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July 22, 1861: New Idria

July 23, 2011


Mine buildings, New Idria; by Generik11, on Flickr

Camp 42

[Today] we visited the largest mine, the New Idria Mine proper. We were on hand early and three of us went in, accompanied by the superintendent and mining captain. We spent the day under ground. For six hours we threaded drifts, galleries, tunnels, climbed over rocks, crawled through holes, down shafts, up inclines, mile after mile, like moles, sometimes near the surface, at others a thousand feet from daylight.


New Idria; by tapbirds, on Flickr

The distribution of ore through the rock is very capricious, and where a thread of it can be found it is followed up, so the workings run in every conceivable direction, and being mostly mined by Chilean and Mexican miners, the work is more irregular by far than the burrows of animals. Sometimes we climbed down by a rope, hand over hand, bracing the feet against the wall of rock, sometimes on escaladors, sticks merely notched. But the trip was interesting, and as they wanted our professional advice, we saw all, the two men devoting the day to us.

Iron pyrites occurs in the rock, which decomposes on exposure to the air, causing heat, and the temperature of some of the galleries was near 100° F. Most of the mine, however, was deliciously cool. Although so deep in places, there is no water, save a very little in the very lowest drift, and the rock has been so broken by volcanic forces and cracked in every direction and the galleries are so extensive that the air is perfectly pure and so dry that the miners use rawhide buckets.

New Idria 17

Slag heap, New Idria; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

The effect was often picturesque indeed—the brilliant red ore contrasting with the dull color of the rock, the miners, naked above the waist, their lithe forms and swarthy skins shown by the light of our candles, the broken walls, the occasional sound of a blast, like heavy, dull, underground thunder. We emerged at 4 P.M. into the hot, dry, scorching outer world and took our dinner at five o’clock—the air heated to near 100° in our cool camp, where there was a brisk breeze.

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