POST- GOLD RUSH
COMMERCE
CHAPTER 18

As California’s richest ores grew scarcer, some miners who had come to California to dig for gold settled down to run hardware stores, livery stables, and saloons. Pan and cradle was giving way to quartz-crushing and ore-pounding machinery. The chemist became a partner of the miner, pulverizing quartz and treating it with mercury to form an amalgam. This new technological development accompanied the discovery of big silver deposits east of the Sierra range.

By 1853, prospectors had poked about the brush-strewn slopes of the Washoe area. This region, not then officially part of Nevada, was an extension of California, financially and technologically. There, miners unearthed a bluish-tinged ore that, at first, was cast aside. In 1859, an assayer found that this “blasted blue stuff” was actually sulfide containing high percentages of silver and gold.

For more than fifteen years, the region around today’s Carson City, Reno, and Virginia City, Nevada, was gripped by speculation. By the 1860s, thirty mills were in operation. William C. Ralston and his Bank of California invested heavily in what came to be called the Comstock Lode. Thousands of feet of timber and tons of machinery came over the Sierra from California to shore up tunnels amid rich veins of silver. The San Francisco financiers who made up “Ralston’s Ring” turned the Comstock into a honeycomb of conduits and shafts propped up by wooden beams, the lode coming to be called the tomb of the Sierra forests.

In 1873, Adolph Sutro, a Prussian-born mining engineer, had enriched himself in Nevada. He began to build a tunnel into the heart of the dangerous Comstock lode. This engineering feat would make him so famous that he later became a powerful San Francisco land owner and that city’s mayor. His

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