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W. Fraser (William Fraser) Rae.

Westward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons online

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behalf of the State of California, while the last
4 tie ' or sleeper was a beautiful piece of Californian
laurel. The ceremony of driving the last spike was
marked by an incident to which a parallel will be
sought in vain among the many extraordinary feats
of modern times. The hammer with which the

o



194 WESTWAED BY KAIL.

blows were given was connected to a wire in direct
communication with the principal telegraph offices
throughout the Union. Thus the instant that the
work was consummated the result was simulta-
neously saluted on the shores of two great Oceans
and throughout the wide expanse of a vast con-
tinent by the roar of cannon and the ringing of
bells.*

Several miles westward of Promontory station,
the line traverses what, properly speaking, is the
Great American Desert. This is supposed to be
the bed of an inland sea. In barrenness it rivals
the Desert of Sahara ; in desolation and dreariness
it cannot be surpassed. A coating of alkali dust
gives to it the appearance of a snow-covered plain.
But snow is far less intolerable than the alkali.
Where it abounds nothing of service to man or
beast can live. Shoe-leather is burned by it as by
quicklime. The minute particles which float in the
air irritate the throat and lungs as keenly as the

* Lest any curious traveller should waste his time in seeking for
the precious spikes and the valuable sleeper, I may state that they
were removed almost as soon as laid, and that pieces of ordinary
wood and iron were substituted for them. But these, however, did not
long remain intact. The hoarders of relics hacked the sleeper into
splinters in the course of a few minutes, and attacked the last rail
with a vigour which had the effect of rendering it worthless. The
sleeper had to be renewed three times and the rail once in the
course of a week. Even then, credulous visitors were still busied
in cutting mementoes of the ' last tie.'



GREAT SALT LAKE TO GREAT AMEEICAN DESERT.

steel dust which cuts short the lives of Sheffield
needle-grinders. Long before Elko is reached, a
station 200 miles distant from Promontory, the
passengers in the train fervently pray to be de-
livered from this corrosive and ubiquitous alkali
dust.

Soon after the opening of the railway, a party, ot
which ex- Senator Ben Wade was one, made this
journey. Complaints were rife about the discom-
forts experienced on this section of the line. Wish-
ing to make the best of what could not be remedied,
the Mark Tapley of the party remarked that with
plenty of water to lay the dust and congenial com-
panions, the Great American desert would be, not
only endurable, but delightful. Whereupon the
ex- Senator observed : ( With plenty of water and
good society, Hell would not be a bad place to live



o 2



196 WESTWARD BY RAIL.



XV.

THE HUMBOLDT EIVEE AND PLAINS.

AFTER passing through the Great American Desert
the sight of a running river and luxuriant vegeta-
tion is most enjoyable. The stream which freshens
and fertilises this region is the Humboldt, having
its source in the mountains of that name, and flow-
ing westwards for about two hundred and fifty miles.
Along the banks of the river Humboldt is a thick
fringe composed of willow trees and a variety of
shrubs. It is characteristic of this part of the
country that as soon as the land is irrigated almost
any plant or vegetable can be grown upon it. The
climate is genial. If it were not for the lack of
rain millions of acres might be at once brought
under cultivation. Hence the extreme value of
the tract adjacent to a stream of water large enough
to supply all that is required for the purposes of
irrigation. When the emigrants formerly traversed
this route, they timed their halting places so as to
be within easy reach of a river. In many places
there are numerous pools of water; but for the



THE HUMBOLDT KIVEE AND PLAINS. 197

most part these are so strongly impregnated with
alkali as to be even more undrinkable than sea
water. The alkali water burns the tongue, inflames
the throat, irritates the stomach. Those who essay
it will agree with the American writer who says :
' Taste it at the first opportunity, and you will wish
that the first opportunity had come last, or that it
never had arrived.' An animal will die of thirst
sooner than drink a drop of it. Yet men have been
known to struggle against an impending death from
thirst and exhaustion by painfully swallowing small
portions of this bitter water. Happily these trials
are no longer among the dangers which beset the
traveller across the Great American Desert and the
Humboldt Plains. The railway has changed all
that. Where there is no drinking water on the
spot, it is brought by train. In several places tanks
have been erected for containing a supply of water
sufficient to meet all ordinary wants.

In the midst of the Humboldt Plains is the town
of Elko, at which the train makes a long stoppage.
This is one of the mushroom towns which abound
to the west of the Rocky Mountains. It contains
three thousand inhabitants. What Sacramento and
San Francisco were twenty years ago, Elko is said
to be at the present moment. It is laid out in
streets, and these streets are lined with shops and



198 WESTWARD BY RAIL.

dwellings. As names, Commercial-street, Main-
street, Railroad-street sound well, while First,
Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Streets convey
the notion of an American city of size and import-
ance. But it is one thing to read of those streets,
and another and very different thing to walk in
them. They are as much entitled to the appellation
of streets as are the spaces between the booths of a
country fair. Nor are the shops, houses, and public
offices at all more imposing than the booths erected
in a night for the business of a day. The thorough-
fares are neither paved nor macadamised. They
are as primitive in character as the pathways be-
tween the tents on "Wimbledon Common when the
Volunteers are encamped there. The foot pas-
senger walks among alkali, and as he moves along
he raises a cloud of dust which whitens and damages
his clothes, and excoriates his nostrils. Over the
fronts of shops constructed of wood, canvas, or
a combination of both, are signs intimating that
everything the pedestrian wants is to be had within.
If he enters one of these pretentious f stores ' he will
find that with money, and plenty of it, he has at his
command whatever he can desire, from a box of
pills to a bottle of champagne, and from a cigar to
a pot of blacking. On the outside of some huts is
a board with the inscription that a lawyer or a



THE HUMBOLDT RIVER AND PLAINS. 199

doctor may be consulted within. One of these huts
has these words painted above the door in large
black letters : ' Office of the Elko Independent?
A newspaper office in such a locality specially
attracts the attention of anyone to whom newspaper-
offices are places of personal interest. I regret that
the time at my disposal was insufficient to visit this
home of journalism in what was little better than a
wilderness. I was fortunate enough, however, to
succeed in procuring a copy of the Elko Independent.
It is published twice a week ; is printed on good
paper ; its leading articles are quite as well written
as those which grace the columns of an English
provincial newspaper, while its advertisements are
fraught with instruction of a new and curious kind.
That the price of a copy should have been one
shilling surprised me less than the fact that the
journal was published at all, and was supported by
the small population of this primitive town.

One of the advertisements was very noteworthy.
It was worded as follows : ' Ung Gen, Chinese
Doctor, Silver-street, between Fourth and Fifth,
Elko, will attend professionally to all who may
require his services. Having been engaged in a
steady practice for several years, he is prepared to
cure all diseases that may come to his notice.' This
was not, as sceptical readers may suppose, an adver-



200 WESTWARD BY EAIL.

tising trick. Chinese doctors are not shams here,
but living realities, and, in their own way, useful
members of society. In some parts of the Union
mock Indians impose on the credulous, and de-
ceive the unwary. At Saratoga, for example, the
Indian camp is inhabited by persons bearing strong
physical resemblances to Irishmen of pure blood
and obstreperous patriotism. Around Niagara Falls
the Indians have a very theatrical appearance.
Their names and dresses alone recal the wild abori-
gines of America. But the Chinese in these parts
of the American continent are genuine natives of
the Flowery Land. They have been the chief
constructors of the Pacific Railway. They are the
most docile and trustworthy of servants. Along the
line I saw squads of them at work. At this place
they are so common as to attract no notice. Many
of them were making their way through the crowd
on the platform of the station. Four or five women
and a few children were the momentary objects of
interest, for Chinawomen are but seldom seen in
public. Not less curious than the advertisement of
the Chinese doctor, whose f steady practice for se-
veral years ' had prepared him 6 to cure all diseases,'
was that of a firm of druggists. This firm inti-
mated not only that it was ready to supply all
drugs and to prepare all prescriptions, but also



THE HUMEOLDT EIVER AND PLAINS. 201

that it had on hand f a large stock of paints, oils,
window-glass, castor oil ; also a large assortment of
fishing lines and hooks of all kinds.' Another an-
nouncement may he repeated for the benefit of
future visitors to Elko. In it the keeper of the
( White Pine Saloon ' informs his patrons that
( The most delicate fancy drinks are compounded by
skilful mixologists in a style that captivates the
public and makes them happy.' Turning from the
advertising to the leader columns of the Elko In-
dependent, I find that the Democratic party is
honoured with its support, and that the Chinese
are the objects of its aversion. A proposition for
excluding Chinese labour, without openly perse-
cuting Chinamen, deserves mention on account of
the malicious ingenuity which inspired it. The
writer points out that it is characteristic of the
Chinese to desire that their remains should be in-
terred among the graves of their ancestors, and that
to \ e buried in a foreign land is repugnant alike to
their religious sentiments and patriotic feelings.
Taking advantage of this, it is proposed to make it
a penal offence ' to disturb the remains of the dead
after burial, and to attempt to carry away from our
shores the mortal remains of one of that people, and
the good work of excluding them is accomplished.'
From conversations with fellow-travellers I learned



202 WESTWARD BY EAIL.

that the aversion to the Chinamen is very general
on the Pacific slope of the continent. The Chinese
I saw along the line appeared to be hard-working
and good-tempered beings, ready to interchange
words with whoever would converse with them in
the broken English which they understand, and de-
lighted when a passenger who had lived in China
gave utterance to a word or phrase in their native
tongue. One or two Chinamen entered the train
here. Among them was a merchant who had
amassed a fortune, who spoke English fluently, and
who conversed intelligently on most subjects. He
was not allowed a seat in the best cars, but was con-
demned to occupy a place in the emigrants' cars.
All his money could not conquer the prejudice
against his tribe. Though the negroes have been
emancipated, yet the spirit of caste still works mis-
chief in America. Indeed, as an American writer
has forcibly remarked : ' The spirit of " Native
Americanism " is but a thinly disguised aristocracy
of birth.' Perhaps no two persons in the motley
group on the platform at Elko station were more
helpless and misplaced than a Frenchman and his
wife. They were evidently very poor, were mise-
rably clad and dirty, and downcast in spirit. They
hardly knew a word of English, and those about
them were ignorant of French. Their desire was to



THE HUMBOLDT RIVEE AND PLAINS. 203

get to the silver mines in as cheap a way as possible,
being under the delusion that if they once reached
the mines their fortunes were as good as made.
This was the second French couple I met in this far
away region. The other wretched pair had taken
up their abode in Salt Lake City, with a view to
deal in furs. Both had been from ten to fifteen
years in America, and the husband alone could
make himself imperfectly understood. His wife spoke
French only. They uttered warm expressions of
satisfaction when they found one with whom they
could converse in their own language. Unfortu-
nately the pleasure was not reciprocal, seeing that
this unhappy couple took advantage of the opportu-
nity to pour forth a long and by no means interesting
account of their sufferings and their disappoint-
ments. The couple at Elko thought less about
telling their story than about finding a team of
mules wherewith to start for the silver yielding
region. They were clearly directed whither to go,
but when last I saw them as the train moved off,
they were walking in the wrong direction in a state
of hopeless bewilderment.

What gives importance to this place is the fact
that the road to the White Pine mining district
branches off at Elko. This district is about 125
miles south of Elko, and is almost due east of



204 WESTWAKD BY KAIL.

Virginia City, where the excitement with* regard
to silver mining in Nevada first broke out, and at-
tracted general notice. The reputation of White
Pine had been achieved in a very short time. In
February, 1869, the population of the district was
reckoned at four hundred people ; five months later
it had increased to twenty thousand. The domi-
nant topic in every conversation is the silver mines
of this State. Let me pause in the description of
my journey to furnish a brief account of the silver
mines of Nevada.



205



XVI.

THE STATE OF NEVADA AND ITS SILVER TREASURES.

PKIOR TO 1861, what is now known as the State of
Nevada formed part of the Territory of Utah. The
Mormons were in the minority and the Gentiles
were dissatisfied with their own condition. Having
resolved upon separating themselves from the Mor-
mons, the Gentiles met together, passed resolutions,
and formed a territorial organization. Congress
approving of their conduct, gave validity to the
arrangements they had made. The President ap-
pointed a Governor over the new Territory. The
numbers of the citizens rapidly increased : their
ambition prompted them to desire admission into
the Union and, on Congress giving the necessary
consent, the semi-independence and the valuable
privileges accorded to a State became, in 1864, the
portion of Nevada.

As early as 1859 discoveries of silver in Nevada
had attracted the notice of adventurous miners in
all parts of the West. Ten years had then elapsed
since the gold excitement in California startled and
fascinated the world. The Californian quartz mines



206 WESTWAED BY KAIL.

were as rich as ever, but the individual miner found
great difficulty in getting a return for his labour equal
to that which he could easily command before the
watercourses had been rifled of nuggets and all the
gold dust had been sifted from the sand and gravel.
To these disappointed and desponding miners the
news that silver was even more abundant in Nevada
than gold had ever been in California was received
with great joy, and an immediate rush was made to
the new Potosi. The yield of the great Comstock
lode was such as to verify to the letter the most
highflown statements, and to gratify the most san-
guine hopes. Virginia City, in Western Nevada,
was built within easy reach of this lode and the
whole district was honey-combed with mines. The
estimated value of the gold and silver obtained in
this district during ten years is twenty millions
sterling. Sixteen millions of dollars are believed
to be the gross annual yield. The sum is enormous,
yet the proportion of actual gain is very small.
The net profit is understood to be not greater than
half a million of dollars. Worse than the insigni-
ficance of the return is the prospect that, unless a
desperate experiment prove successful, these mines
will have to be abandoned altogether. To avert
this calamity a tunnel is now being driven into
Mount Davidson with a view to intersect the great



NEVADA AND ITS SILVER TKEASUEES. 207

Comstock lode at the depth of 2,000 feet. The
distance to be driven is four miles. Mr. Sutro is
the projector of the tunnel, and it has been named
after him. Opinions are divided as to the merits of
the enterprise. Its very magnitude is regarded by
some as an insuperable bar to its success, while more
daring and confident spirits predict the brilliant
triumph of the gigantic undertaking. It is not
necessary to be a practical miner, an experienced
engineer, or a volunteer prophet to state that the
Sutro tunnel will either beggar its promoters, or else
be the means of converting each of them into a
Croesus.

To the east of Virginia City another district rich
in silver deposits attracted miners in 1862. This is
called the Reese River district. The mines in it do
not yield large quantities of ore, but the ore found
in them is of a superior class. Austin City is the
chief town of this locality. But the spot which at
present surpasses all others, which has been more
than a nine days wonder, and the theatre of an ex-
citement which tends to increase rather than abate,
which has been the haven of miners disgusted with
the reality elsewhere, and is one of the most notable
among the many rich repositories of silver treasure
in the State of Nevada, bears the name of White
Pine.



208 WESTWARD BY RAIL.

This district which lies due east of Virginia City
was first ' prospected ' by some adventurous miners
who left Austin City in the spring of 1865 with the
design of carefully exploring untrodden wilds in the
hope of making their fortunes. With such men the
old saw, that the sea contains as good fish as have
been taken out of it, is at once an article of faith
and a stimulus to action. While thoroughly coin-
ciding in the spirit of the saying they have ma-
terially altered its wording. Instead of sea, they
read stream or flat or mountain slope, and for fish,
they substitute the words golden dust or auriferous
quartz, chloride of silver or argentiferous stone. A
pickaxe is their 'open sesame.' Wherever their
keen and skilled vision detects traces of mineral,
there the rending blow is struck and the stone
detached to be tested by a rude chemistry, or sub-
jected to the rapid and decisive scrutiny of eyes
quick to discern and admire the true ore and
trained to reject the dross. During many months
of hard toil continued with indomitable vigour, and
of trying privation borne with unflinching spirit,
did they prosecute their search. Spring melted
into summer and summer faded into autumn before
the prize was won. They then satisfied themselves
that what is now known as Treasure Hill contained
incalculable stores of precious minerals. On the



NEVADA AND ITS SILVER TREASURES. 209

10th of October they assembled together, made
speeches and passed resolutions whereof the gist is
contained in the mining records of the locality.
The entry runs as follows : ' A company of miners
met on the above day for the purpose of forming a
district. Motion made and carried that this district
be known as White Pine District bounded on the
north by the Red Hills, and running thence south
to a point whence the mountains run into a foot-
hill, thence east twelve miles, thence north, and
thence west to the place of beginning.' The district
thus mapped out had no attraction of scenery or site
to recommend it. The trees which grow in the val-
leys or on the mountain sides are few in number and
small in size. Desolation and sterility dominate the
landscape. Nor is the absence of beauty compen-
sated for by balmy winds and genial skies. All the
year round the air is chilly, while, during the long
months of winter, storms rage with incredible fury.
The blast sweeps along charged with snow, and dust,
and gravel. Those who suffer this ordeal are justi-
fied in believing that the demons of the storm have
chosen as their appropriate home the bleak and
barren mountains of Nevada. A name originally
given to a thick white mass of cold vapour which
sometimes veils the mountain tops and sometimes
fills the valleys is employed to characterize these

p



210 WESTWAKD BY EAIL.

terrible storms. Tell a miner acquainted with
White Pine that you have had to face the Po-
go-nip and he will at once know that all your
powers of endurance have been put to the test.
The strength of the fascination produced by the
silver deposits at White Pine is measured by the
fact that the miners persevere in extracting the
valued metal despite the terrors and the trials of
the Po-go-nip.

Hamilton City, Shermantown, and Treasure
City, are the principal centres of business in the
district of White Pine. Many other names of
( cities ' might be mentioned, but the ' cities ' them-
selves are names and nothing more. They are
glibly uttered by speculators : they figure in books
and maps ; but the greenhorn will search for them
in vain. A new-comer desiring to learn some par-
ticulars about a city, questioned a miner who, on
the strength of a month's residence in the neigh-
bourhood, had a claim to the title of one of the
oldest inhabitants, and received the reply that the
city ( was about as large as New York, but was not
built up yet.' Those which have been ( built up'
are mere aggregates of miserable shanties and pri-
mitive tents. To construct a wooden dwelling is
nearly as expensive here as it is to erect a marble
palace elsewhere. Treasure City, perched up near



NEVADA AND ITS SILVER TREASURES. 211

the summit of Treasure Hill at an elevation of nine
thousand feet above the level of the sea, is in close
proximity to one of the richest of the White Pine
mines. This is the Eberhardt, which is to White
Pine what the famous Gould and Curry is to
Virginia City. Not till the spring of 1868 was it
vigorously worked and since then the returns have
been prodigious. Its value has been rated at
millions : at one time a purchaser acquired it for
twenty-five dollars. A trustworthy writer has
given the following sketch of the appearance of the
mine underground : ( At the door a pack train of
Mexican mules are being loaded with the precious
ore for the mill two miles to the south-west, and
two thousand feet lower down. In the shed men
are busy at a great pile of brown, blue, red, green
and black rock, breaking it to pieces and sorting it,
the richest being thrown aside for the crucible, and
the rest going into the sacks to be packed away to
the mill. There is a princely fortune in this pile of
ore, which to the uninitiated eye is but a heap of
broken rock fit only for building walls or macada-
mizing public streets. Over one of the hoisting
shafts there is a large wooden bucket with a rope
and rude windlass such as you might see on the
prospecting shaft of the poorest miner. It has served
for hoisting all this wealth to the surface. In this



212 WESTWAKD BY RAIL.

bucket we descended into the mine. A long, narrow
chamber, with dull, dark walls, and a few men at
work with pick and gad, were all that the first
glance revealed, and there was a momentary feeling
of disappointment. A closer inspection showed that
the walls, the ceiling, the floor, were silver ; even
the very dust on the floor was silver. This lump
will yield five dollars a pound, this six, this seven,
this eight, and this, which will flatten like lead
under the hammer, is worth within a fraction of ten
dollars a pound. They tell us that there is a million
dollars worth of silver piled up before our eyes in
this gloomy cavern, and such is indeed the fact. ' *
Keystone, Aurora, and Virginia, are the names of
other productive mines. It is dangerous, however,
to speak eulogistically of any mine, for before the
ink is dry in which the words are written the mine's
reputation may have been blasted beyond redemp-
tion. To-day its richness is the theme of every
tongue and the envy of all who have no share in it,
while to-morrow hardly a soul will deign to notice
the concern which, in the slang of the locality, is
6 played out ' or ( busted.' Not only are the blanks
more numerous than the prizes in the great lottery


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Online LibraryW. Fraser (William Fraser) RaeWestward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons → online text (page 13 of 27)