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November 9, 1861: En Route to The Geysers

November 9, 2011

Fumeroles at the Geysers, near Calistoga

Fumeroles at The Geysers; Image Source: KQED QUEST - Some rights reserved.

Pioneer Mine

[Today], by early dawn, we were astir and before the sun had gilded the mountain tops had breakfasted and packed up. We had but four miles to make that day, in direct line, but such miles! On our way we visited several leads, some quite rich. But such a trail—across steep ridges, zigzag, up and down, through deep gulches, over ridges—one of which was three thousand feet high and two thousand feet above other parts of our trail—through chaparral. In one place we were two hours making one mile in a direct line. We struck a trail, however, and descended into the valley of the Pluton River1 near its head—a canyon rather than valley—where the furnace of the Pioneer Mine is situated.

Here are the furnace, smith shop, and the homes of the workmen, among the trees, in a most picturesque spot, and, although in a canyon, still over two thousand feet above the sea. No wagon road leads here—everything must be packed on mules, even the fire brick for the furnace, tools, even an anvil; a wagon had been taken apart and packed in over a trail that crosses ridges over three thousand feet high.

Azalea 01

Rhododendron occidentale; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

We were most cordially and hospitably greeted and welcomed by Mr. Wattles, the foreman of the mines. We spent the rest of the afternoon in examining the furnaces and in visiting the “Little Geysers,” some remarkable hot springs near. The furnace was new and but two charges had yet been burnt in it. Great hopes are entertained of its eventual success. The ore of the Pioneer Mine is remarkable for its being native quicksilver, or the metallic quicksilver mixed with the rock. In places the rock is completely saturated with the fluid metal. It appears in minute drops through the whole mass—shake a lump and a silver shower of the glittering metal falls from it. It sparkles in every crevice, and sparkles like gems on the ragged surfaces of the freshly broken rock. Sometimes a “pocket” will be broken into of quartz crystal, pure white quartz filled entirely or in part with the metal. Break into such a pocket and the mercury pours out, often to the amount of several ounces, and even pounds—over six pounds of the pure metal has been saved from a single such pocket.

The mines are on a hill at an altitude of near three thousand feet, or eight or nine hundred feet above the furnaces. The ores are packed down on the backs of mules. How profitable the mines will prove remains to be seen by experience. The principal mines of this region are within an extent of about six or seven miles, and on the line of the leads many are prospecting, digging tunnels, etc., the majority of which must bring only disappointment and loss. Yet some will, in all probability, make money. More mines of the same metal have been found a few miles distant, which we did not visit.

Specimens collected: Rhododendron occidentale; Cupressus macnabiana.

1Big Sulphur Creek.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 5:15 pm

    I found a text in Google Books that describes the Pioneer Mine some time later. See p 174 The natural wealth of California: comprising early history …, Volume 3 By Titus Fey Cronise

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