Big Hole Mine vs The Bullion Brick
Cecile Page Vargo as told by Jim Townsend
my research on Lying Jim Townsend, I found this little gem of a story
taken from an 1890 Carson Appeal column reprinted in
Nevada’s Walker Lake Bulletin. Thanks
to Michael H. Piatt and his wonderful book:
Bodie “The Mines
Are Looking Well..”
published by North Bay Books
While Jim Townsend was (in Carson City) a few weeks ago, he was sitting by the Arlington House stove talking
in his usual exaggerated vein.
“If you want to see mining on a big scale, go to Mono
“How big?” said a little man close by.
“Why the Big Hole Mine, that I am connected with, has the
deepest shaft and the biggest workings in the world.”
“How deep?” said
the little man.
“You can’t measure it, because if we stopped work long enough
to see how deep the shaft was, it would interfere with bullion
production. We dropped a line down once and reeled it out until it broke
with its own weight. When a
boy falls down the shaft, he strikes the bottom a grandfather.”
“Must have a big payroll?”
“We used to send the money down to the hands in cages until the
workings got so deep that we didn’t get the winter account settled
until a way along in the spring. So
we started a bank and telegraphed the money orders.
That system saved us an awful wear and tear on the cages.
The miners live down there and rear there families.
They got an underground city bigger’n Carson, with a regular charter and municipal elections twice a year.
They publish two daily papers and a literary magazine.”
“I never heard of the magazine,’ said the stranger.
“Of course not, it would be a year before it got to you.
Besides they hold a fair there annually and racing every
Saturday. Finest four mile
track in the world, lit with electric light.
No mud, no dust, always in the same condition.
Perfect paradise for sports.
What do you think of that for a mine?”
Lied His Way Through the Mining Camps
Cecile Page Vargo
Modern readers are quick
to associate Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Dan DeQuille with the stories
they wrote about the
mining camps in the mid to late 1800’s. However, few are familiar
with James W. E. Townsend, more affectionately known as “Lying
Jim”. James W. E. Townsend was so popular, even the editors
published stories about him. To
enlighten you to this man’s lifetime and career, we turn the clock
May 27, 1882
, in Virginia City, Nevada
. Readers throughout the
were amazed to read this story of Townsend’s life and career:
“James W. E. Townsend the gentleman who is making the local
department of the Reno Gazette
sparkle these days has led a remarkable life.
From information imparted by him to his friends while he lived
on the Comstock, we learn that he was born in
, his mother, a noble English lady, having been cast ashore after the
wreck of her husband’s yacht, in which they were making a pleasure
trip around the globe. She was the only person saved.
After the birth of her son, and September having arrived (there
being an “r” in that month) she was killed and eaten. Jim was
saved out as a small stake and was played until his twelfth year
against the best grub at the command of the savage tribe for fattening
purposes. Then he escaped
on a log, which he paddled through the Straits of Magellan with his
hands, and was picketd (sic) up by a whaler and taken to New
“At the age of 18 he entered the Methodist ministry and
preached with glorious results for ten years, when he went to the
as a missionary to Kanaka heathen, and remained for twenty years.
Then he reformed and returned to
and opened a saloon, which he ran successfully and made a large
fortune. In an evil hour
for himself, but to the world’s advantage, he tried his hand at
journalism. Fifteen years
of this reduced him once more to poverty and preaching.
For thirty years longer Mr. Townsend occupied the pulpit, when
he went back to the saloon business, after eighteen years of
industrious drinking on the part of the public he brought his wealth
This was in 1849.”
This Mine be Saved?
Can Make a Difference
Tucked away in the
high above the
is an almost completely intact mine and mill.
Legend has it that two prospectors wondered up the mountain and
discovered gold, but one miner was killed in an avalanche before they
could do anything with the claim. The year would have been1890, and
the original file on this
claim was listed as the Mendocino.
The mine and mill were active through the 1980’s.
Until recently, only a few tried and true ghost towners or
local residents have ventured up the dusty dirt road, and explored the
area. Most refused to talk much about it in fear that less mindful
people would haul everything away. Today, the
and the Mono Basin Historical Society have joined hands in efforts to
preserve what remains. Plans are in the making to make this area safe
for general public access to this important part of
’s mining history. Buildings
are being locked and safety hazards removed.
Plexiglas may replace glass windows for viewing the complicated
mining machinery inside these buildings. Interpretive signs may be put
up to help visitors identify what they are seeing.
There’s even talk that a
caretaker will stay at the site during the summer months.
The Mono Basin Historical Society is spearheading the
preservation efforts for this nearly forgotten mine and mill, but they
can’t do this alone. If enough interest from people who care
about preserving our mining history is not shown, there is a
possibility that these efforts will stall, and this historic site will
fall victim to the harsh winter weather and to the vandals and
souvenir hunters who have discovered it.
Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
or contact Don Banta of the Mono Basin Historical Society
(760-647-6627) or email@example.com, or
(760-647-3044), if you would like to
help save this endangered mine and mill.
Volunteers are also needed to help
collect oral or written histories from old timers that actually
worked in this mine.
Our Tours with
Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures
We're climbing into 2004!
here for our 2004 tour schedule.
Explore Historic California!
Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the
magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to
be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and
other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically,
industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to
drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our
website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.
If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your
vehicle, please visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.
Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class
at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn.
The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were
doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to
negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on
the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 15
years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the
Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are
ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable
for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size
Our tours are
operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S.
Forest Service, and other authorities.
We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our
guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the
rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old
cabin or deserted mountain lookout.
California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and
prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the
"Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get
ready to explore historic California.
Roger, Cecile and Marty