November 2, 1864: En Route to Virginia City
Daylight found us at Placerville, where we took our breakfast. It was my first visit to Placerville—a pretty mining town of considerable size and importance, but lacking the bustle and life that it had when surrounded by the rich placers that gave it a name. The old name of Hangtown, so well bestowed in early days, is about forgotten.
Here we took the Overland stage across the Sierra. For some miles the stage road runs through the dry, barren foothills, with signs of worked-out placers on all sides. But the road rises and the scene changes as it enters the granite region and the great forest belt of the western flank of the grand old Sierra Nevada. This has been the great road to Washoe—sometimes three thousand teams with twenty-five thousand animals at work at one time. We passed hundreds of freight wagons, with from six to ten horses or mules each. Three or four rival roads now divide the patronage—all, like this, toll roads and built at an enormous expense. Hotels and stables abound, even on the very summit, where the snow falls to an immense depth every winter. An aggregate of fifty feet fell there the “wet winter.” But what of that? Where money is to be made, be it in the cold and snows of the Sierra or the intense heat of the deserts, no matter, there will be a man to get it. “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
The day was lovely, the sky clear, and the air balmy. The heat grew less, until near the summit the ice lay thick around the springs, and snow lay in patches among the trees. Six inches of snow fell in a recent storm, but it is now mostly gone. We had all the features of this grand Sierra scenery—high, barren peaks streaked with snow, rising above the dense, dark forests of the lower slopes, and deep canyons and steep precipices, around which at times the road passes at such a dizzy height that an upset would send the persons of the passengers several hundreds of feet below and their souls to the other world. But such drivers as there are! They manage the big coaches and their six-horse teams as if it were but play, and go dashing along steep grades and around short curves at a rate to make the hair stand on end.We crossed the summit at last, over 7,200 feet high, then descended a steep grade to Lake Valley, with the lovely Lake Tahoe (once Bigler), finer even than Lake Thun or Lake Geneva. Night came on, clear and cold, long before we crossed the eastern summit. We descended into the Carson Valley, part fertile and part desert, then crossed the desert hills to this city, where we arrived about midnight. We passed through Silver City and Gold Hill, lively mining towns, where the clatter of nearly a thousand stamps greets the ear for miles. At the former place a political procession was in progress, indicative of the enthusiasm of the “honest miners.”