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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 19

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Chapter 3 Jim Butler and His Burro… The “ Mizpah”… The Coming of Tasker Oddie… Bonanza!… Claim- Jumpers and Big Jack Longstreet… Prospectors, Leasers, and Money from the East ANY CHRONICLE OF TONOPAH should begin with the names of Tasker Oddie and Jim Butler, for they were the sparks that ignited the excitement. It seems redundant to repeat the story of the discovery of the silver- bearing rock that made Tonopah, for today it is a routine plot for any screenplay about the discovery of a mine. The prospector travels the desert alone from one water hole to another. Failing to reach the appointed oasis before nightfall, he camps a few miles short of his destination. At daybreak he discovers his burro has wandered high up on the side of an adjacent mountain, and he picks up a rock to hurl at the animal. The rock is heavy; his arm pauses in midair. The rock looks like quartz, bearing precious metal. Of course, the prospector is penniless; in order to get the rock assayed, he must share his discovery with a friend. Haven’t you heard all this before? It has been repeated with only slight variations in settings in Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, California. But this time the narrative is not fiction. Jim Butler, owner of a few acres of homesteaded ranchland in Monitor Valley, prospector by avocation, picked up the rock on May 19, 1900, and Tasker Oddie was the friend to whom he appealed for help. Jim Butler was traveling to the next water hole from an ancient Indian oasis known as Klondike Wells - named, I judge, by some man who had been in the Alaska gold rush. Most of those way stations had some old “ desert rat” living there. Butler camped about ten miles short of the water hole, known as Tonombe, “ water near the surface.” Since Butler’s wife was half Shoshone, he probably used the Shoshone word pah, " water" when he described to Tasker Oddie the place where he made the discovery. And the name Tonopah became established for the district. The variation in the cast of characters of this mining story is the addition of the name of Belle Butler, the prospector’s wife. She knew the dangers Jim faced every time he walked the desert alone: days and miles between water holes when a lame burro, a leaking canteen, a careless step into a prairie dog’s hole were often the slender margin between safety and slow death. In gratitude for Jim’s survival and their good fortune, Belle Butler, a religious woman, insisted that the name of the original claim should be the “ Mizpah,” a word taken from the Old Testament story of Jacob and his father- in- law, who established a covenant to end the long suspicion between them. It is, in ancient Hebrew, a vow that no harm shall come to either of them through anything the other may do while they are separated. In the course of time, mizpah - meaning “ The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another” - has come to signify the prayer of two who love each other



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