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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 73

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was worthless, but we had no intention of doing anything crooked. The money just rolled over us, like a wave we couldn’t stop.” Whether by more experienced or less innocent manipulations, we knew of companies incorporated by New York financiers on ground that they knew had no value. The stock was issued and put on the market. Usually the prospector who had sold the claims got a block of stock “ held in pool”- that is, not to be sold until a certain date. But before the date arrived, the prospector would be offered, say fifty cents a share by the “ big shot” in New York. To the man who had lived on bacon and beans most of his life, this was a fortune - fifteen thousand dollars, maybe twenty thousand dollars. And he’d sell. In the meantime, the stock that had started at eight cents on the mining exchange would be pushing a dollar. By the time the pool was broken, the stock might be selling for two dollars. Then the “ big shot” with a hundred thousand shares would begin to unload. The stock would go down, down, down. Among those whose names recurred in our conversations from time to time was Herman Knickerbocker, sometimes minister, Shakespearean reader, prospector, and gambler. Ultimately, as the years went on, Mr. Knickerbocker’s luck deserted him and he began to roam the state following each new strike. At last, at Rawhide, he made a famous oration over the body of Riley Grannan that brought his name to the attention of the whole country. Rawhide was a mining strike about a hundred miles northwest of Tonopah, one of many that swept the state in the backwash of Gold- field’s tidal wave. Here Riley Grannan, a fabulous character known as race- track plunger, big-time gambler and sport extraordinary, had opened a gambling house. Rawhide never had enough ore at any time to justify a town site; consequently roulette and blackjack were the sole occupations of the camp followers who drifted from one strike to the next as each new location appeared. One stormy, snow- drenched night, after a six- hour session of poker, Riley Grannan, in his shirtsleeves, walked out of his saloon into the cold night air. The result? Pneumonia. In a few days Riley Grannan was dead. Though there was no church in Rawhide and no hearse, all the people to whom Riley had given money and food and whiskey and a pat on the back when they were down on their luck insisted he must have a grand funeral. So the body, in its pine box, was hauled on an ore wagon to Riley’s saloon and there laid out in front of the bar, while his friends grouped themselves around the gambling tables. Here, extemporaneously, Mr. Knickerbocker delivered a funeral oration rarely equaled for deep feeling and genuine philosophy, and it would have been lost to all but his hearers had it not been for the presence of a newspaperman from California. Luckily the newsman was a shorthand expert, and he transcribed the words as they fell from Knickerbocker’s mouth. That night, with no

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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 73
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