Posts Tagged ‘Nevada Mining History’

31 December

A Dangerous Occupation

 A Dangerous Occupation

In 1850 California, rumors of new gold finds and “easy pickins” were rampant and rarely had any truth to them.  On the rare occasion a rumor was legitimate, big companies or large groups of like-minded men quickly moved in buying claims for very little (or just running off whomever was there) and were not shy about using deadly force to keep other prospectors far away.  Claim jumping or just outright stealing a miner’s gold dust was not unusual – even if it meant ending his life.  As there was no law within a hundred miles, the one with the most men, guns and knives usually won.  So, in addition to all the inherent dangers and uncertainties facing a single prospector and his mule, finding gold was only the beginning of his worries.

Undaunted by these facts, Muriel’s great grandfather, Samuel Penfield Taylor, used his grub stake to buy mining tools and walked some 150 miles east of San Francisco, into the remote hills surrounding the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. At some point during his trek, Samuel panned for gold around streams at Hawkins Bar, near Tuolumne, California. What he found there were several rival ethnic groups and companies literally at war.

The Spanish American war had just ended. Although California wouldn’t officially become a territory of the United States until late 1850, this bad blood was carried up the mountain as newly arrived American miners forced the native Mexican miners at gunpoint out of their camps and even hung a few to make their point.  The “Sonoranians,” as the Mexican miners were called, relocated at the other end of town not far away and tensions continued with frequent gunfights.

Even among the same ethnic groups there were clashes.  Two Chinese companies, the Tuolumne County Sam Yap Company and the Calaveras County Yan Wo Company, were both claiming the same mining areas and the resulting was violence frequent and deadly. This escalated into the Tong War of 1856 when over 2,500 Chinese men took to the streets.  The Sam Yap clan brought long pikes, butcher’s knives and tridents to the fight.  Yan Wo had purchased 150 muskets with bayonets in San Francisco, so the battle didn’t last long.

We can only assume that Samuel Taylor stayed clear of all of this and went about his business panning for gold.  When he returned to San Francisco in 1851, Samuel exchanged his 6,173 pennyweight of gold nuggets and dust and received $5,691.99 – not the fortune he was hoping for, but a handsome sum in those days.

Having had enough of gold prospecting, Samuel saw the city’s rapid growth and, with some partners, built a sawmill and opened a lumberyard on the corner of Drumm and California Streets in San Francisco.  It was so successful, he had a hard time keeping up with the demand.  In order to find a sustainable source of trees to mill, he hopped on his horse one day and rode north.  It wasn’t long before he found a vast, virgin forest of the tallest and widest trees he had ever seen. What intrigued him even more was the large creek that flowed through the forest. Seeing such a great source of power surrounded by a seemingly unlimited supply of wood made Samuel rethink his plans for the trees.

To make his vision come true, he needed additional capital and equipment not available in the west. There was also something else in the east that still piqued his interest of a more personal nature. Returning to San Francisco, Samuel booked passage on the next ship headed for New York.

12 December

The Big City

The Big City

October, 1904 – Tonopah, Nevada

As the winter of 1904 approached, it was decided that Mother and I would stay in Tonopah with Grandpa Harry, while Father would remain in Manhattan and continued mining and building our house. I would have preferred staying in camp with the men, but Mother wasn’t having any of that.

In 1900 Tonopah (called Butler then) had a population of 16, including two dogs. When we first traveled through earlier that year there were about 600 people living there, mainly in tents and make-shift houses.  Now, seven months later, the population had exploded to over 10,000 and it was increasing daily. Tonopah was now a bona fide boom town; the central hub of a few hundred square miles of mining camps and communities consisting of over 20,000 people.  New hotels, bars, stores and restaurants were springing up all over the place.  At one end of town was an area everyone called the red light district and I remember wondering why those people preferred red lights to regular ones.

The frontier town had attracted a vast assortment of people including prostitutes, gamblers, outlaws and drifters – “A rather undesirable sort,” my Mother said often.  She always placed herself between them and me when we walked down the street.  I would, of course, always try to peer around her skirt, curious about who they were and figure out why my Mother was so suspicious of them.  That alone made them automatically interesting to me.

One day we were walking to a store when we encountered a tall, well-dressed man with a huge mustache who nodded, tipped his hat and said “Good morning ladies,” in a deep voice as he passed.  Mother told me he was a famous law man who, along with some of his brothers and friends, had been in a famous gun fight in Tombstone, Arizona.  Now he managed security for some of the larger mines and owned a bar and gambling hall in Tonopah called “The Northern.”  Impressed, from then on I always made sure to wave at the man every time I saw him.  Wyatt Earp never failed to smile,tip his hat and wave back.  I learned later that his brother, Virgil, was the Deputy Sheriff at the town of Goldfield located about 25 miles away.

I also recall people talking about the number of dangerous outlaws in the area.  Stagecoaches hauling gold and silver between Tonopah and San Francisco were irresistible to the bandits.  There was  also always gossip about Indian trouble somewhere or another.  Some of the battles took place near some of the remote mining camps and we always worried about Father and the men when we heard of these. Most of the Shoshoni Indians I saw seemed peaceful enough.  Some of the women even taught me to weave baskets which I got quite good at.

Some would think that with all the anxiety, the inherent dangers, no running water and being so distant from doctors, medicine and nutritional food that it was a strange place to take your family.  I didn’t understand any of this and was having a grand old time.

Grandpa Harry had rented one of the finer houses in Tonopah which was no mansion, but cozier than the tent. It was great being around Grandmother Laura, Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Carol again who had just arrived from California.  Dot, as we called Aunt Dorothy, was a real character and lots of fun, always ready to try anything.  Carol was very beautiful and wanted to be an actress.  Carol and I shared a common outlook on life as she, too, wasn’t very interested in following rules and was always ready for an exciting adventure.  Turned out Tonopah was packed full of people like us.

6 December

Where’s the Mother Lode?

Where’s the Mother Lode?

July, 1904 – Manhattan, Nevada

For some strange reason it seems the older I get – the better I remember my childhood. Some of it really does seem like only yesterday. Maybe when one gets old, the mind dumps the life’s junk and retains only the important things.

One of my very favorite childhood memories has to do with my Father teaching me to spit. Mother considered it very unladylike, but it was for a very good reason.  Some days I got lucky and Father took me with him to search for silver. I am not sure if it was more him wanting my company or Mother needing a break from me.  Either way I loved those days, tramping through the hills and valleys with my favorite man in the world.

He would stop once in a while and pick up a rock, spit on it, wipe the dirt away and then examine it closely.  I, of course, had to be just like him so I would do the same.  I wasn’t a very good spitter at first and would usually miss the rock entirely. This didn’t slow me down though. I would wipe the dry dirt from the rock the best I could and, with a very serious face, examine it closely just like my Father did having no idea what I was looking for. When he tossed his rock away, I would throw mine too. We would walk some more and do it all over again.  It was great fun and I soon became very talented spitter.

He explained to me that we were looking for the Mother Lode and they were usually found near outcroppings where rocks stuck up out of the desert. When, in a very adult manner, I explained this to my Mother, I added that I didn’t even know rocks came in crops and had mothers.  They laughed.  I made them laugh a lot.  I liked that feeling and decided to expand my audience. The men who were working with my Dad became my captive audience, and I spent hours telling jokes and performing my little songs and dances for them as we sat around the campfire in the evenings.

One day when we were out on one of our adventures, Father picked up a rock that he didn’t toss away, but instead opened his canteen and poured a lot more water on the rock, rubbing at it till it was thoroughly clean.  Calling me over, he showed me the pretty, glass-looking thing on one side of the rock he called quartz. What excited him most was the spider web of shiny silver running through the other side of the rock.  He told me that we had found a clue where that mother lode might be hiding.  I remember being so excited.  For the rest of the day we worked our way up the draw examining rocks. Most got tossed back, but several others got put into his pouch, including one that I found.

That evening we made our way home with the good news.


1 December

It’s a Stampede

It’s a Stampede!

August, 1904 – Manhattan, Nevada

Once camp was set up, Father and the men began searching the claim for signs of silver.  Back in camp Mother was kept busy trying to keep the desert (and its many critters) out of the tents and me close by.  Both tasks proved to be pretty impossible.

Always looking for a good adventure and not having any clue as to the dangers, I would sneak away from camp at every opportunity and go exploring with my puppy, Canute.  The hills around Manhattan probably still echo my name as Mother was constantly screaming “Muriel!” till she was hoarse, as she tried to locate where I had wondered off to.  I thought the subsequent scoldings and occasional tap on the fanny a cheap price to pay for all the excitement. Then one day something happened that made me stay closer to the camp – for a while anyway.

About a mile away from camp was an area we called the Oasis.  It was a small spring surrounded by tall brush where we got our drinking and cooking water.  In the early part of the year while the snow was melting, the water ran fast and the pool was deep enough to bathe and swim in if you were brave enough to handle the cold water. The men always did, which meant I was right with them getting in the way. In the hot part of the summer when the temperatures soared to over 100 degrees for months at a time, the water became barely a trickle and the pool was only a few feet deep, but it still felt pretty wonderful.

Much to Mother’s dismay, this frontier environment made it a lot smarter for me to wear britches rather than dresses, so I spent most of my time covered head to toe with the Nevada desert.  A couple times a week Mother and I would make the long trek to the Oasis for a much needed bath and to gather some water.  She figured that if her daughter was going to be a tomboy, at least she was going to be a clean one.

One day we set out for the Oasis and had barely taken off our clothes and jumped into the pool when we felt the earth began to vibrate and heard a rumbling sound that kept getting louder.  What we thought of as our own private oasis was the only source for water for many miles and apparently this day we weren’t the only ones looking for relief from the heat and a cool drink of water.

Before we knew it a herd of over a hundred wild mustangs came roaring up to the watering hole, their thunderous hooves raising a giant cloud of dust. We moved to the middle of the pool as they quickly surrounded us. Mother was holding me tightly in her arms trying to keep me from getting loose to check out the horses.

A few glared menacingly at us, their ears pinned back and snorting like mad. Some reared up high in the air crashing their hooves back to the ground.  It was as if they wanted to let us know their displeasure with our trespassing onto their watering hole. They were not amused, Mother was terrified and I was fascinated. I wanted to take one home.

When they quieted down a bit, Mother with me still in her arms, began moving toward the side of the pool where there was a lot of brush and not many mustangs. She never took her eyes off of the wild horses, ready to stare them down if necessary.  Finally deciding that two mostly naked women were no threat, the horses began drinking.  We watched as they trampled our clothes into the mud.

That night after dinner Mother insisted that Father give her a shooting lesson.  From then on, every time we left the house to go to the Oasis or anywhere else, Mother had one hand around mine and the other one firmly gripping a Winchester rifle.