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


CHAPTER XII
MINING EXPERIENCES OF LAFAYETTE H. BUNNELL

[Editor’s note: The source for this chapter is quotes from “Letters to the Letter” by Lafayette Bunnell in the Mariposa Gazette, 1875 - 1881—dea]

“As early as 1850, I knew of the existence of gold-bearing quartz veins or lodes on Sherlock’s and Whitlock Creeks, but as my Mexican and Chilean miners were giving me good returns from my placer claim, I was but little interested in the repeated declarations of my Mexicans that the veins were rich. Finally, at the conclusion of the Indian war of 1851, a party of Mexicans came up to work for me and camped opposite my log cabin, by the outcroppings of what is now known as the Diltz mine. Those men were experienced miners and finding rich pocket specimens disintegrated from the vein, they traced it over the hill into Sherlock’s Gulch, finding ‘color’ in nearly all the dirt taken from the vein. They further declared their belief that it was the mother vein of supply to the rich diggings of the gulch itself.

“Another party came later and induced me to turn out all my men, some thirty of them at a time, to hunt for a ‘cavern of gold’, as it was described, said to have been found on the south side of Sherlock’s Gulch but lost again in the dense thicket in fleeing from grizzlies. The tale seemed a little cranky but my men appeared to believe in the honesty of our boy informant, and we toiled up and down that mountainside, in line of battle, taking close observation till every foot of the surface was explored. Our search resulted in the discovery of a vein of quartz, running nearly parallel with the gulch but no pit, hole or cavern, and when the non-existence of such a place was made evident to all of us, our Mexican youth, with a simplicity to be found only among the gamins of our large cities, said, ‘Well, you have earthquakes in California and the hole must have been filled up’.

“Later, I had the vein recorded as it was gold-bearing. The Mexicans encamped at the Diltz mine, divided their forces, some of them working for me in the placer claim, while others left for Saxton’s Creek, where they found ounce diggings and the quartz vein, afterwards known as the Snyder Vein. A few only remained to prospect the Diltz mine, which was done by erecting an arastra and grinding out the pocket they had discovered. There were many variations of arastras, in those days, but generally one consisted of a circular flat pavement of stone, surrounded by a low stone wall. In the center of the pavement, there was a post, to which was pivoted a long arm, extending outside the wall. A mule or horse or jackass was hitched to this arm and heavy granite stones, attached to four arms at different distances from the center, were dragged around on the pavement, pulverizing the quartz and freeing the gold, which was caught with quicksilver and separated from the base matter by washing. The Mexicans used arastras, quite generally, but only on selected and rich rock, averaging $75 or more per ton.

“When the first party of Mexicans left, another party of them, headed by a monte dealer from Quartzburgh, found the vein on the lower Saxton’s Creek trail, a little northeast of the Diltz mine. C. H. Spencer had a small party of Mexicans working for him, who first attracted his attention to the Spencer vein. Dr. John M. Crepelle also had Mexicans working for him on Sherlock’s Creek who reported the quartz veins better than many worked in Mexico. Some of the Doctor’s men became dissatisfied and left him. In order to keep the others employed until easier diggings could be found, I allowed the Doctor the free use of a small piece of my claim, out of which his men took a piece of pure gold weighing nine pounds avoirdupois.

“Sometime previous to the quartz era inaugurated by ‘Quartz Johnson’, Thomas J. Whitlock with a party of men from Missouri had been persistently mining near the head of Sherlock’s Creek, but finding the lead run out, as they supposed, prospected the gulch tributary to what is now Whitlock’s Creek. Whitlock’s men found rich diggings up the creek and tracing ‘float’, or ragged gold, to the Whitlock vein, were convinced that it afforded the gold of their newly discovered placer. Taking the hint from this suggestion, outcroppings were traced over the ridge into the Fremont Estate and at the foot of the hill along the trail to Mariposa. The same men finally made a record of their discovery, but finding the cost of machinery too great for prudent investment of their hard-earned gold, they sold out their mine to me and left for Missouri.

“About that time, there was a quartz ‘furore’ encouraged by the remarkable assays furnished us by the foreign and native professors of San Francisco. Some of these assays proved that we had mines that would, in some instances, yield us thousands of dollars per ton. One instance, I well remember where a metallurgist, afterwards connected with the United States Mint at San Francisco, reported to me a yield of twelve and a half cents per pound for rock I never afterward found a color in, nor could any of my expert Mexican miners discover any. A probable solution of the mystery was, that by some error, another specimen had been substituted for the one sent by myself. What wonder that for a time in those early days, we had golden dreams and went our bottom dollar on the prospect?

“Dr. Brunson, the first surgeon of the Mariposa Battalion, brought over two or three of his negro slaves and first prospected the Spencer vein, but the encouragement received held him but a short time, when he took his negroes back to his southern home. Captain Hawley was the first considerable worker in quartz mining and the first victim. His mill was put up at enormous expense to crush rock from the Saxton Creek mines and afterwards to work the Spencer vein. Another mill was put up by an ingenious mechanic, whose name I do not now recall, near the mouth of Saxton’s Creek. Captain Hawley failed to extract the gold in paying quantities and his mill of eight or ten stamps was sold to the French Company, in which Spencer and myself unforunately became interested. The superintendent of the company had been a Parisian sub-editor, well versed in all that belonged to opera bouffe or the comedie Francais, but of gold quartz mining, he knew absolutely nothing. Therefore a Berlin mining engineer was employed at a salary of $500 per month and a mechanical engineer and mill-wright was also employed at like salary and board, while the superintendent, book-keeper, his body servant and cook probably required another $1000 a month for their services.

“I will not dwell further than to say that the French Company fulfilled none of their engagements. Spencer went to Paris and brought suit in the criminal court against the President of the Company. It was proved that he was guilty of criminal mismanagement and was rigorously punished after the summary methods of French law. He had said in substance that the only way to make money out of mining was ‘to work the shares up and down’.”



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