Nevertheless, viewed as a whole, the Comstock was immensely profitable. In twenty-one years from the summer of 1859, according to Government reports, the mines levied in assessments $62,000,000. The dividends paid during the same period aggregated $118,000,000. Striking a cash balance, the Comstock ledger shows an actual profit of 850,000,000. The total bullion yield for the same period was $306,000,000. Subtracting dividends and adding assessments, we find that the cost of purchasing, maintaining, defending, and developing the great lode for twenty-one years was $250,000,000. Three fourths of this sum came from the mines themselves, the other fourth was gathered from direct assessments. The prospectors and original locators had received less than $100,000. The various owners paid less than a million dollars out of their own pockets, as working capital, before assessments and the stock-gambling period began. Since 1880 the yield of the Comstock has been decreasing, and many of the mines have been shut down. The ledger account of the Comstock with the public remains practically unchanged.
The most dramatic events in the story of the Comstock cluster about a series of struggles for its control during the ebb and flow of alternate borrasca and bonanza. Nothing was lacking to make the period impressive. The financial leaders of the Pacific coast were conquering Nevada, while another group of men were winning victories that shortly led to the culminating treasure of the lode, and while the indomitable Sutro was toiling in his great tunnel. So vast and ruthless was the battle that its far-reaching results still influence politics and social life of California and Nevada; men still divide upon issues which began in the depths of the Comstock a quarter of a century ago.
In 1864 the ore deposits were worked out, and rayless gloom settled over the Comstock. The Bank of California, through its resident agent, William Sharon, had been making advances on mills and allowing the mine owners to overdraw their accounts. The security in both cases was only undiscovered ore, and if the lode were really exhausted the whole camp was ruined. Ralston, the head of the bank, visited Virginia City in 1865, and agreed with Sharon that the time had arrived to gain control of the district. Loans, instead of being lessened, were increased, to what extent is not known, but it was afterward said by Sharon that at one time before 1870 $3,000,000 of the $5,000,000 capital of the bank was on the Comstock. In June, 1867, the famous mill and mining company was formed by W. C. Ralston, William Sharon, Alvinza Hay ward, D. O. Mills, Thomas Bell, Charles Bonner, William E. Barron, and Thomas Sunderland. It was the strongest possible combination of capitalists and mining men; its business was to manage the mills and mines that had now fallen into the