"Hold Up Your Hands"
Mysterious Disappearances
A Bonanza of Beef

The Social Aspect
excerpted from
The Big Bonanza

by Dan DeQuille
of the Territorial Enterprise

Dan DeQuille

In 1862-3, with mills running in all directions and mines open and hoisting ore for a distance of a mile or more along the Comstock, Virginia City was a lively place. Where but two or three years before was nothing but a rocky slope cobered with sagebrush and scrub cedar were not to be seen large brick and stone buildings, and streets crowded with men and teams.

As all goods were at time brought across the mountains by teams, and as hundreds of teams were required to haul ore from the mines to the mills and to bring wood and timber from the hills and mountains, as well as to do all kinds of local freighting, there often occurred most vexatious blockages in the streets. A jam of teams would take place, owing to some accident or to mismanagement on the part of some teamster, and, teams rolling in from each side, there would be seen a regular blockade. These blockades were of daily occurence and sometimes lasted for hours. Teamsters waiting for the road to open grew hungry and, produced their lunch pails, sat on their wagon and ate dinner, still waiting patiently for the blockade to be broken.

Half a dozen stage-lines were running into the place, and these arrived loaded down with passengers - capitalists, miners, "sports," thieves, robbers, and adventurers of all kinds. Cutting, shooting, and rows of every description became of much more frequent occurence than at any time in the early days. The stages on all the roads leading to the city were frequently robbed by masked me, who halted the drivers with revolvers or double-barrel shotguns and called upon him to hand out Wells, Fargo & Co.'s treasure box. One driver was halted so often and became so well acquainted with the routine of the business that whenever he happened upon a man with a shotgun, he went down into the boot of his vehicle for treasure box. The usual plan of the robbers, after securing the treasure box, was to form the passengers in a line by the roadside, and while one masked robber stood guard over them with a shotgun, another would search them and relieve them of their coin, watches, and other valuables. After this ceremony they would be ordered on board the stage and told to "Go along."

The stages were robbed scores of times, bars of bullion, coin, and all manner of valuables being taken. It was finally ascertained that the gang who did most of this work - indeed, made it a regular business - were men living in Six-mile Canyon, only about five miles from Virginia City. They were ostensibly engaged in mining and had at least a mill, but the bars they produced were those captured in the raids upon the stages. The mill was only a blind. Without it they would not have dared to dispose of their stolen bars. The capture of stage coaches being considered not quite up to the genius of the gang, they finally took a whole train of cars on the Pacific Railroad and got a spoil of over $50,000. But this was their last exploit. All were soon captured and the greater part of the stolen treasure recovered.

On the ridge between Virginia City and Gold Hill, called the "divide" and forming the suburb of both towns was for most years was a place where footpads prowled nightly, and robberies there were of constant occurence. A belated Gold Hiller would be hurrying to his home when a man would suddenly step out from behind a lumber-pile and tell him to hold up his hands. With a cocked pistol pointed at his head, the Gold Hiller, or any other man, uniformly obeyed the order. When he was quickly relieved of his loose change and told to "Move on." A foodpad would sometimes rob three or four men in quick succession in this way, provided they happened along one at a time. They were quite industrious, and were not the men to borrow or beg while they were able to make a living by the labor of their hands.

Mysterious Disappearances Although a few dead bodies were found on the road, it is supposed that many murders were committed about this time, the majority of the victims being strangers in the country; yet, not a few well-known residents have from time to time mysteriously disappeared. Almost every year the remains of human beings are found in old shafts. Inquests are held by the coroner of the country, but the remains are generally so much decomposed that they can not be identified, but the witnesses summoned can only make mention of the several men known to them who at various times have suddenly and unaccountably disappeared. In one old shaft when work was resumed on it after the lapse of some years, no less than three dead bodies of men were found. Pieces of rope where found tied about the arms and legs, as though for the purpose of making the bodies up into a bundle convenient for transportation to the shaft. Many persons have also, no doubt, accidently walked into these old abandoned shafts which every where cover the face of the country, at night or in the winter when their mouths were covered with drifts of snow.

In Virginia City and other Washoe towns many goats are kept by families for the milk. There are hundreds of goats to be seen everywhere on the hills and mountains. The goat is an animal that is found of caves and caverns. The goats in Washoe constant frequent the old tunnels high upon the side of Mt. Davidson and other mountains. In many of these tunnels, at a distance from 200 to 500 feet from the mouth, vertical shafts have been sunk to the depth of from 100 to 2 or 300 feet. It often happens that the goats, in the darkness of the old tunnels walk into these shafts.

Some years ago a man living on Gold Canyon went out to look up a stray goat. He found the fresh tracks of goats leading into an old tunnel and ventured in. In walking back along the tunnel in the darkness he fell into a shaft in its bottom. The shaft was about 80 feet in depth, and we would have probably have been instantly killed but there were at the bottom the bodies of four or five dead goats; as it was, he had an arm and leg broken.

The man being missed, his neighbors turned out in search of him. They found his tracks leading into the tunnel and went in after him in Indian file. Suddenly the head man disappeared, He having in the dim light in the place stepped into the mouth of the old shaft from the groans heard below his friends knew that he had not been killed, and at once procured a windlass and rope and descinded to his rescue when, to their surprise they found that they had two men in the bottom of the shaft. The man who last fell in had a leg broken, and by his fall came so near jolting the life out of the man of whom at first came in search that when first taken out it was thought he was dead.

A Bonanza of Beef Many other instances - scores of them - might be given to show the dangerous character of these traps which every where cover the face of this country, for miles about the principal mining towns, but I shall conclude with the following:

A teamster, stopping at noon two or three miles from the city unhitched eight-yoke of oxen from his wagon in order to let them graze about among the sagebrush while he was eating his dinner. Although unhitched they were fastened together in a string by a heavy log chain that passed through their several yokes. The teamster, seated on his wagon, eating, was astounted at seeing his own team of cattle, then distant about 100 yards, suddenly disappeared into the ground. In picking along they reached an old shaft, round which those in the lead had passed, then, moving forward, had so straightened the line as to pull a middle yoke into the mouth of the shaft. All then followed, going down like links of sausage. The shaft was 300 feet in depth, and that bonanza of beef still remains unworked at its bottom.

The Comstock Range is a region in which a stranger should never venture to wander at night, on foot or on horseback. Even in daylight, in the midst of a driving snow-storm, a man once rode his horse into a shaft over 50 feet in depth. The city authorities have caused most of the old shafts to be filled up or securely planked over, but scores of open shafts are still to be seen every where in the suburbs of the town.

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Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher

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Historical Gazette
Published in Portland, Oregon
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