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Grass Valley, Nevada County, June 11, 1851
ONCE more in the mountains--once more among the everlasting hills of California, the land of circumstance and of adventure. How truly may it be said that "no man knoweth what the morrow may bring forth." When I last descended from the snow-capped peaks of the Snowy Mountains, I thought that it was for the last time and that that my weary feet would no more climb their dizzy heights, nor my tongue again be parched by burning thirst. But, alas, a life of ease is not for me, and, until the sun of life goes down, I may hardly hope for rest. Yet "hope on, hope ever," and in California even hope for heaven. The desire for wealth brought me here, and the weary search for gold hath made misery often my companion; yet although I have not been completely successful and have run many risks, I am not discouraged and will still plod on. Trade in the city became dull and fluctuating, and an opportunity occurring of selling out to advantage, it could not be neglected, for here you must go with the current. Stemming it is destruction; so I closed for the time my "merchandise." About the same time the subject of quartz mining began to attract attention and my mining experience was sought. I examined a vein at Grass Valley, between Yuba and Bear rivers, made a favorable report, backed up by an offer to invest all I possessed in the world, and became a party in a quartz mining company. And this species of mining will be the text of my sermon.
Through the whole extent of the California mountains veins of quartz extend which have been found to contain gold in veins, in many instances visible to the naked eye, and which, upon assay, are found to yield astonishing results. It is believed generally that here is the matrix of gold and that from this source the gold of the gulches and streams comes by the decomposition of the rock as well as by being thrown out by volcanic force; and by the action of the elements it slides down to where it is found on the banks of streams and in low grounds. It is found in the rock from the finest particles, invisible to the naked eye, to that of spangles and in lumps such as are picked up in the gulch and river diggings.
In large masses of rock you trace a regular vein, generally in small spangles but sometimes in decayed or porous portions. It presents many fantastic shapes; I have seen it assume the shape of a tree, then of leaves, a heart, a human face, &c., &c., These veins of quartz vary in thickness from that of a knife-blade to three feet, and a few score feet may exhibit these changes; but twelve to eighteen inches may be a kind of maximum. They seem to have been forced up through strata of slate or of gray granite, which often present an appearance of decomposition. Sometimes they are in proximity with hornblende. Occasionally the quartz is found decomposed, and in its stead is a rich gravel and earth which yields from ten cents to five, ten, even fifty dollars to the pan. Gold Tunnel, at Nevada City, is of this character.
By the politeness of G.S. McMakin, Esq., one of the proprietors of that rich mine, I was enabled to make a thorough inspection of their tunnel. It lays in a small ravine worn by water and is, perhaps, sixty feet above the bed of Deer Creek, which flows at its base. In sinking a shaft for the purpose of coyote digging in October last, they struck the vein of quartz which was mostly decomposed, and in December they commenced a regular tunnel to follow the vein. The vein is of a reddish or iron brown, but all the earth which is excavated appears to be extremely rich.--Mr. McMakin took about half a pound of dirt indiscriminately in a pint cup from the side of the mine in my presence, and without using much care in washing, it had fifty cents, and in 1 15-16 of dirt in another instance he found two dollars and eighty cents. They have followed the vein an hundred and ten feet, and it is now about three feet thick, with a dip of forty-five degrees to the east. The base and surrounding rock is gray granite, partially decomposed. Occasionally a large boulder is found through which they blast. They are following the vein, not downward, but horizontally. There are other tunnels at Nevada City, but none so rich as this have been discovered, and in some the vein has not been struck.
At Grass Valley, five miles below Nevada City, are probably the most extensive quartz mining operations that exist at this moment in California. Late last fall a layer of quartz was struck in sinking a shaft for coyote digging on the top of a hill, since called Gold Hill, which was found to contain a large deposit of gold. The quartz here seems to lay in slabs and boulders as if it had been raised and a mass of earth, falling in, filled the cavity, leaving the quartz near the surface; and consequently, although there is a large quantity of ore, there is not a regular vein, unless at a greater depth than it has been prospected. Across a small ravine south, and perhaps eighty rods distant from Gold Hill, is Massachusetts Hill, where the Sierra Nevada Quartz Mining Company is located
On this hill the last-named company are in active operation and are opening their mine scientifically so that it may be worked for years. Here they struck a well-defined vein four inches thick and which increased in richness and thickness as they proceeded down, when at the depth of sixty feet the vein was eighteen inches thick, the dip being to the east at an angle of forty-five degrees. At this depth they came to water, but the vein can be followed north and south above the water. They then commenced a tunnel at the base of the hill about an hundred and fifty feet below its apex, and had proceeded only twenty feet when they struck what is supposed to be a lateral vein twelve inches thick of the same character of earth as at Gold Tunnel at Nevada City. They are continuing the tunnel through this vein in the direction of the vein which they must reach within two hundred feet.
You may judge something of the character of the vein when I tell you that they employed from five to twenty men at an expense of five dollars per day in prospecting--have dug at least four hundred feet, and probably nine tenths of the labor in opening the mine has been unproductive of revenue; yet they have paid all expenses of labor, board and tools, and acquisition of working territory from the mine itself, by crushing pieces of quartz by hand in a mortar and washing without quicksilver, and have at this moment ten thousand dollars' worth of rock and rich earth raised (estimating it at thirty dollars per ton, the price paid at the mills) clear of expense.
The mines in that vicinity do not sell their richest specimens to the crushing mills. It is only the refuse rock or that in which gold is not visible to the naked eye. The rich specimens the miners crush themselves by hand, and these yield one to ten dollars, and even two ounces to the pound. Indeed, I have one piece weighing nine ounces avoirdupois which, by estimating its specific gravity, contains three ounces of gold.
I will at some convenient opportunity send you a specimen. One of the specimens weighing fourteen pounds, from this vein, containing over six hundred dollars, was sold to go to the World's Fair, after being shown in New York. A year ago there was but a single shanty at Grass Valley; now there are two hundred wood houses, good hotels, stores, a sawmill, four steam crushing mills in operation, and four more in active progress of erection, and vast quantities of rock piled up ready for use. New veins, or rather new openings of the vein, are continually made, and it appears to be uniformly rich as a general thing, though some placers are richer than others. The mills in operation are too light and too imperfect. They should be not less than twenty horsepower, with stampers weighing two hundred and fifty to five hundred each. Those now operating are of from ten to twelve horsepower engines, with stampers weighing about one hundred pounds, though heavy mills are being erected. One by Walsh, Esq., is of sixty horsepower and no doubt will be effective. But the greatest difficulty is in saving the gold; not more than one fifth is extracted or saved. The general average saved by the mills is five cents to the pound in the refuse rock. Repeated experiments have shown that four fifths of the gold is lost and that there is much more in the quartz which is passed off at the mill than is saved. This subject is occupying the attention of scientific men here, and I hope it will at home. But a small part will amalgamate with quicksilver; if fire is applied, no flux is known which may be reduced to extensive practical use, and if dissolved by acids, the expense of the latter absorbs all the profits. A new era in gold-digging seems to have arisen. Although surface digging is still carried on with its usual labor and disappointments, with its very few successful ones, the mode of washing the earth has steadily improved and dirt that at first would not be touched with the pan is often made very profitable with the sluice. But the developments made in the quartz veins seem to make it as certain here as mining in Peru, Chile or Mexico, where mines have been worked for more than two hundred years, and it is thought that capital may be as safely invested in this species of mining as in railroad, factory or bank stock, in shipping, farming or merchandise. But this requires capital to commence with. Individual labor and poor machinery amounts to nothing and must, in general, prove a failure. To open a mine properly it may cost twenty thousand dollars, though in some instances by good luck, two thousand dollars may strike the vein; and then to purchase the requisite machinery thirty to forty thousand dollars more may be required before a dollar is returned, but by an expense of two or three thousand dollars a vein may be prospected and a degree of certainty arrived at which will justify a farther expenditure. I append a calculation predicated upon what is actually done at some of the mines at Grass Valley. I will take a twelve-horsepower engine with poor crushers and imperfect machinery and exorbitant wages as a basis:
10 tons crushed in 24 hours is 20,000 lbs.
Yield per pound 5c.
Total per day $1,000.00
20 men at $10 per day, men
boarding themselves $200
Wear and tear and extras 100-- 300.00
Profit $ 700.00
One year, say days 300
Leaving a profit of two hundred and ten thousand dollars per year. Men can be hired at from three to five dollars per day; and with proper machinery thirty and forty tons of rock can be crushed as well as ten, which, of course, increases your profits. Now, instead of estimating the yield at five cents make it one half or two and one half cents, and you will find you are doing rather a snug cash business; and then hit upon some method of saving all the gold, and instead of two and one half cents to the pound, you will have from fifteen to twenty-five cents at least.
God forbid that I should mislead anyone on this subject. I have suffered too much myself to wish even a dog to endure what I have but I desire to give my countrymen the truth and the benefit of my experience without my hardships. It is an impression gaining favor here that quartz mining will become a legitimate business of California as much as woolgrowing in the Western States, and I confess that I am compelled to adopt that opinion from what I have seen. I have personally traced this vein by outcrops and excavations more than a hundred and fifty miles, and feel confident of its extent. It passes through the country in a southeast and northwest direction, following the main direction of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the general dip is to the east at an angle of forty-five degrees. There are evidences of silver in quantities, but I defer that subject until my information is more definite, although I have seen beautiful specimens of pure metal that had been melted like the lumps of gold which we find.
The awful fire at San Francisco has beggared hundreds and ruined thousands I, too, come in for my share of loss and at present can only say as the fellow did when the saddle turned and threw him into the mud, "just like my d----d luck."
- Alonzo Delano