In spite of naysayers he began first silver mill — Silver American Eagle Dollar Coin

Today, the Silver American Eagle Dollar Coin remembers the first operation of the first silver mill on August 11, 1860, the Washoe Gold and Silver Mining Company No. 1.

From The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Forty-Seventh Congress, 1881-82:


Almarin B. Paul, an enterprising mill-owner in the city of Nevada, Cal., had been strongly urged by his friends, who had bought claims in the Washoe district, to build a mill in the vicinity of the mines and attempt the reduction of the ore from the ledges.

Impressed by their representations, he visited the district in the autumn of 1859 and took back with him to his mill in California sample sacks of the ore from the mines of the Mexican and Ophir companies.

After a few careful experiments in reducing this selected quartz he determined to undertake its reduction on a large scale.

His venture was a hazardous one.

To capitalists generally it seemed a foolish investment.

The leading assayers of San Francisco laughed at his project and predicted failure; the Ophir and Mexican companies refused to make contracts with him for the reduction of their ore, although hundreds of tons of quartz were lying on the surface of their claims rich in gold and silver yet too poor to pay the cost of removal and smelting, but, in spite of all obstacles, Paul’s resolution was unshaken.

He persuaded some friends to unite with him in subscribing the requisite capital, and the Washoe Gold and Silver Mining Company No. 1 was formed in the month of March, 1860.

Under their direction Paul began at once to build the proposed mill.

The crushed ore could not be reduced without water, but the little streams flowing down the canons were already held by parties of miners and a fresh supply must be obtained from some quarter.

Four miles south from Virginia City, near Gold Canon, was a little basin, the centre of drainage from the surrounding hills.

With the quick eye of a practical mill-man this spot was selected as a building site.

A shaft was sunk to the depth of 50 feet and a cross-drift cut in the bed-rock 100 feet in length.

Water trickled into this T-shaped chamber until the well was nearly full, and one difficulty was thus removed.

Meanwhile contracts were secured from owners of claims on Gold Hill to crush and reduce 9,000 tons of ore at from $25 to $30 per ton — if the quartz would yield a surplus profit to the. owners at this rate.

In order to obtain this concession Mr. Paul was obliged to pledge the completion of his mill in sixty days from the date of the signature of the contracts, June 12, 1860.

Work on the mill-site had been begun on May 25, 1860; the mill machinery had been ordered, by letter dated Virginia City June 7, 1860, of Howland, Angell & King, and the order had scarcely been received when the contracts were signed.

Still, he did not hesitate to take the risk, but pressed the work with all possible energy.

The San Francisco firm rivaled him in dispatch. The completed castings were forwarded by steamer to Sacramento, and from that point by wagon-trains over the Sierras.

Through the snow, rocks, and mire of the old emigrant trail the straining mules, urged on by curses and blows, dragged the iron freight to the basin in the hills, where he was anxiously awaiting its arrival.

He had built rude stone foundations for the stamp-batteries and was covering the walls of a rough framework shed over them with boards from a forest twenty miles away.

The distance was not great, but this lumber was cut on a mountain slope, hauled to a saw-mill overpressed with work though running night and day, and at length dragged up a rocky canon to the site of the mill, where it was put together with nails brought on the backs of mules across the mountains.

The cost of transportation from San Francisco to the mill far exceeded the original cost of the machinery, ranging from 13 to 25 cents per pound.

Lumber was $60 per M at the saw-mill, and this price was more than doubled by the added charge for delivery at Gold Canon.

These extraordinary expenses did not delay the work of construction, for the mill must be completed at any price within the allotted time.

So rapidly did Paul and his men carry on the task that the first steam-whistle heard on the eastern slope of the Sierras was blown by his engineer, William H. Baker, on the 9th of August, and the 24- battery stamps of his mill began to crush ore on the 11th of the same month, the last day allowed for the fulfillment of his contract.

Toward the close of the work he had been pressed hard by two other enterprising mill owners, Charles S. Coover and Elias B. Harris, who exerted themselves in friendly competition to gain the honor of erecting the first mill in the district.

Their mill was a smaller one, containing one battery of eight stamps only, but their machinery was ordered later, June 21, 1860, and the contest for precedence was so close that their machinery was set in motion three hours after Paul’s mill began work.

These two mills were thus completed, but the question of their serviceability was yet unanswered.

The first ore worked was five tons of tailings, refuse rock previously discarded by men who had attempted to reduce it in arastras and rockers, from the claim of Rice & Co., on Gold Hill, a portion of the 50 feet located by James Finney.

The mortar or bed of the battery was surrounded by a wire bolting-cloth, through which the ore crushed dry was dashed in a misty cloud by the fall of the stamps, dropping on a platform outside.

Here the powder was dampened sufficiently to admit of its removal in shovels to the pans, where it was mixed with water and mercury, and the pulp thus formed was ground by the revolving mullers.

Each pan held about 300 pounds of ore and 40 pounds of mercury, and with each charge a pint of salt and a few ounces of copper filings or sulphate of copper were used.

Water was conducted to the pans by pipes leading from a tank heated slightly by the exhaust steam from the driving-engine.

The copper cross-boards in the pans were scraped twice a day, and the amalgam collecting at the bottom of the pan was drawn off at intervals through a discharge hole.

When a sufficient quantity was thus obtained it was strained through a buckskin bag until the liquid mercury was pressed out and a pasty mass was left in the bag ready for retorting.

Placed in a closed iron vessel over a fire this paste was steadily heated until the remaining mercury passed off in vapor through a pipe into a condensing chamber, where, upon cooling, it assumed its original metallic form.

The bullion alloy of gold and silver remained in the retort.

This process was watched by Paul with natural anxiety.

Failure had been so persistently predicted that his associates in the company had become disheartened, and he had resorted to entreaty, ridicule, and protest in order to induce them to hold to their contract.

His pride and purse were alike staked on the issue of the trial.

Accordingly, he awaited eagerly the report of the Virginia City assayers, Ruhling & Co.

The five tons yielded $84.56 (gold, .954 fine, valued at $63.63 ; silver, .810 fine, valued at $20.93,) or an average return of $16.91 per ton.

This product from refuse ore was accounted satisfactory, and he proceeded to crush and reduce ten tons of average rock from the same claim, which yielded in gold $387.02 and in silver $163.97— in all $550.99, or $55.07 per ton.

Interest in the work was then awakened throughout the camp.

The Lucerne Company desired a test, and ten tons of selected quartz from their ledge produced $1,427.91, or $142.79 per ton.

Joseph Plato sent down seven tons from his claim at Gold Hill and received a return of $449.60.

The firm of Logan & Holmes, who had contracted with Paul to crush and reduce 4,000 tons from their claim, comprising the Gold Hill location of John Bishop and a portion of the Finney location adjacent, sent eighteen tons to the mill, which yielded $1,884.30, or $104.30 per ton in bullion.

The secret of Paul’s comparative success in reducing the ores of the new district lay in the fact that his tests were mainly with quartz which was far richer in gold than it was in silver.

The Gold Hill ledges and spurs for many feet below the surface were rather gold-bearing than silver lodes, and as long as this relative proportion endured, even if the silver was mainly lost, a rich return in gold could be obtained from the ore.

If he had attempted to reduce the rich sulphurets of the Ophir claim with his crude process, the results of his trials would not have proved satisfactory, but if the gold-bearing quartz could only be obtained in sufficient quantities, he had demonstrated the possibility of reducing it with profit to both miner and mill-man.

As soon as this fact was made evident his butteries were kept in motion night and day.

The little eight-stamp mill of Coover and Harris did equally satisfactory work, and the report of the results obtained spread through the camp and to San Francisco.


The Silver American Eagle Dollar Coin shows with an image of Virginia City, Nevada, circa 1861.

Silver American Eagle Dollar Coin