Zinc Barnes – Rich in Ingenuity

Gold Hill, Nevada Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1867

Gold Hill, Nevada Timothy H. O’Sullivan, 1867

By William Daugherty in 1891

Sometime in the early 1860s, Zinc Barnes was engaged in the livery business in Gold Hill, Nevada, and had Dick Dey in his employ as a bookkeeper. After an unsuccessful season, during which the business went from bad to worse, Zinc failed and petitioned the court to be declared insolvent. In due time, the case came on for a hearing, and that morning Zinc met Dick and said that he desired him to go into court and attend to the matter. Dick replied in much surprise that there wasn’t anything to be done that he knew of, and asked, “What do you want me to do?”  Zinc’s knowledge of books and accounts was very limited, but in a general way, he thought the bookkeeper would be wanted, and so he said, “Well, go up to court and make a showing of some kind for me.” “A showing,” said Dick, “why, there is no showing that can be made. It is a clear case of insolvency, and the books and accounts are all on file in the court.”

“Well,” said Zinc, “Go up anyhow, and if you can’t do nothin’ else, charge somethin’ up to sundries.”

Dick picked his teeth and went on his way, and the case came to a conclusion without any “showin’.” Some years afterward, Zinc made a raise in the sale of water rights at Pioche and again engaged in the livery business. At this time, he called in and engaged as his bookkeeper, J. F. Hallock.

Zinc was liberal and the matter of salary was easily agreed on, and then Hallock asked how he wanted the books kept, in a double or single entry.

Livery Stable

Livery Stable

“Oh,” said Zinc, “single entry will do for me. I don’t want to charge a man but once. It makes a better showin’ in the assets if a man fails.”

“Very well,” said Hallock, “I merely wanted to know, so as to be guided in closing up the books, when you may wish it done.”

“Oh, never mind about closing them,” said Zinc, “the sheriff will attend to that.”

In due time, the Sheriff did so, for Zinc was too liberal and reckless, and, of course, failed. Then, he fitted out a prospecting party from the remnant that was exempt from execution and, as liberal as ever, took a couple of broken-down companions — “old stiffs” he called them — and started off for Arizona. They spent the winter in prospecting, and, when all their supplies were gone, started across the deserts for Los Angeles, and ultimately San Francisco, or any other seaport and without any definite object in view. It was before the Southern Pacific Railroad was built and the trip to Los Angeles was fatiguing and not without many dangers. One by one, their animals gave out and died and then they were all on foot and dead broke. Zinc had left, as a relic of better days, a pair of sleeve buttons made from $10 gold pieces, which, as soon as they arrived, he took to a jeweler and sold and divided the proceeds with his two comrades. He then sent a dispatch to a friend in San Francisco, saying, “Just arrived from Arizona. Took breakfast on a sleeve button. Send me some money for steamer fare. Answer.” His comrades had left him to “see the town” and Zinc heard nothing of them until noon when he learned they were in jail for being drunk and disorderly.

Without any delay, he hurried around and put up all the money he had left and bailed them out. Getting no reply from his telegram, he concluded his friend was out of San Francisco, and something must be done and, as he expressed it, “p.d.q.,” and at once he drew on his fund of ingenuity.

He had already discovered that the people there were very boastful of their climate and also very sensitive about any adverse opinions. He was begrimed with dust and tanned like a tramp and fully as ragged. His boots were run over at the heels and out at the toes, and his general appearance was such, that at the present day, they would arrest anyone in such a condition for a vagrant, but then it was different. Los Angeles was advertising climate and offering bonds for railroads; anything, in fact, to get emigration headed that way. Zinc took in the situation, and lounging up to the crowd of dons and land-owners in front of the bar at the Pico House, be began an energetic soliloquy in tones loud enough to be heard by all, and which is reported as follows. Said he: “It’s a fine climate here in Southern California. A man can live in the climate. I haven’t had anything else for three weeks, and I’m getting fat. I went out to Santa Monica today, and there, I found a lot of big, lusty Irishmen surf bathing, but shivering and blue with the cold. A one-lunged tourist on the wharf asked one of them how long he had lived there, and he answered: ‘Sure, sir, I was born here.’ And when nobody was watching they all come out of the surf and stood on the sunny side of the bathhouse to get warm. Senator John P. Jones of Nevada hires ’em at $4 a day to bathe there and advertise the climate. Oh, he’ll get up a boom, and don’t you forget it. He knows all the tricks on the stock market, he does. All you want is water down here, and that’s all they need in h–l.”

By this time all the tourists in the hotel were out listening to Zinc, and to choke him off and stop the disastrous effect of his diatribe on the climate, a number of leading citizens, among them, being Temple, Hellman, Mesmer, and Downey, made up a purse and hustled Zinc off on the afternoon train to San Pedro to catch the steamer for San Francisco. And they always regarded it a good investment to get rid of Zinc Barnes at any price.

By William Daugherty, for the Reno Evening Gazette, July 14, 1891. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

About the Author: Written by William Daugherty wrote for the Reno Evening Gazette in 1891. The Gazette was first published on October 12, 1876, and continued for the next 107 years. In 1977, it was merged with the Nevada State Journal and continues to exist today as the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Note: The article is not verbatim as spelling errors, minor grammatical changes, and editing have occurred for the ease of the modern reader.

Also See:

Pioneers on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

Tales of the Overland Stage (Reno Evening Gazette)

Nevada Mining Tales (Reno Evening Gazette)

Nevada – The Silver State