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August 13, 1861: New Almaden

August 14, 2011

Camp 46

[Today], I went to the mines and collected specimens. The mines are about two miles from the furnaces, on the hill. We collected two or three boxes of specimens, then returned. The furnaces are complete, and about three thousand flasks (seventy-five pounds each) of quicksilver are made each month. More might be made if desired, but that is enough for the market. An old furnace has been taken down, and the soil beneath for twenty-five feet down (no one knows how much deeper) is so saturated with the metallic quicksilver in the minutest state of division, that they are now digging it up and sluicing the dirt, and much quicksilver is obtained in that way. Thousands of pounds have already been taken out, and they are still at work.

No wonder that there has been such legal knavery to get this mine, when we consider its value. Every rich mine is claimed by some ranch owner. These old Spanish grants were in the valleys; and, when a mine is discovered, an attempt is made to float the claim to the hills. Two separate ranches, miles apart and miles from the mine, have claimed it, and immense sums expended to get possession. The company has probably spent nearly a million dollars in defending its claim—over half a million has been spent in lawyers’ fees alone, I hear.8 The same at New Idria—it was claimed by a ranch, the nearest edge of which is fifteen miles off!

And this is only a sample of the way such things go here. Were I with you I could relate schemes of deeply laid fraud, villainy, rascality, perjury, and wickedness in land titles that would entirely stagger your belief, yet strictly true. The uncertainty of land titles and the Spanish-grant system are doing more than all other causes combined to retard the healthy growth of this state.

But to our horseback ride. Mrs. Young’s Scotch father, Robert Walkinshaw, having died, the children now live here. There are several girls left, all beautiful. Professor Whitney thinks one the most lovely lady he has seen in the state. I hardly go to that length. They ride every afternoon and invited us to ride with them. Three of them, with Miss Day, a Miss Clark of Folsom, a young Englishman, Averill, and I, made up the party. It was the pleasantest time I have had in the state. We started at five o’clock and rode five or six miles east to the top of a hill that commands a lovely view of the Santa Clara Valley and the opposite mountain chain.

I wish you could see those Mexican ladies ride; you would say you never saw riding before. Our American girls along could not shine at all. There seems to be a peculiar talent in the Spanish race for horsemanship; all ride gracefully, but I never saw ladies in the East who could approach the poorest of the Spanish ladies whom I have yet seen ride. I cannot well convey an adequate conception of the way they went galloping over the fields—squirrel holes, ditches, and logs are no cause of stopping—jumping a fence or a gulch if one was in the way. The roads are too dusty to ride in, so we rode over the hills and through fields, sometimes on a trail, sometimes not. We took tea at Mrs. Day’s, then were invited to Mr. Young’s, where we spent a pleasant evening. My lame knee was better, but still bad enough as an excuse for not dancing.

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