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July 24, 1861: New Idria

July 25, 2011

Monday's Child has Learned to Tie His Bootlace

New Idria; by Generik11, on Flickr

Camp 42

[Today] we spent in making another visit to the New Idria Mine, and getting ready to be off. It was even hotter than before. We took double sets of astronomical observations that day, for latitude and longitude. In such cases I have to “mark time” with the chronometers, while Professor Whitney observes with the sextant. He says that I mark time more accurately than many old astronomers who have practiced all their lives—making long sets agree to the tenth of a second.

scarlet monkeyflower - mimulus cardinalis

Mimulus cardinalis; by randomtruth, on Flickr

Before leaving, a few words as a summing up. The mines have been profitable to the stockholders, and are still. They own several miles in extent, have a store, sell goods to the miners at great prices and profits. There are 250 or 300 persons employed in the various departments. The miners work by the job—the average wage is about three dollars a day, but often less than two, but in rich luck sometimes as high as twenty or twenty-five dollars a day. Such streaks of luck are profitable to the company as well as to the miners, and can only take place on finding unexpectedly very rich ore. The yield of quicksilver now is about nine hundred flasks of seventy-five pounds each per month, or about 67,500 pounds, and it sells at thirty-five to forty cents a pound. It is sent to San Juan, thence to Alviso on the Bay of San Francisco, and there shipped.

New Idria 28

Stream, New Idria; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

The work at the furnaces is much more unhealthy and commands the higher wages. Sulphurous acids, arsenic, vapors of mercury, etc., make a horrible atmosphere, which tells fearfully on the health of the workmen, but the wages always command men and there is no want of hands. The ore is roasted in furnaces and the vapors are condensed in great brick chambers, or “condensers.” These have to be cleaned every year by workmen going into them, and many have their health ruined forever by the three or four days’ labor, and all are injured; but the wages, twenty dollars a day, always bring victims. There are but few Americans, only the superintendent and one or two other officials; the rest are Mexicans, Chileans, Irish (a few), and Cornish miners.

The Dressing Room

Company store, New Idria; by Generik11, on Flickr

I can hardly conceive a place with fewer of the comforts of life than these mines have—a community by itself, 75 miles from the nearest town (San Juan) and 135 from the county seat, separated from the rest of the world by desert mountains, a fearfully hot climate where the temperature for months together ranges from 90° to 110° F., where all the necessities of life have to be brought from a great distance in wagons in the hot sun. As might be expected, little besides the bare necessities of life is seen, and if any luxuries come in, it is only at an extravagant price.

Such is New Idria and by such toils and sufferings do capitalists increase their wealth!

Specimens collected: Penstemon heterophyllus var. purdyi; Monardella villosa subsp. villosa; Solidago guiradonis; Yabea microcarpa; Dicentra chrysantha; Mimulus cardinalis.

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