Balzac, with his royal imagination, never conceived anything more dramatic, more picturesque, or more essentially unreal than the rise to fortune of the score of men who may be classed among the great millionaires of the Pacific Coast, the enormously rich men who will "cut up," to use an expressive phrase, for more than twenty millions Balzac reveled in millions as a miser gloats over his golden hoard, and he endowed many of his characters with the generous hand of the novelist; but he dealt in francs, not dollars, and the bourse speculators and the great financial schemes that he loved to describe pale into insignificance before the fortunes and business operations of the half-dozen men of the Pacific Coast, who, in mining and railroads, have made fortunes that would have been called royal even in the days of Caesar and Imperial Rome.
Nowhere in this country, outside of the oil regions of Pennsylvania, have vast fortunes been gained in so short a time as in California and Nevada. The wealth of Girard, Stewart, Astor, Vanderbilt, was laboriously and slowly gathered, when compared with the sudden leap to fortune of the railroad and bonanza kings of California. In its rapid development, its enormous profits, and its crushing monopoly, the Southern Pacific Company is only to be compared to the Standard Oil Company. Both have been built up by men with a genius for managing vast enterprises, but the leaders in both have no more bowels for small competitors than the ghost of old Marley that Scrooge saw on that famous Christmas Eve. There is no standard of comparison for the Bonanza mines of the Comstock Lode that within five years lifted four men above the twenty million limit and added four hundred millions to the world's wealth.
The Pacific Coast millionaires may be arranged, like the geologic formations of the earth, in three ages. The primary period embraces the famous men who made the Golden State known round the world. They were the pioneers, the Argonauts, the adventurers who built a great State in the far West and transformed in a single decade the wretched, Spanish-American cattle-raising territory into one of the richest States in the Union, with resources as varied as its climate and with all the appliances of an older civilization grafted on the vigorous life of the frontier. The most prominent of these pioneers - were Harry Meigs, who sailed out of the Golden Gate one night with all his belongings, leaving behind an army of deluded creditors, and who amassed an enormous fortune as a railroad builder in Peru; Sam. Brannan, who founded his wealth on Mormon tithe-money, was the foremost citizen of San Francisco in its stormy youth, and then suddenly dropped out of sight to vegetate in Sonora and dream of another great fortune to be made out of the leagues of land granted him by the Mexican government, but now in possession of the fierce Yaqui Indians ; William C. Ralston, the Napoleon of the Far West, who did more to develop California than any score of his associates, and who died by his own hand when ruin stared him in the face; and William T. Coleman, the leader of the old Vigilance Committee that saved San Francisco from the rule of gamblers and thieves and made honest government possible. The limits of this article forbid more than this allusion to the men of this period.
The secondary period is the era of the railway kings, which saw the conquest of the snow-crowned Sierra Nevada and of the alkali desert that stretches away eastward from the base of the mountains to the prairies of Wyoming. It includes Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker, known in negro minstrel parlance as "The Big Four," whose combined wealth is estimated at one hundred and eighty million dollars.
The tertiary period is the age of the bonanza kings, which saw the development of the Comstock Lode in Nevada, the richest silver mines in history, the addition of over four hundred million dollars to the world's supply of the precious metals in ten years. It includes the names of Flood, O'Brien, Fair, Mackay, Sharon, and Jones.
Another and a later era must embrace the land and speculative millionaires like Haggin, Tevis, Miller, Lux, Mills, Hearst, Baldwin, Luning, and others, who, are above the ten-million level.
The aggregate wealth of all these Pacific Coast millionaires would make cheap and poor the riches of Monte Cristo or the treasures of "King Solomon's Mines." Even if it could be stated in exact figures, the average reader would have as poor a conception of it as he has of the weight or bulk of fifty thousand dollars in gold. What will be attempted in this article is to give pen-pictures of the more prominent of the Pacific Coast millionaires, with brief sketches of the way they made their fortunes. It may be added that all were poor men thirty years ago, and that all would furnish good examples to add to Smiles' collection in "Self-Help." Fortune first came to them because they were shrewd, energetic, farsighted, economical, abstemious. Their histories all show crushing losses and disappointments at the outset of their careers, but these disasters served only to bring out the mettle of which they were made, and to stamp them as types of the American, the best representative to-day of the sterling qualities of the Anglo Saxon, the world conqueror.
THE RAILWAY KINGS
The story of one of the four founders and builders of the Central Pacific Railroad is the story of all. Of radically unlike character, they have still worked together so closely that their fortunes have been identical: but to two of the four belong the credit of leadership. Of these two - Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington - Stanford is the broader-minded and more liberal man, Huntington the more subtle, far-seeing, and diplomatic. Hence, in furthering the great railroad enterprise that has made them among the wealthiest men in the country, Stanford was given the practical management of the building and operation of the road on the Pacific Coast, while Huntington controlled the equally difficult and important department of securing government aid at Washington and the negotiation of the company's bonds here and abroad. Of the other two partners, Mark Hopkins was a skillful book-keeper and financier, while Charles Crocker had strong executive capacity and was useful to Stanford in the management of the details of railroad building.
The first place in my sketch of the building of the Central Pacific Railroad belongs to Leland Stanford, who by character, wealth, and position was the leader in the enterprise. He came of excellent English stock, his father being a farmer near Albany, N. Y. Young Stanford, after the study of the law, went to Wisconsin, but there he suffered the disaster of the loss of his law library by fire. He came home undismayed, and while casting about for a new location, in 1852, he caught the California gold fever. He engaged in the general merchandise business, and ten years saw him the possessor of perhaps $100,000. In 1861 he was elected Governor of California by the Republicans, and it was in this same year that the project of spanning the continent with a railroad was discussed and that the California Legislature granted a charter to a company of which Stanford was president and Huntington vice-president.
Never was a great work begun under more untoward conditions. The road had to be built to Ogden in Utah, a distance of 878 miles. The rugged foot-hills, the almost inaccessible heights of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, the desolate alkali plains of Nevada, the terror of the overland wagon trains, the canons of Utah - all these had to be overcome. By making use of natural passes over the mountains the engineers finally decided that the road was feasible. Then Stanford set to work to try to gain help.
|Leland Stanford residence in San Francisco|
The position was this: He had as associates Huntington, who was a dealer in hardware at Sacramento, the capital city, and Mark Hopkins, Huntington's partner. Their combined capital would not have made over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Many of the Californians had crossed the plains and climbed the Sierra in the overland emigrant trains. These pioneers scouted the idea of building a railroad, and their opinion had great weight with others. The result was that the projectors could get very little aid at the outset in their own State. From the general government they secured the noble land grant that was worth many millions; but before they could use this land grant on the government bond of thirty-five thousand dollars per mile, they were required to construct the first fifty miles of road. It was in overcoming this difficulty, in inspiring the confidence of capitalists, that the genius of Stanford was shown. Even when government aid came it was badly handicapped, for the bonds were worth only about one-third of their face value. All through the dark days of the war the company went pluckily on with their work. Anyone who lived in California at that time can recall how the bonds and stock of the struggling corporation were hawked about without finding purchasers. They were like the bonds of the government. Few men in California were willing to buy the seven per cents, as the workers declared that they would be repudiated like the old Continental bonds. It was the common opinion, both in Sacramento and San Francisco that Stanford, Huntington, and Hopkins had sunk all their own fortunes in the railroad, and that failure would be sure to overtake them when they tried to cross the Sierra.
It took the courage of great connections to overcome this public sentiment; but Stanford in California and Huntington at Washington and New York accomplished it. Early in 1867 the tunnel under the summit of the Sierra Nevada was finished, and on May 20, 1869, the last spike was driven that joined the East and West.
It is interesting now to read the brilliant letters of A. D. Richardson to the New York Tribune, in which he described the scenes of this ride across the continent, now grown almost as familiar to thousands of tourists as the trip across New York State or the tour of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. The journey from sea to sea, which then consumed twelve days, has been cut down to six, while the hardships of old-time railroad travel have been so eliminated that a Sybarite might now enjoy the journey.
The completion of the railroad witnessed the sudden advance of all its projectors to great wealth. Immigrants flowed into the State by thousands; the company's lands became valuable; the facilities of the road for transporting freight and passengers were taxed to the utmost; new territories were opened and clamored for railroad connection, so that a little more than ten years after the opening of the original road saw the building of a new line through Arizona and New Mexico. The rapidity with which the Southern Pacific Road was constructed is one of the marvels of American railroad building. Since then no less than three other transcontinental lines of railroad have been built, others are still in process of construction, while the development of the Pacific Coast as well as of the vast interior territory, which the old school geographies used to call the "Great American Desert," has outstripped the dreams of the most sanguine Western speculator.
These years have naturally witnessed great changes in the fortunes of the men that built the first Pacific railroad. All except Hopkins are still alive, and all bid fair to enjoy many more years of life. Stanford's health is broken, as much by the loss of his only son as by the weight of years and heavy cares. Personally, Stanford impresses one as the most sincere of the three men. He has a face which once seen is not soon forgotten. It is a massive face, with overhanging eyebrows and great ox eyes, still keen when he looks up to note the effect of what he says. He talks with extreme deliberation, selecting his words and apparently weighing every statement. His legal training, his long familiarity with great enterprises as well as his association with prominent men at home and abroad have given him a breadth of mind in which his Californian associates are lacking.
Stanford's only passion is for fine horses, and this taste he has gratified on his estate at Palo Alto in the heart of the Santa Clara valley. There he has a large number of fine thoroughbred horses, and when he goes down to this country home it is his pleasure to sit in a large chair in the center of a ring and see his favorite young flyers brought out for trial.
It was while watching one of these fast trotters - an animal which had the enormous stride of twenty-three feet—that the millionaire conceived the idea that in some part of his course the horse must entirely clear the ground and have all four feet in the air. So he decided to have his horses photographed while in motion. He secured the services of a skillful photographer named Muybridge, and he arranged an ingenious system of cameras worked by electricity by which an instantaneous view of the animal was given as he passed the home line. About forty thousand dollars were spent on these experiments; but they overthrew all previous notions on the subject, and the work which Stanford had written and published, entitled "The Horse in Motion," is a valuable contribution to science. Senator Stanford has also done more than anyone else to improve the breed of horses in California, and to demonstrate that the climate of that State is superior to Kentucky for the breeding of swift trotting and running stock.
|Charles Crocker residence in San Francisco|
It was the hope of Senator Stanford to perpetuate his name and to hand down his wealth to his only son, Leland Stanford, Jr., a lad who showed marked ability in mechanics. But the boy had a weak physique, and three years ago, while in Florence, he contracted the Roman fever and died suddenly. His death aged the father more than twenty years of work and responsibility had done. It led him to devise means for leaving a memorial to his dear son in the form of a great industrial university to be established on his estate at Palo Alto. He sought distraction from grief in outlining the plans of an institution more generous in scope and endowment than any in this country. He called to his aid the best educators, and with characteristic energy he completed last year the plans for the "Leland Stanford, Jr., University," with an endowment of more than twenty millions, in lands and other property, which is sure to increase greatly in value in the next decade. This endowment includes the Vina ranch of fifty-five thousand acres in Tehama County, on which is the largest vineyard in the world; the Girdly wheat ranch in Butte County, comprising twenty-one thousand acres; and the Palo Alto ranch and stock farm of seven thousand two hundred acres. The total value of these three ranches is five million three hundred thousand dollars.
When in California the Senator spends nearly all his leisure at his country estate. His town house, on the crown of what has been irreverently dubbed Nob Hill, cost, with its furnishings, not less than one million five hundred thousand dollars. It is occupied perhaps two months in the year by the owner. It is rich in wood-carving and frescoes, and the art gallery contains the largest collection of old masters outside of a public gallery in this country.
Mr. Stanford was elected United States Senator from California two years ago by a large vote. He met practically no opposition in his own party, for even his enemies recognized his honesty and his fitness for the position. When he announced himself as a candidate, the contest was settled. The Senator divides his time between Washington, New York, and San Francisco, in all of which cities he has houses. He is generally accompanied by his wife, who was Miss Lathrop, of an old and well-known Albany family. She is known for her many charities, the Kindergarten Schools of San Francisco being especially indebted to her bounty. She has probably a larger and finer collection of diamonds than anyone in this country, but she seldom wears them.
The fortune of Stanford is estimated at fifty million dollars.
|James C. Flood|
Adjoining the Stanford mansion in San Francisco is the striking Norman castle of Mrs. Mark Hopkins. Her husband was the financier of the railroad company, but he wore himself out by constant application, and for several months before his death he had forgotten his own identity. Just before this loss of his memory, he had begun the construction of this superb residence. One day his medical attendant took him to the top of the hill, where he saw the work of building going on, when the millionaire turned to him and in a querulous tone asked, "What infernal fool is wasting money on such a house as that?" He died soon after. His widow, who was a poor New England girl when Mr. Hopkins married her, inherited all his wealth. She still retains her shares in the road, and her adopted son is one of the rising young men in the railroad office. Her country home is at Great Barrington, Mass., where she has built a costly summer residence. She is regarded as the richest woman in America, as she has a fortune of at least forty million dollars, of which she does not spend one-half the income.
In the next block above the Stanford and Hopkins palaces is the large and pretentious residence of Charles Crocker. There is no architecture about it, but it is finely furnished, and has a large art gallery. Crocker was taken into the railroad company in 1862 with his brother, and his executive abilities were of great help in the building of the railroad. He also had charge of the building of the Southern Pacific Road. In mental ability and in education, however, he is far inferior to his associates. He has a heavy, pallid face, with no signs of mental vigor or alertness in it. He is credited with great shrewdness in business affairs, and intimate knowledge of all the details of practical railroad work. He recently purchased a costly house in New York, which he will make a bridal gift to his only daughter on her approaching marriage, while he is now building a fine house on one corner of his own lot in San Francisco for a son who was lately married.
It is Mr. Crocker's custom to ride home from the railroad offices in San Francisco in the democratic street-car. Anyone who sees him leaning his weary face on his large, gold-headed cane would take him for a deacon or a philanthropist, so benevolent is his expression and so immaculate his clerical-looking neck-tie; but the observer would be greatly mistaken. Crocker has the reputation of being the most merciless of all the millionaires. Some idea of his character may be gained from this incident. When he bought the block on which his present residence is built, the owner of one lot, a stubborn German, at first refused to sell. When his avarice became excited by the millionaire's intent eagerness to buy, he gradually increased his price after each successive offer. Finally Crocker became enraged and swore a mighty oath that never while he lived would he buy that property. So he built a huge fence, twenty-five feet high, around the house and lot of the German. The latter soon had to remove his house, and the fence, somewhat reduced in height, still remains to mark the millionaire's wrath, although the German has been in his grave for several years. Crocker is regarded as worth thirty millions, of which much is in real estate.
Of the railroad millionaires C. P. Huntington is least known in California. For more than twenty years he has made his home in New York and Washington. In keenness of intellect and knowledge of men he ranks above Stanford. He is a great organizer, an accomplished diplomat, a manipulator of railroad shares and of railroad legislation, second only to Jay Gould. It shows the rare combination of diverse talent among the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad that one of these four men should have possessed in supreme degree a faculty that was probably the salvation of the whole enterprise in its darkest days.
|Residence of James C. Flood in San Francisco|
Huntington was a natural trader. The stories of his early shrewdness when he did business in Otsego County, N. Y., resemble the similar tales of Gould's precocious ability for overreaching his neighbors. He went to California in 1849, and his increase in wealth was only the natural result of the application of extreme shrewdness and economy. In partnership with Mark Hopkins he built up the greatest hardware business in the State, and for years the firm dealt largely in miners' supplies. When the railroad building began, they supplied much of the material for the roads, and this, with his interest in the railroad, made Huntington one of the great millionaires of this country. His fortune is estimated at forty millions; but is probably beyond this, since he has spent very little on outward display. His only expensive taste is for pictures. He lives simply and quietly in New York, but like Jay Gould his hand is felt over a wide extent of territory. As an organizer he is probably the equal of Gould. His latest exploit - the opening up of the long line of railroad which ends at Newport News and the establishment at that port of a great wheat-shipping depot - has occupied him for the last ten years and, if successful, will add materially to his vast fortune.
THE BONANZA KINGS
Of all the bonanza millionaires James C. Flood is the most able as well as the most conservative. To him has been given the charge of the great banking institution in San Francisco which represents an enormous capital, and he is credited with the management of the periodic stock "deals" in San Francisco which add several millions to the account of the bonanza firm and leave hundreds of small speculators wailing and gnashing their teeth over losses that they are, ill able to bear. Mr. Flood is a large, well-preserved man of sixty years; with his heavy features, gray hair, and of high color-lie looks more like a fox-hunting Irish squire than an American business man. But a second look at his face shows some of the secrets of his success. He has a strong nose and a powerful, square-cut chin. These facial traits are borne out in his character. American by birth, Mr. Flood seems to have inherited the shrewdness as well as the strength of constitution of his Irish ancestry. He was one of the pioneers who sailed around the Horn in '49 for the new El Dorado of the Pacific. He tried mining on the Yuba River, made three thousand dollars by hard work in a placer claim, and then went back to New York to engage in business. He found his capital too small, and after a year he returned to San Francisco, formed a partnership with William S. O'Brien, and the two opened a small liquor saloon in a building that still stands as a reminder of the scene of the swiftest leap to fortune ever made in this country.
This saloon was then the meeting place of local merchants, gamblers, proprietors from the mines, and adventurers. It was a combination of social club and business exchange. There, many an important bargain was made, and to this place, as to a haven where they knew help was sure came the penniless proprietor whose pockets were full of specimens of ore with millions in it. Naturally, the partners, who were generous to these old miners, shared in the news of the discovery of any rich ore, and by their aid shared also in the proceeds of its development. In 1862 they made their first lucky investment in several of the mines on the famous Comstock Lode in Nevada. Their gains, which began with thousands of dollars in a month, suddenly advanced to millions. In 1863 they took into partnership John W. Mackay, who held large interests in these silver mines, and six years later the firm was made four-sided - like the Pacific Railway organization - by the admission of James G. Fair, the most skillful practical miner on the Comstock as well as the most able mine manager.
|James G. Fair|
From this time on for six years the record of the bonanza firm, as it was called, is the record of the rapid accumulation of wealth that has never been equaled outside of the "Arabian Nights" stories. The extraordinary richness of the mines led to the wildest scramble to secure stock that has been seen since the days of John Law's South Sea bubble. The gambling passion in San Francisco infected nine-tenths of the people. It broke down all barriers of religion and moral scruples, and swept its victims into the flood which led to sudden fortune.
Skeptics like the late Senator Sharon, who had declared that the Comstock was exhausted, rushed in to buy stock. Stocks which a few weeks before were selling for two or three dollars per share bounded up by jumps of fifty or one hundred dollars to eight hundred or nine hundred dollars a share. Regular dividends of several dollars per share were paid monthly.
This country has never seen gambling excitement to equal that which prevailed in San Francisco from 1870 to 1875. A magnificent stock exchange was built; seats were worth forty thousand dollars; the brokers were a privileged class, and did business in palatial offices, arrayed in purple and fine linen; many of their clients were ladies who came in their carriages to collect dividends or invest in new stocks. These brokers, whose legitimate fees frequently amounted to one thousand dollars a day, ate and drank of the best; they made San Francisco, like Nineveh of old, the resort of pleasure-seekers, the paradise of sensuality; theaters, restaurants, gilded gambling hells abounded. Meanwhile a steady stream of silver poured down from the Comstock, and to the heated imagination of the speculator the wealth that surrounded him seemed destined to endure forever.
But the collapse came over ten years ago, and the whole imposing fabric crumbled into ruin. Over four hundred million dollars of silver and gold were taken out of the Comstock mines, and the shares represented nearly as many millions when the "boom" was at its height. The shrinkage of these fictitious values was appalling to those whose whole fortune was invested in mining stocks. The leading shares fell in six months from nine hundred to two hundred dollars; then began the decline that finally resulted in reducing the noblest of the Comstock’s to the speculative gutter. The shrinkage affected materially the fortunes of the bonanza millionaires; but they still owned the chief mines, and in all these years they have utilized the properties for the sake of stock gambling. Periodical "deals" have been made, each resulting in gain to the managers and cruel losses to their dupes. Remorseless as the car of Juggernaut the assessment machine has rolled along, wresting from the hard-working people of the Pacific Coast several hundred thousand dollars every sixty days. Millions of dollars, which should have gone into homes for laboring people, have been thrown into the maw of the assessment machine, and have gone to swell the fortunes of the half-dozen mining millionaires. A careful estimate shows that the amount paid out in assessments in fifteen years more than equals the sum received by the owners of Comstock shares in dividends.
But the gambling interest cannot he crushed out, as recent events have demonstrated. Last October you could buy any of these Comstock stocks for fifty cents a share; some were as low as a quarter of a dollar. Then the pumping out of water in the lower levels of the mines was abandoned, and every one predicted that the end of gambling in these shares had been reached; but a fortnight later rumors of discoveries of rich ore were circulated, and within a month these same stocks had advanced many hundred percent. Thus Consolidated California and Virginia, which had been quoted at fifty cents, rose to fifty dollars, while others ranged from twenty to thirty dollars. The excitement was intense. The old stock speculators crowded the once familiar exchanges; once more the hard-earned gains of the poor were flung into the wheel of fortune. The singular spectacle 'was presented of the regular brokers, skeptical of the "boom" that was bringing them a royal revenue in commissions, "shorting" the market in anticipation of a tumble in prices. But the stocks continued to advance until finally the most reckless brokers could no longer endure the strain, and failure followed failure in quick succession. These depressed the prices of stocks, but they still remain at figures that represent three or four times their real value.
|James W. Mackay|
Personally, Mr. Flood seems to get small satisfaction from his immense wealth. He has no expensive tastes, and it is doubtless the feeling that his family should enjoy all that wealth can bring that has induced him to establish his luxurious villa in the Santa Clara valley, and the still more luxurious home on the summit of California Street, in San Francisco. For many years after he had gained millions he lived in a modest house and made no pretensions to wealth. Then, following the example of many other rich Californians, he bought a tract of land in the town of San Mateo, the home of a score of millionaires. This he converted into a garden, and built in the center what good judges regard as the handsomest country house on the Pacific Coast. The architecture is Italian renaissance, and the house being painted a dazzling white, its grace and lightness are brought out against the vivid green of the lawn that surrounds it, a green as perfect in this genial climate in December as in June, so that one would fancy from a little distance that he was gazing on the pleasure-house of some Italian noble of the sixteenth century. The brilliancy of the gleaming white walls is enhanced by the beautiful blue of the roof of the veranda, and by the large blue and white Japanese vases that stand on either side of the door-way. The main stairway is of black marble with two Egyptian lions of the same material on either side, while a stone's throw in front is a black marble fountain.
Near at hand is a great conservatory that includes hundreds of the choicest potted plants, while scattered about the lawns are many rare plants and shrubs, and in urns that line the broad driveways to the house are the beautiful fan palms, with their feathery leaves, looking as fresh and vigorous as though they felt the air from their native home under the burning equator.
Mr. Flood's San Francisco residence is noticeable as the only house of Connecticut brown stone in the city. It is one hundred by one hundred and ninety feet, Roman classic in architecture, and is as severely plain and ugly as the Stewart marble palace in New York. The interior, however, is very beautiful, no expense having been spared in ornamentation and furnishing. The architect was Augustus Laver, who built the capitol at Albany, and the decoration was done by the same New York firm that embellished Tilden's Gramercy Park palace. The building and decorations cost nearly one million five hundred thousand dollars, while the furnishings cost an additional nine hundred thousand. Several firms competed for the contract of furnishing the palace and submitted designs; the award was made to the highest bidder, because of the superior taste displayed. This is said to be the largest single contract ever made in this country for the furnishing of a private house. Amid this luxury are now living a family that twenty years ago was contented with the simplest furniture and the plainest food. Mr. Flood has a wife and two children, a son and daughter, both unmarried. There is small prospect that either will ever be married, so that another generation will probably see the dissipation of the Flood fortune of thirty million dollars, so rapidly piled up.
Senator Fair, of Nevada, who makes his head-quarters at San Francisco, and is a citizen of the Silver State only for political purposes, is a difficult character to analyze. Of all the bonanza firm he no doubt has contributed the most to the great development of Comstock lode. He has mining genius, which was tested by many hard experiences in the early days of California. Like Flood, he worked with pick and shovel in the placer mines, but met with small success; and it was only when he began to experiment with quartz mining that his natural aptitude was shown. When the boom first began on the now famous Comstock, he joined the expedition of Californian miners that set out for the desolate mountains. His faith in the richness of the mines that were then just opened never wavered, and he put every dollar that he could command into these properties. The extraordinary skill that he showed in overcoming the new difficulties presented in deep mining brought him to the front, and he was superintendent of several of the largest mines when Flood proposed the partnership that resulted in the bonanza firm. It was Fair who designed most of the heavy machinery for pumping the lower bed of the mines, and for carrying on operations at a depth that would have amazed miners of a generation before. Much of the success of this mining was due to the fact that Superintendent Fair knew intimately every detail of the work that he managed, and that he insisted upon efficiency and economy. With the diamond-tipped drill he explored all the property surrounding the rich lodes in search of other ore-bodies, and the fact that none have been uncovered is confirmation strong as proof of Holy Writ that the Comstock is practically exhausted.
Though Senator Fair was born in Ireland, he is as thorough an American as Flood or Mackay. In person he is tall, stalwart, and handsome. In his fifty-sixth year he looks to be not over forty. His iron constitution and his abstemious habits have preserved him from all illness. He has none of the bluff directness of Flood in conversation. He talks slowly and hesitatingly, as though he were selecting his words with great care, in a low, soft voice. He is a master of persuasive argument, and his faculty of promising more than he cares to perform is proverbial on the Comstock, and many are the good stories told of the miners who put faith in "Slippery Jim's" promises. He has the cunning of the serpent when there is any question of trade, and the singular feature of his character is, that even in small matters he shows the same desire to get the better of his neighbor.
Perhaps it is his strong Celtic imagination perhaps the desire to mystify those with whom he comes in contact; but whatever the cause, Fair has the faculty of romancing that would be worth a fortune to him had he turned his talents in the direction of fiction.
He seems to have the power of picturing himself as the central figure of every story that he hears or of every experience that befalls others. This makes him a remarkably amusing companion; but it forces his hearers to exercise some fine discrimination. In a word, he has a genius for those illustrative details that the great "Poo Bah" in the Mikado declares "give verisimilitude to a bald and uninteresting narrative."
|Residence of Mrs. Mark Hopkins in San Francisco|
This trait was never shown to greater advantage than in his journey around the world with some San Franciscans. He was constantly regaling them with adventures that they were morally certain had never happened to the Senator, and he mystified most of those whom he encountered by his marvelous tales of California. Perhaps the most striking of his improvisations was given for the benefit of an Englishman who had a fine sugar plantation near Shanghai. After they had been over the estate, Fair complimented their host on the condition of the place, but casually remarked that he had a little sugar patch of his own in southern California, a trifle of twenty-five thousand acres. The Englishman looked his astonishment, whereupon the ingenuous Senator began to enlarge upon the methods of sugar culture in California. He showed the minutest knowledge of all the processes, information that he had gathered during a vacation trip to the Sandwich Islands, and he closed a long disquisition on the subject by declaring that when he planted his hundred thousand acre tract in sugar-cane the markets of the world would begin to recognize the importance of the sugar industry in the far-Western State. When Fair had left the room the puzzled Englishman appealed to the Senator's friends for light on this mystery of sugar-cane culture in a State that was not mentioned in his books on the subject. They prudently told him that while their friend had no doubt indulged in the Western habit of exaggeration when he spoke of the size of his plantation, still no one could tell what varied enterprises he was engaged in, and sugar-making might be one of them, for all they knew. One of the gentlemen who traveled with him on this memorable trip declared that Fair had a Napoleonic memory for details and that nothing of importance ever escaped his eye. He seldom read anything except an occasional newspaper, but all his information was derived from people and observation.
Senator Fair's fortune is estimated at about fifteen million dollars. Years ago, when there was great depression in San Francisco property, he bought real estate there by the acre. This now represents the most substantial part of his fortune, as its value has increased in many cases tenfold. The Senator has also tried his hand as a railroad manager, having owned for several years the South Pacific Coast Railroad, which extends from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, the most popular watering-place on the Pacific Coast. He is now holding this as a speculation, for the road will be valuable as the terminus of one of the great transcontinental lines. The Senator is no longer a member of the famous bonanza firm. About two years ago there was a falling out between him and Flood; Mackay bought the Senator's stock in the Nevada Bank, and the old partnership was brought to an end.
Until he became a millionaire Fair had a happy family life, with his wife and four children. With wealth came dissension. The general impression is that the Senator, like Griffith Gaunt, objected to the presence of a priest in the house, and that this was the primary cause of an estrangement which rapidly grew and culminated in a divorce suit by the wife and a division of the property. She received about four million five hundred thousand dollars, including a magnificent residence in a fashionable quarter of San Francisco.
John W. Mackay, the remaining member of the bonanza firm, is far more widely known than his partners, partly because his cable projects have brought him into prominence and partly because of the notoriety which his wife gained in Paris and other European cities by her entertainments, and by the marriage of her daughter to the Prince Colonna. Mackay, like Fair, is above all things a miner. I doubt whether he is ever so happy as when superintending work on the Comstock. There he dresses like the miners; he is plain "John" to all the old men now as he was twenty-five years ago, when fortune had not yet favored him; and he takes the same kindly interest in their welfare that he did when superintendent of a mine in 1859. Like Fair also he is .of Irish birth, and came to this country when a mere lad.
The story of his fortune is substantially the same as that of his partners. He knew the miners on the Comstock intimately; they had some capital; the partnership formed as far back as 1863 resulted in great wealth for all. It was Mackay's knowledge of mining, like Fair's skill in all engineering difficulties that gave the Bonanza firm so great an advantage over their rivals. But all these were prominent qualities that would have brought them above the surface in any pursuit. Some idea of the tenacity with which they held to their plans may be gained from the fact that when they had only moderate wealth, they spent a half-million in prospecting the lower levels of the Ophir mine, while the skeptics ridiculed the attempt as the work of lunatics. For this expenditure of a half-million they received one hundred and ten million dollars in the precious metals.
Mackay's wealth is rated at twenty-five million dollars.
Were it not for his gray hair Mackay would be called a man under forty. He preserves the freshness of complexion and brightness of eye which seldom endure beyond fifty. He is well known for his kindness to any old Comstock miners, and his charities are many, but unostentatious. Mackay, like his partners, is too much occupied with business enterprises to have any domestic life. For years his wife has lived in Paris, where the splendor of her entertainments, and her lavish charity have been the subject of newspaper correspondence. She was a poor widow when Mackay first met her in Nevada, and her life has been as hard as that of the millionaire. She came of good Southern stock, however, and fell naturally into the ways of wealth, so that one who saw her only a few years after her marriage would never have dreamed that she belonged to the nouveaux riches.
The Cosmopolitan Magazine. August 1887.