Pictures and Illustrations.
A Trip to Bodie Bluff and the Dead Sea of the West.
Of the Bodie district I had heard the most enthusiastic accounts. It was represented to be a region of peculiar interest in a mineralogical point of view; and the scenery was reputed to be as barren as any thing I had enjoyed during my recent tour through Arizona. For the matter of comfort, I was assured that if an utter lack of accommodation for man or beast, and a reasonable chance of suffering from chilly nights and dusty roads, could be accounted among the luxuries of travel, I would not be likely to regret the trip.
A friend politely offered me the use of his buggy, and agreed to drive the horses himself — a proposition which I gladly accepted for two reasons; first, because I knew nothing of the road; and, secondly, because I had no confidence in horses ridden or driven by myself. Up to that period of their lives they had always been very good horses; but they invariably underwent a radical change upon discovering that they had fallen under my control.
My friend was called the Judge, though I believe he claimed to be of no higher rank than an attorney at law. All popular lawyers, however, are judges in Nevada, whether they practice at the bar or sit upon the bench. He was a gentleman of good sense and genial manners, and although bred to the legal profession tool no mean advantage of me during the entire trip. No outfit beyond a few cold chickens, a ham, some crackers, and a bottle of medicine to use in case of snake-bites, would be necessary, the Judge assured me, unless I contemplated spending some time in the mountains. There was snake-medicine to be had on the way, but he advised me not to trust to it, as it was more poisonous than the virus of the snakes. I inquired if these vicious reptiles, of which I had heard so much in Aurora, were of the rattle or copperhead species; to which my friend replied that both of these were very prevalent in the country; but the greatest damage was done by a venomous reptile scarcely known to naturalists, of which a specimen dead or alive had never yet been caught.
On a fine morning in September we set forth on our expedition. The rugged cliffs along the road cropped out at every turn like grim old castles of feudal times, and there were frowning fortresses of solid rock that seemed ready to belch forth murderous streams of fire upon any enemy that might approach. I was particularly struck with the rugged grandeur of the scenery in the neighborhood of Fogus's quartz-mill; and on the occasion of a subsequent visit made a sketch of the mill and principal bluff.
At Haskell's toll-gate, about a mile from the town, we halted a while to enjoy the hospitality of the worthy toll-keeper and his wife, who cordially invited us to stop and dine with them. I found here what I had not unfrequently before
275met with in the course of my travels through this wild region — refinement aind intelligence. The cabin was a mere frame shanty of therudest kind; yet it was clean and neat; nicely carpeted and prettily ornamented with water-colored sketches, very cleverly executed by Mrs. Haskell. The tables were covered with books periodicals, among which I observed a Magazine that takes the lead in civilizing new countries, but of which special mention would be superfluous. The readers of Harper will understand, of course, that good taste, good order, intelligence, pretty children, and domestic happiness are the necessary consequences, even in a mountain cabin, of a few years subscription to a Magazine, which, according to the advertisement, contains in itself a library of useful and entertaining knowledge.
We stopped a while at the foot of the grade to visit the magnificent quartz-mills of the Real del Monte and Antelope Mining Companies, of which I had heard much since my arrival at Aurora. Both of these mills are built of brick on the same plan, and in the Gothic style of architecture. Nothing finer in point of symmetrical proportion, beauty and finish of the machinery, and capacity for reducing ores by crushing and amalgamation, exists on the eastern slope of the Sierras. These mills were in operation at the time of our visit, but were not working to their full capacity, owing to the want of a sufficiency of ore. I had little expected to find in this out-of-the-way part of the world such splendid monuments of enterprise. The Real del Monte contains a battery of thirty stamps; thirty-six Wheeler pans, and other machinery in proportion; the Antelope a somewhat smaller number of stamps and pans. Steam is the motive power, and the machinery works with the neatness and perfection of clock-work. Of the process of amalgamation I propose to give an account in some future paper; and shall now be satisfied if I can give a reasonably good view of the mills, as seen from the point at which the road diverges to Bodie.
Passing several other mills, as we proceeded up the canon, one of which was burned a few days after, we entered a singularly wild and rugged pass in the mountains, where it seemed as if the earth had been rent asunder by some convulsion of nature for the express purpose of letting people through. The Judge was of opinion that this curious piece of engineering was performed by the bursting through of a river or flood in by-gone times. It reminded me of the Almannajau in Iceland, which was
276evidently produced by the contraction of the lava as it cooled and dried. Whatever way it happened, the road thus formed is a great convenience to the traveling public.
Several fine valleys, now used as hay and cattle ranches, lie between Aurora and Bodie. They are small, but rich in soil and well watered by the springs that course down from the neighboring ravines, and produce some fine grass. The ranch-men were at work hauling the hay to the Aurora market, where it brings from $40 to $60 a ton. Hay ranches are as good as silver mines almost any where on the eastern slope — better, in some respects, for they are certain to yield something for the labor expended upon them. A scrubby growth of pine relieves in some measure the sterile aspect of the surrounding mountains, which, as we advanced on our way, seemed to become more and more barren. Some eight or nine miles from Aurora we reached the base of a conical hill, surmounted by a range of reddish-colored cliffs, very rough, jagged, and picturesque, a capital looking place for a den of robbers or a gold mine. This was the famous Bodie Bluff. The entire hill, as well as the surrounding country, is destitute of vegetation, with the exception of sage-brush and bunch-grass — presenting even to the eye of a traveler who had just been surfeited with the deserts of Arizona a wonderfully refreshing picture of desolation.
We reveled in dust along the road that skirts the Bluff; it was rich and unctuous, and penetrated us through and through, so that by the time we arrived at the Judge's cabin, where he had some workmen employed, we were permeated with the precious metals of Bodie. A fine spring of water, aided by a little snake-medicine, set us all right; and a good lunch preparedus for a tour of exploration over the mountains.
I must here introduce the reader to the interior of a miner's cabin. The Judge had some ten or a dozen men employed, who lived in a frame shanty close by a fine spring of water, surrounded by the most luxuriant natural garden of sage-brush, weeds, wild flax, and other ornamental products of the earth which seemed to rejoice in the prolific soil of this region. These jolly miners were the happiest set of bachelors imaginable; had neither chick nor child, that I knew of, to trouble them; cooked their own food; did their own washing; mended their own clothes, made their own beds, and on Sundays cut their own hair, greased their own boots, and brushed their own coats; thus proving by the most direct positive evidence that woman is an unnecessary and expensive institution which ought to be abolished by law. I have always maintained, and do still contend,
277that the constant interference, the despotic sway, the exactions and caprices of the female sex ought no longer to be tolerated; and it is with a glow of pride and triumph that I introduce this striking example of the ability of man to live in a state of perfect exemption from all these trials and tribulations. True, I must admit that the honest miners of Bodie spent a peat deal of their leisure time in reading yellow-covered novels and writing love-letters; but that was probably only a clever device to fortify themselves against the insidious approaches of the enemy.
I spent three days at Bodie, during which, owing to the kindness of the Judge, who was determined that I should see every thing, my time was very fully occupied. In fact, it is a little remarkable that I am now alive to tell the story of my adventures. I penetrated more shafts in the earth, was dragged through more dangerous pits and holes in wooden buckets, was forced to creep over more slippery ledges, rich in mineral deposits, and to climb up a greater number of rickety ladders than I would like to undertake again for less than a thousand shares in the "Empire Gold and Silver Mining Company." But as I design these papers rather for information than amusement, I will state the results of my observations in as matter-of-fact a way as it is possible for a man of my temperament to write.
In the undeveloped condition of the mines, which are yet but partially opened, much is left to conjecture; but from the direction of the various lodes I should judge them to be ramifications from some great principal vein, or Veta Madre, as the Mexicans call it. Loose quartz in disconnected masses is found on the surface of the hill, within the limits assumed as belonging to the mother vein; and the probability is a rich deposit of mineral lies at the point of junction, which is estimated to be from three to five hundred feet below the surface of the earth.
I descended several of these shafts rather to oblige my friend the Judge than to satisfy any curiosity I had on the subject myself. This thing of being dropped down two hundred feet into the bowels of the earth in wooden buckets, and hoisted out by blind horses attached to "whims," may be very amusing to read about, but I have enjoyed pleasanter modes of locomotion. There was one shaft in particular which left an indelible impression upon my mind — so much so indeed that I am astonished every hair in my head is not quite gray. It was in the San Antonio, a mine in which the Judge held an interest in connection with a worthy Norwegian by the name of Jansen. As I had
278traveled in Norway, Jansen was enthusiastic in his devotion to my enjoyment — declared he would go down with me himself and show me every thing worth seeing — even to the lower level just opened. While I was attempting to frame an excuse the honest Norwegian had lighted a couple of candles, given directions to one of the "boys" to look out for the old blind horse attached to the whim, and now stood ready at the mouth of the shaft to guide me into the subterranean regions.
"Mr. Jansen," said I, looking with horror at the rickety wooden bucket and the flimsy little rope that was to hold us suspended between the surface of the earth and eternity, "is that rope strong?"
"Well, I think it's strong enough to hold us," replied Jansen; "it carries a ton of ore. We don't weigh a ton, I guess."
"But the bucket looks fearfully battered. And who can vouch that the old horse won't run away and let us down by the run?"
"Oh, Sir, he's used to it. That horse never runs. You see he's fast asleep now. He sleeps all along on the down turn. It's the up turn that gets him."
"Mr. Jansen," said I, "all that may be very true; but suppose the bucket should catch and drop us out?"
"Well, sometimes it catches; but nobody's been hurt bad yet: one man fell fifteen feet perpendicular. He lit on the top of his head."
"Wasn't he killed?"
"No: he was only stunned a little. There was a buzzin about among his brains for a few days after; he's at work down below now as well as ever."
"Mr. Jansen, upon the whole I think I'd rather go down by the ladder, if it's all the same to you."
"Certainly, Sir, suit yourself; only the ladder's sort o broke in spots, and you'll find it a tolerably hard climb down; hows'ever I'll go ahead and sing out when I come to the bad places."
With this the Norwegian disappeared. I looked down after him. The shaft was about four feet square; rough, black, and dismal, with a small flickering light, apparently a thousand feet below, making the darkness visible. It was almost perpendicular; the ladders stood against the near side, perched on ledges or hanging together by means of chafed and ragged-looking ropes. I regretted that I had not taken Jansen's advice and committed myself to the bucket; but it was now too late. With a hurried glance at the bright world around me, a thought of home and the unhappy condition of widows and orphans, as a general thing, I seized the rungs of the ladder and took the irrevocable dive. Down I crept, rung after rung, ladder after ladder, in the black darkness, with the solid walls of rock pressing the air close around me. Sometimes I heard the incoherent mutterings of voices below, but could make nothing of them. Perhaps Jansen was warning me of breaks in the ladder; perhaps his voice was split up by the rocks and sounded like many voices; or it might be that there were gnomes whisking about in the dark depths below. Down and still down I crept; slower and slower, for I was getting tired, and I fancied there might be poisonous gases in the air. When I had reached to the depth of a thousand feet, as it seemed, but about a hundred and forty as it was in reality, the thought occurred to me that I was beginning to get alarmed. In truth I was shaking like a man with an ague. Suppose I should become nervous and lose my grip on the ladder? The very idea was enough to make me shaky. There was an indefinite extent of shaft underneath; black, narrow, and scraggy, with a solid base of rock at the bottom. I did not wonder that it caused a buzzing of the brain to fall fifteen feet and light on the top of the head. My brain was buzzing already, and I had not fallen yet. But the prospect to that effect was getting better and better every moment, for I was now quite out of breath, and had to stop and cling around the ladder to avoid falling. The longer I stood this way the more certain it became that sooner or later I would lose my presence of mind and topple over. With a desperate effort I proceeded, step after step, clinging to the frail wood-work as the drowning man clings to a straw, gasping for breath; the cold sweat streaming down my face, and my jaws chattering audibly. The breaks in the ladders were getting fearfully common. Sometimes I found two rungs gone, sometimes six or seven; and then I had to slide down by the sides till my feet found a resting-place on another rung or some casual ledge of rock. To Jansen, or the miners who worked down in the shaft every day, all this of course was mere pastime. They knew every break and resting-place; and besides, familiarity with any particular kind of danger blunts the sense of it. I am confident I could make the same trip again without experiencing any unpleasant sensation. By good fortune I at length readied the bottom of the shaft, where I found my Norwegian friend and some three or four workmen quietly awaiting my arrival. A bucket of ore, containing some five or six hundred pounds, was ready to be hoisted up. It was very nice-looking ore, and very rich ore, as Jansen asured me; but what did I care about ore till I t got the breath back again into my body?
"Stand from under, Sir!" said Jansen, dodging into a hole in the rocks; "a chunk of might fall out, or the bucket might give way."
Stand from under? Where in the name of sense was a man to stand in such a hole as this, not more than six or eight feet at the base, with a few dark chasms in the neighborhood through which it was quite possible to be precipitated into the infernal regions. However, I stood as close to the wall as it was possible without backing clean into it. The bucket of ore having, gone up out of sight, I was now introduced to the ledge upon which the men were at work. It
279was about four feet thick, clearly defined, and apparently rich in the precious metals. In some specimens which I took out myself gold was visible to the naked eye. The indications of silver were also well marked. This was at a depth of a hundred and seventy-five feet. At the bottom of this shaft there was a loose flooring of rafters and planks.
"If you like, Sir," said Jansen, "we'll go down her and take a look at the lower drift. They've just struck the ledge about forty feet below."
"Are the ladders as good as those above, Mr. Jansen?" I inquired.
"Oh yes, Sir; they're all good, some of the lowerones may be busted a little with the blastin; there's two men down there. Guess they got down somehow."
"To tell you the truth, Mr. Jansen, I'm not curious about the lower drift. You can show some specimens of the ore — that will be perfectly satisfactory."
"Yes, Sir, but I'd like you to see the vein where the drift strikes it. It's really beautiful."
A beautiful sight down in this region was worth looking at, so I succumbed. Jansen lifted up the planks: told the men to cover us well up as soon as we had disappeared, in order to keep the ore from the upper shaft from tumbling on our heads; and then, diving down, politely requested me to follow. I had barely descended a few steps when the massive planks and rafters were thrown across overhead, and thus all exit to the outer world was cut off. There was an oppressive sensation in being so completely isolated — barred out, as it were, from the surface of the earth. Yet how many there are who spend half their lives in such places for a pittance of wages which they squander in dissipation ! Surely it is worth four dollars a day to work in these dismal holes.
Bracing my nerves with such thoughts as these, I scrambled down the rickety ladders till the last rung seemed to have disappeared. I probed about with a spare leg for a landing-place, but could touch neither top, bottom, nor sides. The ladder was apparently suspended in space like Mohammed's coffin.
"Come on. Sir," cried the voice of Jansen far down below. "They're agoing to blast!"
Pleasant, if not picturesque, to be hanging by two hands and one leg to a ladder, squirming about in search of a foothold, while somebody below was setting fire to a fuse with the design, no doubt, of blowing up the entire premises!
"Mr. Jansen," said I, in a voice of unnatural calmness, while the big drops of agony stood on my brow, "there's no difficulty in saying Come on, Sir! but to do it without an inch more of ladder or any thing else that I can see, requires both time and reflection. How far do you expect me to drop?"
"Oh, don't you let go, Sir! Just hang on to that rope at the bottom of the ladder, and let yourself down."
I hung on as directed, and let myself down. It was plain sailing enough to one who knew the chart. The ladder, it seemed, had been broken by a blast of rocks; and now there was to be another blast. We retired into a convenient hole about ten or a dozen paces from the deposit of Hazard's powder. The blast went off with a dead reverberation, causing a concussion in the air that affected one like a shock of galvanism; and then there was a diabolical smell of brimstone. Jansen was charmed at the result. A mass of the ledge was burst clean open. He grasped up the blackened fragments of quartz, licked them with his tongue, held them to the candle, and constantly exclaimed:
"There! Sir, there! Isn't it beautiful? Did you ever see any thing like it? — pure gold almost — here it is! — don't you see it?"
I suppose I saw it; at all events I put some specimens in my pocket, and saw them afterward out in the pure sunlight, where the smoke was not so dense; and it is due to the great cause of truth to say the gold was there in glittering specks, as if shaken over it from a pepper-box.
Having concluded my examination of the mine, I took the bucket as a medium of exit, being fully satisfied with the ladders. About half-way up the shaft the iron swing or handle to which the rope was attached caught in one of the ladders. The rope stretched. I felt it harden and grow thin in my hands. The bucket began to tip over. It was pitch dark all around. Jansen was far below, coming up the ladder. Something seemed to be creaking, cracking, or giving way. I felt the rough, heavy sides of the bucket press against my legs. A terrible apprehension seized me that the gear was tangled and would presently snap. In the pitchy darkness and the confusion of the moment I could not conjecture what was the matter. I darted out my hands, seized the ladder, and jerking myself high out of the bucket, clambered up with the agility of an acrobat. Believed of my weight, the iron catch swung loose, and up came the bucket banging and thundering after me with a velocity that was perfectly frightful. Never was there such a subterranean chase, I verily believe, since the beginning of the world. To stop a single moment would be certain destruction; for the bucket was large, heavy, and massively bound with iron; and the space in the shaft was not sufficient to admit of its passing without crushing me flat against the ladder.
But such a chase could not last long. I felt my strength give way at every lift. The distance out was too great to admit the hope of escape by climbing. My only chance was to seize the rope above the bucket and hang on to it. This I did. It was a lucky thought — one of those thoughts that sometimes flash upon the mind like inspiration in a moment of peril. A few more revolutions of the whim brought me so near the surface that I could see the bucket only a few yards below my feet. The noise of the rope over the block above reminded me that I had better slip down a little to save my hands, which I did in good style, and was presently landed on the upper crust of the earth, all safe and sound, though somewhat dazzled by the light and rattled by my subterranean experiences.
It was not long before Jansen came up, looking as cool as a cucumber. He blew out the candle, and remarked to the men generally, "Boys, they've struck it rich in the new drift! We must pitch into it to-morrow!"
After my pleasant little adventure in the "San Antonio" I took the down track over the western side of the bluff, with my pockets — so to speak — full of rocks, which I caused to be pounded up in a mortar and washed out at one of the springs in the valley. The "San Antonio" is on the same ledge with the "New Mexico," one of the Empire Company's mines. My specimens were obtained at a depth of 175 and 215 feet. I had some doubt as to their value until I saw the result of the washing process, which settled the matter satisfactorily. There was as nice a little deposit of pure gold in the bottom of the horn as ever I saw taken at random from any mine in California, Washoe, or Arizona. The quartz at this depth is decomposed, and runs in thin layers, between which, adhering to the surface, the gold is found. Silver exists in the bluish veins which permeate the quartz, but is not found in such abundance as the gold. The bullion rates at about ten dollars to the ounce. There seems to be very little difference in the quality of the ores in any of the lodes extending through Bodie Bluff. I subsequently explored most of them, as far as they were excavated, and made several tests, which produced a similar show of gold. Judging by actual results derived from the working of some two or three hundred tons in the Aurora Mills, where the waste was evidently great, it would be safe to estimate the average yield at from thirty-five to forty-five dollars per ton; though I am informed that during the past fall and winter the yield was sixty dollars and upward. With increased care and a more perfect system of reduction it is not improbable a higher yield could be obtained.
For speculative purposes this is low; but there is a satisfaction to stockholders in knowing exactly what they possess, and upon what
281basis to found their calculations of future profit. The best paying mines on this coast are those that yield a moderate average. This is especially the case in the districts of Nevada and Grass Valley, California, which now, after having, as it was thought, been worked out, yield better average results than they ever did before. I speak of the quartz ledges, of course, not of the placer diggings. The Real del Monte in Mexico, according to the estimates of Baron Humboldt and Mr. Ward, yielded for a series of years, during a period of high prosperity, an average of fifty-two dollars to the ton. It is the certainty and abundance of the precious metals, and the facility with which the ore is obtained, that constitute the true criterion of excellence and give permanent value to the mine.
The history of some of the Washoe mines, which have yielded extraordinary results under a heavy pressure of expense and labor, and which are now suffering a depression resulting from exhaustion of the upper strata, presents the most striking examples of this fact. Had the inferior ores been properly economized, and the mines worked with a view to the future, stock-holders in these mines would now have no cause to regret their investments. I do not wish to be understood as advancing the idea that the Comstock ledge is exhausted or likely to be; for I have always regarded it, and do still, as the richest silver lode yet discovered in our mineral territories. But I think the world can present no such example as we find in the history of that ledge, of mismanagement, extravagance, and fraud. It would almost seem, indeed, as if the American people, owing to some inherent characteristic — an impatient, speculative, prodigal spirit, perhaps — were incapable of conducting the business of mining upon any principle of reason, honesty, or common sense. Why is it, otherwise, that, with the richest mines in the world — with untiring enterprise, inventive genius of the highest order, a larger average of intelligence than any other people possess, we have never yet made mining a permanently profitable business to all concerned? The truth is, we are too impatient and too exacting, and expect to make fortunes as we live — by telegraphic speed. We must tear out the entrails of the earth by novel and expeditious applications of steam, and turn our capital by galvanic speculations, or give it up in disgust.
Now it is a well demonstrated fact that the best paying mines are not those which yield the richest specimens of ores. The silver lodes on Reese River have yielded higher results, in exceptional cases, than those of Washoe, yet there is nothing there that can bear comparison with the Comstock.
The Allison Ranch, in California, I have been informed, has made its largest annual profits on ores varying from eight to twelve dollars to the ton; and it has been estimated that if the principal mines in Mariposa could be depended upon for a sufficiency of ores worth ten dollars a ton to keep the mills in active operation the results would be satisfactory.
Specimen ores that assay from fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars per ton can be obtained from almost any quartz ledge in Nevada. No reliable calculation can be based upon these exceptional proofs of value. Every thing depends upon the extent and definite character of the veins and the equable diffusion of the precious metals. The difficulty in most cases where these rich pockets exist is, that they are isolated, or only to be found at remote intervals. It usually costs more to get at them than they are worth.
In justice to the Bodie mines, it must be admitted that they are at least free from this objection. None of the ores are especially rich, but the precious metals are diffused throughout the veins with great regularity. I made a calculation of the results that ought to be obtained from one thousand tons of ore taken from one of these lodes, assuming the usual cubic measurement, and found that it tallied exactly with the yield as subsequently obtained.
There are several companies engaged in working the principal veins that extend through Bodie Bluff. Among these the largest interests are held by the "Empire Gold and Silver Mining Company of New York," whose possessions
282sand feet along each ledge. The limits are strictly defined, and no litigation has yet taken place, or is likely to occur, inasmuch as the claims of each Company are duly surveyed and recorded, the boundaries accurately laid down, and every precaution taken to prevent those contentions which have proved the ruin of so many rich mineral districts in Nevada.
The "Bodie Bunker and High Peak Tunnel and Mining Company" hold the principal mines adjoining those of the Empire. The character of the veins and quality of the ores owned by this Company are essentially the same as those already described, showing a direct continuation of the ledges from the first point at which they crop out. I made a subterranean tour through the Bodie Bunker and Consolidated Minos belonging to this Company, and was very favorably impressed by the general indications of permanency and mineral wealth. Three thousand tons of the ores from the Bunker, taken out on contract by a Mr. Luffkin, yielded an average of $42 to the ton, and paid him a handsome profit upon his contract.
In all the mines which I visited within the limits of Bodie Bluff I found the veins of nearly uniform thickness — that is to say, varying from two to five feet in gold and silver bearing quartz, with clear and well-defined walls and casings. The work done upon them is of a very rude and imperfect character, the main object having been apparently to get as much out of them with as little expense as possible, and without regard to the permanent development of the mines. I was especially impressed with the fact that there appeared to be none of those subterranean "horses," which miners find so stubborn to move and so difficult to get over or under. Each vein retains its distinctive character all the way as far as the excavations extend. The best ores have been taken out at a depth of a hundred and seventy-five feet and upward. If the undiminished width and value of the ledges at that depth can be regarded as an indication of permanency I think there can be no question on that point. Still I should be very sorry to make any statement which might mislead the public or fail to be borne out in the future. The experience of Nevada and California, so far, has shown that no human foresight can penetrate the earth and tell with certainty what lies within its hidden recesses. Geological science has been so often at fault that mere reasoning from such data as an unlearned tourist like myself can pick up in the course of his travels can scarcely be entitled to greater weight. The fact, however, that most of the leading mines in Virginia City, after a period of doubt and depression, are now striking good ores at a depth of four hundred feet and upward would seem to augur favorably in regard to all other mineral lodes in the Territory.
Up to the period of my visit (in September) the ores taken from this district were subject to an expense of eight dollars per ton for hauling, and twenty dollars a ton for working at the Aurora Mills. Yet with these heavy deductions, and the additional cost of labor in the mines, private parties made handsome profits by working the mines under contract and having the ores reduced on their own account.
In addition to the quartz ledges there are placer diggings in the Bodie range, which have yielded during ordinary seasons of rain as high as sixteen to twenty dollars a day to the hand. In fact, the "color of gold," as the miners say, can be obtained from the surface dirt taken at random from any part of the hill. These diggings, so far as known, extend over an area of several miles, and can not fail to assume a permanent value as soon as sufficient capital is introduced to supply water from the adjacent valley of Cottonwood Creek.
In respect to the article of provisions, the proximity of the Big Meadows, Mono Lake and Walker's Valley, where vegetable products of all kinds are now abundantly raised, is a great advantage to this district. Until within a year or two miners suffered much from the want of vegetables; scurvy was a common disease; but during the past summer the supply has been quite equal to the demand. Farms are being located and cultivated in all the adjacent valleys, where the altitude is not too great for agricultural purposes; and it is found that the land, though apparently barren, is extraordinarily rich, owing to deposits of fertilizing matter from the surrounding mountains. Of course every thing which has a tendency to reduce the cost of living must reduce the cost of mining in this country — a very important consideration. No mines, however rich, can be profitably worked for any great length of time where the wages for ordinary labor are four dollars a day. Ores worth fifteen to twenty dollars a ton are necessarily cast aside, and only such as yield over thirty or forty dollars can be made to pay. There is always more poor ore in every mining district than rich; hence the preponderance of wealth is lost where the inferior ores can not be made available.
The period is not very distant when the ores now discarded will be the source of permanent wealth in Nevada. It is to a general reduction of expenses, and not to the discovery of richer leads, that we must look for that high state of prosperity which I think, despite all the losses and drawbacks which have attended the investment of capital in Nevada, is the ultimate destiny of that region.
Whether or not the Bodie mines will be worked profitably on a large scale depends very much upon the system of operations introduced by the owners. As a general rule, large companies are less successful in the working of mines than small parties and private individuals. The cause of this may be found in the fact that mining, like any other business, requires judicious and economical management, and strict personal attention, to be permanently profitable. Indeed the risks are so much greater than in any other business, that those maxims of economy and accountability which apply to the ordinary transactions of life possess still greater force as applied to the business of mining. Unnecessarily expensive mills, a loose system of disbursement, incompetent managers, ans insufficient experts, have effected the ruin of economy of mines and many stockholders in the Territory of Nevada. The same causes would produce similar results in any other business. Exorbitant and unreasonable demands for high dividends have been a fruitful source of failure. Capitalists are not satisfied unless they receive from two to five per cent. a month upon their investments; and superintendents work under a heavy pressure, and assume great hazards to produce that result. Now I am very confident that no ten mines in Virginia City have ever yet yielded an average of one per cent. a month over and above expenses, and I venture to assert that no mines in South America, Mexico, or Nevada have continued to pay such high dividends for any great length of time. Permanency and extraordinary dividends are incompatible. Where the yeild is evidently reliable a reasonable per-centage, regularly paid, is better than a large amount which must necessarily involve greater risk and increased expenditure.
At the head of the Bodie Valley, where I spent a day very pleasantly among the miners, is a beautiful natural location for a town, sheltered by surrounding hills from the chilling winds that sweep down from the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras. There are now some fifteen or twenty small frame and adobe houses erected for the use of the workmen; a boarding-house is already established; lots and streets are laid out by means of stakes; new houses are springing up in every direction, and speculation in real estate is quite the fashion. It was amusing to witness the enthusiasm with which the citizens went into the business of trading in lots. Groups of speculators were constantly engaged in examining choice locations, and descanting upon the brilliant future of the embryo city. A pair of boots, I suppose, would have secured the right to a tolerably good lot; but having only one pair, and that pretty well worn, I did not venture upon an investment. Some of the city dignitaries, however, duly impressed with the importance of having a view of their town appear in the illuminated pages of Harper, paid me the compliment to attach my name to the principal street; and thus, in future ages, I confidently expect my memory will be rescued from oblivion. Here is the promised view of the town.
Although the altitude is greater than that of any inhabited spot within the limits of the United States, and only surpassed by those of Potosi, which is 13,330 feet, and Quito, 9540 feet, the climate is exceedingly healthy; never too warm in summer, and rarely rigorous in winter. This, at an elevation of nearly 9000 feet, is remarkable. Water is abundantly supplied from a fine spring distant a few hundred yards from the centre of the town; wood, for mining purposes and for the use of the inhabitants, can be obtained from a pine-forest situated on the side of a hill about four miles from the camp. The supply of this latter article, however, is limited, and can not be depended upon for more than a few years; but the ravines in the main range of the Sierra Nevada, bordering on Mono Lake, are clothed with inexhaustible forests, suitable for lumber as well as fuel. A good road is now open to the shores of Mono, the nearest part of which lies about fourteen
284miles from Bodie. A view of the lake from the eastern side of the bluff presents one of the finest specimens of scenic grandeur to be found in the whole range of the Sierra Nevadas. Mountain after mountain rolls off in the distance, like the waves of an angry sea. Perpetual snow covers the highest peaks of the Sierras. Dark forests of pine stand in bold outline on the inferior ranges, and vast chasms and rocky canons open out upon the shores of the lake, which lies dead and still apparently within a stone's-throw of the beholder. Circling deposits of alkali and drifts of wood mark the barren plains that lie on the eastern shore of the lake, showing that in by-gone centuries it covered a vast extent of country from which it has now receded.
A direct communication from the valley of the San Joaquin, via Sonora, has recently been opened by the citizens of Mono and Esmerelda; thus saving in transportation, from the head of; navigation at Stockton, at least four or five days of wagon travel over the usual time required by the old route from Sacramento via Carson Valley. This will greatly reduce the cost of transporting supplies of machinery and provisions from San Francisco.