peculiarly original

My salary was increased to forty dollars a week. But I seldom drew it.
I had plenty of other resources, and what were two broad twenty-dollar
gold pieces to a man who had his pockets full of such and a cumbersome
abundance of bright half dollars besides? [Paper money has never come
into use on the Pacific coast.] Reporting was lucrative, and every man
in the town was lavish with his money and his “feet.” The city and all
the great mountain side were riddled with mining shafts. There were more
mines than miners. True, not ten of these mines were yielding rock worth
hauling to a mill, but everybody said, “Wait till the shaft gets down
where the ledge comes in solid, and then you will see!” So nobody was
discouraged. These were nearly all “wild cat” mines, and wholly
worthless, but nobody believed it then. The “Ophir,” the “Gould &
Curry,” the “Mexican,” and other great mines on the Comstock lead in
Virginia and Gold Hill were turning out huge piles of rich rock every
day, and every man believed that his little wild cat claim was as good as
any on the “main lead” and would infallibly be worth a thousand dollars a
foot when he “got down where it came in solid.” Poor fellow, he was
blessedly blind to the fact that he never would see that day. So the
thousand wild cat shafts burrowed deeper and deeper into the earth day by
day, and all men were beside themselves with hope and happiness. How
they labored, prophesied, exulted! Surely nothing like it was ever seen
before since the world began. Every one of these wild cat mines–not
mines, but holes in the ground over imaginary mines–was incorporated and
had handsomely engraved “stock” and the stock was salable, too. It was
bought and sold with a feverish avidity in the boards every day. You
could go up on the mountain side, scratch around and find a ledge (there
was no lack of them), put up a “notice” with a grandiloquent name in it,
start a shaft, get your stock printed, and with nothing whatever to prove
that your mine was worth a straw, you could put your stock on the market
and sell out for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. To make money,
and make it fast, was as easy as it was to eat your dinner.

Every man owned “feet” in fifty different wild cat mines and considered
his fortune made. Think of a city with not one solitary poor man in it!
One would suppose that when month after month went by and still not a
wild cat mine (by wild cat I mean, in general terms, any claim not
located on the mother vein, i.e., the “Comstock”) yielded a ton of rock
worth crushing, the people would begin to wonder if they were not putting
too much faith in their prospective riches; but there was not a thought
of such a thing. They burrowed away, bought and sold, and were happy.

New claims were taken up daily, and it was the friendly custom to run
straight to the newspaper offices, give the reporter forty or fifty
“feet,” and get them to go and examine the mine and publish a notice of
it. They did not care a fig what you said about the property so you said
something. Consequently we generally said a word or two to the effect
that the “indications” were good, or that the ledge was “six feet wide,”
or that the rock “resembled the Comstock” (and so it did–but as a
general thing the resemblance was not startling enough to knock you
down). If the rock was moderately promising, we followed the custom of
the country, used strong adjectives and frothed at the mouth as if a very
marvel in silver discoveries had transpired. If the mine was a
“developed” one, and had no pay ore to show (and of course it hadn’t), we
praised the tunnel; said it was one of the most infatuating tunnels in
the land; driveled and driveled about the tunnel till we ran entirely out
of ecstasies–but never said a word about the rock. We would squander
half a column of adulation on a shaft, or a new wire rope, or a dressed
pine windlass, or a fascinating force pump, and close with a burst of
admiration of the “gentlemanly and efficient Superintendent” of the mine
–but never utter a whisper about the rock. And those people were always
pleased, always satisfied. Occasionally we patched up and varnished our
reputation for discrimination and stern, undeviating accuracy, by giving
some old abandoned claim a blast that ought to have made its dry bones
rattle–and then somebody would seize it and sell it on the fleeting
notoriety thus conferred upon it.

There was nothing in the shape of a mining claim that was not salable.
We received presents of “feet” every day. If we needed a hundred dollars
or so, we sold some; if not, we hoarded it away, satisfied that it would
ultimately be worth a thousand dollars a foot. I had a trunk about half
full of “stock.” When a claim made a stir in the market and went up to a
high figure, I searched through my pile to see if I had any of its stock
–and generally found it.

The prices rose and fell constantly; but still a fall disturbed us
little, because a thousand dollars a foot was our figure, and so we were
content to let it fluctuate as much as it pleased till it reached it.
My pile of stock was not all given to me by people who wished their
claims “noticed.” At least half of it was given me by persons who had no
thought of such a thing, and looked for nothing more than a simple verbal
“thank you;” and you were not even obliged by law to furnish that.
If you are coming up the street with a couple of baskets of apples in
your hands, and you meet a friend, you naturally invite him to take a
few. That describes the condition of things in Virginia in the “flush
times.” Every man had his pockets full of stock, and it was the actual
custom of the country to part with small quantities of it to friends
without the asking.

Very often it was a good idea to close the transaction instantly, when a
man offered a stock present to a friend, for the offer was only good and
binding at that moment, and if the price went to a high figure shortly
afterward the procrastination was a thing to be regretted. Mr. Stewart
(Senator, now, from Nevada) one day told me he would give me twenty feet
of “Justis” stock if I would walk over to his office. It was worth five
or ten dollars a foot. I asked him to make the offer good for next day,
as I was just going to dinner. He said he would not be in town; so I
risked it and took my dinner instead of the stock. Within the week the
price went up to seventy dollars and afterward to a hundred and fifty,
but nothing could make that man yield. I suppose he sold that stock of
mine and placed the guilty proceeds in his own pocket. [My revenge will
be found in the accompanying portrait.] I met three friends one
afternoon, who said they had been buying “Overman” stock at auction at
eight dollars a foot. One said if I would come up to his office he would
give me fifteen feet; another said he would add fifteen; the third said
he would do the same. But I was going after an inquest and could not
stop. A few weeks afterward they sold all their “Overman” at six hundred
dollars a foot and generously came around to tell me about it–and also
to urge me to accept of the next forty-five feet of it that people tried
to force on me.

These are actual facts, and I could make the list a long one and still
confine myself strictly to the truth. Many a time friends gave us as
much as twenty-five feet of stock that was selling at twenty-five dollars
a foot, and they thought no more of it than they would of offering a
guest a cigar. These were “flush times” indeed! I thought they were
going to last always, but somehow I never was much of a prophet.

To show what a wild spirit possessed the mining brain of the community,
I will remark that “claims” were actually “located” in excavations for
cellars, where the pick had exposed what seemed to be quartz veins–and
not cellars in the suburbs, either, but in the very heart of the city;
and forthwith stock would be issued and thrown on the market. It was
small matter who the cellar belonged to–the “ledge” belonged to the
finder, and unless the United States government interfered (inasmuch as
the government holds the primary right to mines of the noble metals in
Nevada–or at least did then), it was considered to be his privilege to
work it. Imagine a stranger staking out a mining claim among the costly
shrubbery in your front yard and calmly proceeding to lay waste the
ground with pick and shovel and blasting powder! It has been often done
in California. In the middle of one of the principal business streets of
Virginia, a man “located” a mining claim and began a shaft on it. He
gave me a hundred feet of the stock and I sold it for a fine suit of
clothes because I was afraid somebody would fall down the shaft and sue
for damages. I owned in another claim that was located in the middle of
another street; and to show how absurd people can be, that “East India”
stock (as it was called) sold briskly although there was an ancient
tunnel running directly under the claim and any man could go into it and
see that it did not cut a quartz ledge or anything that remotely
resembled one.

One plan of acquiring sudden wealth was to “salt” a wild cat claim and
sell out while the excitement was up. The process was simple.

The schemer located a worthless ledge, sunk a shaft on it, bought a wagon
load of rich “Comstock” ore, dumped a portion of it into the shaft and
piled the rest by its side, above ground. Then he showed the property to
a simpleton and sold it to him at a high figure. Of course the wagon
load of rich ore was all that the victim ever got out of his purchase.
A most remarkable case of “salting” was that of the “North Ophir.”
It was claimed that this vein was a “remote extension” of the original
“Ophir,” a valuable mine on the “Comstock.” For a few days everybody was
talking about the rich developments in the North Ophir. It was said that
it yielded perfectly pure silver in small, solid lumps. I went to the
place with the owners, and found a shaft six or eight feet deep, in the
bottom of which was a badly shattered vein of dull, yellowish,
unpromising rock. One would as soon expect to find silver in a
grindstone. We got out a pan of the rubbish and washed it in a puddle,
and sure enough, among the sediment we found half a dozen black,
bullet-looking pellets of unimpeachable “native” silver. Nobody had ever
heard of such a thing before; science could not account for such a queer
novelty. The stock rose to sixty-five dollars a foot, and at this figure
the world-renowned tragedian, McKean Buchanan, bought a commanding
interest and prepared to quit the stage once more–he was always doing
that. And then it transpired that the mine had been “salted”–and not in
any hackneyed way, either, but in a singularly bold, barefaced and
peculiarly original and outrageous fashion. On one of the lumps of
“native” silver was discovered the minted legend, “TED STATES OF,” and
then it was plainly apparent that the mine had been “salted” with melted
half-dollars! The lumps thus obtained had been blackened till they
resembled native silver, and were then mixed with the shattered rock in
the bottom of the shaft. It is literally true. Of course the price of
the stock at once fell to nothing, and the tragedian was ruined. But for
this calamity we might have lost McKean Buchanan from the stage.