborer in 



the mines, a superintendent, a bonanza king, and a 
banker was now a figure in American finance. But 
he was still a man of short temper when crossed, and 
in the course of some business deal quarreled bitterly 
with Jay Gould, who had organized the Western 
Union telegraph system. Mackay was not a man to 
be content with the calling of hard names. He loved 
a fight, and the difference with Gould offered op- 
portunity for one. 

Looking about for an associate to assist him in a 
proper chastening of Jay Gould, Mackay hit upon 
James Gordon Bennett, publisher of The New York 
Herald. The Herald had handled Gould without 
gloves in connection with the Erie Railroad scandals, 
the Gould-Fisk conspiracy to corner the gold mar- 
ket which resulted in the national financial panic 
known as "Black Friday," and in other unscrupulous 
Gould activities. Bennett himself was a wealthy 
and an arrogant man, with the powerful weapon of 
The Herald in his hands. An alliance with the Mac- 
kay wealth and energy against Gould and the Western 
Union was attractive. It was made. 

Thus the Mackay fortune gained from the big 
bonanza entered national and international affairs in 
a form of activity still being carried on by the son, 
Clarence H. Mackay. John W. Mackay and James 
Gordon Bennett organized the Commercial Cable 
Company and the Postal Telegraph Company to fight 
Jay Gould and the Western Union. 

After overcoming various great obstacles in the 


political graft of the time, Mackay and Bennett suc- 
ceeded in laying two cables across the Atlantic. With 
the cables operating, they promptly started a rate war 
with the Western Union. It was a long and expensive 
campaign which undoubtedly cost Mackay a vast 
fortune before it finally was won. In the meantime, 
however, his fame and popularity had grown alike in 
America and Europe. 

So it came about that he met Georges Boulanger, 
"the man on horseback," and then the popular mili- 
tary idol of Paris. As minister of war in the French 
Cabinet, Boulanger was the chief promoter of a policy 
of revenge which was to take the form of a war of 
punishment of Prussia for its recent victory over 
France. Boulanger was a trained soldier of long and 
honorable experience, and full appreciation of the ne- 
cessity of adequate provision for his contemplated 
war. He had already improved the French army 
with the adoption of repeating rifles for the infantry 
and the development of high explosives for the ar- 
tillery. But he believed with Napoleon that an army 
travels on its stomach. He must make provision on a 
national scale for his commissary department. 

In this situation John Mackay, the bonanza mil- 
lions, and the well-known Mackay willingness for 
fight, frolic or speculation on a vast scale, appeared 
to Boulanger to be sent by Heaven. Boulanger 
broached the subject cautiously. He would lead 
France against Prussia while John Mackay provided 
the breadstuflfs to feed the army. 


: The idea appealed. Mackay returned from Paris 
to San Francisco and induced his bonanza partner, 
James C. Flood, to join in the speculation. The re- 
sult was the first attempt in history to effect a world 
corner in wheat. Buying operations were intrusted 
to William Dresbach, a commission merchant with a 
connection in Liverpool. Arrangements were made 
for George L. Brander, manager of the Nevada Bank, 
to honor Dresbach's checks, while Mackay and Flood 
remained in the background. 

All the spot wheat available was purchased, and 
contracts were made for futures. Prices began to 
mount until grain commission men began to suspect 
a pool. As Dresbach's checks were all upon the Ne- 
vada Bank, which was known to be controlled by 
Flood and Mackay, the dealers finally sent a com- 
mittee to see Mr. Flood and obtain assurance that some 
one of more substantial reputation and resources than 
Dresbach was behind the deal. Flood was loath to 
commit himself, but realized that he must say some- 

"You are accepting Mr. Dresbach's contracts ?" 
he asked. 

"Yes, sir," answered the committee's spokesman. 

"Well, you may go on taking Mr. Dresbach's con- 
tracts," said Flood. 

"Do you mean that, Mr. Flood? 5 * said the chair- 

"Yes, sir; I do," said Flood. 

That was satisfactory to the commission men. 


Flood, Mackay and the Nevada Bank, they thought, 
had enough money to finance any business in the 
world. If Flood said to accept a contract, Flood would 
see to it that the contract was kept. 

But there came a day when Dresbach refused to 
take delivery, and made assignment. Mackay and 
Flood put in all the ready cash they had or could raise 
to meet the bank's obligations. The very floors of the 
vault were scraped. Word was circulated that the 
Nevada Bank for some time had been buying tele- 
graphic exchange on London and paying for it with 
sixty-day bills, and meeting these bills by drawing 
others. Then the other San Francisco banks refused 
to buy the Nevada Bank's bills. Next New York re- 
fused to take them. The corner collapsed and Dres- 
bach failed. 

Boulanger's bubble had collapsed in a ministerial 
crisis in France. Mackay hastened back to San Fran- 
cisco and joined with Flood in an outburst of in- 
dignation against Brander. He had been a trusted 
employee, they said, and had taken -advantage of Mac- 
kay's absence in Europe and Flood's illness at home in 
Menlo Park to lend vast sums to Dresbach, a common 
speculator, with enormous losses to them and to the 

"The dishonesty of a man he had trusted broke 
Flood's heart," according to the account of the in- 
cident recorded by the historian Rockwell D. Hunt. 

"It is said that he (Brander) received one hundred 
thousand dollars cash for acting as scapegoat/* ac- 


v,rding to another account, by the historian Zoeth 

The fact remains that neither Brander nor Dres- 
;>ach was ever prosecuted for fraud by Mackay, Flood 
or the Nevada Bank, although the deal nearly wrecked 
that institution, and left Mackay and Flood with a 
loss estimated at sixteen million dollars. James G. 
Fair came to the rescue of the institution and of his 
former friends and partners with a cash loan of one 
million dollars which kept the bank's doors open un- 
til I. W. Hellman of Los Angeles took it over, placed 
the stock among his friends, raised new capital and 
restored the concern to prosperity. 

It was the final dramatic public appearance of the 
bonanza kings in person. O'Brien's death had oc- 
curred in 1878 in his home at San Rafael. Flood 
went abroad shortly after the failure of the wheat 
corner, to ease his broken heart at the perfidy of an 
employee, according to his admirers. There he died, 
in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1888. Chief memorial 
to his name to-day perhaps is the Flood Building, in . 
San Francisco, built by his heirs. The family has not 
made itself as famous as the fortune. 

John Mackay's heart apparently was less sensitive. 
He survived the failure of the wheat corner to build 
himself a business monument which still survives in 
the cable and telegraph companies controlled by his 
son, Clarence H. Mackay. An even greater monu- 
ment is the Mackay School of Mines, appropriately 
endowed with money taken from Nevada's greatest 


mine, and now teaching the advanced science of min- 
ing engineering at Reno, Nevada. 

John Mackay himself was the last of the bonanza 
kings to follow the path of glory to its universal con- 
clusion. He died in London in 1902. His widow, 
and daughter, the Princess Colonna, returned with 
the body from England. It was entombed, with a 
simple private ceremony, in a mausoleum which he 
had erected shortly before. 

Clarence H. Mackay, the son who still carries on 
the Mackay name and fame, was chief heir. Sec- 
ondary were the widow who had won an enviable 
place in the social life of Paris, London and New York, 
and the daughter whose charm had been among the 
first to ally a great American fortune with a noble 
old-world title. 

But the wheat pit, the almost complete collapse of 
the Comstock mines, the troubles of the Nevada 
bank, the long battle with Jay Gould and similar ac- 
tivities had made heavy inroads in the big bonanza 
f ortune, once estimated at one hundred million dol- 
lars. In 1903, the year after the death of the great- 
est of the bonanza kings, the personal property was 
appraised at $2,501,726, invested largely in the stock 
of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 
the Commercial Cable Company, and the Commercial 
Union Telegraph Company. 

But the name, fame and fortune were not to pass 
so swiftly. Witness the thousands of columns of 
newspaper space throughout America and Europe on 


January 5,1926, devoted to chronicling the fact that 
on the preceding day Ellin H. Mackay and Irving 
Berlin had been married by a deputy city clerk in the 
New York Municipal Building. The news dispatch 
added that John William Mackay, grandfather of 
the bride, arrived at the Battery from Dublin in 
1 840, and that Moses Baline, father of the bridegroom, 
came from Russia through that same turnstile in 

Newspaper readers throughout the world were en- 
tertained by the Associated Press reports of the ap- 
parently bitter reaction of the distinguished son of an 
Irish immigrant to the marriage of his daughter with 
the jazz-famous son of a Russian immigrant. 

It was not the first association of Irish and Jew in 
the Mackay history. Moses Mock, shrewd, humor- 
ous, efficient operator of an independent ferry line in 
San Francisco Bay smiled tolerantly at the teapot 
tempest stirred by the Berlin-Mackay wedding and 
was moved to reminiscence. 

"It's amusing," said Moses Mock. "If it hadn't 
been for a Jewess, probably there wouldn't have been 
any Clarence Hungerf ord Mackay. My mother kept 
a boarding-house in Virginia City. I was born there. 
I lived there as a kid." He paused and grinned. 
"Lots of important people lived there as kids. There 
was Dr. Albert Michelson for instance, who showed 
Einstein the way. 

"Well, I dope it out this way. If my mother 
hadn't kept that boarding-house, Louise Hungerf ord 


Bryant wouldn't have boarded with hen Neither 
would John Mackay. But she did, and they did. 
Otherwise probably they never would have met. My 
mother introduced them, and promoted the match. 
Louise was a poor widow, sewing for a living, and not 
always making it. My mother carried her when she 
needed it, and John Mackay married her. Later we 
had the best of evidence that Louise appreciated it. 
When my father was burned to death and the 
boarding-house destroyed, Louise Mackay sent a 
check for five thousand dollars to my mother. It 
was a life-saver. We don't forget/' 

The bonanza fortunes are far-flung. Even many 
of the newspapers which carried the Berlin-Mackay 
story to a jazz-loving, gossip-loving world sprang in- 
directly from the Comstock. The fortune which 
helped to found the Hearst journals had its start in 
the great lode. The New York Herald-Tribune 
is still associated in some minds with the late great 
Darius Ogden Mills who accumulated millions as a di- 
rector of the great Union Mill and Mining Company 
monopoly organized by William Sharon. Almost 
daily in the news comes some name or incident recall- 
ing the Comstock to the discerning eye and accurate 
memory. Quite recently the visiting King and 
Queen of Siam were guests at Ophir Hall of the D* O. 
Mills estate. "Ophir!" It was a name to conjure 
with on the Comstock, the first and one of the great- 
est of the mines, and Mills proved himself an efficient 


Others carried on as adequately with the fortunes 
and energy developed in those thrilling days. 

James G. Fair was no longer known as "Slippery 
Jim." With the first profits of the big bonanza above 
what was actually needed for further control and 
operation of his Comstock holdings, Fair had ex- 
tended his interests in the purchase of California real 
estate, chiefly in San Francisco. When the exhaus- 
tion of the big bonanza had been demonstrated, he 
turned his business energy to politics and railroad pro- 
motion, which went hand in hand in the California 
of the 'eighties. 

In 1880 he was elected to the United States Senate 
on the Democratic ticket. About the same time he 
promoted and built the South Pacific Coast Railroad 
from San Francisco to San Jose and Santa Cruz. This 
line he sold to the Southern Pacific Company in 1 8 87 
for six million dollars. 

Fair's ambition for a second term in the United 
States Senate was thwarted by defeat in the election 
of 1886. His social ambition and that of his wife, 
the Theresa Rooney whom he had won from the pro- 
prietorship of a boarding-house in Carson Hills some 
thirty years earlier, were still driving. They were 
soon to reach their peak of demonstration in the mar- 
riage of his eldest daughter Theresa to Herman Oel- 
richs of New York. 

The account of that ceremony, occupying three 
profusely illustrated pages in the San Francisco Ex- 
aminer of June 4, 1890, is a classic example of the 


society reporting of the mauve decade which should 
be repeated in part to give an adequate idea of the 
glory to which a bonanza king could attain. The 
subsequent marriage of the second Fair daughter, 
Virginia, to William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., was pale in 
comparison. The entire city of San Francisco appar- 
ently took an interest, albeit a somewhat profane 
interest, in the Oelrichs-Fair nuptials. 

"Before the sun had set over the Golden Gate last 
night eager crowds began to gather about Pine St., 
between Jones and Leaven worth to see the outward 
evidences of the famous marriage of Miss Fair to Her- 
man Oelrichs of New York," said the inspired Exam- 
iner society reporter. 

"Ever since the engagement was announced last 
January, society has been talking of the bride's beauty 
and the groom's fame, and while society was able to 
gratify a six months' expectation, those not of the 
magic circle contented themselves with the sight of 
the hurrying carriages which disgorged their contents 
of tulle, diamonds and broadcloth in hasty succession, 
with the dazzling lights that sparkled through every 
window of the great Fair mansion; with the great pa- 
vilion that rose in the garden like a swelling balloon; 
with the conservatory and its parti-colored lanterns, 
and above all with the knowledge that some moment 
before midnight the bride and groom, with that blush 
which is traditional to such affairs, would walk from 
the house door down the long flight of canvassed steps 


under the searching of the great Brush lights to be 
hurried into a carriage, pelted with good-byes and 
whirled away to the Palace Hotel. . ." 

And so on for twenty thousand additional adjec- 
tives. That was a wedding. Neither James Graham 
Fair nor Theresa Rooney Fair were to excel it in the 
few years of glory which remained to them. It even 
gave Theresa Fair Oelrichs and later Virginia Fair 
Vanderbilt something to live up to in the social life 
of New York. 

But interest in the Fair name and fortune were to 
be continued in other ways. James Fair had led too 
active a life to relax in indolence in his declining years. 
His interest and participation in the stock-market 
continued. Undeterred by the disastrous failure of 
the Mackay-Flood attempt to corner the wheat 
market in 1887, a failure which had brought him 
back into business as president of the tottering Ne- 
vada Bank, Fair took a whirl at the same game. And 
he also demonstrated that his genius was for mining, 
not for the wheat pit. 

At his death, in December, 1 894, it was discovered 
that he owned one hundred and sixty-five thousand 
tons of wheat. The sale which was required to settle 
the estate was made at a loss of millions. No such 
haste was necessary. The famous Fair trust will was 
to remain in the courts for six years of continuous 
litigation, during which the executors defended 
twenty-six separate suits and instituted sixty-seven. 


That will is still famous in American jurisprudence. 
Its chief provisions were simply to provide three equal 
incomes from the estate in trust, to go to one son and 
the two daughters, or the daughters 3 children after 
them. But Mrs. Nettie R. Craven, a San Francisco 
school-teacher, who claimed to have been a sweet- 
heart of the bonanza king, produced a pencil will of 
later date than the trust will, and the battle was on. 
For years its ramifications crowded the courts and 
newspapers. Nine decisions in the various suits were 
appealed to the California Supreme Court, four to 
federal courts, and one to the United States Supreme 
Court. Two-thirds of the way through the period 
of litigation the estate was appraised at $12,228,998. 
By the time it was settled in favor of the heirs of ki'n 
it had grown to eighteen million dollars. In the face 
of the legal fees involved in ninety- three suits, that in 
itself is an item worthy of the fame of a bonanza 
king. And with that we may leave the four kings 
of the big bonanza, and take a final survey of the 
others whom the Comstock made rich and famous. 

William Sharon's name is raised for the edification 
of posterity upon the Sharon Building in San Fran- 
cisco, overlooking the new Palace Hotel, built after 
the earthquake and fire of 1906 upon the site of that 
original Palace which was the world's finest hotel, 
promoted by W. C. Ralston and completed by Sharon 
at a cost of six million, five hundred thousand dol- 
lajsr^That is the only tangible evidence of his former 
greatness. His heirs have not greatly distinguished 


themselves, and his fortune has not been devoted to 
altruistic endeavors. Indeed, for a time it was the 
focus of one of the most widely heralded scandals in 
the social history of the West. 

Sharon, though a cold and calculating man, was 
as ambitious socially as he was in politics and business. 
The reception which he gave at his Belmont estate in 
honor of his daughter Flora included in the guest list 
the names of Governor and Mrs. Leland Stanford, Mr. 
and Mrs. James G. Fair, Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Baldwin, 
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Crocker, Mr. and Mrs. Collis 
P. Huntington, Mr. and Mrs. George Hearst, Mr. 
and Mrs. Isaac Requa, and a host of others of similar 

It may be imagined then what a sensation was pro- 
moted when a golden-haired beauty without other 
claim to fame sued for a share of the Sharon millions 
on the ground that she was the banker's wife by a 
contract marriage. Society was stirred to its gossip- 
loving heart by the action of Sarah Althea Hill. It 
was a scandal of large proportions. The woman was 
such a vivid beauty that she had become a well- 
known figure in the gay life of San Francisco, though 
not in the better social circles. Sharon's wife had 
been dead for several years when Sarah Althea Hill 
made her first sensational charges and demands. 

The banker denied them flatly. He had never 
married Sarah Althea Hill, by contract or otherwise. 
He was a man in his sixties, with a daughter who was 
a sufficiently charming hostess even for the palace at 


Belmont which he called home* He had no need for 
and no interest in a second wife. The allegations 
were blackmail. Sharon was still a fighter, as were 
all the men who had grown great through the Corn- 

But the golden-haired Sarah was also a fighter. 
Also she was a strategist. She engaged the legal ser- 
vices of another fighter with a notch on his gun. He 
was David S. Terry, the same Kentucky giant who 
had been a justice of the California Supreme Court 
in the 'fifties, who had killed Senator D. C. Brode- 
rick in a duel, who had led a group of southern ad- 
venturers in the fortification and armed defense of 
a disputed mine in the early days of the Comstock, 
who had opposed William M. Stewart for the mastery 
of mining juries in Virginia City, and who had sacri- 
ficed the probability of a bonanza fortune to fight 
through the Civil War with the Confederate Army. 

Under Terry's direction, the fair Sarah Althea pro- 
duced a copy of the contract marriage into which she 
claimed to have entered with Sharon. For two long 
years the battle surged through the courts of Cali- 
fornia. The newspapers reveled in the story. But at 
last the state Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Field 
presiding, declared the contract to be a forgery, and 
dismissed the action. Even then the story was not 
closed. Judge Terry married his beautiful client, and 
incidentally prepared the way for a melodramatic 
climax by publicly denouncing Justice Field as an im- 
proper person to try the case because of close and 


long-standing friendship for the defendant, Sharon. 
Not satisfied with that, the fire-eating southerner 
threatened to "get" the Justice. 

And that was the situation when Terry one day 
entered the railroad eating-station at Lathrop, in the 
San Joaquin Valley. Justice Field, with a body- 
guard whom he had kept beside him since Terry's 
threats had become public, was at his lunch. The 
guard declared later that Terry moved to draw a gun 
as soon as he saw Field. Perhaps he did. The action 
was too swift for others to be competent witnesses. 
The guard fired, and Terry crashed to the floor, dead. 
Perhaps the most entertaining scandal in the history 
of California was closed. 

Sharon had not lived to see its finish. His own 
death had occurred in 1885. But another thrill had 
been added to the memory of the builder of the Corn- 

The great men were following the paths of glory to 
their inevitable conclusion. Sharon's most bitter 
enemy was becoming a notable figure in San Fran- 
cisco as he had made himself notable in the Comstock. 
Adolph Sutro was a man who could scarcely escape 
the building of a permanent monument to his own 

Nearly twenty years of desperate struggle on the 
Comstock had made Sutro a man to be reckoned with. 
But the long battle with Sharon and the continuation 
of the struggle with the four bonanza kings had not 
succeeded in destroying the versatility of Sutro's 


character. He had been a student, a dreamer and a 
builder since boyhood. With the fortune finally 
gained through the sale of his stock in the completed 
tunnel, Sutro removed to San Francisco. There he 
looked about for a field which might satisfy his ener- 
gies. He found it in the undeveloped hills upon the 
northwest side of the city. There he purchased hun- 
dreds of acres of rolling sand-dunes, an estate upon 
the cliffs overlooking the Seal Rocks, and other acre- 
age, and proceeded to reclaim and develop the wastes. 
Sutro Heights, Sutro Forest, Sutro Baths and the 
Cliff House, which have been a mecca for tourists as 
well as for residents of the bay region for half a cen- 
tury, were the result. 

Not satisfied with reclamation, forestation and 
such development, Sutro simultaneously set about the 
collection of one of the world's finest libraries. For 
years he scoured Europe, in person and through 
agents, buying the rarest and most valuable books and 
manuscripts available. His purchases included the 
treasures of the great Sunderland library, sold by the 
Duke of Marlborough, the rarest volumes of the Car- 
thusian monastery at Buxheim, and numerous other 
works equally rare. The collection quickly became 
famous among scientists and bibliophiles. It con- 
tained four thousand specimens of books printed 
prior to 1500 A.D., approximately one-seventh of all 
such books known in the world. It was rated in the 
'nineties as the fourth most valuable library in Amer- 
ica. And this invaluable treasure, as much a fruit of 


the Comstock as the Mackay School of Mines, or the 
million-dollar check given by James Fair to Mrs. Her- 
man Oelrichs, Adolph Sutro willed as a free gift to the 
public. After his death, and before the library had 
been properly housed, it was seriously depleted by the 
fire > storm and vandalism which followed the San 
Francisco earthquake in 1 9 6. Still invaluable, how- 
ever, a monument worthy of its donor, its remaining 
treasures are now the property of the State of Cali- 
fornia, housed in a branch of the State Library built 
for the purpose in the Civic Center of San Francisco. 

But though a man of rare culture and originality of 
mind, Sutro was even more a fighter than the great 
Comstockers whose opposition he had at last defeated. 
It was an easy thing for him to be drawn from the 
sedentary delights of home and books into a battle 
with the Southern Pacific Railroad barons who con- 
trolled the street railways of San Francisco. Through 
this battle he was lured on to accept the mayorality 
of his adopted city. And through it again he engaged 
in a final struggle with the railroad kings, Hunting- 
ton, Stanford, Hopkins and Crocker over the Fund- 
ing Bills which divided Congress in a bitter warfare 
in the last years of the last century. It was a struggle 
in which Adolph Sutro branded the railroad builders 
as grafters of the most arrogant type. 

Their purpose was to delay for fifty years the re- 
payment, without interest, of twenty-seven million 
dollars advanced to them for construction of the first 
transcontinental railroad. Jmtro proved that they 


had paid the bulk of this money into their own 
pockets through construction companies organized 
to handle the job. And in the end, largely through 
Sutro's violent efforts, the government recovered the 
money, with interest. It was a sensational struggle, 
and one which kept the tunnel builder's name even 
more prominently before the public than that of the 
bonanza kings, long after his death in San Francisco 
in 1898. 

And through the same years the last of the great 
Comstockers was justifying himself in the eyes of 
posterity. John P. Jones, who had brought Virginia 
City out of its most serious depression by the opening 
of the Crown Point bonanza in 1 871, perhaps deserves 
a greater fame as a king of the Comstock than he has 
had. Though a practical mining man of extraor- 
dinary ability, Jones was at heart a promoter and 
business man of wider vision than any of his associates 
in Virginia City. 

With the fortune which came to him through the 
Crown Point bonanza, he promptly broadened his 
field of activity. Having been elected from Nevada 
to the United States Senate in 1873, Jones quit the 
active superintendency of the Crown Point, and de- 
voted himself to politics. His record for accomplish- 
ment in the Senate is not especially notable except 
with regard to mining legislation, but either the rec- 
ord or his personal popularity kept him in the office 
continuously for thirty years. 

In the same period he found time for other activ- 


ities which won and lost him many times the profits 
of the Crown Point bonanza, and left his mark per- 
manently upon the Pacific Coast. Minor promotions 
included huge ice plants in Atlanta, New Orleans and 
Dallas, and the reclamation of twelve thousand acres 
of flood land in the Napa and Sonoma creek bottoms. 

But his chief interest always was in mining. Thus 
he became interested in a silver prospect in the Pana- 
mint Mountains on the western side of Death Valley, 
and in mines at Kernville, in Tulare County. The 
Panamint promotion led to the development of the 
seaside town of Santa Monica, now known to hun- 
dreds of thousands of southern California tourists. 
Senator Jones became the town's first and great- 
est benefactor. The lovely park upon its pali- 
sades, which looks over the palatial seaside homes of 
Marion Davies, Jesse Lasky, Louis Mayer, Mary 
Pickford, Joseph Schenck, to Santa Monica Bay 
with Catalina in the distance, is the gift of John P. 
Jones to his city. 

Senator Jones believed the Panamint mines would 
rival the Comstock. He recalled vividly the wealth 
and power which had come to William Sharon 
through his monopolistic control of all the chief ac- 
tivities of Virginia City and the district. The Pana- 
mints offered as fair an opportunity. With Colonel 
R. S. Baker, Jones purchased control of the San 
Vicente ranch which stretched from the open fields 
surrounding the village of Los Angeles to the great 
bluffs above the Pacific. He would connect the Pana- 


mints by rail with the ocean, build a pier for ocean- 
going ships, and control a greater project than even 
Sharon had dreamed. 

The town site of Santa Monica was laid out. The 
pier was built. But the Panamint mines failed to 
materialize. The by-product of Senator Jones 5 
dream perforce became its chief product. Santa 
Monica grew and thrived. Coasting steamers used 
the wharf long before the federal development of San 
Pedro harbor. Growing wealth in the near-by Los 
Angeles stirred the ambition and interest of its owners 
in summer homes above the beach. The city devel- 
oped, and Senator Jones recovered the fortune which 
he had lost in the barren slopes to the west of Death 

In 1888 he built a great rambling home upon the 
cliffs, and called it Miramar. It stands to-day, a hotel 
of which its builder could, but might not, be proud. 

And to this end of his path of glory Senator John 
P. Jones came in November, 1912, last and oldest of 
the leaders of the Comstock. 

A peaceful death must always be an anti-climax 
to lives so full. But the memories of the bonanza 
days defy such anticlimax. t They must remain 




As I Remember Them. C. C. GOODWIN 

The Beginnings of San Francisco. ZOETH ELDREDGE 

The Bonanza Mines and the Bonanza Kings. 

California and Californians. Vol. TV. 

Chronicles of the Builders. Vols. Ill, IV. 

Comstock Mining and Miners. ELIOT LORD 
Contemporary Biography. ALONZO PHELPS 
Financing an Empire. PROF* IRA B. CROSS 
Greater Los Angeles and So. California. 


Heroes of California. GEORGE WHARTON JAMES 
History of Bench and Bar of California. 

History of California. ZOETH ELDREDGE 
History of Nevada. .THOMPSON & WEST 
History of the Big Bonanza. DAN DEQUILLE 
History of the Southern Pacific. STUART DAGGETT 
Lights and Shades of San Francisco. BENJAMIN E. LLOYD 
Pacific Coast Annual Mining Review. 1878-88. 

Reminiscences. SENATOR WM. M. STEWART 
Resources of the Pacific Slope. J. Ross BROWN 
Sketches of Adventures in Waskoe. J. Ross BROWN 
Story of the Mine. CHARLES HOWARD SHINN 
Documents of the 4%d and jzd Congresses. 
Files of Virginia City, Gold Hilly San Francisco and Sacra- 
mento newspapers of the 9 $os, *6os, 'yos, '8os and ' 




Alcott, Jed 

quoted, 141-142 
Alpha, The, 204 
American River, The, 137, 138 
American Telephone and Telegraph Co., 


Astor, William B., 181 
Atchison, John, 105 
Auburn, 138 
Aurora, 116 
Avery, D. E,, 160 

Bajazette, The, 103 
Baker, Col. R. S., 354 
Baldwin, "Lucky," 22, 204 
Baline, Moses, 342 

Bank of California, 149, 150, 152, 153, 
154, 160, 161, 169, 170, 173, 178, 
179, 182, 183, 184, 205, 208, 210, 
213, 215, 229, 230, 231-233, 235, 
254, 255, 256, 261-262, 265, 266, 
269, 270, 271, 276, 313, 316, 32J 

crash of, 272-274, 284 
Bannocks, 67-68 
Beach, Rex 

The Spoilers, 218 
Belcher, The, 52, 109, 166-167, 199, 

231, 232, 237, 302, 319, 325 
Belmont, 270, 285, 348, 349 
Bennett, Elder, 45 
Bennett, James Gordon, 336 
Bennett, V. P., 196, 197 
Berlin, Irving, 342 
Best & Belcher, 245, 291 
Bishop, John, 33, 36, 44, 48 
Blackburn, John, 93 
Black Friday, 273, 336 
Bobtailed Nag, The, 81 
Boulanger, Georges, 337, 339 
Bowers, Sandy, 45, 75, 111-113, 226, 227 
Bowers, Mrs. Sandy, 111-113, 226-228 
Boyd, John, 125 
Bradley, John T., 19 
Brander, George L., 338-340 
Brandy City, 138 
Breyfogle mine, 56 
Brodcrick, Sen. David, 98, 349 

Brown, Buly, 105-106 

Brown, Sam, 99-103, 14S 

Browne, J. Ross, 96 

Bryant, Mrs. Louise Hungerford 

see Mackay, Mrs. J. V. 
Bucke, Dr. Richard Maurice, 34-36 
Bulette, Julia, 218-220, 276 
Bullion, The, 205, 210, 216, 242, 291, 


Burke, John H., 312 
Burning Moscow, The, 108 

Calaveras County, 16, 199 

Taranteler of, 263-265 
Caldwell, Talton, 16 
Caledonia Tunnel and Mining Co., 201 
California, Bank of 

tee Bank of California 
California, The, 136, 245, 251, 253, 268, 

271, 272, 282, 284, 306, 314, 316, 318, 

319, 322, 326, 327 
Campbell, Mr., 54 
Carson City, 42, 43, 68, 74, 93, 132, 172, 

209, 216, 261, 280 
Carson River, 22, 36, 59, 65, 79, 84, 85, 

132, 153, 159,168, 169, 209, 280 
Carson Valley, 14, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 

37, 41, 42, 50, 58, 64, 69, 73, 97, 102, 

158, 210, 278 

Cartter, James N., 264-265 
CenterviUe, The, 103 
Central Pacific Railroad, 136, 210 
Cherokee Bob, 148 

see Dayton 

Chollar-Potosi, 155, 199, 255, 282, 302 
Chollar, The, 52, 82, 104, 130 
Chronicle, The, quoted, 305 
Civil War, 181, 234, 330, 349 
Clemens, Samuel 

see Twain, Mark 
Combination, The, 324, 325 
Commercial Cable Co., 336, 341 
Commercial Union Telegraph Co., 341 
Comstock, Henry Thomas Paige ("Old 

Pancake"), 32, 36, 39-46, 48, 84, 111, 

175, 328-329 




Comstock lode 

exploitation of, 40jf 

Grosh discovery of, 33-34 

naming of, 40 

O'Riley and Mclaughlin discovery of, 


Congress, petitioned, 30 
ConsoLdated Virginia, The, 245, 246-253, 

257, 268, 271, 272, 282, 284, 291, 293, 

296, 298, 299, 300, 302, 304, 306, 309- 

310, 313, 314-316, 318, 319-320, 322, 

326, 327, 331 
Coover, 79 
Corsair, 82 
Cox, Patrick, 124 
Cradlebaugh, Judge, 97-98 
Craven, Mrs. Nettie TU 347 
Crown Point, The, 183, 186-189, 192- 

194, 198, 199, 206, 211, 213, 215, 231, 

232, 233, 237, 243, 245, 257, 261, 269, 

276, 316, 319, 353-354 
Custer Massacre, 270 

Daily Alfa California, The, 265 

quoted, 325, 330-331 
Davis, Sam, 24 
Day, 255 
Dayton, 31, 54, 122, 132, 153, 157, 158, 

216, 280 

Death Valley, 354, 355 
Deidesheimer, Philip, 78, 95, 251, 308, 

DeQuille, Dan, 24, 115, 248-252, 262 

History of the Big Bonanza, quoted, 

53-55, 175-177 
Devil's Gate Toll House, 100 
Dewey, Squire P., 286, 296-297, 300-306, 

308-309, 312, 319 
Douglas County, 103 
Dowd, P. H., 124 

Downieville, 66, 75, 136, 137, 138, 244 
Dresbach, William, 338-340 

"El Dorado Johnny," 148 
Emigrant Road, 74 
Esmeralda, 110, 151 
Evening Chronicle, The, 114 
Exchequer, The, 291 

Fair, James Graham, 19, 20, 128, 156, 
167, 200, 302, 306, 307, 309, 310, 
311. 312, 314, 328, 331, 352 
early life of, 14 

Fair, James Graham conf. 

experience with Mormons, 14-16 
in California gold-fields, 16-17 
later life of, 340, 344-347 
marriage of, 17 

rise to power of, 201-202, 205-206, 
210-211, 213, 216, 229, 233, 236, 
242-253, 257, 260, 261, 266, 268, 
271, 274-275, 284-291, 296, 299-300 
Fair, Theresa Rooney, 17, 244, 344, 346 
Field, Justice, 349-350 
Finney, James ("Old Virginia"), 28, 29, 
32-33, 36, 37, 40, 44, 48, 49, 57-58, 
84, 111, 328 

in the mines, 186-194, 207 
in Virginia City, 131-132, 276-283 
Flato, Joe, 45 
Flood Building, 340 
Flood, James C, 128, J67, 302, 305-306, 

307, 309, 310, 313, 328 
early life of, 18 
later life of, 338-340 
partnership with O'Brien, 18-20, 203- 


rise to power of, 202-205, 210, 213, 
216, 229, 233, 236, 242, 247-253, 
261, 266, 268, 271, 274-275, 284- 
291, 296, 299-300 
Flowery Ridge, 51 
Folsom, 88 
Foster, Major-General John G., 234 

Garrison, The, 108 

Gashwiler, John W., 19 

Genoa, 41, 97, 153 

Gentry, The, 103 

Gibbon, Edward, 288, 289, 291 

quoted, 292 
Gillette, Mr., 321 
Gold Canyon, 27, 28, 31, 33, 43, 46, 

50, 51, 69, 75, 84, 85, 90, 100, 132, 

153, 216 

Golden Era, The, 103 
Goldfield-Bullfrog Road, 141 
Gold Hill, 37, 39, 44, 45, 50, 55, 69, 72, 

75, 84, 85, 91, 111, 131, 132, 162, 188, 

201, 209, 216, 227, 240, 276, 279, 280, 

325, 330 

Gold Hill Guards, 90 
Gold Htll News, The, 70, 89, 105, 114 

quoted, 118-121 



Gold Hill Water Co., 239, 275 

Goodman, Joseph T., 24, 116 

Goodwin, C. C, 24, 115 

Gould, Alvah, 46 

Gould & Curry, The, 45, 46, 52, 80, 

130, HO, 151, 159, 199, 245, 246, 

255, 291 

Gould, Jay, 336, 341 
Grant, U. $., 234, 269 

visit to Virginia City, 330-331 
Grass Valley, The, 49, 50, 103 
Greeley, Horace, 112, 269 
Grizzly Hill, The, 81 
Grosh brothers, 104 

Ethan Allen, 33-36, 86 

Hosea Ballou, 33-34 

Grosh Gold and Silver Mining Co., 104 
Gurley, 125 

Haggin, James B., 19 

Haines, 143 

Hale & Norcross, 45, 52, 199, 201, 205, 

206, 210, 216, 242, 243, 245, 319, 325- 


Harris, 79 
Harte, Bret 

Outcasts of Poker Flat, 14S 
Hastings, 59 
Hayward, Alvinza, 156, 211-214, 215, 

231, 237, 266, 269 
Hearst, George, 47, 348 
Hearst, William Randolph, 47 
Heffernan, Arthur Perkins, 222-223 
Henderson, Aleck, 36 
Hill, Sarah Althea, 348-349 
History of the Big Bonanza, The 

by Dan DeQuille, quoted, 53-55, 175- 


Hobart Creek, 240 
Hobart, W. S., 275 
Holmes, 59 
House Committee on Mines and Mining, 

165, 181, 185, 234-235, 255-256, 266, 


Houseworth, V. A., 55 
HuAgerford, CoL Dan, 244 
Hyde, Apostle Orson, 29, 32 
Hydenfeldt, Solomon, 19 

Independent, The, 265 

Indian Springs, 10 

International Hotel, 91, 112, 226, 270 

James, George Wharton, 208 
James, J. E., 169, 171, 172, 240 
Janes, William, 124 
Job, Jacob, 32 
Johnson, Pres. Andrew 

impeachment of, 229, 230 
Johntown, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37 
Jones, John P., 22, 128, 192, 198-199, 

211-214, 215, 231, 237, 243, 257, 260, 

261, 263-265, 266, 269, 299, 312, 353- 


Jones, Lyman, 73, 146 
Julia, The, 324 
Junction Hill, 61 
Justice, The, 162, 232, 295 

Keene, James IL, 19 

Kelly, Nicholas, 27 

Kentuck, The, 186-189, 194, 199, 201, 

205, 206, 216, 242, 276 
Keystone, The, 103 
Kingsbury Canyon, 143 
Kirk, George B., 224-225 
Knight, Bill, 45 

Lackey, 124 
Lady Bryant, The, 81 
Lake Tahoe, 50, 63, 137 
Lake Valley House, 63 
Latter-Day Saints 

see Mormons 
Leonard, James, 333 
Lindennan, 252, 308 
Locke, Judge, 108 
Logan, 59 

Lord, Eliot, quoted, 92 
Los Angeles, 285, 354 
Luckhardt, 255 

Mackay, Clarence H., 536, 340, 341-342 
Mackay, Ellin H., 342 
Mackay, John William, 19, 20, 128, 156, 
167, 302-305, 306, 307, 310, 311, 
312, 314, 328, 331, 342, 343 
early life of, 17, 200 
in California gold-fields, 18 
later life of, 335-341 
rise to power of, 201-202, 205, 210- 
211, 213, 216, 229, 233, 236, 242- 
253, 257, 260, 261, 266, 268, 271- 
272, 274-275, 284-291, 296, 299-300 
Mackay, Mrs, J. W-, 244, 285, 335, 343 



Mackay School of Mines, 290, 340-341, 


Mail, The, quoted, 304-305 
Mammoth, The, 81 
Marietta, The, 110 
Mayfield, 93 
Mazeppa, The, 237 
McCall, The, 97, 99, 108 
McCalmonts* Bank, 235, 254, 25$, 267, 

259, 297, 298, 313, 318 
McCullough, John, 127 
McEwen, Arthur, 24 
McGuire's Opera House, 12 6, 127 
McLaughlin, Patrick, 33, 38, 59-40, 44, 

47, 48, 52, 56, 175, 243 
McNabb, Jack, 124 

Mexican, The, 52, 80, 97, 130, 131, 150, 


Michelson, Dr. Albert, 342 
Mfflain, John, 219-221, 241 
Mills, Darius Ogden, 19, 22, 15$, 161, 

175, 211, 273, 274, 343 
Mitchell, H. K., 1*0 
Mock, Moses, 342-343 
Mock, Mrs., 244 
Moore, 73 

Mormons, 15-1*, 2*-30, 42, 52, 143 
Mott, Judge Gordon N., 104-105 
Mount Davidson, 17, 18, 20, 22, 31, 3$, 

48, 51, 59, 69, 72, 73, 84, 130, 157, 
215, 21*, 240, 277, 322 

National Guard, 221, 227 
Nevada, admitted to Union, 150 
Nevada Bank of San Francisco, 274-275, 

30*, 307, 313, 338-339, 34* 
Nevada City, **, 75, 79 
Nevada Company, The, 13* 
Nevada Mill & Mining Co., 214, 231 
Nevada, Territory of, 30, 90, 133, 148 
Newcomb, Prof. Wesley, 1*5, 234 
New* Letter, The, quoted, 305 
Newton Canyon, 125 
New York Herald, The, 33* 
New York Herald-Tribune, The, 343 
Nob Hill, 285 

North, James W., 104-105, 108 
Nye, James V., 90-92, 112, 150 

O'Brien, Viffiam $ 1*7, 502, 30*, 310, 

later life of, 340 

O'Brien, William S. cont. 

partnership with Flood, 18-20, 203- 

rise to power of, 202-205, 210, 213, 
21*, 229, 23*, 242, 247-253, 2*1, 
2*8, 271, 274-275, 284-291, 300 
Oelrichs, Herman, 344-345 
Oelrichs, Theresa Fair, 344-34*, 352 
"Old Pancake" 

see Comstock, H. T. P. 
"Old Virginia" 

see Finney, James 
Ophir Hall, 343 
Ophir, The, 39, 42, 44, 51, 5*, 57, 76- 

78, 80, 82, 97-99, 108, 130, 131, 142, 

14*, 150, 175, 199, 201, 232, 245, 

251, 255, 259, 278, 291, 302, 31*, 333 
O'Riley, Peter, 33, 38, 39-40, 44, 47, 48, 

52, 5*, 75, 175, 243 
Ormsby County, 171 
Ormsby, Major, *5, *8 
Orr, John, 27 
Orrum, Eilley 

see Bowers, Mrs. Sandy 
Osborne, J. A., ("Kentuck"), 44, 47, 48 
Outcasts of Poker Flat 

by Bret Harte, 148 
Overland Co., The, 14* 
Overman, The, 113, 150, 1*3, 232, 291, 


Pacific Coast Mmtng Review, quoted, 

Pacific Mill and Mining Co., 275, 301, 


Pacific Union Co., 195-19* 
Pacific "Wood, Lumber & Flume Co., 275 
Paine, Albert Bigclow, 117, 121 
Palace Hotel, 270, 34*, 347 
Palmyra, 110 

Panamints, The, 110, 354-355 
Paul, Almarin B., 79 
Pauper Alley, 294 
Peerless, The, 103 

Penrod, Manny, 33, 40, 44, 45, 47 
Pioneer Line, The, 13* 
Pioneer Mill, 79 
Pioneer Stage Co., The, 74 
Piper's Opera House, 208, 225, 229, 237, 

Piute Indians, 44, 49, *5-*8, 2X1 



Placerville, 31-32, 35, 43, 58, 59, 60, 61, 

64, 74, 88, 95, 134, 136, 137 
Platt, E. C, 303 
Pleasant Hill, 49 
Pony Express, 85, 145, 195-197 
Postal Telegraph Co., 336 
Potosi, 52, 104-107, 130 
Prouse, "William, 27 
Pyramid Lake, 65, 68 

Ralston, William C, 149, 154-155, 156, 

158, 161, 179, 181, 182, 211, 270, 272- 

274, 275, 285, 347 
Red Dog, 138 
Reis, Chris, 86, 89 
Reise, David, 54 

by William M. Stewart, 116-117 
Reno, 13, 46, 138, 169, 173, 195-196, 

210, 331 

Rock Island, The, 227 
Rooney, Theresa 

see Fair, Theresa Rooney 
Root Hog or Die, The, 81 
Rough and Ready, 138 
Roughtng tt 

by Mark Twain, 110, 115-116 
Ruspas, George, 54-55 

Sacramento, 17, 60, 64, 66, 88-89, 135, 

137, 138, 139 
Sacramento River, 149 
Sacramento Union, 136 
Sacramento Valley, 59, 88, 137 
Salisbury, 86-87 

Salt Lake City, 15, 28, 29, 30, 114 
San Francisco, 42, 58, 60, 78, 79, 80, 81, 

82-83, 86, 89, 112, 135, 146, 156, 161, 

202, 222, 231, 269, 271, 279, 284, 

291, 292-293, 299-338 
San Francisco Bulletin, 308 

quoted, 82-83 
San Franctsco Chronicle 

quoted, 321-322 
San Francisco Examiner, The 

quoted, 344-346 
Santa Monica, 354-355 
Savage, The, 45, 80, 150, 205, 210, 216, 

242, 282, 291, 319, 320-322, 326 
Schussler, Henry, 239-240 
Seven-Mile Canyon, 51 
Sharon Building, 347 

Sharon, Flora, 348 

Sharon, William, 20-21, 128, 202, 204, 
216, 240, 299, 312, 313, 316, 328, 
343, 354, 355 

and Bank of California, 149-155, 179 
and the monopoly, 156, 158, 160, 161- 
162, 165-175, 182-186, 197, 205- 
206, 208, 209-211, 214, 215, 229, 
231-232, 233, 236-237, 253, 255, 
260, 261 

as senator, 262, 265, 266, 285, 329 
deposed, 274-275, 287 
description of, 148-149 
early life of, 49 
later life of, 347-350 
Shinn, Charles Howard, quoted, 294 
Siefeldt, 125 
Sierra City, 75, 138 
Sierra Nevada Co., The, 163, 169, 225 
Sierras, 13, 27, 30, 35, 49, 50, 58-64, 71, 
79, 80, 84, 86-88, 140, 156, 174, 215, 
237, 238, 240 
Sierraville, 138 
Silver City, 280 
Six-Mile Canyon, 31, 38, 51 
Skae, John, 275 

Society of Pacific Pioneers, 330 
Spotlers, The 

by Rex Beach, 218 
Sportsmen's Hall, 61 
Squaw Valley, 35 
St. Louis Republican 

quoted, 44-46 
State of Deseret, 26-27 
Stewart, William M., 22, 70, 128, 160, 

179, 181, 184, 261, 349 
and Sam Brown, 100-102 
elected to Senate, 150 
journey of, 85-89 
law cases, 97-99, 105-109 
Reminiscences, 116-117 
Stockton, 17 
Storey, Capt. E. F., 67 
Storey County, 13, 67, 171 
Strawberry Flat, 87 j 

Strawberry Hotel, 62-63, 87 
Sturtevant, Jim, 54-55 
Sunderland, 255 

Sunlight tunnel project, 163-165 
Sun Peak, 13, 17, 31 
Sutro, Adolph, 122-123, 128, 156-158, 
178, 202, 205, 226 



Sutro, Adolph cont. 

and his tunnel, 158-160, 179-186, 195, 
197, 206-209, 215, 216, 229-236, 
254-260, 262, 265-267, 269, 286- 
288, 296-298, 311, 314, 318-329, 

early life of, 21-22, 79-80 
later life of, 350-353 
quoted, 165-166, 184, 310-311, 312 
Sutro, Mrs. Adolph, 331 
Sutro, town of, 236, 257, 280 
Sutro Tunnel Co., 160, 179, 256, 266- 

267, 297 
Swan & Co., 74, 133, 135 

Telegraph line, 145-146 

Territorial Enterprise, The, 53, 113, 114- 

127, 226, 237, 248-250, 252, 326 
and Mark Twain, 23-24, 115-123 
quoted, 104-105, 112-113, 163-165, 

177-178, 186, 196, 197, 280-281 
Terry, David S., 98, 124, 349-350 
Transportation, 133-142 
Trotter, Doc, 56-57 
Tnickee River, 171, 173 
Turner, Chief Justice, 104, 108 
Twain, Mark, 22-24, 53, 148, 164-165, 
Roughing It, 110, 115, 116 

Uncle Sam, The, 103, 232 

Union Mill and Mining Co., 156, 161, 

171, 214, 237, 301, 343 
Utah, The, 162 

Vanderbilt, Commodore, 181 
Vanderbilt, Virginia Fair, 345, 346 
Van Sickles, 102-103, 148 
Vigilantes, 222-225 
Virginia and Gold Hill Water Co., 175, 

Virginia, Carson and Truckee Railroad 

Co., 171 
Virginia City, 43 

decline of, 332-334 

descriptions of, 71-73, 75, 93-M* U3- 
114, 151, 216 

fires, 131-132, 276-283 

murders in, 217-225 

named, 49 

Virginia City cont. 

newspapers of, 114-125 

prosperity of, 261 

recreations of, 114, 125-128, 225-226, 

vigilantes in, 222-225 

visited by Gen. Grant, 330-331 

water problem, 238-241 
Virginia Cxty Engine Co., 218, 276 
Virginia City Theatre, 127 
Virginia Union Guards, 90 

Walker Lake, 68 

Walker River, 38, 145 

Walsh, Judge James, 43, 45, 46, 49-50, 


Washoe district, 49, 60, 93, 215 
Washoe Gold and Silver Mining Co., 79, 


Washoe Mountains, 16, 17, 27, 59 
Washoe Valley, 29, 75, 112, 226, 227, 


"Washoe zephyrs," 73, 276, 282 
Wederkinch, Carl O., 260 
Wells-Fargo Express Co., 25, 146, 195- 


Western Union Telegraph Co., 336-337 
Whitbeck, The, 108 
White, James, 303 

Williams, Gen. Thomas H., 109, 321-322 
Williams, John, 91-92 
Williams' Station, 65, 67, 68 
Winnemucca, 49, 68, 112 
Wmnemucca, Sarah, 32 
Winters, Jack, 33, 48 
Woodruff, 45, 51 
Woodworth, Joe, 49-50, 57, 59 
Wooly Horse, The, 81 
Wright, Major-Generai H. G., 234 
Wright, William 

see DeQudle, Dan 

Yellow Jacket, The, 51-52, 103, 155, 
163, 186-191, 194, 198, 206, 207, 232, 
276, 278, 292 

Yerington, Bliss & Co., 143 

Young, Brigham, 28, 52 

Yount, Jack, 36 

Yuba River, 13ft