August 26, 1863: Truckee River
[Today] our animals eloped in the early morning and it took us until ten o’clock to find them and pack up. In the meantime we were joined by a boy thirteen or fifteen years old, who was coming this way and is with us now. Only such a country as this can produce such boys. He was from Ohio—came here in ‘53—went back alone in ‘58—had his pocket picked twice, but was keen enough to have his money in his boot—came back alone last year—now, with his horse, takes a trip over a hundred miles from home among these mountains.
Well, we struck over the mountains for the Truckee River, to this place, where new mines have “broken out”—at least, a new excitement. We crossed a high volcanic ridge, very rough trail, all the way through an open forest of pines and firs, as one finds everywhere here, and camped on the river about Knoxville….
We had a very comfortable camp. Many small squirrels, a very small species of chipmunk, swarmed about camp—most beautiful little animals. Our boy—his name is Mehafey—rigged up a trap made of our dishpan set on a T-bait, and caught seven of them. By the time we got ready to start they had all got away but one; that one John has brought along—a beautiful little animal, tame already, it rides in his pocket or on his shoulder. I will try and get him to the city if I can. They live only in the high mountains….
Here I have been examining the “indications” today. Six weeks ago, I hear, there were but two miners here; now there are six hundred in this district. A town is laid off, the place boasts of one or two “hotels,” several saloons, a butcher shop, a bakery, clothing stores, hardware and mining tools, etc.—all in about four weeks.
I would give twenty-five dollars for a good photograph of that “street.” A trail runs through it, for as yet a wagon has not visited these parts. The buildings spoken of are not four story brick or granite edifices—not one has a floor, not one has a chair or table, except such as could be made on the spot. This shanty, in the shade of a tree, with roof of brush, has a sign out, “Union Clothing Store.” I dined today at the “Union Hotel”—a part of the roof was covered with canvas, but most of it with bushes—and so on to the end of the chapter. The crowd—only men (neither women nor children are here yet)—are all working or speculating in “feet.”
Let me explain the term “feet” as used here. Suppose a hill has a vein of metal in it; this is called a “lead.” A company “takes up” a claim, of a definite number of “feet” along this vein, and the land 150 to 200 feet each side. The length varies in different districts—the miners decide that themselves—sometimes 1,000 feet, sometimes 1,500, at others 2,000 feet are allowed. In a mine that claims 1,000 feet, a foot sold or bought does not mean any particular foot of that mine, but one one-thousandth of the whole. Thus, the Ophir Mine has 1,500 feet, now worth over $4,000 per foot. One never sees shares quoted in the market, but feet; and feet may be bought at all prices, from a few cents in some to over $5,000 in the Gould & Curry Mine in Washoe. A man speculating in mines is said to be speculating in feet.
There is great excitement here—many think it a second Washoe. Some money will be sunk here before it can be known what the value will be. I have but little faith in it myself. I surely would not invest money in any mine I have seen today, and I have visited eight or nine of the best.