The Silver That Saved Nevada
If you had been in Nevada in 1900 you were probably there because your parents or grandparents came for the big mining rush to Virginia City some thirty years earlier. But in 1900 Nevada is not a land of excitement and far from a land of plenty. It was in a severe depression and the towns once thriving during the excitement of the Comstock discovery were now turning back to the desert.
It was getting so bad that one US Congressman even suggested that Nevada’s statehood be revoked. That was a shock, especially after the glory days of Virginia City and the great Comstock discovery. Millions in silver had been taken from the ground in the mountains southeast of Reno. Fortunes were made, a thriving city was built, its riches helped supply the union during the Civil War, and it was one of the reasons Nevada gained statehood.
But by 1900 it was all over. Every prospector that lingered in Nevada was hoping to make the next big strike, including Jim Butler. Jim and his wife, Belle lived and worked on a ranch not far from Belmont, Nevada. Jim was a “sometimes prospector”, fluent in the Shoshone Indian language and would often leave the ranch to go looking for a claim. So, in May of 1900 Jim set out to do just that. He packed his burros (donkeys) and reached a place about 65 miles southwest of his ranch; a place the Indians called “Tonopah”, which translates roughly as “greasewood water.” This was probably due to the greasewood brush growing near some springs.
Jim made camp for the night and when he awoke the next morning his burros were missing. When he found them he picked up a rock to toss at them to get them moving but the rock seemed unusually heavy. It appeared to be rich in silver. Jim took the rock home and his friend, Tasker Oddie, had it assayed. It was rich in silver. Oddie sent a messenger to Jim at the ranch and told him to get back down there and stake the claims. Jim didn’t seem to feel the urgency until his wife Belle made him load up the buckboard and head for Tonopah.
The story goes that Jim found silver while looking for his burros but the Indians probably showed him where it was. When they got there they began staking claims. Belle struck a claim she called the Mizpah. She must have been thinking of the biblical story of Jacob and Laban who set up a cairn of stones to symbolize their covenant of protection and blessing. Maybe she saw the stones she was setting up as a similar blessing. Whatever the reason she claimed the Mizpah and it became the richest mine in Tonopah. Soon prospectors were coming from all over. The Butlers let them work the mines for a share in their profits. And it wasn’t long before big money came in from the East. Nevada was back in business! The boom started which would become the last great gold rush of the American West.
For the entire story see “Chasing the Rainbow” on DVD.
To re-trace the silver rush visit the Tonopah Historic Mining Park in Tonopah, Nevada. There you can see the historic Mizpah Mine which Belle discovered, explore the Silver Top mine and visit the remains of the old railroad that came into town.
Visit this historic Mining Park Museum and discover for yourself , The Silver that Saved Nevada!
This story is courtesy of Ted Faye, you can see more about Ted at his website http://goldcreekfilms.com/