Editor’s note: This is the second article in celebration of White Pine County’s 150th Anniversary.
By Sean Pitts
Early explorers passed through what would become White Pine County as between 1827 and 1859, but their maps and notes made it clear that eastern Nevada was a difficult place to live. It would take a major financial incentive to try to make a home in the Great Basin.
Other than Native Americans, who were adept at survival in the harsh environment of the Great Basin, the only permanent European settlers were at Egan Canyon at the Stage stop and Pony Express Station.
That would change in 1865 when miners and prospectors were spreading across the recently created State of Nevada.
The famous Comstock Lode of Virginia City was already in decline, as were mines in Montana and Colorado. Smaller discoveries near Austin looked promising, but quickly faded due to a lack of high grade ore. Prospectors continued to move west in search of new discoveries.
On Oct. 10, 1865 the first mining district of what would become White Pine County was organized. The party prospected from west to east and found small amounts of silver ore.
It wasn’t until 1867 that richer ore was discovered and the Monte Cristo Mining Company constructed a mill. A discovery that in the fall of 1867 would lead to a worldwide mining rush to White Pine County.
According to legend, a blacksmith turned prospector named A.J. Leathers was given a piece of ore by a Native American named Napias Jim. (“Napias” was the native word for silver or shiny.)
Leathers used his forge to smelt the ore and came away with a button size piece of silver. He had Jim show him where the ore was found and was led to the top of Treasure Hill. The discovery was staggering. Initial surveys of the ore found on the surface of the ground ranged from $450 to $27,000 to the ton.
Leathers had six partners. Their discovery meant they were rich. While history doesn’t record their celebration, it is almost certain they made a pact to keep the discovery a secret.
As winter began to settle on the 9,000 foot peak, the partners determined it was not possible stay. Before leaving they would stake the claim to the Hidden Treasure Mine then retreated to the closest city (Austin) to wait out the winter before returning in the spring.
Keeping a secret of that magnitude is nearly impossible.
A second miner from Austin dared to brave the elevation and the cold and on Jan. 3, 1869, climbed to the top of Treasure Hill.
He wasn’t included in the initial pact of secrecy and had no problem promoting his own claim.
The secret was out. It would be promoted as the richest silver ore ever found in North America and prompted tens of thousands to join the “Rush to White Pine.”
Nevada’s State Mineralogist quickly made the journey to what had become known as Treasure Hill, site of present day Treasure City.
His report confirmed the intial discovery and its size. “…a deposit of ore is traced on the surface due south 1,200 feet, where it disappears under a cropping…and reappears on the brow of the southern slope of the hill. It is traced on the surface at this place nearly two thousand feet…and is found further south in several places.”
The timing couldn’t have been better. Four major reasons fueled what would become known as the Rush to White Pine.
The first was the 1861 completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph. It allowed rapid communication to the rest of the country.
Secondly, the recently completed Transcontinental Railroad would speed people across America to Elko where they would trade rail travel for wagon, stage coach, horse, or foot to get to Hamilton, the commercial center of the newly formed mining district.
The third reason was the amazing value of the ore itself. During the 1860s, any ore that was valued at more than $100 to the ton was worth mining. At $27,000 to the ton, the ore found on Treasure Hill was six times richer than the best ore of the Comstock Lode.
Finally, the discovery in 1868 occurred when other mines in the western United States had all but been mined out. The discovery of rich ore would bring a flood of people to the area and become the first permanent towns of White Pine County.
Next time: Promoting the Boom and County Organization