LETTER FROM MARK TWAIN.
The Silver Mines of Nevada -- Curious Changes Since 1863.
A More Healthy State of Affairs -- Labor vs. Speculation.
How a Superintendent made a Fortune.
A Nevada Execution -- Horrible Nonchalance of the Victim.
The Summit of the Sierras -- From Flowers to Snow Drifts.
Eight Days from California to Chicago.
Special Correspondence of the Chicago Republican
VIRGINIA, Nevada, May 2.
I find some changes since I was here last. The little wildcat mines are abandoned and forgotten, and the happy millionaires in fancy (I used to be one of them) have wandered penniless to other climes, or have returned to honest labor for degrading wages. But the majority of the great silver mines on the Comstock lode are flourishing. True, the Ophir, that once ranked first, and sold at nearly four thousand dollars a foot, is not worth two hundred now. The Gould & Curry, that next became chief, and sold at six thousand three hundred dollars a foot, is worth fifty less than six hundred now. The Daney, that reached five hundred, is worth seven dollars and fifty cents now. The Savage, once worth about three thousand dollars a foot, is worth a hundred and fifty-three to-day. The Overman, which was worth five hundred once, sells at a hundred and thirty now. Alpha, once worth fourteen hundred, is worth eighty-eight now. You will perceive that somebody has been losing money.
But now we have the other side of the picture. Imperial, which I had the honor of selling at thirty dollars a share in the days when I was a wild-cat millionaire, is worth two hundred and forty-five now. Hale & Norcross, whereof I sold six feet at three hundred dollars a foot, is worth two thousand, now, and was up to seven thousand during the winter. Yellow Jacket which I have seen sell at thirty dollars, is worth fourteen hundred, to-day. Crown Point, which I had no option of, as a silver mine, in the old times, sells at twenty-two hundred and fifty, now.
But where are the old familiar "adverse" claims, that used to range all the way from ten dollars to a thousand a foot in the glorious "flush times of '63?" Where is the Union? The Rovers? The White and Murphy? The Shamrock? The Bajazet and Golden Era? The East India? The Moscow? The Uncle Sam? The Branch Mint? The Ophir Grade? The Zanzibar? The Masonic? The Mary Ann? The Black Hawk? The Dick Sides? The Irving, which the spirits superintended for poor old Winn, and spent twenty or thirty thousand dollars of his hard-earned restaurant money for him, and then left him out in the cold with a dollar? Where is the Cedar Hill, which desperadoes were employed to defend night and day with minie rifles from behind rudely constructed forts and fortifications? Where is the famous Genessee, which United States Senator Steward and "uncle" Johnny Atchison bought for so fabulous a sum? Where is the Mexican mine, which ten thousand dollars a foot in gold coin could not buy in '63, and whose actual yield of silver was so enormous that common people looked upon the man who owned two thirds of it as a sort of prince of the House of Midas? What has become of that wonderful mine, whose name I cannot recollect, but which was so deftly "salted" with imperfectly melted half dollars for the especial attraction and capture of McKean Buchanan, tragedian -- and with such brilliant success? Where is the Madison, whose day and night shift of cut throats used to stand in the dark drifts and tunnels with bated breath and ears pressed to the damp walls, listening to the dull thump of pick and crowbar in the subterranean corridors of the Ophir, ready to receive the miners with murderous assault of knife and pistol whenever they should cleave through the narrow bulwark of quartz that separated them? Where are the Golden Gate and the Golden Age? -- those mysterious branches of the great Comstock, so ingeniously traced to impossible localities by a wealthy gentleman now resident not very far from Chicago, and who will smile, may be, and may be wince, when his eye falls upon this paragraph. And finally, Oh were is the wonderful Echo? [Echo, according to ancient usage, simply answers, Where?]
Ah me, not one of these mighty treasuries of virgin silver is ever heard of now-a days, and many and many a moon has waxed and waned since they were quoted in the stock board. Except the Mexican mine, they were essentially and outrageously wild-cat, every one of them! They were not worth the paper their pictured and beautiful stock was printed on. The "Union" is dissolved; the "White and Murphy" is dead; the "Rogers" is departed; the "Shamrock" is forgotten' the "Bajazet" is absorbed' the "East India" -- that astonishing mine which was found right in the middle of C. street, and which sold at great figures, while at the same time there was a tunnel running directly under that spot which had never a sign of a quartz ledge in it! Humbug, thy name is legion, I don't know what legion is, but it seems to be about the right word for a conjunction like this. The "Moscow," which used to yield masses of pure silver as black as a coal, and nests of silver wire that was as beautiful as the cunningest jeweler could have wrought it, is swallowed up in the capacious maw of the "Ophir." The "Branch Mint," the "Ophir Grade," and more than a thousand others I could mention, were never anything but barren, barren rocks and dirt, and like that curious production that some lunatic brought here from the East, (the "People's Gold and Silver Mining Company") are long ago abandoned and forgotten.
In those old days, when we reporters went dangling down a dark shaft at the end of a crazy rope, with a candle in our teeth, to the depth of two or three hundred feet, we felt as if we were getting into the very bowels of the earth. We prowled uncomfortably through muddy, crumbling drifts, and tunnels, and were happy no more until the man up at the bullet-hole that showed us a far-off glimpse of blue-sky, wound us up with his windlass and set us in the cheerful light of the sun again. But now they send me whizzing down a compactly boarded well, thirteen hundred feet below the surface of the earth, and deliver me into the midst of a mighty cavern, timbered up and supported by a dim wilderness of logs and beams and braces that cross and recross and tower upward till they fade and vanish in the thick darkness far above my head. I know that I am buried alive, down, down, down in the remote centre of the earth and feel the hot crust of hell beneath my feet! A short stay there is sufficient. I see from whence those great frosted masses of silver bullion come that I look upon in the mills and assay offices every day, and then I am satisfied to be sent whizzing upward toward the earth again by ponderous steam machinery.
I see many, many changes. But most notable is the change from the bootless, feverish, ruinous speculation in undeveloped mines, to sober, remunerating labor on veins of great and lasting value. It is the change from mere speculation to regular, systematic business -- and in it lies a firm future prosperity for Nevada. I hear the stamp-mills thundering, and I see the carts laden with massive silver bricks -- each a load for a man -- and I feel that the Silver Land is safe at last beyond the reach of those disastrous panics that once threatened utterly to destroy her.
BRIEF MENTION OF A FRIEND.
An acquaintance shook hands with me in such a patronizing manner yesterday that I am moved to make him the text of a paragraph that will serve to illustrate what one may term a "state of things." When I first knew this man he hadn't a cent. He did not put on airs then. Now he is the superintendent of one of the great silver mines, and has grown rich. You may not believe that a superintendent can grow absolutely rich in four years on a salary of from ten to twenty thousand dollars a year, but such is really the case. Ordinary superintendents are content to covertly receive a present of a dollar or so from each ton of ore they sell to a mill man; but my man's ambition soared higher than that. He took lumber belonging to the great corporation that employed him, and built a little mill of his own with it. He built that mill below the company's mill, too, which was wise. Then he took other of the company's lumber, and built a string of sluice boxes that reached clear from the company's mill to his own. After that he worked the company's rock in the company's mill and got sixteen dollars a ton out of it -- and turned the money over to the company -- which didn't declare a dividend. Then he took the "tailings" from that same rock, carried them through his sluices to his little private mill, worked them over again, and out of every ton he got thirty dollars! Which money was his own, of course, and he never gave any of it to the company. Now you can understand how a man can get rich in four years, on twelve thousand dollars a year, when the company furnishes him a dwelling house and horses and carriages free. And this is the moral beggar that shakes hands patronizingly with a spotless and virtuous newspaper correspondent.
The people used to say it was a shame that the company did not put an injunction on that little private mill and stop its confiscations. But the company did not. The company was too much accustomed to queer taxation by superintendents, perhaps. But at last an offended providence put an injunction on that mill -- sent it in the form of a flood that washed the mill away. Happily there is no appeal from an injunction when Providence puts it on. Nevadians will know who I am speaking of.
But I am tired talking about mines. I saw a man hanged the other day. John Melanie, of France. He was the first man ever hanged in this city (or country either), where the first twenty six graves in the cemetery were those of men who died by shots and stabs.
I never had witnessed an execution before, and did not believe I could be present at this one without turning away my head at the last moment. But I did not know what fascination there was about the thing, then. I only went because I thought I ought to have a lesson, and because I believed that if ever it would be possible to see a man hanged, and derive satisfaction from the spectacle, this was the time. For John Melanie was no common murderer -- else he would have gone free. He was a heartless assassin. A year ago, he secreted himself under the house of a woman of the town who lived alone, and in the dead watches of the night, he entered her room, knocked her senseless with a billet of wood as she slept, and then strangled her with his fingers. He carried off all her money, her watches, and every article of her wearing apparel, and the next day, with quiet effrontery, put some crepe on his arm and walked in her funeral procession.
Afterward he secreted himself under the bed of another woman of the town, and in the middle of the night was crawling out with a slung-shot in one hand and a butcher knife in the other, when the woman discovered him, alarmed the neighborhood with her screams, and he retreated from the house. Melanie sold dresses and jewelry here and there until some of the articles were identified as belonging to the murdered courtezan. He was arrested and then his later intended victim recognized him.
After he was tried and condemned to death, he used to curse and swear at all who approached him; and he once grossly insulted some young Sisters of Charity who came to minister kindly to his wants. The morning of the execution, he joked with the barber, and told him not to cut his throat -- he wanted the distinction of being hanged.
This is the man I wanted to see hung. I joined the appointed physicians, so that I might be admitted within the charmed circle and be close to Melanie. Now I never more shall be surprised at anything. That assassin got out of the closed carriage, and the first thing his eye fell upon was that awful gallows towering above a great sea of human heads, out yonder on the hill side and his cheek never blanched, and never a muscle quivered! He strode firmly away, and skipped gaily up the steps of the gallows like a happy girl. He looked around upon the people, calmly; he examined the gallows with a critical eye, and with the pleased curiosity of a man who sees for the first time a wonder he has often heard of. He swallowed frequently, but there was no evidence of trepidation about him -- and not the slightest air of braggadocio whatever. He prayed with the priest, and then drew out an abusive manuscript and read from it in a clear, strong voice, without a quaver in it. It was a broad, thin sheet of paper, and he held it apart in front of him as he stood. If ever his hand trembled in even the slightest degree, it never quivered that paper. I watched him at that sickening moment when the sheriff was fitting the noose about his neck, and pushing the knot this way and that to get it nicely adjusted to the hollow under his ear -- and if they had been measuring Melanie for a shirt, he could not have been more perfectly serene. I never saw anything like that before. My own suspense was almost unbearable -- my blood was leaping through my veins, and my thoughts were crowding and trampling upon each other. Twenty moments to live -- fifteen to live -- ten to live -- five -- three -- heaven and earth, how the time galloped! -- and yet that man stood there unmoved though he knew that the sheriff was reaching deliberately for the drop while the black cap descended over his quiet face! -- then down through the hole in the scaffold the strap-bound figure shot like a dart! -- a dreadful shiver started at the shoulders, violently convulsed the whole body all the way down, and died away with a tense drawing of the toes downward, like a doubled fist -- and all was over!
I saw it all. I took exact note of every detail, even to Melanie's considerately helping to fix the leather strap that bound his legs together and his quiet removal of his slippers -- and I never wish to see it again. I can see that stiff, straight corpse hanging there yet, with its black pillow-cased head turned rigidly to one side, and the purple streaks creeping through the hands and driving the fleshy hue of life before them. Ugh!
UP AMONG THE CLOUDS
I rather dread the trip over the Sierra Nevada tomorrow. Now that you can come nearly all the way from Sacramento to this city by rail, one would suppose that the journey is pleasant enough, but it is not. It is more irksome than it was before -- more tiresome on account of your being obliged to shift from cars to stages and back again every now and then in the mountains. We used to rattle across all the way by stage, and never mind it at all, save that we had to ride thirty hours without stopping.
The other day we left the summer valleys of California in the morning -- left grassy slopes and orchards of cherry, peach and apple in full bloom -- left strawberries and cream and vegetable gardens, and a mild atmosphere that was heavy with the perfume of flowers; and at noon we stood seven thousand feet above the sea, with snow banks more than a hundred feet deep almost within rifle-shot of us. We were at Cisco, the summit of the Sierras, where for miles the railway trains rush along under tall wooden sheds, built to protect them from snows and the milder sort of avalanches. We had been running alongside of perpendicular snow-banks, whose upper edges were much above the cars. At Cisco the snow was twenty or thirty feet deep. I said to an old friend who lives there:
"Good deal of snow here."
"No -- there ain't now -- but we had considerable during the winter."
"Without meaning any offense, what might you call 'considerable'?"
"Sixty-eight feet on a dead level, and more a falling!"
"Good morning -- stay awhile?"
"Excuse me. My time is limited."
He spoke the truth. And yet he had the hardihood to spend two years there. Leaving Cisco, they sent us twenty four miles in four-horse sleighs, around and among the tremendous mountain peaks, grand with their regalia of storm-clouds. We swept by the company's stables on a level with their roofs, so deep was the snow.
Taking the advice of people I deemed wiser than myself, I had wrapped up myself in overcoats, and put on overshoes. But here in the midst of these snowy wastes the sun flamed out as hot as August, and I had to take off everything I could. It was a perfect tropical day. I got badly sunburned, and partly snow-blind, and I sweated more and growled more than I had in a year before. All this in a four-horse sleigh, in the midst of snow full twenty feet deep!
All I wish to say is, that I do not despise to go sleighriding in the summer time. And the next time I have to do such a thing I mean to have a fan, and some ice cream, and a suit of summer linen along.
The railroad is progressing rapidly. It is promised that those who take the Overland well along toward July, shall go hence to Chicago in eight days.
I came very near starting overland to Chicago today, with the Nevada delegates to the convention. But I will wait till June. I beg to commend the California and Nevada delegates to your kind courtesies, however especially the Nevada one, whose heart is so large that it distends his body and deceives strangers into the notion that he is corpulent -- and the noisy California one with the cordial manner and the enormous moustache. They be friends of mine.
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