By J. Ross Browne
I was prepared to find great changes on the route from Carson to Virginia City. At Empire City - which was nothing but a sage-desert inhabited by Dutch Nick on the occasion of my early explorations - I was quite bewildered with the busy scenes of life and industry. Quartz-mills and saw-mills had completely usurped the valley along the head of the Carson River; and now the hammering of stamps, the hissing of steam, the whirling clouds of smoke from tall chimneys, and the confused clamor of voices from a busy multitude, reminded one of a manufacturing city. Here, indeed, was progress of a substantial kind.
Further beyond, at Silver City, there were similar evidences of prosperity. From the descent into the canon through the Devil's Gate, and up the grade to Gold Hill, it is almost a continuous line of quartz-mills, tunnels, dumps, sluices, water-wheels, frame shanties, and grog-shops.
Gold Hill itself has swelled into the proportions of a city. It is now practically a continuation of Virginia. Here the evidences of busy enterprise are peculiarly striking. The whole hill is riddled and honey-combed with shafts and tunnels. Engine-houses for hoisting are perched on points apparently inaccessible; quartz-mills of various capacities line the sides of the canon; the main street is well flanked by brick stores, hotels, express offices, saloons, restaurants, grog-genies, and all those attractive places of resort which go to make up a flourishing mining town. Even a newspaper is printed here, which I know to be a spirited and popular institution, having been viciously assailed by the same. A runaway team of horses, charging full tilt down the street, greeted our arrival in a lively and characteristic manner, and came very near capsizing our stage. One man was run over some distance below, and partially crushed; but as somebody was killed nearly every day, such a meager result afforded no general satisfaction.
|Authors reception in Virginia City|
Descending the slope of the ridge that divides Gold Hill from Virginia City a strange scene attracts the eye. He who gazes upon it for the first time is apt to doubt if it be real. Perhaps there is not another spot upon the face of the globe that presents a scene so weird and desolate in its natural aspect, yet so replete with busy life, so animate with human interest. It is as if a wondrous battle raged, in which the combatants were man and earth. Myriads of swarthy, bearded, dust-covered men are piercing into the grim old mountains, ripping them open, thrusting murderous holes through their naked bodies; piling up engines to cut out their vital arteries; stamping and crushing up with infernal machines their disemboweled fragments, and holding fiendish revels amidst the chaos of destruction; while the mighty earth, blasted, barren, and scarred by the tempests of ages, fiercely affronts the foe - smiting him with disease and death; scoffing at his puny assaults with a grim scorn; ever grand in his desolation, ever dominant in the infinity of his endurance. " Come!" he seems to mutter, "dig, delve, pierce, and bore, with your picks, your shovels, and your infernal machines; wring out of my veins a few globules of the precious blood; hoard it, spend it, gamble for it, bring perdition to your souls with it - do what you will, puny insects! Sooner or later the death-blow smites you, and Earth swallows you! From earth you came - to earth you go again!"
The city lies on a rugged slope, and is singularly diversified in its uprisings and down-fallings. It is difficult to determine, by any system of observation or measurement, upon what principle it was laid out. My impression is that it was never laid out at all, but followed the dips, spurs, and angles of the immortal Comstock. Some of the streets run straight enough; others seem to dodge about at acute angles in search of an open space, as miners explore the subterranean regions in search of a lead. The cross-streets must have been forgotten in the original plan - if ever there was a plan about this eccentric city. Sometimes they happen accidentally at the most unexpected points; and sometimes they don't happen at all where you are sure to require them. A man in a hurry to get from the upper slope of the town to any opposite point below must try it under-ground or over the roofs of the houses, or take the customary circuit of half a mile. Everybody seems to have built wherever he could secure a lot. The two main streets, it must be admitted, are so far regular as to follow pretty nearly the direction of the Comstock lead. On the lower slope, or plateau, the town, as viewed from any neighboring eminence, presents much the appearance of a vast number of shingle-roofs shaken down at random, like a jumbled pack of cards. All the streets are narrow, except where there are but few houses, and there they are wide enough at present. The business part of the town has been built up with astonishing rapidity. In the spring of 1860 there was nothing of it save a few frame shanties and canvas tents, and one or two rough stone cabins. It now presents some of the distinguishing features of a metropolitan city. Large and substantial brick houses, three or four stories high, with ornamental fronts, have filled up most of the gaps, and many more are still in progress of erection. The oddity of the plan, and variety of its architecture -combining most of the styles known to the ancients, and some but little known to the moderns - give this famous city a grotesque, if not picturesque, appearance, which is rather increased upon a close inspection.
Immense freight-wagons, with ponderous wheels and axles, heavily laboring under prodigious loads of ore for the mills, or groaning with piles of merchandise in boxes bales, bags, and crates, block the narrow streets. Powerful teams of horses, mules, or oxen, numbering from eight to sixteen animals to each wagon, make frantic efforts to drag these land schooners over the ruts, and up the sudden rises, or through the sinks of this rut-smitten, ever-rising, ever-sinking city. A pitiable sight it is to see them!
|Caught in blasting debris|
Smoking hot, reeking with sweat, dripping with liquefied dust, they pull; jerk, groan, fall back. and dash forward, tumble down, kick, plunge, and bite; then buckle to it again, under the galling lash; and so live and so struggle these poor beasts, for their pittance of barley and hay, till they drop down dead. How they would welcome death if they had souls! Yet men have souls, and work hard too for their miserable pittance of food. How many of the countless millions of the earth yearn for death or welcome its coming? Even the teamsters that drive these struggling labor-worn brutes seem so fond of life that they scorn eternity. Brawny, bearded fellows they are; their faces so ingrained with the dust and grit of earth, and tanned to such an uncertain hue by the scorching suns and dry winds of the road, that for the matter of identity they might as well be Hindoos or Belooches. With what malignant zeal they crack their leather thonged whips, and with what ferocious vigor they rend the air with their imprecations! 0 Plutus! Such swearing - a sliding scale of oaths to which swearing in all other parts of the world is as the murmuring of a gentle brook to the volume and rush and thunder of a cataract. The fertility of resource displayed by these reckless men; their ready command of metaphor; their marvelous genius for strange, startling, and graphic combination of slang and profanity their grotesque originality of inflexion and climax; their infatuated credulity in the understanding of dumb animals; would in the pursuit of any nobler art elevate them to a niche in the temple of fame. Surely if murder be deemed ought not to be held in such common repute.
Entering the main street you pass on the upper side huge piles of earth and ore, hoisted out of the shafts or run out of the tunnels, and cast over the "dumps." The hill-sides, for a distance of more than a mile, are perfectly honeycombed. Steam-engines are puffing off their steam; smoke-stacks are blackening the air with their thick volumes of smoke; quartz-batteries are battering; hammers are hammering; subterranean blasts are bursting up the earth; picks and crow-bars are picking and crashing into the precious rocks; shanties are springing up, and carpenters are sawing and ripping and nailing; store-keepers are rolling their merchandise in I and out along the way-side; fruit vendors are peddling their fruits; wagoners are tumbling out and piling in their freights of dry goods and ore; saloons are glittering with their gaudy bars and fancy glasses, and many-colored liquors, and thirsty men are swilling the burning poison; auctioneers, surrounded by eager and gaping crowds of speculators, are shouting off the stocks of delinquent stock-holders; organ-grinders are grinding their organs and torturing consumptive monkeys; hurdy-gurdy girls are singing bacchanalian songs in bacchanalian dens; Jew clothiers are selling off prodigious assortments of worthless garments at ruinous prices; bill-stickers are sticking up bills of auctions, theatres, and new saloons; news-boys are crying the city papers with the latest telegraphic news; stages are dashing off with passengers for "Reese;" and stages are dashing in with passengers from one of the Fine Arts in Virginia City, swearing "Frisco;" and the inevitable Wells, Fargo, and Co. are distributing letters, packages, and papers to the hungry multitude, amidst tempting piles of silver bricks and wonderful complications of scales, letter-boxes, clerks, account-books, and twenty-dollar pieces. All is life, excitement, avarice, lust, deviltry, and enterprise. A strange city truly, abounding in strange exhibitions and startling combinations of the human passions. Where upon earth is there such another place?
One of the most characteristic features of Virginia is the inordinate passion of the inhabitants for advertising. Not only are the columns of the newspapers filled with every possible species of advertisement, but the streets and hill-sides are pasted all over with flaming bills. Says the proprietor of a small shanty, in letters that send a thrill of astonishment through your brain:
"LOOK HERE! For fifty cents you can get a good square meal at the HOWLING WILDERNESS SALOON!
A square meal is not, as may be supposed, a meal placed upon the table in the form of a solid cubic block, but a substantial repast of pork and beans, onions, cabbage, and other articles of sustenance that will serve to fill up the corners of a miner's stomach.
The Jew clothing-stores present the most marvelous fertility of invention in this style of advertising. Bills are posted all over the doorways, in the windows, on the pavements, and on the various articles of clothing hung up for sale. He who runs may read:
"NOW OR NEVER! Cheapest coats in the world! PANTS GIVEN AWAY! WALK IN, GENTS."
|Daily auction in Virginia City|
And so on without limit. New clothes and clothes doubtful are offered for sale at these prolific establishments, which are always selling off at cost or suicidal prices, yet never seem to be reduced in stock. I verily believe I saw hanging at the door of one of these shops the identical pair of stockings stolen from me several years ago at Strawberry.
Drinking establishments being rather numerous, the competition in this line of business gives rise to a very persuasive and attractive style of advertising. The bills are usually printed in florid and elaborately gilt letters, and frequently abound in pictures of an imaginative character. "Cozy Home," "Miner's Retreat," " Social Hall," "Empire," "Indication," "Fancy-Free," "Snug," "Shades," etc., are a few of the seductive names given to these places of popular resort; and the announcements are generally followed by a list of "choice liquors" and the gorgeous attractions of the billiard department, together with a hint that Dick, Jack, Dan, or Jerry "is always on hand, and while grateful for past favors will spare no pains to merit a continuance of the same. By catering to the public taste he hopes to make his house in the future, as it has been in the past, a real HOME for the Boys!" Nice homes these, and a nice family of boys that will come out of them! Where will they live when they grow to be men? A good idea it was to build a stone penitentiary.
"Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes!"
"AUCTION SALES EVERY DAY!"
"AUCTION SALES EVERY DAY!"
This is another form of advertisement for a very prolific branch of trade. Day and night auctions are all the rage in Virginia as in San Francisco. Everything that can't go any other way, and many things that can, go by auction. Stocks, horses, mules, boots, groceries, tinware, drugs and medicines, and rubbish of all kinds are put in flaming bills and auctioned off to the highest bidder for cash. "An'af ! an'af! an'af! shall I have it?" is a part of the language popularly spoken on the principal streets.
A cigar store not much bigger than a dry-goods box must have its mammoth posters out over the town and hill-sides, displaying to the public eye the prodigious assortments of Regalias, Principes, Cheroots, etc., and choice brands of "Yellow-leaf," "Honey-dew," Solace," and "Eureka," to be had within the limits of their cigar and tobacco emporium. If Archimedes were to rush from the solace of a bath and run naked through the streets of Virginia, shouting, "Eureka! Eureka!" it would merely be regarded as a dodge to dispose of an invoice of Fine-Cut.
Quack pills, syrups, tonics, and rectifiers stare you in the face from every mud-bank, rock, post, and corner, in red, black, blue, and white letters; in hieroglyphics, in cadaverous pictures of sick men, and astounding pictures of well men.
|Gun fight in a Virginia City saloon|
Every branch of trade, every conceivable species of amusement, is forced upon the public eye in this way. Bill-posting is one of the fine arts. Its professors are among the most notable characters in Virginia. They have a specific interest in certain corners, boards, boxes, and banks of earth and rock, which, with the brush and pot of paste, yield them a handsome revenue. To one who witnesses this bill-mania for the first time the effect is rather peculiar. He naturally imagines that the whole place is turned inside out. Every man's business fills his eye from every point of view, and he cannot conceive the existence of a residence unless it be that where so much of the inside is out some portion of the outside may he in. With the exception of the silver mines this is, to a casual observer, an inverted city, and may well claim to be a city of anomalies.
I had occasion, during my stay, to avail myself of the services of a professional bill-sticker. For the sum of six dollars he agreed to make me notorious. The bills were printed in the approved form: "A Trip to Iceland," etc. Special stress was given to the word "ICELAND," and my name was printed in extravagantly conspicuous letters. In the course of a day or two I was shocked at the publicity the Professor of Bill-Posting had given me. From every rock, corner, dry-goods box, and awning post; from every screen in every drinking saloon, I was confronted and brow-beaten by my own name. I felt disposed to shrink into my boots. Had anybody walked up to me and said, "Sir, you are a humbug!" it would have been an absolute relief. I would have grasped him by the hand, and answered, "I know it, my dear fellow, and honor you for your frankness!" But there was one consolation: I was suffering in company. A lady, popularly known as "The Menken," had created an immense sensation in San Francisco, and was about to favor the citizens of Virginia with a classical equestrian exhibition entitled "Mazeppa." She was represented as tied in an almost nude state to the back of a wild horse, which was running away with her at a fearful rate of speed. My friend the Professor was an artist in the line of bill-sticking, and carefully studied effects. He evidently enjoyed Mazeppa. It was a flaming and a gorgeous bill. Its colors were of the most florid character; and he posted accordingly. First came Mazeppa on the mustang horse; then came the Trip to Iceland and myself. If I remember correctly we (that is to say "The Menken" and I) were followed by "Ayer's Tonic Pills," "Brown's Bronchial Troches," and "A good Square Meal at the Howling Wilderness Saloon." Well, I suppose it was all right, though it took me rather aback at the first view. If the lady had no reason to complain, it was not for me, an old traveler, to find fault with the bill-sticker for placing me prominently before the public. Perhaps the juxtaposition was unfortunate in a pecuniary point of view; perhaps the citizens of Virginia feel no great interest in icy regions. Be that as it may, never again so long as I live will I undertake to run "Iceland" in the vicinity of a beautiful woman tied to the back of a wild horse.
But I anticipate my story. Scarcely had I descended from the stage when I was greeted by several old friends, who expressed themselves highly gratified at my arrival. Their remarks, indeed, were so complimentary that I hesitate to repeat them. Truth, however, must be regarded, even at the expense of modesty. "Your sketch of Washoe," said they, "was a capital burlesque. It was worthy of Phoenix or Artemus Ward! A great many people thought it was true! Of course we understood it, but you know one-half of mankind doesn't know a joke from a demonstration in Euclid!" Here was glory! Here was a reward for all my past sufferings! An unfortunate gentleman walks all the way over from Placerville to Washoe, with his blankets on his back; endures the most extraordinary privations; catches the rheumatism, tic-donloureux, and dysentery; invests in the Dead Broke; fails to make an agency pay; drags his weary limbs back again, and writes out what he conceives to be a truthful account of his experiences, and is then complimented upon having made a capital hit, perpetrated a most admirable burlesque, worthy the distinguished humorists of the age! It was a sorry joke for me. I was terribly in earnest about it, at all events.
"You will admit," said these excellent friends, "that the richness of this country surpasses anything ever known in the world before; that you were altogether mistaken about the silver leads?"
|Hauling ore to the mills|
"No, gentlemen," was my answer, "I can't admit any such thing. I said the Comstock was wonderfully rich, so far as anybody could judge from the specimens of ore taken out; but I thought there was considerable doubt as to where the most valuable running feet might run. That doubt is not yet removed from my mind. I advised people not to invest in the ten thousand outside leads that were then in existence. Where are your Flowery Diggings now? What is your Desert worth per running foot? How much will you give me for my Scandalous Wretch, or Bobtail Horse, or Root Hog or Die - all first-class leads in the neighborhood of the Devil's Gate? Show me a single lead that pays assessments, or pays anything at all, or is likely ever to pay fifty cents per acre, outside of the main lead in Gold Hill and Virginia City; show me how many of your best mines pay dividends, and I will take back all I said."
At this there was a general look of blankness, as if the facts had not occurred to them before in that point of view.
"But you'll admit that a man can't see much of a mineral district in a few days. You ought to spend a week or two in each mine; then you would be prepared to say something about it."
Strange, isn't it that people will never get over this idea! Wherever I travel I am told that nothing can be seen short of a few weeks or a few months or a few years! If I undertake to look at a potato-patch or a cabbage-garden, it is urgently represented that I can "form no conception how potatoes and cabbages grow in this section" without a month's careful examination of the roots or fibers. I am occasionally so bothered in this way as to feel tempted to offer rather a rude reply, viz.: that one who makes it his business to observe things around him can, with an ordinary share of penetration and some common-sense, see as much in a day as many people who live on the spot see in a lifetime. It might be effrontery to tell these Virginians, upon so brief an inspection, that I knew more of their city and its resources than they did; but I would even venture something on that point.
"You did us great injury," said they, "by so casual a glance at our mines. For example, you cast contempt upon the whole Comstock lead by representing its dips, spurs, and angles in a sort of burlesque map resembling a bunch of straw."
|Hurdy Gurdy Girls at a Virginia City Saloon|
Alas, poor human nature! These very parties, who complained of my map because it resembled a bunch of straw - illustrating the assertion that every body's dips, spurs, and angles were running into everybody else's - were at that very moment, and doubtless are yet, at daggers' points of litigation with other parties who had run into their dips, spurs, and angles. I don't know of a mine on the Comstock which does not infringe upon the alleged rights of some other mine. The results of an actual survey are precisely the same as those produced by a bundle of straw well inked and pressed upon a sheet of paper. To call a map so accurately truthful as mine a burlesque calculated to throw contempt upon the subject, manifests a degree of visual obliquity, if not moral assurance, absolutely refreshing.
The citizens of Virginia, like the citizens of Timbuctoo in Africa and Reykjavik in Iceland, are enthusiastic admirers of their own place of residence. Not satisfied with the praise usually bestowed upon the city by every stranger who enters it and who desires to maintain friendly relations with the inhabitants, they are exacting to a degree bordering on the despotic. A visitor is required to go into ecstasies over the climate, should there chance to occur, during his sojourn, a passably fine day. He is called upon at every turn to do homage to the wonderful progress of improvement, which they consider far ahead of anything ever achieved by human beings constructed in the usual form. He is expected to pay the tribute of admiration to the magnificence of the buildings and the sumptuous accommodations of the hotels. If he does not boldly, firmly, and without reservation, express the opinion that the mines arc richer by a thousand to one than those of Mexico or South America, he is at once set down as a man whose opinion is worth nothing. Should a stray bullet whiz by his head and kill, some equally innocent party within a distance of three paces, he is gravely assured and required to believe that there is as much respect paid to life and limb in Virginia City as there is in any city in the Union any hour of the night, when the noise around his lodgings would shame Bedlam, his attention is exultingly directed to the elysian repose of this delectable metropolis. Passing those dens of infamy that abound on every street, he is invited, with an assurance almost incredible, to render homage to the exalted condition of public morals. In full view of the most barren, blasted, and horribly desolate country that perhaps the light of heaven ever shone upon, he is appealed to, as a lover of nature, to admire the fertility of the soil, the luxuriance of the vegetation, and the exquisite beauty of the scenery. Surrounded by an enthusiastic dozen of A citizens, most of whom are afflicted with sore throat, mountain fever, erysipelas, bleeding of the nose, shortness of breath, heart disease, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, he is urged to observe the remarkable salubrity of the climate, and to disabuse his mind of those prejudices against it arising from the misrepresentations of interested parties.
"Oh wad some power the giftie gie us—"
|Ladies of the hotels|
But what's the use? It would only make us miserable. We are better off as it is. Men who can see heaven in Virginia City are to be envied. Their condition is such that a change to a better world would not seem materially necessary to their exaltation; and I am sure to worst that could happen them would be borne with as much fortitude as lost sinners are permitted to exercise.
Making due allowance for the atmosphere of exaggeration through which a visitor sees everything in this wonderful mining metropolis, its progress has been sufficiently remarkable to palliate in some measure the extraordinary flights of fancy in which its inhabitants are prone to indulge. I was not prepared to see so great a change within the brief period of three years; for when people assure me "the world never saw anything like it," "California is left in the shade," "San Francisco is eclipsed," "Montgomery Street is nowhere now," my incredulity is excited, and it takes some little time to judge of the true state of the case without prejudice. Speaking then strictly within bounds, the growth of this city is remarkable. When it is considered that the surrounding country affords but few facilities for the construction of houses; that lumber has to be hauled a considerable distance at great expense; that lime, bricks, iron-work, sashes, doors, etc., cost three or four times what similar articles do in San Francisco; that much indispensable material can only be had by transporting it over the mountains a distance of more than a hundred and fifty miles; and that the average of mechanical labor, living, and other expenses is correspondingly higher than in California, it is really wonderful how much has been done in so short a space of time.
Yet, allowing all this, what would be the impressions of a Fejee Islander sent upon a mission of inquiry to this strange place? His earliest glimpse of the main street would reveal the curious fact that it is paved with a conglomerate of dust, mud, splintered planks, old boots, clippings of tinware, and playing-cards. It is especially prolific in the matter of cards. Mules are said to fatten on them during seasons of scarcity when the straw gives out. The next marvelous fact that would strike the observation of this wild native is that so many people live in so many saloons, and do nothing from morning till night and from night till morning again, but drink fiery liquids and indulge in profane language. How can all these able-bodied men afford to be idle? Who pays their expenses? And why do they carry pistols, knives, and other deadly weapons, when no harm could possibly befall them if they went unarmed and devoted themselves to some useful occupation? Has the God of the white men done them such an injury in furnishing all this silver for their use that they should treat His name with contempt and disrespect? Why do they send missionaries to the Fejee Islands and leave their own country in such a dreadful state of neglect! The Fejeeans devour their enemies occasionally as a war measure; the white man swallows his enemy all the time without regard to measure. Truly the white man is a very uncertain native! Fejeeans can't rely upon him.
|Office of the Gould & Curry Company|
When I was about to start on my trip to Washoe, friends from Virginia assured me I would find hotels there almost, if not quite, equal to the best in San Francisco. There was but little difference, they said, except in the matter of extent. The Virginia hotels were quite as good, though not quite so large. Of course I believed all they told me. Now I really don't consider myself fastidious on the subject of hotels. Having traveled in many different countries I have enjoyed an extensive experience in the way of accommodations, from my mother-earth to the foretop of a whale-ship, from an Indian wigwam to a Parisian hotel, from an African palm-tree to an Arctic snow-bank. I have slept in the same bed with two donkeys, a camel, half a dozen Arabs, several goats, and a horse. I have slept on beds alive with snakes, lizards, scorpions, centipedes, bugs, and fleas - beds in which men stricken with the plague had died horrible deaths - beds that might reasonably be suspected of small-pox, measles, and Asiatic cholera. I have slept in beds of rivers and beds of sand, and on the bare bed rock. Standing, sitting, lying down, doubled up, and hanging over ; twisted, punched, jammed, and elbowed by drunken men; snored at in the cars; sat upon and smothered by the nightmare; burnt by fires, rained upon, snowed upon, and bitten by frost - in all these positions, and subject to all these discomforts, I have slept with comparative satisfaction. There are pleasanter ways of sleeping, to be sure, but there are times when any way is a blessing. In respect to the matter of eating I am even less particular. Frogs, horse-leeches, snails, and grasshoppers are luxuries to what I have eaten. It has pleased Providence to favor me with appetites and tastes appropriate to a great variety of circumstances and many conditions of life. These facts serve to show that I am not fastidious on the subject of personal accommodations.
Perhaps my experience in Virginia was exceptional; perhaps misfortune was determined to try me to the utmost extremity. I endeavored to find accommodations at a hotel recommended as the best in the place, and was shown a room over the kitchen stove, in which the thermometer ranged at about 130 to 150 degrees of Fahrenheit. To be lodged and baked at the rate of $2 per night, cash in advance, was more than I could stand, so I asked for another room. There was but one more, and that was pre-empted by a lodger who might or might not come back and claim possession in the middle of the night. It had no window except one that opened into the passage, and the bed was so arranged that every other lodger in the house could take a passing observation of the sleeper and enjoy his style of sleeping. Nay, it was not beyond the resources of the photographic art to secure his negative and print his likeness for general distribution. It was bad enough to be smothered for want of light and air; but I had no idea of paying $2 a night for the poor privilege of showing people how I looked with my eyes shut, and possibly my mouth open. A man may have an attack of nightmare, his countenance may be distorted by horrible dreams; he may laugh immoderately at a very bad pun made in his sleep - in all which conditions of body and mind he doubtless presents an interesting spectacle to the critical eyes of a stranger, but he doesn't like to wake up suddenly and be caught in the act.
The next hotel to which I was recommended was eligibly located on a street composed principally of grog-shops and gambling-houses. I was favored with a front-room about eight feet square. The walls were constructed of boards fancifully decorated with paper, and afforded this facility to a lodger - that he could hear all that was going on in the adjacent rooms. The partitions might deceive the eye, but the ear received the full benefit of the various oaths, ejaculations, conversations, and perambulations in which his neighbors indulged. As for the bed, I don't know how long it had been in use, or what race of people had hitherto slept in it, but the sheets and blankets seemed to be sadly discolored by age - or lack of soap and water. It would be safe to say washing was not considered a paying investment by the managers of this establishment. Having been over twenty-four hours without sleep or rest I made an attempt to procure a small supply, but miserably failed in consequence of an interesting conversation carried on in the passage between the chamber-maids, waiters, and other ladies and gentlemen respecting the last free fight. From what I could gather this was considered the best neighborhood in the city for free fights. Within the past two weeks three or four men had been shot, stabbed, or maimed close by the door. "Oh, it's a lively place, you bet !" said one of the ladies (the chamber-maid, I think), "an uncommon lively place - reely hexcitin'. I look out of the winder every mornin' jist to see how many dead men are layin' around. I declare to gracious the bullets flies around here sometimes like hailstones!" "An' Shure," said a voice in that rich brogue which can never be mistaken, "it's no wondher the boys shad be kill-in' an' murtherin' themselves forninst the door, whin they're all just like me, dyin' in love wid yer beauteeful self!" A smart slap and a general laugh followed this suggestion. "Git away wid ye, Dinnis; yer always up to yer mischief! As I was sayin', no later than this mornin', I see two men a poppin' away at each other wid six-shooters - a big man an' a little man. The big man he staggered an' fell right under the winder, wid his head on the curb-stone, an' his legs a stickin' right up in the air. He was all over blood, and when the boys picked him up ho was dead as a brickbat. 'Tother chap he run into a saloon. You better b'leeve this is a lively neighborhood. I tell you hailstones is nothink to the way the bullets flies around." "That's so," chimes in another female voice;" I see myself, with my own eyes, Jack's corpse an' two more carried away in the last month. If I'd a had a six-shooter then you bet they'd a carried away the fellow that nipped Jack!"
|Windstorm in Virginia City|
Now taking into view the picturesque spectacle that a few dead men dabbled in blood must present to the eye on a fine morning, and the chances of a miscellaneous ball carrying away the top of one's cranium, or penetrating the thin board wall and ranging upward through his body as he lies in bed, I considered it best to seek a more secluded neighborhood, where the scenery was of a less stimulating character and the hail-storms not quite so heavy. By the kind aid of a friend I secured comparatively agreeable quarters in a private lodging-house kept by a widow lady. The rooms were good and the beds clean, and the price not extravagant for this locality - $12 a week without board.
So much for the famous hotels of Virginia. If there are any better, neither myself, nor some fellow-travelers who told me their experiences, succeeded in finding them. The concurrent testimony was that they are dirty, ill-kept, badly attended by rough, ill-mannered waiters - noisy to such a degree that a sober man can get but little rest, day or night, and extravagantly high in proportion to the small comfort they afford. One of the newspapers published a statement which the author probably intended for a joke, but which is doubtless founded upon fact - namely, that a certain hotel advertised for 300 chickens to serve the same number of guests. Only one chicken could be had for love or money - a very ancient rooster, which was made into soup and afterward served up in the form of a fricasee for the 300 guests. The flavor was considered extremely delicate - what there was of it; and there was plenty of it such as it was.
Still if we are to credit what the Virginia newspapers say - and it would be dangerous to intimate that they ever deal in anything save the truth - there are other cities on the eastern slope of the Sierras which afford equally attractive accommodations. On the occasion of the recent Senatorial contest at Carson City, the prevailing rates charged for lodgings, according to the Virginia Enterprise, were as follows: "For a bed in a house, barn, blacksmith shop, or hay-yard (none to be had - all having been engaged shortly before election); horse-blanket in an old sugar hogshead per night, $10; crockery crate, with straw, $7.50; without straw, $5.75; for cellar-door, $4; for roosting on a smooth pole, $3.50; pole, common, rough, $3; plaza fence, $2.50; walking up and down the Warm Springs road - if cloudy, $1.50; if clear, $1.25. (In case the clouds are very thick and low $1.75 is generally asked.) Very good roosting in a pine-tree, back of Camp Nye, may still be had free, but we understand that a company is being formed to monopolize all the more accessible trees. We believe they propose to improve by putting two pins in the bottom of each tree, or keep a man to boost regular customers. They talk of charging six bits."
I could scarcely credit this, if it were not that a friend of mine, who visited Reese River last summer, related some experiences of a corroborative character. Unable to secure lodgings elsewhere, he undertook to find accommodations in a vacant sheep corral. The proprietor happening to come home about midnight found him spread out under the lee of the fence. "Look-a-here, stranger!" said he, gruffly, "that's all well enough, but I gen'rally collect in advance: Just fork over four bits or mizzle!" My friend indignantly mizzled. Cursing the progressive spirit of the age, he walked some distance out of town, and was about to finish the night under the lee of a big quartz boulder, when a fierce-looking speculator, with a six-shooter in his hand, suddenly appeared from a cavity in the rock, saying, "No yer don't! Take a fool's advice now, and gib! When you go a prospectin' around ov nights agin, jest steer ov this boulder of you please!" In vain my friend attempted to explain. The rising wrath of the squatter was not to be appeased by soft words, and the click of the trigger, as he raised his pistol and drew a bead, warned the trespasser that it was time to be off. He found lodgings that night on the public highway to Virginia City and San Francisco.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. June 1865.