Work went on with increasing zeal. Mines that were in "borrasca," or barren rock, were kept going by immense assessments. If the present business methods that prevail in mining had been adopted on the Comstock, half of this enormous yield of $145,000,000 would have been clear profit, but the greater part of every bonanza went into running and extraordinary expenses. Reckless waste and superb enterprise seemed to go hand in hand. The numbers of relatives and friends that the owners of the mines managed to support by making positions for them can hardly be reckoned. Everybody, from servant girls to bankers, speculated in Comstocks and other mining shares.
In 1860 more than five thousand claims within thirty miles of Virginia City were "on the market." Frenzied prospectors were marking out thousands more, until the most remote corners of the desert were "pegged down with claim stakes" set on indications which were seldom attractive to a mineralogist. Iron pyrites and all sorts of worthless combinations seemed as good as gold or silver to the enterprising adventurers. Before long men were claiming to have found huge ledges of iridium, platinum, and plumbago. One Washoe speculator being told by a gentleman that an ambergris mine would be valuable, replied that he had just staked out one! A company tunneled for weeks into the granite of Mount Davidson in order to tap an alleged lake of coal oil.
No one can reckon up the number of prospect holes that dot Nevada. Millions of them, mere ragged cuts or pits in the tawny hillsides, make wind-blown heaps on every hand between the clumps of dark sagebrush and the dull yellow of an occasional sunflower. Only one prospect hole in a hundred ever materialized into a recorded claim; only one claim in a thousand ever became a mine. Up to 1880 Virginia City and Gold Hill alone had 10,000 registered claims, and less than a dozen really great mines. To sum it up, the amount of dead work and wasted capital in every mining region almost surpasses belief. Ruins of mills and dwellings, nameless graves in the cañons, fragments of old trails washed by the storms of thirty winters, are all that mark the sites of many once-aspiring districts. In Esmeralda and White Pine, which the late Dr. DeGroot used to call "those Golgothas of Nevada speculators," what millions were fruitlessly scattered!
The entire history of the Comstock lode is revealed by the assessments, dividends, and fluctuations of the stocks of separate mines. Before the close of 1861 eighty-six companies were working on or near the great lode. Gould and Curry, a marvelous! y rich mine, declared $2,008,800 in dividends in 1863 and 1864. This was upon an actual investment of less than $200,000. But the ex-