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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


By 1868, mining had reached ebb tide. The partial exhaustion of the placers had materially changed the character of mining operation and capital became necessary.

The money which had been previously made in mining and in business, incidental to it, had been taken away and invested in other channels, such as banks, steamship companies, mercantile establishments and in land. Denny O’Brien had been a successful merchant and accumulated in the neighborhood of $50,000; Sullivan and Cashman probably took out of the County a million dollars; Hugh Dimond left with $100,000; Robert McKee, $50,000; Chas. McDermott, $150,000 to $200,000; B. F. Bachman, $50,000 to $75,000 and there were many others upon whom the County lavished its riches and who then moved away, taking their money with them.

Now, when mining required money to open up the lower depths and construct stamp mills, capital was lacking and many mines lay idle. A few men with energy and perseverance stayed, overcame obstacle after obstacle and succeeded in opening up mines from the proceeds of the ore found in the development. There were successes and failures as are always the case in every line of human endeavor.

Captain John S. Diltz proved himself to be one of the best miners of the times, and by his example, inspired confidence in the great mining industry. He had his ups and downs but he never became discouraged. He relied on himself and no task was too great if it could be accomplished by his brain, muscle, nerve and will-to-do. Interested in everything, he specialized in mining. Sometimes he worked for others, sometimes for himself, but he was always an indefatigable worker.

Where others failed, Diltz would follow in their tracks and succeed. Such is the story of his last mine. Captain Diltz is speaking: “In 1860, Thomas Early had a quartz claim on the eastern slope of Sherlock’s Creek, which cropped out at the surface. He had sunk a shaft there and taken from it and a drift about three hundred tons of mostly decomposed quartz, which he washed through sluices and obtained 232 ounces of free gold. The quartz tailings were hauled to the Whitlock mill, where he realized $22 per ton.

“In 1861, the mine fell into the hands of Sam Ellis, who failed to make a success, mostly through the ignorance of the men employed. In the fall of 1870, Ellis came to me and proposed to sell out to me, as all his tunnels had caved in and all his shafts had filled up. I bought his mine and all his ditches and water rights, carried lumber, put in wide flumes, sluiced away their mine dumps and got nearly all my money back. Next I turned the water from the upper ditch on the south side of the hill, making an open cross-cut and developing a large body of ore and vein matter, quartz strata and feeders, all dipping in a westerly direction and running up to a hanging wall and a fissure vein dipping easterly.

“I had but little water and some years none. The first rich place that I struck was the comb of a roof. I took it to be a pocket or possibly a chimney I got one five pound piece of sulphurets and gold, which was worth $500. I sunk down about twelve feet and made nearly $2000, in pure gold. I got tired of working alone and went up on the Yosemite road and blasted rocks for them. I came back to my mine in September and started a tunnel to run under my gold chimney, which I reached on the first day of October and in that month, panned out thirty-six pounds troy of pure gold, which netted $7200. In 1874, I took a specimen of gold to the State Fair, weighing one hundred and six ounces and worth $1800.

“The chimney does not stand perpendicularly nor any way in a straight line but runs down in zig zag form, making short elbow crooks and at these crooks, we find big nuggets or chispas. The old car tunnel is in precisely three hundred feet on the fissure vein and at spring water level. During the workings of this tunnel, I found a nugget of one hundred ounces and altogether nine pockets were struck, from which I took out in round numbers $10,000. There is a shaft connecting with the tunnel at its terminus, 105 feet deep, and at their junction, is an immense body of ore and vein matter and the whole mass seems like the roof of a house, spreading out both ways and getting wider going down. I have been sixteen years uncovering the vein matter and cutting down into it, more particularly to learn its character.”

Such was the remarkable energy and perseverance of this early-day miner. He had opportunities to sell at a price which would have enabled him to live in comfort the remainder of his life, but he refused to part with his mine unless at a fabulous price. He felt that he knew its value and preferred to keep it rather than sell at a low figure.

However, by 1886, his age began to tell on him and he was unable to actively engage in mining. Through generosity in helping friends and failure to realize that he was growing old, he became financially involved. His health failed and for a number of years, he was unable to make any progress to clear his difficulties. His mine was sold in March, 1894, to satisfy a mortgage of $9,923.66 plus $200 attorney fees. Ejectment from the mine seemed to unsettle his mind, necessitating commitment to a State Hospital, where he passed away March 7, 1897.

One of his friends said; “I knew Captain Diltz for many years. He was a real man, generous and peaceful, helping all who asked his assistance. In his last years, we thought him a little queer, for he continually talked about airships in the sky and prophesied that some day there would be as many or more ships flying in the air as on the oceans. There were no airships in those days, but his prophecy came true many years after his death.”

Another friend said: “Diltz, like most of the original miners, was a liberal dick and would give away his shirt, hat and boots to oblige a friend. I remember once when he had accumulated seven or eight thousand dollars. There was no bank to place the money in, so he left it with Mrs. Joe Miller for safe keeping. After several months, she seemingly became tired of being his

Street scene in old Hornitos
[click to enlarge]
Street scene in old Hornitos.

banker, so Diltz invited her husband to accompany him to San Francisco presumably to place the money in a bank. When they returned, Miller, who owned one of the principal saloons, had a new pool table and a stock of Tea Kettle (one of the early brands) whiskey. Diltz never played pool and seldom drank and it is very doubtful that any of his money was deposited to his credit in a bank. At another time, I remember well, he had a two thousand dollar nugget, which he secreted for several months in a barley sack in his cabin. He then took it to Mariposa, where it was hidden under some stove wood, in the house of his friend, Angevine Reynolds. Later a trip to San Francisco was decided upon and Angevine came back with a span of horses and a carriage.”

Diltz was a small man, about five feet five inches in height, stockily built and when in his prime could do the work of two or three men. He received the title “Captain” when elected head of the company of men with whom he came out to California. However, if anyone asked him the reason of his title as Captain, he would reply with a twinkle in his eye, “because I killed so many big rattlesnakes in Georgia, before I came to California in 1851.”

Diltz, like Fremont, was a dreamer, but he was more practical. He concentrated on mining and made a success of it. His slogan was: “I wont give up. I’ll always go a foot further”. Others might lose hope and bid adieu to the land of golden dreams, but not Captain John S. Diltz. His life is inspiring. He helped his mother, he helped his friends, he helped the entire Nation by inspiring faith in the mines and he made his money by taking it from the earth, hurting no one thereby. After his death, his mine lay idle for thirty-five years, when it was re-opened and became one of the big producers of the County, proving that his faith in the mine was well-founded. He was an outstanding example of the many sturdy, hardworking old-school miners of the mountains, men who proved real benefactors to our Nation.

Next: 31. John HiteContentsPrevious: 29. John Muir

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management