Panamint: Suburb Of Hell


Whether these powerful men, to whose ambitions no term had yet been set, believed in Panamint as a serious rival to the Comstock’s as yet unchallenged supremacy, or whether they viewed its existence, remote and inaccessible as was its setting, as a fertile field for the exploitation of a great stock issue, has never been ascertained. Very considerable sums of their own money were invested in Panamint and Senator Jones was noted for making irreproachably respectable investments. On the other hand, Bill Stewart and Trenor Park had, a few years previously, been closely associated with the promotion of an altogether lamentable stock issue in a mine known as the Little Emma, over Utah way. About the time its initial owners discovered that Little Emma was running out, the mine had been sold to English investors. It had been accomplished with the guilty connivance of the financial editor of the supposedly incorruptible London Times and promises of dividends running to 75 per cent. Britishers, confronted with American mining stocks in the Seventies, were known to lose their every financial inhibition and, at the time Panamint began to unfold its flowers of promise, Stewart and Park were being sued for a substantial $5,000,000 by outraged investors in Lombard and Threadneedle Streets.

The implacable optimism of the West where anything of a silver speculative nature offered itself combined with the weight of its backers’ names, was sufficient to overcome any latent skepticism about Panamint.

The desert roads from Independence and even Carson City 400 miles distant, from Barstow and Bakersfield and San Bernardino, showed trailing dust clouds that rolled prophetically skyward as another silver boom got under way. Private enterprise provided a toll road up Surprise Canyon which was almost immediately washed away in a flash flood and replaced by a more durable highway where the boulders were no more than eight inches in diameter and the sink holes could be overcome if everyone got out of a Concord and pushed from behind. A few hardy souls, smitten of Allah in the estimation of their contemporaries, crossed from Furnace Creek in Death Valley, paused briefly at Emigrant Springs and again at Wildrose Station in Wildrose Canyon and joined the thronging pilgrims from the west and north.

What first assails the perceptions of the student of Panamint’s epic years is the fact that, in its altogether improbable locale, a community could be brought into being at all. Other mining camps were remote; Panamint was positively fourth-dimensional in its inaccessibility. Yet, in an ever crescent torrent throughout the summer of 1874, a stream of dusty humanity swirled upgrade through the strait gate that is five miles deep in Surprise Canyon. Powerful automotive devices with four-wheel drives perish today on this ascending journada . They can achieve, with confident crashing of gears, as far as Christ Whickt’s cabin and swimming pool, which is about a mile in from the sands of Panamint’s desert floor; after that their combustive progress is a series of lunatic lunges, titanic complaints against gravity and grade. Yet the jerk line drivers with their mule teams made it; the great lumbering freight vans, powered by oxen that had been in service in the Comstock’s pre-railroad days, made it; the thorough-braced Concord coaches, with their assortment of senators and seamstresses, gunmen and bushy-whiskered Ganymedes in search of saloon sites, made it. The anabasis of Greek Xenophon against the satrapy of Cyrus the Persian was neither so clamorous nor so optimistic.

Ned Reddy, a Cerro Gordo gambler and reformed gunman, whose versatility extended to the guitar and the bar swab, supplied the most pressing necessity of Panamint’s beginnings with his Independent Saloon, an establishment of planks across barrels which opened close enough to the Fourth of July, 1874, to make the attending carnival indistinguishable from patriotism. A close rival for the town’s carriage trade, which arrived for the moment in stoutly soled brogans, was Dave Naegle of Pioche, whose Oriental Saloon, a spell down the street from Reddy’s parlors, also flourished on a 24-hour-a-day basis, and whose temporary absence of roof or walls reduced to a minimum the damage sustained from gunfire prompted either by petulance or mere gun-goofiness. The assay office, at variance with the best precedent, was momentarily overlooked in the civic satisfaction which attended the opening of Panamint’s first actually erected structure—a vast Army tent known as the Hotel de Bum. Here board and sleeping space were free; all were welcome and, although no proprietor’s name appeared on the shingle that hung over its entrance, it was generally understood that Senator Jones had been seen arranging the purchase of just such a tent a few weeks before in Meyerstein’s general store in San Bernardino.