Silver Tailings: Borrasca vs. Bonanza

In 1855, the miners in Gold Canyon had their best year, to that date. About 200 miners dug up an estimated $100,000 in gold.

Thereafter, the collective annual earnings declined. By 1857, this decline had spurred some miners to prospect upper Gold Canyon and the adjacent areas.

They looked for gold-bearing gravel, which experience had taught them they would find in canyons, but not on plateaus or level ground. The ‘one ledge theory’ then popular in California held that all gold nuggets and flakes came from a single source and were washed downhill by the passage of water in rivers and creeks, and during spring run-offs.

Some of the miners explored and dug in what would soon be named ‘Six Mile Canyon,’ but no sites of great value were turned up. Few of the men there were able to dig up more than $4 worth of gold in a day, and that not on a regular basis.

The first bonanza (good weather or good fortune) was over; the first borrasca (squall weather or bad fortune) had begun.

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Between Labor and Slavery

During the first California state legislative session, lawmakers voted to eliminate the right of Indians to vote because they feared the control the Indian peoples might exercise. The Legislature also enacted the “Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.”

This law set the tone of Indian-white relations for many years. The act provided the following:

  • The Justice of the Peace exercised jurisdiction over all complaints between Indians and whites, “But in no case shall a white man be convicted of any offense upon the testimony of an Indian or Indians.”
  • Landowners would permit Indians who were peaceably residing on their land to continue to do so.
  • Whites could obtain control of Indian children.
  • If any Indian was convicted of a crime, any white person could come before the court and contract for the Indian’s services and in return pay the Indian’s fine.
  • It was illegal to sell or administer alcohol to Indians.
  • Indians convicted of stealing a horse, mule, cow, or any other valuable could receive any number of lashes up to 25, and a fine not to exceed $200.
  • The law also provided that the abuse of an Indian child was to be punished by no more than a $10 fine.
  • An Indian found strolling or loitering where alcohol was sold, begging or leading a profligate life was liable to be arrested.
  • After the justice of the peace, mayor or recorder would make out a warrant and within 24 hours the services of the Indian could be sold to the highest bidder.
  • The term of service would not exceed four months.

This law was widely abused with regard to the use of Indians as laborers. It eventually was used to justify and provide for what would later be coined as Indian slavery.

Silver Tailings: Old Spanish Trail

Mail service was begun between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino in 1852. This led to stations being built at natural springs along the ‘Old Spanish Trail’ where fodder for horses grew without cultivation.

One of these was built-in meadows about 55 miles away from the nearest neighbor to its northeast, which was one of the longest stretches between stations.

In 1855, Mormon settlers arrived at the distant station and planted a settlement. They cultivated about 500 acres of farmland.

When the Mormons anticipated battle with the US Army in 1857, the settlers abandoned their development and returned to Utah. Not long after the Mormon departure, Octavius Decatur Gass moved to the station and expanded the farmland under cultivation.

He sold fruits, vegetables, and beef to miners on the Colorado River and in the Potosi Mountains. Gass preserved the common name by which the area was already known.

He called his little place, “Las Vegas Rancho.”

Silver Tailings: Grant Pays a Visit

In October 1879, former U.S. President Ulysses Grant paid a visit to Virginia City. A parade was held in his honor, at which passed in display several volunteer guard units that had been formed during the Civil War and were still organized.

None of these military companies had ever fought a battle. Membership in them had become a social obligation of rising young men.

Their shiny, satin uniforms had been designed with the thought that the best and brightest got the most applause, and perhaps the most attention from women. The decorations and frills added to their uniforms would have shamed hotel doormen and Admirals, everywhere.

When Wells Drury of the Sarsfield Guard was introduced to President Grant, the ex-soldier looked at the newspaper editor’s get-up and remarked, ‘Young fellow, I never had as fine a uniform as that all the time I was General of the Armies!’

Furthermore, Grant toured the area’s many mines with John MacKay, one of the co-owner’s of the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company, considered the richest mine on the Comstock. He was so moved by the rough working conditions that he exclaimed to MacKay, “That’s a close to Hell as I ever want to get.”

Christmas Tradition

I was talking with my boss, Dan. He told me he’d been so busy the last few weeks that he’d gotten none of his Christmas shopping done.

Then he told me that it would be okay. Why?

He has a family tradition of purchasing at least one present for a family member in the final hours before the stores close for the holiday. His plan of action — treat the entire shopping experience to as a part of his tradition.

His story made me realize — I don’t have any traditions to hold onto or pass along. I’m tempted to feel jealous.

Merry Christmas!

Gold Fever

The first recorded contact between Indians who lived in what is now known as Del Norte County and white men was June 9, 1828. On that day, the Jedediah Smith party met the Tolowa.

However they were not the first as there had been some previous contact with Russian and Hudson Bay fur traders. But sustained contact between white men and the Indians of present day Del Norte County was very limited until 1852.

The events leading to that extensive contact have their roots grounded five years before as on May 13, 1847, the United States declared war on Mexico. And the following year on January 13, California was militarily taken from Mexico and by February 2, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, officially giving title of California to the United States.

Coinciding with the takeover of California from Mexico was the California Gold Rush which began in 1848. Northern California was not immune to “gold fever,” with the discovery of gold by Major Pierson B. Redding in the upper Trinity River.

The discovery of gold triggered a mass immigration of miners and traders into Northern California. This would change life drastically for the Indian peoples of the area.

Then in September 1850 California was admitted to the Union. That same year the first State Constitutional Convention was held.

At that convention the California Legislature was formed. The new Legislature established Trinity County, which encompassed present day Del Norte County.

Silver Tailings: Abandoned Mining Camps

Here’s a salute to the passing of the Silver State’s many abandoned mining camps. And while not standing anymore in their original glory, they will still be remembered in another hundred years.

In 1862, Prebel
In 1863, Buster Falls and Lucky Jim Camp
In 1864, Guadalajara
In 1865, Morey
In 1866, Old Camp and Reveille
In 1868, Arabia
In 1870, Alleghany’s Camp
In 1871, Pinto City
In 1872, Yankee Blade
In 1874, Gouge Eye and Hardscrabble
In 1879, Northumberland

Also a hat tip to the miners who lived in those long forgotten shacks, bought supplies in the general stores, and drank in the town’s saloons. And every once in a while those same miners found a ledge or vein that made them rich – and Nevada famous.