Puslapio vaizdai
[blocks in formation]

Virginia can never be a pretty city, but in many respects it is a model one. The earlier log-houses are now giving way to substantial stores of granite; and the number of gambling and tippling shops is steadily decreasing, the buildings being taken up by the wholesale traders. An organized city government preserves strict police regulations. Two thriving churches have grown up, and very recently the principal merchants have agreed to close their houses on the Sabbath. The old residents are bringing in their wives and children, and society constantly gains in tone. Erelong, it will compare favorably with the steadiest town in the land of steady habits.

Eight miles above Virginia is Summit. Its name sufficiently designates its location, which is at the head of the gulch and among the highest mountains. The sun is not seen there till a late hour in the winter, and the few who make it their home burrow closely as rabbits from the bitter cold and deep snows. The placer diggings are at their greatest depth here, but exceedingly rich. Here also are the richest gold lodes of the Territory. All the quartz seems impregnated with gold, sometimes in little pockets of nuggets, sometimes spattered by the intense heat of old into all forms of wires and spangles.

Quartz mining is yet in its rudest form. The gold is buried in solid rock, and requires heavy crushing-mills and cumbrous machinery, which must be built and transported at immense expense by capitalists. It is a question with such, capitalists how certain is the promise of returns. The uncertainty of mining, as shown by the results of ventures in Colorado, has naturally de

terred them. of crushing the quartz to powder by stamps, and then separating the gold by amalgamation with quicksilver, but twenty-five per cent of the gold is saved. After the amalgamation a practical chemist could take the "tailings" of the Dacotah ore, and produce almost the full assay of the original rock. Very much depends in the mountain territories upon the success of experiments, now in operation, with the various new desulphurizing processes. This success established, the wealth of the territories is incalculable.

Under the old process

All the mining of Montana is now confined to the placer or gulch diggings. There are many of these, but probably none to compare in all respects with those at Virginia. At Bannack is found purer gold, at Biven's are larger nuggets, and many diggings at McClellan's yield larger amounts per day. But these are lotteries, - some claims paying largely to-day and nothing to-morrow, or one yielding enormously, while the next, after all the labor and expense of opening, gives nothing. They are called “spotted," while nearly every claim at Virginia has yielded with great regularity. How the gold came into these gulches is of little consequence to the miner. It suffices him to know that it is there, and his practical experience enables him to point out its location with great accuracy, though without any scientific knowledge of its origin. Most probably, far away in the Preadamite periods, when these mountains were much loftier than to-day, they were cloven and pierced by volcanic fires, and then into their innumerable vents and fissures infiltrated the molten quartz and the base and precious metals. Afterwards followed the period of the glaciers, and all the working of the seasons and chemical decompositions. Traces of the glaciers and the rotten burnt quartz of the volcanic periods exist everywhere. Thus washing and crumbling away in the waters and suns of untold springs and summers, the gold has come down the mountain gorges into the valleys below. The manner of gathering it is

rude and incomplete enough. In all the gulches, at depths varying from six to fifty feet, is a bed-rock of the same general conformation as the surface. Usually this is granite; but sometimes before reaching the primitive rock two or three strata of pipe-clay- the later beds of the stream, upon which frequently lies a deposit of gold-are passed. Upon the bed-rock is a deposit, from three to four feet in depth, of gravel and boulders, in which the gold is hidden. This is called by the miners "pay-dirt," and to remove it to the surface and wash it is the end of mining. It is an expensive and laborious process indeed. The water has first to be controlled; and in mines of not too great depth this is done by a drain ditch along the bed-rock, commenced many claims below. In this all the claimholders are interested, and all contribute their quota of the labor and expense of digging it. The district laws permit every person to run such a drain through all the claims below his own, and force every man to contribute alike towards its construction, on pain of not being allowed to use the water, even though it flows through his own land. The water controlled, the rest is mere physical labor, which only bones and sinews of iron can endure. In the shallow diggings the superincumbent earth above the pay-dirt is removed, and the process is called "stripping." In deep diggings a shaft is sunk to the bed-rock, and tunnels are run in every direction, -and this is called "drifting." The roof is supported by strong piles, but these supports too frequently give way, and hurry the poor miners to untimely deaths. The pay-dirt, in whichever way obtained, is then shovelled into the sluice-boxes, a series of long troughs, set at the proper angle to prevent the gold from washing past, or the dirt from settling to the bottom. Managed with the skill which experience has taught, the constant stream of water carries over the sand, while the gold, being seven times heavier, sinks to the bottom, and is caught by cross-bars called "rifles," placed there for the purpose.

In the lower boxes is frequently placed quicksilver, with which the lighter particles amalgamate. During the washings the larger stones and boulders are removed by a fork. These boxes, after a successful day's work, are a pleasant sight to see, all brilliant with gold and black sand and magnetic iron. All is gold that glitters. The heavy sand and iron are separated by a more careful washing by hand and by the magnet. Of course, all this system is very rude and imperfect, - so much so, that it has been found profitable in California to wash over the same earth nine times.

The gold-dust thus obtained is the only circulating medium in the Territory, and is the standard of trade. Treasury notes and coin are articles of merchandise. Everybody who has gold has also his little buckskin pouch to hold it. Every store has its scales, and in these is weighed out the fixed amount for all purchases according to Troy weight. An ounce is valued at eighteen dollars, a pennyweight at ninety cents, and so on. It is amusing to notice how the friction of the scales is made by some men - particularly the Jews, whose name is legion - to work them no loss. In weighing in, the scale-beam bows most deferentially to the gold side; but in weighing out, it makes profound obeisance to the weights. The same cupidity has given rise to two new terms in the miners' glossary, trade dust and bankable dust. Bankable dust means simply gold, pure and undefiled. Trade dust is gold with a plentiful sprinkling of black sand, and is of three grades, described very clearly by the terms good, fair, and dirty. The trader, in receiving our money, complains if it does not approximate what is bankable, but in paying us his money pours out a combination in which black sand is a predominating ingredient. Many merchants even keep a saucer of black sand in readiness to dilute their bankable gold to the utmost thinness it will bear.

[ocr errors]

As might be expected, the courts were hardly opened before grave questions arose as to the construction of contracts

based on this anomalous currency. Notes were usually made to pay a given number of "dollars, in good, bankable dust." But the laws recognized no such commodity as a dollar in dust. The decision of the court protecting a trickster in paying treasury-notes worth but fifty cents for the gold loaned by a friend, savored to the plain miner of rank injustice. To avoid even this opportunity for a legal tender, sometimes notes promised to pay a certain number of ounces and pennyweights, with interest at a fixed rate. The question was immediately sprung as to whether such an agreement was to be construed as a promissory note, or was to be sued for as a contract to do a specified act, by setting out a breach and claiming damages for the non-performance. The miners listened to the long discussions on these points impatiently, and compared the courts unfavorably with the miners' courts, which unloosed all such Gordian knots with Alexander's direct


In the month of September, 1864, reports came to Virginia of mines on the Yellowstone.

The reports were founded on some strange tales of old trappers, and were clothed with a vagueness and mystery as uncertain as dreams. Yet on such unsubstantial bases every miner built a pet theory, and a large "stampede" took place in consequence. I started with a party for the new mines, early in October. A day's ride brought us to the Madison Fork, a broad, shallow stream, difficult of fording on account of its large boulders, and flowing through a narrow strip of arable land. Very different is the Gallatin, beyond. It is cut up into narrow streams of a very rapid current, and waters a valley of surprising fertility. The Snakes called it Swift River. This valley is forty miles long and from ten to fifteen wide, and rising at its sides into low plateaus plenteously covered with rich bunch-grass. It is already pre-empted by farmers, and by easy irrigation are produced all the hardier vegetables and cereals, in quantity, size, and closeness of fibre not equalled on the Iowa prai

ries. The valley gradually widens as you descend the stream, until, at the junction of the Three Forks, it stretches into a broad prairie, sufficient alone to supply all the mines with grain and vegetables. A few enterprising speculators once laid out a town here, with all the pomp and circumstance of Martin Chuzzlewit's Eden. Pictures of it were made, with steamers lying at the wharves and a university in the suburbs. Liberal donations of lots were made to the first woman married, to the first newspaper, to the first church, to the first child born. But there were no mines near, and the city never had an inhabitant. The half-dozen buildings put up by the proprietors are left for the nightly carnivals of bats and owls.

On our road we passed a half-dozen huts, dignified with the name of Bozeman City. Here lives a Cincinnatus in retirement, one of the great pioneers of mountain civilization, named Bozeman. To him belongs the credit of having laid out the Bozeman Cut-off, on the road from Fort Laramie to Virginia, and he is looked up to among emigrants much as Chief-Justice Marshall is among lawyers. I saw the great man, with one foot moccasoned and the other as Nature made it, giving Bunsby opinions to a crowd of miners as to the location of the mythical mines.

Parting from him, we crossed a high range of mountains, and from their tops looked down upon the spiral line of the Yellowstone, marked by the rich tints of its willows and cottonwoods, red, yellow, and green, in the crisp frosts of October. The air on these mountain-tops is much rarefied, and so very clear and pure that objects at a great distance seem within the reach of an easy walk. The Yellowstone flows in the eastern portion of Montana through an uninhabitable desert called the Mauvaises Terres, or Bad Lands, which, mingling their soil with its waters, give it the yellow color from which it is named. These lands are vast wastes, covered with what appears to be pine ashes. No signs of vegetation are found, but they are abundant in strange petrifactions.

I have seen from them petrified reptiles and portions of the human body, having a pearly lustre and inlaid with veins, and looking like the finest work in papier-maché.

The valley of the Upper Yellowstone has a thin, rocky soil, almost worthless for farming land. But what a paradise it would be for Izaak Walton and Daniel Boone! Quaint old Izaak would have realized a dream of Utopia in watching in the crystal stream its millions of speckled trout. It almost seems as if the New England trout had learned their proverbial wariness from long experience. There is none of it in these Yellowstone fish. They leap at the bare hook with the most guileless innocence. Trout are rarely found in the waters of the Missouri, but they fill all the brooks west of the mountains. They bite ravenously; one veracious traveller going so far as to assert that they followed him from the water far into the woods, and bit at the spurs on his boots. But mountaineers, even of the most scrupulous veracity, are occasionally given to hyperbole. Daniel Boone, too, would have found his paradise of a solitude undisturbed by white men, and full of wild game. Every night our camp was entertained with the hungry cry of wolves, the melancholy hooting of owls, and the growls of bears crackling the underbrush. The grizzly bear is not found in Montana; only the small black and cinnamon bears are seen. When wounded, these exhibit the most extreme ferocity; but persons who choose to avoid them will find them always willing to preserve the most distant relations. The most interesting of all the wild animals is the antelope. Every hour we passed flocks of these little fellows. They are timid as school-girls, but as inquisitive as village gossips; and while frightened and trembling at our presence, they could not resist keeping long in our view, and stopping every few moments to watch us, with most childish curiosity. Though fleet as the wind, I have seen many of the meek-eyed little fellows watch too long, and pay for their curiosity with their lives.

The most eastern settlement of Montana is at the mouth of a cañon near the Yellowstone, one hundred and thirty miles from Virginia. A party of Iowa emigrants found fair prospects here, and made it their home, calling their mines Emigrant Gulch, and their half-dozen log-huts Yellowstone City. Their gulch is rich in gold, but the huge boulders, many tons in weight, make it impossible to obtain the treasure by the present rude methods. The few profitable claims are high up in the mountains, and are free from ice only in the hottest days of summer. Even the donkeys, so much in use in transporting supplies to the mountain miners, cannot travel here, and every pound of flour is carried on men's backs over giddy paths almost impassable for the chamois. Still the emigrants went to work with a will, and full of confidence. They built themselves log-cabins, not so convenient as those at Virginia, — for they had not the miner's knack of reaping large results from such limited resources, but still substantial and comfortable. They enacted written laws, as ample as the Code Napoleon. Almost every day during our visit they met to revise this code and enact new provisions. Its most prominent feature was the ample protection it afforded to women in the distribution of lots in their prospective city, and the terrible punishment with which it visited any man who dared offer one of them an insult. They certainly founded their republic on principles of adamant, but in spite of high hopes and wise laws the boulders refused to move. Even Iowa enterprise at last gave way under constant disaster, and the people of the little city are one by one forsaking it for the older mines.

The swift Yellowstone and the Colorado rise in lakes in the enchanted Wind River Mountains. Mr. Stuart mentions the weird tales, told by trappers and hunters, of places — avoided, if possible, by man and beast — in these mountains where trees and game and even Indians are petrified, and yet look natural as in life. These trappers are

accustomed to exaggerate. I remember hearing a very serious account from one of them of a vast mountain of quartz so transparent that he could see mules feeding on the other side. There is also a story of a trapper who was lost in the fastnesses of the mountains years ago, and wandered for many days among streams whose bottoms were pebbled with gold. It is the miner's romance to repeat these fables of the Wind River Mountains, and to look forward to the day when the Indians shall be forced to yield them to his enterprise.

We arrived at Virginia at the end of October, and the commencement of the long mountain winter. The snows were soon blown in deep drifts over the hills, and the roads became almost impassable. A few hardy prospecters braved them in the search for quartz lodes, but many perished, and others were brought back to the city with frozen limbs. The mines lay idle, and the business of the city, dependent upon them for support, was completely stagnant. It was humanity living a squirrel life among its little garners of roots and nuts. But as usual, the reason of humanity fell far behind the instinct of the squirrel. Before spring came, the supply of flour at Virginia failed, and the most hideous of all calamities was threatened, a famine. The range on the Salt Lake road lay utterly impassable under more than fifteen feet of snow. No mails had arrived

for three months. The fear of famine soon became a panic, and flour speedily rose from twenty dollars per sack of one hundred pounds to one hundred and ten dollars in gold. A mob was organized by the drones, who would rather steal than work; and the miners were wrought upon by statements that a few speculators held an abundance of flour, and were extorting money from the necessities of the people. The Robespierres of the new reform drew the miners into passing a resolution to place all the flour in Virginia in the hands of a committee, with authority to distribute it among the most needy, at a fair and reasonable compensation, payable to the

owner. A riot followed, and the flourmerchants quietly awaited the mob behind barricades of their own flour. The County Sheriff stood at the front of these with cocked revolver, and threatened to kill the first who advanced. The thieves knew that he did not threaten idly, and, though a hundred were ready to follow, not one was bold enough to lead. The riot failed for want of a courageous leader, and towards night slowly dwindled away. Another mob followed in a few days; but the merchants had sold their flour at sacrifices, and the booty was only a few sacks. The want of this staff of life caused great suffering. All other vegetable food was rapidly consumed, and for six weeks the poorer classes were forced to live on beef alone. The effect was in all cases an inability to labor, and in some cases serious sickness.

While thus cut off from all communication with the outer world, and buried in the dull town, there was little for us to do save to study each other's characters and talk the miners' language. In all new and thinly settled countries, many ideas are expressed by figures drawn from the pursuits of the people. Among the Indians, more than half of every sentence is expressed by signs. And miners illustrate their conversation by the various terms used in mining. I have always noticed how clearly these terms conveyed the idea sought. Awkwardness in comprehending this dialect easily reveals that the hearer bears the disgrace of being a "pilgrim," or a "tender-foot," as they style the new emigrant. To master it is an object of prime necessity to him who would win the miner's respect. Thus the term "adobe," the sun-dried brick, as applied to a man, signifies vealiness and verdancy. A "corral" is an enclosure into which the herds are gathered; hence a person who has everything arranged to his satisfaction announces that he has everything "corralled." A man fortunate in any business has "struck the pay-dirt"; unfortunate, has "reached the bed-rock." Everything viewed in

« AnkstesnisTęsti »