O'Brien, they discovered the Big Bonanza, the richest treasure of the Comstock. Mackay outranks the rest of the group, because his rise was more remarkable and his grasp of circumstances more firm. From toiling in the lower levels he rose to be superintendent of one of the smaller Gold Hill mines. Like Fair, he saved every dollar and put it into stocks under his own control. Before long he was interested in "Kentuck," a rich little mine, and it began to pay dividends again. His own statement is that for years he had labored with all the powers of mind and body to make himself "master and manager of the greatest mines in the world." Kentuck gave him the start. Mackay and Fair, now associated in every enterprise, ventured to make a fight for the control of Hale and Norcross, which they acquired in March, 1869, its stock, like everything else on the lode, being greatly depressed. Fair, leaving Ophir, of which he had long been superintendent, soon put Hale and Norcross on the dividend list. Old Comstockers still praise "Uncle Jimmy's fine nose for ore." The mining skill of Fair, as well as of Mackay, rose at times into the domains of genius. Before the close of 1869 they controlled Savage and Bullion. This proved a bad affair, and nearly ruined them. The Bank of California millionaires began to feel relieved in mind. In a year or two, they said, Mackay will be back in the face of a drift, at four dollars a day, and Fair can be made useful somewhere on a superintendent's salary. But the Mackay firm, still convinced of the reasonableness of their system of exploration, concentrated their last resources upon a long-neglected portion of the lode.
The Comstock mines begin at the north with Sierra Nevada, 3,300 feet on the lode; coming south. Union Consolidated follows, 600 feet; then Mexican, the same size; then Ophir, 675 feet. All these were being worked on a large scale. Next came a group of small neglected claims whose titles were in dispute, 1,310 feet in all, followed by Best and Belcher, Gould and Curry, Savage, and Hale and Norcross, which completed the famous north-end, or Virginia City, group of mines. The neglected section, 600 feet of which was afterward known as California, and 710 feet as Consolidated Virginia, was worth only $40,000 on the stock market. As Mackay and his associates bought, the stock rose; the three-fourths interest they desired cost $100,000. They took control in January, 1871, and began mining operations, sinking a new and large shaft and pushing a drift north from Gould and Curry, nearly 1,200 feet below the surface, by a special contract with the owners of the mines crossed.
One day Fair discovered a slight change in the barren rock and determined to follow a narrow seam hardly thicker than a knife blade. Sometimes it was only a film of clay, but occasion