Early Mining Discoveries in Nevada

The Record-Union newspaper of November 2, 1859, contained the following:

Henry T. Comstock

Henry T. Comstock

The tide is beginning to ebb slowly back. Parties of prospectors who went out yesterday and the day before are returning from the new diggings. I should think a dozen or fifteen have returned.

I am sorry for some of these mines, and those who have founded their hopes upon them, but they do not appear to realize the anticipations of their friends. In sober truth, no one seems to have found the exact locality. I have conversed with a reliable person who hunted for them up hill and down dale, a day and a half, and not only lost the scent, but got away from every trace of gold. He says, after crossing the hills northeast from Six-Mile Canyon, he entered upon a rugged country, where there was no quartz and where there was none of the other gold-bearing signs existing. He met or saw in all, nearly a hundred persons looking for new diggings, but could not hear of anyone who had struck them. There were reports that the real spot lies somewhere across the Carson River, in a direction southeast from here, and parties have gone in that direction.

The general belief appears to be that the new mines are a humbug of the first water. Nevertheless, I have this evening met and conversed with a man who professes to have come directly from the spot; his name is J. Clark, formerly of Placerville, California, and of late engaged in trading ventures to Ragtown and vicinity. He tells a moderate story and relates with an air of truthfulness what he professes to have himself seen. Instead of lumps, nuggets and chispas, his discourse is of surface prospects yielding 10 cents to the pan, which is not enough, I fear, to satisfy the restless craving of the excited fortune-hunters. Ragtown, as all of you readers may not be aware, is about seventy miles in a northeasterly direction from this place, on the edge of the Great Desert, and is the first trading post that is reached by the overland emigration after crossing that “melancholy waste” and arriving on the frontier settlements of our State. This side of Ragtown are still two other deserts which the emigrants have to cross before reaching the Carson Valley proper.

Virginia City, Nevada Mining Works

Virginia City, Nevada Savage Works Mill, by Timothy H. O Sullivan, 1867. Click for prints products and downloads.

When the miners came in the spring, Comstock was “on deck,” claiming everything, and in the same year, 1859, he was deeding ground to the newcomers and sold the Burning Moscow Mine, which seems to have been the second location on the Comstock, the Ophir Mine, being the first. The first deed given by Comstock, and probably the first ever recorded on the ledge, was for the paltry consideration of $40, and the next one was for $30. The Virginia Mine, or middle lead, commonly known as the Red Ledge, and lying parallel with, and adjoining the Comstock on the west and the Black Ledge on the east, was brought into prominence in 1859 by the Burning Moscow discovery, which developed a body of ore as rich as any ever found in the district before or since. It contained native silver and free gold in large quantities. Among other locations made by Henry Comstock in the Virginia district was one on the Red Ledge, and was officially recorded on June 27, 1859.

Adjoining this location the Ketch and Baker Company and the McBee Mining Company made a claim on March 23, 1859, that extended to the Cedar Ravine on the north, and officially filed the claim.

The ground located by these three notices was then conveyed to the Iowa Mining Company, which incorporated in 1862. Among the early promoters of this company were Louis McLane, Thomas Bee, William C. Ralston, Oliver Eldridge, W. F. Babcock, William Blanding and E. A. Miller. These names would later become familiar in business circles on the Coast and some of them are linked with the grandest enterprises in the Coast’s history.

On the other hand, Henry Comstock, who started these men at the beginning of riches, died poor. He sold out early, squandered his wealth, and left the area to spend the rest of his life trying to find another Comstock Lode.

After the Grosh brothers had passed from the scene of their labors, there was still nothing very tangible about the Comstock until Melville Atwood, a chemist, and metallurgist residing at Grass Valley, made an assay of some rock brought from Nevada by a man named Walsh. This assay was from the first ton and a half of ore ever brought over the mountains from Nevada The following are the original letters written by him regarding the find. He confounded the Truckee with the Carson River at the time of the writing.

Grass Valley, June 30, 1859.

My Dear Sir : On Monday morning a miner, a friend of Walsh, from Alpha, who had been locating a ranch near the Truckee River, came into our office with a sample of rock which he said was taken from the lead he had discovered near the Truckee River, and near which some miners had obtained large returns of gold.

I recognized it as a rich silver ore, and Walsh got him to divide the ground he had taken up into six shares, of which Walsh and self are to have one-sixth each. I made the assay on Tuesday and they proved to be so rich that Walsh and a friend of his left yesterday morning for the mine. In the assay made at Nevada City, California, they did not discover the silver. The mine (the Ophir) is in the Utah Territory, about 120 miles from this place. I have just heard that there is great excitement in Nevada City about it. I do hope Walsh will be in time to secure our ground. My assays gave from 15 to 20 percent. silver. I am much hurried and will write you again on Walsh’s return. He will bring 200 or 300 pounds of ore down with him. You may yet have something better than the sulphurets to ship to England. In great haste, yours most truly,

Melville Attwood. To Donald Davidson, Esq., San Francisco.

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