Jim Townsend’s Tunnel

Mining – Samuel Clemens loved reporting, owning, and the prospect of striking it rich through mining. He knew a great deal about mining, but never successfully operated a mine. He wrote many stories relating to this activity, and shared many stories told him by prospectors and the people who catered to this clientele, as well as fabricating his own. Had he struck it rich, we might not have gained the wealth of literature which he produced. He disliked work, he loved to write, so he never considered writing work. He earned a vast fortune writing and speaking about his writing. He said, “A fool is what you find at the end of a mine shaft.” While pocket mining for gold at Angel’s Camp in California, a fellow prospector by the name of Ben Coon, another former river pilot from the Illinois River, who told the story of a jumping frog. Ben didn’t especially like the story, but Sam did and asked if he could embellish the story. If this is how it happened, I wonder, but it’s how it’s told; an excellent “stretcher”. The only gold Samuel Clemens found in California was in the form of a story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, published in 1867.

Jim Townsend’s Tunnel


Esmeralda was in many respects another Humboldt, but in a little more forward state.  The claims we had been paying assessments on were entirely worthless, and we threw them away.  The principal one cropped out of the top of a knoll that was fourteen feet high, and the inspired Board of Directors were running a tunnel under that knoll to strike the ledge.  The tunnel would have to be seventy feet long, and would then strike the ledge at the same depth that a shaft twelve feet deep would have reached!  The Board were living on the “assessments.” [N. B. – This hint comes too late for the enlightenment of New York silver-miners; they have already learned all about this neat trick by experience.] The Board had no desire to strike the ledge, knowing that it was as barren of silver as a curbstone.  This reminiscence calls to mind Jim Townsend’s tunnel.  He had paid assessments on a mine called the “Daley” till he was well-nigh penniless.  Finally an assessment was levied to run a tunnel two hundred and fifty feet on the Daley, and Townsend went up on the hill to look into matters.  He found the Daley cropping out of the apex of an exceedingly sharp-pointed peak, and a couple of men up there “facing” the proposed tunnel.  Townsend made a calculation.  Then he said to the men:

“So you have taken a contract to run a tunnel into this hill two hundred and fifty feet to strike this ledge?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, do you know that you have got one of the most expensive and arduous undertakings before you that was ever conceived by man?”

“Why no – how is that?”

“Because this hill is only twenty-five feet through from side to side; and so you have got to build two hundred and twenty-five feet of your tunnel on trestle-work!”

The ways of silver-mining Boards are exceedingly dark and sinuous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *