CHAPTER XXXIV. THE SQUAW VALLEY MINING EXCITEMENT
The Tahoe region was once thrilled through and through by a real mining excitement that belonged to itself alone. It had felt the wonderful activity that resulted from the discovery of the Comstock lode in Virginia City. It had seen its southern border crowded with miners and prospectors hurrying to the new field, and later had heard the blasting and picking, the shoveling and dumping of rocks while the road from Placerville was being constructed.
It had seen another road built up from Carson over the King's Canyon grade, and lumber mills established at Glenbrook in order to supply the mines with timbers for their tunnels and excavations, as the valuable ore and its attendant waste-rocks were hauled to the surface.
But now it was to have an excitement and a stampede all its own. An energetic prospector from Georgetown, El Dorado County, named Knox, discovered a big ledge of quartz in Squaw Valley. It was similar rock to that in which the Comstock silver was found in large quantities. Though the assays of the floating-rock did not yield a large amount of the precious metals, they showed a little - as high as $3.50 per ton. This was enough. There were bound to be higher grade ores deeper down. The finder filed his necessary "locations," and doubtless aided by copious draughts of "red-eye" saw, in swift imagination, his claim develop into a mine as rich as those that had made the millionaires of Virginia City. Anyhow the rumor spread like a prairie fire, and men came rushing in from Georgetown, Placerville, Last Chance, Kentucky Flat, Michigan Bluff, Hayden Hill, Dutch Flat, Baker Divide, Yankee Jim, Mayflower, Paradise, Yuba, Deadwood, Jackass Gulch and all the other camps whose locators and residents had not been as fortunate financially as they were linguistically.
Knox started a "city" which he named Knoxville, the remains of which are still to be seen in the shape of ruined log-cabins, stone chimneys, foundations of hewed logs, a graveyard, etc., on the left hand side of the railway coming from Truckee, and about six miles from Tahoe.
One has but to let his imagination run riot for a few moments to see this now deserted camp a scene of the greatest activity. The many shafts and tunnels, dump-piles and prospect-holes show how busy a spot it must have been. The hills about teemed with men. At night the log store - still standing - and the saloons - tents, shacks and log houses - were crowded with those who sought in the flowing bowl some surcease from the burden of their arduous labors.
Now and again a shooting took place, a man actually "died with his boots on," as in the case of one King, a bad man from Texas who had a record, and whose sudden end was little, if any, lamented. He had had a falling out with the store-keeper, Tracey, and had threatened to kill him on sight. The former bade him keep away from his store, but King laughed at the prohibition, and with the blind daring that often counts as courage with such men - for he assumed that the store-keeper would not dare to shoot - he came down the following day, intending himself to do all the shooting there was to be done. But he reckoned mistakenly. Tracey saw him coming, came to the door, bade him Halt! and on his sneering refusal, shot the bad man dead.
In September, 1913, I paid a visit to Knoxville. Just above the town, on the eastern slope of the mountain, were several tunnels and great dump-piles, clearly showing the vast amount of work that had been done. The quartz ledge that caused the excitement was distinctly in evidence, indeed, when the Tahoe Railway roadbed was being graded, this quartz ledge was blasted into, and the director of operations sent a number of specimens for assay, the rock looked so favorable.
Here and there were the remains of old log-cabins, with their outside stone chimneys. In some cases young tamaracks, fifteen and twenty feet high, had grown up within the areas once confined by the walls. These ruins extended all the way down to Deer Creek, showing the large number of inhabitants the town once possessed.
I saw the graveyard by the side of the river, where King's body was the first to be buried, and I stood in the doorway of the store from which the shot that killed him was fired.
In imagination, I saw the whole life of the camp, as I have seen mining-camps after a stampede in Nevada. The shacks, rows of tents, and the rudely scattered and varied dwellings that the ingenuity and skill of men hastily extemporized. Most of the log-houses are now gone, their charred remnants telling of the indifferent carelessness of campers, prospectors or Indians.
The main street was in a pretty little meadowed vale, lined on either side with trees, and close to the Truckee, which here rushes and dashes and roars and sparkles among the bowlders and rocks that bestrew its bed.
When it was found the ore did not "pan out," the excitement died down even more rapidly than it arose, and in 1863-4 the camp was practically dead.
It has been charged that the Squaw Valley claims were "salted" with ore brought from Virginia City. I am inclined to doubt this, and many of the old timers deny it. They assert that Knox was "on the square" and that he firmly believed he had paying ore. It is possible there may have been the salting of an individual claim or so after the camp started, but the originators of the camp started it in good faith, as they themselves were the greatest losers when the "bottom" of the excitement dropped out.
About a mile further up the river is still to be seen the site of the rival town of Claraville, founded at the same time as Knoxville. There is little left here, though the assay office, built up against a massive square rock still stands. It is of hewed timbers rudely dovetailed together at the corners.