The rush is on |

The rush is on

Making Tracks

Following is the next installment in the reprinting of a series of articles that appeared in the Sacramento Bee almost 50 years ago as a respectful tribute to the V&T Railrod, which in May of 1950 was on the very brink of its demise.

“The history of the Comstock Lode, which gave life to the V&T, goes back to 1850 when a group of disgruntled California miners left Placerville land, probing eastward into Nevada, made a strike of some richness on the Carson River in what became known as Gold Canyon.

“Blue stuff, mixed constantly with the gold supply, plagued and bewildered the miners. Tons of it was pumped into Six Mile Canyon. Allen and Hosea Grosch, sons of an Eastern clergyman, discovered the silver content of the troublesome material after a year of experimenting, but died before they could capitalize on their find. For the moment the secret died with them.

Not until 1859, when Henry Comstock, Manny Penrod, Peter O’Riley and Patrick McLaughlin formed the Gold Hill mining district, was it discovered the blue material held an enormous cache of silver and gold. A trader, history remembered only as Stone, became curious about it and shipped some to Judge James Walsh in Grass Valley, California.

“Walsh turned it over to Mel Atwood, the best assayer in Grass Valley. That night Atwood discovered the ore contained $4,741 a ton in silver and $3,196 in gold. The judge swore Atwood to secrecy but the news could not keep and the rush was on.

“Word that the troublesome blue stuff which had been bothering miners in Gold Canyon contained rich quantities of gold and silver spread rapidly through the West and brought swarms of humanity to the sun baked slopes of Mount Davidson in 1859.

“During the years which followed, rich mines such as the Ophir Diggins, Winnemuc and Mount Pleasant Point grew to places of prominence. They were hectic, colorful years for the new born communities of Gold Hill, Silver City and Virginia City. The usual boom town flow of gunmen and rowdies flocked to the area during the early days. Endless stories about the period have survived and where facts were not enough, legends have been substituted.

“One of these tells how Virginia City got her name. James Fennimore, the story goes, known to the miners as Old Virginny, dropped and broke a whisky bottle near the summit of Mount Davidson. Unwilling to waste the fluid, Fennimore is said to have picked up remnants of the bottle, smashed them against a rock and following his action with these words:

‘I christen this land Virginia.'”

To be continued.