Pen Pictures

        The history of this famous mine has been frequently written, but has never been presented in better form than by Mrs. Carrie Stevens Walters, in the excellent handbook of Santa Clara County, published by E. S. Harrison in 1887. As the duty of the historian is to present facts; we give those connected with this institution in the language of Mrs. Walters:—

        Almaden—from two Arabic words—al, ' maden, `mine'—was the name given to the most famous quicksilver mine of the world, located in Spain. Its namesake of Santa Clara County, having no superior, with the single exception above mentioned, deserves more than a passing notice in a work of this character. The New Almaden quicksilver mine is situated about fourteen miles southwest of San Jose, in a low range of hills running parallel with the Coast Range. Tradition states that this mine was known to the native Indians nearly a century ago, and that they used the ore—red sulphuret of mercury—to form a pigment paste by pounding and moistening it. In 1824 the existence of the mine was made known to Don Antonio Sunol, who worked it for silver; but not finding this metal, and not suspecting the real nature of the deposit, abandoned it at the end of a year. In November, 1845, a Mexican officer named Andres Castillero, visiting at Santa Clara Mission, was shown some of the ore, and while experimenting for silver, discovered quicksilver. He at once filed his right to the mine as a discoverer, according to the Spanish and Mexican law, after which he formed a stock company, dividing the mine into twenty-four shares. An American named Wm. G. Chard was then employed, who commenced the reduction by charging a gun barrel with small pieces of ore, stopping the vent with clay, placing the muzzel into a barrel of water, and building a fire around the other end. The mercury, being driven off by the heat in the form of vapor, passed out at the muzzle, was condensed in the water, and precipitated in the form of liquid quicksilver. Three or four gun barrels were thus employed for several weeks. Six whaler's try-pots were next obtained, capable of holding three or four tons of ore, and a sort of furnace formed by inverting three over the other three, by which some two thousand pounds of metal were reduced. About this time---1846—the mine was visited by General Fremont, who established its value at about thirty thousand dollars! Soon after this, Barron, Forbes & Co., of Tepic, Mexico, became the principal stock­holders, and in 1847 Alexander Forbes, of the firm, arrived with laborers, funds, and everything necessary to the proper working of the mine. A thorough examination gave so much promise that work was prosecuted with vigor. In 1850 furnaces were first constructed and large quantities of ore reduced under the superintendence of the late Gen. H. W. Halleck. As the true value of the mine became apparent, disputes concerning the title arose. The company bought in two titles for protection. But matters became so complicated that in October, 1858, an injunction was placed on the mine, which remained until February, 1861, during which time no work was done. In 1864 the company disposed of the mine and all improvements, including eight thousand five hundred and eighty acres of land, for $1,700,000, to a company chartered, under the laws of New York and Pennsylvania, as The Quicksilver Mining Company, which company is the present owner.

        " The workings of the mine, past and present, extend over an area the extreme limits of which could barely be included within a rectangular block five thousand feet long from north to south, six thousand feet wide from east to west, and two thousand three hundred feet in depth, counting from the summit of Mine Hill, the upward limit of the ore deposit. The workings do not cover all the area here indicated, but are very irregularly distributed within it. Mining experts will readily understand from this, and also from the fact that ore bodies seem to obey no special law of distribution, but are a puzzle to geologists, the difficulty offered in the workings of this mine. In its famous rival, Almaden of Spain, the ore bodies are placed with remarkable regularity, increasing in richness as depth is obtained, and all included within a rectangular block seven hundred feet long, by three hundred and fifty broad, and one thousand and twenty-seven in depth. It may be interesting to pursue this comparison a little further. For instance: the average salary paid to workmen at the Spanish mine is sixty cents per day ; at New Almaden, about $2.40. The number of workers employed at old Almaden, three thousand one hundred and twenty-six ; at New Almaden, four hundred and sixty; the yield per ton of ore at New Almaden averages little more than twenty pounds of quicksilver; at old Almaden the general average is about two hundred pounds of quicksilver to the ton; the average cost of extracting per flask of seventy-six and one-half pounds at old Almaden is $7.10; at New Almaden the cost is $26.38. It is safe to affirm that, had the Spanish mine the same difficulties to overcome in working as are encountered at New Almaden, it would long since have been shut down, despite the Rothschilds, its lessees. These facts naturally lead one to inquire something of the management of the Santa Clara County Almaden. The mine came under control of its present manager, Mr. J. B. Randol, in 1870. At that time there was an interest-bearing debt against the property of over one and a half million dollars. The amount of ore in sight was discouragingly small, the extraction very costly, and the stockholders were so pushed to carry on the workings of the mine that they were compelled to raise $200,000 by subscription. The systems of working the mine were crude and expensive, furnaces and condensers imperfect, and the mine developed only to the eight hundred-foot level, with one main shaft. Much of the ore was brought from lower to higher levels in bags made of ox-hides, and carried by Mexicans by means of a strap over the forehead—from one hundred and forty to two hundred pounds being conveyed at a load. Now, in 1886, exploration and exploitation have been made in nine shafts, six of which are in active operation; there is a network of underground passages aggregating nearly fifty miles in length ; mining work is carried on to a depth of two thousand three hundred feet, while the machinery is the most complete and economical of any mine in the world. In those sixteen years three hundred and eighteen thousand flasks of quicksilver have been reduced, over $5,000,000 disbursed for labor, and yet with a total profit to the owners of more than $4,000,000. The funded debt has been paid, large amounts expended in permanent improvements, and over $1,000,000 declared in dividends. More than one-half the world's supply of quicksilver comes from California. A greater portion of this is produced at New Almaden, a small amount being put out by other mines in the State.

        " In those earlier days the social condition of the workmen, who were mostly Mexicans, was inferior.  The place was noted for lawlessness, and was a rendezvous for Mexican banditti. Little restraint was exercised over the men, and gambling, drinking, and licentiousness were common. Large wages were paid, and it was no uncommon occurrence for a man to be killed after pay-day. There were no advantages of church or schools. Water for cooking and drinking purposes was carried on donkeys and sold by the pail­ful

        " Now the visitor leaves the railroad station two miles from the hacienda where are located the reduction works of the mine. Almost the first thing to greet the eye is a pretty school-house with its groups of neat, tidy children. Two teachers are employed here and four at the school on the hill, three miles further on, for ten months in the year, the schools being in the regular county school system. Along the single street for half a mile are clean, pretty cottages, the homes of the hacienda workmen, each cottage literally embowered in choice roses and other flowers. These houses are owned mostly by the company, who lease them to the workmen at from $2.00 to $5.00 per month. Cuttings and plants are supplied free from the beautiful gardens of the manager, where are grown more varieties of roses than in any other place, perhaps, in the county. Along the street in front of the houses a stream of purest water is conducted in a channel for domestic purposes. The street is bordered with shade-trees, and a neat brick walk extends its entire length. Everywhere are seen signs of thrift and prosperity; the people look well kept and contented, while an all-pervading spirit of order and system extends to the remotest ramifications of this important industry.

        " Three miles up a steep but well-graded road brings one to the mine proper, where arc the great shafts with their huge engines, in one of which, the engine of the Buena Vista shaft, is a piece of iron weighing twelve tons. The miners are principally Mexican and Cornish. Two pretty church edifices, a Methodist and a Catholic, located at the Hill Settlement, were built almost entirely by contributions from the company and manager. A social organization, called the Helping Hand, for which the company erected and fitted up a club building, for the benefit of the workmen, has a fine library of nearly five hundred volumes, besides a list of magazines and daily and weekly newspapers of the, best published. Here are held frequent entertainments, given by the members, and the society is a wonderful factor in the promotion of sociability, general information, and mental culture.

        " The Miners' Fund, to which each employe contributes one dollar per month, pays, among other expenditures for the good of the miners, the salary of a resident physician, a most skillful and competent gentleman, whose services are gratuitous to the contributors. The value of this arrangement will be better understood when it is known that a great majority of the workmen are married men with families. The management encourages this class, feeling that, as a rule, it is more reliable and responsible than that composed of men with no domestic ties. The population of the settlement is about fourteen hundred, of which six hundred are under twenty years of age. The essentials of a true home, children, and flowers, flourish unrestrained at New Almaden. The pay-roll is noted for men who have been long in the employ of the company; and it is hardly necessary to add that during Mr. Randol's management such a thing as a strike has never been thought of."

        Since September, 1887, the management of the system inaugurated and built up by the superintendent, Mr. Randol, has been intrusted to Col. Ferdinand Von Leicht, who has been connected with the quick­silver interests of California since 1886

SOURCE:  Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H.S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight