LAST MINING DAYS
It was late in July when he wrote:
If I do not forget it, I will send you, per next mail, a pinch of decom. (decomposed rock) which I pinched with thumb and finger from Wide West ledge a while ago. Raish and I have secured 200 out of a company with 400 ft. in it, which perhaps (the ledge, I mean) is a spur from the W. W.—our shaft is about 100 ft. from the W. W. shaft. In order to get in, we agreed to sink 30 ft. We have sublet to another man for 50 ft., and we pay for powder and sharpening tools.
This was the “Blind Lead” claim of Roughing It, but the episode as set down in that book is somewhat dramatized. It is quite true that he visited and nursed Captain Nye while Higbie was off following the “Cement” ‘ignus fatuus’ and that the “Wide West” holdings were forfeited through neglect. But if the loss was regarded as a heavy one, the letters fail to show it. It is a matter of dispute to-day whether or not the claim was ever of any value. A well-known California author—[Ella Sterling Cummins, author of The Story of the Files, etc]—declares:
No one need to fear that he ran any chance of being a millionaire through the “Wide West” mine, for the writer, as a child, played over that historic spot and saw only a shut-down mill and desolate hole in the ground to mark the spot where over-hopeful men had sunk thousands and thousands, that they never recovered.
The “Blind Lead” episode, as related, is presumably a tale of what might have happened—a possibility rather than an actuality. It is vividly true in atmosphere, however, and forms a strong and natural climax for closing the mining episode, while the literary privilege warrants any liberties he may have taken for art’s sake.
In reality the close of his mining career was not sudden and spectacular; it was a lingering close, a reluctant and gradual surrender. The “Josh” letters to the Enterprise had awakened at least a measure of interest, and Orion had not failed to identify their author when any promising occasion offered; as a result certain tentative overtures had been made for similar material. Orion eagerly communicated such chances, for the money situation was becoming a desperate one. A letter from the Aurora miner written near the end of July presents the situation very fully. An extract or two will be sufficient:
My debts are greater than I thought for—I bought $25 worth of clothing and sent $25 to Higbie, in the cement diggings. I owe about $45 or $50, and have got about $45 in my pocket. But how in the h—l I am going to live on something over $100 until October or November is singular. The fact is, I must have something to do, and that shortly, too.... Now write to the Sacramento Union folks, or to Marsh, and tell them I’ll write as many letters a week as they want for $10 a week. My board