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J. ROSS BROWNE,
THE MINERAL RESOURCES OF THE STATES AND TERRITORIES WEST OF
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS.
WASHINGTON, D. C., A[arch 5, 1868. Sir: In the preliminary report which I had the honor to transmit to you from San Francisco in November, 1866, a general summary was given of the mineral resources of the States and Territories west of the Rocky mountains. It was not anticipated by the department that the information required under letter of instructions dated August 2, 1866, could be obtained in full within the brief period intervening before the next meeting of Congress; but it was hoped that sufficient data might be collected to furnish a general idea of the rise and progress of the mining interest on the Pacific slope. No official document in
any department of the government contained accurate information on this subject, and it was considered desirable that special attention should be given to the following points:
1. The origin of gold and silver mining on the Pacific coast and present condition of that interest, as tending to show the progress of settlement and civilization.
2. Geological formation of the great mineral belts and general characteristics of the placer diggings and quartz lodes.
3. Different systems of mining, machinery used, processes of reducing the ores, percentage of waste, and net profits.
4. Population engaged in mining, exclusively and in part, capital and labor employed, value of improvements, number of mills and steam engines in operation, yield of the mines, average of dividends, and losses.
5. Proportion of agricultural and mineral lands in each district, quantity of woodland, facilities for obtaining fuel, number and extent of streams, and water privileges.
6. Salt beds, deposits of soda and borax, and all other valuable mineral deposits.
7. Altitude, character of climate, mode and cost of living, cost of all kinds of material, cost of labor, &c.
8. Population of the mining towns, number of banks and banking institutions in them, facilities for assaying, melting, and refining bullion ; charges upon the same for transportation and insurance.
9. Communication with the mines and principal towns, postal and telegraphic lines; stage routes; cost of travel; probable benefits likely to result from construction of the Pacific railroad and its proposed branches.
10. Necessity for assay offices and public depositories; what financial facilities may tend to develop the country and enhance its products.
11. Copies of local mining laws and customs regulating the holding and working of claims.
12. Number of ledges opened, number claimed, character of the soil in the mining districts, and its adaptation to the support of a large population.
The preliminary report, submitted in answer to these inquiries, embraced such information as could be obtained within the brief period allowed for its preparation. Although imperfect in many respects, it was received by the people of the Pacific coast as an indication of a growing interest on the part of government in the development of our mineral resources. It was a source of gratification to the miners to find that, after years of unprofitable toil, during which they had contributed largely to the national wealth, the peculiar character of their occupation was beginning to be understood, and its influence in promoting settlement and civilization to lc better appreciated.
The report which I now have the honor to submit is the result of many years of labor and exploration. It contains the aggregated experience of the ablest statisticians and experts on the Pacific coast. If there be any merit in the work, it belongs chiefly to my co-laborers, who have devoted themselves with such
unselfish zeal to the promotion of the objects designed to be accomplished by this commission. The fund appropriated by Congress was insufficient to admit of compensation adequate to such labor; but assistance was cheerfully given, as a matter of public benefit, without regard to personal or pecuniary considerations. When it is taken into view that this inquiry extends over the Territories of Utah, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, and Washington, and the States of Oregon, California, and Nevada, embracing an area of country stretching from the Rocky mountains to the Pacific, and from Mexico to British Columbia; that in many parts of this vast mineral range travel is still difficult and expensive; that the business of mining is new to the American people, and the collection of statistics unsystematized in this department of industry, it will be conceded that as much has been accomplished as could reasonably be expected.
An erroneous idea prevails that the collection of mining statistics involves original explorations and detailed personal examinations of every mine throughout the vast range of our mineral regions, with scientific and practical deductions relative to the treatment of ores; and it is expected by some that the information obtained shall be entirely new, and furnish a complete index for the purchase, sale or working of every mine in the country. Apart from the fact that such an investigation would require the employment for many years of a large scientific force at great expense, it would be difficult even then to present statistics which had not already been made public. The same sources of information are open to all. The mining press of the country, closely connected with that interest, directly identified with its progress, in daily and familiar contact with its details, makes it a special duty to keep up the current record of cost and production, success and failure. There may be misstatement or exaggeration, but not more so on the part of the press, which is held to a certain accountability by public sentiment, than on that of individuals who may be prejudiced or irresponsible. Statements publicly made and thoroughly criticised are as likely to be correct as casual examinations mado by persons visiting a special locality, unfamiliar with its growth and progress, and compelled after all to depend upon information derived from others. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are difficulties in the way of absolute accuracy.
Every miner naturally desires that his mine should be carefully examined and reported upon in detail, especially if, as in the majority of cases, it be unproductive. Without reflecting that a mere list of the unproductive mines would fill a volume, the miner is disposed to estimate the value of a report by its mention or omission of that in which he is most interested. However disposed a government agent may be to meet the wishes of the mining cominunity in this respect, it is equally important to bear in mind that this inquiry is not designed for speculative purposes or the promotion of special or individual interests. The public desire reliable statements, and herein lies the difficulty-a spirit of ex. aggeration on the one hand, a demand for facts on the other.' To afford satisfaction to all is impossible. I have therefore relied upon my own sense of fairness, and endeavored to present the truth impartially.
That errors may havo been committed, and false statements given by interested parties, is probable, but precaution has been taken to guard against them. The selection of assistants was made with reference to their integrity and capacity. Instructions were given to them in detail, enjoining careful scrutiny and verification of every statement. The revision of their work, under these precautions, has occupied more than four months. There is no subject upon which greater difference of opinion exists than that of mining statistics. It is an open field in which there is room for discrepancy under any existing circumstances. No two persons rate the prodnct of the precious metals alike. The superintendent of a mine often furnishes information which when submitted to the board of directors is pronounced incorrect. Representatives from the mining districts are apt to rate both population and products higher than persons who have made them special subjects of inquiry, but whose opportunities for judging may not be so favorable.
A fruitful source of error is in supposing that the ordinary channels of transportation cannot be relied upon as a clue to the gross product of the mines. It is alleged that large quantities of the precious metals are carried away in the pockets of the miners. Even if this were so, it is not reasonable to suppose that the miners continue to burden themselves with their treasure after arriving at their place of destination. It must find its way into tlic mint or branch mints for coinage or the custom-house manifests for exportation. It cannot be assayed without paying its internal revenue tax. The gross yield of all the mines can be determined with approximate accuracy. It is moro difficult to arrive at a subdivision, when it comes to the product of cach State and Territory. In California, for example, during the early days of placer mining, before the transportation of bnllion by organized companies had become a business entitled to confidence, a large proportion of the gold derived from the mines was carried out of the country by private bands. There was comparatively little danger of loss. The routes to San Francisco were short, public, and protected by general interest. From that point to New York the passengers usually combined for mutual protection, and the risk was inconsiderable. It was not until the idle and the profligate began to obtain an ascendency, the business of transportation by express more firmly established, and the mines more difficult to work with profit, that the increase of risks and reduction of charges resulted in the general abandonment of this system. It doubtless prevails to a limited extent now, but the transportation of bullion by private hands in California is exceptional. It probably does not exceed seven per cent. in the aggregate, and this applies only to the routes by which it reaches San Francisco. In reference to silver it is impossible that any considerable amount can escape notice in this way. Tho yield of Nevada can be determined with more accuracy than that of other States. Silver predominates in the mines; and where gold is obtained it is not in an uncombined form. When we come to Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon the greatest difficulty is experienced.
Shipments of treasure from Montana and Idaho may become incorporated with others before reaching their destination. From Montana most of the bullion goes cast. Two main routes are open to examination-one by the Missouri river, the other by Salt Lake City. Indian disturbances and the insecurity of the marls have during the past year almost entirely closed the latter; so that tho clief exit is by the former route. Shipments from Idaho are made chiefly by way of Portland and the inland stage route through Humboldt and across the Sierra Nevada. On both of these routes it is alleged that they are liable to become merged with the products of other States and Territories. It has been impossible to obtain an account of the shipments from each agency at the express office of Wells, Fargo & Co., at San Francisco. For reasons of private expe
diency they refrain from giving the desired information. We have, however, the aggregate receipts at their office, and knowing very nearly what amount can fairly be credited to California, Nevada, and British Columbia, can draw reasonable conclnsions as to the proportion derived from Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. From the best information available the following is a near approximation to the total gold and silver product for the year ending January 1, 1867: California..
2,500,000 New Mexico
Add for bullion derived from unknown sources within our States and Territories, unaccounted for by assessors and express companies, &c..
Total product of the United States....
The bullion product of Washington is estimated by the surveyor general at $1,500,000. That of Oregon is rated as high as $2,500,000. Intelligent residents of Idaho and Montana represent that the figures given in the above estimate, so far as these Territories are concerned, are entirely too low, and might be doubled without exceeding the truth. The product of Idaho alone for this year is said to be from $15,000,000 to $18,000,000. That of Montana is estimated by the surveyor general at $20,000,000. Similar exceptions are taken to the estimates of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. As I have no grounds for accepting these statements beyond the assertion that most of the bullion is carried away in the pockets of the miners, I am inclined to rely upon the returns of the assessors, express companies, and official tables of export. Admitting that a fraction over seven per cent. may have escaped notice, although reasonable allowance is made for this in the estimate of $70,000,000, and that a considerable sum may be derived from sources not enumerated, I feel confident the additional allowance of $5,000,000 is sufficient to cover the entire bullion product of the United States for the year 1867, thus making the aggregate from all sources $75,000,000, as stated in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury.
I have endeavored to obtain returns of the annual prodnct of each State and Territory since 1848; but, for the reasons already stated, and in the absence of reliable statistics, it has been impossible to make the necessary divisions with more than approximate accuracy. As nearly as I can judge from the imperfect returns available, the following, in round numbers, is not far from the total product: California
25,000,000 New Mexico and Arizona.
5,000,000 In jewelry, plate, spoons, &c., and retained for circulation on Pacific coast.. 45,000,000 This statement requires explanation. Up to 1855 a considerable portion of the gold taken from California was not manifested. In 1849 the actual yield was probably $10,000,000; in 1850, $35,000,000; in 1851, $46,000,000; in 1852, $50,000,000; in 1853, $60,000,000; and in 1854, $53,000,000. The amount unaccounted for by manifest was not so great after the last date. In 1861 Nevada and Idabo commenced adding their treasure to the shipments, so that after that date a deduction for the amounts produced from these sources would be necessary, if the manifest alone were taken as a criterion, in order to arrive at the product of California.
1, 205,000,000 Add for amounts buried or concealed and amounts from unenumerated sources, and of which no account may have been taken...
An addition should be made for the amount retained for currency, estimated by some as high as $45,000,000, but probably not exceeding $35,000,000 or $10,000,000; and for plate, jewelry, &c., of California gold, say $2,000,000, and Nevada silver, $3,000,000.
Incorporated in these shipments are the amounts received from Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, and British Columbia; but these cannot be deducted from the manifest of exports, according to the express returns, since the proportions are not accurately known of the amounts, retained and shipped, derived from separate sources.
The general condition of the mining interest on the Pacific slope is encouraging. There have been fewer individual losses than during past years, and the yield of the mines has been comparatively steady and reliable.
Fluctuations in mining stock have not been so great as usual, and those wild and injurious speculations which have impaired confidence in this great interest are gradually becoming narrowed down to individual operators, whose influence in the community is limited.
Legitimate mining has been as prosperous as other pursuits, though it cannot be denied that there are uncertainties attached to this peculiar business which render it hazardous and require more than ordinary profits to make it remunerative under the most favorable circumstances. It may seem strange in this view that the gross product of bullion has been gradually diminishing for some years past, but a brief reference to the history of mining operations on the Pacific coast will explain this apparent anomaly.
The existence of gold in California was known long before the acquisition of that territory by the United States. Placers had long been worked on a limited scale by the Indians; but the priests who had established the missionary settlements, knowing that a dissemination of the discoveries thus made would frustrate their plans for the conversion of the aboriginal races, discouraged by all means in their power the prosecution of this pursuit, and in some instances suppressed it by force. As early as December, 1843, however, Manuel Castanares, a Mexican officer, made strenuous efforts to arouse the attention of the Mexican government to the importance of this great interest.
It is not my purpose to enter into a detail of the events preceding the discovery by Marshall on the 19th of January, 1848, or the subsequent excitement which resulted in the opening of the great placer mines, and the rush of immigration in 1849. Reference is made to these incidents in the history of California merely to show the changes in the character of the business. At first gold was easily found, and required but little skill in separating it from the loose gravel or sand in which it was imbedded. Frequently it lay so near the surface in such quantities and in grains of such form and size, that a simple pan or rocker comprised all the means necessary, with ordinary labor, to insuro extraordinary profits. Mere will and muscle were sufficient. Our people were inexperienced, but ingenions in devices for saving labor, energetic and industrious.
Unskilled as they were, nearly all who went into the business realized landsono profits; and the reports of their success induced a rapid immigration from the Atlantic States, South America, Australia, and other parts of the world.
Thus towns were built up; a new and extensive commerce sprang into existence;