Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/764

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

sion in Washoe Valley before birds of prey obtained all his money. His widow, the "Washoe Seeress," made a living for years by curiously futile predictions regarding the stock market, and still reads the future for those who care to listen. One after another all the placer-mining Comstockers went down before the rush of silver seekers.

That rush was in many respects the most remarkable one that California ever had known. Decidedly the best account was written by J. Ross Browne, who made his Peep at Washoe a classic of early Nevada. Stirred, he says, by the shout of "Silver! silver! Acres of it! Miles of it!" he left San Francisco in March, 1860, and made his way to Placerville. Beyond this point there were no stages. The town was full of men anxious to cross the mountains, and "practicing for Washoe" in the saloons. Every sign bore Washoe in large letters. Pack trains were starting daily for the mines. No animal could be had for love or money. "Lodging accommodations" consisted of enough floor space on which to lie in one's blanket.

The next morning Browne started on foot. The muddy trail was literally lined with broken-down vehicles and goods of every description. He stopped at nightfall in "Dirty Mike's" shanty, in which the bar and the public bedroom were the chief features. The second day hundreds of persons were in sight along the trail—men with wheelbarrows, handcarts, donkeys, mules; gamblers on fancy mustangs, whisky peddlers, organ grinders, drovers, Mexicans. Rain, snow, and slush prevailed for miles before he reached the log cabins of Strawberry. There he slept on the floor with about forty other pilgrims, and had his stockings stolen, which "were above gold or silver in this foot-weary land." Three feet of snow in the morning, four hundred men in the camp, and provisions low; eight hard miles to the summit, nine more to Woodford's. Browne and several others tried the trail, but were forced to return to Strawberry. The next day he tried it alone. The trail was over old snow, honeycombed with holes hidden by the new snowfall; pack trains were floundering through and occasionally falling into the cañons. Wind and sleet all day; mud knee deep in Hope Valley; all in all a terrible day's experience. The fifth day Browne's course was along the Carson. He was so worn out that he could only cover about eighteen miles between sunrise and nine o'clock at night. The sixth day he arrived at Carson City, and took the stage for the mines.

Virginia City, as Ross Browne saw it in the spring of 1800, lay outspread on a slope of mountains, speckled with snow and sagebrush and mounds of upturned earth. The dwellings were rude board shanties; tents of blankets, sacks, old shirts, and canvas; huts of mud and rock, caves in the hillside, and hollow heaps