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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 21

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Jim and Tasker decided to ask Wilse Brougher to come into the partnership. Like the others, Wilse had few dollars to risk, but among the three they managed to pool twenty- five dollars. Jim had shovels and a pick, and Wilse had a small windlass and a team of horses. One moonless night they slipped out of Belmont in an old “ dead- ax” wagon, as the wagons built for especially heavy loads and rough terrain were called. For three days they inched across the hot August desert. Finally Jim pointed out the pregnant spot. Only after location notices were made out and anchored down with stones did they make camp for the night. At daybreak the digging began. “ I was cook for the outfit,” Tasker told me, “ and I never learned to gauge the expanding power of beans. I’d make the fire and throw some beans into the pot and fill the pot to the brim with water. Then I’d climb down the hole that was getting to be a shaft, and every day I’d come back and find those dang beans swelled all over the place. Allover the pot. Down into the fire. I never did learn to keep those things harnessed.” There were endless stories of flapjacks flipped onto shirt- fronts, of sour- dough biscuits and mulligan stew - “ we put everything in but the soap” - of aching muscles at sundown, eased only by the thin, rich stream of values in every day’s samplings. Two tons of sacked ore, all they could safely load into the old wagon, was hauled to Belmont, then by stage to Austin. Thence, still with great secrecy, it was shipped by rail to a smelter in Salt Lake City. For the first shipment they received $ 600. From that first shipment on, Tasker and his partners were in business. From the beginning to the end of the town’s productive years, Tonopah produced $ 149,000,000.* (* For this estimate I am indebted to David Myrick, who based it on information from records at the University of Nevada. Of the total value, $ 24,000,000 was paid in dividends.) The greater percentage of that figure came from the Tonopah Mining Company and its companion, the Belmont Development Company. These two mines comprised the original claims Tasker and his two partners staked out the day they arrived. The only development money put into these claims was the $ 25 in grub “ risked” by the original locators. One of the most interesting things about the Tonopah discovery was the fact that Jim Butler walked over the only spot on that mountain where the vein appeared on the surface, and the mountain was the only spot anywhere in the district where ore- bearing rocks could be found. A discovery of precious metal is a good deal like a love affair. No matter how carefully the secret is guarded, the knowledge of it seems to fly through the air. That location was in a completely untracked desert, but a flood of prospectors began to appear as if they had sprung from the ground. They came on foot and on horseback, often without money, equipment, or food. Soon

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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 21
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