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The Washoe Mining Region

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1134, p. 262.

March 8,1862

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Sketches from the Washoe Silver Region, America: Gold Hill, Mount Davidson, and the Ophir Road.

THE WASHOE MINING REGION.

The recently-organised territory of Nevada, North America, besides containing the beautiful Carson Valley, has been rendered famous by being the seat of the Washoe silver-mines, the fame of whose riches drew, it will be remembered, a year or two ago, swarms of hardy adventurers from even the golden regions of California to the spot. This region, running north and south, lies between the nearly parallel ranges of the Sierra Nevada on the Californian side and the Humboldt range on the side of Utah. As the most conflicting statements have been made respecting the Washoe silver-mines, some holding them up to derision and others enduing them with the halo of extravagant expectations, a few graphic sketches of its principal mining-places will not be unwelcome to our readers. Mr. Edward Vischer, who has forwarded to us the accompanying Illustrations,with many others, is a merchant, of San Francisco, California, in which State he has lived many years. Practically acquainted with mining pursuits, and not being personally interested in Washoe or in mining operations of any kind, his views of the silver region in Nevada, herewith given, may be taken as trustworthy:—" The early feverish speculative excitement with regard to the Washoe region, which as an inheritance of 1859 passed undiminished to its successor, threatening California with a new mania of emigration like that of the memorable Fraser River, has been checked just in time to prevent more serious mischief and the ruin of many of our business men. This was but the disappointment corresponding to silly exaggeration, the whole region east of the Sierra Nevada being fancied a ready-made new Potosi without the trouble of even opening a mine. It was, however, suddenly brought to a climax by the outbreak of hostilities with the Indians, which could only be terminated by military aid. Thus the new mining region, hitherto decked out with the fanciful radiance of the wildest imagination, was all at once reduced to the reality of mining in a remote wilderness; and it was then discovered that mining for silver, here as anywhere else, requires time and capital for the development of its returns. However, should the mines hitherto opened be the only ones, even precluding the hope of a further extension of the promising field for mining, their successful working would be of incalculable benefit for California, which for a long while will have to furnish all the supply of necessaries and look to the opening of a rear country as the only true lever by which she may ultimately obtain a Pacific railroad. As to the realities of the new silver region, we wonder so little should be known about them; a quarter of a century will be a more appropriate term, when the millions of Washoe silver feeding the channels of an enlarged Asiatic trade may (by a reversing scale, telling of our advancement), bear a comparison with our lessened gold remittances viâ Panama to Europe." After enumerating the principal leads, the produce of the mines already opened, and the reducing-works established or in course of erection, he alludes to visionary speculation in Washoe mining works, "This," he continues, "is the fictitious side of Washoe mining—the vapoury atmosphere which surrounds the new silver region. Its mirages no longer delude the thinking portion of our community. It is fortunate, indeed, that our public has at so early a stage had a salutary warning by previous disenchantment. In the meanwhile, the energetic spirit of practical enterprise, by a combination of technical and financial resources, is gradually but steadily developing the colossal wealth of the new silver region, the discovery of which is the fruit of the adventurous turn of our prospectors, who, with almost superhuman exertions, and mostly with little benefit to themselves, have been the hardy pioneers of this new Potosi beyond the Sierra Nevada."

Mr. Vischer has since had the opportunity, by a visit to the Washoe region, in May of last year, for the sake of personal information, to confirm him in his opinion that the time has not arrived for justly estimating the financial importance of the discoveries in Western Utah, albeit their development, even thus far, has proved a main lever for the progress of California, whence most of the necessities of the new silver region have to be supplied. It has, moreover, established the claim of that region beyond the Sierra Nevada (now known as "Nevada Territory," since its separation from Utah and Mormon influences) to the birth of a new and promising community
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Sketches from the Washoe Silver Region, North America: Devil's Gate, and the Crushing Mills at the North End of Silver City

in barren wastes apparently unfit for cultivation and the subsistence of & permanent population, the outposts of which, however, by the progress of prospecting and actual mining enterprise, already extend to the Humboldt range of mountains, bordering on the Great Basin, with every probability of soon connecting the Washoe region with Salt lake through a continued line of settlements; the telegraph and overland mail stations, with the increasing traffic of Western emigration serving as preparatory links of this phenomenon in the progress of civilisation.

Subsequently, in a quite recent visit to Washoe, the writer witnessed the extraordinary start which has taken place within the last few months, with many cases of individual success; the gradual development of many a new mining district, and the improved methods introduced, with works on a gigantic scale multiplying the chances for a yield in precious metals, which cannot fail to assert its weight in the financial scales of the world.

But we return to our immediate object, that of giving some particulars relating to the Illustrations now presented to our readers.

THE ENGRAVINGS.

Devil's Gate, some three miles up the Gulch of Gold Cannon, is a remarkable cluster of rocks on each side, forming a natural gateway and appropriate entrance to this demoniac region. To the south of it, extending about half a mile down the Gulch, lies Silver City, with a population of some two thousand inhabitants; a place teeming with the activity of the entire traffic from California to Washoe. Numerous teams are constantly occupied in the transportation of ore from the mines to the crushing-mills (two of the principal of which are represented in our Engraving; and the noise of some 500 stampers and snorting of steam-engines render it a fit abode for the Cyclops. The summit of the rock, forming the right side of the gate, at the time of the late Indian troubles, was used as a fortification against the Pah-Utes.

Gold-hill, Mount Davidson, and the Ophir-road.—Following the ascent of the Cannon for about two and a half miles beyond the Devil's Gate, northerly, we arrive at the famous Gold-hill, the paying-place, par excellence, of the Washoe region, as the produce of its mines, less remarkable for its positive richness than the continuity of a steady average yield of from 50 to 75 dols. to the ton, chiefly in gold of easy extraction, enters into immediate circulation. Its bountiful yield of such ore is practically evinced by the uninterrupted line of heavy teams carrying the precious rock to the mills of Silver City and on Carson River, the works established in the vicinity of Gold-hill being insufficient even for the requirements of the companies which erected and work them for their own use. The alloy of silver, hitherto disregarded, is increasing at a rate which will imply a more complicated process, and retard the result. This hill, perforated by numerous tunnels, with its stir of life, resembles a vast beehive; and the airy scaffolding of the schuyts for delivering the rock surround it as with the tracery of some huge spider's web. The entire frontage of Gold-hill proper does not exceed 250 yards, this space being subdivided into numerous claims of from 5ft. to 10ft. each, worked by a few men. Individual mining, therefore, is the prevailing feature in this locality; and the consequence is a certain recklessness in pushing into the paying ledge as fast as possible, with a frequent disregard of the safety of support among tunnels in danger of "caving in."

Virginia City.—This Illustration (on page 259) represents the first glimpse afforded of this emporium of Washoe, from the eminence at the head of Gold Cannon, beyond Gold-hill, the distance between these two places being only about one English mile. The plain abounds in detached boulders of rock as fantastic in form as those of Arabia Petrea, the comparison being borne out by the general aspect of the surrounding country. Immediately beyond Mount Davidson, to the left, is Cedar-hill, the site of extensive prospecting and tunnel operations. The Comstock lead, renowned for its richness, commences on this side of it, running along the east base of Mount Davidson from north to south, the Gould and Curry Mine being visible on the left-hand side just above Virginia.

Previous: Sketches from the Washoe Silver Region, North America: Virginia City from the South, Mount Davidson, Cedar Hill and Six Miles GutchIllustrationvol. 40, no. 1134, p. 259. (1 paragraph)
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