restricted access 1: A Glimmer of Opportunity: The Setting
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diately to the east. A few promising deposits of gold-bearing sands provided some encouragement and income, but throughout most of the decade, there was no reason to favor one ravine over another. Still, the discoveries gave hope to those who believed in an eastern counterpart to the California gold country. In 1859 the 'Territorial Enterprise observed: A great number of very rich quartz specimens have been found in Gold Canyon and vicinity [present-day Virginia Range], gold is known to exist in considerable quantities throughout the entire range ofhills on the east ofthe chain ofvalleys skirting the Sierras from Walker's River [south of the Virginia Range] to Pyramid Lake [north of the Virginia Range], and it is reasonable to conclude that there must exist also in those hills a vast amount of gold-bearing quartz which will at no very remote period be a source of great profit to the capitalist and the miner, and be one of the chief sources of wealth to our country.3 The California experience had shaped expectations in the Great Basin. Prospectors looked for placer gold and assumed that deposits were widespread , as they were in the multitude of California valleys and streambeds .4 And as they had on the other side of the Sierra, these miners used simple methods to extract the gold, relying on the weight of the mineral to cause it to sink faster than worthless sand. Most often, they used rockers or long toms, wooden troughs with small ridges at the bottom, in which they shook and washed sand until the gold settled out and the worthless dirt flowed away. When water was scarce, miners used mercury , which attracted the gold, but that method was more costly. Groups of men thus worked just as they had in California, up and down the ravines, wherever likely-looking sands had gathered. Wealth would be cumulative, not concentrated, and strikes would emphasize the promise of the entire region, not of specific locations. A few people realized that there were possibilities other than gold in this land. Much has been made of Hosea Ballou Grosh and Ethan Allan Grosh, brothers who identified a ledge of local silver as early as 1856. A succession of tragedies prevented them from revealing or developing their discovery. On August 19, 1857, Hosea struck his foot with a pick, and two weeks later he died of blood poisoning. In November of that year, Ethan Allan stumbled onto a mountain blizzard while crossing the Sierra and died of exposure.s The brothers figure prominently in local folklore because their plight underscores the chancy, dangerous nature of early prospecting-and, of course, it makes a good story. The anecdote also suggests that some were not limited by the idea of the golden mother lode and instead sought The Setting 3 other mineral possibilities in the austere mountains of the Great Basin. Nonetheless, for most in the 185os, the canyons of the eastern slope of the Sierra provided an opportunity to eke out a modest living from placer gold, while continuing a search for more promising sands. Records of the early community in Gold Canyon and the vicinity of Sun Mountain, although rare-and suspect-do offer some information. Those working in the area established a mining camp in Gold Canyon by the early 1850s, but they almost all abandoned it during the height of summer for lack of water, which was needed to work the claims. The mining itself was "monotonous and colorless," according to nineteenthcentury historian Eliot Lord, who interviewed many of the participants. Miners' crude dwellings made of stones, sticks, and brush dotted the landscape near promising diggings. In winter, the miners retreated to abodes only slightly better, constructed ofstone, mud plaster, canvas, and boards. Window glass was an unobtainable luxury. Chimneys were rare. Holes in the roof were the standard means of getting rid of smoke." Entrepreneurs built a crude station house at the foot of Gold Canyon during the winter of 1853-54, and soon afterward they added a combination store, saloon, and bowling alley farther up the ravine. These facilities supplied local miners with provisions, liquor, clothes, and entertainment . Fresh meat relieved the drudgery, and miners always welcomed a successful hunt or local ranchers who would occasionally "drive a cow or calf up the canon, slaughter the animal at some convenient point and sell portions as required, or roast the whole by a barbeque." Journalistauthor William Wright maintained in 1876 that "the people ... though...