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November 7, 1864: Dayton

November 7, 2014


Mine Tailings, Virginia City; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

[Today] I went home with a Mr. Hill, who lives near Dayton, on the Carson River about ten miles from Virginia City. He works tailings from the mills by the patio process. Many of these tailings are very rich in silver still, for the mills fail to get it all out. Often over a hundred dollars per ton is left. The patio process is Mexican, and this is probably the only place in the United States where it is used. Great wooden floors are laid on the ground, tight, with a rim around, like a dish or tub, forty-five feet in diameter and fifteen inches deep. Into this are put the tailings—a mixture of sand and sticky mud—to the depth of ten or twelve inches. Some salt, sulphate of copper, and quicksilver are sprinkled in, and after the mass is moistened it is tramped with horses. Every day for a short time horses are driven round and round in this mud, for a month or more, when the process is finished. More of the chemicals are added from time to time as the process goes on. When finished, the mass is washed in sluices, the mud carried away by water and the amalgam left. This process, which looks so rude, extracts the silver cleaner than any of the so-called refined and perfected processes. This man is getting rich working over tailings, which he must buy at the mills. The horses are poor old “plugs,” picked up wherever he can get them cheapest. They get very poor and look comical enough, stained by the sulphate of copper—white horses, with green legs and tails, and blue and yellow spots over them, streaked and speckled and miserably poor.

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