« PreviousContinue »
country town than perhaps any other in Cali- | ing equally distant between the mine and San fornia.
José. Here a sturdy Western farmer has loBefore leaving the town for the quicksilver cated himself for life. The farm produces a mine we rode over to the old Mission of Santa sufficient supply of butter, cheese, eggs, milk, Clara. The road lies through the Alameda, a and every other country luxury to supply his beautiful avenue of willows planted by the padres, own wants, and to send to the markets of San and which have now reached their full growth, José and San Francisco enough to meet the exand meet overhead, forming in the spring-time penses of the estate. Add to this a climate faa continuous bower, shady as a forest, and a fa- mous for its mildness and salubrity even in Calvorite drive for the fast boys of San José. The ifornia, and our jolly proprietor has little to wish Mission Church is still standing, in good repair, for in this world—at least so it would appear and there on Sunday may be seen the native from his contented looks and the hearty dairypopulation, arrayed in their best, kneeling be- maid healthfulness of the daughters. But this fore the altar, and listening to the monotonous is no isolated instance. This whole valley is recitations of the priest. The church ornaments occupied by comfortable farmers, who live more in the interior are similar to those of the other in the style of the dairymen of the Genesee Missions. The rude carving, quaint figures of Valley in New York than pioneer settlers on the saints, and paintings of the Crucifixion, and oth- verge of civilization. er Scriptural subjects, are the same that were The ascent to the range of mountains, on the placed there nearly a century ago. Nothing slope of which the mine is situated, is very gradindicates the wonderful change which the outer ual-scarcely perceptible. The first indication world has undergone.
of one's proximity to it is a small village, or From San José to the quicksilver mine of collection of tasteful cottages, neatly painted New Almaden is twelve miles. The road winds and inclosed by paling fences, with here and for that distance through the most fertile part there the evidences of woman's industrious hand of the valley of Santa Clara, which gradually in the cultivation of flower-gardens and the fanwidens into a verdant plain, richly carpeted cy trellis-work for woodbine and honey-suckle with wild flowers, and every foot of it " claim- vines which clamber luxuriantly over some of ed,” fenced, and settled upon by those who have the dwellings. The families of the superincome to California not to “make a pile” and tendents of the works reside here, and live in return, but to build up and improve a home. the enjoyment of rural life, while the constant Among the prettiest of the many rural nooks arrivals of visitors from San Francisco at this opening to view at every turn in the road is a romantic spot keeps them “posted" in relation little velvety valley, in which is situated the to city affairs and the minutiæ of more fashionwell-known Half-way House, so called from be- I able life.
Beyond appear the brick buildings of the borhood, when questioned concerning it, replied, “works." These consist of the business offices with the usual shrug, and “Quien sabe?” “Son of the directors, the residences of the workmen, cosas muy antiguos," until the debris was clearstorehouses for flasks and general material for ed away from the lower part of the shaft; in repairs and additions, and houses for the recep- doing which a number of skeletons, a quantity tion of ore and bricks. Together they form a of rounded stones from the brook, and other incollection of solid and substantial houses, appa- teresting relics were disclosed. These, it was rently built for a century's use. Here also are evident, were the remains of aborigines, who the furnaces in which the ore is smelted. had resorted here to obtain the cinnabar from
The process of extracting the quicksilver is which to manufacture vermilion for ornamentan interesting study; and as our conductor al purposes, according to their savage customs. promised an explanation of its mysteries on our This was the only place where this primitive return, we accepted his offer to visit the mine paint could be obtained on the coast; and it is with us. The discovery and subsequent history now ascertained that savages visited it even of the New Almaden is briefly told. Some from the confines of Oregon, a distance of sevyears before the gold discovery an opening was eral hun lred miles. Ignorant of the art of observed in the hill-side, into which the main propping up their drifts as they each year workshaft has been since run. It had been repeated farther into the earth, they had been sudedly traced by the native Californians for fifty denly overtaken by a very natural catastrophe, or a hundred feet, but nobody seems to have and were buried alive in a grave of their own considered it any thing but a natural cave—one digging, after which the tribes appear to have of the many crevices or caverns which have abandoned it. been formed in all parts of California by freaks Conjecture was for a long time at a loss to of nature. It was at last ascertained to be an know the object of the Indians in thus peneartificial excavation, and one of great antiquity. trating the mountain. On the discovery of the The vaqneros and taciturn old dons of the neigh-gold mines some experiments with rockers and pans are said to have been made in search of prietor, who then held it under an original Spanthe precious metals, but of course without suc- ish grant. cess, as the auriferous soil of California does But merely buying the property was but a not extend into the coast range. But soon aft- single step toward availing themselves of its valer a gentleman, at present one of the principal ue. It soon became evident that a large capiproprietors in the quicksilver mine, in prosecut- tal would be required to erect works, or in any ing the search for gold, first attempted to retort manner to develop the wealth with which nature some of the ore, or what then appeared to be appeared to have stored the hill. Several years a species of red earth or ochre, when, standing passed without any vigorous measures having over the crucible, he inhaled some of the mer- been taken : though all admitted the value of curial vapor, and shortly afterward began to the property, none were willing to incur the exexperience symptoms of salivation. The re- pense which seemed necessary to make it availsult of this dangerous but fortunate experiment able. In 1850 a company was formed, who he communicated to his brother, one of a have since conducted the operations of the mines. wealthy commercial firm in Mexico; and other From the works to the mine the distance is a tests yielding similar proofs of the richness of mile and a half. The road follows the base of the ore, the land for a league or two was pur- the mountain, into which it is cut, winding rochased at a very reasonable rate from its pro- mantically up a gentle ascent. To the right
the country opens to the westward through the commenced in 1850, in the side of the mountdepressions in the coast range, discovering pic- ain, in a line with the patio, and which has al. turesque views of the San Juan Valley gleam- ready been carried to the distance of 1800 feet, ing in the sunlight through the interstices of the by 10 wide and 10 feet in height to the crown foliage, the landscape expanding with every step of the arch, which is strongly roofed with heavy of ascent. This road must have been built at timber throughout its entire length. Through great cost, as it is handsomely graded and fin- this an iron rail track passes, the cars receiving ished, and, like every other part of this valua- the ore as it is brought upon the backs of carble property, intended for all time. From the riers (tanateros) from the excavations. These inner side rises a solid wall of rock, of which the cars are calculated to carry about a ton each, hill is formed, with here and there evidences of and are pushed rapidly in and out by hand. sandstone mixed with slate.
We enter the car and in a few moments are On our way we met several wagons loaded rumbling along this under-ground railroad, with with the dark red ore, which had been broken no sound to break the silence besides the heavy up into small pieces before being submitted to breathing of our human propellers, who, with the works below. Five wagons are kept run- swarthy visage lighted up by the dim rays of the ning without intermission, and supply the ore, candles, seem almost ghastly as they bend to which at first employed trains of mules. At their work. These laborers are all Mexicans. the summit we found level space of ground, and have generally served a sort of apprenticeon which are situated the upper works, consist- ship in the silver mines of Spanish America. ing of several buildings belonging to the compa. Soon we reach the terminus of the railroad, and ny. This is known as the patio, or court-yard, step out upon a damp soil beaten hard by the inand here ore is assorted and prepared for smelt- cessant tramp of the ore-carriers. Here the ing at the works below.
sensation of chilling dampness usually possessThe main entrance to the mine is a tunnel, ing the novice on entering a subterranean car